Tuesday, May 31, 2016

That Poor Starving Beast, Get Him Some Blood!

Three bosses down and so far no real brick wall.

I've been trying to be thorough as I can, making sure to clear out a much of Old Yharnam as I can. I think I've done so, and pretty early on managed to get a very convenient shortcut that made it pretty easy to get back to Blood Starved Beast without too much of a headache. I spent two or three Insight on summoning Alfred to help with the boss and also upgraded my Flamesprayer up to the same level as my Kirkhammer (+3,) and while the Flamesprayer strategy did do tons of damage, I found myself at a loss for bullets (it really seems pretty feast-or-famine with those things.)

So instead I used some Fire Paper, and boy howdy did that work well. Once using the paper, I managed to down him in two attempts (not total - with the Fire Paper.) I was still poisoned and out of antidote when I killed him, so I lit the lantern and warped to the dream just as I was about to die.

I believe that BSB opens up the first of the Chalice Dungeons, and I figure I should probably check those out soon, but I found myself drawn to a new area that had just opened up: The Church Workshop. While very familiar enemy types, the guys here hit quite hard. I also think I've missed a few of the things found there, but ultimately I got a badge and opened up a shortcut to Vicar Amelia that should make the many attempts I'm sure to make go smoother.

It's a little jarring to so quickly get to the next boss, but then again, I had cleared much of Cathedral Ward before heading to Old Yharnam, so I guess it's not so premature.

Amelia seems similar to the other beast bosses I've faced - encouraging you to get close and dodge around her. But she has some close-quarters moves and one particularly devastating AoE attack that has killed me on the two attempts I've made against her.

Even with the shortcut, getting to her is a bit of a challenge, as there's a Church Giant and a few of the big minister-types who you have to dodge quite carefully to avoid. Still, on attempt one I managed to get Amelia down to about two thirds of her health, and while the second phase is often where these bosses get their obnoxious mechanics, I'm feeling confident that she shouldn't take too many tries.

There's also a summon for a new NPC to assist, though my Madman's Knowledge is a little on the low side and I only have about three liquid Insight. And Alfred wasn't all that helpful in taking down BSB, so...

Right now my only complaint about the game is that I wish Blood Vials would drop more frequently. Or they could give you ten free ones when you die. Still, I love the artistic design and the flow of combat is quite good.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Meeting Padre Gascoigne

Well, it didn't take long for me to get to the second boss of Bloodborne (the first mandatory one, if I understand correctly.) While I have not yet beaten it, it's not quite the ramp-up in difficulty I had been expecting from his reputation.

Father Gascoigne is found in a cemetery, having apparently lost his mind (you know, like everyone in Yharnam) and really demonstrating the self-defeating nature of The Hunt. Right out of the gate, it's clear that you've got to parry him. The biggest issue I've had is that if I miss a dodge or parry, it's really hard to get a free moment to heal. Obviously the regain mechanic is meant to allow you to stay more aggressive, but given that, unlike the Cleric Beast, Gascoigne's all about comboing you, it's much harder to get your full regain and not, you know, die.

I'm definitely feeling myself settle into the groove of the game - a bit like when I got to the Undead Parish in Dark Souls - no longer making tiny incremental progress through the area, but still certainly encountering some danger and frequent death.

The biggest frustration is when you encounter enemies you feel you'd mastered (like the brick-wielding brutes) and screwing up and even dying to them.

The good news is that the blood vials and quicksilver bullets are flowing much more freely now, so with every death to Gascoigne, I'm either breaking even or actually storing up more for later. The guy in the machine-gun wheelchair in the dark house not far from the Central Yharnam lantern is a godsend, always dropping four bullets every time you kill him. Given that I need at least three just to get to Gascoigne (three of the aforementioned brutes, though I might start just using the dark house to circumvent the first two) and then I use a lot of them on the boss, having this guy guarantee a nice bundle each time is quite useful.

I have the Kirkhammer now, and I've upgraded it once (need two more shard to make it +2.) My goal is to eventually get the Logarius Wheel or, should I get the DLC (and manage to get anywhere in it,) the Whirligig Saw. The game's been relatively generous with shards so far - I expected I'd have to get past a few bosses before I could upgrade anything - so I hope I can get all of them upgraded to decent levels.

EDIT: Beat him as well. The trick with Gascoigne is absolutely getting used to parrying with the pistol. Basically, you have to dodge backward for most of his attacks (sadly doesn't work on his own gunshots, but those only do a little damage.) You definitely have to be careful and make sure you've got plenty of space between you when you need to heal. But the massive chunks of health you can tear out of him with visceral attacks makes the parry method really, really effective against him. I think six or so of these attacks got him down.

The other trick here is making sure you start with a decent number of bullets. I highly recommend using blood bullets and just spending a blood vial to heal back up, as I'm finding vials much more frequently than bullets (except my favorite wheelchair-gunner guy.) Be liberal with gunfire (though, you know, still try to time it right) and you can parry both his human-form attacks and his werewolf-form attacks. Learning the rhythm for the latter is tough, as you'll be in the last stages of the fight and probably really desperate to get him down, but at that point one visceral and a few R1s should be enough to take him down.

I'm feeling far more competent after playing the game for a few hours. Like Dark Souls, a big part of the game is understanding your space. You need to know where you can go and where you're in danger of drawing more enemies to you.

Right now I've actually made it to Old Yharnam, but I'm checking online to see any questlines I might have missed. I seem to have missed finding Eileen the Crow in Central Yharnam, but I think I can start up her quests in Cathedral Ward.

The game is getting very generous with Bloodstone Shards, so I've got my Kirkhammer upgraded to +3, meaning it now needs Twin Bloodstone Shards. Thankfully that means that the rest can be saved for the Logarius Wheel or Whirligig Saw when I get them eventually.

I don't find myself using the transformed version of the Kirkhammer too much, though I have used it on occasion. I'm thinking a future character will probably go Skill and use the Threaded Cane as his/her starting weapon, but I'm definitely not far enough to feel ready to try out alts.

My First Visit to Central Yharnam

Well, I got Bloodborne.

Once again, From Software is using its absurdly steep learning curve for the earliest portions of the game. Though in this case there isn't even really an Undead Asylum equivalent. You simply get dropped into Central Yharnam early on and have to fend for yourself. I've managed to get to the Cleric Beast and make a few attempts before deciding one in the morning is probably late enough to call it a night.

Having played Dark Souls, but only recently (and only about halfway through, by my estimates) I thankfully have clear in memory the utter pain-train that was my first trip into the Undead Burgh - that earliest area prior to the Taurus Demon in which I must have died twenty times simply getting the feel for the game.

My death count in Bloodborne is already pretty high, though I have to blame one particular Executioner for several of these deaths. I wanted to try out my parrying skills with the gun, and unfortunately they have proven... ineffective. The brutes who try to smash you with a brick, however, have fallen to my parry/visceral combo many times, so I think it's a question of figuring out the timing.

Having played a heavy-armored knight character in Dark Souls, the lack of a shield is really pretty world-changing in this game. Combat is much faster and I definitely have to get used to the new pace of dodging and also making sure that I'm completely out of the way of enemy attacks.

I'm at an early stage, only having leveled up twice. I picked a class that starts with a high Arcane stat, though in retrospect I probably should have started with Strength or Vitality. Those are what I'm leveling up at the moment, and I think I might swallow my pride and grind a little until I'm at least even on those stats as I am with Arcane.

I definitely wish Blood Vials came more frequently. Thankfully they drop multiple at a time on occasion, but I certainly miss the guarantee of at least 5 Estus charges when you respawn.

One thing that's kind of interesting is that the insane detail of the world actually makes it easier for enemies to camouflage in there. I've definitely mistaken a sleeping Yharnamite or two for a pile of rubble or garbage.

Oddly, while I haven't beaten him, fighting the Cleric Beast has made me feel more competent than the preceding area. Once again, I wish that I had more Blood Vials available (I also wish I hadn't wasted my Molotov Cocktails on my first attempt - if I had waited until I could get him down to where I got him on my last attempt, I'd probably have beaten him by now,) but I'm also finding it something of a relief that I only have this one big enemy to keep track of, and not a million torch-and-pitchfork-wielding jerkwads with their freaking dogs.

