Gaming Round-Up: Heroes, D3, TSW, and Skyforge

I had a bunch of gaming topics I wanted to discuss that wouldn’t quite fill up a post on their own, so I decided I’d just jam them all together.

My team loading into a match in Heroes of the StormLet’s get to it!

Heroes of the Storm: The two queens

This week saw a big patch for Heroes of the Storm, bringing with it the long-awaited release of Sylvanas Windrunner.

Since the patch also included increased leveling rewards — awarded retroactively to those of us already max level — I had an abundance of gold, and I bought Sylvanas at her starting price of 15K gold, also treating myself to her ranger-general skin.

Initially, I found myself somewhat disappointed with Sylvanas’ incarnation in Heroes. She felt very weak, and I struggled badly.

The problem is that she is incredibly squishy, and while her mobility seems good on paper, it’s often impractical. Her teleport relies on a projectile with a travel time that is hardly any faster than normal hero movement speed, and while Withering Fire can be shot on the move, it needs talents to really be a practical choice for harassment or chasing enemies.

I capture some mercenary camps as Sylvanas Windrunner in Heroes of the StormHowever, I refused to give up, and after getting some practice in and experimenting with different talent builds, I managed to achieve a decent level of success. She’s still significantly weaker than other specialists in a lot of ways — she can’t solo grave golems, for instance — but she does have her advantages. If left uncontested, her push power is incredible, and she’s excellent at countering enemy mercenaries and minion waves

Also, her team fight potential is pretty good by specialist standards, though not really much better than Nazeebo’s and Zagara’s, and she is a bit like Illidan in that she excels at finishing off wounded enemies.

Actually, she reminds me of Illidan a lot of ways. They both require extremely high APM compared to other characters, they’re both obscenely squishy but highly mobile, and they’re both heroes who can be either devastatingly powerful or borderline useless depending on the situation and the person controlling them.

I still think she could maybe use a buff to her survivability, either in the form of more health, more reliable self-healing, or a more practical escape tool. Seriously, Banshee Wave is the least practical teleport ever. You can pull off some incredible stunts with it… but you probably won’t. It’s not a good sign when a hero with a built-in teleport still needs to take Bolt of the Storm at level twenty.

The other big ticket item for this patch is the new map, Tomb of the Spider Queen. It’s not quite as bad as I worried it would be, and it’s definitely not as tedious as Dragonshire, but it is a fairly uninspiring map.

The load screen for the Tomb of the Spider Queen map in Heroes of the StormThe game isn’t even out of beta yet, so I doubt Blizzard has already run out of ideas for interesting map mechanics, but that’s the impression one gets from Tomb of the Spider Queen. The map objective basically boils down to, “push lanes so that you can periodically push lanes a little harder”. It feels far more like a traditional MOBA than other Heroes maps, and it’s definitely not as exciting as rushing for a tribute on Cursed Hollow or battling over temples on Sky Temple.

There’s also less team fighting, and mercenaries play a much smaller role since any time you’re not in lane is time you’re not gathering crystals from the enemy creeps.

The map could really use some alternative sources for crystals, like merc camps or occasional crystal dumps similar to the treasure chests on Blackheart’s Bay.

I was also a bit disappointed this patch didn’t include the previewed option to permanently mute team chat — not sure if that’s still coming or not. The unending nastiness of people in this game is really starting to drive me up the wall.

Diablo III: Greed is good

I haven’t been playing Diablo III on any kind of a regular basis for quite some time, but I still pop into it once in a while. It’s a great game to just jump into whenever you have some spare time, and it’s good for stress relief.

The Vault zone in Diablo III

WHAT RICHES

So I found myself running through the lands of Sanctuary again, and I came across some interesting new additions since the last time I’d played.

Since D3 launched, there have been hints of a mythical realm filled with riches hoarded by the treasure goblins, and of the demon who rules over it: Greed.

Ever since, players have longed to explore this place, and now that’s finally possible. Treasure goblins will now rarely leave behind a portal to Greed’s Vault on death, and I was lucky enough to find one.

It is everything I dreamed of. In twenty minutes, I acquired thirty-one million gold, several hundred blood shards, three legendary items, and a rough estimate of an assload of high level gems.

Granted, this was while the community buff with double gold find was active, but still. Talk about a goody room.

The loot after defeating Greed in the Vault in Diablo IIIThis also feels like a good time to mention that my wizard has a legendary item which grants her experience equal to any gold she picks up.

It culminates with a boss fight against Greed herself, who has the absolute best death animation of any boss ever. I must have spent a good ten minutes just opening and closing the chest on her head purely for the juicy sound effect.

