Should I buy a Heroes Founder Pack?

If you have a Heroes of the Storm beta key right now, its a question that you will probably get asked.  Is the Heroes Founder Pack worth buying?

To recap, Heroes of the Storm is a free to play game.  You can play it without spending a penny.  It is currently in beta and not all content is available.  You will be paying to access an unfinished, free product.   In contrast, even unfinished, Heroes is an awesome game.  Its actually pretty far along.  And this is the only way you can be guaranteed a beta key?

Still undecided?  Read on!

Paying for a free game?

You can play without spending anything.  But as they say, developers need to eat too.  Or, a little more accurately in this case, if no one ever spends anything, Blizzard will stop making the game.  So if you love Heroes, you may want to splash a little cash on it occasionally.  This is one opportunity to do that.  Theres no such thing as a free AAA game.

Only mostly finished

Heroes is in beta, that is true.  However, its not exactly coming apart at the seems.  It was built using established tools (those used for Starcraft II) and underwent a fairly thorough Alpha phase.  Almost all game modes are available (not team ranked play).  Tweaks to heroes are just tweaks.  Theres a good pool of Heroes to play and a fairly good set of maps.

The other thing you should know is that there are no more planned wipes for this game.  You might read people saying otherwise, or think that games always wipe at the end of beta.  But you'd be wrong.  The source for this is Blizzard themselves and this would not be the first time they launched a game without a wipe.  

In fact, a wipe would not be a good idea.  When new players join, there will be a range of players.  Some will be ready for ranked play very quickly.  Its not great to have them sitting around waiting for everyone else to catch up - they complain, they leave, they generally cause bad feeling.  If there can be a pool of players ready to greet them? Who already meet the requirements for ranked play (level 30 and 10 heroes owned).  Great!  The ranked season will reset (as it will do frequently throughout the game) so there is no advantage other than a bit of experience (which isn't something you can wipe).

What do I get for my money?

For £29.99/$39.99 you get:

  1. Three heroes: Raynor, Diablo, Tyrande
  2. Three skins: Commander Raynor, Lurkablo Diablo and Blood Elf Tyrande
  3. Epic Mount: Gold Cyber Wolf
  4. A stash of gold: 2,500 in game golds
  5. Immediate beta access

Now lets add context.  For that same price you can buy items 1, 2 and 3 in game as a bundle.  This means that you are getting 2,500 gold as a bonus and access to a game you might be excited about.  Whether you would choose to buy those heroes is another matter.  Personally, I dislike Diablo.  I do, however, quite like Tyrande and her Blood Elf skin is nice.  Raynor is also fine to play.  The mount is pretty and the 2,500 gold will buy you one of the cheaper heroes, or give you a good jump start towards a more expensive one.

Its also worth noting that as far as Founders Packs go, this is pretty cheap!  The Founders Packs for EverQuest Next Landmark, for example, go up to $100, and there have been higher prices in recent years.  Rather than add lots of 'exclusives' to their packs, they are just saying 'buy something from the store and you get access now'.

But the best thing about this approach is that all those people constantly spamming for beta keys on every channel have no excuse.  If they want a beta key that badly, they should just stump up the cash (or save up if they have to).  Though sometimes the desire for a beta key produced good things like this:

Blizzard have said the beta slots are limited.  What this likely means is that, rather than a cap, there is a speed at which they will take in players.  If the servers start to struggle, they will stop selling access until it can be fixed.

Still not sure?

Watch some videos/streams.  Try other MOBAs to see if you like the genre.  Ask your friends what they think.  Or ... just wait until you can try it for free.

Bonus point: Seen the picture of a box in the first image?  As far as we know, there will never be a box.  The idea of a boxed game is still so ingrained in us that Blizzard drew a fake box.

Crystal Balls and Tin Foil Hats: Heart of Thorns

It looks like season 2 of the living story has come to an end and what an end it was!

***HERE BE SPOILERS***

The final cinematic of the Point of No Return will lead into the Heart of Thorns.  This has been trademarked, and so we can expect it to be more than another episode or season.  Instead, this is likely to be the first expansion.

So what can we conclude from the video?

  • Whilst it appears most of Destiny’s Edge went down with their airship, I wouldn’t hold my breath.  Apart from Eir, because making plans for the future always ends badly.
  • The video appears to show a new location – a golden city with a floating person looking over it. There have been suggestions this is Lazarus the Dire of the Mursaat.
Is this good shiny or bad shiny?

Is this good shiny or bad shiny?

  • Although most of those attacking Destiny’s Edge are sylvari, this character appears to be human?  Perhaps this is Saul D’Alessio?
This doesn't look like a killer plant to me!

This doesn't look like a killer plant to me!

  • Which means that E could be Evennia?
  • Saul was the leader of the White Mantle. Since the White Mantle venerated the Mursaat, this ties in nicely with their activities in Kryta as part of the story so far.
  • Was Trahearne corrupted?  It seems Canach is not.
  • Could the success of divine power against Mordremoth lead to a Monk profession being added?

All will be revealed at Pax South on 24 January 2015.

Did you know, Fear Not This Night is from the point of view of the Pale Tree?  Seems appropriate to add Malukah, Taylor and Lara's cover here:

Heroes of the Storm FAQ - Beginner's Edition

Closed beta is nearly here.  So how do you get started with Blizzard's latest game?

Kill all the things!

Kill all the things!

What is Heroes of the Storm?

Heroes of the Storm is a MOBA.  Thats a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.  Two teams face off across a map full of NPCs and obstacles and try to destroy each others base. Its a simple premise with a lot of tactical depth.

How do I get access?

You get a beta key from Blizzard, or already have an alpha key.  I say key, but actually Blizzard enables it on your account.  The only keys will be via giveaways sanctioned by Blizzard.  That guy selling a key on ebay? Hes a con man.

How do I get started?

Blizzard have included a handy tutorial.  If you've never played a MOBA before, or not played a lot, do the tutorial.  It won't take long and it will explain a lot.

Okay, I've done that.  What next?

Now its time to do some Practice matches.  These team you with other NPCs against a team of NPCs.  The NPCs (on both sides) are fairly dim.  You should be able to press the attack, as it were, and get the win.  You can try out different heroes, experience different maps, get the hang of talents, all without meeting anyone else.  Theres not a lot of challenge here, though.

This is the crew your relying on to win that match ...

This is the crew your relying on to win that match ...

Um, heroes?

Yes, you play by selecting one of the premade heroes.  No character building for you!  These are all famous faces from Blizzard properties (Diablo, Warcraft and Starcraft).  They fall into four roles:

  • Assassin - lots of dps, but you will easily go squish
  • Warrior - less dps, but also less squish, more about controlling the map
  • Support - help your fellow players with heals, speed boosts and all sort of other goodies
  • Specialist - so strange they didn't know where else to put it

I'd avoid the specialists to start with and try one of the other three.  Until you understand those roles, specialists will be vary hard to do well with.  In fact, try all of the other three, because you will understand a little better what you are doing.  Finally, start with the easier heros until you get the hang of how things are working.

I can only select a few heroes?

Yes, you can only access heroes that you have purchased or are on the free rotation.  Purchased heroes are always available.  You can buy them with cash or in game currency.  The free rotation changes every week so you won't see those all the time.

Are you going to pay your mercenaries? No! You're going to hit them until they cower in terror. A life lesson.

Are you going to pay your mercenaries? No! You're going to hit them until they cower in terror. A life lesson.

Okay, now what about maps?

Maps are the battlegrounds in which you fight.  As of the end of alpha, Heroes has five maps.  Each maps has some generic features and some map specific features.