Luckily I have a shortcut unlocked to get to the Cleric Beast easily, so making attempts is not too hard (plus there's a guy who is guaranteed to drop quicksilver bullets, so I've got a crapton of those.)

I'm eager to get the boss down and get the Kirkhammer (which I'll be using until I get Logarius' Wheel or the Whirligig Saw if/when I get the DLC.) I'm also eager to get him down so that I can get those delicious boss echoes and level up hopefully a couple times.

I'm assuming that, much like Dark Souls, this first area is going to force you to learn the mechanics fast, and subsequently will even out a little as you get better and also get enough blood echoes to level up a decent amount.

I've also gotten a couple of bloodstone shards, but I'm saving those for the Kirkhammer.

Incidentally, the music that plays when fighting the Cleric Beast is really epic.


The following morning I feel a lot more competent, partially because I downed the Cleric Beast. I realize he's one of the easiest bosses (appropriate, given that he's the first) but in any Souls-like game, getting any boss down feels pretty good. I found that I was able to recover a lot of health through regain, given that many of his attacks are single hits that leave him open for a while.

I've definitely grinded a bit, but even with that effort I still don't actually have the stats for the Kirkhammer (I'm one Strength shy at this point.) Granted, my starting class did emphasize Arcane, which I figure I might be thankful for later on when I actually get to use the stat for something (other than item discovery.)

But I also think I'm just getting a better sense for the rhythm of the game.

If I get to a point where I'm getting more Blood Vials than I'm using, I'll be pretty happy with that system, but I really think they ought to give you like forty when you first start the game. I also miss the Dark Souls system where you can reset the world and get your Estus/Health back by simply resting at a bonfire instead of having to go all the way back to the hub, though I understand that all the other Soulsborne games have had the hub mechanic.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Major Legion Lore Reveals

This isn't really organized or part of some particular recent Beta build. But it's information that has come to my attention recently, and we've got some pretty big whoppers. This is, of course, all big spoiler territory, dealing with at least the Paladin Order campaign (though given the gravity of the information, I wouldn't be shocked if all classes get in on some of these plot developments.)

Anyway, now that there's enough of a buffer for people reading on an RSS feed, let's do a cut and deal with spoilers.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Building My PS4 Library

It's always weird when you have a brand-new console. A console has a whole library associated with it, and particularly with one that has been out for a while, there are clearly a lot of places to go.

I recently got a few big expenses out of the way well, well under-budget, so I felt I could afford to splurge a little.

I got the PS4 with the Nathan Drake Collection bundle - which is itself a compilation of the three PS3 era Uncharted games remastered for the PS4. On top of that, I got the Witcher III.

I'm loving the Witcher (I like Uncharted, but it's definitely not as deep a game as the Witcher,) and part of me feels like I shouldn't get any new games until I've beaten it, but another part of me says "feel free to take your time with this one." The Witcher has a pretty intense story, but I also think I'm at a good breakpoint, having dealt with what I imagine is the biggest quest chain in Novigrad (could be wrong, though, as it's a big city,) and I feel like picking it up again later wouldn't be too terrible. I haven't even gone to Skellige yet, so I figure there will be a good "new beginning" if I wind up taking a break from it.

So my new purchases:

First is Bloodborne. This one's a no-brainer because it's basically the main reason I got a PS4 instead of an Xbox One (Microsoft's console seems to have a much better backwards compatibility system, but we still have the 360, so that's less of a draw.) No, I still haven't beaten Ornstein and Smough in Dark Souls, but I'm really too curious to find out how different Bloodborne feels (I'm going to guess it's easier between bosses, thanks to the ability to find Blood Vials all over the place, but that bosses might be tougher because the game's built around dodging rather than blocking.) I haven't decided what sort of build to start off with - I did find a hybrid Strength/Arcane build online that focuses on Logarius' Wheel (one of my big determining factors for what build I use is how ridiculous my weapon will be, and that's got to be one of the most ridiculous.)

Oddly, looking at Amazon, it's actually like 50 cents cheaper to buy the game and The Old Hunters DLC separately, so I figured I'd get the base game and then if I'm feeling eager, I'll pick up the DLC when I get around the level required to start it.

The other purchase was Grand Theft Auto V. I cannot tell you how many hours I've spent dicking around in GTA 3, Vice City, and particularly San Andreas (the latter being the only one I personally owned.) I don't know if there's any other franchise that is as good at just plain making it fun to wreak havoc. There's a lot of talk in the theory of games (not Game Theory) about "extrinsic" versus "intrinsic" rewards. Having you farm a dungeon to get some cool piece of gear? Extrinsic. That dungeon being a total blast to fight your way through? Intrinsic. GTA has, in my experience, been great at intrinsic rewards, making it plenty of fun to just drive like a maniac and blow everything up.

So I'm excited to play a newer game. We had GTA 4 for the 360, but the disc cracked and while it was playable, we didn't want to risk breaking the console if the disc suddenly flew apart or something, so I never really got to play much of 4.

So that should round me out quite well. I guess I just need a quality FPS (perhaps Fallout 4 or maybe one of those Far Cry games, which I've never played.) I could also use a traditional JRPG, and I'm excited to hear about a new Square Enix game called I Am Setsuna, which looks to be mechanically based on the original Chrono Trigger, which is probably my favorite RPG of the SNES era (which was definitely Squaresoft's Golden Age.)

Anyway, the whole reason I got a new console was to open up new horizons of gaming possibilities, and already I'm feeling good about it. I'm not getting rid of my Wii U or anything, I'm just patiently waiting for Zelda and occasionally doing a round of Smash Bros.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Movie Inspired Transmog Now Live on WoW

Along with a few rather positive things said about the upcoming Warcraft movie (in the New York Times, even! Though take it with a grain of salt, as this is not an official review yet,) if you log in today or for the next two months, you'll get a set of transmog gear along with a letter from either Varian Wrynn or High Overlord Saurfang.

Alliance players will get a one-handed sword and a shield (which suits my protection paladin quite nicely.) Both are quite large. Horde players will get a one-handed axe and a staff (Gul'dan/Warlock themed.)

My understanding is that these models are based off of props from the movies, so if you ever wanted to make your Orc Warlock look like Gul'dan, you won't have much of a better option than this transmog piece.

It appears you'll get one strongbox per faction per account, as when I logged onto my Blood Elf priest after getting the box on my Tauren Shaman, I didn't seem to have one in the mail. But given that the new transmog system will make all these sorts of models account-wide (and I think the items are already bound to account, but with race restrictions to make sure they're on the correct faction's characters,) so it's actually probably for the best that we're not getting cluttered with all these items.

Indeed, once the new transmog system goes live, you should be able to just dump these items and retain the looks (in fact, given that there's an associated achievement, it might even be ok to do so now, but I do not recommend it.)

Warcraft comes out June 10th, I believe. Legion is launching on August 30th, and rumor has it that the pre-patch that will introduce, among other things, the new transmog system, should be coming around July 19th.

Enjoy the transmog, and let's hope this movie breaks the "video game movie curse."

(EDIT: So far, reactions to the movie have been not great. Variety and The Wrap hated it, though the Hollywood Reporter liked it. The NY Times piece wasn't a review, but a piece on director Duncan Jones and the roughness of having his wife get breast cancer just as they were starting and his father dying of cancer earlier this year, the latter event I'm sure you were all aware of. Ultimately, reviews are just reviews, and you should go and see a movie if you think you'll enjoy it. I sure as hell love convoluted fantasy stories, and having the game background should theoretically make it easier for me to enjoy this piece. That said, I'm also a bit of a film snob, so if it really does feel like a cash-in, I might react accordingly.

It's very tough to sort out biases - both those of yourself and those of reviewers. I've felt pretty negative about the modern "hype culture," which is really just marketing by playing hard to the fanbase and allowing them to spread the word. On the other hand, I think that some publications, particularly Variety, have a tendency to review movies the way they think they ought to, rather than based on individual consideration of a movie.

