Tuesday, June 30, 2015

PSA: (Relatively) Easily Obtained 695 Weapons

Tanaan Jungle is chock full of stuff to do, and while a lot of us are (or I am at least) more focused on raising those reputations to revered by the time the mini-patch enabling flying comes around (Hand of the Prophet accomplished - the others should take only about two more days,) one of the really great things that have been added are the Baleful Apexis Crystal gear.

Next to the Order of the Awakened quartermaster (the one who gives you the only OatA quest,) there's an Outcast who will sell Baleful pieces - these are just like the ones you'll sometimes find out in the Jungle, and will become a piece of spec-appropriate 650, or if you're lucky and it gets an epic upgrade, 675 gear.

You can buy these pieces for Apexis crystals if you don't want to rely on luck. I believe there are different prices depending on the slot, but weapons and trinkets are sold as well (not sure if the trinkets have randomized stats or if they're a closed set like the pieces you get from non-raid follower missions.)

Weapons will cost you 10,000 Apexis Crystals, which is certainly a lot, especially given that you'll likely have something better than 650. However, there's also an item you can buy for 20,000 that will upgrade any Baleful piece - including weapons - to 695.

For reference: Mythic Dungeons drop 685 gear, baseline (I think they have a chance to upgrade to like 705.) The very best gear that drops in Hellfire Citadel's LFR is also 685.

So, for 30k Apexis Crystals, you can get a weapon that surpasses pretty much any other casual content.

30k is pretty steep, but allowing you to upgrade a weapon will have a serious impact on your player power, and it will make further dailies or other activities a lot easier. This also means that if you really detest LFR, you can more or less bypass it as a means of getting geared up - though it will take some time.

Still, doing all the Tanaan Jungle content will net you a few thousand crystals, and the old dailies haven't gone away either. I think I know what my alts are going to be up to for the next several months (though my cloth characters will definitely be doing LFR. I actually really like the cloth gear in HFC LFR - makes me think of an NES-era Final Fantasy Black Mage.)

A bit of advice - Baleful weapons will drop for you occasionally, and buying them is cheaper than buying the upgrade token. So I'd recommend that you wait until you get a piece with your favored secondary stats (I was lucky and my DK got Haste/Multistrike... which were his best the last time I checked) before you commit to the upgrade.

I also don't know what happens if you try to upgrade a piece that, by luck, upgraded to 675. I assume it doesn't jump to 720, because that would be a bit ridiculous (I think that's at heroic or even mythic raiding levels.) I'd know, but the sword I got on my main has the wrong secondary stats and also I'm saving up for the Corrupted Dreadwing - mounts last forever, gear lasts until your next upgrade.

Hellbreach LFR Tank Impressions

Hellbreach is the first wing of Hellfire Citadel, with the Hellfire Assault encounter, the Iron Reaver, and Kormrok.

I was paired with a wildly overgeared tank who unfortunately had a superior attitude, which made soem fights - particularly the last one - a little trickier and less of a representative impression.

Initial Trash:

There's a pretty huge courtyard you'll start in, and there's lots of trash to clear, giving you a preview of the adds you'll fight in the Hellfire Assault encounter. This is going to be a bit like the Valley of Strength in Siege of Orgrimmar - lots of little pockets of trash that you might miss if you aren't paying attention, but with 25 people blasting away, someone will probably pull all of them.

The courtyard is where you'll do the first two major encounters.

Hellfire Assault:

This is an add fight without any actual boss. You'll get streaming adds coming in constantly, either charging toward you or getting launched in those big iron capsules.

For a tank, this is all about just grabbing everything you see and staying out of fire. The berserkers are the only ones with a real wrinkle, as they'll stack a debuff on the tank. However, they usually didn't live long enough for it to matter. There are also some casters who might need interrupts.

The fight is won by taking ammunition from siege engines to the two massive cannons on either side of the raid's entrance. The siege engines are not tanked, but if you see the grinder one coming toward you, move the raid out of its path, and if the mortar ones come, you may have a big line of fire you'll need to dodge.

Iron Reaver:

There's not really any trash before the Iron Reaver, and you'll fight it in the same courtyard. There are two phases here - a ground phase and an air phase. The Reaver takes 95% less damage while in the air, so you'll really only be focusing on it when it's on the ground.

A BIG WARNING: when you first pull the boss, it will come down hard in a big circle that more or less insta-kills anyone except perhaps tanks, even on LFR. Don't let it land on you.

The ground phase will involve various forms of AoE, but the main worry for tanks is Artillery. When one tank is targeted with Artillery, the other tank needs to taunt, and the first tank should run far away before the debuff expires. When it does, they'll be hit for a massive amount of AoE damage - be sure to use anti-magic cooldowns to reduce the pain from this one.

When the reaver goes into the air, you'll need to help the DPS kill the bombs that the reaver drops before they explode. There will be green fire on the ground that stacks up a DOT on you, so be sure to watch where you step.

When the air phase ends, the reaver will drop once again with one of those big circles underneath it (it's quite big, so get away from it) like at the beginning of the fight. The phases alternate.

Trash after Iron Reaver:

Once the reaver is dead, you'll get into the citadel proper. It seems the raid branches out after this, but for LFR, you'll want to head down the corridor to the right to go to Kormork.

The major trick to the trash here is that there are typically two melee adds who will jump away and drop all threat. Be sure to taunt these guys back asap.

When you get to Kormrok's area, you'll need to kill several adds, including a magnaron in each of the three corrupting pools, as well as one in the center.


This fight I'm definitely going to have to look into some more, but essentially, Kormrok's abilities change depending on which pool he has most recently jumped into. I don't know exactly why, but you'll apparently want to rotate him between the three pools.

(Further research done:) Kormrok will not return to a pool until he has done all three. You can choose the order he does them in by moving him close to a pool he hasn't used yet in a cycle.

The orange pool (where we started) gives him explosive powers. He'll put a rune somewhere on the ground that a DPS will need to step on to take the damage for the team.

Tanks will want to tank at one end of the pool or another, as Kormork puts an explosive charge on them that roots them in place. The other tank will need to drag the boss (and the raid with it) away from the first tank to save people from the big burst of AoE damage.

The green pool will cause the boss to occasionally spawn gripping hands, like Kromog. Tanks will get hit with a powerful DOT called Crush, which is when you should swap.

The purple pool, when Kormrok is empowered by it, will occasionally send big globs of purple ooze that needs to be dodged. Tanks will have a debuff called Swat and should swap on it. Swat includes a knockback, but the damage caused by "Impact" is inversely proportional to the distance you're knocked back, meaning you'll actually want to make sure you don't have your back to a wall.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Timewalking Dem Dungeons

Today marks the first day of the Burning Crusade timewalker dungeon event. This will come around every seven weeks, allowing us to run five of the Burning Crusade dungeons scaled down to level 70. Anyone who is level 71 or above will be able to run these, and groups may be mixed and matched between players of a wide level range. All gear will be scaled down, as well as base stats, but you'll retain all of your abilities - meaning that a level 100 player will still probably have a much more effective kit than someone of level 71.

Gear that is rewarded in the dungeons will scale up again once the player leaves, and it will have an item level based on the character's actual level, with all of the stats boosted accordingly. "Timewarped" pieces earned by a level 100 player will be item level 660.

Primarily, these dungeons will be an excellent way for new 100s or alts to gear up. Players who have been running plenty of Warlords content will still benefit from it, though, as there is a quest to be found outside the garrison's town hall that rewards a Seal of Inevitable Fate (the new bonus roll coin) for running five of these dungeons.

My first two experiences were fairly painful, but only because I had not noticed a bug that removes Righteous Fury when entering one of the instances. Simply click it back on and you'll be ready to rock. With the buff in place, there were no serious threat concerns other than the usual risk of a burst-heavy DPS who opens up immediately (or pulls on their own. Seriously, DPS. Don't freaking pull unless the tank tells you to.)

The difficulty of these dungeons is not terribly high - again, the new abilities and things such as mastery will probably make you a lot more powerful than you would be if you were actually level 70. Still, overconfidence can be a problem - certain mechanics, such as Dalia Doomwhisper's whirlwind in The Arcatraz, can kill if you simply try to power through them.

While I've been running them on my main, I'm eager to take some of my fresher 100s and lower-level characters into them, as they will benefit far more from the drops found inside.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Naval Yard and You

The Naval Yard is the major addition to garrisons in 6.2. As part of the quest chain that sends you to Tanaan Jungle, you'll raid a non-instanced version if the Iron Docks and help an Iron Horde defector escape so that he can help you establish a navy.

The Naval Yard is built down by the area where you found the angler for your fishing shack, and a new path out of your garrison will be established so that you can get there more easily.

A series of quests will get you up to speed, though you won't really get into the naval content until you've established your base in Tanaan Jungle.

The Naval Missions share a lot of DNA with follower missions - indeed, they're essentially a new iteration of the same kind of content, but missions will be far longer and you'll have a more limited, but also more customizable set of ships.

Initially, you'll only be able to build a transport, which will take you to Tanaan. Different types of ship will be used to counter particular threats - there's a kind of rock-paper-scissors to this, with Destroyers being effective against Submarines and Battleships being effective against Destroyers.

Unlike followers, ships are built at your base. Your initial few ships will be done in a minute, while normally they'll take 30 minutes to an hour. The resource you'll need to build ships and to send them on missions is Oil, which you'll get for doing certain daily quests in Tanaan, as well as some follower missions, and it appears that you'll eventually be able to build an oil rig to give yourself a constant supply.

If a ship fails a mission, it has a chance to be destroyed, but thankfully, the process of building replacements isn't terribly burdensome.

Green-quality ships will initally just have two characteristics - the type of ship and the crew. For example, Night Elf crews will reduce mission time by 50% and Human crews will increase success chance.

As ships level up, or if you're lucky enough to get an immediate upgrade, you'll get new equipment slots - one for rare and a second for epic. There is a vendor who can sell equipment for your ships, but in order to buy most equipment, you'll have to discover the blueprints somewhere in Tanaan - off of rare mobs, I believe, or from the various factions there.

