Thursday, March 31, 2016

Y'Shaarj Mechanics Revealed

Well, after we got a tease at his artwork, we now know what Y'Shaarj does.

Like all Old God cards, Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound costs 10 mana. For that, you get a huge 10/10 body and a rather powerful effect: At the end of your turn, put a minion from your deck onto the Battlefield.

My guess is that Y'Shaarj will work best in Druid decks that ramp up mana production quickly to get out massive creatures. Given all the free creatures you will get from this Old God (you'll get at least one even if the enemy manages to kill him before the next turn,) you'll want it to be something beefy. But you'll need to survive long enough to get 10 mana and you'll also hope you can actually fish the guy up.

Another card that was previewed with Y'Shaarj is Ancient Harbinger, which is a 6-mana 4/6 minion who, at the start of your turn, puts a 10-cost minion from your deck into your hand. This guy will clearly be useful in any Old God-based deck, as it'll help you fish up your legendary guy.

Still no word on Yogg-Saron's mechanics, but I'm sure we'll get it relatively soon.

More Evidence for Gilneas Ascendency

In the latest Alpha build, there have been some interesting changes to Dalaran and its map.

Here's a picture from MMO-Champion (the thumbnail should be small enough to prevent spoilers.

Spoilers to follow (nothing huge if you've been following the Alpha.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

New Alpha Build: Azsuna and Brewmasters, but still no Destruction

A new alpha build is being put on the servers. With it, we're finally getting a new zone and one of the last two specializations is being unlocked, namely Brewmaster Monks.

Much as I suspected, the spec implementation is more about finishing the artifact acquisition questline than the spec itself, so I expect Destruction to come out of the gate relatively functional (though of course it will need refinement.)

The addition of Azsuna is certainly good news, as it takes us another big step toward a complete expansion for testing. I believe all but one of the dungeons is available (assuming there are still two Suramar dungeons.) Should be getting some Naga content (and hopefully lore) in what I suspect will be a pretty cool looking zone.

In addition to these features, some of the Order Hall campaigns will also be implemented. I don't know exactly what these are going to be like, but I suspect that they will be extended questlines specific to each class. I've heard rumors about the Death Knight one that sound pretty cool. Whether these will simply be unlocked on a weekly basis or based on progress through some player effort is unknown (preferably the latter - I think we all agree the 6.1 campaign stuff was way better than the Garrison Campaign, though that's partly just through the plot-significance of the writing.)

However much progress they make in the Alpha, though, I still don't really expect a release until June, after the movie has come out.

Fun Facts from World of Warcraft Chronicles

Well, I succumbed to my nerdiness and bought World of Warcraft: Chronicles. I'm a huge sucker for fantasy world-building (hm, I should get World of Ice and Fire next, I guess,) and one of the biggest draws I've had to keep me playing WoW for nearly ten years (well, with gaps like the past couple months when there's not much in the way of content) is their world.

Chronicles lays things down explicitly, though there remain a few mysteries, which I'll include below the cut along with the cool reveals. There's a lot of stuff in here that will tie into Legion - which makes sense, given that I'm sure their creative team has recently been generating a lot of the lore surrounding the Broken Isles, but there's also some good content related to Mists of Pandaria.

As a note: I started writing this and it was getting absurdly long, so I'm starting over and limiting my tidbits to one or two sentences.

So because this is pretty much all spoilers, for the book and the game-world, I'll put it all behind the following cut.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

And Here's Y'Shaarj!

Hearthstone's Whispers of the Old Gods is bringing with it four legendary minions who are those famous eldritch abominations.

While we've encountered C'thun and Yogg-Saron in WoW, and N'Zoth is presumably going to face our wrath at some point later down the line, Y'Shaarj never got a chance. Slain by the Titans way back in the day, it was Y'Shaarj's death and the catastrophic damage to the planet that followed that convinced them to leave the other Old Gods alive, but hopefully contained. Y'Shaarj was arguably the main driving force behind Mists of Pandaria, as he released the Sha upon the land in his death throes.

So what did this guy look like? The beast with seven heads, most powerful of the Old Gods?

See beyond the cut!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Demon Hunting in Dalaran

One of the big pulls for Legion is "class identity." While you might be a boisterous drunken boxer, a faithful adherent to the light or an ominous harbinger of death, WoW mostly works the same way for one person as it does for another. Your class and spec have their own spells and abilities, but the kind of missions you go on are almost always available to everyone else. Calling on a Hunter or a Druid to help clear out some unholy infestation in a sacred forest makes total sense. A Warlock? Well, that's a bit more of a stretch.

Just logistically, I have to imagine Legion's quest experience is going to be mostly the same, though there are going to be a lot of class quests that should make the experience feel a bit more tailored to your character.

It looks like this will extend to non-questing experiences as well.

Legion will of course take place during a massive demonic invasion of Azeroth. Demons are smart and insidious, and so it shouldn't come as a surprise that there are some who are in disguise hanging around Dalaran.

For most players, you'll not really see anything out of the ordinary - just a couple of mages who seem perfectly appropriate to Dalaran's public spaces.

However, Demon Hunters who use Spectral Sight will be able to unveil these guys for what they really are. But Demon Hunters are not the only ones who can unmask these interlopers. Protection Paladins (my main spec!) will get the artifact weapon Truthguard - a shield crafted by the Titan Keepers Archaedas and Tyr that was used to expose Loken's treachery. Truthguard will basically go off when near these demons, giving the paladin an extra action button to reveal the demons for what they really are.

This attention to detail is something that makes me very excited about Legion. Yes, it's important to have good dungeons and raids and a solid progression system, but Legion looks like it's going to be upping the immersion factor. These small details might not mean anything in the grand metagame, but they give life to the world in a way that makes all the big confrontations feel more impactful.

I hope we get other class or spec-specific world detail. For example, I really hope that walking into Scarlet Monastery with the Ashbringer has the effect the old Corrupted Ashbringer had back in the day.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Darkest Dungeon

Having heard a lot about the game and then discovering it was available for Mac, I picked up Darkest Dungeon on Steam.

Darkest Dungeon is an RPG with an ever-rotating cast of party members, because any character that dies dies permanently. The characters themselves aren't really major draws - they're randomized members of stock classes like "Crusader," "Plague Doctor," and "Grave Robber."

The main draw of the game is that, in addition to monitoring the health of your party as they fight their way through the horror-filled ruins you, the faceless, non-participatory protagonist, inherited, the act of dungeoneering causes stress that can manifest in problematic personality traits and even give character heart attacks.

Many enemy attacks assault the mind more than the body, and some of these personality quirks can wind up really interrupting your strategy to keep the team alive. For instance, one of my party members was paranoid, so he refused to accept a buff that another party member wanted to cast on him out of fear that it was a trick.

Resources are limited in a survival-horror kind of way, so while you can spend money to have your party members hang out at a tavern or an abbey to reduce their stress levels, that means less money to provide food, torches, and other supplies you'll need on your expeditions.

Torchlight plays a big part in making your group effective, and while you might stock up on a lot of torches, the light fades quickly. Bright light seems to let your party surprise foes while if you let it get dim, your party will just get stressed out and often be on the receiving end of those surprises.

The aesthetic of the game is also a big draw. The characters and environment look like they're part of a Mike Mignola comic like Hellboy. You can customize the look and names of your party members, though I recommend just switching the color palette to help identify which Bounty Hunter is which. Don't get attached.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

N'Zoth Mechanics Unveiled

Well, the preview for a second Old God card in Hearthstone has been released, and it's the most mysterious of the four known Old Gods, N'Zoth.

There's a link to the post that unveils it, where you'll get to see the gold, animated version of N'zoth, but here's the rundown:

10 Mana, 5 attack, 7 health. Battlecry: Summon all your Deathrattle minions that died this game.

Like all the Old God cards, N'zoth costs 10 mana, and like C'thun, he has a battlecry that seems more effective late in the game. The 5/7 body is not terribly impressive for the price, but I suspect that the mechanics of the various Old Gods are going to be based more on their powerful battlecries than their function as actual minions (though C'thun will probably be good for both if he's significantly buffed.)

