The State of the Game #21

This edition of the column is going to be a long one, despite having blogged more regularly in the last week. I still feel like there is a lot to go over, so bear with me. I spent very little time on my Playstation this week, and as a result things on that end feel a little neglected. As a further result, I made more progress on the PC end of things. The playlist this week consisted of Diablo III, Hearthstone, The Banner Saga, Hawken, Loadout, League of Legends, Awesomenauts and Lone Survivor.

I’ll start with the Playstation updates, mainly because it will be the shortest bit. Last week Lone Survivor was the Plus offering, and you’ll recall that I was looking forward to it. I downloaded it and started playing while I was defragging or downloading… something that was going to keep me off of the computer for a while whatever the case. Graphically the game is very 8 or 16-bit, although on a larger screen it’s really grainy to the point where it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at half the time. I get the homage they’re paying to great games of the past (like Maniac Mansion which I’ve already compared it to) but in some ways it takes away from the experience. I think this game was made for a platform like a tablet or the Vita, because the smaller screen would help with the resolution and the requirement for headphones would help with immersion. Regardless, it does seem intriguing enough. I wandered around an apartment building, shot some zombie things, picked up stuff and weird things happened. I can’t really explain it beyond that. It’s survival horror, and that’s something I enjoy, and it has a layer of mystery that makes you wonder wtf? It reminds me of early Resident Evil or Silent Hill games in 2-D. More on this later if I ever get around to playing it some more. This week for Plus we’re offered a puzzle game for PS3 and some other game for Vita. I really don’t care about either, so it must be time to move on to PC stuff!

League of Legends:
I can’t lie, I haven’t been playing League nearly as much as I used to. In fact, aside from trying out the Team Builder beta I played a couple of ARAMs and that was about it. However, there are some developments in the game that are worth mentioning. Team Builder is something I’ve talked about before, it’s essentially Dungeon Finder for League. This is for players who don’t have a dedicated team or group of friends that plays the game. I know a couple of people in real life that play, but aside from that it’s just friends I made in the game, and half the time only a couple of people are on when I log in. This allows someone like me to get into a queue where I can play what I want, or I can even theorize strategies and hope that someone will be down to try it. The latter part is more experimental, and Riot has already said that unorthodox queues will take longer to form. The real meat and potatoes is being able to queue as whatever role I feel like playing that particular day, and not having an argument in champ select with someone else who wants the same role. This allows you to practice what you want without worrying about “getting it”. I think it’s awesome, but it’s not a reality just yet. In other news, new patch notes have arrived, Heimerdinger got a visual update, and there has been yet another champion teased. This one is going to be a Yordle, and Yordles are almost always cool.

Diablo III:
I took it upon myself to get to 60 in a night. I had mentioned being level 52, and finishing up the remainder of Act I and a chunk of Act II got me to 60. At this point I could go ahead and grind out the remainder of the game and start over again on the level above Hard, but I’m not sure that’s going to be required to progress further. I know that I would net a large portion of Paragon levels by doing so, but I’m pretty sure being at the cap and completing Act V is all that is going to be needed to get into the new end game, Adventure mode. I’m still not entirely sure how torment levels work and all that other end game stuff is going to go, but for now I’m leaving it on the shelf til next week when the expansion releases. Also, the Auction House goes down today, but I never used it to really have anything to say about it. Here’s a shot of my Wizard as is:

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Hearthstone:
The meta of Hearthstone changes so often that it’s not funny. When it comes to what decks are superior to others, and what people are using in their decks, it’s almost different on a day-to-day basis. I read The Meta Report on IHearthU, and they give rankings on what decks (heroes), and what types of decks (aggro, control, etc) are being played the most that given week. They might only be speaking of Ranked play though, because I notice differences in my sessions as opposed to their list, but it is pretty spot on at times. I had been complaining about Paladins for a long time, but they are now at the bottom of that list, and I really haven’t been seeing them played much lately. I’ve been focusing on my Hunter deck which is my ultimate favorite, and aside from Warlocks they also seem to be the most commonly played. I’ve set mine up to be able to counter mostly any other hero, I only have trouble when I simply get poor draws or if they have some legendary fuck-you to throw at me. Here’s my deck list as it stands now:

