Epic Taking Shots at Steam

Epic Games used to be synonymous with Unreal Tournament, a game that I and millions of others adored and played over the course of the years. In recent memory though, people associate the company with the game Fortnite, which has been topping charts for months and according to SuperData and Wilhelm’s posting, raked in 2.4 Billion dollars over the course of last year. This begs the question — how do children and teenagers have this much disposable income? Their Battle Royale mode is free to play, and though it does have microtransactions for ridiculous skins for nearly everything in the game, I can’t seem to find anyone over the age of 21 who actually enjoys the game. People will go on and on about how you shouldn’t disparage <insert piece of media here> just because you don’t personally enjoy it, but I’m not that person. Fortnite is literal garbage and I can give you a few reasons why I think so.

My first issue with Fortnite is the game itself. For starters, it began as a co-op wave based game that sounded fun — that is until they tacked on this Battle Royale mode and turned the genre into the phenomenon it is today. I think it was pretty shitty of them to abandon the core game that many fellow Internet denizens enjoyed. It’s also over-the-top ridiculous but an otherwise dull Battle Royale experience. Despite not being much of a fan of the genre, I have still tried various iterations and have enjoyed some of them. I’ll take Battlerite Royale or Realm Royale over this dumpster fire any day. Despite it being clearly aimed at a wider audience, the appeal just isn’t there for most adults, probably due to the design choices along with the ability to literally build towers into the sky when you’re supposed to be shooting and killing your opponents. Take away that building component and the rainbow of bullshit and perhaps you’d have a better game. But then you’d probably have Unreal Tournament, and now we’ve come full circle.

But this article isn’t supposed to be about criticizing Fortnite itself, no this is supposed to be about how Epic Games have now opened their own storefront to compete with the likes of Steam. We first learned about the store prior to the end of last year, and Epic was touting the fact that it intends to take less of a cut for game sales on its platform. It’s easy to imagine them being able to afford this having made all of that cash with Fortnite. It seemed that the majority of us felt like there was no way that anyone could really compete with Steam though. Sure, there is the Humble Bundle Store that has sales around the same times of year and GOG that gives DRM-free options to get your game on, but they aren’t taking much business away from Steam. Honestly there are other options but most of them are less popular or sketchy so I’ll leave it at that. Whatever the case, Steam has been a major part of PC gamer’s lives since the early 2000’s. Other big companies like Blizzard, EA and Ubisoft have made their own launchers as well, but even then there was a period of time where their games were still available on Steam, you’d just have to go through the motions of launching a launcher from Steam which caused some people (like me) to completely boycott those companies just to cut down on the amount of launchers on our computers. I prefer consolidation, regardless of if that means “monopoly.”

I actually had the Epic Games launcher installed for a time, mainly because I was following the ongoing development of the next Unreal Tournament game. But due to the massive success of Fortnite, Epic decided to stop further development of UT, and for that I am even more cross with them. I’ve had Origin and Ubisoft’s launcher and I still have Battle.net installed. More recently I added Bethesda’s launcher to the mix and it’s getting to the point again that I don’t want all of these damn launchers. It feels like the golden age of MMOs all over again — needing 300 different launchers to play a variety of games. Origin and Ubisoft went the way of the dodo on my PC, and I decided that I would only play their games on console to avoid the clutter. I’m letting Bethesda slide a bit here because I love their games, but Fallout 76 has been a sore spot for most. I have only played it for a couple of hours due to waiting on them to sort out the issues, but that’s a story for another day.

What initially spurned this conversation piece was the most recent news that broke this week. It appears that Epic Games have managed to lure a company over to their store, even though the game had been available for preorder on Steam for months now. Apparently those customers that preordered on Steam will still get their copy on Steam, but the game’s store page will be taken off of the service soon. So if you want a copy of Metro: Exodus on Steam you should probably go ahead and grab that now while you can. From what I’ve read, Steam charges developers 30% of each sale made on the platform. I’m assuming that means that Epic is charging less, but I’m not sure what the actual percentage is. It’s a free market, and I guess I applaud someone for trying to stand up to the behemoth, but I can’t see this being good for gamers outside of potentially saving them money due to competition. What I see is an increasingly fractured player base or being stuck with a ton of launchers to play games when we really should have these titles releasing on all platforms to give players’ choice back.

I started a poll on Twitter to see what others might think about this occurrence and how they plan to proceed.

For reference, I would vote to stick with Steam. I have far too many games on the platform and unless there is something exclusive to Epic that I can’t get anywhere else and NEED to play, I’m sticking to this. Even then, I’d probably just buy the game for console to avoid it altogether. I understand frugality though, so I included the option to bargain shop between the two, which seems to be the most popular to this point. I guess if you were just getting into PC gaming then you have the option to get your collection started with Epic but for me it’s just not something I want. I’m offended by Fortnite‘s existence and success, and I’m offended by Epic panning Unreal Tournament. That’s enough for me to not give them any dollars at all.