Of course, even though lore-wise these characters should be more powerful than anything else we've seen in Hearthstone, they do have to be balanced as cards. You'll obviously need to play a lot of Deathrattle cards for N'zoth to be effective. I'm actually not sure how this fits flavorfully with N'zoth (wouldn't Yogg-Saron, the Old God of Death, be more of a Deathrattle-focused guy?) But you also need those minions to have died already to have their effect. Granted, minions don't often last too long in Hearthstone, but unlike C'thun, N'zoth isn't going to have a super-immediate effect.

That said, mass resurrection itself can be pretty powerful, and filling the board with minions is not going to hurt you. I do wonder what happens if you have more than six qualified minions that have died that game, how the game decides which ones get rezzed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

N'Zoth Appearance Confirmed

With the upcoming Hearthstone expansion: Whispers of the Old Gods, the OGs themselves are each getting representation as a Legendary Minion. Everyone who plays will automatically get C'thun and a pair of associated cultist cards (because C'thun relies on building a deck around him, they don't want you getting a bunch of useless C'thun cards without the guy himself.)

Of course, the exciting news is that this means that we're finally getting a good look at the two Old Gods we haven't seen in-game before, N'Zoth and Y'Shaarj. And much as I suspected during an earlier post, the image of N'Zoth has already been revealed (though we don't know what its card will be like mechanically, other than that it will cost 10 mana.)

UPDATE: The full art is below the rest of the post.

Spoilers Ahead:

Blizzcon Announcement Leak - Nov. 4th and 5th

Blizzard briefly put up an announcement of this year's Blizzcon, but quickly took the announcement down. However, it's no shock that the company would have it this year. So what kind of predictions should we expect?

World of Warcraft:

Legion is going to launch some time in the middle of the year - my guess is mid-to-late June, so at that point we will have been on the Broken Isles for a few months. At most I think we might be getting ready for whatever Legion's second raiding tier will be. Assuming that they're continuing with the Warlords model (as disastrous as that might be, it's possible they started planning Legion before they realized what a bad idea a two-tier expansion is) that's probably going to be the Tomb of Sargeras, but I'm hoping that it will be a middle-tier - though given what we've seen of the Legion alpha, I don't know what that middle tier would entail.

Anyway, it's extremely unlikely we'll start hearing about the expansion that comes after Legion until 2017.


Starcraft just completed its Starcraft II trilogy. I honestly don't know what's in store for the series. The ending of Legacy of the Void really closed off the vast majority of the storyline. There's still room for conflict, certainly, and new characters might arise to carry forward, but I think after the long rollout of Starcraft II, we're probably going to see the series take a breather at the very least.


There was apparently some hiring call for people to work on a new Diablo game. The question then is whether it's a new expansion or Diablo IV. I'd wager more on the former, as Diablo III has gotten fairly popular, especially with the console version. A new class and a new act would work pretty well, and perhaps a bunch of new ideas brought into the seasonal system or the bounties/exploration mode. There's also a few story hooks that would carry directly from what's happened in DIII so far. I just hope they don't turn the Nephalem evil or something.


Hearthstone has been getting pretty regular periodic updates, so I don't expect to see anything terribly radical. Probably a new solo adventure and maybe a new expansion announced (by then, Whispers of the Old Gods will have been out for several months.)

Heroes of the Storm:

Like Hearthstone, Heroes is built for periodic small updates - throwing in a hero or map every now and then, and of course skins and mounts. I'm hoping we see more unusual maps like Towers of Doom (both the unique tile set and objectives.) Still, major shifts are probably going to be rare, so I'd simply look for these periodic update announcements.


Overwatch will have officially been out for a while by then. Given that it's a general-admission type game, we won't see individual new characters introduced. We might see a big chunk brought in as DLC, though. It'll be way too early to announced a full sequel though.

Something New:

Blizzard has been expanding its franchises recently, so I wouldn't be shocked to hear them coming up with another major project to work on. Personally I hope we get something a little more solo/story-driven. As enjoyable as I'm finding Heroes of the Storm, I tend to prefer games with a solid solo campaign, and finding that "Project Titan" was scrapped in favor of making Overwatch a multiplayer-only shooter was pretty disappointing.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hearthstone's Whispers of the Old Gods will Reveal the Appearances of Y'Shaarj and N'Zoth

This isn't exactly breaking news, but the upcoming Hearthstone expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods, which is... Old God themed... will contain four rather important Legendary minions who you might remember from such raids as Ahn Qiraj and Ulduar (remember, this game is a game within the gameworld of WoW, so it's not like we're saying that Uther or Valeera could actually command an Old God.)

The thing is, while we got to meet C'thun way back in vanilla and Yogg-Saron seven "oh my god I've been playing this game so long" years ago in Wrath, we haven't actually gotten a look close-up at the other two Old Gods, N'zoth (who was probably the puppet-master during Cataclysm, but we only interacted with him indirectly) and Y'Shaarj (who has a good excuse, as he's been dead for eons.) To be fair, those who made it to exalted with the Klaxxi in Mists of Pandaria might have seen a representation of Y'Shaarj in their temple beneath Klaxxi'vess, but for all we know, this could be way off, as even when the first Paragons were being amber'd up, Y'Shaarj might have been long dead.

Nevertheless, Hearthstone has the whole of Warcraft's backstory to provide characters, so they have no problem with reaching into the past and getting a massive eldritch abomination and slapping it on a card.

So far, the only Old God card that has been officially revealed is C'thun. C'thun's whole gimmick will likely require you to build a deck around him/her/it. Several cards are basically C'thun cultists who will buff the Old God even if he's still in your deck or hand (I wonder if it even counts if he's dead or discarded, in case you can rez him.)

Because these C'thun cards would be worthless (or at least underpowered) if you didn't actually have C'thun, they'll be giving him free to anyone who logs in during the "launch event" along with three free packs (don't tell anyone, but I blew a bunch of the pre-order, so I'll be getting significantly more when the expansion launches.)

But the other three have not been revealed yet. Though somehow I feel like Y'shaarj should have a deathrattle that summons all seven Sha (maybe wiping out the rest of your board to make room,) each of which should be tough guys with synergistic abilities.

The thing is, with cards come images of the creatures listed, and that means that we'll actually be getting our first glimpse of N'zoth (and our first good look at Y'Shaarj) through Hearthstone.

While Legion promises to have us at least confront (if not ultimately defeat) one of the biggest threats in Warcraft lore, it seems inevitable that at some point we're going to have to face down N'zoth. Well, now we'll have a picture to send to the police. Keep an eye out for continent-sized fleshy monstrosities.

Possibly looking like this: (SPOILER)

Elementals, Old Gods, and Titans - Chronicle Lore

This is not tin-foil hat - this is stuff that's been leaked from World of Warcraft Chronicle. Now, I'm typically too much of a snob to buy tie-in novels, but yes, dammit, I've ordered Chronicle because this is exactly the kind of stuff I'm looking for - raw lore that lays out the world we call Warcraft. I've been following a bunch of the spoilers because I'm given to understand that the book's got so much that there will be plenty left to discover, and I just want to get into the discussion asap.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Marksmanship Hunters Get Their Pet Back - Lone Wolf a Talent Once Again

The announcement that Marksmanship would be the pet-less Hunter spec was met with... well, let's call it controversy. From a bird's eye view, it kind of made sense: each Hunter spec would have its defining characteristic - you'd have the petless spec, the melee spec, and the "classic" spec.

The Marksmanship specialization always had less of a wilderness survival vibe, and always seemed like the most potent "military marksman" fantasy, something that the changes in Legion aimed to focus on. The popularity of the Lone Wolf talent in Warlords of Draenor seemed to suggest that people were willing to forgo their pets in favor of more damage. Given that the "dead-zone" has long since died, and Hunters no longer have a minimum range to use their primary ranged weapons (which are, of course, now their only weapons,) the loss of a pet that can tank for you while you solo and contribute little chunk of dps when grouped was not quite as class-shattering as it might have been in WoW's earlier days.