I obviously have a positive response bias toward this film, as I'm a fan of the series on which it is based. And I also want to see game stories make good film adaptations - we've come a long way from plots as thin as Super Mario Bros.

That said, the story for a game is ultimately there to serve the gameplay, not the other way around (though you could make the argument that games like Mass Effect make the real gameplay the story.) And thus, a lot of games' stories work great for an interactive medium but not so much for the fixed medium of film.

Still, one of the biggest draws of the Warcraft universe to me is the idea that the "monsters" are not necessarily monsters. Tolkien had a lot of trouble with his own Orcish creations, as he didn't like the idea of having a race that was entirely evil, which clashed with his egalitarian Catholic views. His solution was to make Orcs into corrupted elves - and thus not exactly "born evil," and instead were evil by definition because Orc basically meant "the elves that are so evil they got mutated."

But Warcraft I think (starting with WCIII) came up with what I think is a cleverer and more interesting solution, which is that the Orcs are actually just normal people who were misled, and still have the potential to be good.

The fact that the movie is emphasizing this is very good. But on the other hand, having a solid philosophical foundation isn't enough to make a good movie. So we'll see. It could be that only hardcore fanboys will ignore the glaring flaws of the movie. Or it's possible that the reviewers decided not to like it before they sat down in the theater.

Or both. And hey, it's all a matter of opinion, right?

EDIT 2: Apparently even Kotaku thinks it's bad. So... such is life.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

July 19th Rumored Legion Pre-Patch

Every expansion comes with a pre-patch - the real X.0 patch that turns on the system updates of the expansion, but does not let us access the new continent, new levels, new races, or new classes*.

*Except that this time, those who have ordered the expansion will actually be able to create their Demon Hunters as soon as the patch goes live. You'll still have to buy the expansion if you want to play one of these Illidari disciples, but you can go through the starting experience and run some dungeons or raids to get a feel for how the class plays and be ready to hit the Broken Isles immediately with all the other players who are playing existing classes. Remember how it was a while in Mists of Pandaria before you started seeing Monks around (it was also a bit of a delay to see Death Knights in Northrend, though far less of one, given that they only had to make up fifteen levels, not 84.)

A supposed internal leak has identified July 19th as the launch of that pre-patch, which is a Tuesday, making this pretty plausible. The patch would also come out a little more than a month before the expansion's true launch. This is also within the realm of plausibility, especially if the pre-launch events (which always come in these pre-patches) are really as big as they claim they'll be. The biggest expansion launch had to be Cataclysm, which was actually two patches - one to implement the new systems and the Elemental Invasion, and the other to implement the actual Shattering, which allowed new race/class combos and the reworked zones with new quests. The latter happened two weeks before the expansion's launch, whereas the former lasted I want to say either three or four weeks.

So we might be dual-wielding glaives less than a week after Bastille Day.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Also, the Witcher Does Side-Quests and Moral Choices Right

One of the issues you often get in Open-World RPG games is that there are a million side quests, and pretty much all of them are "hey, I want this thing. Go to this cave and get this thing and come back and you'll get gold and pants." While they put a little effort into giving some backstory to the McGuffin, often it's a simple matter of going there and picking something up.

Now, to be fair, I've only played through a bit of the Witcher III. I'm in Velen (wondering if I should head back to White Orchard and make sure I've fully explored there,) and I think I've gotten to a serious midpoint of the area (quests are now sending me to Novigrad, which is the big city in the area that I haven't even come near yet.)

It's possible that I'm just not wise to the familiar patterns that Witcher side quests will fall into. But so far, I'm really impressed.

Being a Witcher means being a genetically enhanced monster-hunter (despite being a pretty straightforward medieval setting with countless tiny villages dealing with monster infestations, people seem to understand stuff like DNA to a greater extent than even we do today,) and that means that even though Geralt's got his own main concern (finding his badass adopted daughter Ciri and protecting her rom the eponymous Wild Hunt,) he pays the bills by taking on Witcher Contracts and also helps out people he meets along the way.

The great thing is that even the Witcher Contracts - given their own special category apart from Side Quests - which are your classic "kill this one monster" sorts of missions, are given a decent backstory and a few twists and turns. You'll often have to track down clues to help you find the monster (admittedly, this mechanic is not the greatest, especially given the way you need to point the camera and position Geralt just right to make him interact with the correct object) and talk to villagers, then hopefully identify what the thing is, allowing you to use the quite clever crafting system to put together the right potions and oils to get ready to face the monster down.

And sometimes, the monster is more complicated and you are forced to make a moral choice. But this isn't like Bioshock, where it's between total sociopathic cruelty and altruistic benevolence, or even Mass Effect, which has a somewhat more subtle dichotomy of ethical paragon or expedient renegade, which is still a clear set of categories to put your choices into.

Geralt has real serious moral questions to answer, and the "right" option, or even the "officially good" option is not at all obvious. For example, there is a side quest in which you are hired by a hunter to track down his wife - she was happily married to him, and was unlikely to run away, but she has gone missing in the woods.

When you search for her, her sisters (who appears to live with them) approaches and tells you to just tell the hunter that she's dead and let him move on with his life. You can take a bribe from her to do this, but if you continue your investigation, you'll find that she was killed by a werewolf. You can track the werewolf to a hunting lodge in the woods, and if you go into a cavern beneath it, you'll find the beast. However, when you fight it, just as you're about to kill it, the woman's sister arrives and tells you to stop - that the werewolf is actually the hunter, and that he didn't know that he had killed his wife.

The hunter had been going to this lodge and locking himself away to protect people from himself when he was transformed. But the sister had fallen in love with her brother-in-law, and she decided to show the wife what her husband really was, hoping that she would run off in fear. Instead, the werewolf broke free and killed her.

So here's the moral choice you're presented with: the werewolf/hunter finds out about this and resolves to kill the sister in revenge. Do you let him? In a sense, she killed her sister by proxy via werewolf, but she never intended to do it. Yet she was still responsible for the death, and let's also recall that she was trying to destroy her sister's marriage.

The hunter had specifically gone to this cabin to avoid hurting anyone, and while he clearly did not think out all the contingencies, he was making an effort to keep people safe. But the fact remains that he is a dangerous monster, and now he is threatening to kill this woman who has wronged him.

It's a tough call. I decided that once the werewolf started killing people intentionally, as justified as he might have been, he'd no longer be eligible for protection from my monster-hunting wrath. That, and also that killing this woman would not bring his wife back, and he'd still live out the rest of his life knowing that he had killed his beloved wife. The sister might have a chance to repent. So I killed the werewolf.

You might argue that this was, in fact, the "officially good" way to resolve the situation, but it required real moral interrogation, You could make the argument that the real criminal here was the sister, and perhaps she deserved a just death.

In case you're worried that I've spoiled something major about the game, take note: this is one side quest among many. These people are not major characters in the story. It's just a basic "track down this monster and kill it" kind of quest. But it's invested with real story stakes in a way that I don't think I've ever seen another video game put in a side quest.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Voice Files Detail the New Four Horsemen

The Four Horsemen were a group of elite Death Knights in Naxxramas. Zeliek, Blaumeux, and Korth'azz were in both versions of the raid, while their leader in the original Naxxramas was Alexandros Mograine (the original Ashbringer, who wielded and could drop the Corrupted Ashbringer,) but in the lead-up to the story of Wrath of the Lich King, Alexandros' son Darion raided the dread citadel and took the sword, plunging it into his own chest in a sacrifice to free his father's spirit. Darion of course then rose as a Death Knight of the Scourge, but thanks to the redemptive power of the blade and the Holy power within Light's Hope Chapel, Darion and the rest of the Ebon Blade (including you, if you play a Death Knight) were broken free of the Lich King's dominance.

With Alexandros gone, Baron Rivendare - a nobleman from Stratholme who joined the Scourge willingly and used to be the boss of the undead half of the Stratholme dungeon - took his place.

Naxxramas was raided once again, and it looks like the Four Horsemen are now canonically taken care of.