Naval Missions can take as long as two days, but the rewards are generally more substantial - at least upgrading from green to blue will probably only take a couple of missions.

Additionally, missions will require certain areas to be unlocked. There are particular "Blockade" missions that must be completed in order to open up certain bodies of water, such as a fight against some Horde ships in order to get access to the Zangar Sea. (Actually, at the moment the mission has Alliance naval forces attacking... Alliance ships. I think this is just one of those cases where they designed the Horde version first and then forgot to edit it after copy/pasting. Horde bias I say! Bah!)

Initially, you'll only be able to have five ships (though inactive ships can be "decommissioned" to make room.) After completing fifteen missions, you'll be able to upgrade the Naval Yard to tier 2 (which I have not yet done.)

You'll be able to build Transports right away, and there's an early quest to unlock Destroyers. Other ships will require progress in the Tanaan Jungle faction, though I've already hit Honored with Hand of the Prophet (being a human with a level 3 trading post helps) and so I've already got a battleship.

For your troubles and after some achievements, there is a title reward of "Captain" and a cosmetic (not sure if it's transmog-able) admiral's hat, as well as, eventually, Hellfire Citadel raid caches and items required for the last part of the Legendary chain.

Should the Next Expansion Have a -1st Tier?

To be clear, that's a "negative first tier."

With the defeat of Archimonde, Blizzard could easily lock up the shop and call it a wrap on Draenor. I won't go into the details of the Archimonde cinematic, but the story at the end of 6.2 seriously looks like as good a place as any to pull up stakes, donate Lunarfall to the Draenei and Frostwall to the Frostwolf Clan and head on back to Azeroth.

But are we ready for that gameplay-wise?

If we end on Hellfire Citadel, this will be the first expansion to ever have fewer than three raid tiers. Granted, it will still have more raid bosses than Cataclysm (counting World Bosses and Tol Barad in both cases - and excluding Cho'gall from Warlords, as he's really more of a final phase than a fight of his own,) but it will be the first time that the entire expansion's raiding content comes out in less than nine months.

As exciting as it is to imagine getting a new expansion with, hopefully, a new class or at least new races sooner, I will be disappointed if the trend starts to be smaller expansions without a reduction in expansion pricing. If Blizzard wants to make expansions free as part of a subscription on the other hand, they can have an expansion every patch for all I care. (Well, maybe not quite - I do like getting to a point in an expansion where you feel really powerful, and it's hard to reach that when things like haste or crit rating keep resetting with new levels.)

But if the story is in a place where we can't really do anything else in Draenor - and of course, that's not entirely the case - could Blizzard try something different?

What if we got the next expansion's raid tier at level 100?

Ok, now there's a certain oxymoronic problem here. Expansions are sort of defined by their level cap. One could argue that a raid at level 100 would automatically be a Warlords raid.

But in terms of theme and feel, imagine a raid that took place somewhere else. And not just a small, Ruby Sanctum type of raid, but one that really served as a raid tier.

Here's my pitch:

Oh, and this is kind of spoilery.

So watch out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Archimonde Cinematic and Speculating on Draenor

While no guild has yet defeated Archimonde on heroic or normal, to my knowledge (and it's day one, so, you know, not surprising,) the cinematic that plays for the Archimonde fight has been data-mined. In fact, there are two cinematics - one that comes before the fight and one that follows.

There here's a little prologue to keep people on the mobile site free from spoilers, because they's a coming!

Right, we good?

Tanaan Jungle First Impressions

The launch of 6.2 has come, and with it, the first real new content in the expansion since launch. There is a LOT to do, at least this first day - though it looks like there will be plenty to do every day in Tanaan Jungle.

Before you get there, you'll have to do a quest chain that involves building your Naval Yard - this will actually take a fair chunk of time. But once you build your first ship, you'll be able to head out into the jungle and secure your main stronghold.

I have to say, I'm impressed with Tanaan as a zone - while new zones have been added in patches in the past, they've always felt a little half-baked. Isle of Thunder probably came the closest to feeling complete, and I will put that up as a possible exception to the rule, but in the past, areas like Quel'danas, the Molten Front, and the Timeless Isle have not really felt like they had the scope of the full-fledged zones we get with the launch of an expansion.

Tanaan, on the other hand, totally feels like a real, full zone.

One factor, and perhaps the most important one, is its size. Tanaan is of course the Draenor equivalent of Hellfire Peninsula, which was of course the starting zone in Outland. While the geography is certainly different, it shares several characteristics. Amusingly, the Alliance town appears to be geographically in the exact same spot as Honor Hold, and I'd assume that the Horde's town is where Thrallmar would be.

There are a handful of familiar landmarks, with Hellfire Citadel as the most obvious one outside the Dark Portal, but this definitely feels new. There might be feelings of deja vu, but the environment is utterly different - whereas HFP was a barren orange desert under an alien sky, Tanaan is, as the full name of the zone would indicate, a jungle.

But beyond the normal darkness, there's also some rampant demonic corruption, with the blood of Mannoroth spilling down from the Throne of Kil'jaeden to the Citadel below. While not all of the Iron Horde fell in line behind Gul'dan, it's clear that most of them did, and what we're dealing with is truly monstrous.

There are three faction in Tanaan, and if the first day's rep gains are any indication, these should be much more on par with previous expansions' reps.

The Hand of the Prophet and Vol'jin's Headhunters are the core Alliance/Horde factions in the zone. You'll likely be spending most of your time doing things for them. One early quest sends you to gather scout reports from around the jungle, which conveniently leads you to almost all of the flight points in the zone.

The Order of the Awakened seems primarily focused on hunting down treasures and rare mobs. Unlike the "vignettes" in the rest of Draenor, these seem to respawn or count multiple kills, which is of course important, as you'll need to loot these things in order to do collect the items for your daily OotA dailies.

Finally, the Sabrestalkers are what I think of as a mini-faction. It's basically three people who have you fight the sabreons in a small corner of the zone called Fang'rila. I don't know exactly if they're built on a daily quest system, but you will earn some rep just from killing sabreons in that area. The quest I got thankfully awarded something like 4000 reputation, which should compensate for the relatively small amount of activity the faction entails.

Monday, June 22, 2015

How to Fly in Draenor

Sanity has prevailed or Blizzard has caved to pressure, depending on where you stand on the whole flying situation (I'm firmly in the "sanity" camp) and 6.2 will be introducing the ability to use our flying mounts as, you know, flying mounts in Draenor.

But unlike previous expansions, this ability to fly (I'd call it "Old Weather Flying," but that was the joke in Cataclysm. Maybe "Time Flying?") will not be as simple as plopping a few thousand gold at the feet of an NPC trainer.

Instead, flight must be earned by getting the Draenor Pathfinder achievement. This is an account-wide achievement, meaning that as long as any characters you have collectively have the various sub-achievements, you'll get the ability to fly, as well as a bonus Rylak mount, on all of your characters.

Actually, the one thing I'm not sure about is whether this is restricted to level 100 characters. I'd assume so, but I don't know that this has been explicitly stated.

So what do you need to do first?

Explore Draenor:

Yep, you're going to need to fill out your map of Draenor. Alliance players will have to probably work hardest in Frostfire Ridge, and Horde in Shadowmoon, but this mostly amounts to just riding around on your ground mount for a while.

Securing Draenor:

Hopefully you spent some time during the expansion doing those apexis dailies. This achievement requires you to do the daily in each of the daily assault areas, though I believe that this only requires the ones that are designed to be done solo - no worries about the Pit or Ashran. If you're worried about the RNG element of waiting for your assault table to have the right spots, I believe this will also count it if you purchase the quest item from your garrison quartermaster with garrison resources (who stands just outside the town hall.)

Loremaster of Draenor:

Complete the various quest-storylines in each of the leveling zones. This shouldn't be too hard - I expect most players already have this, given how compelling the Draenor questing experience was.

Master Treasure Hunter:

You'll need to get 100 treasures of Draenor. If you have the loremaster achievement, though, you'll be able to purchase treasure maps from the archaeology artifact trader in the Ashran capitals. You can also get these maps from follower missions.

Tanaan Diplomat:

This requires you to be revered with the three new factions in Tanaan Jungle: The Order of the Awakened, the Sabrestalkers, and either the Hand of the Prophet or Vol'jin's Headhunters, depending on your faction. Thankfully, these factions are designed around daily quests that reward large chunks of reputation, so while there might be some mechanics that allow you to grind mobs to gain rep more quickly, sticking to the quests should get you to revered in a couple of weeks.

So yes, flight will require you to jump through several hoops to attain it, but I'm glad we'll be able to see the world from above again, and it should make the conveniences of flight relevant to alt characters.

Hellfire Citadel Raid Loot Item Levels

Tomorrow, patch 6.2 will open up, bringing us many features. Chief amongst them is the opening of Tanaan Jungle and the raid instance inside: Hellfire Citadel. (It would be awesome, in my opinion, if there were sections of the raid called the Blood Furnace and Shattered Halls - though the latter was probably named in reference to the Shattered Hand Clan, which I don't think will have a presence here.)

With HFC, we will have tier 18 available to us - in other words, loot loot loot loot loot!

One of the major differences of this raid from many previous ones is that there will be different item levels for rewards across each difficulty. Yes, Blizzard has decided that it's not so great when Lord Marrowgar rewards the same quality loot as Sindragosa. Thus, later bosses in the raid will have higher-quality loot than the earliest fights. This gives people a greater incentive to really push forward through the raid, and avoids the common theme of people downing a hard, late-raid boss for the first time and simply sharding all the loot.

I don't actually know the exact structure of the raid - whether it has wings that branch off from a central hub or if it's a more linear, Throne of Thunder-style instance. But we can safely assume that later bosses like Mannoroth will be more rewarding, and that Archimonde will likely drop the highest quality loot in the instance.

And what level is all that loot?