Generic features

  • Core - this is the large building at the heart of your base.  Defend yours and destroy theirs.
  • Lanes - each map has 2/3 routes along it, free of obstructions like trees and guarded by forts
  • Forts - each lane normally has two forts at each end consisting of a gate with two turrets, a large fort building, another turret and a healing fountain,  Turrets and forts do a lot of damage and so you need to make sure there are always minions with you when you attack them (though they do run out of ammo too).
  • Minions - these are the small mobs that spawn in your base and run headlong at your opponents base - suckers!  Use yours to hide behind and kill your opponents to gain levels
  • Mercenary camps - these are hostile mobs in little camps marked by a flag.  Beat them and they will fight for you.  Some are easier than others.
  • Vision points - these are points that if you capture allow you to see the map in a radius around them to stop enemies sneaking up on you
  • Jungle - the part of the map full of obstructions that isn't the lanes

Map specific objectives

  • Blackheart's Bay (the pirate one) - collect coins from periodic chests and pirate camps, then give them to Blackheart.  Once he has the required number, he will bomb and opponents fort for you.  You can also steal coins by killing anyone carrying them.
  • Cursed Hollow (the one with the awesome voice actor) - Collect three Tributes and you will curse your enemies.  None of their forts will fire and all their minions will have almost no health.
  • Haunted Mines (the one with the underground bit) - Periodically mines will open.  Go down and kill the undead to collect skulls.  Skulls collected will spawn a golum to attack your opponents.  The more skulls, the more powerful it is.
  • Dragon Shire (oh no its the dragon one) - capture both the top and bottom shrines to allow a player to access the Dragon Knight and use it to capture the opponenets base.
  • Garden of Terror (the plant one) - periodically night will fall and plant creatures will appear.  Kill them to collect seeds.  At 100 seeds, a player can return to base and get their own plant creature.
  • Sky Temple (the new one) - this seems to involve holding temples to have them attack your opponents.  There are NPCs, called Guardians, who will try and take the temples from you (as well as your opponents presumably).

All the goals are clearly marked on the minimap in purple.  They are important and you need to do them.  Your map selection is random.

This is how you will be able to measure your level of addiction.

This is how you will be able to measure your level of addiction.

I see there are different game modes?

Yes, there are six planned modes of which five will be implemented in beta.

  • Practice - all your friends are fake, and your enemies.
  • Cooperative - teams you up with other players to take on a smarter AI.
  • Quick match - teams you up with other players to take on other players.
  • Hero League - solo ranked play
  • Team League - premade team ranked play
  • Custom - create your own match using all the available options.

Hero League will use alternating hero picks and allow you to only choose unique heroes.  The other modes let you pick your hero before you queue.

You mentioned talents? And levels?

There are three types of levels!  Just to make it more complicated.  In a match, your team gains levels as they complete map objectives and kill things.  These levels allow access to talents you can use to empower your hero.  The talent choices very quite a bit, so you can customise your hero quite a lot.  The complete talent selection is called a build.  Matches always start at level 1 and 1 talent.

And the other levels?

These are both hero and player levels outside of the match.  Heroes level up to 10, with rewards at each level.  These include coins, colour variations, access to more talents and finally a master skin (for more gold).

Players level up too and get rewards every so often up to level 15.  These include access to more free hero rotation slots and daily quests.  Daily quests reward coins, so these are good.

Any more advice?

Yes.  Here are my top ten tips.

  1. Did I mention map objectives? Pay attention to them. Make sure you are ready and on decent health when they appear.
  2. Kill minions early on to help gain team levels, rather than getting fixated on early hero kills.
  3. Hide behind your minions. They are there to die for you.
  4. She who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day. The resurrection timer increases with the length of the game and you can leave your team a player down for a long time if you die.
  5. Learn to ping the map to call for help.  Theres a little tool just near your mini map.
  6. If you are falling behind, focus on getting your team level back up to make yourselves competitive.
  7. You need to play multiple heroes. Establish your preferred role within a match and learn lots of heroes that can fill that role.  Unique picks will mean you may not get your choice in ranked play.
  8. Even if you don't play ranked, try other heroes and play them a bit. This helps you learn what your opponents might be doing.
  9. Dailies = coins = heroes
  10. Go and watch the League of Legends World Championships. Its a bit different, but it will teach you a lot about MOBA play.

The procrastinator's guide to running a website

My new years resolution is simple - to update this site consistently for the whole year.  

The challenge is to do this no matter what is going on at work.  And no matter what games I am playing.  In order to achieve this I need to come up with something sustainable.  So here is my seven point plan.

  1. I procrastinate.  A lot.  Therefore a model that involves me only needing to produce content every so often doesn't work.  Mainly because I leave everything until the last possible minute and then get overwhelmed.
  2. Real life is very busy.  I have other commitments that are more important than this website.  So I need to ensure that this website is as efficient as possible.
  3. I've never been happy with the ways I've attempted to do the 'magazine' via this website.  However, I now have Creative Cloud and could do a proper magazine.  If points 1 and 2 were not true and all my Adobe training wasn't 15 years old.  So for now, this is going on hold.
  4. Given point 3, the blog approach is not my preferred one.  So this blog will be a blog and the site will be a site.
  5. I like writing lists and guides.  So I really should incorporate that into the site.
  6. I tend to write more about the games I actually play, so I should limit myself to those games.  That should work out more efficient too.
  7. I want to be able to write more opinion pieces as me, so by separating the blog into a blog, I can go back to writing in the first person and not feel I am breaking some mystical rule of grammar.

Welcome to Meta Gamer 2015.  Its a work in progress but I hope you will like it.

Hearthstone: Goblins vs Gnomes is a threat to our very existence

This is the trailer for the new expansion to Hearthstone - Goblins vs Gnomes.  For a long time, we have wondered what the outcome of this battle would be.  Now we know.  The outcome will be nothing less than the destruction of reality itself as these two miniature examples of disaster made flesh blow everything up.

Worse,  the trailer has a song.  An evil song of the kind you will find yourself murmuring on the train on the way to work while people look at you strangely.  There is only one conclusion.  Goblins vs Gnomes represents a clear and present danger to our very existence.  The only possible outcomes are insanity and destruction.

Goblins vs Gnomes must be stopped.  Otherwise this December will be the end of the world as we know it.

This announcement was brought to you by the Society for Players Afraid of Gnomes and Horrified Eternally by Tiny Technology Items (SPAGHETTI).

WoW: Varian Wrynn, Warlord?

Throughout the lead up to Warlords of Draenor, one figure has played a prominent role but received very little discussion.  Varian Wrynn, King of Stormwind, has a story that certainly rivals that of Thrall for its variety and importance.

EARLY YEARS

Varian Wrynn was the son of King Llane Wrynn.  He was born before the first war brought the orcs through the Dark Portal.  As such, his early life was peaceful.  The orcs changed that.  His father was betrayed to his death and Stormwind was destroyed.  He left his homeland with Anduin Lothar, Champion of Stormwind, Khadgar, and as as many people as they could rescue.

The refugees travelled to Southshore by ship, with the intention of warning King Terenas of Lordaeron of the orc threat.  Varian was warmly greeted by Terenas and treated as an equal, despite having lost his kingdom.  Further, Terenas pledged to help reclaim Stormwind.  It was at this time Varian developed a friendship with Arthas Menethil, son of Terenas.  The two were similar in age and such a friendship seemed natural.  Varian was the more physically able of the two, and tried to help Arthas develop his own fighting skills.

King Terenas formed the Alliance of Lordaeron, led by Anduin Lothar.  The Second War saw the retaking of the orc held lands.  Lothar died in the process, but Varian was now King of Stormwind.  He was just 18 years of age.  He was an active king, travelling around his kingdom to protect his people from orcs and other threats.  He married Tiffin, who bore him a son.  Anduin Wrynn was named for Anduin Lothar.

THE THIRD WAR

Following his ascension to the throne and the restoration of Stormwind, Varian faced a number of challenges.  The Alliance of Lordaeron had begun to fracture, with no foe to face.  Quel'Thalas, Stromgarde and Gilneas seceeded.  Varian remained loyal to Terenas, however.  The bond forged during the time he had spent in the north would not be easily broken.

At the same time, Stormwind faced internal strife. Stonemasons, led by Edwin van Cleef, had undertaken the work to restore the city.  A price had been agreed upon.  However, the House of Nobles who helped Varian lead Stormwind, were reluctant to pay it.  The political structure was such that Varian could not simply overrule them and Lady Katrana Prestor led opposition to him.  His frequent trips around the kingdom had left the House of Nobles in a position of power and he found himself the negotiator.

Varian's wife, Tiffin, supported the Stonemasons cause to her husband.  Despite their best efforts, the pay handed over was far less than had been agreed.  The Stonemasons Guild rioted in the streets.  During the riot, a stone hit Tiffin and she was killed.  Van Cleef ran and Varian had lost another loved one.

