Gaming Round-Up: Bioware and Blizzard

I’ve found myself in another period of jumping between a bunch of games in rapid succession lately. Without intending it, I’ve ended up on a bit of a Bioware kick, though Blizzard has also put in an appearance.

A Season of Skulls event in Anthem.

I’ve chosen to participate in IntPiPoMo again this year, so I’ll be including extra screenshots of every game. Click to enlarge!

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I’ve been meaning to do it forever, but I finally did a third playthrough of Mass Effect: Andromeda. As I’ve said before, the new game plus in this game is truly second to none. After two playthroughs, I had all the skill points and gear I could possibly need. I didn’t need to waste any time mining, gathering, or even looting bodies. It makes for a much tighter, more story-driven experience.

I skipped even more side content this time — especially on Kadara — making for a nice breezy playthrough.

This time I did something I haven’t done in Mass Effect before: I played as a soldier, using mainly combat abilities. It’s definitely not as fun as biotics, but it’s not without its charm. Overdrive plus a rapid-firing assault rifle gets pretty hilarious.

I also romanced Jaal this time. It took a while to get to the good stuff, but I can see why his romance is so well-regarded. Dude’s so passionate he makes even me feel a bit weak in the knees.

Sara Ryder and Jaal in Mass Effect: Andromeda

SWTOR: Onslaught

I had pretty low expectations for this expansion, but even so it’s a disappointment.

First of all, calling it an “expansion” is pushing credibility to a breaking point. It has barely any more content than their recent content patches. I think the whole thing took me maybe five hours.

That might be forgivable if they hit the ball out of the park on the quality of the content, but they didn’t, at all. The entire story is crushingly dull. It feels like they rehashed some rejected side quests from the base game. It’s a very small, ultimately irrelevant story. It’s downright insulting to go from being a galactic super power to doing fetch quests for some nameless back alley gangster.

The faction conflict worked in the original class stories because it was just a backdrop for more personal stories. My agent had personal reasons for fighting back against Hunter and his ilk. There’s none of that in Onslaught; you have no reason to care about anyone or anything in this story. It’s just shooting faceless NPCs of the enemy faction.

At the very end, there are some teases of a new direction for the story, and it sounds very interesting, but it begs the question of why we didn’t just skip to the good stuff. Why waste time with the tedious chores that make up Onslaught?

The planet Onderon in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The one thing I can praise about Onslaught is that it doesn’t feel like a total reboot of the story after the Fallen Empire/Eternal Throne arc. I was worried it would be. But the Odessen Alliance is still a player in the story, and there’s lots of cameos by familiar cast members. Even Koth put in an appearance.

I would have liked more content with Lana — weren’t we supposed to be getting married? — but at least she’s not gone entirely. That gives me some hope for the future.

But man, even for the low price of a month of subscription, I feel ripped off by Onslaught. What a waste of time.

Anthem

I’ve also ducked back into Anthem for a brief visit. I was drawn by the new Mass Effect-themed Javelin skins. I’d yet to find a look for my interceptor that I really liked, and Quarians are my favourite ME aliens, so buying the Quarian skin was a bit of a no-brainer.

I love it. Even if I hadn’t been a Mass Effect fan, I might still have gotten the skin because it just looks so damn good and is so different from anything we have in the game right now.

Anthem has done a really good job at adding interesting cosmetics, and the fashion endgame is getting pretty serious. And I, for one, welcome our new fashionista overlords.

The Quarian Interceptor skin in Anthem.

I also checked out the new freeplay events added for the “Season of Skulls.” They’re pretty fun. The one with the torches in the darkness especially stands out as being very atmospheric and rather different from any of Anthem’s previous content.

Anthem unquestionably has a problem with anemic content right now, but I must say the quality of what content does get added never disappoints.

StarCraft II

I’m at the point now where I think I’m willing to drop my boycott against Blizzard, though I definitely plan to be more skeptical of what they do in future. Brack’s apology at BlizzCon doesn’t count for much, but the tolerance they showed to protesters at the convention does speak to a willingness to walk the walk on free speech. It’s the bare minimum necessary to maintain the illusion of decency, but the bare minimum is by definition good enough.

I still the company’s changed, and I’m trying to lose my blind fanboyism for them, but I’m willing to give them another chance at this point.

For now all that’s manifested as is finally buying Stetmann in SC2’s co-op, though even then I paid using some of my remaining WoW Token balance.

Playing as Egon Stetmann in StarCraft II co-op.

He’s an interesting commander, but I don’t think he’ll ever be my favourite. I like the concept of the Stetallite mechanic, wherein he blankets the map with satellites that project various buff fields, but the way it’s implemented feels like a bit of a chore. You spend every free moment dropping more Stetallites, and it gets exhausting after a while.

Zerglings with Immortal shields get pretty hilarious, though. I’ve had surprising success just massing swarms of Lings and swamping the map with them. Back them up with Hydralisks for anti-air; their missile attack is godly.