But the invasion of the Burning Legion is making for some strange bedfellows. Spoilers to follow:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Witcher III Does Item-Based Combat Right

One of the great archetypes of heroic fantasy is the guy who always has the right gadget, herb, or charm for the given situation. This is a person who knows exactly how to make a concoction to slow the effects of a cursed dagger or exactly what kind of charm can be constructed with household parts to ward off some wraith. Basically, fantasy MacGyver.

The problem is that in games, this basically means incessant farming - gathering materials constantly and having to restock, always afraid to use your Gold Dust Anti-Dragon Bomb because dammit, you only have so much Anti-Dragon and you don't want to head all the way to the Isle of Antimatter to get more.

The Witcher III (and maybe earlier games in the series for all I know) resolves this problem by taking a radical approach to the crafting system.

Once you've brewed a potion, assembled a bomb, mixed up some oil, or what have you, you simply have it forever. Weapon Oil is always there for you (but has to be reapplied after a while) while bombs and potions do have limited charges - usually 1-3 - but if you spend time meditating, you can simply consume a bottle of hard alcohol and all of your stuff pops back into your inventory.

Booze is rather easy to come by and can be bought, and it appears that any sort of hard liquor you have will work to replenish your stuff.

So while theoretically you might have to "farm" booze, ultimately it's pretty easy to get all your stuff back, which means that you can (and should) use those items pretty proactively - really only saving them if you think there's a particularly hard fight coming up.

There are a couple of downsides to keep you from abusing these potions. One is that if you take a whole bunch without waiting to recover (or using other materials to detox,) you'll fill up your toxicity meter and start to lose health until the effects wear off.

Additionally, recipes demand lots of different ingredients, so you'll need to pick herbs you come across and buy stuff from herbalists.

It appears that you'll want to enhance these items with new recipes as you level up, but the fact that once you have Specter Oil, you'll always have something to add a little more punch to your ghost-fighting attacks, is pretty damn great.

Oh, and Devil's Puffball is a nasty thing to throw at a group of thugs who have made the ill-advised decision to fight Geralt of Rivia.

Chromie in Heroes of the Storm

Given that she just might be my favorite character in all of World of Warcraft, I had to get Chromie immediately.

Chromie is a Bronze Dragon, but she fights in her more familiar Gnomish form. A lot like Tracer, Chromie is a fragile assassin with very high damage potential, especially against enemy players, but essentially no health. Perhaps even less than Tracer, and certainly without the escape moves.

So why play her, other than loyalty to what is obviously the best dragonflight? Range.

Holy crap does she have range.

Chromie has range on par with Sergeant Hammer, and without having to go into Siege Mode in order to get that range. The trick, however, is making sure that you target your opponents well. Chromie will be absolutely devastating if the player knows how to lead his or her shots, targeting where the enemy will be rather than where they are now. Playing against Chromie, you'll want to keep on the move.

Sand Blast is your Q, and fires a ball of sand after a wind-up (this is a theme) in a given direction. It has long range and will only hit heroes. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage, given that you can hit an enemy hero behind a wave of minions but you also won't be clearing said wave. The range on this is very long, so you can hit heroes that are too far away from you to hit back.

Dragon's Breath, your W, will also have a delay, but like Sand Blast, this also has a large range. You can definitely get some cheap shots against enemy structures and minion waves. This will not show a reticle where it's going to land, so if you come at enemies from cover or simply feint, you can often catch your opponents with it.

Time Trap, your E, is far more situational. You put a trap on the ground that lasts for a good long while, and when an enemy walks over it (it's invisible to them,) they'll be put in stasis for a second or so. If you can trap them in one of these, quickly wind up a Dragon's Breath or Sand Blast to take advantage of their inability to move.

Her two heroics are Slowing Sands and Temporal Loop.

Slowing Sands is easily available, but will eat mana for as long as it's up. Still, given the target-leading you'll need to pull of Chromie effectively, you'll definitely enjoy making it difficult for your enemies to evade your attacks.

Temporal Loop likewise will make it harder for your enemies to escape, though it will probably take a little more finesse. You effectively force the enemy to do Tracer's Recall after a couple seconds, making it harder to escape and of course putting them in the line of fire for your shots.

From a distance, Chromie is a total menace. However, she seems to have Murky-level health, so make sure you stay the hell away from your enemies. Dragon's Breath will let you do a bit of wave clear, but you'll primarily focus on enemy heroes when they're about.

New Iteration of Spec and Talent Changing Coming on Legion Beta

Surprising I'd bet no one, the introduction of a progressive gold cost for switching specs will be removed from the Legion beta. However, this doesn't mean we're going to be seeing everyone swapping out talents and specs on every fight. Here's how the second 7.0 spec/talent switching system is going to work:

Specs can, I believe, be changed on the fly (if you played before Mists of Pandaria, the terminology of "Spec" and "Talent" is sort of entangled, so it can be confusing,) with the current restrictions (must be out of combat, must be able to cast for ten seconds.) You'll have access to all the specs of your class. As far as I can tell, this aspect is practically the way that it works today, but with a "tri" or in the case of Druids, "quad" spec. (Demon Hunters will of course be dual-specced.)

Talents, however, are going to be more restricted. Currently, you just need a Tome of the Clear Mind to swap out talents. In Legion, the current plan is that you're going to have to give them a bit more thought, because you'll only be able to change them if you are in a safe area - namely anywhere that you'd get a rested bonus. So your Order Hall, a City, or an Inn are all places where you can trade these out, but otherwise, you're stuck with it.

The exception is that if you get an item created by a scribe, you can drop it for anyone in your party/raid to swap out talents outside of these safe locations. You will not have to be a scribe to use these items, only to craft them (which should help scribes make dough now that the glyph system is getting overhauled.)

I honestly think this is a pretty good solution. You can live with non-optimal talents if you switch from soloing to group content or single-target to AoE, but being able to change specs will make a huge difference for things like world bosses and group quests. Especially given the rumors I'm hearing about the nerfs that tanks have received, I really don't want to have to solo as Protection.

Still, we'll have to see how it feels in practice. While I absolutely don't want to return to the vanilla style where you basically got gutted for gold if you wanted to tweak any tiny thing, I also think there ought to be some encouragement to put together a talent build that suits your playstyle. And of course, I'd assume that switching specs will grant you a different array of talents.

I'll be watching this situation closely. 3.1's dual specialization feature was, I think, one of the best things introduced to the game, and I hope they retain at least a system that lives up to its functionality.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Monster Hunting in the Witcher III

As all good RPG players do, I'm focusing on clearing out side quests before proceeding on to the main quest line in the Witcher III.

While the main quest has me hunting down a Griffin that is terrorizing the local town, I first did a side quest in which a well (whose water is needed to help a sick girl now that the river water is contaminated with the bodies of dead soldiers) is haunted by a foul ghost.

The ghost is initially not hostile, but I did manage to get too close and found myself in a very difficult battle. Running away and then returning to complete the investigation, I found the body of the woman whose ghost was haunting the well and retrieved her bracelet - a memento that remained to bind her to the world.

Knowing what kind of foe I was dealing with, I brewed some Specter Oil (unfortunately, while I was able to find the Bear Fat needed for the oil, I had to look up online where to find the flowers that serve as the other component to the oil. I wonder if I missed something in-game.)

Thus prepared, I faced down the Noonwraith (the specific kind of ghost she was) and made quick work of her.

I'm actually really excited about this kind of fight being the sort of thing the game focuses on. Too often scary monsters in video games become these total fodder kind of enemies (and to be fair, I have faced some "Necrophages," which seem to the be blanket term for physical undead rather than spectral ones (though the Noonwraith was plenty nasty-looking, mind you) that have died by the handful.) I'm sure that the eventual destruction of the Griffin will also involve this kind of quest-based prep-work, but which might get tedious over a long course, but assuming that it's not too difficult to find the right tools for the job, this could be a really cool way of organizing the game.

I am still unable to scale the UI's text. I guess I'll just have to look up if it's possible.