Varian did his best to remain a good king and was loyal to his alliances.  During the Third War, he sent troops to support Lordaeron against the scourge and gave succor to her refugees.  His support was to no avail.  His long time friend Arthas, corrupted by his seeming inadequacy against the scourge and the legion, fell.  Arthas had found himself lacking in comparison to those he kept company with, but had been unwilling to admit it.  The nobility and prowess of Varian was just another of those comparisons.  Arthas murdered his father, Terenas, and became the Lich King.  Varian became leader of the Alliance and Stormwind the centre of human strength on Azeroth.

CLASSIC WOW

During the classic version of World of Warcraft, Varian is missing.  A trip to the citadel would find only a young Prince Anduin, surrounded by his advisors - Bolvar Fordragon, the Regent-Lord and Lady Prestor.

Through quests, the player discovered that the king had been travelling to Theramore when he was abducted by the Defias.  A spy within Stormwind had passed them details of his route.  He was taken to Alcaz Island and held captive.  He managed to escape, but the route was difficult.  Varian was washed up on the shores of Durotar with no memory of who he was.

Varian was found by a caravan of Orcs led by a Rehgar Earthfury.  Rehgar was a shaman and a trainer of Gladiators.  Seeing Varian fight off a crocolisk with only a stick, Rehgar decided to enslave this human and train him.  He had two other gladiator-slaves at this time - Broll Bearmantle and Valeera Sanguinar.

Broll was a Night Elf druid.  He attempted to help Varian recover his memories, but was not entirely successful,  Varian began to have flashbacks - standing in a burning city, seeing an older man on a ship call him lad and, importantly, of a young woman, babe in arms, telling him his son and his people needed him. The team fought in the arena together and the crowd gave Varian a new name - Lo'Gosh, meaning Ghost Wolf.

Varian's successes and adventures eventually brought him into the presence of the Tauren druid Hamuul Runetotem.  Hamuul did not tell Varian who he was, but must have had some idea.  He gave Lo'Gosh a feather.  Broll worked out that this was from a hippogryph and managed to use it to summon said creature - Sharptalon.  Together, Broll and Varian escaped.

Broll took Varian with him to Darnassus.  There they met with Tyrande Whisperwind.  The priestess sent them to Jaina Proudmoore in Theramore, thinking the mage could help restore Lo'Gosh's memories.  She did not identify Varian, and neither did Jaina.

Jaina, with the help of her chamberlain Aegwynn, attempted to help him.  They could not access all of his memories, but they did uncover his identity.  Varian had finally arrived at his destination.  They could not, however, completely restore his memories or his sense of identity.  Importantly, he could remember little of his abduction and incarceration.

VARIAN'S RETURN?

In Stormwind, Varian had headed home and was warmly greeted by his people.  He had changed, however.  He was arrogant and careless.  He showed little concern for his people's welfare and concentrated on Katrana Prestor.  Anduin was distraught by the change, but his father cared little.  The people were told Varian had been ransomed and that they would have to pay a substantial tax to cover it.

In Menethil, as this was taking place, Lo'Gosh, Broll and Valeera had a chance encounter with a Defias.  Horrified to see Lo'Gosh alive, the Defias ran for allies to help kill him.  There was, apparently, a hefty price on the head of the former king.  The Defias were confident in their scheme, even under questioning.  Lo'Gosh was told his son would also die.

Now accompanied by the dwarf Thargas Anvilmar, the Lo'Gosh, Broll and Valeera made their way to Stormwind.  At the same time, King Magni Bronzebeard was visiting Stormwind to discuss the problem of the Dark Iron dwarves.  Varian refused him help and Magni headed for the Deeprun Tram.  On the way he was met by Anduin, who suspected something was wrong with his father.  Magni enlisted both Bolvar Fordragon and Marshal Windsor to help him uncover the truth.  Windsor, who had spent much time with Varian, quickly agreed he was an imposter. Further, he became certain the false king was a dragon.

Lo'Gosh contacted Magni and the two discussed the events in Stormwind.  During the discussions a black dragon attempted to kill Lo'Gosh.  An attempt was made on Anduin also.  The fake Varian saves him and the two share a vision of Varian's abduction and a dark ritual.  Varian is about to discuss the vision, when Lady Prestor touches him.  He then becomes confused.  It seems the false Varian is unaware he is false.

Windsor had continued his investigations.  On the brink of success, he was abducted by Dark Iron dwarves and taken to their stronghold in Blackrock Depths.  The player actually rescues Windsor, who now knowns the name of the dragon at the heart of the conspiracy.

Lo'Gosh and his companions head to Stormwind with Windsor.  Katrana Prestor has them immediately arrested and charged as traitors.  She orders their execution.  However, the General she has sent, Marcus Jonathan, is convinced by Windsor of the truth.  Lo'Gosh faces Lady Prestor and the false-Varian even turns against her, pointing out that he is the king.  Katrana is revealed ... as Onyxia.

Lo'Gosh is distracted by the false Varian.  The false Varian was beginning to fight against Onyxia's control and placed the blame for his poor actions on the head of the dragon.  Just then, Anduin arrives and is confused by the two Varians.  The prince is abducted by Onyxia who takes him to her lair, taunting the King/s to follow.

NOT SO FALSE?

The two Varian's go to Theramore where Jaina has discovered what was done.  Katrana began to exert her influence over Varian after the death of Tiffin, but he was strong willed and his love for his son sustained him against her.  She arranged the kidnapping and used dark magic to split Varian into two aspects - a strong willed and a weak willed man.  She had intended to kill the strong willed Varian, but had been interrupted by Naga.  The strong willed Varian had escaped to become Lo'Gosh whilst the weak willed Varian was captured.

The personality of the original Varian has been split amongst the two copies.  Neither is the true Varian.  Both, however, share the love of their son and vow to reclaim him.  Jaina presents them with two ancient elven swords - Shalla'tor and Ellemayne.

During the fight, with Broll and Jaina taken out, Onyxia seeks to kill Lo'Gosh as she had originally intended.  The false Varian, however, steps into the path of the spell.  Lo'Gosh, also being Varian, is unwilling to stand aside and attempts to save his double.  The spell misfires and the two parts of Varian become one again.  The swords also become one - Shalamayne.  Varian uses his new weapon to defeat Onyxia.

STRUGGLING FOR BALANCE

Following these events, a peace between the Horde and Alliance looks possible.  At the summit, however, the Twilight's Hammer intervenes.  Not only does it attack, but it does so in such a way as to convince each faction that the other is responsible.  Varian faces Garona during this attack and comes close to killing her.   She is captured, but can give no answers.

Following this, we see the events of Wrath of the Lich King.  A tentative peace is the result of the greater threat that is the Lich King.  During this, the Scourge, led by Apothecary Putress, betrays both the Horde and the Alliance, killing Varian's friend Bolvar Fordragon.  Upon hearing this, Varian leads a force against the Undercity.  Thrall is also attempting to deal with the rogue Scourge and the two face each other.  Violence is prevented only by Jaina, who teleports the Alliance party home.  Peace seems impossible.  

The only hint of hope is when Varian allows Vorak Saurfang to reclaim the body of his son in Icecrown Citadel.  This continues during the Stormrage novel, when Varian leads a joint army against the Emerald Nightmare.  However, Varian continues to see the Horde in every attack.  During Cataclysm, Jaina and Anduin spend a great deal of time attempting to prevent him from starting a war.  Now made whole, the aggressive Lo'Gosh personality remains a part of Varian, and he struggled to control it.

Eventually, during the novel Wolfheart, Varian learns control.  At first he is against the Worgen joining the Alliance, but eventually he finds common ground with them.  Genn Greymane helps him to achieve control through the rituals the Worgen use to control their wolfish side.  Successful in these, he becomes the champion of Goldrinn.  He and the Worgen fight back against Garrosh Hellscream in Ashenvale.

It takes him some time to reconcile with Anduin, who had left to study with Velen.  Anduin believed strongly in pacifism and was not happy with his aggressive father.  By the time Garrosh Hellscream, now leader of the Horde, begins his aggressive attack, Varian has finally resolved his inner conflict.  He does not give in to Jaina's vengeful pleadings.  He has become the man Anduin hoped for.  Varian is with the player as they advance on Garrosh, but also agrees to hand Garrosh over to the Pandaren for judgement at the end.