LFR: 675-685

Normal: 690-705

Heroic: 705-720

Mythic: 720-735

In other words, a heroic raiding guild should not feel obligated to run Normal mode at all if they are able to down the first few bosses of the instance. I think this is mostly a good idea, though I wonder if some guilds who are working on a later boss might feel incentivized to try an earlier boss on a higher difficulty.

Still, I think that this is probably the right pattern. HFC is larger raid, at 13 bosses, so it does seem appropriate that there would be some real distinction between rewards for its earliest bosses and its later ones. There's certainly precedent for this in older raids. The one thing I hope they plan for is to allow all specs to get weapons that are of equal quality - it'd be pretty unfair if Archimonde dropped an awesome agility sword, but nothing for enhancement shamans or dagger-wielding rogues.

LFR will require a minimum item level of 650, which I think is perfectly reasonable. Follower missions, without any raiding done, can award 655 and 670 items, both every two weeks, meaning that at this point, even a player who never goes inside instances can probably reach that item level. And those who have gotten a decent complement of LFR BRF gear will certainly exceed this requirement.

The Legendary Ring will be completed in 6.2, and will have an item level of 735 - on par with Mythic gear dropping from Archimonde. There is also a possibility (though this is unconfirmed) that the ring may even be upgraded to the ludicrously-higher level of 795, though this might be saved for a future patch or be cut. The rings will also have an activated ability that causes all members of the raid with a similar type of ring (all types of DPS are merged for the purpose of this ability) to go off. This effect should probably be treated like Bloodlust/Heroism/Time Warp, as a major raid cooldown. The effect will, of course, be stronger the more people have the ring.

As a catch-up mechanism, follower missions that grant Abrogator Stones and Elemental Runes will now come more frequently.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Azeroth B

To reiterate something we've all been aware of for quite some time: The Draenor we're currently fighting through is not the same Draenor that became Outland. Every one of us is an alien to this world, even the Orcs and Draenei who recognize it as looking almost exactly like home.

Kairozdormu did not brought Garrosh to this universe to change the past. Altering the course of this Draenor's events will do nothing to prevent the destruction of the world where our Horde began. All that is in the past - the true past. Indeed, it's even possible that Kairoz did not travel through time at all - it's possible that this Draenor is merely thirty years out of synch with ours.

The implications of this sort of parallel world are immense. Not only are we left with mysteries of just what differences there are between our past and Draenor's present, but we are left with an entire potential cosmos, and indeed, myriad alternate cosmoses.

We're still a few months out from Blizzcon, where we will almost certainly learn about the next expansion. In all likelihood, we'll return to Azeroth and set aside this question of parallel universes in favor of dealing with a more straightforward threat.

But in the event that we continue to deal with this alternate universe, there's a location that I think would be far more interesting to explore than some second Draenic continent (the so-called Ogre Continent we've often heard about.) And that is the alternate Azeroth.

Yet can we actually go there?

Logistically, from a game-making standpoint, you do run into one big problem, namely that the thing that really made the Azeroth side of the Dark Portal interesting was the Horde's invasion. Otherwise you have the fairly peaceful kingdom of Stormwind (originally called the Kingdom of Azeroth, which is confusing, but only as much as the fact that the country typically called America is within the continent of North America) more or less getting by without any major problems.

Except that's not really the case. There's plenty of stuff on Azeroth that had nothing to do with the Horde that are still threats. There's the Gurubashi Empire right near Stormwind, and there are Old Gods, Elemental Lords, Naga, and all manner of craziness.

And that's not to mention Medivh. While the Last Guardian managed to redeem himself during the Third War, he did so as some kind of ghostly apparition. Medivh spent his natural life possessed not by a demon, but by the Dark Titan Sargeras himself. While Kil'jaeden's obsession with hunting down the Draenei was ultimately what created the Horde, it was Sargeras who sought to use the Horde as the vanguard of a full-fledged Burning Legion invasion.

The Horde clearly failed in that regard, but it was an even bigger failure in Draenor B's universe. In fact, until Gul'dan's usurpation of the Iron Horde, it wasn't a viable candidate at all (and the Fel Iron Horde has us to deal with first.)

But I hardly think that would be a reason for Medivh/Sargeras to give up. What machinations might be going on in an Azeroth where the Dark Portal never opened?

Of course, we're making an assumption here.

We're assuming there is an alternate Azeroth.

Many different universes or timelines exist - we can assume there are countless, or even infinite versions of Draenor. But on Azeroth, the dragon aspect of Time was given explicit instructions - there is only one true timeline, and it must be guarded at all costs.

We know that Azeroth is a special place - the Titans spent a great deal of effort forming it, and seemed to take a more active hand in it than they did with Draenor. Indeed, if there's any indication of how important it is, look at how obsessed Sargeras is with conquering it.

Yes, the Well of Eternity was likely a great source of power, but one would think that its destruction would bump it down the priority list for the Legion if that was their primary objective in conquering the planet.

Perhaps the "special" nature of Azeroth is that it is truly unique. Like the Nether itself, Azeroth is a hub around which the entire Warcraft Multiverse revolves (it certainly does in narrative terms.)

Consider this: the Iron Horde was able to set up their Dark Portal to invade our Azeroth, and not theirs. Yet they did not have Kairoz on their team - Garrosh killed the bronze dragon. I'm not even sure they still had the Glimpse of Time (the remaining shard of the Vision of Time that had been broken after crossing universes.) Did the Iron Horde have the know-how to get to an other universe? How could they ensure that their portal linked up with our Azeroth, and not their version of it?

Perhaps there is a problem here, though. If we assume that there is only one Azeroth, then how do you explain the dangers to its timeline, and the whole threat to time that the Infinite Dragonflight poses?

Yet maybe this isn't a problem with the theory, but rather an argument in its favor. If changing the timeline were simply to send you to a different universe, then there is no fear of paradox, and nothing truly gets changed. When we go to Draenor, we kill Ner'zhul. Yet this does not erase the existence of the Lich King from our past, because this Ner'zhul is not our Ner'zhul.

But if everything were condensed into a single universe, then such an act could be catastrophically dangerous. If we, as time travelers ourselves, are made immune to the history-and-memory-rewriting of history changing, then we would see the changes we create pile on top of each other, totally upending our own sense of history and setting.

Previously, I had thought that End Time - the post-apocalyptic future in which Deathwing had defeated us and ended the world - was a problem in this "single Azeroth" theory. But by restricting Azeroth to a single sequence of events, it means that any changes must overwrite the previous version, rather than simply branching off. And if history can actually be rewritten on Azeroth, that makes it that much more important to guard the timeways.

Because if Murozond were just an alternate-universe version of Nozdormu, then the foreseen death he saw was never really his own, and there's no guarantee that the former Bronze aspect will turn to evil. But if there is only one, then that fate is sealed. It might not look the way we remember it, given that we have overwritten the "End Time" future, but it will happen.

Are there holes in this theory? Oh hell yes. And while I think our next expansion should deal with contemporary Azerothian threats, I do think it would be nice to at least leave the door open for seeing a pre-Horde Azeroth or an alternate version of Azeroth (I would love to see the good King Arthas Menethil.) But it could also, with a little futzing and maybe a retcon here and there, be a huge explanation for some of the cosmological mysteries of Warcraft.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Hopes for Fallout 4

While I'm still holding out hope for more of the Star Trek-style future, in which whatever problems we have now fade as our philosophy and technology improve and we continue to improve as a species and a civilization, there is something very fertile about the post-apocalyptic setting. And the invention of the Atomic Bomb seventy years ago made the possibility of a really global-scale apocalyptic event terrifyingly plausible. We spent the entire Cold War afraid that NATO and the Warsaw Pact would end it by nuking each other into oblivion (and the cumulative effect of such an event would be terrible for everyone else as well.) That threat isn't gone, but we trust more in the notion that no one wants to see that terrible scenario of mutually assured destruction. Let's hope that such sanity persists.

Fallout portrays a world in which such sanity did not. It's not really our future, because the nuclear war that happened was actually in our future - the 2070s, if I recall correctly. Why had everyone reverted to a 1950s aesthetic, despite all the advanced technology like robots? Well, I think it's an aesthetic choice - the 50s were the height of Cold War paranoia and in the US, an insistence on a homogenized culture that was seen as the direct opposite of Communism (one that didn't really have a place for the poor or minorities.)

So we spent Fallout 3 combing through the ruins of Washington DC, and it was really grim. There were very few settlements - essentially Megaton (which, if you're evil, you can destroy,) Tenpenny Tower (which, if you're "good," you can unleash a bunch of murderous ghouls on,) but there is no real structure of society that has come back.

While Fallout 3 does end with a ray of hope - the water-purification system starts working, giving people safe water to drink finally - it still feels like the world is in a state of despair.

A point I once heard about post-apocalyptic settings is that the reason they're so dreary is that people are too obsessed with what once was. If the world's going to end, you want there to be something new.

To me, I think the appeal of a post-apocalyptic setting is not just depression-porn, but the idea that familiar things are reimagined to become something different. And we do see a bit of that in 3 - the Pentagon becomes the Citadel, for example.

So I do have some hopes for 4 - for one thing, the game just looks more colorful. In Fallout 3, it seemed like everything was a shade of grey, brown, or a sickly radioactive green.

I'm not sure when all the Fallout games are set, but given enough time, it would be nice to see at least plant life start to grow back. And what I have seen of 4, there is just more color there.

The other thing that excites me is that there seems to be a theme of building things - you get to build a house (or multiple houses) and your own weapons. You can call a helicopter down for you to ride, which implies that there's enough of a support network for you to have such a thing.

I'll admit that partially this is because of my love for my hometown, but I don't want to go into Boston and see nothing but rubble. I want to see people who have cleared away that rubble and instead built a crazy temple out of the State House, or turned Faneuil Hall Market into an actual market for bartering. It looks like Fenway Park has become a little town in the trailers - that's more my speed.