(EDIT: Apparently this is something they patched in. I'll need to ensure that the PS4 is downloading the pertinent data.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Witcher III and Uncharted

I got the Nathan Drake collection bundle along with the Witcher III for my new PS4 (the collection was bundled with the console,) so I already have a multi-game library, which is always good for a new console.

I've spent more of my time playing the Witcher. I'm still just barely into the game - I'm currently investigating a griffin I plan on killing eventually. The combat seems pretty fun and flowy, though I'm still most definitely a novice.

My only complaint so far is that for some reason the text is really, really small, like they're expecting you to be sitting only three feet from a rather large TV screen (probably intended for PC.) I'm hoping I can find some graphic setting that can enlarge the UI.

I'm enjoying the world of it so far, even if all my action at this point has taken place in the surroundings of a rather small village. The characters seem fleshed out and are well-designed, not looking (at least in this early part of the game) as if they're just copy-and-pasted (actually, there is one old woman I could swear I saw twice.) I definitely appreciate the moral complexity, like an early quest where I find a pair of wounded soldiers from both sides of the war and I have to decide whether the local should bring back his newfound friend and risk being executed for aiding an enemy (or a deserter, in the eyes of the conquering army,) or if he should simply abandon the man to die. Neither's really great, but that's what true moral options look like.

Like a lot of big RPGs, though, there are a ton of systems one needs to learn, and I haven't scratched the surface on alchemy or even getting new equipment. I'm hoping the early quests will help me learn how to do these things.

I've also played the first segment of the first Uncharted game. While the voice acting and actually the character animation are both quite good, the gameplay is not terribly deep, at least at this point. I believe it's a totally linear game that seems to alternate between jumping puzzles and cover-based combat. Still, the tone is great and I do love me an adventure yarn. And I got it for very cheap along with two sequels, so I can't complain.

I also did a quick check (probably something I should have researched beforehand) to ensure that the PS4 could play BluRays (we're a cinephile household, so you can bet there are a ton of BluRays and DVDs here) and I downloaded apps for Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go.

The Witcher is playable without its DLC, but I'm downloading what there is (that's free - which I think might be all of it, unless I'm mistaken) which is taking quite a while (though probably far less now that the Uncharted stuff is all downloaded.)

I'm sure the Witcher is going to keep my busy for quite a long time, and then Legion is going to come out in the late summer. My next game purchase will be Bloodborne (it's the game that settled the PS4/Xbox One debate in my mind) and then I think GTA V, Fallout 4, maybe Assassin's Creed Syndicate, and probably some series that I haven't tried yet, like Just Cause, Saint's Row, or Far Cry.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Bethesda comes out with a single-player follow-up to Skyrim, but so far nothing's been announced.

Tracer's Incredible Killing Blow Potential in Heroes of the Storm

I've been enjoying Tracer in Heroes of the Storm quite a bit. I tend to play for the daily quests, which has unfortunately not popped up for Assassins lately (and I doubt there will be a "Play as an Overwatch hero" quest for some time) but I've been doing some "extracurricular" games on Tracer, and I'm beginning to appreciate how powerful she is at taking down enemy heroes.

She definitely has her weaknesses - she's very squishy and if she's stuck in a lane by herself, it's going to take her forever to clear a wave of minions, as she doesn't have any AoE except Pulse Bomb and one talent I'm aware of that affects Melee.

But against heroes, holy crap does she shine. The latest game I played, we had a total of 33 enemy takedowns and 16 of them were my doing.

The main reason for this is her mobility. She can keep pace with a fleeing hero and continually barrage them with damage, which immediately means that the usual "first you've got to catch up with me" strategy for fleeing isn't going to work.

Blink then allows her to close distance to make sure that she's always in range of the fleeing adversary, and Recall allows her to even overextend into enemy territory for those last couple points of damage and then get back before the towers shred her.

I've also started to get better about using Pulse Bomb. I may have neglected to mention this in the post where I went over her abilities, but this is a sticky bomb that will attach itself to a target - it's a very short range (improvable with a talent) and certainly a skill shot, but if you blink in close to an enemy and pop it onto them and then Blink/Recall back, you should be able to stick it without too much difficulty, and especially if there's a crowded team-fight going on, this can really do some devastating damage.

Tracer is not an easy hero to play - she might demand more actions per minute than any other (though Lost Vikings might beat her.) One thing you'll have to manage a lot is making sure you're targeting the right enemy - she can be locked on to someone out of range and thus ignore a closer target. And of course, Blink is very powerful, but only if you can aim it correctly. Recall has a bit of a cooldown, so you'll want to be aware of when it's available and be ready to use Blink as an escape rather than pursuit tool in case Recall is not available.

And one last thing, because Pulse Bomb is charged using your own actions and can be made to charge much quicker, I'd recommend using it frequently and not simply letting it sit on your action bar. It'll take a nice chunk out of an enemy hero's health, and can potentially do some very large AoE damage.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Specs I'm Looking to Try If I Get Into the Beta

I have not gotten a Beta invite, and while I'd certainly like to get one eventually, I also have a PS4 coming to me today or tomorrow and plenty of other gaming options available to me, so I can't exactly complain.

Still, the beginning of the Beta is pretty exciting, and I'm eager to get my hands on the 7.0 version of the game.

I thought I'd talk a bit about the various specs I'm most eager to try out.

1. Vengeance

Obviously, the Demon Hunter is a brand new class, so both of its specs are going to be top priority for me to play. I like tanking (and that enjoyment of the role is certainly reinforced by fast dungeon queues) and so any time there's a new tank class (which actually, all three post-launch classes have been,) I'm going to want to try it out. While my Death Knight has gravitated toward dps in recent expansions, my Monk is still solidly a tank character. I'm hoping that my Demon Hunter will also be fun to tank on.

2. Havoc

Obviously I'm going to be soloing on my DH as Havoc, and if Vengeance doesn't work out for me, this will be the only other option. So I'd like to get a feel for it as well.

3. Protection Paladin

Given that this is my main, the status of Prot is the thing with the highest stakes for me. I'm a little concerned with the removal of Holy Power and very concerned about the Consecration requirement for Hammer of the Righteous to be AoE (though I know there's a talent that lets you get out of that problem.)

4. Frost Death Knight

This should be changing less. What I'm hoping is that it will play more or less the way that 2H Frost does now. The Rune change is going to make resource management much easier, but hopefully will still be compelling.

5. Demonology

Demo is getting a total overhaul, so I really will need to see what this new spec feels like. I'm actually very sad to see the Mists/Warlords version of Demonology go, but I'm hoping that the new version will be a decent replacement.

6: Enhancement

My first real character was an ensmashment shaman, and they are also getting a pretty radical overhaul. I really want to get a feel for how this spec is going to work now that it has all of its own abilities instead of copying stuff from Elemental.

7: Outlaw

One of the main reasons I also had a sort of soft contempt for Combat Rogues was that there was just no flavor to them. Their choice of weapons didn't feel motivated by anything other than game mathematics. Now, however, the heir to combat is plunging in strongly with the swashbuckler/pirate theme, and its mechanics also remind me a bit of how Assassination works now, which is a good thing.

8. Retribution

Ret is keeping Holy Power, but I think its rhythm is likely to feel a lot different without Hammer of Wrath or Exorcism. Given that I'll need it at least for soloing (and also since we're getting the actual Ashbringer) I definitely want to get a feel for the spec.

9. Arms

Once my favorite Warrior spec, Warlords of Draenor utterly destroyed the Arms spec that I loved. I think Blizzard realizes that they had made a mistake, and what I've seen of the Legion rework of the spec has been promising. is it safe to love again? Or will I just stick to Fury?

10. Brewmaster

Another tank spec, shocker. Brewmasters are getting similar changes to Protection Paladins, losing a secondary resource and instead balancing charges of key abilities. I actually suspect that Brewmasters might feel more significantly different than Prot Paladins, given that they're really firmly reorienting them into a stagger-based mitigation style and away from dodging.

So there's my top ten. This is all very subjective, of course, and there are other specs that are near and dear to me that will be getting lots of attention as well. But that's what we've got here for now.

Lorewise, Who Has It Worse: Death Knights or Demon Hunters?

