The War Report: Grand Prix Las Vegas

Grand Prix Las Vegas ran from June 14th to the 17th this year, and though these sorts of events have been happening for years, I never saw myself going to one. I’ve known about Pro Tours and the competitive scene but I was always a kitchen table player so I always assumed these events were mainly for the pros or those aspiring to get into that scene. When it comes to the Grand Prix at least, there is more to do for the average Magic player than I would have first expected. It’s true, there is still a main event that the pros are participating in, but outside of that there are tons of events going on for everyone else, so my roommate and I decided that we should go a couple of months back. Part of this decision was made easier when a member of our pod moved out to Vegas, so we figured we could get the gang back together while simultaneously participating in one of the biggest Magic events of the year. This year is also the 25th anniversary of the game, so it was an extra special convention.

It really wasn’t a spontaneous decision to attend; we casually discussed it a while ago and though I thought it was a great idea it was unclear if we’d have the extra money to go. A few weeks ago he went ahead and secured a room at a hotel near the convention center, and let me know it was done so I scrambled to get my finances in order so that I would be able to make it. With the support of my lovely woman I was able to make the trip and I’m glad that I did. Though the convention started on Thursday, we decided that we could afford to take that Friday off in order to get a head start on the weekend. With Sunday being Father’s Day we needed to get back home as early as possible so we also headed to Vegas super early on Friday as well. I was in the car and on my way by 6:30 that morning and arrived shortly before 11 am. Our friend had work until 5 pm and check in at the hotel wasn’t until 3, but we managed to check in early and took advantage of the time to have a meal and enjoy the AC before heading over to the convention center.

As soon as we headed inside the main hall, we were greeted by an overwhelming amount of people and visuals. The place was packed when we arrived, and we spent a good couple of hours just walking around looking at everything on offer. Rows upon rows of tables were filled with people playing various forms of Magic. Vendors lined the rows and every card you could ever want was on sale — in multiple languages no less.

One of the coolest things on display was this humongous Serra Angel statue. Situated nearby were extremely over-sized cards showcasing all of the first printings of each artwork for the card. It was a shame that there wasn’t anything else like this on display, but you could get your own oversized cards from the “prize wall” nearby. There was also an “official” merch presumably run by Wizards of the Coast, and that’s where I got this beauty:

Before I left there were a few things on my bucketlist. I wanted a t-shirt commemorating the event, I wanted to do my first ever live draft and I wanted pick up some cards on my wishlist. There were a few shirts on sale at the shop, but this was the only one that mentioned anything about GP Vegas. The other shirts on sale were each of the individual mana colors, with some sort of slogan using the mana symbol as one of the letters. For example, the word “Nope” written across the front of the shirt with the O being the blue mana symbol. Funny yes, because blue is the counterspell color, but not really my thing. I liked the black one best, with the word “Doom” written across the front with one of the O’s being the black mana symbol. I still preferred the GP shirt, with the simple rendition of a black lotus on the front and the 25th anniversary logo and Grand Prix locations on the back.

I ended up participating in less events than I would have expected. The first few hours in the convention center were overwhelming… we had just driven for four and a half hours and were a bit jet lagged, and there was no real rhyme or reason for the event. It took some time to figure out where to go to sign up for events and whatnot, but once we did we decided to play some commander. There were sealed events, a beta draft qualifier and “on-demand” drafts. You could also play 4-player commander on demand, so that’s what we did. Each of these queues required payment and sign up and then you’re given a buzzer. You wait around til the buzzer goes off and then meet at a “gathering point” where a judge will verify names and then seat you. We had to wait about 30 minutes before we got a 4-player game, and it was over in about ten minutes or less. The guy who won literally pulled a turn 3 win con out of his ass and that was that. We went ahead and played a for fun game and I won that one at least. After this point it was time to meet up with our friend who was finally off of work, and we set off to do a Dominaria draft.