Because really, with enough time after the nuclear war, assuming that people did survive at all, you'd think that something resembling an earlier society would begin to grow up. I would love, love, love to see Fallout 4's Boston (area, given that I think MIT is part of it, which is technically in Cambridge) less just a total depressing ruin, and instead a Skyrim-like landscape of different new kingdoms popping up to replace the society that was once there.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Patch 6.2 – Fury of Hellfire Officially June 23rd

Much as we anticipated, 6.2 will be coming out next week on the 23rd. As if that trailer wasn't enough to clue you in and you've been ignoring WoW news for a long time, here's what we're getting:
  • Tanaan Jungle will open up as a full zone.
With the Iron Horde now under Gul'dan's direct control, the warlock has infused the jungle with demonic fel energy. We will have to assault the Fel Iron Horde (my term for them) and push forward to the citadel. Tanaan Jungle will feature outdoor content like treasures and daily quests, as well as several reputation factions (that are better-designed than the 6.0 ones, thank the light.) Blizzard has said that they'll be making Apexis Crystal rewards better to encourage people to participate in this outdoor content.
  • Hellfire Citadel Raid:
Though we don't yet know if this is really the ultimate raid of Warlords, it sure looks like it. We'll be fighting through the newly-corrupted remnants of the Iron Horde as well as several demons of the Burning Legion, including a resurrected Mannoroth, with the climactic end fight against Archimonde (notably, Gul'dan is not actually among the 13 bosses here.)
  • Garrison Naval Yard:
We'll get a new addition to our garrisons - a naval port. Naval missions will function a bit like follower missions, but with ships that can be customized, and that can be lost in failed battles (though you'll be able to build new ones, of course.) Naval missions will be less frequent, but should give larger rewards than follower missions.
  • Weekly Events:
We'll also start to get events each weekend that encourage certain areas of play. Some will be simple bonus honor/conquest or the like, but this will also include Timewalker dungeons, allowing us to run some BC or Wrath-era dungeons for updated loot.
  • Myriad Tweaks, Bug Fixes, and Minor Features:
As with all patches, there will be a lot of smaller changes. One I'm personally looking forward to a lot is a glyph that changes the Shaman's Ascendence ability's look to let you continue looking like yourself, but kind of transparent and glowy with in a spec-appropriate color (light blue/air for Enhancement, red/fire for Elemental, deep blue/water for Restoration.)

Hellfire Citadel Raid Schedule (With Non-Specific Dates)

6.2 is coming soon - possibly next week - and with it the new raid (and possible end raid for Warlords of Draenor) will be coming.

As usual, we're going to get a staggered release, especially of the LFR difficulty, so that pre-made raiders have a chance to try the place out without feeling forced to run LFR as well (and so that LFR raiders don't burn out on the whole thing immediately.)

We don't have specific dates yet, because the patch's release has not been official announced, so it's broken down by weeks-after-the-patch.

Week 1 (with 6.2)

Normal and Heroic Modes Open

Week 2

Mythic Opens

Raid Finder Wing 1 (Hellfire Assault, Iron Reaver, Kormrok)

Week 4

Raid Finder Wing 2 (Hellfire High Council, Kilrogg, Gorefiend)

Week 6

Raid Finder Wing 3 (Shadow-Lord Iskar, Socrethar the Eternal, Tyrant Velhari)

Week 8

Raid Finder Wing 4 (Fel Lord Zakuun, Xhul'horac, Mannoroth)

Week 10

Raid Finder Wing 5 (Archimonde)

Interestingly, this schedule changes things up slightly from how we have gotten previous raids. If I recall (could be wrong here,) the first LFR wing usually comes in Week 3, with the second in Week 4. This means that we'll be able to get into LFR earlier, but we'll have two weeks of doing the first wing before we can move on to the second. So it's two weeks per LFR wing.

If the patch drops next week, that means we'll have Normal/Heroic on Jun 23rd, Mythic and Wing One June 30th, Wing Two July 14th (Bastille Day!) Wing Three on July 28th, Wing Four on August Eleventh, and Wing Five on August 25th.

Hellfire Citadel will certainly be our raid for the summer, and probably into the fall as well.

After that point, though, we really don't know what's next for WoW. Personally, I've been in a bit of a WoW lull. We're still not sure if this is, in fact, the final raid of Warlords or if there will be something later. On one hand, Gul'dan is screaming to be a raid boss, but on the other hand, how would a Gul'dan raid differ from this very heavily demonic one?

Believe it or not, we're actually only a few months out from Blizzcon, at which we are 99% guaranteed to find out (if we haven't already) about WoW's 6th expansion. But unless they're ready to release it in the space of three months or less after that, we're going to want some other content in Draenor to tide us over - Blizz definitely wants to avoid another Siege of Orgrimmar situation. If they can't release the next expansion soon, and there is no third Draenor tier, it'll be even worse. Hellfire Citadel might be Warlords' climax, but its place in the schedule compared to previous expansions is that of the middle tier - Throne of Thunder and Firelands were "summer after launch" raids for their respective expansions.

But let's not dwell on the doom and gloom of the future. We're finally getting some real new content in Draenor very soon. Let's dwell on the doom and gloom of Tanaan Jungle!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Couple Weeks In: Favorite Heroes of the Storm

I've been playing Heroes of the Storm casually basically since I wrote those first couple articles. One of the features of the game is that there are a number of heroes who you can play for free, and they rotate each week, which allows you a fair amount of freedom to play without even spending in-game gold, much less real money. All in all I've only made one impulse purchase (Crusader Johanna and her Legionnaire skin, which in retrospect I actually like less than her classic look.)

I've played probably most of the heroes at this point, though not all in a real game (and to be honest, I really only play versus AI, which some would argue isn't "real" either.)

So what are my favorites so far?

E.T.C. - Warrior

Elite Tauren Chieftain (abbreviated in game) is all the right kinds of silly. He's a warrior who fights with the power of Rock. He's basically designed as a disruptor - your Q attack is Power Slide, which sends you forward in a straight line, stunning those you hit. W is Face Melt, which knocks enemies back (both also do damage) away from you. E is Guitar Solo, which is a self-heal (I think there's a direct and then over-time effect.) His two R attacks are Mosh Pit and Stage Dive. Mosh Pit is an area stun, but you have to channel it, meaning that while you can pull it off in a group of enemy heroes, it'll really be more effective if you have allies to take advantage of the stun. It can be pretty transformative at bottlenecks. ETC's trait is that his abilities will increase his and nearby allies attack speeds. Unfortunately the range on "Rock Star" is pretty small I think, so you'll need to be bunched up quite a lot for this to have a huge effect.

Tychus - Assassin

Tychus is the first assassin character where I really felt like a had a good sense of how to kill enemy heroes. His trait is pretty key - he has a chain gun that spins up, increasing your attack speed on each hit up to four, which fades if you're out of combat. Q - Overdrive if I remember the name correctly, will let you fixate on a target and blast away with a spun-up minigun barrage. The key here is that you can keep moving while it goes off, so if an enemy tries to run away, or if you are trying to make a fighting retreat, you can keep bringing the damage. W is Frag Grenade, which lets you toss a grenade that does damage and knocks people away from the impact. This is actually a great thing to use while channeling Overdrive (it doesn't cancel it,) as you can knock a fleeing enemy back in range. E is... I forget the name. It sends you forward a short distance very quickly. Again, this is good for both escaping and also keeping up with your quarry. The two R abilities are Summon Odin and (paraphrasing) that Mining Laser from that one mission in Wings of Liberty. The Odin gives you new, powerful attacks while it lasts, but importantly you should know that the Odin's health and your health are one and the same - you won't just pop out of it if it gets destroyed. The Mining Laser doesn't have a ton of health, but if you can plop it in an enemy fort or keep's vicinity, it can do significant damage as long as you keep it safe.

Li Li - Support

Li Li's definitely the easiest support character. A lot of her abilities are auto-targeted, which has the added bonus of letting you heal on the move. Her trait gives her a movement speed buff if she gets hit, so she's all about running out of harm's way while helping teammates stay up. Q is Healing Brew, which will toss a heal to the nearby target with the most need of a heal (preferring heroes.) W summons a little cloud serpent hatchling on a friendly target (including you) who will attack enemies nearby. E is Blinding Wind, which will deal damage and blind nearby enemy heroes (it can't be used if there are none in range) for a few seconds. Her heroic abilities are Jug of a Thousand Cups and Summon Greater Cloud Serpent. The Jug is kind of a big AoE heal, though it only heals one ally at a time (so it does the same amount of potential healing regardless of how many allies are nearby.) The Cloud Serpent does damage in an area.

Sylvanas - Specialist

Specialists in Heroes do kind of have a shared niche - they tend to focus less on enemy heroes and more on minions, mercenaries, and structures (masonry?) Sylvanas has some really strong tools for dealing with the enemy's AI defenses. Her trait is Black Arrow, which causes her attacks (basic and special) to stun any non-player target. This means that you can lock down an enemy turret with only autoattacks. Q is Withering Fire, which auto-targets the nearest hostile and does a bit of damage and has five charges that regenerate fairly quickly. If an enemy minion dies near you, you'll get another charge, so once your team levels up enough, you'll be able to wipe out squads of minions in mere moments (especially if you opt to have it hit two targets with a talent.) Cursed Blade will put a DOT on a target, but this damage-over-time spreads to nearby enemies (I can't remember if there's a target limit) just in case you weren't happy with how fast you were wiping out minion teams. E is Banshee Wail (I could totally be getting some of these names wrong.) This is a long-range cone attack (you can easily shoot into enemy bases without getting in range of their guns) that passes through targets, damaging them. As an added bonus, hitting E again while the Banshees are doing their thing will teleport you to where they are, making it a nice escape ability.