Most of the classes in World of Warcraft are simply something that someone does. Yes, you might feel very spiritually drawn to be a Paladin or a Druid, and if you become a Warlock (or a Shaman, for that matter,) you're probably going to be making deals that you won't necessarily be able to get out of easily. But fundamentally, members of any class could, with some effort, set aside their current ways and either retire to civilian life or take up a new calling.

The two Hero Classes don't get to do that.

Let's take a look at what it means to be a member of these two classes. This will include details from the novel Illidan that flesh out what our Demon Hunter characters will have been through.

But first, let's start with Death Knights, given that they have been in-game for nearly eight years.

Death Knights absolutely have no choice in becoming a Death Knight. Indeed, most if not all Death Knights begin as enemies of the Scourge, living the relatively traditional life of some other kind of hero - a Hunter, a Priest, a Warrior. But the Scourge does not allow its defeated enemies to rest in death. These most remarkable heroes are raised by the Lich King and forced to do his will, robbed of their own free will.

It's not entirely clear what the experience of a minion of the Scourge is like. Most horribly, it's possible that the individual is trapped in a body that is no longer under its control, using its memories and intelligence to serve the Scourge while the soul is restrained and screaming from within. Or, arguably more horribly (though more from an outside perspective,) the individual remains basically the same, with the same personality and mind, but with forced realignments of motivation. Where once this person hated the Scourge and wished to fight it, now the person wants to serve the Lich King.

This mind control aspect is rendered moot thanks to the events at the Battle of Light's Hope, where the holy ground severs the connection between the Lich King and his Knights. This allows them to regain their free will, but it does not return them to their previous state.

First of all, as Undead, they are partially numbed to the world around them. Food is blander, the air is colder, and positive emotions like joy and love are muted. The Forsaken experience this as well, but while they have built a society in which they can act as one big support group for one another (well, and a totalitarian war machine,) Death Knights are returned to their old countrymen, having to stand as an embodiment of one of the greatest enemies Azeroth has ever faced. They must return to family members who may react with horror or hatred, or even in the best cases, may have a strained distance from their now monstrous kin.

But on top of that, Death Knights are in a special situation. First off, while the Forsaken were mindless zombies before the damage to the Frozen Throne released them, the Death Knights were conscious of their actions. Forsaken probably don't even remember (or if they do, only vaguely) what they did in the service of the Scourge, but for Death Knights, they were fully aware of their actions.

Additionally, to ensure their service as the Scourge's elite soldiers, Death Knights were afflicted with an addiction to causing pain. A Death Knight who fails to do so will begin to go through a painful and, I believe, unending withdrawal. This means that a Death Knight can literally never know peace. They must fight on forever or hope for the release of true death into oblivion. There is not likely to be any salvation for them, either, as the Holy Light burns them.

So that sounds pretty bad. Let's look at Demon Hunters and see if they can give Death Knights a run for their money.

Demon Hunters make a choice to become what they become, but they will only be accepted into the ranks if they have experienced the trauma of losing their family to demons. Every single Demon Hunter (except, ironically, Illidan,) is someone whose family was slaughtered by demons.

They go through intense physical training to prepare their body for the raw magic they will take upon them. But the culmination of their training is a confrontation. They are forced to summon and fight the very demon that killed their family.

If they survive (and many don't,) the next step in the process is that they must consume the body of the demon. Upon eating this body, the demon will then inhabit them, and for the rest of the Demon Hunter's life, they will struggle with that demon to maintain control of their own body.

On top of that, by consuming the demon - a demon who will constantly taunt and attempt to manipulate them - they will experience the loss of their loved ones at all times, re-living the event every hour of every day.

The demonic essence also transforms them, making them into quasi-demons themselves whose souls are forever bound to the Twisting Nether.

Once conditioned in this way, Illidan then grants them a vision of the Burning Legion, showing the practically infinite masses that would pour down destruction upon the universe. Invariably, seeing this horror leads Demon Hunters to tear out their own eyes. But this action does not remove the vision - it is still there to see, and so they must learn to control their terror and the trauma of the past that their demonic parasite forces them to endure into a fury that will allow them to fight the Legion with reckless abandon.

Demon Hunters and Death Knights are like fire and ice. Death Knights are forced to contemplate an eternity of numb, endless violence while Demon Hunters are in an adrenaline-soaked rage at all times.

I think I'd rather be a Mage.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Assassin's Creed Movie Does, Actually, Look Pretty Assassin's Creed

While the series has certainly suffered from sequel saturation (II and Black Flag are amazing while Brotherhood and Revelations have been kind of glorified expansion packs. I have yet to play Syndicate, which I hear is good,) there is a lot of compelling stuff to the Assassin's Creed games. I'm particularly a fan of the insane conspiracy theory stuff (best exemplified in II's Subject 16 puzzles.)

This film will be avoiding mixing up the canon by focusing on a non-Desmond character in the modern day and going to a setting the games haven't touched (the Spanish Inquisition.)

Cinematically, the trailer makes the movie look very much like the game, luxuriating in medieval architecture and filled with parkour-based action. I'm also one of the three or four AC players who actually liked having the modern stuff in the games to give context to the historical stuff (and was highly disappointed that the modern-day plot stuff in Black Flag was so incredibly superfluous and devoid of characterization,) so I'm glad to see that they're absolutely including Abstergo's modern-day Templars as part of the plot here.

I'm always going to save a little extra skepticism for video game movies based on track record, but the only note that rang really off to me in the trailer was the weird robot arm thing that seems to be the cinematic version of the animus.

Still, Michael Fassbender's a good actor, and there's other good cast members (though the presence of Jeremy Irons, fantastic actor that he is, in a game-based movie is no guarantee of quality, given that he was also in "Dungeons and Dragons" in 2000. Yeah, did you remember that that movie was a thing?)

While I don't think we can really expect this, I hope that they really make this feel like a prestige historical drama that gets interrupted by bursts of parkour-based violence and a sci-fi frame narrative.

Current Spec-Change System for Legion Beta

I'm emphasizing "Current" and "for Beta" because I think this is probably going to be subject to change.

In Legion, you'll have access to all three of your specs, changeable at I believe any time you can currently switch between dual-specs.

However, the Beta patch notes now inform us that this will incur a gold-cost, and this will be a progressive gold cost, which actually used to be the case back in Vanilla through I want to say Wrath when changing your specs (of course Wrath introduced dual-specs, which used to be 1000 gold - and that used to actually be a large amount of gold, but it would then negate all further expenditures on re-speccing unless you wanted that third spec.)

While I'm polishing my pitchfork tentatively, there is one aspect to this that could make things far less worrisome than they might be, namely that if you enter a dungeon or raid using LFD or LFR (not sure about queueing for PvP) as a tank or healer, it will automatically switch your spec for free as you enter and leave the instance.

This actually covers 95% of the times I'd be switching specs, as I tend to solo as Retribution and do dungeons almost exclusively as Protection.

There are definitely some potential problems with this system. For instance, if a Priest who is soloing out in the world as Shadow decided to heal a dungeon, which spec does the game choose for them? And what if you like to run, say, Frost while soloing and switch to Arcane for group content? What about world bosses? What about if you're tanking in a group quest but you want to go DPS for a dungeon?

Like I said, I'm definitely sharpening my pitchfork and gathering torches, but I'm not ready to get out into the streets just yet. This is Beta, after all, and even if it's a far more complete and polished Beta than we've had in the past, it's still very much subject to change.

Legion Beta Invites Going Out

Invites for the official Legion Beta Test (even though what has been presented as an Alpha has been more of a Beta and what we're getting here is a nearly-complete demo of the expansion) are going out.

No, I haven't gotten one, though I'm crossing my fingers that I will soon.

As a PSA, remember that there could be plenty of scam emails floating around sending you to bogus websites. I've historically even gotten scam emails that somehow managed to have a Blizzard email address that proved false when I checked with a GM about the issue at hand.

So just cut the email part of the process out. Instead, just check your Battle.net account on the website or simply go to your Blizzard launcher and look in the Region/Account menu, which should have your active WoW account, a PTR account, and if you are in the Beta, a Beta account.

