Returning to Starcraft II + Secret World Issue #6

Heart of the Swarm is just around the corner, but big changes have already come to Starcraft II. Blizzard recently launched patch 2.0.4 for Wings of Liberty, which has overhauled many aspects of the game and its user interface.

The new victory screen in Starcraft 2I’ve been sampling some of the new toys as a way to get myself reacquainted with SC2.

New training tools:

The ladder in SC2 is a harsh mistress. It’s always been true that the campaign in an RTS is no preparation for the multiplayer, but that’s doubly true in SC2, where the campaign really is an entirely different game.

Blizzard did include some training tools in Wings of Liberty to help combat this, but they were woefully inadequate, and those who wanted to play versus other humans were essentially thrown into the deep end in the hopes they could learn to swim.

Blizzard has recognized this is a problem, and so 2.0.4 contains extensive new training tools to help people prepare for ladder.

I’ve given them a quick play through, and they’re light years ahead of what we had before.

The new training mode in Starcraft 2To start with, there’s a dedicated training mode against some easy AIs. These tutorials instruct you in all the basic mechanics of SC2, including build orders and general tactics. It’s incredibly thorough — the supply counter even starts to blink when you’re near to getting supply blocked.

This is an amazing tool. Even after playing ladder for weeks, there were still many basic things about the game I never figured out — like how many workers I should have per base or when I should expand. Even after just one play-through, the training mode has improved my game significantly.

Once you’re done with training mode, you can move on to an overhauled versus AI option. The AI has been improved, and the game now automatically analyzes your skill level and matches you against an appropriately difficult AI, much as it would with other players.

If you make a custom game, I’m told you can even program the AI to perform certain tactics — such as early rushes — that you might be struggling with. I haven’t tried this feature myself yet.

Finally, there is now the option to play unranked quick matches against other players. This will help people who suffer from ladder anxiety — no need to worry about being demoted to bronze if you have an off day. Because unranked also has a separate MMR, it can also be used to off-race or experiment with new tactics.

The new training mode in Starcraft 2In all honesty, though, SC2 multiplayer is never going to be easy to get into. These new features help — a lot — but your first few matches against other players will always be a trial by fire.

And that’s probably how it should be. Starcraft 2 multiplayer was never meant to be easy.

Who needs Titan?

While not new with 2.0.4, this was also the first time I checked out the Arcade, the new (ish) interface for browsing player-made custom games. I’m not the biggest custom game fan, but even I could tell the Arcade is a vast improvement over what existed before.

While there, I played a bit of the demo/beta for the fan-made Starcraft MMORPG, previously titled World of Starcraft but now called Starcraft Universe.

Of course, I rolled a Dark Templar. Dark Templar are a bit like Jedi Betty White — given the choice, you should always be one.

A screenshot from the fan-made Starcraft Universe MMOWhile SCU is still in a very obviously unfinished state, I was quite impressed by it. It’s amazing that fans were able to turn a real time strategy game into an MMORPG.

Normally, calling something a “World of Warcraft clone” wouldn’t be a compliment, but in this case, I think it is. SCU felt amazingly similar to playing WoW, but with a Starcraft flair. The interface, the combat, the quests — it’s all there.

What really impressed me was the quality of the story. The demo features a number of cinematics with professional grade voice-acting. I may have to stick around for the full version of the game just to see how the plot plays out — I’m very intrigued.

The Secret World: Issue #6 Announced:

After some delays, we’ve gotten the official announcement for the next content patch for The Secret World, “Issue #6: The Last Train to Cairo,” as well as (awesome) cover art for it.

Cover art for The Secret World's issue six: It all looks pretty exciting. In addition to the previously announced content — a new DLC story arc starring the Atenists, and the new whip auxiliary weapon — we’ll be getting a new ten man raid encounter, a new PvP ranking system, and a veteran rewards system that will also offer benefits for referring new players to the game.

To be perfectly honest, the Scorched Desert is my least favourite part of the game, and I’m not a big fan of the Atenists, but I still see a lot of potential in this arc. For one thing, the first DLC, “The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn,” ranks as one of the greatest gaming experiences of my life. If this is even half as good as that was, it should be a great time.

Also, the preview mentions we will be participating in some time travel, and that sounds very interesting. I wonder when we’ll be going back to? The obvious choice is the original era of Atenism, when the Marya first rose to fight them. Certainly, it would be awesome to meet Ptahmose and the Sentinels back when they were still mortal.

And by awesome, I mean heart-breaking.

Some have pointed out that Said appears to be alive in the cover image, so that might give us a clue. Although that raises the question of where one finds a fedora and a Milanese suit in the Old Kingdom…

My Templar cuts a heroic pose in the Scorched Desert by nightWe might go back even further, perhaps even to the Third Age. What better place to find the power to cast down the Atenist threat?

One final thing that has me excited for “The Last Train to Cairo” is that Nassir is going to be involved. I’d pay for a mission where my character has breakfast with Nassir; I love that guy.

Issue #6 is due to launch in early march. Probably around the same time as patch 5.2 launches for World of Warcraft, and I must confess: I’m a lot more excited to whip Abdel Daoud in the face than I am to fight the Thunder King.

New article:

My latest article in WhatMMO is The NPCs of MMOs.

Here’s an excerpt, on NPCs who just aren’t impressed by the heroism of players:

“There’s no clear reason what makes these characters so difficult to impress. Maybe they don’t want you getting arrogant. Maybe they’re just big McKayla Maroney fans. Whatever the reason, they don’t care how many dragons you’ve killed, how many opponents you’ve thrashed, or how many times you’ve saved the world. To them, you’ll always be just another scrub.

…Come to think of it, they’re a lot like many MMO players.”

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