Sgt. Hammer - Specialist

One I only discovered today, but that I'm falling in love with already. Sergeant Hammer is the pilot of a Terran Siege Tank (one of my favorite SC units.) She gets a bonus to her damage if her enemies are far away from her. E is her most important ability, but let's talk about her others first. Q drops Spider Mines nearby, which will burrow into the ground and charge at approaching enemies before exploding. W is a short-range cone-attack knockback, which does send things pretty far away, but again, has a low range. E allows you to enter Siege Mode. This will make you immobile, but it will vastly increase your range and also make your basic attacks do splash damage (a late talent causes you to gain a larger range the longer you're in Siege Mode.) By setting up in Siege Mode, you can easily outrange turret defenses and devastate enemy fortifications. Given her range, Hammer's also good at dealing with enemy heroes - they'll either be too low on health by the time they get to you (through a field of spider mines) or by knocking them out with a big blast as they fail to get far enough out of range. Obviously, the immobility of Siege Mode makes you vulnerable, but the idea is that you scare off or kill enemies before they can get to you. Also of note: instead of a mount (because a tank riding a horse would be more absurd than even Blizzard can handle) you get a little speed boost on a cooldown.

Kael'thas - Assassin

While Jaina (who I also like) brings the Frost Mage toolkit, Kael'thas is all about the somewhat fel-enhanced Fire magic. First, his trait is Verdant Spheres - those three globes floating around his head. Activating them will make the glow brighter and will empower your next non-heroic ability, making it a little akin to Arthas' Frostmourne Hungers, but a little more interesting. Q is Flamestrike, which will create a circular area that will explode for fairly high damage on anyone who is still standing inside. Empowering it will increase the damage and size of the circle, and make the fire green. W is Living Bomb, which is a DoT on the target that, after it goes off, will do area damage to anyone standing near the target. There are some fun talents to really turn this one into a nasty spell. Empowering this removes the cooldown and mana cost, so you can use it twice in a row - the only downside is that I think the explosion won't happen if the enemy is killed before it can go off. E is Gravity Lapse, which is an aimed stun. Empowering it will stun the first three targets the spell reaches. Finally, heroic abilities are Phoenix, which you can summon to fly forward to a location and bombard enemies within its range and Pyroblast, which is a big blast of damage that takes a little while to cast. Kael'thas is an Assassin, so he's technically designed for taking out heroes, but he'll also chew through minion parties very effectively. I'm a particularly big fan of Living Bomb, as DoTs have a lot of value in a game where people (or at least AI) won't retreat until their health gets fairly low. And with the right talents, you can have more powerful Living Bombs that are spread by Flamestrike and spread a second iteration of themselves upon explosion - you can get massive chain reactions.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Final Fantasy VII Remake Announced

For the longest time, players have been asking for a remake of Final Fantasy 7, and perhaps never was there a bigger tease than when the opening of FF7 was used as a tech demo for the Playstation 3. Ultimately, that turned out to really be just a tech demo, just like the old Gamecube (then "Dolphin") Zelda preview (what we got instead was the divisively cartoonish Wind Waker, though I'd argue that Twilight Princess made good on that promise.)

But it is a tech demo no more: Square Enix has officially announced a bleeding-edge, modern remake of the original Playstation classic. The teaser trailer is just that - the game is likely years away at this point - but the words "the promise has finally been made" are part of the trailer's voiceover - it's definitely happening.

So, confession time: I haven't ever actually played FF7. I played through X (and got way too powerful leveling up in the Omega Dungeon, so that I actually wound up two-shotting the final boss when I finally got around to that fight) and I played through some of VI (sadly not on my SNES, but on the PS1 port on my PS2.)

Personally, all the "most iconic" versions of major series tend to be the SNES version, because as a kid who was born in the mid-80s, the SNES was the first "current" system I was really aware of (though I didn't get mine until the N64 was out.) So to me, FFVI is "the" major Final Fantasy series. Still, the 32/64-bit era was a big part of my childhood as well, and I was certainly aware of the game.

And all in all, FF VII is probably the most famous entry in Squaresoft's, and later Square Enix's flagship franchise.

I loved their stuff from the SNES era, and I liked FFX a lot, but since then I haven't been terribly impressed with them. I thought FFXII was a total mess in terms of combat, and since then, I've kind of been put off by their abandonment of the battle system they had in the older games. The turn-based system recreated the strategy of a tabletop RPG, and I think that in trying to make the game control more like a modern video game, they wound up making it unwieldy. I never played XIII, but in a real way, I feel like the combat system was what defined Final Fantasy games.

Anyway, the thing is that I'm not personally invested all that much in FFVII, though given its popularity, I'm eager to try it out, and given that the PS1/N64 era's graphics have not aged as gracefully as their previous generation's sprites have, it might be nice to try something out that looks super-shiny. That said, I totally know the big plot twist.

One of the pitfalls, of course, of remaking a game - or any work of art, for that matter - is a question of why. Sometimes the motivation is just to update it, to make it look cleaner and more up to date. Of course, that's how we get things like Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. With games, of course, the visuals have progressed significantly the last, what, eighteen years? (Of course, as time goes on I imagine graphics will improve at a less noticeable rate. Already the difference between what I'll call 256 era (PS3) and 512 era (PS4) graphics is pretty subtle.) Another question is whether the gameplay will change, and if so, how? I'll sort of contradict myself here by raising the question of whether FF's old menus and turn-based combat can survive today. (I don't remember how Lost Odyssey did, but I haven't seen a sequel yet.) Even with new graphics, a pure remake of a game seems somewhat unappealing. So how can they remake the game and still make it feel new, while retaining the soul of the original?

It's an interesting question (if I do say so myself) that I'm ill equipped to answer. Either way, though, Square Enix stands to print a lot of money here from the massive nostalgia market.

Mass Effect Andromeda

I loved the Mass Effect games - a futuristic shooter game that was more about the characters and dialogue than the shooting. Mass Effect 3 is of course fairly infamous, as it could never live up to expectations, but also because the ending was fairly bizarre and baffling - the extended cut free DLC did explain things a bit, but any way you sliced it, you wound up with a totally transformed galaxy. I kind of deny the existence of the "refuse" ending, but of the other choices, Domination I suppose leaves things the most like they were, only know with (hopefully) benevolent Reaper overlords rather than flying apocalypse machines. Destruction leaves us with no more Geth (and given the revelations about their true nature, that's also a big downer. Also EDI.) Synthesis, being the more or less 100% completion bonus, seems to me the best option for the "canon" ending, but it also leaves literally all life in the Milky Way cyborgs. It's a kind of benevolent indoctrination - because literally all life is now upgraded with Reaper tech, and this time in a way that doesn't turn them into horrifying zombie abominations, the source of conflict is theoretically gone.

But there are two problems with that. The First is that there can't really be "canon" with Mass Effect, because the whole point of the game is that your version of Shepherd changes the world by his or her decisions. The other is that a game set after its events would need to either pick a canon ending or have extremely different starting situations for all players.

Also, Shepherd is only hinted to still be a living human being in the Destruction scenario (and could just be dead.) In Domination, he/she is essentially the Reaper overmind, and in Synthesis, he/she has been disintegrated in order to provide the Catalyst with an appropriate model for how to mix biological and synthetic components just right. Granted, Shepherd could live on in the Lifestream or whatever, but there's no indication that he/she does.

On one hand, I applaud Bioware's ballsiness in creating a massive AAA series that really can't do sequels, but it's also kind of a shame, as they came up with such a rich and fascinating world for a setting.

Well, we're getting our Mass Effect 4, specifically Mass Effect Andromeda. Andromeda will be set within the Andromeda galaxy, and... that's about all we know.

The trailer we see indicates a certain freedom of exploration as a suited-up figure scrolls through a series of planet destinations before picking one that looks like Monument Valley while "Ghost Riders in the Sky" (I want to say the Johnny Cash version, but I might be betraying my dearth of country/western music knowledge here) plays.

Anyway, there's really not a lot of real information in the teaser, but if I had to guess, I'd think we've got a more open-world format to the game. We know that the figure in the trailer is human, as he/she has an N7 insignia, but we don't really know how he/she got to Andromeda. After all, while FTL travel was possible with normal technology, true interstellar, cross-galactic travel always required the Mass Effect gates, and as far as we know, the Reapers only made those in the Milky Way.

Perhaps our hero traveled via some intergalactic ark? In that case, I hope that they came with a bunch of members of the existing Council species - one of Mass Effect's strengths was always the thoroughly imagined alien species (though let's maybe see female Turians? They had an excuse with the Salarians and the lack of male Asari, but Turians were supposed to be sexually egalitarian.)

I'm sure we'll also meet new species out there as well.

Anyway, it might actually be nice to have a Mass Effect game with somewhat lower stakes. The Reapers were so incredibly powerful and scary that it made the game a bit depressing by the end (Mass Effect 2 seemed poised to be more like Empire Strikes Back - the dark middle chapter before the triumph of the conclusion, but then 3 wound up being even more dark and depressing.)

The return of the Mako seems to suggest that we'll get more planet-hopping that was dropped after the first game. I'd love to see the more elegant combat of the second and third games combined with the greater freedom of the first. Though hopefully the planet-exploration will be more rewarding and interesting. Maybe fewer planets, but with more stuff on them?

Still, as a huge fan of the original series, warts and all, I'm eager to see what they do with Andromeda.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Demonic Nature and the Art of the Reveal of World of Warcraft

I made a post a few days ago about the lore bombshell that Alex Afrasiabi dropped - namely that even among the myriad, perhaps infinite alternate realities that allowed for this Draenor we're currently adventuring in to be different from the Outland we know, the Twisting Nether is One. The Nether transcends all realities.

And demons, being denizens of the twisting nether, also transcend all realities.

Thus, the Archimonde that we face in Hellfire Citadel is in fact the same one that was defeated at the Battle of Mount Hyjal.

This lore development could have been handled a lot better, if you ask me. A huge change for the fate of one of Warcraft's most important characters is fine if done as a twist in-universe. If we see a bunch of quests in Tanaan where our questgivers are just as baffled as we are about Archimonde's return, then I think all should be forgiven. An in-universe twist feels less like a retcon, even if it actually is. Think about twists in movies -isn't it always a better twist if we're finding out the truth at the same time as the protagonist? We always want to feel like it's not just that the authors have thrown us a curve-ball, but that we were justified in feeling things were a certain way - because that's the way that the world presented itself.