But pets are also one of the most unique things that Hunters have. While Warlocks have always had Demon minions and there are other specs like Unholy Death Knights and Frost Mages who have their own permanent pets, Hunters are the only ones who get to go out into the world, find a beast, and tame it to be their best friend. It's a level of personal expression that the other classes don't get.

Now, some people may have decided that they'll just go Beast Mastery (my best friend's Horde main is a Marks Hunter who adores his pet pig Sid, and he's been resigned to this.) Now I love Beast Mastery, but its focus is so firmly on pets that you do sometimes start to wonder if it even matters if your actual character is any good of a shot. Marksmanship Hunters are quick-draw snipers, and that's a valid fantasy. Beast Masters have a near-mystical connection to the pets, and Survival's fantasy is that of a loner who prefers to be out in the wilderness at all times. There's no reason you can't be a metropolitan sniper who has a loyal hound/cat/scorpion.

Anyway, I'm fully in favor of this change, especially given that they're going to keep the current iteration of Lone Wolf (minus the buffs, of course, because all longterm buffs are gone in Legion) but moved way down to level 15 so that if you wish, you can go petless very early in your Hunting career. Very little is lost here, and I know that tons of Marksmanship Hunters will breathe a sigh of relief.

Now, if they can only release a version of the Marks artifact weapon that acts like a gun...

Lost Cavern Battleground Announced for Heroes of the Storm

A new battleground is coming to Heroes of the Storm called Lost Cavern. This will be for custom-games only, and is a simple one-lane battleground with no real map objectives and also no Hearthing/healing back at the starting area.

It's more or less the opposite of Towers of Doom (which I really enjoy,) and uses the tile set of Tomb of the Spider Queen.

I don't know whether this is the proposed "arena mode" they had talked about earlier or if it's another idea.

I do think that adding more battlegrounds is generally always going to be welcome in Heroes - though you could find yourself in a position where there are so many that you find you aren't getting your favorites as much.

This doesn't look like a terribly hard BG for them to build, which is fine. It's also not really my style - also fine.

My hope though is that they're working on something new with the ambition of Towers of Doom. I absolutely adore the aesthetic of ToD, and the way it's constructed keeps the whole map relevant throughout the game without encouraging a stalemate.

Also, given that we're going to start getting Overwatch heroes soon, it seems high-time that we have a sci-fi themed battleground. Hell, even Warcraft has plenty of sci-fi elements. Raynor and Kerrigan have had to fight their way through medieval castles - how about making Valla and Jaina fight their way through a space station?

New Artifact Weapon Models Suggest More Choice for Weapon Type

A new video of added weapon models for Legion shows off what appear to be several new looks for Protection Warriors' artifact mainhand weapons as well as some new looks for daggers (not sure if these are Demonology's mainhand weapons or for Rogues - the lock-and-key one looks very Rogue-appropriate, but the patterns - and fel-green tint - on others look very Demonology-appropriate.)

While a lot of the mainhand weapons for the specs whose primary artifact is an off-hand item (which I believe are the two Protections and Demonology - Elemental and Restoration have shields, but it's their mainhand weapons that get the spotlight) have appeared as a single model, this new collection seems to suggest that these were just placeholders.

What's perhaps more exciting is that not only are there going to be unique weapon models to go along with the unique artifact looks, but a lot of them change up the weapon type.

For instance, the baseline Protection Warrior shield goes with a sword, but in the MMO-Champion post, we see a one-handed axe, mace, and flail (guess it's not just for us Crusaders) that all clearly line up with existing looks for the shield. So, for example, if you go with the Deathwing-themed shield, you'll get a nasty-looking Deathwing-themed mace.

Given that we're stuck with our artifact weapons for the whole expansion, I think it's wise that they're opening up a bunch of options for the kinds of weapons we want to use. Weapon type doesn't really have a mechanical meaning other than what's available to your class - Orcs don't have that Axe Specialization passive, so they won't feel forced to take the model with the axe - so there's no reason Blizzard can't unleash all the ideas based on the artifact themes that they can.

And please, please, give me a version of the Ashbringer that's a two-handed mace in the form of a mighty warhammer! There are painfully few good warhammer models, and the last good one was Hammer of the Naaru, from BC. (Actually, scratch that, the Black Hand is pretty good, but not as easy to get, and also not very Paladin-y.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dehaka Coming to Heroes of the Storm

Much as I predicted in an earlier post, Dehaka from Starcraft will be coming to Heroes of the Storm. I don't know if he'll come before or after Tracer, but given that he's only just been announced, I'd guess he's next up after her.

Dehaka is one of the Primal Zerg - an example of the species as it existed before the evil Xel'naga Amon got involved in altering their genetics. Unlike the vast goopy swarm, the Primal Zerg were individuals who, through predation, could absorb some of the genetic material of their prey, taking on beneficial traits. In Heart of the Swarm, Dehaka acts as something of a guide to Kerrigan when she goes to the Zerg homeworld, and while he reserves the right to try to challenge her and devour her essence, he acts as an ally for now.

Dehaka's skills appear to be the following:

Z: Brushtalker: Instead of a mount, you can burrow to any bush or vent on the battleground every 40 seconds, which should make Dehaka pretty good at rescuing allies in need.

D: Dehaka's trait is Essence Collection. You get 10 Essence per Hero takedown and 2 per enemy minion killed nearby, to a maximum of 50. You can then activate the trait to regenerate health over the next 5 seconds for every stack consumed (not sure if this means it will last super-long at full stacks or, more likely, it will be more potent for each stack.) This can be cast while using Drag or Burrow (see below.)

Q: Drag: You lash out with your tongue, dealing light damage to the first enemy hit and dragging them with you for 1.75 seconds. Depending on the range, this might be a powerful tool to force enemies into a bad position.

W: Dark Swarm: For three seconds, you can move through units and you deal area damage around yourself, doing double against Heroes. This can be cast during Drag and Burrow.

E: Burrow: Burrow into the ground, entering stasis and becoming invulnerable for 2 seconds.

R: Isolation: Launch a biomass that deals damage, silences, and slows the first enemy hero it hits by 30% for 3 seconds. For 6 seconds, that hero loses sight of allied heroes and has greatly reduced vision.

R: Adaptation: After a 5 second delay, heal back 60% of the damage you took during that period.

So overall, it looks like Dehaka might not have a ton of damage output, but as a warrior, he's got some nasty crowd control and some nice survivability. I wonder what the cooldown on the trait and Burrow will be, because I could imagine if they're short enough, he could function a little like a Zerg Roach - messing things up and then dropping away briefly only to pop back up fully healed.

The initial alternate skin for Dehaka looks like it's in line with the Mecha-Tassadar and Cyber-arak as a kind of mech-version of the character. Maybe we need more Kaiju for them to fight?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Lady Liadrin Hearthstone Hero

A new alternate class hero for Hearthstone has been announced. It's Lady Liadrin, the Blood Knight Matriarch.

Getting Liadrin is very easy if you already play World of Warcraft. If you have a character of level 20 or higher, you'll have her. Luckily, if you don't play WoW, you can still play for free up to level 20, so if you're desperate to have this character (though what do you have against Uther?) you can play on a free account. (EDIT: Actually, regardless of your previous play history, you will have to level a new character to 20. However, if you have a character at any level below 20, that will still count - I did it on a Worgen Hunter who started at level 14 last night.)

For some background: much as Uther was the founder of the Knights of the Silver Hand (the Paladin order that Human and Dwarf paladins belong to in WoW, and the Class Order all Paladin players will take charge of in Legion,) Liadrin was the first of the Blood Knights.

The Blood Knights have something of a problematic background. When Kael'thas made his alliance with Illidan, he captured a Naaru - a being of pure light - named M'uru and brought it to Silvermoon City. Whereas other paladin orders attained their Light-based powers through prayer and faith, the Blood Knights siphoned the power directly off of M'uru. It was a morally repugnant thing to do, but the Blood Knights felt they needed the power to hold off the Scourge and assert themselves after the devastation their society had faced.