Later in the evening the on-demand drafts turned into “turbo drafts,” which are essentially the same thing but instead of playing three rounds you only play one. This was my first ever live draft, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I opened poorly, and though I made what I thought was a decent deck I got stomped pretty quickly. Unlike the pre-release events I’ve done at my LGS where you get packs of cards as reward for playing (and winning), at the convention you were rewarded with “Prize Tix” in various amounts. These were used on the aforementioned prize wall. I earned 20 tix for participating in the round of EDH, though the winner got an additional 40. For the draft format, you get 100 tix for winning and 10 for losing. Some people were cool and did a 60/50 split, but the guy I played against gave me the 10 and walked away. Dick. The second day I did one more paid event, a Battlebond draft with our friend while my roommate did his beta draft qualifier. That one didn’t go so well either, and unless the judge forgot to give them to us, I didn’t get any tix from that one. At the end of the day, I ended up with a total of 40 tix, and the prize wall was always so damn packed that I didn’t bother spending them. They’re an additional little souvenir from the weekend. The “Cake Tix” was for the 25th anniversary cake they were giving away but I didn’t have any of that either.

The two parts of the weekend that were my favorite were playing EDH with our original pod back in the hotel room, and the games of EDH we got going at the end of Saturday. I guess you could say I love EDH. Oh, and I met Josh Lee Kwai from The Command Zone podcast. He’s Internet famous, so that’s pretty cool. At one point I finally decided what cards I would like to get my hands on, limiting myself to spending $100 or less, but wanting to get some value. These were my spoils from the weekend:

The top row were purchased for said $100 or less. The bottom row were promo cards for participating in events. Teferi and Land Tax have a home in one deck that I’m building, while Atraxa has been on my mind as a commander I would like to build for a while now. Doubling season I’ve talked about quite a bit lately, and having been recently reprinted it’s dropped from $75 to $36, which is a steal at this point (and I doubt it will drop much more before slowly creeping back up to that high point). It will be included into whatever I do with Atraxa, be it Superfriends or +1/+1 counter shenanigans. The promo lands are more of a souvenir than anything, but that promo Death Baron is a sweet alternate art and will slot right into my Scarab God zombie tribal deck.

Overall it was a great weekend and a neat experience. I don’t know that I would do it again though, because I’ve discovered that I truly do not like drafting, so if I do anything like this in the future I’ll be focusing on EDH alone. Still, if you love the game like I do, I’d recommend checking out a big convention like this at least once for the experience!

Thoughts on Quake Champions

Quake Champions first came on my radar around this time last year when it was announced at E3 2017. It was shown off a bit again this year during the Bethesda conference, but being an Early Access game in beta it’s not quite done yet. It started off with a buy-in price of $30, but more recently there was a starter pack put up on Steam for $5, which doesn’t come with all of the champions that exist in the game. As a special E3 week promotion, that starter pack was made available for free, so I took my chance to finally experience the game first hand.

Touted as being the same sort of game as Quake III Arena that many of us played back in the 90’s (and was the direct competition for Unreal Tournament) and helped spawn the Arena Shooter genre, it has a modern twist from adding Champions with special abilities (to compete with titles like Overwatch, I’m sure). This claim holds true, as the champions appear to be mostly modeled after the Quake III skins though now they each have a special ability that recharges during matches and can be used to shake things up a bit. Of course, the nature of the game is to grab the best weapons and power-ups to mow down the competition, so the special abilities don’t add too much depth. Still a nice touch though.

The starter pack grants access to Ranger and Scalebearer, while the other champions are unplayable save for whatever the current week’s free rotation is. This is fine if you want a limited pool and would rather save up favor or platinum to buy the champions, but for $20 (currently) you can instantly unlock them all. Like most free to play games on the market, there are most of the expected trappings; you can buy champions for in-game currency (favor) or buy the RMT currency (platinum) for similar use. Skins come in many flavors, from customization options for your champion and the weapons they use. It seems that you can also further customize things with a rune system that I don’t quite understand yet. I assume it’s similar to systems found in League of Legends, though the runes seem tailored to each champion individually.

When it comes down to it though, this is the fast paced Quake that we all know and love straight out of the 1990’s. There are several different game modes and I’ve felt right at home with it. I love a mindless arena shooter, but this adds just enough nuance to make it feel at home in 2018, despite being firmly steeped in nostalgia from the past. I feel like it’s worth the $20 to get all current and future champions; it’s a good deal just like it’s been for other games like Smite and Paladins.