Anyway, we got a few new tweets on the subject (again, I'd really like to see this plot development revealed in-game, even though the cat's out of the bag already.)

The main idea is that demons are far more eldritch in nature than we might have previously thought. The Old Gods were always the ones to play heavily on the incomprehensibility angle (what did it even mean that we were inside Yogg-Saron's brain, for example?) But until now demons more or less seemed primarily like a collection of humanoid, or sometimes beast-like or elemental-like races that are just inherently evil and infused with far more magic than a mere mortal could take (indeed, it seems like a magic overload of one's physiology is what turns one into a demon.)

But until now, that made them just kind of mustache-twirlingly evil people who want to destroy the universe because they have an instinct toward corruption and destruction.

Yet now it seems like they're something utterly different, utterly alien. If this is the case, the inconsistencies effectively stop being plot-holes and instead become part of the inherent mystery of demonic nature. Essentially, the answer to "but wait, what happened to all the different mortal Archimondes when Archimonde became a demon?" becomes "you know, no one in the Kirin Tor or even the Circle of the Black Harvest has been able to figure that one out."

That might not be a satisfying answer to you. It depends on whether you think that H. P. Lovecraft's horror style was effective. Lovecraft's tendency was to describe horrific things as inherently indescribable - that our petty human (or in the case of Warcraft, mortal) minds just can't comprehend their nature. Is it a cop-out or does it solve an inherent problem in writing horror - namely that nothing is scarier than what an audience's imagination can come up with on their own?

Even handled well, this is bound to piss some people off. It's a matter of artistic preferences, but also a question of how well-thought out things are at Blizzard. I'll give Metzen and co the benefit of the doubt and say they've probably talked a whole lot about the nature of demons - and how much of that nature they wish to reveal to the audience. If we learn too much about them, they do start to be less of a threat, but if things are kept too vague, it starts to feel like "whatever's convenient at the moment."

Fantasy as a genre asks a lot of its audience in terms of the willing suspension of disbelief, and so it behooves a fantasy writer to be consistent in the rules of that universe.

But fantasy also requires an air of mystery - magic would just be a different kind of physics if it could be broken down and understood. So the fantasy writer needs to strike a balance between the consistency that would allow for a world that has wizards and sorcerers, and the mystery that allows that magic to feel fantastical.

The reveal of Archimonde's nature should elicit dread, shock, and horror, and it should be the heroes of Azeroth who feel that way.


Ok, this isn't actually an edit, but I wanted to distinguish this from my main point without making a separate post. First off - isn't it funny how Warcraft and Lovecraft should be opposites, but aren't?

Secondly: We actually got a big reveal (again, sigh, through a tweet) about the nature of the Twisting Nether and its place in the cosmos. The Nether is between the Light and the Void. This suggests that the Light is a realm of its own, as opposed to just a force or energy that exists throughout creation (though it could be a bit of both.) It also suggests that the Nether isn't really inherently evil. It's just the chaotic borderland between the everything and nothingness.

And yes, the Void is nothingness, which makes the existence of Voidwalkers pretty freaky. Did they start as something else (Naaru, for example) and transform after traveling the void? Or are they walking (floating) paradoxes - somethings out of nothing?

Last, but certainly not least - Sargeras does not transcend all realities. There could very well be many Sargerases out there - which makes the existence of the Burning Legion even stranger. Which of these Sargerases does the Legion serve? There's so little we actually know about the Titans that it's hard to speculate on this, but the definitive answer about Sargeras is that no, he doesn't transcend all realities. Also, the Titans themselves are searching other universes for other Titans. Maybe the Titans in all realities are different? Alternatively, maybe the "one true timeline" is the one the Titans are from, and that they had to travel to this Draenor to put it in order just like we did?

Actually, one last last thought: We're on an alternate Draenor, and this Draenor seems to exist in a full universe. We've often wondered about why the Iron Horde didn't invade Azeroth B. But we've been told that Azeroth is a special planet, and is important to Sargeras because of that. Could it be that it's special and unique because there are no alternate Azeroths? That Azeroth is the only Azeroth across all the universes? It would go a hell of a way to explaining why our actions are special (though admittedly it would also make End Time kind of hard to explain.)

Reputations in Tanaan Jungle to be Better

If there's one feature of Warlords of Draenor that I have been very, very unhappy with, it's reputations. In the absence of daily quests or dungeon championing, the only way to gain rep after finishing the initial quests (and in the case of the Laughing Skull and Shatari Defense, you don't even get that,) is to just kill, kill, kill (kill, kill, kill) mobs over and over.

It's a return to freaking vanilla-style reputation grinds. The rewards are cosmetic, yes, so you can safely ignore them if you're focused on progression, but of course, cosmetic stuff is the type of stuff that remains relevant forever, so it's more than a little frustrating.

And the WoW Dev team agrees. In the big Q&A with Ion Hazzikostas, he referred to the existing Draenor reps as "indefensible." They were tacked on later on in the process, and didn't have a structure build in for gaining reputation.

When it was announced that the flight achievement for Draenor would require revered status for the three Tanaan factions, I was disheartened, but thankfully, these reputations are being designed with, you know, content in mind.

It looks like there will be daily quests (though probably not on the level of Golden Lotus - it might even just be a single, broad quest a day like the Apexis Dailies,) and you'll also gain rep for killing mobs as a bonus, but the whole thing is designed so that you can get exalted (I believe) in three weeks, and the requirement for flight is revered, which should take significantly less time (it's possible that the three week estimate is for revered, which is probably a bit longer than I'd design it, but we'll see.)

I think it would be a great time to significantly boost the rep gains for the existing Draenor reputations. There is no reason that one should have to spend hours and hours just to fill a single bubble on the rep/xp bar. The 6.0 reps were clearly broken, so I think it would be a nice band-aid to increase the rep gains for mobs and turn-ins for them by a factor of five or even ten.

6.2 is coming soon. I'll be eager to see how it is.

Ryu's Unique Style in Smash Bros.

Ryu is the first character, I think, to actually come from a fighting game (one could make an argument for Little Mac,) and it's exciting to see that Nintendo is thinking outside the box with his design.

Fighting games are all about subtle nuances of control that can have profound effects on the way the character plays. Street Fighter, the arcade game and on the Sega Genesis, used six buttons in contrast with Nintendo's standard four, so they've had to come up with a way to open up more moves.

Essentially, holding down the A button while making attacks for varying amounts of time will change which attack you make. Quick taps will allow you to make rapid, weaker attacks, while holding the button down will make for slower, more powerful ones.

But beyond that, a lot of his special attacks have alternate inputs. Your standard B I believe will do a Hadouken (and I believe the power and speed of this depends on length of button press as well,) but you can also achieve this attack by doing down, down-forward, forward and then A.

Performing these special moves with the more complicated controls will result in a more potent attack.

Additionally, Ryu's Final Smash will change depending on whether you're in melee range of an enemy or not. In melee range, it will be a super-powered version of his... and forgive me if I spell this wrong... Shoryoken. At a distance, it becomes a super-powered Hadouken that works a bit like Mario's Final Smash.

Ryu's stage is fairly simplistic, but will likely be popular with more hardcore players.

The DLC for Smash Bros is actually available right now, but the store is experiencing a bit of an overload, so I'm holding off.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Two Rs Might be Coming to Smash Bros.

I'm still sort of getting used to this idea of Nintendo entering the era of DLC, but when it comes to adding new fighters to Smash Bros, I can't think of a better feature (though I still haven't downloaded Mewtwo.)

This is all rumors, so take it with a grain of salt, but the leaked videos I've seen look very believable, so I'm inclined to think these are probably truly coming.

The first I'll mention is an old favorite - Roy from Fire Emblem.

Roy was a smaller, slower, but more powerful version of Marth in Melee. In Brawl, Ike basically took his place, and personally I always preferred Ike, but we'll have to see how Roy works.

I'm hoping we get a pretty significant reworking of his abilities, because Wii U Smash (I kind of wish they'd gone to the thesaurus again) already has Lucina, who is another Marth clone. I wasn't crazy about how Fox, Falco, and Wolf were all nearly identical in Brawl, and I don't know if we need three versions of Marth. Still, since he hasn't been seen since Melee (which, Jesus, came out fourteen years ago) it'll be nice to have the guy back.

The other R guy is Ryu, from Street Fighter. Now, confession time, I've never actually played Street Fighter, even though I know it's, like, the most popular fighting game there is (well, maybe Mortal Kombat is up there too.) But to be honest I was never all that into fighting games before Smash Bros, which is such a different take on the genre that it could almost be called its own thing.

Anyway, unless I'm mistaken and about to be burned alive by the collective scorn of the internet, Ryu has the famous hadouken move, and is certainly a video game icon, which is a big prerequisite for Smash Bros (well, unless you're already a Nintendo IP. I mean, has anyone ever heard of Dark Pit?)

I'd really hope for them to be able to bring back some missing classics. I'm sad not to see Snake this time around, and it's a damned crime that Ice Climbers are nowhere to be seen.

Anyway, it looks like Ryu will be coming with his own stage, which is good. I don't know what the actual count is, but I feel like the latest Smash has fewer original stages than previous games - like almost half are old-school stages. I'm totally happy with having the old-school stages, mind you, but I'd like to see more original settings (off the top of my head, how about a Maridia Metroid stage with rising and falling water levels, a Dark World Zelda Stage on top of a collapsing Pyramid of Power, or a Mine Cart-based Donkey Kong stage.)

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Ebon Blade and the Jailor of the Damned

The Knights of the Ebon Blade were ostensibly created to wipe out the Scarlet Crusade, and at least in the Eastern Plaguelands, they were wildly successful, wiping out the Scarlet Enclave in what I consider canon to be a single day (basically in real time as you do the quests.) Of course, their real purpose was to draw out Tirion Fordring, the last founding member of the Knights of the Silver Hand and one of the greatest champions in the fight against the Scourge. And actually, they succeeded there. It was Arthas' error to think that he'd be able to easily assault Light's Hope Chapel, and the big backfire of the whole Ebon Blade plan is that the Lich King's domination over his death knights at Light's Hope was severed.