Warlords of Draenor finds him struggling to deal with a new Horde invasion.  This time, the Iron Horde are attacking.  Maraad tells him of the Warlords he will face, giving him the strength and knowledge to move against these new foes.


HotS: Alpha Round Up

Heroes of the Storm is now inviting a lot more players.  It still says Technical Alpha on the tin, but its starting to feel more like a beta. Given the hype around getting access to Hearthstone and WoW betas, there is likely to be lots more Heroes news coming out as the game approaches live.

Where are we now

Heroes of the Storm is a MOBA - a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.  Two teams face off against one another and attempt to destroy their opponents base.  League of Legends, DOTA2 - there are plenty of other MOBAs out there.  This is the Blizzard take on a genre they spawned (Defense of the Ancients was original a Warcraft III mod).

For comparison: League of Legends

League of Legends is a very simple game at the basic level.  Players choose from a number of roles (Assassin, Tank, Fighter, Mage, Marksman, Support) and then arrange themselves on a three lane map.  The map is symmetrical, with a base at each end.  The players need to work their way to the enemy base and destroy it.  In their way are towers and enemy minions.  They also have their own towers and minions.  Killing minions, players and objectives give players experience and gold.  The experience allows them access to increasingly powerful spells (of which they have just 4) and the gold lets them buy items to enhance their game play.  These don't carry over to the next game.

Blizzification

The Blizzard approach is to make a simple game even simpler, then add optional depth.  There are four roles: assassin, warrior, support and specialist.  Assassin seems to encompass all the DPS aspects (Assassin, Marksman, Mage), whilst warrior is both Fighter and Tank.  Specialist is ... different.

Additionally, Blizzard want to make the game more team based.  Therefore rewards within game are team based.  This means there is no carry function.  A carry in League is a player who gears and levels more quickly to do large amounts of damage in team fights.

Whilst League has more than one map, the Summoners Rift map is the default.  Other maps exist as seperate game styles.  Players queue for them seperately and only the Summoners Rift features in competitive play.  In contrast, Heroes has a variety of maps that form part of the same rotation.  These maps all have core features - guard towers, watch towers, mercenary camps, etc. as well as their own unique sets of objectives.  There are five of these and you can explore them in detail on the Heroes website.

Blackheart Bay

The additional goals of Blackheart Bay are:

  • Collect Doubloons - Attack Treasure Chests, Mercenaries and Skeletons to do this
  • Turn in Doubloons - Give them to Blackheart or you will lose them all when you die
  • Bombard Your Enemies - After recieving enough Doubloons from your Team, Blackheart will bombard your Enemy's forts

Looking at the map above, the blue towers represent structures, the orange circles special objectives (in this case two treasure chests and Blackheart in the middle) and the purple skulls represent mercenary camps.  The top middle structure is a watch-tower, the other two are the cores.

There are three 'lanes' here.  There are also minions that spawn from each base.  There are layers of gates with turrets next to them.  This video by Chiyosuke shows a game on this map.  The gameplay seems a little slower than that of League of Legends, with it taking longer to down enemies.  This allows for more tactical game play and fits in with the lack of carry style champions.  Towers and gates, in comparison, seem a little more brittle.

Heroes

There are also some Heroes for you to play:

Assassin

  • Kerrigan - Queen of Blades
  • Tychus - Notorious Outlaw
  • Raynor - Renegade Commander
    Demon Hunter - Vengeance Incarnate
  • Zeratul - Dark Prelate
  • Illidan - The Betrayer
  • Falstad - Wildhammer Thane
  • Nova - Dominion Ghost

Support

  • Li Li - World Wanderer
  • Rehgar - Shaman of the Earthern Ring
  • Brightwing - Faerie Dragon
  • Tassadar - Sword of the Templar
  • Malfurion - Archdruid
  • Tyrande - High Priestess of Elune
  • Uther - The Lightbringer

Warrior

  • Muradin - Mountain King
  • Tyrael - Archangel of Justice
  • Chen - Legendary Brewmaster
  • Arthas - The Lich King
  • Diablo - Lord of Terror
  • ETC - Rock God
  • Barbarian - Wanderer of the North
  • Stitches - Terror of Darkshire

Specialist

  • Murky - Baby Murloc
  • Zagara - Broodmother of the Swarm
  • Gazlowe - Boss of Ratchet
  • Abathur - Evolution Master
  • Sgt Hammer - Siege Tank Operator
  • Witch Doctor - Umbaru Heretic

Heroes are all ranked by difficulty.  Illidan, for example, is marked Very Hard, whilst Raynor and Valla are Easy.  However, just as with other MOBAs, personal play style needs to be accounted for.  Your best bet is just to keep trying heroes until you find ones that click with you.  Then, in case there is pick and ban in the Draft game mode, learn other heroes than can fill the same role.  Pick and ban is where each hero can only be used once.  Each team gets to ban some heroes and then pick in turn.

This is a reasonably long list, but in all honesty with the wealth of source material, theres a lot more to add.  A few more I would expect to see:

  • From Diablo - remaining classes from Diablo 3 and potentially earlier games, Treasure Goblin, Deckard Cain, Adria the Witch, Mahgda, Zultan Kulle, Malthael the Angel of Death.
  • From StarCraft - Emperor Mengsk, Samir Duran
  • World of Warcraft - the list here is almost endless but ... Thrall, Hogger, Ragnaros, Medivh, Khadgar, Varian Wyrnn, Anduin Wrynn, Sylvanas, Jaina ... we could go on and on and on here.

You can buy heroes with real currency (remember, developers need to get paid too) or via gold you earn in game.  You can try them for free on both the hero rotation and the closed map 'Try me' feature.  Further, heroes have both skins and tints.

Gold and Cash

There is only one currency in the game - gold.  You can earn gold by doing daily quests and achieving levels, both on your profile and on heroes.  As you level you will gain access to new features such as additional hero rotation slots.  As heroes level, you will gain access to new abilities, tints and portraits.  Heroes cost varying amounts, but you should be able to buy some quite easily.  What you cannot do is buy gold.  Either you make the gold in game to buy and item or you use real money.

It costs 2000 gold or £2.99 for the cheapest heroes, to 10,000 gold or £7.49 for the most expensive.  Skins require real money and again vary from £3.49 to £10.99.  Some mounts can be brought for cash and others for gold.  The cash price seems to be £5.49 and the gold price 20,000.  With these in mind, the current bundles are a bargain.  Its likely these are so cheap to encourage people to buy them for testing, but you won't lose them later, so they might be worth getting.

So far, the game seems to have been well received by those playing it.  Perhaps Blizzcon will see it take another step towards completion?

FFXIV: For sale - Sleipnir, Y'shtola and pumpkin heads

With the release of patch 2.4, Dreams of Ice, the optional item store has arrived.  What is it selling? How much do they cost?  Is it pay to win?

So what can I buy?

The store currently has only a few items on it.  The Fantasia vials, which allow characters to change their race, gender and appearance are now for sale.  These have been in the game for some time and can be brought 1, 3 or 5 at a time.  This was expected.  One costs £5.75 and you get a slight discount for buying more at a time.  Please note that you cannot sell or trade these any more.

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We also expected Minions and here they are - Minion versions of Y'shtola, Yda and Papalymo are available. Whilst very cute, these are on par with the minions you get through the loyalty programme.  The best thing about them?  The cost.  £2.88 per Minion.  This is very cheap compared to similar games.  But, you only get it for one character on your account.

Then we get some items for Halloween.  These were items available in game last year for the All Saints' Wake festival.  You can get pumpkin heads for £1.73 and the ghost costume for £2.88.

But the best item?  The best item is the most expensive at £13.80.  That buys you this item for every character on your account.  That item is ...

That, in case you don't know, is a Sleipnir.  This is the "undying steed of the elder primal Odin".  This is awesomeness shaped like a mount.  You need to be level 20 and have your chocobo mount to use it.  The mount will adjust in size to suit your character (sadly - I was looking forward to Lalafell on a giant mount).

Yoshi P defends the store

At the London Fan Fest, Yoshi P spoke about the store.  He spoke mostly in Japanese, with translations, but he had learnt one important phrase in English: "No pay to win".  He assured the crowd he had been reading the feedback and that worries that they would be selling dungeons were unfounded.  Rather, these items would produce money that could be ploughed back into the game.  Money from Minions in the store can be used to finance Minions in the game.  He also suggested money might be used to provide more servers for housing.