When Kael'thas was unmasked as having gone over to the Burning Legion, his loyalists stormed Silvermoon and took M'uru. Liadrin, realizing now how wrong they had been, pledged her order to the true embodiment of the Light's principles.

While I'd personally have liked to see a Draenei like Maraad or Yrel as the new Paladin hero, it's probably best to give a Horde option. They've done this for Hunters (Alleria being an Alliance option) and Warriors (Magni, likewise.) Mages have Medivh as an alternate, though he's arguably unaligned. Liadrin's definitely one of the most important non-human Paladins, so it's probably the right choice.

No word on whether her Silver Hand Recruits will look different (maybe they'll be Blood Knight recruits?)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Delving into D&D Supplementary Materials

While my D&D game is navigating the difficult scheduling terrain of a bunch of players who are actors and thus have highly unpredictable schedules, I decided to indulge myself and got my first D&D book outside of the three core books. This is The Curse of Strahd, a pre-fab adventure set in the Gothic Horror demiplane of Ravenloft (well, Barovia.)

As a neophyte player and DM, I figured it might be good to get a bit of inspiration for gameplay that goes outside of standard travel and combat. I've tried to keep things interesting by varying up the landscape and the selection of enemies (other than Gelatinous Cubes, which I adore and think are hilarious, we haven't had a repeat monster,) but I'll confess that my game has devolved into straight-up combat more often than not.

So I figured I'd check out some of the pre-made adventures for inspiration.

I'm very proud of my own setting, which makes me hesitant to simply start over with this adventure (which apparently has content that will take you from 1-10 - which is a pretty big deal, as after like seven sessions, my players are still only level 3 - though I think they'll be hitting 4 next time) but given that there's definitely some vampire stuff going on in my world, it wouldn't be difficult to work a lot of stuff from this module into my own homebrew.

If nothing else, there's a lot more gothic horror monsters here than what you find in the Monster Manual, and it might be nice to, at some point, start up a new game that follows this module to the letter (making my DM duties a bit simpler.)

Anyway, I love Gothic Horror stuff (it's a shame that I stopped playing Magic the Gathering before Innistrad came out - and I noticed that they might be amping the Gothic into Cosmic in the upcoming block, which I'll keep an eye on even if I don't wind up playing it) and so this module naturally leapt out at me.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Chronicles Lore Reveals and Big Answers to "What Comes After Legion?"

Eventually we're going to have to declare the Chronicles stuff common knowledge, but certainly not yet. Given the fact that the upcoming expansion is called "Legion," it really starts to look like this is going to be the definitive Burning Legion expansion. Given how the Legion has been behind most of the plot of the series - between the War of the Ancients splitting the continents, the exile of the Draenei, the corruption of the Orcs, and the birth of the Scourge, the Legion has had a hand in all sorts of major Warcraft developments. So where, then, does the series go if and when they are defeated at the end of their eponymous expansion?

Obviously, using comic book logic, the Legion will probably always exist in one form or another - Warcraft is a setting that's supposed to be able to persist in perpetuity. If killing Arthas didn't lead to the destruction of the Scourge or even the removal of a figure called the Lich King from the board, I don't think that we're going to see all the demons of the twisting nether all of a sudden neutralized as a threat, even if we do strike back against the Legion in a more powerful way than we have before.

First, in non-spoileriffic terms, we can talk about demons.

The Burning Legion has invaded plenty of times in the past, and while we've beaten them back, they haven't really lost anything they can't replace with only a couple exceptions. Unless Blizzard pulls a Mal'ganis on us, we know that Tichondrius is extra-dead. Illidan essentially reached in through the Nether to strike at the true demon behind the avatar that had been projected into our world, and Tichondrius is super-dead.

But this is clearly not something that is easy to achieve. It's possible the Titans had simply not figured out how to strike into the Nether itself when they started using Mardum as their demonic prison planet, but given how immensely powerful Titans seem to be, that suggests that what Illidan achieved is really unusual.

The point being that every demon we've slain to save our world has simply found itself back in the Twisting Nether, down a physical body, but otherwise no worse for wear.

Even if we do manage to shut down the portal at the Tomb of Sargeras, that means that we're merely closing the door and locking it at best - which isn't really much more of a victory than we've had in the past - the only difference being the scale of the Legion's invasion this time.

But let's say we somehow cut the Legion off permanently from returning to Azeroth. Are we done? Is Azeroth safe?

Short answer: Absolutely not.

Long answer? Let's go beyond the cut. SPOILERS AHEAD

Legion Alpha Update

It's now sort of mid March, meaning the Alpha Test for Legion has been going for nearly four months. How far along is it?


I won't bother doing a checklist here, because the answer is "everyone except Destruction." Yes, you chaos-bolt-slinging Warlocks are the last guys picked for the team. Someone had to be. Well, actually, that's not technically true, as they might have brought you in the same time as Frost Mages and Assassination Rogues. But every other specialization has been unlocked and is up for testing. They've even been doing numbers passes on many of them, suggesting that most specs are mechanically where Blizzard wants them to be.

EDIT: Sorry, I left out Brewmaster Monks, which is surprising, as that's my favorite Monk spec (and possibly my second-favorite tanks spec. Though I obviously haven't tried out Vengeance yet.)

Progress Analysis: Slow but steady, and almost there.


Well, Stormheim, Highmountain, and Val'sharah have been available for quite a long time now, but we still have yet to see Azsuna, Suramar, or the Broken Shore. That last one is listed on the infographic, so I believe it must have some quest content, though whether that's daily quests or just the early intro remains to be seen.

Progress Analysis: Starting to worry me. At least open up Azsuna!


Nine dungeons have been opened up so far, and all of them are open for testing in heroic mode as well. The question I have is whether the second Suramar dungeon is still in the works, or if they're just sticking with these nine. The Arcway was what had previously been called Suramar Catacombs, but there was also talk of Suramar City (the Nighthold had been called "Suramar Palace" previously,) so I hope that it's still on the way. We haven't had dungeons in the double digits since Cataclysm, and we haven't had them at launch since Wrath of the Lich King. 10 at launch!

Progress Analysis: Actually very good, but let's get that 10th dungeon, please.


So right now it looks like mechanically things are getting locked down. Hopefully Destruction will be added in the next build (and soon,) but they seem to be at a good pace with the other specs.

In terms of content, they're a little behind. Granted, I'm not expecting the expansion until June, given the timing of the movie, which means that they've pretty much got until mid May to continue testing. But given how long ago they started this test, it'd be nice to see a bit more content up and ready, particularly the zones.

That said, I don't know Blizzard's motivations here. It may be that they want to control the publicity on this content, and don't want to have the whole expansion pretty much up and available for scrutiny so far ahead of the expansion's launch. That's a charitable interpretation, to be sure, but I don't think too radical either.

Of course, the frustrating thing about this presumed June launch is that it entirely invalidates the logic behind "smaller expansions." We only got two raid tiers in Warlords of Draenor, and Blizzard promised that this would mean faster turn-out of expansions. Yet 6.2 launched on June 23rd of last year, meaning that a June launch for Legion would still mean a full year without new content. It might technically be better than the 14 months of Siege of Orgrimmar, but A. those two months are pretty insignificant compared to the twelve we still have to wait and B. 14 months was not some baseline of length between expansions. It was an absurdly long time to go without content for a subscription-based game.

So even if it's a little disconcerting to see how they haven't unlocked new zones since one of the earliest Alpha patches, I still think the test is on-track for the likely release date. I only wish that that likely release date were closer to... well, now.

Whispers of the Old Gods Hearthstone Expansion Coming In April or May

Well, we were about due for a new Hearthstone expansion, and perhaps not so surprisingly, given all the hints about shadow magic and tentacles, this one's Old God themed.