The Knights of the Ebon Blade didn't suddenly become automatically good guys - they still retained a lot of their ingrained, predatory personality traits, and worst of all kept the inflicted addiction to causing pain. No Death Knight is going to be able to return to a peaceful life (though that blind one who makes DK armor in ICC... I don't know what he does to deal with the addiction.)

Still, most of them, released from the will of the Lich King, decided to band together and dedicate their order to defeating Arthas and actually becoming the newly-formed Argent Crusade's biggest allies (kind of to pay off the debt of, you know, trying to kill them all.)

And the Ebon Blade succeeded. They aided the Heroes of Azeroth in ascending Icecrown Citadel, and while Darion Mograine wasn't there for the final battle, they certainly achieved their goal of removing Arthas.

Today, the Lich King is Bolvar Fordragon, who took the crown in order to keep the Scourge ona tight leash. Bolvar has a lot of advantages over Arthas - not only was he always a more even-headed Paladin than Arthas had been, but he also never touched Frostmourne, and thus retained his soul. Indeed, there's little reason to think that Bolvar has become evil at all - he withstood a solid year of torture and never lost his righteous will.

Bolvar does have a couple things to worry about, though. While Arthas seemed to consume the personality of Ner'zhul to become the real dominant identity of the Lich King, it's possible that the Helm of Domination retained some residue of that more malevolent personality. Also, we're told that Arthas was actually holding the Scourge back from just totally rolling over the world, which could suggest that even a righteous person as Lich King is, at best, going to still be a dark lord of evil.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say Lich King Bolvar is actually totally as good as we thought. After all, the Scourge has gone from being possibly the biggest threat on Azeroth to a minor annoyance restricted to the Eastern Plaguelands.

The Knights of the Ebon Blade have been searching for a purpose since the defeat of Arthas. With their revenge accomplished, what is there for them now? The Forsaken have had a similar crisis, but the Forsaken have an advantage, which is that they are still similar enough to the living that they can take on a semblance of normal lives - as farmers, scholars, tradesmen. They're also a key part of the Horde, and thus have investment in the wellbeing of their allies. Also, Sylvanas has given them a new goal to work for, which is the conquest of the Lordaeron subcontinent (which, you know, is not without its problems, like angry British werewolves.)

Bolvar might be a Lich King worthy of the Ebon Blade - his goal is not the destruction and domination of all life on Azeroth, but to draw back the Scourge. And who better to aid him than an elite corps of Death Knights who have experience leading the undead?

Admittedly, the Ebon Blade is pretty fractured at this point. Most of its members have simply returned to their home factions looking for forgiveness and some altered version of a normal life. But Acherus is still maintained by a garrison of knights, and Mograine himself still has some sway. Would it be anathema to the freedom they gained at Light's Hope to ally themselves with the Lich King once more? Or is Bolvar's cause exactly what the Ebon Blade needs?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

POWER OVERWHELMING - Jumping into the Deep End with D&D

As a gift to myself (and eventually, the world,) I took the plunge and got the three core books for Dungeons and Dragons (5th edition - the latest, which I think is about a year old.) I've been in the process of creating a setting, and I hit a chapter called "Creating a Multiverse," and I was immediately taken aback - I've dug too deep. The power here - it could kill us all!

I am in nerd heaven (or should that be Elysium?)

Despite being a big fan of computerized RPGs from Chrono Trigger to Skyrim, I only in the last year had my first experience with tabletop RPGs, playing as "Maester Liom" in the Song of Ice and Fire RPG, joining the Night's Watch, shooting Wildlings with a crossbow while I stitch up my brothers.

And while it's a ton of fun, the world of Westeros is fairly grounded - our enemies are almost always humans (though I had the joy of attempting to do an autopsy on a corpse that rose as a wight in my infirmary,) and I wanted to push things a little farther into the fantastical, and I also thought it would be fun to run a game.

For the uninitiated, the three core books for D&D are the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual.

The Player's Handbook is more or less your basic rulebook, but also includes a lot of information on how to create a character, giving detailed descriptions of races and classes, as well as listing abilities, traits, and such for said categories. It actually seems like it wouldn't be too hard to create new versions of these (races probably easier than classes,) but as a novice, I'm going to stick with what we've got. The Player's Handbook tells you how combat works, and how various skill checks and such work, but also gives you models for how to resolve tons of scenarios - like how much harder it would be to cast a non-instant spell on a ship that's being rocked by waves, or the effect of cold weather on your progress through a landscape.

The Monster Manual is the simplest of the books - it's a list of tons of different kinds of creatures for your players to fight, explaining their backgrounds, stats, and usually having a picture to give you an idea what they look like. Lots of monsters have variants (the section of Dragons, as you might imagine, is pretty huge.) It also looks like an experienced DM (not me) could definitely do some tinkering to change their levels or create whole new monsters.

The Dungeon Master's Guide does have a lot of stuff describing how to build a dungeon and how to construct combat encounters that are an appropriate challenge for your players, but a huge swath of the book is basically a fantasy storytelling guide. It's amazingly comprehensive, and while there are certain elements that you'll generally need to stick to (like ensuring that there' are appropriate deities or religious movements dedicated to various values like Light or Trickery that have mechanical expressions in-game,) it's very open-ended. They explain how you could use the rules of the game to describe anything from their own established Forgotten Realms setting to a stagecoach drive across the Wild West. The book includes formulas for coming up with NPC characters that honestly are similar in comprehensiveness to a lot of writing classes I've taken.

Anyway, I've spent the last day and a half constructing the world of "Sarkon" and I've begun to reach out to my tabletop friends. I'm sure that I'll post more about the progress of the game as it goes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Compromise on Flight Coming for 6.2

It's always a little tough to figure out which side actually represents the majority, or at least the larger of two sides, in a vast internet debate. There are vocal opponents of flight in WoW, but there are also many people who are big fans of flight.

Being one of the latter, I think it's important to note that different people are fans of flight for different reasons. Some really do just want the convenience of popping in, slaying the monster, and popping out, or being able to travel across the world without danger.

I, however, have always thought that flight in WoW contributes to, rather than detracting from immersion. Flight opens the world up to a true three-dimensional space. And the world of Warcraft has had flying machines and such dating back before World of Warcraft. The thought that we intrepid adventurers wouldn't want to take advantage of that existing technology or fauna is a bit much.

I know I've made this point before, but I think one needs to remember that you couldn't do a zone like Storm Peaks or Icecrown without flying. You couldn't have the Tempest Keep dungeons floating up in the sky - with no bridge or stairway to lead to them - like that without flight. Flight has allowed the designers of the game to do really cool things.

There are a lot of inbetween solutions one could come up with to keep people from abusing flight to make quests trivial (though let's be honest, leveling quests haven't really been a challenge in the game since maybe BC.) You could simply put flying mounts on a one-minute cooldown, so you'd have to hang out on the ground while your gryphon circled back to pick you up or something. Or you could give a lot of quest areas some sort of air defense that you'd only shut down after completing the quests there.

The solution they're going with in Draenor seems relatively reasonable. This is certainly subject to change, but right now it looks like you'll need a few achievements to contribute to a meta: One is to find 100 Treasures of Draenor (which won't be too hard what with exploration missions rewarding treasure maps that can also be bought for crated artifacts.) You'll also need Loremaster of Draenor (which again, isn't so bad. The leveling quests in Draenor are the expansion's best feature.) You'll also need "Securing Draenor," which requires that you do all of the Daily Assault areas (though I think you only need to do the solo ones - could be wrong there.) Finally, you'll need to have the three Tanaan Jungle reputations to Revered.

All in all, that doesn't seem to bad, as long as the reps in Tanaan aren't totally obnoxious to level up. Let's think more Council of Exarchs than Shatari Defense.

The achievement (which I believe is called Pathfinder of Draenor) will be account-wide, so you'll only have to do these things on your main. I suppose the question is whether the flight will kick in for level 90 players or if it will still require the level cap (and for that, I think I'd go with level cap - not that I think there's no place for flight in the leveling game, but the quests of Draenor were clearly not designed for that.)

I know this debate will continue, and a lot of people will see this as caving (while others will think of it as "seeing reason.") But this is the first expansion since BC that hasn't had airships in it, and that's a damn shame. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Dimensional Nature of Demons

Well, a tweet from Alex Afrasiabi just dropped a big ol' bombshell regarding the lore of Warcraft:

" Archimonde is a demon whose demon soul is anchored to the Nether. The Nether transcends all realities. That is all."

In other words, if I interpret this correctly - the Archimonde that we are fighting in Hellfire Citadel is the Archimonde - the very same one that was defeated at the end of the Third War.

This has massive implications for the lore of the Burning Legion and the nature of this alternate Draenor. I'm also, frankly, not sure it entirely makes sense - but let's see if we can figure out a way that it will!

We've known since WCIII (which is when the Legion was introduced if I recall correctly) that demons - at least the most powerful ones - tend not to actually enter the physical world when they appear. Instead, the demons we face when defending our homeworlds are really a sort of Avatar - the demon's soul remains within the Twisting Nether, and what we are seeing is really a kind of physical projection. Thus, when we kill a demon, what we're really doing is shattering the construct that they've been using to fight us, forcing them to build a new one. Essentially, the demons have been using drone warfare against us - you can blow up the drone, but the pilot is sitting comfortably within the twisting nether. It's still a victory, just as it would be victory to shoot down a multi-million-dollar aircraft, but the mind behind it doesn't suffer any longterm injury.

Notably, this also seems to be the way that Elementals work. We killed Ragnaros in Molten Core, but his true essence remained in the Firelands. We were only able to destroy him for good by entering his realm.

This raises an interesting question: Have we actually managed to kill a demon? Like, ever?