BlizzCon 2019 Leaves Me With Mixed Feelings

This is a sad day. While it may have had its disappointments before, BlizzCon has always felt a bit like Christmas morning to me. But nowadays Blizzard’s games have strayed far from what made me love them, and after they started creeping on female employees’ periods and stomping free speech to appease China’s government, I’ve decided to tentatively boycott future purchases.

A preview of Overwatch 2's new Sojourn heroStill, I’m watching the coverage. I have to for work if nothing else. The reveals so far give me a bit of hope, but perhaps not enough to turn things around for my dying love of Blizzard.

Yes, J. Allen Brack did open the convention with an apology for their screw-up regarding Hong Kong, and to be fair, he sounded pretty sincere. But waiting until now undermines that sincerity, and so far that apology is not backed up by any action. I’ll need to wait and see if this really changes my opinion in the long term.

Before I go any further, I will mention I’ve had a terrible week filled with health problems and other misery, so if I’m bit more ruthless in my rantiness than usual, I apologize.

Diablo IV:

Huge disappointment.

Everything about this reeks of an attempt to appease the edgelord fanboys who didn’t like Diablo III. It feels like they’re basically trying to pretend D3 didn’t happen. No returning characters, no indication that they’re picking up where Reaper of Souls’ cliff-hanger left off, no mention of the growing power of the Nephalem, no mention of saving Leah’s soul, no reckoning with Imperius.

A screenshot from Diablo IVOh, yes, and skill points are back, so you rest assured that once again get your build from Google and feel superior to everyone who didn’t! Who needs flexibility and meaningful customization?!?

Even the environments feel painfully uncreative. Just the same moors and deserts every Diablo game is apparently required to have. Take us to Xiansai or Skovos and I’d actually be excited.

Honestly, if Diablo III hadn’t happened, this would be an exciting sequel to Diablo II. But in a world where Diablo III exists, this feels like a step backwards in every possible way.

Except the graphics. Those are pretty awesome-looking.

Shadowlands:

I’m not sure how I feel about the new World of Warcraft expansion.

For most of the cinematic, I was terrified they were just going to make Sylvanas the Lich Queen, which would have been the Worst Twist Ever, but then… then things got interesting.

The cinematic trailer for World of Warcraft: ShadowlandsFrom a lore perspective, Shadowlands looks genuinely intriguing. Delving into the afterlife to confront a heretofore unknown threat is daring. It reminds me of Mists of Pandaria; it’s a setting we’ve heard of before, so it doesn’t feel like a total ass-pull, but we know basically nothing about it, so it’s a total blank slate to create new lore and stories.

That is deeply appealing.

On the other hand, Shadowlands appears to be the most unambitious expansion to date in terms of gameplay features. No new race, class, or even allied races.

The only new feature of any note appears to be Covenants, which sound like Legion’s class hall campaigns but fewer in number and therefore theoretically more fleshed out. That does sound cool, though. Encourages alt play, which I like.

Not sure that’s enough to win me back to WoW at this point, though. If they’d announced a permanent end to the faction conflict, or free to play, or an end to the restrictions on flying, I’d be ready to hop on the bandwagon, but as it is I’m on the fence on Shadowlands.

Arcturus Mengsk:

So after years of people asking for Valerian to be playable in StarCraft II co-op, we instead get… his father, who worked for Amon, the villain of co-op.

The Dominion Fleet calldown ability in StarCraft II co-op missions.Sure. That makes sense.

I don’t really feel the need for new commanders in co-op at this point, so I won’t be heartbroken if the new ones are no good, but yeah… this was not a good choice.

Overwatch 2:

Somewhat surprisingly this is what has me most tempted to break my boycott right now.

First off, that cinematic trailer was bloody amazing. Overwatch cinematics usually are, but this one takes the cake. Epic, fun, emotional. I loved Tracer posting a picture of her girlfriend in the cockpit of her jet.

Overwatch 2 itself is essentially a huge expansion pack for the original game that fleshes it out to what it should have been at launch. There will now be a story campaign and repeatable co-op missions that sound a lot like StarCraft II’s co-op.

This is what I wanted Overwatch to be from the start. Finally we’ll get to advance the story and explore this beautiful world Blizzard created.

Oh, yeah, and we’re getting Canadian representation. There’s a new Toronto map that looks fantastic — TTC streetcars! A Jamaican restaurant! — and if I’m not mistaken I’m pretty sure I saw a red maple leaf badge on the new hero, Sojourn.

A preview of Overwatch 2's Toronto mapYeah, this could win me back.

My one concern — aside from Blizzard’s recent scumminess in general — is that it looks you can’t solo the story missions, which could make for an unpleasant experience. SWTOR taught us how well story-driven experiences work with four player PUGs (poorly).

We’ll see what other news comes out over the coming days and weeks. If this BlizzCon had come in a different context, I would be far more impressed. As is, it’s a struggle for them to crawl out of the hole they’ve dug themselves… but there might be a sliver of hope yet.