Hi-Rez Split: Good or Bad for Gamers?

This isn’t another developer appreciation week post, although I can say that Hi-Rez Studios has provided me with hundreds of hours of entertainment throughout the years. I absolutely love SMITE, enjoy Paladins to a lesser degree and see potential in Realm Royale (though the Battle Royale genre is already pretty stale). I would say I have an appreciation for them, but they aren’t held up on a pedestal like some other developers I’ve discussed on this blog, but I also wouldn’t put them in a pile with Daybreak Games whom have lost nearly all of my respect (save for the Norrath nostalgia I will always carry with me). A mixed relationship, though I don’t have any real ill will.

Recently the company announced that it is splitting into three different studios that will handle each of their titles. Titan Forge Games will continue to maintain and develop the company’s flagship title SMITE, Evil Mojo Games will oversee development of Paladins, and a new studio Heroic Leap Games was created to push Realm Royale towards its 1.0 release. At this point it’s hard to decide if this is a good or bad thing for the gamers who have invested countless hours into the company’s titles. One the one hand, having an individual team that is dedicated to producing new content and maintaining each game with bug fixes and balance changes should theoretically mean each game gets the time it deserves. On the other hand, it’s easy for one company to spread itself too thin with multiple studios demanding development time and funds and Hi-Rez has a bit of a bad track record when it comes to supporting games that just aren’t cutting it.

Another story broke that shows a huge decline in player numbers via Steam tracking for Realm Royale, and seeing as it’s only available on PC at this time that should be a reliable data point. It is only in Alpha testing at this point though so most people probably aren’t super committed to it until launch and the Battle Royale sphere is getting pretty crowded. Signups for the console beta of this game are already ongoing, so there are still plans to bring the game to consoles which has worked well for their other titles though it’s harder to track data about player bases reliably. I can attest to playing their games on console exclusively, and am already signed up for the Realm Royale beta on PS4, as these are great games with low barriers to entry and something I can play with my friends. It is troublesome to speculate on real data as to the health of the player base as a whole for each title due to having methods to track Steam numbers but not those on console or via the Hi-Rez launcher.

Looking at the Steam Charts for each reveals that they do all have player bases, but they vary wildly and it’s hard to say what the company would consider successful. I don’t have raw data on what happened with their handling of Tribes Ascend, but a cursory Internet search brought up this article. It seems that the studio dropped support just a year after “rescuing” the title that was already dead. I didn’t play Tribes Ascend, so I can’t say this bothers me. Looking at it from the outside I feel like it was probably a good business decision and since they didn’t really have anything invested in it they cut their losses. But if we look at the Steam charts for SMITE, it doesn’t seem to have a very large base and yet it continues to soldier on, four and a half years later.

I was surprised by the numbers for Paladins on Steam Charts, considering at the end of last year there was a controversial decision made involving the cash shop for the game. Isey covered this better than I could, I encourage you to read his article on the matter. I have since played the game and it’s not terrible and they seemed to sort of back off of the pay 2 win aspects that made people angry, yet it still commands more players on PC than SMITE. Realm Royale is facing a growing genre that is already dominated by the likes of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, and their Steam Charts numbers show it. A game with less than 5,000 players can easily stay alive, be it a MOBA or an MMO, but if the developers don’t think they are going to make enough money off of that player base, the game is likely to sunset. Games such as these sometimes depend on whales and that’s why the predatory cash shops exist, but even normal players like myself haven’t had a problem plunking down some cash for cool skins or champion bundles. Developers need to make compelling games to get our money, but also need enough money to keep the lights on. A vicious cycle.

Clearly I have no idea if this is a good or bad move for the company or its games. I think Realm Royale has a chance on consoles, because despite my lack of numbers I have played these games personally on PS4 and never had issues with long queue times that are evident in dying games. I would like to see all three of these game succeed, as I think the company has designed interesting games that vary enough from the competition to be as-good-if-not-better in my eyes. I’m not sure if this is the way to secure the future for them, but time will surely tell.