Shortly thereafter, I encountered another new addition: a rainbow treasure goblin whose death opened a portal to a version of the infamous pony level. Although I’ve never visited the original Whimsyshire, I have encountered Nephalem Rift levels based on it before, so the joy of butchering rainbow ponies was not entirely new to me, but I still couldn’t resist pausing my bounty farming to explore the full map. Was a nice break from the usual grind.

I’m really impressed that Blizzard continues adding meaningful new content to D3 post launch. Sure, these aren’t huge additions, but this is a game that has absolutely no monetization beyond box sales. Blizzard doesn’t get much, if anything, from adding these new Easter eggs. It’s just a gift to the players.

Whatever issues D3 may have had at launch, it has earned a lot of respect from me.

My wizard exploring the Whimsydale zone in Diablo IIITSW shoves its bag in our face:

This week has also seen a return of the golden golem event in The Secret World. Between a certain degree of burnout and still being a little unhappy with recent events, I haven’t participated all that much, but I did log in long off to buy the latest loot party bag.

Yes, yet another.

It’s starting to feel like Funcom has gone a little mad with power with these things. They started as a special holiday thing, but now they’re taking any excuse to churn them out.

A lot of people are getting fed-up, and there’s a big backlash from certain members of the community. For my part, I am a bit fatigued on the bags myself, but mostly just because they don’t feel exciting or special anymore.

I’m certainly not as bothered as some others. As far as ways to monetize the game goes, this one is relatively harmless. All the rewards are cosmetic, most can be traded, and it can create fun social events. I’m in the habit of running to Kingsmouth and dumping the loot on newbies — seems like they’d enjoy it the most, and I figure if I can give them a positive experience early on, it might encourage them to keep going with the game.

My Dragon demonstrates the new /dance_rockabilly emote in The Secret WorldAnd I do really love the /dance_rockabilly emote from this most recent one.

“Gatecrasher, know that you stand before one charged by Amaterasu and blessed by Gaia!”

…It’s funny how Firefox’s spell check is lacking all kinds of everyday words, but it has “Amaterasu.”

Anyway, on the whole, I don’t think the loot bags are a problem for TSW, but I can sympathize with feeling a bit fatigued by them.

Skyforge’s class reveal:

I’m still not sure what to make of Skyforge, but a recent reveal of their full list of launch classes nudged me back towards the “excitement” category.

Firstly, there are a lot of them. Thirteen to be precise, which is a pretty huge number, especially for a new MMO. World of Warcraft only has eleven, and it’s ten years old.

A preview image of the berserker and kinetic classes from SkyforgeThere’s also a very interesting mix of standard archetypes — paladin, cryomancer, archer — along with more unusual concepts. There’s an alchemist class, which is a very rare archetype that intrigues me. They’re also launching with a monk class, which is an archetype I feel deserves much more attention than it gets.

But by far the most interesting one to me is the kinetic, which uses special gloves to manipulate gravity, hurl boulders, and generally wreak havoc.

That sounds awesome.

I’m still wary of getting excited about Skyforge, though. Word of mouth from the beta is decidedly mixed, and supposedly the developer’s parent companies has ties to the Kremlin, which is rather unnerving given recent world events. I’m not sure I want to support something like that… though I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first product with a shady pedigree I’ve supported. Nobody’s hands are totally clean in this day and age.

Sigh… I’m so conflicted.

Skyforge: I Want to Believe

It’s been a while since there have been any upcoming MMOs I’ve been really excited about. Guild Wars 2 was probably the last, since I didn’t know much about The Secret World until it had already launched.

A city in SkyforgeOf the upcoming crop, there are some that I have some curiosity about, but only one that has properly intrigued me: Skyforge, a science fantasy free to play title due for release soonish.

The previews for Skyforge are hitting a lot of the right notes for me — free to play from the start, action combat, gorgeous graphics, unique setting, multiclassing — but there are also some serious causes for concern that keep me from getting properly excited.

God mode:

The setting for Skyforge seems pretty interesting, though I haven’t seen a lot of info about its lore, leading me to believe it may not be a priority for the developers. It’s science fantasy rather than the traditional high fantasy of other MMOs; it is set in a world full of magic and mystery, but also advanced technology.

Some zones in Skyforge are the sort of pastoral wildernesses you see in most MMOs, but others are grandiose sci-fi metropolises that look like something straight out of Star Wars. It’s a pretty interesting mix, and as anyone who has read my books knows, I’m rather keen on the science fantasy/magitech angle.

The concept of godhood is important in Skyforge. The main threat in the game comes in the form of invasions by evil gods seeking to claim the world as their own, and players take on the role of immortals who will eventually ascend to godhood.