From the first items made available, it seems the store will be a nice addition to the game.  Yes some few players will be sad not to get the Sleipnir in game.  However, the cost of these items is not high.  Certainly they are cheaper than similar items in World of Warcraft, which has both a subscription and a store.  They are also cheap in comparison to similar items in Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2.  FFXIV seems to be going for the sell lots for little approach.

The verdict: so far, so good.

Star Citizen: A universe of detail

Star Citizen showed the following video at Citizen Con - a demo of the way the persistent universe will look.  In this short video, you arrive on a planet, landing your ship and making your way through security.

If you've got it, flaunt it

The game knows its pretty and is going to flaunt it.  The opening space sequence gives a great demonstration of just how good this game can look.  Every time the game can show you how amazing it looks, the graphics give you an almost cinematic moment with camera angles that give you the best view.  The landing sequence shows you the city, the arrival in system sequence shows you the ships and the wonder of space.

This is something Star Citizen can sell as a unique feature.  Those moments would be special in the game, as you follow a narrative or arrive somewhere new.  The issue the game will face, however, is also clear in the video.  If it takes that long every time you want to land a ship, then players will soon get bored.  Especially if you need to land regularly.  There are lots of potential solutions to this, depending on how the gameplay works and suggestions are that one has already been discussed.

Bobbing along

The next point to note is that when you move in that first person perspective, you do so with a spring in your step.  This is far more realistic than the smooth glide of many MMOs.  The problem is it might end up making you feel a little sea sick if you are that way inclined.  WoWs large animal mounts have much the same effect, as do some mounts in SWTOR.  It probably needs to be something you can turn off.

Its all in the details

The thing that stands out is the level of detail in this game.  Its particularly noticeable ground side.  As you land, cargo people come out towards your ship.  Various craft fly overhead.  There are suitable standard announcements for a space port.  You have to be scanned, but before this you can see the sign saying no weapons.  The man running the scan gives you his standard spiel, in a suitably bored voice.

If this is the experience players can expect in their persistent universe, FPS and story modes, its going to be a immersive experience.  And a very pretty one at that.

 

SWTOR: Yavin 4

Shadow of Revan will have not one, but two planets for players to explore.  One of these is Yavin 4, one of the most important planets in Star Wars lore.  Meta Gamer takes a look at why.

The Battle of Yavin

Anyone who has watched Episode IV: A New Hope, has seen Yavin 4.  It is the moon on which the rebel base is located.  At the end of the film, the Death Star attempts to destroy it and the rebels fight back and win.  This is known as the Battle of Yavin.

Yavin 4 in Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Yavin 4 in Star Wars IV: A New Hope

The Battle of Yavin is significant in terms of the storyline, as it marks a major victory of the rebels over the Empire.  It also marks the beginning of Luke's embrace of his Jedi heritage.  Its so important, in fact, that its the basis of the main timeline in the Star Wars Universe.  Years are measured as BBY and ABY - Before/After the Battle of Yavin.

Beyond this film appearance its quite hard to tell how much of the extended universe is cannon now.  However, we can assume that this new expansion will be.  As such, the stories of Yavin 4 that make the history of SWTOR may also be.

Naga Sadow

Naga Sadow was a Darth during the early years of the Empire.  After the death of Marka Ragnos, he assumed the mantle of Dark Lord of the Sith off the back of a campaign to conquer the Republic.  His plan was arrogant and failed at the first attack.  Now at the mercy of the Republic, Naga Sadow took his Massassi warriors and fled to Yavin 4.  This was around 5000 BBY.

Image: Bioware from the New York Community Cantina in October 2014

Image: Bioware from the New York Community Cantina in October 2014

On Yavin 4, Sadow worked to enhance his loyal Massassi warriors.  The Massassi worshipped him and continued to do so, even as they became warped predators.  They built temples in his honour.  Eventually, Sadow began to realise that his dreams of a new Sith Empire were beyond his reach at this time.  He therefore placed himself in suspended animation and remained thus until 4400 BBY.

Freedon Nadd

The next Sith to arrive on Yavin 4 was Freedon Nadd.  Nadd had been a Jedi.  He chose to pursue power and, after killiing his Jedi master, went in search of the Sith.  After some training in the Empire, he was driven to Yavin 4 where he found Naga Sadow.  As per Sith tradition, after Nadd had learnt all he could, he killed Sadow.  He then left Yavin 4 to find a planet of his own to rule as Dark Lord of the Sith.  He died there, but his spirit lived on and continued to teach.

Exar Kun

From exile, Nadd had continued to teach the Sith ways.  Even after the Jedi had bansihed him to the moon of Onderon, he retained influence .   It was only with the fall of Exar Kun that he found someone of power to teach.  He sought out the spirit of Nadd and became his apprentice.  Nadd sent him to Yavin 4, where he acquired the power to kill his master.  He then left to pursue galactic domination.

Image: Bioware from the New York Community Cantina in October 2014

Image: Bioware from the New York Community Cantina in October 2014

Kun returned to Yavin after the raid on the Jedi world of Ossus to study the lore he had pillaged.  He was unaware that his apprentice had betrayed him to the Jedi.  The Jedi attacked him on Yavin 4.  He used a ritual to seperate his spirit from his body to elude them.  However, the Jedi, led by Nomi Sunrider, created a wall of light that destroyed Yavin 4's landscape and the body of Exar Kun.  His spirit remains, trapped there.  This was in 3996 BBY.

The Jedi Cleansing

After the attack, the Jedi attempted to restore the planet from the destruction they had caused.  They built an underground city there and worked to terraform the moon back into a jungle.  At some point, they left the city and it became known as the Lost City of the Jedi.

The Old Republic

The events of Makeb and the Rise of the Hutt Cartel take place some 300 years later in 3640 BBY.  Since the above all form a part of the video series leading up to the release of SWTOR, we can assume all these events are cannon within the game.  Therefore, we can make a guess at some of the things we might find on the planet.

Image: Bioware from the New York Community Cantina in October 2014

Image: Bioware from the New York Community Cantina in October 2014

Yavin 4 is awash with remnants of its force-related history.  The Lost City of the Jedi, the left over experiments of the Sith Lords and the Massassi themselves are all there to be explored.  Based on the images made available, it seems the planet will have recovered from the wall of light and will be awash with ancient ruins buried under thick jungle.  There will also be a 'Temple of Sacrifice', though who will be making what kind of sacrifice is unclear (probably deliberately so).  The concept image below gives no clues - there is a beam of light going through a dark temple like building - this could easily work as a place of evil or good.  Also, the image appears in the cartel market section of the pictures, which suggests all sorts of interesting ideas.  Perhaps Yavin 4 will host new strongholds?  Perhaps this will be a centrepiece item you can add.  Or it could be something else entirely.

Revan will know the history of Yavin 4.  For him to go there suggests he is seeking something that will make him powerful.  However, there are both Sith and Jedi artefacts on Yavin and so this, once again, does not confirm if he is a follower of the dark or the light.  Either way, the trip to Yavin should be interesting.

Image: Bioware from the New York Community Cantina in October 2014

Image: Bioware from the New York Community Cantina in October 2014

SWTOR: Subscribers basking in the Shadow of Revan

Revan is amongst the greatest creations of Bioware.  In a company known for producing story rich games, Revan is a detailed and complex character.  Now he gets his own expansion in SWTOR.  And Bioware has some extra tricks up their sleeves to market it.

Revan has had a long and complex history.  Hes been dark, hes been light, hes been known by different names.  If you want to read more about Revan, you can check out Meta Gamer's article from earlier this year.

Now?  Well it seems Revan is the enemy.  Whether he is dark or light or something else entirely remains to be seen.  If you are thinking of picking up the expansion and haven't covered either Dromund Kaas, where there is the opportunity to join the Revanites before the return of Revan, or the Galactic Conflicts storyline, then now is a good chance to do so.  The expansion won't be here until the 2 December at the earliest.

A Marketing Master Stroke?

The last two expansions have been free - both Galactic Strongholds and Galactic Starfighter offered significant new gameplay mechanics without charging a penny.  Neither, however, offered new story content.  Here, we are asked to pay £11.99 for this expansion, similar to the Rise of the Hutt Cartel. 