SOTG: Checking in on Old Friends

For Memorial Day weekend I ended up going to visit my Mother and as she lives in the same town as my best friend, I ended up paying him a visit as well. One game that we’ve been playing together for a very long time is Awesomenauts, but through the years we’ve picked up quite a few different titles that we’ve spent some time on. In that same vein, we’ve been picking up some of our old favorites, and I thought I’d use this fuel for a new round-up post. As I’ve only mentioned Awesomenauts to this point, I suppose that’s a good place to start.

Regular readers will probably recall my history with this game, but to briefly recap, I received the game for free via Playstation Plus when it first released in 2012. I played it with my friend and he loved it, picking up a copy for his Xbox 360. We’d play splitscreen when at each other’s houses, and eventually he got a PS3 and we’d play together online. I picked up the Steam version of the game at one point because I was frustrated that a bunch of new characters and features we being added to the game on PC and not the platform that it started on. Later, the game would get expansions and a new version called Awesomenauts Assemble was released for PS4. My friend and I came back to the game at this point, and though I already owned the expansions on PC, I had to pick them up again via a bundle purchase on Playstation. This was fine as I enjoyed the game and wanted to support it, but a little more frustration came my way when I learned that the title went Free 2 Play earlier this year on PC, and the console version has not followed suit. When we picked up to play this past weekend, there were a few more characters released and I had to drop $6 to get them. Apparently with the PC version being free to play means that there is an in-game currency that allows you to buy individual characters, while there are bundles to buy them all along with skins for real money. I suppose that makes it the same sort of deal but I think the virtual currency should make it’s way to console as well… going free to play will likely bring in new blood though I haven’t had trouble finding games anyway. Here’s the new additions since I last played (around the time Overdrive released).

I’ve managed to play a handful of games with some of the new characters and they seem about on par with what you’d come to expect from this 2D MOBA.

I’m not disappointed with the game all that much. Owning it on two platforms gives me options but honestly I play the game because my best friend loves it and we’ve put a lot of time in.

You remember H1Z1? Yeah I talked about it way back when, I was there when it first came out, playing what would later become Just Survive. I remember when they added the Battle Royale mode. It was fun and something new and different, but now BR clones are a dime a dozen and the most popular ones are PUBG and Fortnite. By the time H1Z1 was split into King of the Kill and Just Survive I had already uninstalled the game, and I haven’t really kept up except for hearing that JS is about dead and Battle Royale was coming to PS4. I never played PUBG but it seems like the same sort of shit, and Fortnite’s BR mode is garbage. It’s too light and kiddie for my tastes, and though I’m sure PUBG is great I don’t want to pay to play it. Enter the H1Z1 PS4 Beta. It’s free to play and it’s the same Battle Royale that I remember, but then it’s been clearly worked on for a long time. Much has changed to this point, but the game looks and plays pretty much the same as I remember.

I think if I am in the mode for some Battle Royale, this is the one I’d play just because I don’t have to think much and I don’t have to pay for it. So win/win.

The other Hi-Rez title that I used to play quite a bit has seen some changes as well. Paladins got a bad rep in recent months by trying to do some cash grabbing, but it appears that the UI and the character customization has changed a bit too. The card system isn’t anything like I remember, having set cards for champions and only the ability to raise points in your build which in turn makes the card’s rarity change. It’s a dumbed down version from what existed before, but perhaps the streamlining was good for newcomers.

That’s really my only complaint. It looks great and still runs perfectly. I still have the game down pretty good as well, as my score below will attest. There are a handful of new champions but I’m not sure about map changes. There are some different modes that I don’t recall, but as I said there have been many changes in the year or so since I last played. One thing that stuck out was the season pass sort of thing that the company does with Smite, where you have to essentially buy in to receive rewards for playing, but the rewards aren’t exactly guaranteed unless you grind out some games. So yeah, a bit cash grabby, but I’m not going to give it to them.

Still a fun shooter in short bursts.