The Darkening of Tristram

Season 16 recently began in Diablo III, and with it there are some new features as usual with these seasonal updates. I haven’t really played through a season in quite some time, despite sort of jumping into season 14 after having purchased the Necromancer DLC pack. I didn’t stick with it that time, and I haven’t yet leveled a Necromancer to 70. There was a bit of hype around this season for whatever reason, and I caught wind of many people on my social media feeds giving it another go. I decided to do so myself, and also learned of the “Darkening of Tristram” limited-time event that was running as well. I remember hearing about this event before, that a chunk of older Diablo games would be recreated in this newer engine, but having played through the special event, I now know this isn’t quite what has happened. The event is marked on your adventure mode map with a pentagram. You can go to that particular zone and will find a portal in what remains of Tristram to go back in time.

The first thing you’ll notice is the grainy textures, but the UI is also simplified and animations not quite as smooth. Essentially it’s a lower quality filter over the top of the existing engine, but it does what it sets out to do. Sounds and music from the original game are present and this gives a great nostalgic feel, if not being a little harder to follow. It’s amazing how bad old games look after a few decades, and this is already running much better than those older titles in the series. Whatever the case, you are now in the original version of Tristram, but it’s clear that everyone and everything has been decimated. Your only objective is to “Slay the Dark Lord,” and there is no real direction on how to do so.

Those of us who played the older games will remember that you would head into the labyrinth and continue on down until you finally face Diablo (a feat I never accomplished when playing the original Diablo). On the way down, there are various sub-levels that are one-offs and will contain various enemies. Some are more familiar than others, like the Butcher (pictured above), and many of the unique creatures feel like they are designed with RNG, but that’s the nature of this style of game.

I made the mistake of taking a break from my run the first time around, and was already about 11 or 12 levels deep. Fair warning, if you log out of the game while running this dungeon, you will have to start all over again when you come back. So today, I decided that I would run the dungeon again and make sure that I didn’t log out until I completed it. Thankfully, there are only 16 floors to conquer before you run into the Dark Lord, and there wasn’t any one part of it that was really a challenge. I was only running on Normal difficulty, so that’s probably why, but when you run hardcore characters like I do, you want to avoid death and I didn’t know what to expect.

The Dark Lord caught me by surprise, randomly appearing on the 16th floor, but I had a feeling it was coming up soon due to being teleported to a mini-dungeon and fighting some important sounding mini-bosses, and then being teleported back to the “same” floor that looked completely unexplored. The fight was over before I knew it, mainly because I’m running skeletons and the golem and I sit back and syphon life, so he was downed quite quickly. After killing him, what I assume is the original end game movie from Diablo plays, and that looked horrible but set up the events to follow in Diablo II. Afterwards I was able to collect my loot, earning this interesting gem:

I haven’t seen exactly what this does just yet, but I did slot it into my current helmet. There were banner unlocks and a new transmog that came along with completing this event, and I earned a few achievements along the way. As a whole, I’d say this limited event was successful and a good little time waster. I look forward to other things like this added to the game, but with Blizzard doing Blizzard things, it’s unlikely we’ll see much more before we end up with a new Diablo (or they move completely to mobile with that Immortal thing). If you haven’t checked this out and want a little nostalgia trip, the event is still running, so hop in game and check it out!

Early Impressions: Langrisser Mobile

A while back, I saw a “new” game that was coming to mobile devices and pre-registered for it. The game in question was Langrisser, and for some reason or another it looked familiar to me, despite not having any memories of playing a game by that name before. After digging around and doing a bit of research, it turns out that I had played a game in the Langrisser series, but as things were back in the 1990’s, many games that released in the West that were developed in the East were put out under different names. In Japan, Langrisser was a series that saw many iterations and wouldn’t have been something many of us would have played. In the US, one of the games in the series was renamed Warsong and released for the Sega Genesis in 1991. I once wrote a post about 25 of my favorite Genesis games and this actually should have made that list, but did not. Whatever the case, we’re now getting a mobile revision of this 90’s JRPG series that hasn’t seen a new title since then, outside of re-releases. It’s unclear if this new mobile version is a remaster of one of the titles or a whole new spinoff, but it is instantly recognizable once you dive into the game.

What appealed to me most was the fact that it is a turn-based strategy RPG, or tactical RPG depending on how you like to word things. In the same vein as games like Shining Force or Final Fantasy Tactics (and honestly, much like Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series), this is an RPG where your battles take place on a grid and you move and attack/use abilities accordingly. I haven’t played too far into the game’s main story, and there are clearly features that won’t unlock until I’m a higher level, but I wanted to give my initial impressions, because the game is hot off the press — it released this week.