But Bioware's marketing department are a canny group and they've offered some sweeteners for subscribers and non-subscribers who pre-order.  If you order before 2 November, you get seven days of early access (i.e. the 2 December access date, rather than 9 December), a Grand Statue of Revan centrepiece for your Stronghold and the first expansion for free if you don't already have it.  This is a fairly standard set of incentives.  If you don't own Rise of the Hutt Cartel, getting both at once makes sense.  In fact, you get the Rise of the Hutt Cartel on pre-order, so you can level those five levels ready to start the Shadow of Revan with everyone else.

Image: Bioware

Image: Bioware

The unusual incentive, and one that is possibly unique to SWTOR, is the subscriber exclusive reward for pre-ordering before 2 November.  You get 12x levelling experience from class quests.  This means you can level from 1 to 50 by only completing class quests.  The boost also applies to main storylines on Makeb.  From the moment of landing to acquiring Gravity Hook 7, a mini quest sequence, rather than an individual quest, which only awards xp at the end, awards most of a level.  You might find you need the odd bit of other content, but not a lot.  This is available immediately upon pre-order and remains available until the expansion launch.  Oh and your skills are free to learn as well (its not clear if this applies to everyone or just those with the boost - could someone without it confirm?)

This is a massive incentive to players who might not have levelled a lot of alts.  Levelling in SWTOR can take a while and one of the major detractors from the experience is repeating the same content again and again (as with most MMOs).  In this case, every levelling experience will be unique as each of the class stories is unique.  You can level 8 characters from scratch without repeating any content.  This kind of limited time feature is just the type of thing to encourage lapsed subscribers to return or keep people subscribed for the next couple of months.

Image: Bioware

Image: Bioware

What do we actually get?

The expansion content seems fairly standard:

  • Level to 60 with new story content on two new planets - Rishi and Yavin 4.
  • Two new tactical flashpoints (i.e. roles not required)
  • Four new hard mode flashpoints
  • Two new operations with 10 bosses across them
  • A new talent system (another convert to the fewer-but-more-meaningful-choices ethos).
  • One class quest per class (likely to be a multi-part quest). 

Thats not a huge expansion, but neither is it priced as one.  £11.99 with the levelling bonus seems quite reasonable! 

Is Revan really the baddie? 

People asked for more Revan, and they got it (though perhaps not how they expected).  Revan seeks to destroy the status quo.  He wants to tear down the Empire and the Republic.  That makes him the enemy of those who wish to maintain them.  He may well have his reasons - we'll have to wait and see.

Image: Bioware

Image: Bioware

This does not, however, make him bad.  For all we know, Revan is trying to protect us from a much larger disaster.  His methodology may be a problem, but we don't have a clue as to his reasoning .... yet.  If playing the SWTOR class stories teaches you one thing its this - you don't really know who your friends and enemies are.  Betrayal is common, and you might find yourself changing sides unexpectedly on a given issue, even whilst maintaining your faction loyalty.  Trust no one! 

WoW: Maraad

The final Lords of War focused, unexpectedly, on Maraad and his apparently chequered past.  We already knew a lot about Maraad and he ties in with several other important characters.  So who exactly is Maraad?

Maraad is a Vindicator amongst the Draenei.  He fought the Burning Legion when it attacked Draenor in the main timeline.  He is a paladin, following the Light.  His weapon was the Hammer of the Naaru (which drops from High King Maulgar in Gruul's Lair).

He had a sister, who was captured and experimented on by Gul'dan.  She gave birth to Garona Halforcen.  He carries both the weight of the mistake seen in the video and the loss of his sister as burdens and spent many years searching for Garona.

Maraad eventually met Khadgar, who told him what he knew of Garona.  Eventually, Maraad tracked her down.  Whilst Garona went her own way, Maraad remained with her son (by Medivh) Me'dan.  Maraad became a member of the new Council of Tirisfal and helped them defeat Cho'gall.  After this, he took Me'dan to Outland to remove him from the influences of the Old Gods.

In Wrath of the Lich King, we find Maraad aboard the Skybreaker above Icecrown.  Following this, he returns to Exodar.  The Cataclysm has taken place and it seems the Exodar is nearly repaired.  The Prophet Velen is in seclusion.  Maraad prompts the leaders of the draenei to make a decision as to what route the draenei should take and they decide to leave Azeroth.  It is Maraad who suggests they should either take the war to the Legion or return to Outland.  There is a riot amongst the refugees and Maraad is forced to fight his own people, until Velen returns and declares they will remain.  Maraad remains at the Exodar for some time, healing the refugees.  He is greatly impressed by Velen and dedicated to him.

It is Maraad, with Sentinal Commander Lyalia, who are hired by the Shado Pan to escort an orc war criminal to Lion's Landing - a Dark Shaman called Mashok.  His various encounters are part of a short story arc called The Untamed Valley, focusing on the Tiller faction.

After these strange side trips, Maraad comes back to the fore in Lords of War.  It is Maraad who tells Varian Wrynn of the orc Warchiefs in an attempt to get him to take action against the invasion of the Iron Horde.

This leads into his incarnation in Warlords of Draenor ... for which there will be no spoilers here.

Maraad the impetuous draenei

Maraad's consistent representation is of a man of voice and action.  In most of his stories, he leads and suggests, rather than follows.  For all his dedication to the light, he is haunted by the troubles of his past.  He is dedicated to the dreanei above all - probably above even the Light.  His assertiveness, however, seems to lead him astray often.  This is something unusual in the draenei, who are portrayed as a calm and thoughtful people.

The biggest question in this story, however, is what has happened to Me'dan.  The Last Guardian of Tirisfal was under Maraad's tutelage, but is now missing.  He makes no appearance from Wrath of the Lich King onwards and it does not seem that the Warlords storyline will resolve this question (as far as we know it so far).  Given Maraad's character, what might he have led Me'dan to?  He would want to fight the Legion and so perhaps has put Me'dan on that trail.  This is the purpose of the Guardian of Tirisfal.  However, given the corruption of this line at the hands of Sargeras and the way Maraad's choices sometimes seem to go awry, perhaps Me'dan will come back to us at the head of the Burning Legion rather than defeating it?

Hearthstone: Backs, boards and an expansion card bonanza

Hearthstone is bringing players a number of new goodies and features this Autumn.  What can the enthusiastic player expect?

The October card back is here and its awesome.  You only have to reach Ranked Level 20 to get it.  If you didn't know, you  can't actually lose stars until you hit level 20, so all you need to do is rack up some wins and your losses won't count against you.  So give it a go and get some pumpkin goodness that you can break out at this time every year.

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

If you like to collect your card backs, theres another one available from the BlizzCon virtual ticket.  Its a pretty enough card back, but given the surfeit of these, it would be good to get some alternative goodies.  Perhaps items for the game board?  Or skins for your heroes?

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Another cosmetic treat is the inclusion of the Naxxramas board in Play mode.  You now get a random board from those available.  You cannot choose to have one board or another, but variety is definitely nice.

The kind of thing that might bring new cosmetic features is an expansion.  Around Naxxramas we had some hints that one was coming.  The next one would be 'bigger and better'.  Now, with BlizzCon just around the corner, an expansion announcement seems fairly imminent.  It won't be another single player adventure according to Polygon, but will instead add vastly more cards to your decks.  It might also have new play modes of some kind.  They could also add new classes (Death Knight and Monk are notably missing) or perhaps even a variety of heroes within the classes (perhaps one of each Faction?)  They could even add an Achievement system other than the few hidden achievements already in game.  What would you like to see in a Hearthstone expansion?

Oh, and with a bit of luck, BlizzCon will also see an announcement on the iPhone and Android versions of the game.

What (probably) happened with Titan

If you haven't heard the news, Blizzard has cancelled their next gen MMO Titan.  People are not especially surprised - Blizzard has a history of cancelling seemingly big name games well into development.  What then, went wrong?

What we know for sure, is that Titan is cancelled.  Polygon got the scoop on this one.  After seven years and development that apparently saw the game in a playable form internally, the whole thing has been scrapped.  Their sources - Mike Morhaime and Chris Metzen, so its real.