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The major reason why this deck works is because of the synergy between all of the beasts that are available in the game. Not only are the Hunter’s class specific beasts well designed, but many of the expert cards work well too. The cards I find helping me out the most are as follows:

Hearthstone_Screenshot_3.18.2014.18.23.04Hearthstone_Screenshot_3.18.2014.18.23.12Hearthstone_Screenshot_3.18.2014.18.23.19Hearthstone_Screenshot_3.18.2014.18.23.24Hearthstone_Screenshot_3.18.2014.18.23.37

The first two cards, Snake Trap and Unleash the Hounds are situational sure, but they both add extra “tokens” to the playing field. Alone, the snake trap helps recover for a lost or damaged minion. The hounds are an AOE, in that you can cast it to take out multiple */1’s or maybe utilize them in another way. Alone these cards are cool, but not game changing. The synergy between these cards and the next two cards is what helps considerably. The Scavenging Hyena gets +2/+1 for every friendly beast that dies. Sending snakes or hounds to their death (while also helping to clear opposing minions) makes him bigger, and sometimes that will win you a game. The same goes for the synergy with Starving Buzzard, who allows you to  draw a card for every beast summoned. If you have a buzzard in play when you cast the hounds or the snake trap is triggered, bam, free cards. Combine that with the Hyena and you get damage to spread around, cards in your hand and a beefed up minion. Finally, Ragnaros the Firelord is a new addition to my collection. When they nerfed Tinkmaster Overspark, I disenchanted his ass for this bad boy. Ragnaros is a finisher, and even though he doesn’t necessarily synergize with this deck thematically, he’s a beast. He can’t attack, but will throw out 8 damage every turn until he is destroyed. This is random, so he’s best played after eliminating opposing minions, so when you end turn you get free damage on the enemy. I win 90% of my games with this deck. There are some things that I might do to tweak it further, but this is my stand by for now.

Steam Games:
I’ve been playing The Banner Saga here and there, and I must say it is a relaxing game. Most of the time you’re staring at the screen watching the caravan trudge along. The rest of the time you are reading bits of dialogue and about random encounters that are part of the journey. Then they break things up with some tactical combat that was confusing at first, but is very satisfying once you get the hang of it. Last I wrote I was on chapter 3, and things were going along smoothly. Initially you jump between main characters and have completely different groups to lead on the road and in battle. Eventually the story takes a turn and your separate groups meet, along with other characters being added as well. Now I’m at a point where I have everyone in one large caravan, and the world is quite dire… the storyline is rather depressing, but on a Lord of the Rings level of epic-ness. I’m now in Chapter 6, and it is getting to the point where I am losing at least a couple of my fighters in battles, and supplies are so scarce that each time I spend all of my reknown on them, I’m still losing clansmen in between places where I can buy more. That also puts a damper on promoting my units, so I’m trying to find a happy medium of strength and deaths of innocents. I’m hoping that eventually things get a little better.

Hawken has seen a couple hours of my time, and I must say that I really enjoy the gameplay. I’ve been focusing more on the co-op bot destruction (survival mode) rather than pvp in an effort to get better at the game but I did get my ass handed to me a few times regardless. For a free to play title this one feels a little more grindy. What I mean is that when I finish a round it doesn’t appear that I make much progress as far as leveling up my account or my mech. There is an in game currency that also feels like it takes too long to earn, but can be used to buy more mechs and some consumables. The real-money currency is available for those items along with being the only way to buy cosmetics. It seems that this game is a little more on the pay to win side, because although it is free it is quite the grind the earn anything. I suppose if you compare this to the amount of time it would take to buy the 100+ champions in LoL it’s about the same though.