An outdoor zone in SkyforgeI initially thought this was a fairly meaningless title meant to cater to players’ egos, but from the sounds of it, becoming a god will actually have an impact on gameplay, as well. There’s mention of players being able to literally enter god mode, granting them fantastic powers, such as the ability to change classes even in combat.

That brings me to what is currently the thing I find most compelling about Skyforge: its unusual progression model and potential for multi-classing.

It sounds a bit like a combination of the systems in The Secret World and Rift. Skyforge does not have levels in the traditional sense, though it does have pseudo-levels like TSW, and you can unlock every class in the game on a single character, switching between them at will.

If you know me, you know I’ve never liked being pigeon-holed into a single class or role, so this is very appealing to me. It is a little disappointing that you can’t blend the abilities of different classes, and more disappointing that classes are unlocked in tiers, so some will require significant grinding to unlock, but still much preferable to a traditional class system.

As for the classes themselves, the ones I’ve seen so far seem fairly generic — berserker, paladin, cryomancer, etc. — but there will supposedly be about a dozen total, with more released after launch, so there’s plenty of room for some more original class concepts, especially considering the potential opened up by the combination of sci-fi and fantasy elements.

A screenshot of the berserker class in SkyforgeThe classes also seem more powerful, spectacular, and pleasantly over-the-top than their equivalents in other MMOs. I generally have no interest in warrior-style classes, but after seeing the berserker trailer, in which said class ran around sawing giants in half with a chainsaw-greatsword, I have a strong urge to make an exception to my “no warriors” rule.

In doing research for this post, I have also discovered that Skyforge will apparently lack the traditional holy trinity, which is also compelling. There are no direct healing classes, though there are supposedly classes that provide support other ways, and there may be tanks — it’s not entirely clear.

One issue with Skyforge is that it hasn’t been getting a lot publicity for whatever reason, so it’s hard to find reliable information on it. Another tidbit that has popped up in my research for this post is that content will supposedly scale up to your character’s level, much like in Guild Wars 2, which is also welcome news.

So taken altogether, that’s very nearly my MMO wishlist summed up in a single title, minus only a strong commitment to story. But yet there are some things about Skyforge that give me serious pause.

A poor pedigree:

Most of my concerns about Skyforge are based on who’s developing it: the same team behind Allods Online.

A screenshot from SkyforgeAllods Online. Those are two words to send a chill down the spine of any MMO player.

Now, I have not played Allods myself, and for what it’s worth, I have heard it’s actually a pretty solid WoW clone, as these things go, in terms of general game mechanics.

However, it was for a very long time the poster child for how not to do free to play — these days Star Wars: The Old Republic may have taken that crown. Much of the negative views of free to play in the west have their roots in Allods. It took ruthless monetization and pay to win to mind-bogging heights.

Now, many postulate that a lot of that was the doing of the publisher, not the developers, so there may still be hope for Skyforge, since it will have a different publisher.

There’s more than past history that makes me a little weary of Skyforge, though. There’s also the fact that the Allods team is based in Russia, and due to recent world events, I’m leery of playing a Russian game.

Between their militaristic aggression and brutal anti-gay laws, it’s safe to say Russia isn’t my favourite country right now. I generally make it a point not to judge a country by the actions of its government, but by all reports, those policies are pretty popular among the Russian people.

Two player characters do battle in SkyforgeOn the other hand, it doesn’t seem fair to assume the worst of the Allods people. Just because their country currently has a surplus of homophobic thugs doesn’t necessarily mean they’re counted among that number.

But there’s also the concern of access to Skyforge being threatened should relations between Russia and the West further devolve. I don’t exactly think World War Three is going to break out anytime soon, but economic sanctions — imposed by the West against Russia, or by Russia against the West — don’t seem entirely outside the bounds of possibility right now. I’d hate to sink hundreds of hours into an MMO character only to lose access to it because Putin and Obama can’t play nice.

Perhaps I’m being too paranoid, but such things do leave me reticent to embrace Skyforge as I otherwise might.

And finally there’s the concern I have about most upcoming games: Will it have a decent story? Story is incredibly important to me, and I tend to lose interest in MMOs before long if they can’t hook me with their story.

Skyforge’s unusual setting seems quite compelling, but most discussions of the game’s story to date have boiled down to, “You god. You smash other gods. Rawr.” That’s not terribly encouraging.

* * *

A screenshot from SkyforgeSkyforge definitely looks interesting, but I’m not quite ready to jump on the hype train yet.

I will say, though, that I find it a bit surprising Skyforge isn’t getting more buzz. On paper, it seems very ambitious, and it’s doing a lot of unusual things that seem like they should be causing a stir.

Curious.