In Felwood during the Third War, Illidan was leading Night Elf forces to oppose the Legion's advance, but the dreadlord Tichondrius kept coming back. Arthas then appeared to him and suggested that he use the Skull of Gul'dan to become a demon himself, which we're told allowed him to permanently kill the dreadlord.

So far, this has seemed permanent. But another event, earlier in WCIII, seemed pretty permanent too. Arthas, immediately after getting Frostmourne, used the cursed sword to kill Mal'ganis - and given that Frostmourne's whole deal was that anyone killed by it would have their soul drawn into the sword, you'd think that Mal'ganis would be gone for good (or at least until the shattering of Frostmourne at the end of Wrath of the Lich King.) Yet we see Mal'ganis in Northrend, definitely before Arthas' death, as the dreadlord has possessed the corpse of the Scarlet Crusade's Grand Admiral, bringing about the Scarlet Onslaught.

It's here that I do have to sit back and remember that sometimes, Blizzard just fumbles the lore a bit. I'm glad they did when it comes to the history of the Eredar, as they gave us one of my favorite playable races, but it happens.

The point is, these demons are apparently the same ones - Archimonde, Kil'jaeden, Mannoroth. I'd also guess this applies to Titans as well, given that there's probably just the one Sargeras.

This does make the stakes a bit higher. Yes, there's an infintie multiverse, but the Legion is capable of being a threat across its entirety. It means that, maybe, a defeat of the Legion on Draenor B will actually help us on Azeroth A.

But it's also a bit confusing. First off: when are Draenor B's Archimonde & Co from? Let's say we didn't actually travel through time, but Draenor B just kind of started 35 years later, and we've been running along parallel, but misaligned timelines. That means that Kil'jaeden, Archimonde, and Mannoroth would remember all of our past interactions with them. It means that when we meet Archimonde in Tanaan Jungle, he should remember us as those time-travelers who helped defeat him at Mount Hyjal. It means the Mannoroth who died in the opening cinematic also remembers Grom killing him during the Third War, and probably has a pretty frustrating flashback when he sees the big ol' orc flying through the air with Gorehowl about to go into his head.

If we have time-traveled for real, then they wouldn't remember these things happening, but it would also mean that there's two versions of events going on in their heads at once - one in which a shriveled Horde is fending off an attack on Tanaan Jungle, and another in which everything's going according to plan and their Horde is invading Stormwind as we speak.

But either way, the demons are currently dealing with many different realities at once. How? Well, if you think about it, it's not that hard. If they can create one demon avatar, why not two? Why not a dozen? Why not one for every single universe. Each avatar of Archimonde is being controlled by the same demonic mind (which is a hell of a multitasker,) but expressing the demon's will in multiple universes.

This is a real trade-off kind of revelation. On one hand, we haven't really gotten any in-game hints that these demons already know us, but it also suggests that the multiple universes are fundamentally connected, and that our efforts on Draenor might not just be irrelevant when we get home.

(Now as an afterthought - consider that a lot of these demons, if not all of them, were once mortals. Archimonde was presumably physiologically the same as the modern Draenei before he became a demon. Are there mortal Archimondes out there who declined Sargeras' gift? Or was Archimonde's first task to go around and wipe out every other version of himself, like Jet Li in "The One?")

(Second postscript: Afrasiabi explicitly said that the Old Gods are a different sort of thing, and so this presumably does not apply to them.)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Should Open-World Games Have a "Main Quest?"

Fallout is, unsurprisingly, a game that is coming up in my thoughts more recently - not only was Fallout 4 just announced, set in my own hometown no less, but I also saw Mad Max: Fury Road not too long ago, so the idea of a post-apocalyptic landscape is kind of... not really zeitgeisty, but something that I've been thinking about.

Fallout 3 was a great game, but it had its flaws. And one of the biggest flaws (spoilers for a rather old game) was the way it ended. After tracking down your father's water-purification project, the Enclave tries to sabotage you and you basically are forced to sacrifice yourself in order for the project to start up - you're bathed in radiation and die. This was made all the more frustrating by the presence of a supermutant follower, who is immune to radiation. Wouldn't it be far easier to just have him enter the code?

I'm led to understand that some DLC fixed this - allowing you to recover afterward - but it's really an odd idea in the first place - to have an open-world game... well, end. Games often have linear narratives, but this makes sense for some genres more than others. In linear games, it makes sense to have a story that hits plot points in a straight line. But the open-world game is more about setting than plot. Plot and characters inform that setting, to be sure (all the elements of storytelling are pretty inextricably linked anyway,) but the core engagement with your open-world games is a sense of freedom and exploration. The danger of having a main quest is that you essentially tell players "you can do anything here! But remember that if you aren't on this single path, you're on a side quest."

Now perhaps that isn't so bad. In Skyrim, I've created assassin-type characters who really just do the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves' Guild chains and basically feel complete (Dark Brotherhood especially.) But I think there are ways to tell compelling stories that don't push a single one to the forefront.

Probably the most culturally relevant fantasy work at the moment is George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, which you probably already know is the series of books upon which HBO's Game of Thrones is based (though the show and books are deviating more as the show has caught up to or passed Martin's writing.) While there's every possibility that the various plot threads will ultimately entwine to give us the series' endgame, for much of its run there have been wildly different events going on - all of which are certainly important.

The two most important supernatural forces in the story are separated by thousands of miles. Jon Snow, up at the Wall, is desperately trying to work out a peace deal with the Wildlings because of the necromantic Others (White Walkers in the show.) Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen achieved a miracle in bringing three fossilized dragon eggs back to life, and has her legitimacy as a conqueror and liberator backed by her status as "Mother of Dragons."

These are both hugely important things happening in the world, but the meat of the series has been more concerned with political intrigue in King's Landing. But that's not all - you've also got the chaos in the Riverlands, possible treachery in the Iron Isles (something the show hasn't dealt with all that much,) and a religious order of badass, terrifying assassins across the sea in Braavos.

The point is, Game of Thrones isn't just one big fantasy epic - it's like ten of them all happening at once.

And an open-world game could work that way.

World of Warcraft actually manages this, somewhat as a consequence of its periodic structure. Each expansion has focused the story somewhat, but generally, we move on to fairly different threats each time we go somewhere new. The Lich King and Deathwing were both existential threats to life on Azeroth, yet they felt very different and involved totally different "major players."

The leveling experience in the old world, even post-Cataclysm, really embodies this idea - you'll start in your own racial starting zone (and the fact that there are so many allows you to have quite different experiences even early on,) and while you can see how the various plot threads are connected, you can have a pretty different kind of adventure depending on where you go.

Is this all that different from how games like Skyrim work already? Perhaps not. The question is whether games would work if the makers tore up the signs that said "this way to most important plot." Does the main quest act as a crutch - a little linear game to provide structure lest people be overwhelmed by the freedom they're given? And would taking that crutch away make them fall? It's certainly possible, and I'm definitely an armchair game designer here.

But it might be cool to play a game where you really don't know which of the world-ending threats that pop up is the biggest one.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Fallout 4 Officially Announced

Like many, I'm sure, my experience with Fallout started with Fallout 3 - the game that came about after the title came into the hands of Bethesda, the makers of the Elder Scrolls games. Now, I'm no expert - I never played New Vegas, the quasi-sequel (akin to Brotherhood and Revelations to Assassin's Creed II - essentially a huge expansion pack, as I understand.)

I enjoyed Fallout 3 a lot, though it never felt like it had the depth of the Elder Scrolls games. There was plenty of exploration to be done, but not a lot in the way of major quest lines. Now admittedly, there's something kind of freeing and exciting about a world in which there's no quest marker pointing you where you should go, but instead just discovering little things along the way (the Vault that was nothing but "Gary" clones was simultaneously horrifying and hilarious. The one with the "Blue Gas" was just pants-crappingly terrifying.)

Still, the world definitely didn't feel as large as Cyrodiil or Skyrim, but given that we know this company is capable of doing such things, I have high hopes for the next entry.

Fallout 4 will be set in the ruins of Boston, which is really exciting for me as I grew up in a Boston suburb. Two things immediately stand out to me: The first is that there's a lot of footage in the trailer that shows the world before the nuclear war. It's even possible that the player character lived through that war, which I believe would mean that this game takes place earlier than the other games. Given that the trailer shows events occuring in that pre-war time, some have been led to speculate that we may, in fact, get to play through some of that - though whether it would use time-travel or flashbacks or what is anyone's guess.

The other thing that could be exciting is that the area seems better populated than the Capital Wasteland. In the Fallout timeline, MIT became "The Institute," which seems to have become a beacon of continued scientific progress within the post-apocalyptic world, and I imagine that if that's the case, they probably have a relatively safe perimeter to work within.

Fallout 3 was a lot of fun, but it was also a poster-child for the frustrating "brown is real" trope in art design. Everything had a kind of desaturated quality to it, and while that may be true of a real post-nuclear wasteland, I firmly believe that colors are good.

Indeed, ruins are all well and good, but I think what's exciting about the post-apocalyptic genre is not the misery and death, but the idea that new structures and cultures would rise up out of the ashes. Fallout of course derives a lot of its aesthetics from the Mad Max series, and I think what's appealing about that series is seeing the new social structures that grow out of the breakdown of the old ones. A lot of stuff might have been cobbled together out of old parts, but there's a human urge to create new things, and with the old rules broken down, people have the freedom to be very creative.

Another notable aspect of the trailer is that good old Dogmeat is greeted by the presumed player character, and he greets the dog before they head out on the road, and we hear his voice. I wonder, then, if this will be a game in which the player we control is a predetermined one rather than one we create ourselves. I generally like being able to create my own character, but I also recognize that having a set character opens up a lot more dramatic options for telling the story. Just having a voice is kind of a big deal (Mass Effect I think did a good job of hybridizing between total character creation control and a predetermined personality.)

Anyway, if this can be the Skyrim to Fallout 3's Oblivion, I'm super, super excited to see how it turns out (at some point I'm going to have to buy one of the new consoles other than my Wii U.)