Whispers of the Old Gods is going to be just as big as the Grand Tournament before it. One of the major features will be the addition of Legendary Old God cards. These minions will have several cultist cards associated with them who will buff the Old God regardless of whether you actually have it in play.

So as an example, C'thun is a mere baseline 6/6 for 10 mana, and deals damage equal to its attack split between random enemies when it comes into play. That may sound very weak, but there are several other cultists who have abilities like "Battlecry: Give your C'thun +2/+2 wherever it is" or "At the start of each turn, give your C'thun +1/+1 wherever it is."

Essentially, you'll be able to keep playing those cards over the course of the game, and once you actually draw C'thun, he might be a 15/15 or something that deals that 15 damage when he first pops up.

There will of course be other notable mechanics, but that's the one that they're showing off. They have talked about "corrupting" current cards, though I suspect that means we're getting new cards inspired by old ones, though I could be wrong. As an example, Loot Hoarder becomes Polluted Hoarder, which costs 4 mana but is now 4/2 (still has deathrattle: draw a card.) This could be a stealthy way to nerf these cards, though again I don't know the exact mechanics behind the change.

Additionally, in a patch coming somewhat sooner, there will be new features like 9 additional deck slots (finally) and also introduce the new Standard/Wild modes.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Azmodunk Skin Coming to Heroes of the Storm

Azmodan was one of the original "heroes" in Heroes of the Storm, and probably the character's most famous ability is his Globe of Annihilation, where Azmodan tosses a massive ball of demonic magic at long distances - with talents, quite amazingly long distances, which allow him to wreck enemy heroes and structures from so far that the targets can barely see them coming.

This has of course grown into a sort of meme, calling Azmodan "Azmodunk" and many videos with commentary from the classic basketball video game NBA Jam "From Downtown!"

Anyway, Blizzard is aware of said meme.

This new skin for Azmodan gives the Lord of Sin a jersey and sweatbands and a nice big basketball to hold onto. His summonable minions get their own basketball-themed uniforms. And yes, this is not merely a skin, but incorporates new animations and voice emotes, such as "Doom-shakalaka!"

Anyway, this self-aware humor is one of my favorite things about Blizzard.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Why Legion Might Finally Make Me Give Up Daggers

My Rogue has a special place for me. While he's not my main (though he is my Horde main,) he was the first character I got to level 70 (I technically started playing in vanilla, but I wasn't anywhere near the level cap when BC came out,) and in terms of personality and backstory, he might be my best fleshed-out character.

Starting in BC, Combat was always a strong choice for most powerful spec. I experimented with it in Burning Crusade, finding a "Combat Daggers" build, but I just never got into it. It always felt like it was all stuff that Subtlety and Assassination already had, without contributing anything new. On top of that, one fought with the slower weapons that plenty of other classes could use. It seemed odd to have a Rogue that didn't use daggers, as I felt they were really one of the defining aspects of the class.

But you've heard the news: Combat is on its way out, and Outlaw is replacing it.

The intention of Combat was always to be a kind of swashbuckler - an Errol Flynn type who could be either a Robin Hood-style outlaw or a pirate. But there really wasn't anything in the gameplay that reinforced that. Combat Rogues still had all of this shadowy assassin imagery that fit perfectly well for the other two specs, but in practice, Combat was the "shadowy assassin who happens to use slow, heavy weapons."

Outlaw rids us of "Sinister Strike" in favor of "Saber Slash," and leaves Eviscerate to Subtlety, replacing it with the very rapier-friendly "Run Through." Giving Outlaw "Pistol Shot" as their alternate CP-generator truly reinforces a kind of 18th century highwayman/pirate feel.

The point is, where Combat had basically no flavor to it that wasn't already part of the overall Rogue flavor, Outlaw feels very much like its own thing. A Subtlety Rogue couldn't just pick up a pair of axes or swords and replicate that feeling.

So that's the first barrier to me going down.

Then there's gameplay.

While I always liked the idea of Subtlety, the gameplay was always a little underwhelming. In Cataclysm, they decided that Sub would be the "finisher-juggling" spec, and honestly that kind of maintenance-based gameplay was never my thing (you can imagine how unenthusiastic I am about Affliction.) So though I had played with Assassination ever since Wrath introduced dual-spec, toward the end of Cataclysm my Rogue had become a pretty dedicated Assassination Rogue.

One of the big reasons was the kind of poppiness to its rhythm. Not only did Mutilate's baseline 2CP generation mean more finishing moves per generators, but you also had the passive that was initially called Waylay, allowing you to get off a free Backstab (and later Dispatch) as a random proc.

Assassination also got Cut to the Chase, which meant that Slice and Dice would stay on as long as you kept getting off Envenoms - and in Warlords they just went ahead and made SnD a passive for the spec.

But in Legion, it looks like Assassination is losing a lot of this functionality. Dispatch is going away, and while they will, like in Warlords, only have to maintain Rupture, it looks like the spec is going to be somewhat more predictable and simple.

Outlaw, on the other hand, gets a proc very similar to Waylay, which causes Saber Slash to somtimes make your next Pistol Shot free. Essentially, the poppiness of the current Assassination may find its heir in the brand-new Outlaw spec.

The lack of daggers might have been a problem before, but now that they've really established Outlaw as a flavorful variation on the class of its own, and the artifact weapons are a pair of pirate cutlasses, that objection has basically gone away.

So you might find me writing about my Outlaw Rogue once Legion comes around. I only hope that they start designing some Rogue tiers to incorporate that pirate motif. Actually, getting a tricorne for a helmet like in Bloodborne would be absolutely fantastic (give it a high, face-hiding collar and it would even work for the other Rogue specs. Make it happen, Blizzard!)

New Legion Build Gives Us New Raid Name, Actual Position of the Broken Isles

Legion's "alpha" test is trucking along. In addition to some numbers tweaks (I'm kind of surprised that they're doing that, given that they still haven't got all the specs available yet - though I think there's only two or three left,) they've added some new loading screens and maps, including the Azeroth map.

The Broken Isles are, as many suspected, roughly between Northrend and the Eastern Kingdoms. In fact, given where they are positioned, you'd think that you would be able to see Highmountain or Stormheim from atop the cliffs of the Howling Fjord.

Granted, these maps are for gameplay and are not accurate representations of the lore-based size of these areas. Indeed, the game-world itself is far smaller than Azeroth is really meant to be - there's no way that seven human kingdoms, not to mention Dwarf, High Elf, and Troll civilizations could all fit on an island the size of Manhattan (which is roughly how big in-game EK and Kalimdor are.)

The Broken Isles appear smaller than Pandaria, though I don't know how they really match up in-game. Certainly the Broken Isles are meant to be significantly smaller, lore-wise - they aren't really a continent so much as truly a group of islands. In fact, it's even possible that the Broken Isles are the same size in lore as they are in-game (though I'd suspect they're actually supposed to be a bit larger.)

In addition to this map, the Suramar Raid - previously referred to as that or "Suramar Palace" has now been renamed The Nighthold. So we've got the Emerald Nightmare and the Nighthold as the two introductory raids - equivalent to Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry (though from what I've seen, I think Nighthold looks way cooler in terms of aesthetics than BRF.)

We can pretty confidently expect that the Tomb of Sargeras will be the final raid of the expansion (unless they pull a Sunwell Plateau on us,) but the real question is whether there will be a middle tier, or if they're going to repeat Warlords' two-tier structure. Given how unpopular said structure was (I think most of us feel like we were cheated out of almost a third of an expansion) I'd hope that Blizzard would have something planned for the middle of Legion, but for now we can only speculate.

As far as I know, questing in Azsuna and Suramar has not yet opened up for testing. At this point, the clock is ticking, so I hope that we'll see that soon. My current estimate for the Legion launch is some time in late June, after the Warcraft movie is released, but if they want to meet that goal, they'll have to get the feature-complete Alpha up and running soon so that they can just work on bug-catching.