The genesis of Titan

After World of Warcraft, Blizzard set out to go one better.  Remember at the point this started, WoW would have been in The Burning Crusade somewhere and on the ascendent.  There was very little viable competition for a long time.  Guild Wars, EVE,  City of Heroes and other games had followings, but combined together they could not match the numbers World of Warcraft.  Other companies were scrambling to release WoW clones, hoping to snag a piece of the pie.  Those clones, however, were generally poor in quality and their expectations completely unreasonable.  The only company that looked likely to topple Blizzard was ... Blizzard.

And so they developed Titan.  They hired people.  They moved experienced staff onto the project.  Leaks suggested a late 2013 release.  Blizzard staff were quoted as saying they were playing it internally.  There was a 20 year plan for this MMO.  Then, in May 2013, the project was rebooted.  Staff were moved off the project and the whole thing was reset.  Suggestions were that the subscription model was being abandonned in favour of free to play.  The outcome of this reboot?  Cancellation.

Image: Blizzard Entertainent (Diablo III)

Image: Blizzard Entertainent (Diablo III)

The changing MMO landscape

Officially, it just didn't work.  Blizzard stated they had realised with Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone that they could make smaller games that were still fun and successful (Hearthstone has hit 20 million players since release which is an incredible number for a card game).

Thinking about that in a bit more detail, and you can likely trace that back to a change, not just in Blizzard, but in the MMO landscape.  From having no real competitors, they started springing up like weeds - Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and now The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar - and thats just in the west.  Individually, none of these games has huge numbers in comparison to WoW.  We know SWTOR has said 'over a million' and FFXIV proclaims 2.5 million on its website.  Guild Wars 2 doesn't let on but likely has at least 1 million, if not more, regular players.  TESO, Wildstar and EVE likely all have somewhere less than that 1 million mark, based on current evidence.  New MMOs are on the horizon.  Aion, Tera, Lord of the Rings Online - all are seeing play.  Add those all together?  Thats quite a hefty set of competition.

Image: Blizzard Entertainment (StarCraft II)

Image: Blizzard Entertainment (StarCraft II)

Further to that, a lot of these MMOs have come up with some innovative ideas.  Rift and SWTOR were probably the last of the clones, but Rift had the Rift style open world play that many other MMOs have adopted.  It also has Dimensions and a solid free to play model.  SWTOR played to the strengths of Bioware with rich class based stories and voice acting for every quest.  Its added to that with Galactic Starfighter and Galactic Strongholds.  Guild Wars 2 has added shared world bosses, fortnightly story updates, a fantastic customisation system and World vs World (not entirely theirs, but successful nonetheless).  TESO brings a lore at least as rich as anything Blizzard has and exploits the console market.  Wildstar has active combat, Warplots and challenges.  Every new game adds something new.

Blizzard had said they wanted to bring the lessons of World of Warcraft to Titan.  At about this time, the lesson was that they were falling behind.  They don't update as often as other games, they don't innovate as much.  They can't keep up with the demand from their customers for more content.

The likelihood is this: Titan was out of date already.  It was an old MMO built on an old business model and old technology.  Had Titan been built to be as quickly adaptable as some of their competition?  Could they add frequent content?  Could they offer real innovation?  

Most MMOs would go ahead and release anyway and there may have been a market for the game.  However, it would not have been a star of the Blizzard canon and the company would have been stuck developing an average game.  This has never been the Blizzard approach to games - either they consider them top grade or they don't release them.  This is not the first time, and it probably won't be the last.

What might have been

The recent rumours suggest that what they had been planning was interesting.  According to Kotaku the plan was for a hybrid between The Secret World, Champions Online and The Sims.  The game would have been set in the near future, following an alien attack.  You would have a normal 'day job' as well as a 'secret identity' of some kind that called on you to go and fight with your superpowers. The scale was massive, as was the plan for players to be able to pick their own routes through the game.  It seems the plan was to support crafting and housing style gameplay through the 'real' world and then combat and other mechanics through the 'alternate' world.  This ties in with what was on the rumour list on Titan Focus.

Image: Blizzard Entertainment (StarCraft II)

Image: Blizzard Entertainment (StarCraft II)

As well as sounding interesting, however, this sounded challenging.  Making all play styles interesting is hard.  How would rewards work?  Blizzard has struggled with reward systems in World of Warcraft, trying to find a balance between the different desires and needs of their playerbase.  How would they translate these lessons to Titan?

Add to this the aforementioned MMO landscape.  How would their housing compare to the flexibility of Dimensions in Rift?  Or the destructability promised by EverQuest Next?  What did their 'professions' look like.  Would you get the character customisation of Guild Wars 2, or the vehicle customisation of Wildstar?  Would you have the class flexibility of FFXIV or TESO?  Could they update the story every two weeks?  How often would they release new content?

Also, far from needing less resource for World of Warcraft, the game actually is demanding more and more.  The size of the team has increased massively.  The older an MMO, the more it takes just to keep up with the Joneses.  Would their 20 year plan actually work?

Is anything salvagable?

It seems there are rumours that something has been salvaged from the game under the code name Prometheus or Overwatch.  The likelihood is that this is lore and art assets which could be transferred to another game.  Also, if the mechanics they were considering aren't going into a new MMO, they might be making their way into WoW.  Garrisons, for example, seems drawn from some of the talk on the Kotaku article about interacting with NPCs.  There is no doubt Blizzard spent millions of dollars on this development, so anything they can salvage, they will.

Image: Blizzard Entertainment (StarCraft II)

Image: Blizzard Entertainment (StarCraft II)

What does this mean for other Blizzard games?

There is a rosier side to this story - if you play other Blizzard games.  MMOs are very resource heavy.  It seems likely World of Warcraft would have been sunsetted shortly after Titan.  Instead, Blizzard has recruited massively for ongoing World of Warcraft support including new staff to make more content faster.  With Titan out of the picture, World of Warcraft is suddenly much more significant.  Despite its losses, the game still has more players than any other and perhaps Blizzard will make an effort to increase subscriptions now its alone in the stable.

In terms of other games, Blizzard has been pleased with both Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm thus far.  The former was built with a very small team and we could see further games like this in development.  The latter was built with the internal variation on the freely available Blizzard Arcade toolset, and so once again could be easily replicated to make new, fun games.  We are likely, therefore, to see more smaller, spin off games.

The final question - does this decision paint the way for World of Warcraft 2?  The answer is - no.  In order to make a WoW2, one of two conditions would have to be met:

  1. Blizzard could come up with a 'hook' on which to base a new MMO.
  2. World of Warcraft would have to reach the point where its technology was so old it could no longer be developed.
Image: Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft)

Image: Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft)

At the core of the problem with Titan was that Blizzard could not make its ambitions into a playable, fun reality.  For WoW2, this would be the same, or the ambition would be less.  Neither option has the making of a great MMO.  As long as it remains possible to develop their existing MMO, the sheer cost of developing a new one does not make sense.

Of course, eventually one of these conditions will come to be true.  At that point, Blizzard will have to make the choice they made with Titan - to reuse an existing world or create a new one?  That will be a decision that can only be made at the time.

FFXIV: The Art of Eorzea

Final Fantasy XIV have announced a new piece of merchandise - the Art of Eorzea - Another Dawn book.  

This art book will contain art, concept art and other pieces as well as text written by the artists (in both Japanese and English).  This will be available for the first time at the London Fan Fest and thereafter in the Square Enix store.  This should give some idea of the kind of things that might be available at the Fan Fest events.  It might also be a good item to get signed if the opportunity arises.  It even comes with an in-game minion:

FFXIV: Hints for 2.4 and beyond

Translations of the latest live letter are in and there is quite a bit of information hidden in the Q&A.  What does Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn have in store for 2.4 and beyond?

Design philosophy

There are a few comments on the design philosophy that are worth examining here.  The first is this:

However, just as I’ve mentioned in previous interviews, we consider FFXIV: ARR to be akin to a theme park, and we’re working to provide a wide variety of activities for players to enjoy. However, due to scheduling issues and circumstances surrounding implementation, we’ve been prioritizing the implementation of party-based challenges utilizing the Duty Finder whenever possible. As a result, we were a step behind in implementing systems that make use of the open world, or those that require time but can be completed at one’s own pace.
— Live Letter Part XVII Q&A
Image: SquareEnix

Image: SquareEnix

This is a good feature of FFXIV and one that its good to see enshrined in their design philosophy.  Apparently the content for patches is planned annually, and amended in response to feedback.  So if you see a period of time with a tendency towards a certain content type, thats just the luck of when it was ready.  Overall, the plan is to make an end game for everyone.

