Gaming Round-Up: A Return to SWTOR, Wolves of Midgard, the Horners, and More

I finally got a bit burnt out on Legion, so I’m taking a break before I tackle the last few class stories. In the interim, I’ve been bouncing around between a few different games, which means it’s time for another multi-topic gaming post.

A rare moment of quiet in Vikings: Wolves of MidgardBack in the Republic:

Long-term, I want to give some serious time to SWTOR. Catch up on the story and maybe finish the last two class stories. However, there’s supposed to be a major content patch soon, so I figure I should wait for that before I get too heavily invested, and as a result I’ve just barely dipped my toes in.

Despite my obscure tastes, I did lose a couple of character names during the recent server merges. I’m rather pissed to have lost my bounty hunter’s name, as it was already my second choice for her name, and now she’s down to like my sixth or seventh choice. The others I don’t mind, but boy is it hard to find a new name now. Absolutely everything is taken. Who the hell even knows what “Bagrada” is other than me?

I did eventually think of a name for my knight that wasn’t taken, and I actually really like it. I should use it more. And thankfully my main characters — agent, warrior, and consular — all got to keep their names. The reign of Empress Maigraith Numin continues undisputed.

Another mild annoyance is that SWTOR apparently stores UI data client-side rather than server side, so I had to set everything up again since I’m playing on a different computer now.

Unlike most MMO players, I’m not fussy about my UI. I’m usually happy to play with the default settings of any given MMO. Even ESO’s much maligned interface is fine by me. But for whatever reason the default UI in SWTOR makes me want to punch kittens, so I have to rekajigger it a fair bit.

Cipher Nine and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old RepublicOn the good news front, I am delighted to be able to customize the armour of my KotFE companions. Well, Lana, anyway. I never much bother with the others. I put together an outfit based around the Protoss-looking armour from the new light side vendors, and she is now the glorious space paladin of my dreams.

Mr. and Mrs. Horner:

In other news, this week saw the hotly anticipated (by me) release of StarCraft II’s latest co-op commander(s), the husband and wife team of Matt Horner and Mira Han.

My early experiences with them were actually something of a baptism by fire. I was struggling even on normal — something I haven’t done since I first started on co-op. I’ve come to the conclusion they’re a bit like Karax, despite having a totally different playstyle: They have a very steep learning curve, and they’re highly dependent on leveling upgrades.

I’m getting the hang of them now, but I would definitely say they’re one of the most challenging commanders in co-op.

The thing is that Matt’s units are extremely strong, but also extremely expensive. Meanwhile, Mira’s are pretty much just trash. The goal, then, is to mass up a large force of Matt’s air units while using Mira’s mercs only as a mineral dump. The trouble is getting to that point. You simply can’t afford Matt’s units in the early game, but you can’t spend too much on Mira’s or you’ll never get ahead.

Matt Horner and Mira Han's army in StarCraft II co-opThus, while the Horners are a force to be reckoned with late game, the early game is a nerve-wracking ordeal.

Their one saving grace in that regard is the Assault Galleon. These are Mira’s main production structure, but they’re also powerful capitol ships. They’re a lot like Tempests — long range, high damage — but with much more health, and you can build them right off the bat, and they only cost 200 minerals. And later on you can upgrade them to also be Carriers.

Galleons are kind of amazing.

My strategy therefore is max out on Galleons (you can only have a maximum of five) ASAP, lean on them to survive, and try to fast tech to the truly valuable units: Wraiths and Battlecruisers.

As far as Mira’s units go, my preference is for the Hellion. Their range means they don’t die quite as quick as her other stuff, and their damage is quite respectable. A lot of people seem to like Reapers, and that can work, but they die so much you end up replacing half your army after every battle.

The good news is the Horners definitely scratch my itch for an air-focused commander. Five Galleons plus their fighter bays plus Wraiths plus Battlecruisers is the unstoppable doom fleet I’ve spent all my life longing for.

Matt Horner and Mira Han in StarCraft II co-opAlso, dropping a space station on people is every bit as hilarious as I dreamed.

Overall I do think they’re a fun commander, but you definitely need to bring your A game. You have to work for your wins.

One final thing to note on the subject of StarCraft: I recently managed to solo a brutal mutation for the first time ever. My ally DCed on the load screen, and I was left to fend for myself. It was very challenging, I had to base trade with Amon, and there were only 21 seconds left on the clock when I killed the final objective, but I did it.

Considering I normally struggle to solo even standard matches, and that brutations are generally the toughest thing in the game short of PvP, I feel pretty proud of myself.

Nova OP.

Favoured of Skadi:

On top of that, I also played through a single-player RPG I got cheap on a Steam sale, Vikings: Wolves of Midgard. It’s a Diablo clone inspired by Norse mythology, which also neatly explains why I bought it.

Fighting a boss in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

Most folk’ll never lose a toe, but then again some folk’ll, like Cletus the slack-jawed Jokul…

Even after having finished it, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.

It has some neat ideas. One example is the exposure mechanic of environmental hazards. For example, if you’re traveling in a cold area, you’ll need to warm up by fires regularly or risk freezing to death. I really wish more games made the environment part of gameplay like this.