The granddaddy of Hi-Rez titles for me, and it’s been a year since I played this one as well. That’s one thing, playing MMOs or persistent account games like MOBAs/CCGs/BRs is that you have to spend a lot of time to keep up with the patch to patch changes, new characters, shifting metas, etc. I was shocked to see how much just the UI has changed in a year:

I didn’t take much in the way of screen shots, but my bff and I played a few rounds the other night and won them all. Between this game and Paladins I also had a shit ton of rewards given to me when I logged in, and the only reason I can think of is because I’ve played other Hi-Rez games in the meantime? I have been playing Hand of the Gods: Smite Tactics and even recently tried out Paladins Strike. I assume some cross promotion exists, and maybe there’s even some sort of welcome back rewards, I’m not sure but I had 100s of notifications between the two games. I’m not complaining by any means but it was a nice surprise. I’m looking forward to playing more of these games, as the itch still hasn’t been scratched.

Finally, I’ve been getting in some time with MTGA as well. Still not doing great at it though. My mind has been so wrapped up in EDH for the past year and a half that I don’t really look at other formats all that much. Since I’m going to GP Vegas during the middle of this month, much of the events going on are drafts. I have never drafted in MTG. As such, it seemed like a good time to try it out, as this past weekend there were Dominaria drafts going on. So I paid my entry fee and got down to business. Things did not go well.

I didn’t get a single win, but I did learn a lot about the format. Sealed and Constructed are so much different than a draft, and in this case I ended up building a trash BR deck that almost won me a single game before the draft was over. I know now what I should have been focusing on, and I might do another draft or two before the Vegas trip, but as of now I’m still not that big on this type of Magic. I know that the event will have a lot of drafting going on so I’m sure I’ll participate in a couple, but I also don’t want to spend a ton over the weekend so I’m limiting myself. I think I might end up doing Battlebond again, but I’m really hoping to just play some EDH with random people from around the country. Speaking of, if you’re a regular and happen to be going to Vegas that weekend, drop me a message and maybe we can meet up!

That’s all for this time.

Thoughts on Paladins Strike

It’s been a while since I gave a new mobile title a whirl, and Paladins Strike was a game I pre-registered for so that I could check it out when it was available. As regular readers will know, I’m a fan of much of what the developers Hi-Rez Studios have created in the past, from the Smite franchise to Paladins, which this mobile title is based on. Smite Tactics is still a thing too, though I understand why people aren’t too keen on the company due to some things that happened with Tribes, etc. I wasn’t so thrilled myself about some of the monetization that was going on that Isey covered so well earlier this year. Honestly I hadn’t played it for a couple months before he had talked about this stuff and haven’t played it since then. At least they went back on the whole thing, and I’ve actually given some thought to playing it more often again, been in the mood to revisit some old titles I spent a lot of time on… things like League of Legends, Awesomenauts (actually played that one a little over the weekend) and Smite. Anyway, let’s get back to the main event!

Paladins Strike showed up on my Google Play store at some point a few months back and I ended up hitting the preregister button. I had forgotten all about it until I was notified that it was ready for download. I’ve had it installed for a bit but finally found the time this weekend to check it out and I was fairly impressed! The game plunks you down into a tutorial mode, and explains the above control scheme to you. I was wondering how they would translate the gameplay of a team based shooter to a mobile platform, but it seems to work well enough despite utilizing the touch screen. You’ll move your champion with one thumb and aim/shoot with the other. Extra buttons are present to represent the abilities of characters that you’ll already know if you played the full Paladins game.

As you can see from the above screens, this looks more like a traditional MOBA and not a first person shooter. Despite being set up in a different fashion, the rest of the game is nearly identical to Paladins. The characters are the same and have the same abilities, and though the maps aren’t the same, they do feature capture points and payloads to push, just like in the original game.

The menus and interface are spot on in look and feel compared to the original Paladins. There is a cheeky monetization system that might lure some folks in… some free spins for chests and things await, and you can of course pay real money to buy skins and things. I’ve been known to do these things in the past but I don’t see myself spending money on this one. It’s an interesting title, but not money worthy at this point.

I played a round after the tutorial and felt like the game ran pretty smoothly over Wi-Fi. I didn’t test on pure phone signal, but I assume you wouldn’t want to play it under those conditions due to lag. I felt like most people didn’t really try to dodge or move around much, our enemies just funneled into our team and were slaughtered over and over again. I can see where the game could be fairly competitive but hardware lag is probably a thing on some phones. It was fine for me but it’s always hard to say with all the hardware that’s out there. I’d check it out if you’re looking for something a little more involved on your phone, but otherwise you’re probably better off playing on PC or a console.