Jumping into the action has been a blast and I truly enjoy this updated version of Quake. I wish we could get a full campaign though, because the original Quake games were epic and we’ve had this new era of DOOM titles coming out so I’d like to see what id Software might come up with, but I’ll settle for the arena shooter that Quake has become. If you have ever loved a Quake title, I’d suggest picking this up now while it’s free, but even if you miss the promotion, it’s worth dropping the asking price for. I imagine it will be out of Early Access soon enough, as it feels polished and nearly feature complete at this point, but I also believe there will be new content added for some time to come.

Most Anticipated: E3 2018

The Electronics Entertainment Expo for 2018 is over, and with it I’m left with a sense of excitement for the coming years. Games are releasing at such a rapid pace these days that it’s hard to find excitement for many, considering you could literally spend every waking moment playing video games and not complete every one that’s out there. This means many of us find our niche titles or genres that really speak to us and look forward the most to them. Some people are out to write about everything that was discussed during E3, while others (like myself) are going to cherry pick what they’re looking forward to and talk about that only.

Generally speaking, I feel like for the last few years Sony has taken the crown when it comes to their E3 presentation. This year things were skewed a bit differently. I only had the time to watch the Bethesda conference, and in my opinion they “won” this year. However, I did hear good things about Microsoft’s presentation along with Nintendo and the PC Gaming Show being decent. Overall it doesn’t matter who “wins” but it was odd to see that Sony was kinda meh this year. At the end of the day, I still only cherry picked titles I was interested in, and I’ll share those with you now!

Devil May Cry 5

I’ve been a fan of this series since #2. I remember one of my good friends picked it up on his PS2 and we played the hell out of it. I played the 3rd entry as well, but never did play number 4. I did finish the DMC reboot a few years back and that was a good time, and it’s hard to tell by this trailer if DMC 5 is keeping with the original Dante or moving forward with the rebooted version. Honestly he looks more like the new version, but still different. Either way it’s the same sort of action oriented combat game that fans of the series will know and love. I look forward to some mindless button mashing.

Dying Light 2

Still working my way through the first game with my best friend, as we are playing strictly co-op and don’t play it otherwise, but we should be able to complete it before this one comes out. It looks like more of the same, but the graphics look better. I assume the trailer is running on a high end PC though, so mileage may vary.

Anthem

We heard about Anthem last year and didn’t see much but teaser information. This time there’s a nice trailer with combat and it’s definitely a co-op game. I really want to play this one! Bioware games will always have a special place in my heart and this one looks like no exception.

Wolfenstein Youngblood

I’m not really hyped for this game, I played The New Colossus, but have yet to play Wolf2. I never played the little spinoff called The Old Blood, and this appears to be that same sort of thing. Perhaps I’ll get through those other titles before this one comes out, and in that case I’ll jump on it, particularly if it has a lower price point like The Old Blood did.

Starfield

This is a teaser and nothing more. Still, a Bethesda game in space? Sign me up!

The Elder Scrolls VI

Speaking of teasers, we finally got the one we’ve been waiting around for. TES6 is coming, but it’s probably a couple of years off at least. I cannot wait.

The Last of Us 2

We’ve known about this one for a while now too, but it’s looking gorgeous as ever. Naughty Dog has been producing amazing games for a long time now, and TLOU2 looks incredible. Just watch the trailer and be in awe like the rest of us.

Beyond Good & Evil 2

Another long awaited sequel that became a meme. It’s real now, but we still haven’t seen much in the way of gameplay. I’ll jump on board even more once that day comes, but the hype is still real!

RAGE 2

RAGE came and went before I really noticed. I’m a fan of id Software games, but this was already sort of old news by the time I heard of it. As a result I never played it, and now seeing the sequel I’m intrigued. I’ll pick this one up on sale and it looks like a blast.