Another point made is that the developers do look for suggestions from the community and this is referred to multiple times.  In this letter, there is a point about instanced treasure hunts for groups that they pick up as a good idea to look at, for example.  That doesn't mean it will work or get made, but they are listening.

Patch 2.38

This is a small patch, due to arrive around the time of the Tokyo Game Show.  It will include an expansion to the Zodiac Weapon storyline, as well as more housing land and personal housing!!!

Patch 2.4

Image: SquareEnix

Image: SquareEnix

Image: SquareEnix

Image: SquareEnix

The time frame for patch 2.4 will be revealed around the time of the Tokyo Game Show.  We know patch 2.4 will bring the following:

  • The new class, rogue and the new job, ninja
  • The ninja will have a guild in each city state
  • Shiva will be implemented
  • The conclusion to the Binding Coil of Bahamut
  • The Second Coil of Bahamut (normal and Savage) will be added to the Duty Finder

2.4 is the last patch we know we are getting before the expansion.  That doesn't mean its the last patch, however.  What comes next depends, at least in part, on the timeline and scope of the expansion.  There will be no Ultimate Weapon or Cape Westwind Extreme, so some of the content you might expect (increased difficulties) seem unlikely.

The Expansion

What we know so far:

  • There is an expansion coming!
  • It will be announced at the FFXIV Fan Fest events, according to hints dropped
  • It will include a level cap raise
  • It will include the Gold Saucer
  • There will be FATEs with large monsters to kill
  • There may well be another new class/job of some kind (but not the Blue Mage)
Image: SquareEnix

Image: SquareEnix

The Gold Saucer

Good news - the Gold Saucer will be in the expansion.  This is something a lot of players have been waiting for.  It is also likely to be fairly substantial and the letter suggests it expanded well beyond the original plan.  It could, in fact, be the core of the entire expansion.

The largest system we have planned for the future is the Gold Saucer, but it won’t be skewed one way or the other with regard to what types of activities will be made available.
— Live Letter Part XVII Q&A

From this is seems likely that the Gold Saucer might well be the hub from which the expansion events take place.  This would bring players together, encourage them to take part in the content within the Gold Saucer and explan how the different types of activities (solo and group) will be incorporated.

Image: SquareEnix (FFVII)

Image: SquareEnix (FFVII)

We know there will be:

  • Chocobo Racing
  • Chocobo Breeding/Training
  • Triple Triad
  • A basketball shooting game
  • Gold Saucer Active Events (maybe)

Non-specific hints

The following were also noted, but not attached to any point of content:

  • A place where chocobos congregate together, which is a bit different from the Chocobo Forest.
  • There will be a new race, to be revealed when a certain NPC (Yugiri?) finally reveals their face. Beware the April Fools Day joke.  Just saying.
  • Yugiri comes from Doma ... meaning this could be included too?
  • A Roegadyn will join the Scions of the Seventh Dawn

LoL: Cassiopeia then and now

With its recent announcement that it was resetting its lore, the League of Legends community all thought as one: "League of Legends has lore?"  Riot has launched straight into this, telling us the rise of Shurima.  Core to the first chapter is Cassiopeia, the Serpent's Embrace.

NB Bold denotes other Champions.

Once upon a time ... then

League of Legends is apparently situated on a planet called Runeterra, which has a number of nations  and a map and everything.  Those nations were almost constantly at war.  The League of Legends, based in the Institute of War, was a solution - a kind of organised warfare that would determine the politics of the nations.  Your champions are the champions of those nations.

And that was thrown away quite some time ago.  Hence the need to reset it now.

Cassiopeia: then

Cassiopeia was the sister of Katerina.  They were the daughters of General Du Couteau of Noxus.  Cassiopeia was a seductress who spied for her father.  Presented with the challenge of a diplomat from one of the Freljord tribes, she found herself asked to swear an oath of secrecy on a mysterious, serpentine blade.  She did so and got her information.

As she reported to her father, her oath broken, she was transformed.  She became a ravening half-serpent.  She joined the League in an attempt to continue to serve Noxus.

Its a fairly bad story, lacking any real ring of truth.  Did she take on her role voluntarily or was she pushed/manipulated by her father?  Why does a Freljord tribesman have a serpentine blade, likely of Shurima and how does he know its power, if he does?  Cassiopeia apparently allied with Renekton and Xerath, which undermines her seemingly noble choice to join the League.  She is allied with Shurima as well as Noxus, which also makes no sense other than it links to her appearance.

Cassiopeia_0.jpg

Once upon a time ... now

The new story starts with a new background.  Shurima was once the jewel of the desert, destroyed when the mage Xerath convinced the Emperor Azir to seek Ascension.  Xerath stole the power and destroyed the city.  He was eventually entombed below it, guarded by Renekton.  Renekton and Nasus were Ascended Heroes, brothers.  Renekton convinced Nasus to bury him along with Xerath, to ensure he could never escape.

Cassiopeia: now

The new Cassiopeia is a mysterious adventurer, seeking a guide to the lost city of Shurima.  Her tale is told in the video made available on the Riot homepage.

If you don't want to/can't watch the video, Cassiopeia hires Sivir and her band of mercenaries.  Only Sivir survives the descent.  Cassiopeia betrays Sivir, stealing her blade which turns out to be a key to the tomb.  The tomb is marked by a stone serpent which, when Cassiopeia opens it, attacks her.  The venom of the stone serpent sears her flesh, seemingly transforming her.  The tomb opens and Renekton and Xerath emerge.  Renekton has been driven mad during his imprisonment.

Since Cassiopeia smiled when she saw the stone serpent, we can assume she knew, at least in part, what she was looking for.  Also, given Sivir's blade is the key, she could have known this as well, meaning she hired Sivir with the intent of betraying her.  This makes Cassiopeia definitively evil and her eventual alliance with Renekton, Xerath and Shurima makes more sense.  Did she, in fact, seek the serpent knowing it would transform her?

Ascension

In game terms, this new lore actually comes with a new game mode - Ascension.  The aim is to gain the Ascended buff from Xerath who is an NPC in the middle of the map.  You can then use it to decimate the opposing team.  However, in this points based game, that team gets a lot of points for destroying each ascended player.  This takes place on an adjusted Crystal Scar map and is available for a limited time.

A final note: the name Cassiopeia is drawn from Greek mythology.  Neither version of the story bear any resemblance to that myth.

Star Citizen: Origin, apology accepted

In Top Gear style, Galactic Gear reviews the Origin M50.  This is one of the new ships available for the racing mode of Arena Commander - the Murray Cup.

There is even a Stig in the racing demo.

A pledge package for the M50 will set you back a massive $115.00 US.  This gets you a SelfLand Hanger, a soundtrack, the Star Citizen and Squadron 42 games, Arena Commander, 2,000 UEC plus a manual, map and beta access.  You can also upgrade some older ships.  Upgrades cost:

  • $30 from the 325A
  • $35 from the 315P
  • $45 from the 300i

If racing is the thing for you, this is the Ferrari of racing.  There's even a brochure.

Vainity and Vainglory

This is new mobile MOBA Vainglory.  It appeared at the Apple launch event.  The trailer is an interesting mash up of gamer stereotypes with the idea of gaming being social.

Imagine this - your gaming party is an event.  Not being tied to setting up a LAN, you can play sitting on the sofa while others dance and congregate.  All the while, you are playing a real game - a MOBA of the kind that used to live only on your PC.  You no longer need to be alone - geek is and you get to party and game.  This is what Vainglory is trying to sell you.  Its not a game - its a lifestyle.

From this trailer, I have no idea what the game is other than it looks a bit like League of Legends, as most MOBAs do. Not a single game feature is discussed.  Gameplay seems to involve a lot of tapping the screen and I wonder if it really does work that way or are they just trying to tap into the idea of the professional gamer as exemplified by StarCraft (the super-fast clicker game).

Apple is often said to be a style over substance brand, and by hitching its wagon to the Apple release show, not to mention the above video, Vainglory might be subject to the same accusation.  It all seems a bit ... vain.  However, that criticism forgets that Apple has another strength - their products just work.  Time will tell if Vainglory can manage that as well.