Regarding whether it goes Beta - honestly, I think that this really is their Beta test. In the past (particularly Mists,) they've had more testers than they needed, and players (like me, honestly) have come to expect beta invitations as a way to preview the expansion. By labeling it an Alpha, they can sort of justify not sending out a million invites. It's possible that in the last phases they'll open the testing servers up in order to do a stress test, and at that point we might see a much broader blast of invites, but I suspect that we won't see that until the expansion is nearing launch-preparedness.

Patch 7.0 will likely come about a month before the expansion, so we might see that in May. Excitingly, this will apparently allow us to create our Demon Hunter characters and play them through their starting experience. I doubt that we'll be able to get our artifact weapons, but we should be able to play around with them and try them out in Warlords dungeons and raids to get a feel for the new class, meaning that players who wish to switch to Demon Hunters as their mains (or at the very least level them up first) can storm the Broken Isles at the same time as everyone else.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tracer Coming to Heroes of the Storm

Given that Tracer is more or less the frontwoman for Overwatch's big gang of fighters, it's not too shocking to discover that she'll be the first Overwatch hero added to Heroes of the Storm.

Overwatch will be launching this month, so I suspect that Tracer might be made available as a hero by buying the game on your account, as well as being available through the typical HotS means.

In addition to the rumors that she'll be there (which seem likely, as there's a pretty believable screenshot,) there are other rumors that Tracer will be able to auto-attack on the move, and that she will get to use her heroic ability from level 1 - but that she'll get to refine it in different ways when the team hits level 10.

While Overwatch is the first Blizzard IP not to really have a "story mode" single player game, they're doing tons of concept and art work to flesh out Overwatch's rather huge roster. I think we can confidently expect these shooter characters to make their way into Blizzard's MOBA.

Also, given that both Starcraft and Overwatch have more of a sci-fi feel than the fantasy feel of Diablo and Warcraft, it'd be nice to see some sci-fi themed maps come to Heroes of the Storm.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Who Else for Heroes?

The whole business model for a free-to-play game like Heroes of the Storm is to continually get content out. While some of that is purely cosmetic stuff like the yes-goddammit-I-bought-it Star Lord Leoric skin and mount, it also means a continual release of new heroes. New Heroes get to shake up the meta-game, but are also just plain fun. If you've been reading the last couple entries on this blog, you'll notice how infatuated I am with the newest addition, Xul the Necromancer (seriously, he's just so damned fun.)

Thankfully, Blizzard has three huge franchises with tons of characters to pick from, with Overwatch coming relatively soon as well, and theoretically they could delve into older stuff (though the only example so far are the Lost Vikings - a niche Hero(es) to be sure.)

Anyway, let's go by franchise:


Warcraft already has the highest representation in the game, though that's understandable given that it's also the most detailed and fleshed-out world, with the most Blizzard titles attached to it (if we count expansion packs as separate titles. Or even if we don't.)

There's a pretty decent spread of the playable races in WoW, but here are some people I'd consider adding:

Grom Hellscream
Garrosh Hellscream
Baine Bloodhoof (or Cairne)
Queen Azshara
Anduin Lothar
Tirion Fordring
Moira Bronzebeard
Gelbin Mekkatorque
Lor'themar Theron
A Faceless One (maybe create a name, like they did with Lunara.)
Lei Shen
The Monkey King
An Ancient (the tree ones, not the Wild Gods, and give it a name.)
Varian Wrynn
Anduin Wrynn


Far smaller in scope than Warcraft, there are some characters who are begging to be added.

First, possibly the male/female version of existing Diablo III classes.

Male Crusader
Male Barbarian
Male Wizard
Female Monk
Female Witch Doctor
Male Demon Hunter

Then you could look at other Diablo and Diablo II classes:

Barbarian? (though that might just be the Diablo III one.)

Then there are established characters:

Deckard Cain (there's an awesome theoretical mock-up for him on Carbot's youtube page.)
Abd Al-Hazir (please! Granted, his abilities would probably all be "get assistant killed horribly and then act as if you're the wronged party.")
Zoltun Kulle

So lots of options there.


Starcraft has fewer characters to choose from, but there are a handful.

Arcturus Mengsk
Gabriel Tosh

And of course any units can be given a name - we've seen that with Lt. Morales and Sgt. Hammer.

We won't likely see Overwatch characters until that game has launched, but I'd expect to see Tracer as the probably first one, then perhaps Winston, Reaper, and Windowmaker.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Questions Raised By the Recent Spoileriffic Reveals

This post is going to be about specific spoilers for World of Warcraft Chronicles. Given that this book is likely to be the (first volume) of Warcraft's Silmarilion equivalent, it's got some pretty huge stuff. While I love ambiguities in lore, and the potential for speculation, it makes sense that Blizzard would lock a bunch of this stuff down. The big decision, and something that I applaud for its boldness, even if time will tell whether it was truly the "right" thing to do, was whether to share that with the fans. Blizzard has, by releasing this book, said emphatically yes.

One big caveat to this is that it's likely some of this lore was not locked down 22 years ago when the series first began (hell, I don't think Blizzard even had the concept of Draenor/Outland when they made the first game, and that the Orcs were just pure evil coming from essentially hell.) So the questions raised here might simply be "because they hadn't locked down the lore yet." Some things, though, are recent enough that they open up new avenues to speculation.

Tired of the vagueness? Let's jump beyond the spoiler cut.


The Draenei and the Protoss from Starcraft often feel similar to one another. Both are blue-skinned creatures with elongated animal-feet (no, your dog's knee does not bend backwards. That's his ankle.) They both hail from super-advanced species who lost their homeland to an insidious threat.

One bit of Protoss DNA that was introduced to the Draenei in Warlords of Draenor was the idea of the Vigilant. In Starcraft, heroes of the Protoss who are gravely injured in battle can be put into mechanized units like Dragoons or Stalkers so that they can continue to fight after essentially dying on the battlefield. Vigilants seem to use the same principle. They can be found all around Draenei settlements on Draenor. We fight Vigilant Kaathar in Auchindoun, who is tricked by the Sargerei into thinking that we're the bad guys invading the temple. Later, in Hellfire Citadel, Socrethar's forces use corrupted Vigilants, and Socrethar himself uses one of these machines to fight us (and we use it against him.)

While it was an honorable death that did kind of pay off his story, I can't be alone in feeling like it would have been nice to have had more of Maraad in Warlords. For one thing, he was the only major Draenei character (maybe even the only one period) who came from our universe. Great though it was to get all that Draenei lore, it would have been nice to acknowledge the differences between our playable faction, who witnessed their near-extermination at the hand of the Horde, and those who were threatened with, but ultimately delivered form that fate.

We eventually find that Maraad's spirit has been laid to rest in Auchindoun (it's a little frustrating to me that we never double-checked to make sure Teron'gor was really dead.)

But it seems to me really odd that they set up this whole thing with Vigilants and then killed off a major Draenei character - this was the guy in the original Burning Crusade cinematic - without using that plot device to have him come aid us in the final battle.

There's still a possibility that they could bring him back, but that depends on how much they're willing to refer to Draenor B and its alternate timeline. Obviously, Gul'dan's going to be a major part of Legion's first raid tier, so it's not like they're sweeping the expansion under the rug.

I don't expect it any time soon, but I hold out a bit of hope for the eventual arrival of Vigilant Maraad.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Shadowlands

Somewhat like Dungeons & Dragons' two "just outside our reality" realms, the Feywild and the Shadowfel, World of Warcraft Chronicle has revealed two realms that are likewise just barely outside the physical plane - closer to our realities than even the Elemental Planes.

One that should be pretty familiar is the Emerald Dream, which is affiliated with the Life Force and is basically a reflection of reality that is full of lush nature, unblemished by the work of humanoids. The Emerald Dream is under assault by the Nightmare - at this point I don't know if we have a definitive source for the Nightmare, but there could well be an answer in Chronicle. Still, while it is a darkened version of the Dream, as far as I know, it's not truly the opposite.