Wall of Text Version 2.0

I was going to make this into a State of the Game post, but since I’m writing from work and I don’t have any screenshots or other goodies to spice it up, I decided a wall of text post was in order. I have a bunch of mini-updates about my various activities and thought a random stream-of-consciousness style of post was in order. So here goes.

I’m not sure if you guys caught it, but I made mention earlier in the month of a coming event that would change up my personal life a bit. For the past year and a half (or maybe a bit more) I’ve been dating a woman off and on. Things have had their ups and downs as most relationships go, but we have soldiered on and are stronger for it. She has lived with one of her long term friends for almost a year now, and since she moved in there, I have become friends with her roommates. Her friend’s husband is the one who got me back into Magic, and that has grown into a full on weekly playgroup and has been a blast.

Recently it was brought to our attention that the married couple put in an offer on a house. It’s not far from where they live currently, which in turn is not too far from my current house or my work. The house they are buying is in escrow until September, so this isn’t a done deal just yet, but at one point they approached my girlfriend about her intentions going forward. They wanted her to move with them but wanted to see where she stood, at which point she brought up the possibility of me moving in as well. It’s not the optimal situation in that I would prefer to live on my own without roommates, but it is going to get me out on my own again after living with family for nearly three years, and for that I was open to the idea. Things have progressed nicely in my relationship, and this is the next logical step. As such, we are looking forward to this next chapter in our lives and the big change will come soon.

How does that affect other parts of my life? Well I think once I’m moved and settled, I’ll be able to devote more time to gaming and in turn more time to creative outlets. I’ve kept up the blog but I have a more limited output than in years past. I have other aspirations as well, so I think being settled and having all my shit (and people) in one place will help to give me more time to devote to these things. It turns out that two of the members of my Magic playgroup are interested in giving podcasting (and perhaps other media creation) a whirl, so I may finally be getting back on the airwaves. It seems they are bent on making the podcast about MTG, but I may still be able to convince them to do other bits, or perhaps I’ll make the magic bit only certain episodes and do the rest solo. I will figure out the details soon, but I’d expect to see something new from me on that front before the end of the year.

We got together for our weekly session last night and I was able to debut my newly minted Locust God deck. It performed rather well, and I was able to pull off both the infinite combo with Ashnod’s Altar + Skullclamp, and a beatdown win with Shared Animosity. It was glorious. I played a round with Temmet and Molimo as well but those games didn’t go in my favor. Overall it was a fun night but we all want to play more games more often. It really is cardboard crack.

On the gaming front, I’ve spent the last month really digging into Killing Floor 2. At this point I’ve earned all but two of the trophies: One for reaching perk level 25 (maxing out one of the classes) and one for winning a round on the “hell on earth” difficulty (the hardest one available). I’m not far from being able to do both, and then I’ll have yet another platinum trophy for the collection. Recently they also added a carnival themed summer event where all of the monsters look like carnival “freaks” and they even added a new carnival map. There are some mini-tasks to complete that reward cosmetics — to this point I’ve earned a pig mask. Woo.

SMITE recently patched for the summer as well, which means new summer-themed skins and some quests to do. Quests in this game are fairly straight forward, requiring wins, or a number of kills/assists, etc. but they net various rewards during these seasonal events. Skins are usually only available for RMT. The biggest change though was that the account level cap was removed, so 30 is no longer the maximum level — it’s something over 100 now. The XP curve was leveled out and any XP earned post level 30 was automatically added, so I logged in and was instantly level 49. I assume there will be other benefits for leveling, but for now all I saw was a few new achievements, though they are in-game only and don’t net trophies. I’m at about 60 Gods mastered now, and only need a handful of trophies to “finish” this game off as well though I doubt I’ll stop playing it anytime soon.

Lastly, I’ve been spending my other free time in Final Fantasy XV. I’m about level 15 now, have made it into chapter 3 of the main storyline and have successfully cleared all of the side quests and hunts that are at or below my current level. I’m going the completionist route just because you get more trophies that way, and because the side quests give a decent amount of XP and gil, which makes traveling through the game that much easier. So far I love it. I even picked up the season pass, as a couple of episodic DLCs have released and the multiplayer expansion is coming soon. I’m curious to see how that affects the game.