The combat is also very fun, and it does an admirable job of bringing the world of Norse mythology to life. It’s clear they actually did their research, even if they still take liberties in places. The story’s junk, but the strength of the setting carried it through, and the main character’s voiced by Alix Wilton Regan (if female), which is always a plus.

I did enjoy the class system, as well. Rather than traditional classes, you gain bonuses based on which of the Norse gods you follow, and it’s possible and even encouraged to put points into two skill trees at once, with the option to swap between them at will. I enjoy that level of versatility.

Most of the trees still more or less correspond to traditional RPG archetypes — Skadi, my main choice, is an archer class — but the Odin tree is a bit different. It’s the caster class, but it’s melee, focusing on acrobatic staff fighting. I suppose that might be bad for people who prefer traditional casters, but for my part I think “Gandalf + ninja” is a pretty awesome class concept.

But Wolves of Midgard a lot of rough edges. Despite some solid graphics, it’s nonetheless clear the game was done on the cheap, and it has many polish issues. That I could live with, but what really surprised me was how old school and unforgiving it felt at times. Save points, for example, are few and far between, so a single death can prove very punishing.

The realistic snow effects of Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

This is the first game I’ve played where the snow actually behaves like snow.

It got worse near the end. There’s a massive spike in difficulty in the last few levels. The intention seems to be to grind earlier content to level up, which is fairly awful. You can get around this by lowering the difficulty, but it’s just not a great situation all around.

So that put a damper on what had otherwise been a pretty fun game up until that point. If you really like Norse mythology and/or you want a more “hardcore” RPG, it might be worth a look, but otherwise I’m not sure how strongly I can recommend it.

And finally…

There’s actually one other noteworthy thing I’ve been playing lately, but that deserves it’s own post, so it can wait.

In the meanwhile, why not check out my latest article for MMO Bro? This time I’m pondering if and how the stories of MMOs can be given satisfying conclusions.

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BlizzCon 2017: Battle for Azeroth, the Horners, and Questioning My Fandom

BlizzCon is once again upon us. After an utterly cringey video trying to sell the Blizzard community as some warm and welcoming place (a notion easily disproved by 30 seconds in WoW), the announcements started coming hard and fast. And yet in all that news, I found very little that excites me.

The official logo for World of Warcraft: Battle for AzerothThe Battle for Azeroth begins:

Let’s get the biggest news out of the way. The next World of Warcraft expansion is Battle for Azeroth, focusing on the war between Alliance and Horde.

Again. Seriously.

Sigh…

So many awesome expansion ideas. So many potential plot threads. And they decide to once again flog the same dead horse they’ve been trying vainly to resurrect for over ten years. What a waste.

The thing is, we know this is a story that can’t go anywhere. No faction can either win or lose. We already went down this road in Pandaria, and while there was some great story-telling along the way, it was a story that ultimately went nowhere and changed almost nothing.

It makes the characters out to be such numb-skulls, too. By working together, the Alliance and Horde just defeated the most powerful army in the entire universe and saved countless trillions of lives. And now they’re back to clubbing each other over the head for land. Sure, that makes sense.

I do like her new outfit, I'll give you thatAnd honestly, it’s just depressing. Every day I wake up to news of the world spiraling deeper into hatred and despair, intolerance and paranoia spreading like wildfire, conflicts that will never be solved claiming more and more innocent lives. Do we really need that in our entertainment, too?

Urgh…

To add insult to injury, Azshara will be in this expansion as a raid boss, but that means we’ll never get an expansion all about her. The most legendary and exciting villain left in the Warcraft universe is being thrown away as an afterthought. It’s like if Wrath of the Lich King had been just one tier.

Now maybe — maybe — if she’s the last boss of the expansion, if it turns out everything else builds to her, maybe they might be able to do her justice. But I’m not hopeful right now.

I’m not sure if this is a silver lining or salt in the wound, but a lot of the actual features of the expansion are things I like. There’s two new continents this time, Kul Tiras and Zandalar, and those are both places I’ve wanted to see in the game for a very long time. I just wish they weren’t tied to such a pathetically dull meta-plot.

This time the continents are actually faction-specific, though you can access the other at max level. My guess is as an Alliance player (for example) you will never have access to Zandalar’s main stories, but you will be able to do world quests and dungeons there.

A preview of the new World of Warcraft expansion, Battle for AzerothThe most big ticket feature, at least in my view, is the oft-requested sub-races, though Blizzard is calling them allied races, and mechanics-wise they’re closer to full new races. There will be six at launch — including two new types of Elves — with more coming later.

Oddly, you’ll have to unlock the right to play these new races. The cynic in me is expecting some terrible pointless grind, but maybe it will be more story-driven like artifact quests, in which case it could be fun.

The new content types -Warfronts and Island Expeditions — are the sort of thing I’ll need to see in action to form an opinion of. And we’re getting a new artifact, but this time everyone gets the same artifact, and it’s a necklace. So basically the artifact system is continuing minus everything that made artifacts interesting. Sure, why not?