That opposite is the Shadowlands. And believe it or not, you've been there. Probably many, many times. In fact, I'd guess that it's the alternate realm of existence that players most frequently visit outside of the mundane, physical plane.

The Shadowlands are the lands of the dead.

Every time that you die in-game, you find yourself in an empty, desaturated version of wherever you had been. If you look up, there's a swirling vortex in place of the usual skybox. There are Spirit Healers in this version of reality (in terms of mechanical design, this is the most common form of phasing,) but you'd be forgiven if you'd always assumed that this was just a gameplay mechanic without any lore behind it.

And that might have been the case. Originally.

But now it's pretty clear that that ghostly version of the world that you make your corpse runs through is actually The Shadowlands. Those Spirit Healers? They're actually Val'kyr who do their best to find the souls of the dead and help them return to the land of the living.

So that's right, every time you've made a corpse run can now officially be part of your character's canon. It's lore-consistent.

Not only do we now have one of the most common things in the game given a rather elegant lore justification, but we also have some new opportunities for lore-based mechanics. Death Knights, for example, are getting a new ability called Wraith Walk. Likely based on Leoric's ability in Heroes of the Storm, it allows the Death Knight to step into The Shadowlands, giving them a speed boost and breaking snares, but being unable to take actions until it's finished.

I'm really eager to see the graphics associated with this ability. With Demon Hunters' Spectral Sight altering the entire look of your screen when you use it, it would make perfect sense for Death Knights to view the world as it looks while you're a ghost when using this ability.

Anyway, while I'm slightly saddened to have a lot of the mysteries that are fun to speculate about getting definitive answers (some of those answers painting a rather bleak picture of the Warcraft Universe,) there's also so much more fuel for speculation. The first book covers things only up to the birth of Medivh, so we'll have to wait to get more definitive answers about just what the Lich King really is, but I'm definitely excited to learn more.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

World of Warcraft Chronicle Spoilers

Now that WoW Chronicle Vol. 1 is in the hands of reviewers, we're getting some pretty massive spoilers. There's one kind of meta-spoiler (as in it relates to a lot of other things) that I'm going to focus on here. So here's a buffer for people who might be on the mobile site or something. These are massive, lore-underpinnings-spoiling spoilers that you should only look at if you really want to know and don't want to get the book (or wait to get the book.)



Dreaming Up Diablo IV

With the rumor mills buzzing about a new Diablo game in development, and given that I've been playing a lot of Diablo III lately, I thought I'd reflect on the possibilities for a new game. Season 5 has invigorated me to the point where the stuff my main-game characters will be inheriting will be far, far, like exponential to several degrees better than what they had before. (I've got full sets of gear for most of my non-seasonal male/female counterparts to suit them up in.)

Now, the big, huge caveat here - this could be another expansion. And I'd be ok with that, as I'm rather fond of my characters (though the introduction of Xul in Heroes of the Storm makes me really want a Necromancer - even if the Witch Doctor mostly covers that niche,) and I'm always happy to have Lyndon along making quips.

Setting the story aside (since I kind of covered that,) one question might be how the mechanics would change in a future game.

Diablo III gave each class its own resource, and while a lot of them work pretty similarly, it's a nice way to distinguish their mechanics.

The Adventure Mode introduced in Reaper of Souls gave players a ton more freedom - you no longer had to endlessly cycle through the main story and the same dungeons and bosses in the same order over and over.

I might try to work this freedom of exploration into the main game. It might be interesting to have a number of threats (like Belial and Azmodan in Diablo III) that you can take down in the order you want.

Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing the loot become a bit less random. Basically any item can drop from any enemy (though some require you to get them in rifts) and while that gives you more of an incentive to go clear out that Khazra cave, it also dilutes a bit of what's exciting about fighting a boss.

The way Legendaries work in Diablo has you really get tremendously more powerful once a particular effect is gained - as an example, if you are using the Thorns of the Invoker set on a Crusader, Belt of the Trove suddenly has you raining down Bombardments constantly and thus not only getting a lot of free damage (and freeing up an ability slot) but also perpetually having your 50% damage reduction buff.

But once you have that set, with all the best legendary effects, your main incentive to keep playing is simply to amass better gear for your off-sets or alts. Or grinding legendary gems to help you run higher Greater Rifts.

It might be nice to segment the end-game at the level cap a little more, and to provide quantitative differences after getting qualitative ones. Maybe you can't get gear that would let you face, oh, I don't know, some Nephalem who has gone over to the side of Hell (brainstorming potential villains) until you've gotten a decent set of gear together.

Similarly, I wonder if it might help (or hinder) the game if getting your particular legendary effects was less difficult (or tedious,) but then there might be several levels of "Ancient" gear to work your way through, allowing your set to work properly but gaining new ways to increase your power.

Diablo seems to be all about slaughtering massive swarms of enemies, and I think the tried-and-true isometric camera is probably right for that. If they want to scale things down a bit and make each enemy count more, you could do a WoW-style ground-level camera. But that's probably not the direction they mean to take for the game.

Obviously, a brand new game would need brand-new classes, though even an expansion would probably require at least one new one as well. WoW's classes were partially inspired by Diablo II's (as well as some WCIII hero units,) but you could almost kind of reverse the process.

Obviously there are some clear 1-1 correspondences: Paladins are Crusader, Warriors are Barbarians. Monks are Monks. Mages are Wizards. Ironically, Demon Hunters are not Demon Hunters. Diablo III doesn't have a real Druid equivalent, unless you seriously tried to stretch Witch Doctors because of things like Plague of Toads and Corpse Spiders. There's also not a really clear Cleric-type, though Crusaders' spells do veer into that territory. Demon Hunters kind of cover the stealthy-rogue combat style as well as the ranger/hunter archetype.

Of course, a Diablo IV would be able to toss out all the Diablo III classes and begin anew, freeing up a lot of the archetypes that the current classes fill.

I suspect that we'll get our first real news about this new game or new expansion at Blizzcon, though given how they did Legion and Reaper of Souls, it may come sooner than that.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

New Alpha Build with News on Second Artifacts and Secondary Stats

A new Alpha build is being deployed for Legion, and with it we get some interesting new tidbits.

First off, Feral Druids will now be playable, leaving only three specs left to be enabled. We still don't have Azsuna or Suramar available, so here's hoping that happens soon. If I recall correctly, there's only one more dungeon to open up, which is Suramar City (likely given a new name the same way Suramar Catacombs became The Arcway.)

One of the big questions people have had, particularly for those of us who main Healers or Tanks, is how one will get one's secondary artifact weapon. The news is: "early." Blizzard says that you'll be able to acquire your second artifact weapon early in the leveling process. Personally, I think it would make the most sense to simply allow you to get it once the normal class quest chains tell you to go to the new zones. I'd happily delay my sojourn into Stormheim (or whichever zone I go to first) in order to go get the Ashbringer, rather than trying to make my way with Truthguard solo.

The other bit of news is a little bit mathy. Essentially, Blizzard wants to flatten out the curve on secondary stats in order for low-geared people to feel that their spec is working properly earlier. This is probably most pronounced on specs that rely on critical strikes, such as Fury or Fire. You'll be getting to higher levels of crit, haste, mastery, and versatility earlier on, while future gear will scale a bit more flatly - you'll still see your percentages improve, but secondary stats won't go up exponentially, while (if I understand correctly,) the real power stats - Agility, Intellect, and Strength - will continue to climb exponentially, providing you with the power you're looking for. To be clear, they're doing this not to make end-tier raiding feel underpowered. My understanding is that the final tier of Legion should feel comparable to the final tier of Warlords in terms of haste/crit/mastery. But a fresh level 110 character should be able to quickly get gear that makes them feel capable, even if the net damage/healing output are in line with, well, someone fresh at the level cap.

It's now March, so I'm hoping that we'll get a release date either this month or next. I'm predicting a June release to coincide with the movie coming out (I expect a launch a week or two after the movie, to get Warcraft on peoples' minds and so that people aren't going to skip the movie so that they can just play the new expansion.)

How Can We Put Xul in Every Blizzard Game?