That’s all for me for today. Just wanted to get some updates in and make another post before the month was over. Until next time, happy gaming!

State of the Game: Let’s Call Them RDA’s

It’s been a minute since I pulled out a round up post, so I thought I’d do that this fine holiday. The last time I checked in I was finishing up Destiny and Resident Evil VII, and it’s been quite some time since I wrote those games off to move onto something new. My recent posting history has been fairly balanced between pieces on individual games, the Humble Monthly write ups, and my MTG series, but I still manage to play other games and not really talk about them. Not long ago, I posted a poll to see which “time intensive” game I’d play next. I have so many, and there were several other options not presented, but these were ones that had been in my library for a while but not completed:

As you can see, The Witcher 3 took the top spot in the poll. I was cool with this, because it’s been a game I’ve been wanting to give a proper try. Those of you who participated in the poll are probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned playing it yet, so I thought this was a good time to explain. I bought the game on my PS4 because it happened to be on sale with the expansions. I figured I’d want to be able to get the full experience, so it was a no-brainer purchase. So many people raved about what a great game it is, but despite a couple tries at it, I just don’t concur. It seems interesting enough, it runs well enough, but it just feels so wonky. I don’t like the combat, I don’t like Gwent, I really don’t like anything that I saw. I honestly believed that Fallout 4 was the better open world RPG that year, and I still feel that way a couple of years later. So I uninstalled and tried not to think about the wasted money. I feel like I’m going to have a much better time with either FFXV or ME3, both of which I want to dive into soon. I haven’t put aside the time to devote to either just yet, having dipped my toes into each and liking what I saw. They just control so much better than the Witcher. This isn’t the first time a shitty control scheme turned me off of a series. I’m hoping that Red Dead Redemption 2 fixes the ailment.

So what have I been playing? I’m still doing my rounds with a multitude of lobby based games, including SMITE, Paladins, Battle Islands Commanders, Minion Masters and Clash Royale — the latter 3 being part of an emerging genre I’m going to start calling RDAs, or “Real-Time Duel Arenas.” You can go ahead and spread that around. I’ve also played a bit of a game that was given out for free during Humble Bundle’s Spring Sale called Dungeons II which I have rather enjoyed. Lastly, I’ve picked up a couple more free to play games on the console to play with my best friend, as PS4 is our only way to play and he’s on a tight budget these days, so free to play is the way to go. Those titles are Marvel Heroes Omega and Skyforge — two games I’ve mentioned here on the blog before, but I was playing them on PC, and solo. Which is probably why I never got all that far. Still, I have found that I enjoy them and they feel great on the console!

SMITE has been more of the same, though I’m not playing it as regularly the past couple of weeks due to spreading my time around elsewhere. I’m nearing 60 Gods mastered and have just been plugging away at quests when I get them. It’s starting to get to the point that I don’t crave playing it as much as I used to, and that’s what happened with League of Legends a couple of months before I started up with SMITE (which has been over a year now, by the way). I’ll keep it around and play it often enough but less often than before. Paladins has been keeping my interest and breaking up the monotony of having only one game to play with your buddy. SMITE is great, but playing the same game day in and day out (on the days you do get together) gets old. I think we’ve retired Awesomenauts too, but Paladins has seen steady play.

RDA’s have started to become a thing, and I’ve covered them here with increasing frequency. I’m sure just like with MOBAs before them there will be a lot of copies and a lack of innovation for a time until the few remain and another new sub-genre emerges. Still, I have been becoming more invested in this style of game, mainly because of the dueling nature of it. In MOBAs or other team-based games you have to worry about yourself, but also try to work with your team to completed objectives. In these dueling games, you only have to worry about the opponent you are facing. Bite sized rounds also means more time to play multiples, and though some rely on time-locks to keep you from playing non-stop you can find those that don’t have these limitations. Obviously I started with Clash Royale, which I think just might be the originators of the concept (correct me if I’m wrong), so let’s check in there first:

I’ve finally gotten over the hump and have solidified my place in Arena 9. Like other choke points before it, I was teetering on the verge of staying in Arena 9 and dropping back down to Arena 8. I kept tweaking my decks trying new strategies and listening to what guides and others had to say, which ended up hurting me for a while. Finally, I picked my style of deck and put something together that I can say works pretty well most of the time. Well enough that I got over that hump and am currently sitting at my highest ever trophy total. I still don’t have all of the cards yet, as new ones keep being added in, and the meta shifts quite a bit between the Arenas. This is what my deck is looking like at this point:

I like the “Hog Cycling” style of deck, where the majority of the spells are cheap and your main win condition is using Hog Riders often. I was trying to avoid using E-barbs because people tend to complain about them pretty loudly, but they are a good form of defense and tend to help with counter-pushing. I just recently added in the Log as I finally pulled one from a chest, and am currently working on leveling my Dart Goblin to level 7 so that I can use it to replace the archers, as I think for the elixir cost it will actually benefit the deck. I know trading out Arrows for the Log did. I’m not getting 3 crown wins every time with this deck, but it has been winning pretty consistently, even against some of the hard to counter Golem and Royal Giant decks out there.

In Minion Masters, I have settled on this deck, and this Master. I haven’t been playing it super regularly, but when I do I’ve enjoyed it. The Early Access is plugging away and keeps being enhanced. I’m still not as committed to this because it’s not in full release, but I look forward to that day. Not having to upgrade cards and not having a time limit on rounds makes this game play differently and I enjoy the nuance. Wonder how far they will go with things before release?

Dungeons II is a modern version of Dungeon Keeper. It plays nearly identically, save for the little intro that played more like a traditional RTS (perhaps other bits of the game will as well) but the first couple of levels felt so similar to Dungeon Keeper, but in the best way possible. If you enjoyed that game, you’ll enjoy this one. Hope you got your free copy! There isn’t much else to say there. Here’s pictures instead:

I also picked up a copy of the newly released game Killers & Thieves, which is from the same company as The Banner Saga. Not sure if I mentioned it before, but I did back The Banner Saga 3 on Kickstarter a few months back, as I own and have completed the first two games and really enjoyed them. It basically just got me a pre-order copy of the game. Anyway, K&T is made by one of the developers from Stoic, who was coding this game as a side project and almost completely alone. It’s got that great hand-drawn art style, some interesting ideas behind it, but as many people will mention in the reviews, there are some basic settings and tutorials that are not there yet (but are supposed to be patched in soon). Turns out that the reviews are right, and though I don’t mind a bit of a learning curve, I didn’t get to far into the game without feeling like I’d rather wait for it to be patched a time or two before I get further. At the end of the day, it’s a Thieves Guild management sim, and it seems to do that fairly well. The heist bits were entertaining, but a bit frustrating. I honestly think it will benefit from some patches, and I’m hopefully that it turns out well, but at this point I wouldn’t outright recommend it.

Lastly, I picked up both Marvel Heroes Omega (the newest rebranding of the popular MMO-lite from Gazillion) and Skyforge for PS4, as I was looking for something new to play with my friend. He’s not terrible at the games that we already play, but sometimes the competitive nature of those games get on our nerves. There are times when it’s nice to play some co-op too, so I wanted some titles we could check out together, and because I was already familiar with these it seemed like a good idea. MHO just went into open beta so anyone with a PS4 can jump in right now. Founder’s packs are still available and usually come with a hero or heroes and skins. They aren’t too over priced, and you do get enough in-game currency to open up at least one character from the get-go. Apparently it’s not too much of a grind to open up others, but otherwise it’s the same exact game you already know. Apparently couch co-op is also available, so that’s pretty cool. It runs well and the controls are intuitive. I think we’ll be putting some time into it.

Skyforge hasn’t been played as much. We were trying to get through the tutorial bits today so that we could finally group up, but it takes some time and he’s not exactly an experienced MMO player, so I’m sure the systems seem a bit complex to him. Once we do get a chance to play I think we might have a good time with it too. They both feel oddly more at home on console, just like SMITE and Paladins (for me, that is).

I think that’s it for this round, nearly 2k words later. Adios.