I’ve also played some Loadout in between other games, and it is more of the same when it comes to session based shooters. There’s nothing revolutionary being done here, but the wacky action is part of the fun. So far I have only played a few games in a mode that sees you capturing various objectives that randomly spawn. I haven’t progressed too far but it does seem to have the similar cash shop, but weapon customization was available almost immediately, and I already sunk some currency into the tech tree. One observation: Don’t pick the rifle stock when making your first weapon, the beam weapons are far more effective it seems.

Lastly, I have dug deeper into the PC version of Awesomenauts, and I’m addicted to this game far more than I ever was on the PS3, and I was pretty damn addicted to that version. So far I have opened up several characters that were previously unavailable to me, including Gnaw, Raelynn, Skolldir, Vinnie & Spike, and Genji. Also, Ted McPain who is part of the Starstorm early access. Raelynn and Vinnie were instant favorites, Raelynn being a sniper with some decent utility and Vinnie being another aerial naut, who has some cool abilities. The new map that I had yet to try is nice, and helps to break up the monotony of having only 3 maps previously. Another new map is part of Starstorm but isn’t out just yet. I am still observing all of the differences and nuances of this version of the game, and still plan to write a dedicated post to that. One big observation: I was in the 800 rank range on the PS3, and that was out of nearly 100,000 accounts. Looking at the leaderboards here shows a much smaller pool of players, and despite only playing a few games I’m in the 6,000 rank range. I know it will take some time to rise up the leaderboards but my concern is that there are less players listed. I would assume there would be a larger pool of players on the PC platform, especially considering that it’s been out for PC less time, there’s more content, and people backed their kickstarter for further content. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding something.

The Horizon:
Reaper of Souls doesn’t release until a week from today, so Diablo III will likely sit on the shelf. There aren’t any Plus offerings I care about, and nothing really on my PS3 at the moment that I want to play. Most likely I’ll be playing the usuals from above and perhaps it’s time to play some more EQII, so I can feel like I’ve made more progress there. I did the epic repercussions on my Brigand but still need to do that on my Paladin and I have a few new or low level characters I wouldn’t mind toying around with. There’s also this game called Luftrausers that released today and it’s only $8.99 on Steam right now, so I’m tempted to grab it. That’s all for now. Sorry for being so long winded.

The Weekend Report

Shortly after my last post, I was back in Diablo III. I figured since I was able to clear an Act a night I should be able to keep the pace, and Act IV ended up being considerably shorter than the previous Acts. The last Act was simply more epic in scope and feel, you are in Heaven, and you are destroying Hell’s elite. Bosses are everywhere. Loot drops in an abundance. And then you get to face the baddest of all badasses, Diablo himself. Herself? Hard to tell in this game. Diablo ends up being a three part fight, but still none of this was a challenge and was easily done on Normal. I was level 47 upon completion, and I’d say that’s a bit further ahead of the curve than I would have been without the bonus XP event that’s been going on this month.

Say Goodnight Diablo. Goodnight Diablo.
Say Goodnight Diablo. Goodnight Diablo.

I did take a night off from the game, but then ended up playing some more today. I’m currently level 52, and I would say a couple more sessions will get me to 60. I’m not too worried about grinding out Paragon levels, because I don’t want to burn myself out before the expansion hits. Once Reaper of Souls is out then I intend to get to level 70 and try out the Adventure mode. I’m hoping that it really creates an end game of sorts, because outside of leveling a Crusader, I don’t want to have to repeat the same content over and over. This has always been my issue with Action RPGs, once I’ve completed the game once I don’t usually want to play it over again. I’m part way through the first Act on a second playthrough, and I did ramp the difficulty up to Hard, but I still don’t want to replay the same story over really. If I would have had to grind it out several times to get to 60 I probably wouldn’t have done it. We don’t want these games to end because it is fun to hack n slash with loot progression, but they are mostly single player games that do have an end. Eventually we will move on from this just as we moved on from its predecessors. But for now, it’s fun, moreso when you can join in with friends.

