Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mists of Pandaria Release Date

Well, the release date has been announced, and it's September 25th.

I don't recall exactly when I predicted it earlier this year, but I think I guessed late August. A month off? Not so bad. So, we have an early-Fall release, meaning that the era of Cataclysm will have been Dec. 7th, 2010 to Sept. 25, 2012.

Honestly, this summer I have really been playing WoW far less than usual. With somewhat more work to do and somewhat low enthusiasm for raiding Dragon Soul, I've practically left my guys in cryo-stasis. I managed to get a decent amount of raid finder gear, including the Deathwing weapons on the dpsers of my Core Five, plus I got an (almost, just missing gloves) complete set of Mage tier 13 on the Draenei, which was a pre-expansion goal.

While I enjoyed the Hour of Twilight Dungeons, running the three of them over and over got a bit old. I do, really, really hope that they can make a "every heroic for this expansion" option in Mists, to widen the variety. Given that heroics are taking the place of level-cap dungeons, I hope that the difficulty will be such that we can breeze through them Wrath-style when we've outgeared them.

So, personal goals pre-Mists? The big one is that I need to finally get my Priest up to 85. Despite being a notorious altoholic, the one class I have never, ever had at the level cap is a Priest. Etharian, Blood Elf Shadow Priest, has just finished the first leg of the Deepholm quest chain, and he's just hit 83, so I'm not far off. A couple sessions working my way through Deepholm and Uldum (while I prefer TH over Uldum, it just seems right to have a Shadow Priest going through ancient tombs and such) and I should have my full set.

My experience of questing on the Beta has been very spotty, partially by choice. I understand that Jade Forest is getting revamped quite a bit, and especially seeing as I never got to see the "big event" of the zone I had heard about, I imagine there will still be new stuff for me to discover. I haven't done any questing there on Horde characters, either.

So for the next two months, other than getting Etharian up there, I expect I'll keep to the fairly limited play I've had for the last few months.

When it does release? Hm. While Monks (especially Brewmasters) are cool, I imagine that this time around I'll focus more on getting Jarsus leveled and geared. Without the call of Death Knights or Worgen to pull me away from my main (well, other than Oterro and Ardten, but they can sit tight) I think I'll be able to focus on getting into heroics and raid finder.

I think the ultimate verdict on the Monk is that yes, I am going Pandaren. As much as I know everyone and their mom is going to be playing a Kung Fu Panda, ultimately it's the way I'm going to have to go, just mathematically.

So, exactly two months. See you in Pandaria.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Neutrality in a historical setting: The problem with marketing Assassin's Creed 3

Firstly, just to show you my background for context: I'm American, born and raised outside of Boston (inside the Greater Boston Area.) I have ancestors that date back to the Mayflower. As a Bostonian, the American Revolution was always an important historical event whose essence is strongly felt in my hometown. I grew up walking the Freedom Trail, my parents taking me to Paul Revere's house, the site of the Boston Massacre, and the graves of many a founding father.

One thing I've always enjoyed about the Assassin's Creed games is that they don't go for the obvious historical periods. We're inundated with World War Two games, for example (there's never been a clearer-cut villain in history than the Nazis, after all.) So when I heard that there would be one set during the American Revolution, I was thrilled. (While brainstorming with friends, we came up with the French Revolution and the Civil War as periods that would be interesting as well. Maybe if Connor gets as many games as Ezio, we'll see him over in France. Ubisoft is a French company, though, so I have to imagine someone over there will push for it.)

There is a problem, though. America is a very proud nation, and the Revolution is considered the birth of the American identity (actually, this is not entirely true - the American identity arose first, and thus inspired Americans to revolt against a country to which they did not believe they belonged.) Patriotism is serious business here. In fact, it gets a little ridiculous sometimes, and during the more tumultuous periods in our nation's history (The Red Scare and 9/11, for example,) a lack of overt patriotism was often considered to be a sign of anti-Americanism. Now, don't get me wrong - as the oldest functioning democracy (let's not get into a debate about how well it functions - this blog's about video games, not politics,) I am proud to be from here. It's the country that said "screw you" to the very idea of kings and aristocracy, freeing us from the petty disputes of the inbred royalty.

And yes, I think that my ancestors who rose up against British rule were fully justified in doing so, and I think that overall, the world is better for it. If it weren't for America, there would probably be far fewer democracies in the world (and here I'll step outside of the American stereotype and share the credit for this with France, both for their help in the Revolution and the fact that their subsequent Revolution paved the way for the democratization of Europe - even if it took a really, really long time.)

So it comes as no surprise that the marketing for Assassin's Creed 3 has really played up the patriotism factor, despite assurances that the game is really about the conflict between Assassins and Templars, who straddle both sides of the war. They want to sell a lot of games in America, so waving the Stars and Stripes is an understandable move.

Here's the problem: British people are not evil.

In fact, the UK has, for about a hundred years, if not more, been the USA's closest ally (Canada would be if we remembered that you guys weren't just Americans living up in the freezing wilderness. Sorry, Canadians!) Anyway, not only are we close allies, but the language bridge allows for a huge degree of cross-polination culture. (You gave us the Office and a bunch of game shows, we gave you 99.9% of the movies you watch - even the ones set in England about English people)

I like the UK a lot, and of course, being one of those Mayflower descendants, I of course have a lot of English in me (though a larger portion of me is Irish, and on the other side of my family I'm a first generation Hungarian-American.) And I've been there, studied there, made friends there, and I've enjoyed actual beer there in its pubs.