Despite having its similarities to the other game series I’ve mentioned above, Langrisser sets itself apart in its combat system. You’ll still move about on a grid and when you do attack an enemy you’ll get pre-combat information about them, but instead of your units being individuals, they are a hero unit along with a battalion of soliders. The heroes themselves have special abilities and stats, but their units will also do the attacking when you do, so as you take damage the graphical representation is via your health bar and the amount of soldiers fighting along side of you. This is unique to this series, as other games typically focus on just the hero itself, regardless of if there is an animated cut scene for combat, or if it occurs right there on the battlefield. In this sense, it hearkens back to my youth and memory, but this version of the game is polished and pretty. Go ahead and search for Warsong gameplay on YouTube and you’ll see the vast improvement.

Many other RPGs have had the concept of various unit types being strong and weak against enemy types, so that’s nothing new but I thought I would highlight it anyway because it’s nice to see a little complexity in a mobile title. I played Fire Emblem Heroes a bit when it released and though it shared some design concepts, I didn’t end up sticking with it. So far, this game feels better and has some depth.

After completing a short tutorial, you’ll head to the world map and then a ton of other options start to open up for you. There are missions, events, and other ways to earn resources to do things. What all of the resources do, I don’t know just yet. I also can’t access features like training, bonds or the guilds, so I’ll have to get back to you on those. What I can say is that I appreciate the art direction, I feel the game runs great and I love tactical RPGs so it’s got a lot going for it. There are various currencies and I don’t know what all of those do just yet either, but there is a real world money component, and I’m not sure how pervasive or abusive it might be. To this point I’ve been able to play without feeling the need to spend any money, and that’s a good thing.

One feature that is very much like Fire Emblem Heroes and other Gacha games, is the summon mechanic. I’ve earned several of the tickets needed to summon various heroes of various rarities, but it’s unclear how they are used otherwise. I’m sure there are other tutorial sessions that just haven’t popped up yet for me, and I’m sure there’s either a way to expand your party with these heroes or to do some sort of PvP thing with them. Whatever the case, they are there and we’ll see how that goes.

As I said, I just wanted to give some early impressions, and so far they are good. I enjoy the combat and the mechanics to this point. I’ll report back when I know more. I’d recommend trying it out if you are a fan of this style of game, but otherwise you should probably pass. It’s nothing overly original but it is a fun little time waster.

TWR: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Spells!

Despite the fact that there are a few of other guilds from Ravnica: Allegiance that I’m more excited about (Orzhov, Simic, Azorius) I’ve chosen the other two to brew around, mainly because I didn’t have a Rakdos (which I brewed last week with Judith) or Gruul decklist in my collection of brews. As such, I’m sure you can guess which guild I’m building around this week. If you said Gruul, you deserve a cookie! Let’s look at our new Commander that we’ll be building around:

Nikya of the Old Ways is an interesting brew-around. A 5/5 for 5 CMC, she has a solid body. She also has two interesting abilities — one that is a hindrance and the other which is a boon. Cards like Zendikar Resurgent have been around for a long time and mana doubling isn’t something new, but having this ability stapled onto our commander is a great way to exploit it. The downside is her other line of text, which reads “You can’t cast noncreature spells.” This is why I’ve called the deck “We don’t need no stinkin’ spells” because I’ve built around this hindrance to the best of my ability. What this means is that we need to find ways to do things with our creatures that we would normally do with spells. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t include a small amount of spells, artifacts and enchantments, because there will be times when our commander isn’t out yet, or perhaps gets killed off enough times that we can’t afford the commander tax. Since our creatures are going to be doing multiple things, let’s break them up into categories to wrap our heads around this.

Creatures that Tutor:

Since we’re running a creature heavy deck, we’ll want to be able to tutor out answers for particular problems. Fauna Shaman, Fierce Empath and Brutalizer Exarch will all do so, but each has its own prerequisites to do so. I’ve also included some creatures that will ramp us a bit by tutoring out lands. They have to be basics unfortunately, but extra ramp will always do us some good, particularly when we have a commander that doubles up our mana (and that Hydra will be bigger the more land we have on the battlefield!).

Creatures with Card Draw/Selection:

These creatures should help us with card draw, since we don’t have a bunch of options otherwise. Beast Whisperer will draw us a card everytime we cast a creature, so that’s great replacement value. The Heartwood Storyteller will get us cards whenever anyone casts noncreature spells, but our other two opponents will benefit from this too. We’re hoping that our additional mana sources will help to offset this fact. Tireless Tracker gets us clues on land fall, and clues get us more card draw. Finally, Magus of the Wheel is Wheel of Fortune on legs, and will let us dump our hands (also potentially screwing up our opponents too). Genesis Hydra and Silhana Wayfinder have ETB’s where we can look at cards from our library and then put creatures/lands onto the battlefield so that’s some nice selection. Vizier of the Menagerie is also a nice way to cast creatures off the top of your library without having to worry about having the specific mana colors needed.