I've been playing a ton of Xul on Heroes of the Storm lately. He's an absurd amount of fun, between his powerful and unusual Scythe attack and his fantastic control and a trait that's both powerful and flavorful, it's just awesome.

The obvious place for him would be in Diablo, which is of course kind of backwards, given that Xul is officially the Necromancer from Diablo II.

Xul's role in Diablo is more or less filled by the Witch Doctor. Both raise the dead to fight for them, but while the Necromancer has a more gothic theme, the Witch Doctor has a shamanistic one. The Necromancer is explicitly Lawful Neutral, whereas the Witch Doctor is more of a good alignment - though arguments could be made whether he's Lawful or Chaotic.

One of the things that's interesting about Xul is the way that he effortlessly raises skeletons from defeated minions nearby. This actually makes him feel a bit more like a Warcraft III Necromancer, who had an ability that could be toggled on to automatically raise any nearby corpses to create skeletons. In Diablo, you could imagine making a trait where super-flimsy skeletons are created any time you kill an enemy (or perhaps beef them up a bit and make it a chance.) This is relatively close to the Witch Doctor's Fiendish Sycophant trait, which instead creates Fetish Warriors.

Spectral Scythe is really the most unusual ability Xul has. To reiterate, you cast this at a targeted location. It appears there a second later and then travels toward you. It's kind of a skill-shot, except the skill comes in where you position yourself, rather than where you aim the shot. You can actually curve this by moving after casting it, and you can wind up getting a long range if you cast it and then move in the opposite direction.

Such an ability could work in Diablo, but I think it would be an awesome ability for Death Knights in World of Warcraft as well.

Anyway, I just wanted to gush about the new character who's probably going to supplant Leoric as my favorite in the game.

New Diablo Game In Development

In a surprisingly low-key manner, Blizzard has effectively announced a new Diablo game, as they are currently seeking people to work on it.

The big question is whether this means a new expansion for Diablo III or if it will be a Diablo IV (or maybe they'll abandon the numeric naming conventions.)

Mechanically, I think they've done a fantastic job of tightening the game up over the course of Reaper of Souls. Seasons give you an incentive to go back and play more even if you're geared in best-in-slot sets and I really cannot overemphasize how much better the loot system is now than it was before Reaper of Souls.

A new game or expansion would hopefully keep up with this, but perhaps allow for more granularity in quality. Once at the level cap, the stats on a piece of gear are less important than legendary effects (particularly with class sets, though some sets are really unleashed by one particular item or another,) and so it might be nice to expand the "Ancient" legendary system to allow more of a sense of progress.

Storywise, there's plenty that's open. Given Malthael's hypocritical use of the Black Soulstone, all seven Lords of Hell are now unleashed. Likewise, Malthael himself may be dead, but as an Angel he should be able to return from the Crystal Arch (though hopefully the rest of the Angels are standing there, waiting to lock him up for what he did.)

Imperius has always kind of presented himself as a potential villain, given his disdain for humanity, though he was willing to help us fight Malthael, which suggests he might begrudgingly accept us.

However, I think the most interesting direction to take the Diablo series - assuming we don't find out about some other powerful entity outside of angels and demons - would be to delve into the history of the Nephalem. Humanity's ancestors (and the player characters in Diablo III) are effectively gods. Neither inherently good nor inherently evil (some, like Rathma, appear to have been inherently neutral,) the Nephalem could promise a far more complex story and environment for Diablo.

In terms of new features, I think the obvious thing with a new expansion would be a new class. The Crusader was a fantastic addition in Reaper of Souls (becoming my favorite class.) I'm not exactly sure what bases we don't have covered. I don't know much about Diablo II's Druid, but perhaps we could have a more nature-based class. The awesomeness that is Xul in Heroes of the Storm kind of makes me want a Necromancer, but that of course is already well-covered by the Witch Doctor, and on top of that, I don't know if they've ever repeated a class other than the Barbarian.

Anyway, we'll probably not hear too much about this for a while, possibly until this year's Blizzcon (which is of course several months away.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Xul, the Necromancer

Well, I went ahead and got Xul, the newest Heroes of the Storm character. I guess you can't keep me away from a cool necromancer character.

Xul is a melee specialist who is a whole lot of fun (and depending on how things turn out, might be due for some nerfs.) He has good control, a nice baseline survival ability, and a trait that makes him great at solo-pushing lanes (it's a weird kind of mirror of Sylvanas.)

So let's get to his abilities!

Trait: Raise Skeleton

When an enemy minion dies near you, it will rise up as a skeleton to fight for you. You can have four skeletons at a time. These guys are pretty weak, but they'll help you overtake the enemy's minions pretty quickly and are great cannon fodder.

Q: Spectral Scythe

This is a funky kind of reverse skill-shot. You click a targeted location in range and after a second your scythe appears there. It then travels back to you, damaging (for a pretty solid amount) anything between you and its starting location. You can move after placing this to effectively give it a longer range, and it cuts a decently wide stripe, making it great for damaging a whole pack of minions.

W: Cursed Strikes

This empowers your scythe to deal more powerful, wide-ranged area attacks which also slow the target's attack speed by 50% for two seconds. The buff lasts four seconds, which seems to give you 5 swings. This hits pretty hard and has a large range.

E: Bone Prison

Target an enemy and, after a couple seconds, a bone prison will appear to lock them down. Given the delay, you'll want to hit them with this pretty early in a fight to prevent them from escaping (or allowing you to.)

1: Bone Armor

Baseline you get this additional ability, which gives you an absorption shield. Your first talent selection will allow you to modify this to either be more powerful and on a longer cooldown, slow nearby enemies, or explode for hefty damage when it expires.

Heroic Abilities:

Poison Nova:

After a short wind-up, you'll radiate poison missiles to enemies around you, poisoning them for a pretty big chunk of damage over time (a great team-killer.)

Skeletal Mages:

Summon four skeletal mages in a line who will attack and slow enemy heroes who try to pass by them, lasting a hefty 15 seconds.

I've only been able to play two games as Xul so far (long queue time probably due to him being the newest character,) but I've found that he's very good at soloing lanes, and he puts out enough damage to duel with opponents. Using Bone Armor at the right moment is an important survival skill. There are a lot of talents for Raise Skeleton that can make you pretty self-sufficient, giving mana and health back when you raise them.

Don't overextend on Xul - you won't really need to, though, as Spectral Scythe will give you a decent ranged attack and Cursed Strikes will allow you to hit enemies relatively far away. You might be a bit less useful in objective fights - mercenaries and map-specific enemies won't get raised by your trait - but Bone Prison is a fantastic control spell and Cursed Strikes can really harm auto-attack heroes like Raynor or Sgt. Hammer.

Anyway, if you felt that Nazeebo, Arthas, and Leoric hadn't quite satisfied your "leading an army of the dead" fantasy, Xul absolutely scratches that itch.


After playing a bit more with him, it's clear that this guy has a lot of control options. While the poison damage on Poison Nova is fantastic, the control offered by Skeletal Mages is also a wonderful complement to Bone Prison. Pairing Xul with a bursty assassin like Greymane will make you horrifying to your enemy heroes. While Xul can totally push a lane on his own and go head-to-head with bursty glass cannon-types (between Bone Armor for defense and Bone Prison fro control, burst-assassins like Li Ming should be very wary of Xul) he's also a great help to group fights. Obviously, his control abilities (including Cursed Strikes) help out a lot, but also if you get some enemy minions into the mix there (like if they're trying to push on your forts) he can very quickly turn the tables and make enemy heroes regret bringing their minions along.

I tend to take all the raise skeleton talents (I'll have to experiment with other talents to make an optimal build, though honestly, pouring everything into the skeletons seems to be working ok for me.)

Also, as a caveat, I'm a PVE'er in Heroes, so some of his tricks might not work so well against other players. Still, nothing's on a horrifically long cooldown, and he hits hard enough that players are going to have to be clever not to get ensnared by him and chewed up by skeletons.