DOOM Eternal

DOOM’s reboot from a couple of years ago was flat out the best FPS I had played in years. The visuals, the speed of the game, everything coalesced into a near perfect experience. It was also refreshing to go back to level maps that weren’t so damn linear and required some thought to navigate (and also backtrack). This is the sequel to that reboot and it’s going to be great, I can practically guarantee that.

Fallout 76

Last but certainly not least, we have the main event from the Bethesda conference, Fallout 76. So rumor had it before the show that this was going to be a Battle Royale, then people said it was a Survival Sandbox. At this point the devs themselves have called it “Softcore Survival.” What I have gathered from watching and reading about the game, it seems to be a traditional Fallout game with the same sorts of RPG elements and progression, but there is some co-op functionality and some pvp functionality. Apparently there are areas on the map where you can grab nukes and blow shit up, you can build bases, etc. etc. It sounds like Fallout 4 with co-op and I’m all about that. It was said that even if you die you don’t lose progression, so that would make the pvp less painful for people who don’t want it. It was also said you can play the game solo, so I assume then it would play like a normal Fallout. Hard to say at this point really, but I still look forward to a Bethesda RPG world that has some multiplayer in it.

Fallout 4 DLC: Automatron

With all of the E3 2018 hype surrounding Fallout 76, I decided that it was time to revisit Boston and finish up the DLC for the game. I hadn’t played since I beat the base game back at the end of 2015, while the DLC came out slowly over the following year I had at that time decided that I would wait until it was all released before diving in. Well, it’s been a couple years since then but I’m finally making good on this so that when Fallout 76 releases later this year I’ll be ready to move onto the new title. The first DLC that released for Fallout 4 was Automatron, an expansion that adds robotic friends that you can build and customize to use as your followers. Doing so requires you to complete a short and sweet questline which I was able to complete last night.

When I first logged into the game I was greeted by several new quests that were associated with the various DLCs. Each requires you to listen to a radio frequency on your Pip Boy, at which point you’ll then be shown where to go to get the quest started. The radio frequency for this particular quest sent me off in the direction of a distress signal, and once there I found a swarm of robots duking it out in the wasteland. After the fighting stops, we meet “Ada,” a robot that seems a bit more sentient than others we’ve seen in the commonwealth. She tells us about “The Mechanist” who is a villain of sorts for this particular questline. A person who has created robo-brains and other dastardly robots that seem intent on killing off any threats to humanity, including humans themselves. They seem to have killed off Ada’s friends, and she wants to join you in taking The Mechanist down.

We track down a radar beacon which Ada tells me that we need to locate The Mechanist. After doing so we create the new work bench for robo pals in Sanctuary, and I set about installing the beacon into Ada. At this point I took the liberty of beefing her up a bit as well, because if I’m going to have a companion follow me around they better pull their weight. Afterwards, she says we need to find a couple more. One of which is hiding inside a raider base, so that took some effort to get to.

The third and final beacon is installed in Jezebel, a robo brain that doesn’t have a body and has been “poked and prodded” by these raider scum. She pleads with me that if we take her from that place she will give us the beacon, but that there will be more necessary to confront The Mechanist. She wants me to build a body for her, and from there she will provide us with access codes that can be installed in Ada so we can proceed. I did so, and she kept her word despite Ada’s warnings about robo brains. We learn that The Mechanist is hiding in a Robco Sales & Service building, so we head there.

This dungeon of sorts was crawling with bandits and robots alike, and took some time to get through but eventually we were facing off against the Mechanist. There were a ton of robots to kill during this fight and I died several times, but eventually we had won. The Mechanist turned out to be a woman named Isabel Cruz, and she didn’t really seem to be malicious, only trying to use her robot creations to create a better world. She ended up leaving peacefully, and I ended up getting her suit which was a bit of an upgrade over the gear I had been using prior. Over the course of the DLC I gained a couple of levels, from 33-35, so I’m now ready to head into the Far Harbor DLC.

After that point, there’s Nuka World, as the other DLCs are only workshops and don’t include new quest content. I’m not as interested in the building aspects of the game so I’ll be moving on after I complete these new areas. Look for more on this soon as I intend to finish fairly quickly.

