Gaming Round-Up: Cho’Gall, Towers of Doom, ESO, and War in the North

I once again find myself with a number of gaming topics to cover that are not quite big enough to deserve their own posts. Today, we’ll be visiting the Nexus, Tamriel, and Middle-Earth.

Slaying a Troll in Lord of the Rings: War in the NorthChaos! Madness! Like a hug for your brain:

This month saw the release of Heroes of the Storm’s wackiest hero yet, Cho’Gall. Played by two players at once, he brings twice the power of any other hero, at the cost of leaving his team a man short.

His release was also unique, with a handful of players getting him for free, and everyone else able to unlock him by partying with an owner and piloting a head for a few games. Those who already had Cho’Gall could earn gold by spreading the “virus” to more players.

Motivated by the lure of extra gold — or perhaps feeling masochistic — I waded into the depths of the Heroes community to acquire Cho’Gall, share him with enough people to earn my 2K gold, and level both heads to level five.

To be fair, it wasn’t quite the horror show I expected. Gall is pretty much the same as playing a hat-build Abathur — which I do with some frequency — and Cho is mostly just a standard warrior with a guaranteed pocket DPS. And I only encountered one prick while grouping with people.

Definitely don’t plan to play any more Cho’Gall going forward, though.

Not sure how I feel about him on the whole. I’ve heard lots of people say he isn’t that competitive. My knee-jerk reaction was that he was very overpowered, but I’ve softened on that. Truth is probably somewhere in between.

Cho'Gall horsing around in Heroes of the StormIt really depends on the players. A bad Cho’Gall can ruin its team, but a good one is absolutely terrifying. Gall’s damage is absurd, and a good Cho will almost never die.

If nothing else, he’s damned annoying to play against. He’s a nightmare to deal with in the early game, and he has few obvious counters other than Leoric and to a lesser extent Kharazim (who must give up his better ultimate to serve as a counter).

Props to whoever came up with the idea of smashing together the names of his two players, though.

Towers of Doom:

Slightly more recently, Heroes also added its latest map, and this one is a home run. Towers of Doom is very much not like any other map added to date, and although it’s a bit early to say for sure, it might be my new favourite.

For a while, map design was starting to feel a little stale, with pretty much all map mechanics being variations on a few themes. Towers of Doom still has some familiar elements — fighting over altars is much like trying to capture tributes on Cursed Hollow — but there are some key differences.

The new Towers of Doom map in Heroes of the StormThe mechanics of every map to date have been designed to help with pushing in some way. They help you destroy forts, and eventually the enemy core. Towers of Doom’s mechanic targets the core alone, and cores cannot be attacked by any other means.

This is a refreshing change of pace in a lot of ways, but the most important difference is that winning a map objective does not generally give you any significant XP lead, so there’s much less snowballing than on any other map. This makes an already volatile game even more unpredictable, and comebacks can never be ruled out.

It’s also a very well-balanced map in terms of what roles are required. Most maps will tend to focus on team-fighting or on more traditional laning and pushing, but Towers of Doom has room for both. You need to win team fights over the altars, but destroying enemy bases to claim their bell towers is also very helpful.

The fact that towns don’t stay destroyed further combats snowballing and makes the map even more back and forth. If you’ve lost some forts, you can always reclaim them and/or steal some enemy forts.

I also love the idea of bringing back the announcers from previous maps — in this case Cursed Hollow and Haunted Mines — to battle against each other. Especially since those are both two very colourful and amusing characters.

Zoning into a Heroes of the Storm match as JohannaThough I must admit to being a little sad every time I don’t end up on the Raven Lord’s side. You’re cool, too, Grave Keeper, but the Raven Lord is just so suave.

My only little complaint about all this is their decision to retire maps — at least temporarily — to prevent the map pool from becoming too bloated. I don’t understand why they don’t just let us blacklist one or more maps — that seems much better than the developers deciding for us what maps we can and can’t play on.

If I never see Dragon Shire again, it will be too soon.

Elder Scrolls Online: I’m still here

I continue to inch through Elder Scrolls Online at what I will generously call a snail’s pace, due to a combination of being frequently distracted by other things and the fact it’s a very slow game to progress in to begin with.

For the most part my opinion of it remains the same: It’s a solid but not stellar game. I remain somewhat unsure whether it will be something I stick with long term. It’s got a lot going for it, but I’ve yet to be blown away, and it has a lot of competition for my time.

My Bosmer sorcerer hides in the shadows in Elder Scrolls OnlineI have managed to finish the first zone, earn my mount, and unlock weapon swapping. The latter two things have had a very pronounced positive effect on my experience, which leads me to wonder why they take so damn long to unlock. The mount, in particular, took about twice as long to unlock as it would in your average MMO, and frankly I think the average wait time is a bit much.

I’ve yet to see much evidence of the supposedly high quality storytelling this game boasts, but there was one quest that impressed. It was very disturbing, but very well done.

It involved what amounted to a residential school for Bosmer and Khajiit. Uncovering all the abuses suffered by the “students” was a pretty unnerving experience, especially given the history of my own nation. I did quite enjoy the opportunity to bring justice to the perpetrators in the end.