They're probably going to only invite a handful of people at first to make sure the servers have transitioned correctly over to the Beta state, but I would guess that we'll be seeing larger invite waves later on as they start to stress-test.

Still, Beta or no, we already have a launch date, so while you should absolutely still contribute feedback if you get into the test, it's pretty clear that this is mostly happening to let people get hands on the expansion and get excited about it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Legion Alpha Coming Down, Beta Going Up

Yessiree (holy crap, spell check accepted that!) the "Alpha" really has been an Alpha, and in the last couple months before Legion launches, Blizzard will be opening up the "Beta Test."

Basically, their reasoning is that these days, if you call something a Beta, people expect a polished demo of the game that they can play ahead of time. Obviously, that's not the case, and of course kind of invalidates the purpose of a Beta (except for marketing purposes, which to be fair are substantial.)

The good news is that if you've been waiting to try out Legion, I suspect that the invite waves are going to be far larger than the ones for the Alpha. I know that I'd really like to try out the Demon Hunter and the other major systems for the expansion before August.

The bad news is that this does kind of shift the goalposts. How long before people are going to expect "Alpha" to mean something polished and ready to go.

To be clear, Legion is not completely finished (and we already have a release date, so its state of finished-ness is kind of moot, barring some shocking lack of progress over the next 3 months.) And I'm sure there will be bugs in the Beta to sort out.

For those of us who actually like to get in there and give feedback during these tests, this is a little disheartening. I feel like good feedback on Brewmaster Monks turned an awkward spec where you would literally spend some of your time not even able to attack enemies as you shuffled to avoid attacks into one of my two favorite tanking specs.

Then again, during the Beta for Warlords of Draenor, they utterly ruined Arms Warriors despite all our protests (something that I think Legion might be bringing back from the pit of horribleness.) So perhaps my sense of power as a tester is inflated.

Still, given that we've got the whole summer to wait for Legion to come out for real, I certainly wouldn't say no to getting an early look at the expansion.

Monday, May 9, 2016

New Console Incoming

When I was a kid (specifically, a pre-teenager kid,) the two big gaming companies were Nintendo and Sega. Both are still around, but Sega has gone software-only. I got a Wii U not terribly long after its launch (I think it had been a month or two,) and while I still think it could have been a fantastic console, clearly it hasn't worked out too well for them, which is why Nintendo is pushing the NX already for release next year.

We do have an Xbox 360 in the apartment, which has helped to satisfy some of my gaming needs, but strictly speaking the only console I ever got that was not Nintendo was a PS2 that I managed to pick up for pretty cheap used not long before the PS3 came out.

While I've managed to coast on the last generation for most of my gaming needs (partially by buying old games I had never gotten around to or not heard of,) more and more I've been seeing games I really want to play that are simply not available on the old generation (which, given that the 360 came out in 2005, I think we can probably pat it on the back and let it retire.)

So I've thrown my lot into the latest iteration of the console wars. This time I've gone with Sony. The primary concern for me is exclusive titles, and while I certainly enjoy blasting around as a space-marine, historically Sony has tended to have the titles that skew more to my tastes. One of the big ones is Bloodborne, a From Software project commissioned by Sony to give them a good exclusive. While I'm certainly going to get it eventually - probably as my second game purchase - I've decided that I am not allowed to buy another From Soft game until I can beat Ornstein and Smough in Dark Souls (I have absolutely no qualms about grinding like crazy before doing so and making sure I have enough Humanity to summon Solaire for what I assume will be at least 20 more attempts.)

So I've ordered the Nathan Drake PS4 bundle, which comes with the three Uncharted games from the last generation (a digital download.) I have never played these games, but it was barely any more expensive than a PS4 on its own, so I figure what the hey. In addition, I've ordered The Witcher III, which I had been eyeing for a while. I love lore in games (see the million posts I've made about World of Warcraft lore) and the fact that the Witcher games are both well-liked as games and based on novels that presumably have a ton of detail in them, well, that makes me pretty excited. (Also the fact that the developers claimed they designed the quests first, before building the maps, which I hope means that no space is wasted.)

I suspect that after Bloodborne I'll probably get Fallout 4 (I'm particularly excited to play in my home city of Boston, even if it is a post-nuclear wasteland.) No Man's Sky also looks utterly fascinating (something that even my non-gamer sister is excited for her boyfriend to get.) I don't know where the hell the Final Fantasy games have gone, though (as far as I can tell, the last one that actually played like a real Final Fantasy game was X,) but they have said they're going to do a remake of VII, which I literally could never even find to play backwards-compatable on my PS2, and I'm given to understand it's a pretty good one.

(EDIT: Oh, and GTA V too.)

Anyway, this should broaden some of the subject matter of this blog a bit.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Chromie and Medivh Abilities

While not yet officially announced as far as I know, it looks like Chromie and Medivh's Heroes of the Storm abilities are now publicly available, so let's take a look!


Chromie will be a Ranged Assassin, and unsurprisingly, her abilities all have a time theme to them (now that I think of it, they really should have done an Infinite version of her instead of a Fel-corrupted one.)

Trait: Timewalker

Chromie's trait is rather simple - you get your new talents one level earlier than everyone else (except the level 1 talent, of course.) This means that you'll get your heroic abilities at level 9, and will generally mean that you're a bit ahead of the curve.

Q: Sand Blast

Sand Blast is a long-range skill shot that only hits enemy heroes (no structures or minions) and has a 1-second wind-up. Obviously you'll need to guess where your enemy is headed to make sure this lands.

W: Dragon's Breath

This also has a 1-second wind-up. You'll target an area and after a second it will be blasted with a bunch of sandy bronze-dragon breath. Unlike Kael'thas' Flame Strike, enemy players will not be able to see where you've targeted this ability, so you can be tricky with it.

E: Time Trap:

You can throw a trap on the ground (it looks like an hourglass) that seems to persist indefinitely (limit one at a time) that is invisible to enemies and will put them in stasis for a couple seconds if they walk over it.

Heroic 1: Slowing Sands

You can place a patch of shifting sand in an area that persists as long as you have the mana to keep paying for it. This will slow any enemies who stray into it, and seems to slow them down by more the longer it's been out.

Heroic 2: Temporal Loop

This is actually pretty much Tracer's Recall ability, but cast on an enemy. You cast it on them and a couple seconds later they get teleported back to where they were when you cast it.

So clearly Chromie's going to be pretty tricky to play. She's definitely built to control and take down heroes, and I suspect that the delays on two of her main abilities is going to mean she'll be quite the challenge to play well. Still, there's a lot of synergy here - Time Trap, Slowing Sands, and Temporal Loop will all make it easier to keep enemies where you want them to be so you can hit them with Sand Blast and Dragon's Breath.

I don't know damage numbers, but I suspect that, given the challenge of landing Q and W, they'll probably deal a pretty high amount.


Medivh is a Ranged Specialist. He has some pretty funky tools that can both help allies and crowd-control enemies.

Trait: Raven Form

Instead of a mount, Medivh can transform into a Raven. In this form, he is totally invulnerable and can also fly over terrain, meaning that Medivh can get anywhere safely and also scout very effectively. Probably also very good for flanking enemies.

Q: Arcane Rift

This skill shot will send out a wave of damage. It has a very short cooldown if you manage to hit an enemy hero, but otherwise has a 7-second one.

W: Force of Will

This is a short-duration invulnerability that you can cast on allies. It doesn't prevent CC, but if you've got a friend who's about to take a big hit from a Pyroblast (or needs a second to escape,) this will prevent them from taking all damage. Not sure if this can be self-cast.

E: Portal

This is a bit like a Warlock's Demonic Portal. You create a portal to a targeted area (I think it needs to be within vision range of you.) The portal persists for a few seconds and allows you and your allies to jump back and forth between the two connected ends of it while it is there.