Having a computer that can run most anything has been a refreshing change of pace. A huge catalog of games sits before me that weren’t available before, some I’ve already mentioned purchasing, many games are free to play. I was toying with the idea of downloading Planetside 2 or Firefall to check them out and because I have been looking for a decent FPS to play when I’m in the mood for that sort of thing. I’ve boycotted the CoD series, and despite trying I’m not really fond of Battlefield. The aforementioned titles are free to play and massive, so they are more in the Battlefield or MMO genre than being a true session based FPS (I’m primarily a deathmatch guy. Shoot some shit and then move on when I’ve had my fill). I knew there had to be more options, so I perused the free to play section of Steam. Man there are a lot of free to play games out there that I had never heard of, some that I have heard of but haven’t tried, and some that I wasn’t interested in at all. My Dad had mentioned one called Loadout to me, and it’s a cartoon like TPS that plays kind of like Team Fortress. I haven’t gotten too far but it’s in the rotation for now. The other game I tried is called Hawken, and it’s a FPS in mechs, but the controls are very arcade-y unlike the old Mechwarrior games I used to play. I actually prefer the way this game is set up, and though it is an early access game, it seemed to have a nice level of polish already. I’m definitely interested in seeing how this game shapes up.

In the past I primarily played FPS games on the computer. I was accustomed to using the keyboard and mouse, and I used to think that style of control was superior to a game pad. Early FPS games on consoles were always wonky, and I detested their control schemes. Over the years though, gamepads have improved and the ability to translate controls over to consoles did as well. For a number of years I played enough FPS games on Playstations and Xboxes to come to the conclusion that I prefer a controller to keyboard and mouse when it comes to this style of game. As such, I started doing some research and found that many games that I would be interested in playing on the computer via Steam have controller support. Unfortunately I don’t have an Xbox so I didn’t already have an accessible gamepad to use for the PC. You may recall that I was using a program to get my PS3 controller to work on the PC, but it wasn’t all that reliable and I decided it would just be better to buy a gamepad for the PC and be done with it. I looked around on the web for quite some time and asked a few friends and family members their opinions and the general consensus was to get a 360 controller because it is the most compatible with windows. I was thinking that Logitech and other companies make PC accessories that I have used and are usually quite reliable, so I looked at their selection as well. Turns out that the F310 is styled more like a Playstation controller, tricks windows into thinking it’s a 360 controller, and it was less expensive than a legitimate 360 controller. The only supposed draw back is that it is wired via USB. There is an upgraded version called the F710 that is wireless, but essentially the same controller otherwise and considerably more expensive. Longer story short, I found one at my local Staples for $25, and the guy at the register actually price matched Best Buy for me so I only paid $21. I got home and plugged it in and wouldn’t you know, it works beautifully.

Aside from the games listed above, I also wanted a controller so that I could invest in another game. I’ve been playing (and writing about) Awesomenauts for quite some time. I’ve been playing the PS3 version since day one, but I technically never had to pay for it, as it was a Plus freebie the day it released. Aside from one major patch that introduced a couple of new characters, the PS3 version was then put on the shelf and there was no further support. The Steam version however, saw several more characters released and from what I can already tell, quite a few tweaks to characters and the existing levels. Last week the new version for Playstation 4 released, called Awesomenauts Assemble, but it’s really just now up to par with the Steam version of the game. The Kickstarter for Starstorm was successful, and has been in early access mode since December, so only parts of that have been added to the Steam version of the game, but I think it was announced that those features will also be added to the PS4. Regardless, I do not own a PS4, but I do have a computer that will run the game just fine. However, being so accustomed to playing the game with a controller it was going to be hard to make that switch, hence my desire to pick up a controller. The truth comes out!

From what little I’ve played of the game so far, there are some striking differences that I’ve already sort of mentioned, but many smaller bits that I’ve picked up on as well. I plan to write up a full post about this later on. That’s all for now. See ya kids.