Mana Dorks/Other Ramp:

I’ve added three mana dorks that aren’t the norm (usually it’s Elvish Mystic and Birds of Paradise). Zhur-Taa Druid feels better he does some damage along the way, and the Somberwald Sage adds three mana to cast creatures which we want. The Shaman of Forgotten Ways is also a mana dork, but I really worked him into the deck for his other ability — he’s basically Biorhythm on legs. That’s a banned EDH card (and one that I own) that lowers life totals to the amount of creatures each player controls, so we should be able to do this with enough creatures out to end the game, hopefully. Otherwise we have cards like Mina and Denn and Azusa that allow us to play extra lands on our turns. Regal Behemoth is also a mana doubler as long as we are the Monarch, and monarchy itself provides some extra card draw, so bonus. Radha gives us some mana for attacking, which should happen a bunch in this deck, and the Courser allows us to play lands off the top of our library. All around good stuff that should ensure we are always ahead in the land and mana departments.

Creature based Removal:

Pretty straight-forward here, we have some creatures that will kill artifacts, enchantments, lands or just permanents in general. Molder Slug is particularly evil, forcing players to sac artifacts every turn — this does affect you too, but you don’t have many in the deck so it shouldn’t matter.

Other Utility:

This is pretty much a catch-all catergory for the rest of the creatures in the deck. First off we have a couple more Hydras that are great mana sinks for all that extra mana we should be producing. Another Hydra here will capitalize off of the spells everyone will be casting. I’ve included the three Incarnations that we can slot into this deck, Anger, Brawn and Genesis. The first two will give our creatures Haste and Trample respectively as long as they are in our graveyards, the latter will allow us to recur creatures every turn as long as it’s in the yard. The Cat Snake can’t be countered and makes our creature spells uncounterable (so everyone will have to use other forms of removal). Temur Sabertooth is in the deck so that in those cases when we need to get rid of our commander in order to cast noncreature spells, we can bounce her to our hand and avoid commander tax. Seedborn Muse is just value, so is Ruric Thar because he penalizes noncreature spell casts by pinging for 6 damage for each cast. Lastly, Avenger of Zendikar, Pathbreaker Ibex and End-Raze Forerunners are potential game winners and are some of the most expensive creatures in the deck.

Here’s the short list of spells, artifacts and enchantments that I’ve included to round out the deck:

As you can see, there’s not a bunch here. When it comes to artifacts, we’re only running Sol Ring and three Gruul rocks. Enchantments are limited to a couple of cards that give haste (or riot which is basically the same thing), Abundance which is more card selection, Zendikar Resurgent for more mana doubling, and a “screw the blue players” card in Monsoon. For spells it’s a mix of more selection, removal, ramp and card draw. Pretty standard stuff and it all fits in line with what we’re trying to do.

I’m not sure how competitive this deck might be but it looks like fun. You can check the full decklist here. I’ve always enjoyed making decks around brand new commanders. What do you think?

By The Numbers: Superbowl LII

I finally managed to watch some playoff football this weekend, and wow, talk about controversy! Firstly, let’s check my picks and then we’ll get to the details.

Patriots 31, Chiefs 28 – Correct
Saints 30, Rams 27

I almost managed to pick both games correctly, but honestly the results should have been reversed. The Saints were completely robbed, when this happened:

How that doesn’t get called, I’ll never know. Whatever the case, this ended with them having to kick a field goal, and magically the Rams managed to get down the field in under two minutes in order to kick for the tie. Apparently the Saints didn’t put up much of a struggle in Overtime, but I didn’t catch that part. I did however watch the Pats/Chiefs game from start to finish, and it was turning into a good game by the fourth quarter. The Chiefs were simply fucked by officiating. First there was this:

Seriously, this is worse than the penalties to Clay Matthews that were happening at the beginning of the season. Where was he being roughed up? What a joke. Then to make things worse, this put the Patriots in position to tie the game and send it to overtime, but then a late flag comes down after the Chiefs intercepted Brady with under a minute to play in regulation. They should have sealed the deal right there, and honestly we should be seeing an NO/KC superbowl rather than the one we’re getting.

My pick for the winner of the Superbowl:

Rams 30, Patriots 24

I’ll probably watch it still, but I’m over this season. I can’t wait for September. After the big game I’ll do my tabulations for my season and this column will go back into hibernation.