Heroic 1: Poly Bomb

Cast this on an enemy hero and they will be polymorphed into a flying sheep. However, when the polymorph expires, any other enemy hero standing within range will also be affected by Poly Bomb, meaning that if two enemy heroes are standing together and not moving apart, you could theoretically keep them trading back the polymorph indefinitely. Not sure if this affects multiple targets if there are three or more heroes clustered around each other.

Heroic 2: Ley Line Seal

You send a fairly long-range skill-shot out that will put enemy heroes in stasis for a few seconds as it hits them.

Medivh looks to be a pretty tricky hero like Chromie. There's definitely more of an emphasis on working with the team, which should make his trait particularly invaluable for getting to allies who could use the help. On his own I suspect that Medivh will be far less effective, to the extent that I almost wonder if it might be more accurate to list him as a Support hero.

The REDACTED in Stormwind REDACTED, plus REDACTED found in files.

Oh hey, guess what? It's spoilers. Admittedly, if you've been following the news about the Legion Alpha, this stuff shouldn't surprise you. But still, given that there are some major plot developments going on, I'm going to just give people a blanket warning - this here is about some major stuff that happens in Legion that has huge implications for the ongoing story of World of Warcraft. Yes, I'm being vague to try to avoid spoiling people with my spoiler warning.

Spoilers to follow.

Altoholizing Dark Souls

I'm going to get a PS4 and probably Bloodborne as my first game for the system, but I feel like I ought to at least get a little farther in Dark Souls before I do so, given its status as a spiritual sequel.

While I'm getting a little more confident working on Ornstein and Smough on my main character (I've started a strategy I call "going for broke," ditching my shield entirely and just trying to take down Ornstein as quickly as possible to push into phase 2, but phase 2 Smough is still a son of a bitch, so we'll see,) I also thought I'd try out a new character.

My main character is a knight, and while I know that starting class is not that important in Dark Souls, I decided to start a Cleric so that I could get some of them cool Lightning miracles.

At the moment, my miracle selection is tragically low - I really only have Heal, which my Knight has - but I know that once I bump my Faith up to 25 I can join the Warriors of Sunlight covenant, which is mostly about multiplayer (our Xbox doesn't even have an internet connection) but also brings the Lightning.

Grabbing the Master Key as my gift, I ran down to the Valley of Drakes and grabbed the Astora Straight Sword (which scales with Strength, Dexterity, and Faith) and the Drake Crest Shield, which have served me quite well.

One thing that's fantastic is that I'm finding myself far, far better at parrying enemy attacks - something I've struggled with a lot on my first playthrough. While I can still find myself getting knocked silly after a failed parry, I'm beginning to get the rhythm of it now (the trick seems to be "hit it right as the blow is about to land.")

I got the Asylym Demon down with no problems (I actually tried beating it with the broken sword you start with, but that looked like it was going to take forever, so I bailed.) The Taurus Demon did manage to kill me once, but now that I've gotten way better at plunging attacks (I used to try to attack before I'd started falling,) I took him down pretty quick (like many big bosses, the trick with him seems to be to get between his legs so that he has a really hard time hitting you.) The Bell Gargoyles were next. I've decided to just reverse hollowing whenever I get Humanity (not the consumable items - the ones you get sometimes killing normal enemies,) and so I was free to summon Solaire for the Gargoyles. Holy crap was that easier this time. By the time Gargoyle one was dead, the other was at like 30% health purely from Solaire's attacks. So naturally that was a one-shot.

Lower Undead Burgh is mostly not too bad - I think I died once or twice to those freaking dogs and the second bandit ambush. Overall it's not a very large area, though, so I quickly made it to the Capra Demon, then of course ran past it to open the shortcut back to Firelink Shrine.

The Capra Demon, however, is an asshole. The room in which you fight him is tiny, and it's really hard to get rid of those dogs while dodging his attacks. I have managed to kill the dogs a couple times before dying, but I also don't have terribly good armor (I'm playing around with a few things - might be worth it at this point to just upgrade the black leather set, though I'm also wondering if I want to give this character more of a Paladin heavy-armor style or stick with light stuff.)

Anyway, I'm hoping that more Miracles become available soon. I'm sure I'll eventually get something like Force, but I'll need to grind quite a bit to get my covenant with the Sunbros and get my hands on that lightning. I'm thinking I might want to do that before the Gaping Dragon though (if I recall correctly, Lightning is extra-effective against dragons in these games.) Also, some ranged options would be good to have.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Heroes Leak: Chromie, Medivh, and New Skins/Mounts

Currently in the tease phase, there's a leaked video showing new heroes Chromie and Medivh, as well as alternate skins for them along with Nova and Tyrande, and some new mounts.

Chromie, aka Chronormu, is a Bronze Dragon who is also the best dragon character in all of Warcraft. As a Bronze Dragon, she travels through time dealing with chronological anomalies and enlists the aid of Azeroth's heroes. She almost invariably does this in the form of a diminutive female gnome, and so it appears that for the most part, in Heroes of the Storm, she will use this Gnome form.

Medivh is a hugely important Warcraft character. The son of Aegwynn, Medivh gained his incredible magic powers not from the Council of Tirisfal - which is customary for Guardians - but instead directly from his mother. Unfortunately, that's not all he got. Aegwynn was possessed by the spirit of the Dark Titan Sargeras, who transferred himself to Medivh when he was in the womb. Sargeras would use him to open the Dark Portal, unleashing the Orcish Horde on Azeroth. Medivh was eventually killed by his friends Lothar and Khadgar, but he later returned as a spirit - presumably free of Sargeras' corruption - as a prophet to organize the heroes of Azeroth to fight off the Burning Legion during the Third War.

Chromie will get a fel-corrupted skin in addition to her master skin, with a fel version of Billie the goat to complement it. Medivh will get Knight Owl Medivh as an alternate skin, which has a kind of futuristic-knight look to it (maybe giving him an Overwatch alternate persona?)

Tyrande will get a similar futuristic-armor skin while Nova will get a skin that basically turns her into the Overwatch character Widowmaker.

Additionally, there will be two new mounts, a Elemental Wolf and an Epic Elemental Wolf.

Time-Warping with Tracer in Heroes of the Storm

I decided to splurge and get the Tracer bundle (the simple one with just her and the Specter skin.) I've only played one game with her so far, but she's got a very interesting feel to her.

Tracer is, of course, the flagship hero of Overwatch, and is all about speed, mobility, and time-bendy powers. She is going to be absolutely terrifying in the hands of a skilled player, but to play her to her fullest potential, you'll need to be able to manage her movement in clever ways.

Tracer's biggest advantage is that she gets to auto-attack on the move. You'll be dealing way more damage through your auto-attacks thanks to this, but the price you pay is that she only has 20 rounds in her clip. Hitting D or simply emptying her guns will reload, which takes very little time, but it does mean that your attacks will be interrupted occasionally.

She's also pretty fragile, but you have a lot of tools to escape enemies (and hunt down retreating ones.)

Q: Blink

You get three charges of Blink that will recharge over time. This lets you teleport a medium distance very quickly, which will be really great for chasing down fleeing enemies. It's also, of course, a pretty handy escape tool (though another ability fills this role more clearly.)

W: Melee

When within melee range of an enemy, you can hit W to do a quick burst of damage to them. There's a talent that can make this an AoE ability, which is quite nice.

E: Recall

Hit this button to rewind time, going back to the location you were a few seconds ago. At level 20 you can upgrade this to also heal you back to your previous amount of health, which is pretty great. This has a long cooldown than the others, so use it judiciously.

R: Pulse Bomb

Tracer only has the one heroic ability, but she gets it at level 1. This will shoot an explosive a relatively short distance from you (it's a skill-shot) that will then explode after a couple seconds and slow down affected enemies. You'll need to charge up this skill by using your other attacks, with various talents affecting the way your abilities recharge it.

Tracer is a lot of fun so far, and her ability to fire while moving is very powerful. I played Garden of Terror, and not only could I fire on large groups of enemy heroes trying to catch me as I retreated, but I was also able to dodge around the big garden terrors during the night phase without letting him get too many hits in.

My main recommendation is to save Recall for desperate situations and use Blink to chase down fleeing foes. I might update this as I have more insights.