There will be leveling changes, as well, and at least some of these will be available before the expansion launches. While they’re not implementing the “One Azeroth” system I dreamed of, they are expanding level-scaling to give the old world broad level ranges. Legacy content is still irrelevant to max level players, but at least leveling will now flow a bit better. And you can skip Outland.

It’s unclear what, if any, other changes there will be. The plot of the expansion includes massive geo-political changes, most notably the destruction of Teldrassil (which means Horde are bad guys again, because absolutely everything about this has to be as tired and stale as possible, apparently), but there’s no talk of actual world changes. Will it be a phased thing? Will it only be in lore and not reflected in gameplay? You’d think if they were doing another Cataclysm, that would be a big headline.

The new Void Elf subrace in World of Warcraft: Battle for AzerothBattle for Azeroth is also missing a lot of other things I was hoping to see: No playable Vrykul, no new character customization, no new classes or specs.

Eh… I don’t know, man. I can’t muster any enthusiasm for any of this right now. Not even new Elves, and that’s a red flag if ever there was one.

Warcraft classic:

Here’s something no one saw coming: Blizzard is finally caving and planning to implement official vanilla servers.

There are a lot of people with a lot of very strong feelings on this. I’m not one of them. Honestly I never really saw the appeal. There are a few things I’d like to able to revisit about classic WoW, but it’s not enough of a draw for me to want to actually put in the time needed to actually level through it all.

I just don’t have much to say about this. I’m including mention of it for the sake of being thorough, but I just don’t care either way.

StarCraft: Meet the Horners

If there’s one thing about this BlizzCon I’m unabashedly excited for, it’s the new StarCraft II co-op commander(s): Matt and Mira Horner.

Mira Han-Horner in StarCraft IIThe idea of Matthew and Mira Han being a joint commander has been floated in the community a couple of times, and I’ve loved the idea from the beginning, but I never imagined Blizzard would actually do it. That they have is just delightful. The banter, people, think of the banter!

The gameplay video makes them look so fun, too. You can crash a space station into your enemies!

They will also be implementing the winner of the fan-made co-op map contest, though at this point I think I want a map veto more than I want new maps, so I’m not so excited for that.

The other news is that StarCraft II is about to go free to play… which is a little confusing, because it already is. And while the new update will relax some of the restrictions on non-paying players, it won’t eliminate them entirely, so really this is just a marketing gimmick more than any meaningful change.

But if it gets more people in StarCraft II, that can only be a good thing. Even if it’s winding down now, SC2 is one of the best things Blizzard’s done in the modern era.

The rest:

Blizzard’s other titles have gotten pretty much the news you would expect. Overwatch is getting a new map and hero.

The new support hero, Moira, in OverwatchThe map is BlizzardWorld, a theme-park based on Blizzard’s non-Overwatch games. It’s the most meta thing in the history of meta. The Protoss section is so beautiful I almost cried, though, and I admit I did laugh at “Snaxxramas.”

The new hero is an evil Scottish scientist named Moira. She’s a support.

They also had another animated short (about Reinhardt this time), which once again gives a hint of how amazing the Overwatch universe could be if Blizzard actually did anything with it, but they aren’t, so my ability to care is pretty much gone at this point.

Heroes of the Storm announced some general tweaks, including what appears to be massive nerfs to all stealth heroes, plus two new heroes: Overwatch’s Hanzo and Warcraft’s Alexstrasza. My enthusiasm for Heroes is greatly diminished these days, but I have to say the cinematic for those two was absolutely nerdgasmic. Man, I wish my Elven characters in WoW could look like Alex did there.

I’m probably reading too much in, but I was also intrigued by the repeated hints to “events in the Nexus” that will be unveiled at a later date. Not sure what that means, but it sounds important. Again, I may be reading too much in.

Finally, Hearthstone is of course getting another expansion, Kobolds and Catacombs. This was mainly amusing for watching the developer tie himself in knots trying to describe an expansion based on Dungeons and Dragons without using the phrase “Dungeons and Dragons.”

Alexstrasza the Dragon Queen in a Heroes of the Storm cinematicEngage cynicism:

I have to be honest: Mayhap soon the disappointment will wear off, or things will turn out better than I expect, but I have never questioned my Blizzard fandom as much as I am right now. This is a pretty big BlizzCon for news, and the only thing I’m genuinely excited about is a minor patch for StarCraft II. That’s bad.

It boils down to this: I became a Blizzard fan for the stories. Say what you will about Blizzard’s story-telling, but it always made me happy, since I was a little kid. But now we’ve reached a point where every single one of Blizzard’s franchises seems to have given up on story altogether, except Warcraft.

And Warcraft? Well, the Legion’s gone. Azshara’s about to be gone, and apparently she’s just being thrown away as a side story instead of being treated as the epic legend she is. There’s still N’Zoth, but as much as I’ve enjoyed the build-up around him over the years, I don’t really have much emotional investment in him.

It’s hard to imagine a future where I’m not a WoW player, but I think Blizzard may have finally run out of stories that I want to hear in that universe.

And I just don’t know where I go from here.