The whole “High Elves are racists” theme was prevalent throughout the Aldmeri starting zone, but it was mostly a very sanitized video game version of racism. This was the only quest to show the terrible results of bigotry, and it did so very effectively.

Also, as half-hearted as the whole racism story was, I also liked the game’s complete and utter disrespect for those who hold such attitudes, particularly Razum-dar’s insistence on simply calling them “idiots.”

I really hope I haven’t see the last of Razum-dar.

Rescuing a traumatized Khajiit woman in Elder Scrolls Online

Generally I find this game’s writing fairly mediocre, but this is one of the more poignant pieces of dialogue I’ve seen in a video game.

I’ll also say I do enjoy this game’s eye for detail. I really like all these little stories that play out in your letters from the crafting hirelings (pro tip: Don’t **** with Pacrooti), and there are other small touches. The other day an NPC guard randomly complimented me on one of my heroic actions — which happened weeks ago in an entirely different zone.

War in the North: It’s okay, I guess?

Finally, I’ve also been working on getting through at least some of the backlog of games I’ve developed on my Steam account, starting with Lord of the Rings: War in the North.

I thought about doing a full review of it, but I don’t think I’ve got enough to say on the matter.

It’s not a terrible game, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. It is, at best, adequate.

Despite an admiral effort at telling a new story in Middle-Earth while staying true to the books, there just isn’t much in the way of a story, nor are any of the characters developed enough to be interesting. Mostly it’s just an excuse to wander around decapitating Orcs.

On the plus side, you get to wander around decapitating Orcs.

The combat is mostly quite visceral and fun, but it can also get rather frustrating in certain spots. A lot of high level enemies pretty much just chain-stun you endlessly, which gets incredibly aggravating after a while.

Andriel cuts down an Orc in Lord of the Rings: War in the NorthUltimately the main thing I liked was simply the character I chose to play as: an Elven battle-mage. I do love playing a spell caster who can wade into the fray and get their hands dirty. Plus she was voiced by Laura Bailey, which is always plus.

I’ll also give the game some credit for making its female armour actual armour.

What Happened to Dwarves?

I’m the Elf guy. Everyone who knows me knows this. Elves are my favourite fantasy archetype. I live by the creed, “If it’s not an Elf, leave it on the shelf.”

A shot of Gimli, son of Gloin, in the Lord of the Rings filmsBut you may be surprised to learn that in my earlier years I was also a pretty huge Dwarf fan. When I played Lord of the Rings as a kid, I was always Gimli, and I was damn happy about it.

I admired the courage, the nobility, and the sheer badassery of Dwarves. They were mighty warriors and loyal friends.

As the years went on, my interest in the Dwarf archetype faded and ultimately all but evaporated. Part of this is due to my changing tastes and my love for Elves coming to eclipse all else, but a lot of this also has to do with how the fantasy genre has treated the archetype and — I think — failed it.

Of all the major fantasy archetypes, Dwarves seem to have the least variety in their depictions. I’ve seen amazing variety in the depictions of Elves — good and evil Elves, wild and civilized Elves, fierce and placid Elves, magical and mundane Elves. Dragons, too, have incredibly creativity in their various depictions. They’re usually huge fire-breathing lizards, but their temperaments and their places in a world and its history can vary wildly.

Dwarves are always pretty much the same. I’ve seen a few minor variations on the theme here and there, but they’re generally all just a bunch of bland Gimli clones. Nobody seems to put much effort into their Dwarves.

Art of Magni Bronzebeard from World of WarcraftWhat’s worse is that what little change has come to the archetype has not at all been for the better. The archetype has not expanded, but narrowed. It hasn’t evolved; it’s devolved.

These days, the overwhelming majority of Dwarves you seen in fantasy are crude, hard-drinking brawlers with cartoony accents, and little more. They’re buffoons.

It didn’t use to be this way. If you go back to the beginning, Tolkien’s Dwarves had dignity. Sure, they liked to drink, and they were a bit crude, and they never backed down from a good fight, but there was a lot more to them than that. They were an ancient and noble people with a mysterious and complex culture. They built wondrous marvels, and they accomplished grand deeds.

Look at Thorin Oakenshield. Here is a Dwarf with dignity. He is a regal and terrible figure, brave and bold but also subtle and majestic.

Watching the Hobbit movies and being reminded what a grand leader Thorin is really opened my eyes to how much modern fantasy has failed the Dwarven archetype. They have the potential to be so much more than tipsy thugs that sound like Groundskeeper Willie.

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in the Hobbit filmsIt echoes how pop culture belittles ancient Nordic culture, from which the Dwarven archetype draws much of its inspiration. People view the Norse as naught but hard-drinking, brutal raiders, and certainly that was part of their culture, but there was much more to them than that. They were also great poets and scholars with a rich culture and mythology, and they were far more technologically and socially advanced than the other European peoples of the time.

I want Dwarves to take their dignity back. I want them to get a fair shake. They deserve to have all the depth, complexity, and variety of the other great fantasy archetypes. One of my goals for future writing projects is to present a version of Dwarves that is more original and more sophisticated than what has come before, and I would love to see the rest of the fantasy genre do likewise.

Let Dwarves live up to their full potential. Let me be a Dwarf fan again.