Thoughts on Realm Royale

The Battle Royal genre has been picking up steam for the last couple of years, joining the likes of MOBAs, CCGs, and Survival Sandboxes as flavors of the week. Every developer wants to get a cut of the pie, so they’ll create their version of the genre in question with mixed results. Being successful in a budding genre tends to depend on a few factors, timing being paramount. Developer clout isn’t necessarily going to mean much. Just being the first to market with a title doesn’t mean anything, as most people can attest to witnessing — if you jumped in during an early version of a new genre it’s likely one of its competitors ended up being more successful, building on core elements and expanding features. I’ve covered plenty of these genres over the years, and have been playing Battle Royale games since the first — H1Z1. Clearly that entry isn’t the most successful version of the Battle Royale, as Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnight’s Battle Royale have both seen more and longer lasting success. I have not played the former, but the latter didn’t appeal to me with it’s more juvenile design elements and the building mechanics felt unnecessary. Another new challenger has entered the ring, and being from a developer that I have a decent relationship with I had to try it out for myself.

Enter Realm Royale, Hi-Rez Studios’ addition to the Battle Royale genre. The game fits into the genre nicely, providing the same sort of experience you’ve come to expect, when you boil it down. You’ll still queue up for a game, enter a match, drop onto the map and try to be the last person standing — nothing has changed here. So why play Realm Royale over the other titles out there? Well, if you have played any of Hi-Rez’s games and have enjoyed them, you may be pleased to know that this is a spin-off title of one of their other games, Paladins. Using the same sort of graphic engine, similar gameplay with classes and skills, you’ll feel right at home if you’ve enjoyed their other titles in the past.

The game has launched its Alpha in Steam Early Access for now, but I assume a Playstation version of the game will pop up when the game gets to Beta (the rest of their titles have followed this pattern). It’s free to play as of now, and no sort of RMT has been added, but I’m sure that’s coming. It’s likely there will be skins and such that will appear in a virtual store. When the game hit Steam it had a duo and party queue but they have recently added a solo queue which allows you to play on your own. Five classes exist now and sort of match up with their Paladins counterparts. Each has unique skills that they bring to the table, so its imaginable that a party could queue up in a fairly balanced fashion. Once you’ve selected your class you’ll be able to run about a little lobby area and wait until the Zeppelin deploys to take you to the main island.

The map seems comparably sized to other BR games I’ve played. The “fog” will converge on a circular point on the map and you get to choose when to jump out and start you run.

Once on the ground you’ll want to head towards buildings that will contain loot. Instead of just picking up weapons of varying qualities, you’ll also pick up the skills specific to your class that will help you survive. Mages get fireballs while Assassins get smokescreens and the variety is a nice touch. I wouldn’t mind seeing a card system implemented ala Paladins where you could customize those skills further, but perhaps that would be limited to an account level? Could give an unfair advantage so perhaps that’s not the best move. A couple of things that set Realm Royale apart from the competition are mounts (though H1Z1 has vehicles you can find) that can be summoned at will, and the fact that when you die you’re not immediately dead. You’ll turn into a chicken and run around trying to survive for 30 seconds, at which point you will respawn as your human self to continue the fight. It’s a nice touch and rewards players for being more aggressive. Another nice touch is the ability to equip armor that makes you harder to kill. You can scrap items in the world for shards, and there are forges scattered around where you can use the shards to get ultimate abilities or weapons. The only problem here is needing to guard your forge for 60 seconds while a beacon shows everyone in the area that you are crafting something. I was able to make my ultimate weapon during my solo run and it was pretty sweet!

You’ll eventually die though, and during the few runs I have played so far, I managed to finish 20th when I duo queued and 10th during my solo run. I’m sure given enough rounds I’d be able to win one, and I haven’t felt that way during my time spent elsewhere. Overall I think Realm Royale sets itself apart from the competition pretty well, and given their player bases with their other titles I’m sure they will be able to sustain yet another session based game in their portfolio. I’d give it a whirl if other BR titles haven’t done it for you, or if you haven’t tried one because they’re all too similar. My only complaint to this point is that my 21:9 resolution isn’t available yet, but I’m sure that will come soon. Excuse all the black in the screenshots, thanks.