So when I look at the ads for AC3, I wonder if my English friends are feeling really turned off by them. And it's not like they've got a more balanced ad campaign over there - it's still Connor slaughtering redcoat after redcoat (the live-action ad I saw that I believe is England-only is, if anything, more gung ho American.) Yes, I think there was a good side (Patriots) and bad side (Redcoats) to the Revolution, but you have to remember that compared to the rest of Europe at the time, the Brits weren't so bad. The Revolution was less about destroying an evil empire than saying "we haven't been part of Great Britain for a while now - we're just making it official" while England "but you're our colonies! We put you there so we could have an empire!"

Imagine, for example, if they had chosen the Civil War instead. Would we have Connor (I tried to come up with a better name for an Irish-American conscript and failed) slaughtering a Confederate soldier on the box art? I mean, yeah, that would be awesome (For the Union!) but I can't imagine it would be good for sales in the South.

The Assassins vs Templars conflict allows us to have a more traditionally black and white conflict, which can then be set against the backdrop of history that is far more morally grey. By choosing to focus so much on the Patriot's side of things, Ubisoft threatens to both misrepresent the conflict of the game (hopefully) and to alienate a huge market of English gamers who might feel a little weird about slicing their ancestors to pieces.

Still, all of that said, I'll enjoy chilling with John Adams and Ben Franklin (think he'll make us inventions like Leonardo did? That would be cool. Say, doesn't the Freemason compass look kind of like the Assassin's symbol...?) Any country's going to have some time playing the bad guy if they last long enough. Some day, someone is going to make a Vietnam War game and we Americans are going to have to deal with being the big scary empire fighting against the local rebellion.

We just have to remember who the real bad guys are: Solar Flares... I mean Templars. (Hey, how come the modern-day Knights Templar haven't complained about these games?)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Thoughts on the Mass Effect series

I just finished my playthrough of Mass Effect 3. Yes, I realize the game's been out for months, but my apartment didn't get it for a while. While this won't be a review, exactly, I will be going into detail about what I thought of it.

I should note that when I beat the game, we had already downloaded the Extended Cut DLC (which is free, in case you were worried about that.) So if what I'm talking about confuses you despite having beaten the game, there's your explanation.


Altoholism - making it official

Well, Altoholism started as a WoW blog only a few months ago, but I've made the decision to expand the blog to encompass all video games. WoW will certainly continue to feature prominently in it, and I'll be labeling those posts so that you can filter out all the other stuff if you so choose.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Shadow Priest and class identity: A new option for characterization

I was reading this recent WoW Insider post talking about Retribution's seemingly non-Paladin role. The Paladin is almost by definition a good guy class (lore-wise, Paladins can only use their powers if they believe they are doing good with them,) and while slaying demons and the undead is totally in line with the Paladin's ideals (no soul? Nothing wrong with smashing it with a hammer.) Of course, Ret Paladins also kill other things.

Anyway, while WoW certainly has the mechanical underpinnings of an RPG and you have a degree of character customization, there's still not a lot you can do to really define your character in-game. The only class that really gets to totally redefine itself is the Priest. Holy and Discipline Priests are what you'd think of when you hear about Priests in other RPGs. Shadow Priests, however, are almost the complete opposite - the dark reflection of the "White Mage." Whereas pretty much all Paladins in-game are well-intentioned heroes of the Light (or equivalent source of Holy magic,) and all Mages are highly intelligent scholars who use their knowledge to blast things, Priests can, simply by switching specs, become members of completely opposing schools of thought.

What I would propose is a new mechanic - allowing you to choose at some point (much as you choose a specialization) between two opposing versions of your class. For example, a Paladin would choose between an Inquisitor or a Champion. A Rogue could choose between a Swashbuckler or a Spy. The idea, then, would be that the look of your spells and the way you interacted with NPCs would change to reflect the mindset your character had.

In truth, I'm not sure something like this could fit into WoW. The game is coming up on its fifth incarnation, and whether it's because of the nature of MMOs or just the way Blizzard does things, the roleplaying elements of it definitely not the focus.

That said, it would be cool to see such a thing in a game. Rather than having a single "good or bad" morality system that is applied to every class (something I think is generally done poorly outside of Mass Effect, as most games go with ridiculous moral decisions like "do you want to save this baby, or eat it?") you would have each class dealing with its own internal divide - its question of "what does it really mean that I am a Shaman?"

So, some examples:

Paladin: Inquisitor vs Champion (militant dedication to the one true church, or striking out as a knight errant to serve anyone in need)
Warrior: Soldier vs Barbarian (professional dedicated to discipline or wild man on the fringes, getting into bar fights.)
Death Knight: Death-seeker or Repentant (are you simply using your dark powers to become an unstoppable badass or are you trying to make up for what you did?)

Anyway, you can see the sort of things you'd be able to do with system like that.

Actually, about four years ago, a friend of mine and I starting coming up with an RPG idea that would be based almost entirely around this concept. The game would begin with four class options: Fighter, Scholar, Thief, and Survivalist. Every ten levels, the player would find their class branch off into two different ones (with a relevant shift in the story that accompanied it.)

So, for example, the first set of classes would break into:

Fighter: Soldier or Warrior
Scholar: Cleric or Sorcerer
Thief: Spy or Assassin
Survivalist: Hunter or Shaman

This class-splitting would occur two more times, ultimately giving you a selection of 32 classes (which I realize would be an absolute bitch to balance, but it would probably be a mostly single-player game,) so that halfway up the climb to the max level and the end of the game, someone who had chosen "Fighter" could be anything from the dual-wielding guns or axes "Anarchist" to the stronger-the-longer-he-fights "Paladin" to the nigh-indestructible "Arcane Guardian." They're all Fighters, but decidedly different flavors thereof.