Overwatch Listicle

I hate listicles, but here’s one anyway!

  1. Sombra. Not sure I’m a fan of the new class – it really changes the dynamic of the game. Total invisibility is hard to prepare for, meaning you can be dead before you realise she’s even reappeared behind you (and it’s always behind you). This is kind of different to other heroes, even one-shotters like Widowmaker, where you at least have some defensive counter measure available if you see them fast enough. I’m also finding her ability to hack health packs super annoying – it basically removes them from the game which isn’t particularly interesting or fun. To counter those issues, maybe there should be a timer on the health hack (similar to Sombra’s own teleport timer), and maybe a (very) faint motion blur when she’s invisible.

  2. Arcade Mode. Love the new 3v3 and mystery 1v1 modes. Short and sharp, and the new Antarctic map is perfect for them. The 1v1 is interesting because you basically become friends with the other player, complimenting them on their play and vice versa. Similarly 3v3 has much more communication than a full 6v6, as you have to adapt quickly to the other team’s strengths and weaknesses as each round passes. It’s probably similar to how Heroic/Mythic WoW raid teams have to be far more co-ordinated than Normal/LFR, as you can’t afford to carry anyone. Though in OW one super-fast twitch player can dominate the opposition more consistently.

  3. Quick Play. Taking out the ability to hero stack is a bit of a bummer. I can see why they did it, but now it’s a bit of a land rush to get a hero you want, and those with the lowest ping times inevitably get their choice. It was always fun, if often devastating, coming up against a full team of Junkrat’s or Pharah’s, and now that’s hidden away in Arcade Mode which is a bit of a shame. Quick Play suddenly become more serious and less flexible, instead of the default & funnest way to play. People quit now if they can’t get their choice. Then again, I did come up against 6 Sombra’s in Arcade and that was terribad! So maybe it’s for the best.

  4. Talking of Junkrat, I HATE JUNKRAT. Flinging random bombs through windows and hoping for the best, then sending in the wheel of death. Ugh. Refuse to play.

  5. And Roadhog. Why are all the Australian’s freaky? Mad Max was handsome, but Blizzard chose Toecutter and Immorten Joe as a role models instead. Alas.

  6. Symmetra. One great thing about OW is witnessing some genius play a character which makes you understand how it’s meant to be played. I came up against a brilliant Symmetra who constructed matrixes of death lasers in perfect spots, teleported her team to the front, and beamed everyone to death who came near her. Lesson learnt, and now playing her I have a much better idea what to do. That’s not something that can happen in an MMO for obvious reasons, and it’s a real strength.

  7. Spontaneous team co-ordination is another. Seeing a random group coalesce into an unstoppable Bastion/Reinhardt/Mercy/Symmetra whole is a thing of beauty.

  8. Playing with a console controller is hard. PC master race.

  9. I’m starting to miss WoW!

Overwatch Kart

An interesting phenomenon in Overwatch is the 99% comeback. I’ve played many a match where one team is up 99% to 0% on a control map, and somehow the other time makes a stunning overtime comeback for the win. Same on an escort – a last gasp push or save 1m before the objective.

One team often seems to (luckily) spawn pretty much together together, then (luckily) arrive at the point together, and then (luckily) have most of the Ultimates ready to blow. It’s like a 6 person Overwatch zerg – pretty fun, but pretty unlikely to happen as often as it does.

After experiencing it a few times – and it being joked about plenty at the PAX Overwatch tournament – I realised it reminded me of Mario Kart’s catch-up mechanic, which subtly grants advantageous boosts to players lagging behind in the race.

Maybe Overwatch is doing the same thing – giving the team about to lose some kind of hidden bonus in the form of sped up Ultimates or co-ordinated spawns. There are plenty of discussion threads and conspiracy theories out there, though nothing provable.

Many put it down to pure psychology: the fact you have one last chance makes the team suddenly focus and enter some kind of heightened-gameplay frenzy. And as it turns out they’re probably right. Asked if such a mechanic were in place, Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan (a fairly reliable source!) responded with a pretty definitive response: “Nothing at all“.

It’s nice to know it’s our skills giving those last gasp victories, and it sure is an interesting psychological phenomena. I guess sports teams and the military – and Jeff Kaplan and co. – already knew all about it.

Post PAX post

On the weekend I travelled down to Penny-Arcade’s fourth annual Penny Arcade Expo in Melbourne – I figured it was kind of a Blizzcon-lite with far less travel.

It’s a three day event, and I went for the Saturday session with two of my nephews. Having never been to a gaming or comic convention, I was equally excited and apprehensive. Tradeshows can be pretty dire, with bored vendors trying to attract your attention while you studiously avoid eye contact.

I realised pretty quickly this wasn’t going to be your average tradeshow:

Embarrassingly I'm not sure who she's playing, but *wow*
Embarrassingly I’m not sure who she’s playing, but *wow*.

Entering the vendor hall surrounded by thousands of fellow fans pretty quickly allayed all remaining fears: this was going to be fun. Massive displays from major industry players, sound and vision overload, hardware to ogle, and all in the name of gaming.

The dominant games were easily Overwatch and the venerable CS:GO. Overwatch was everywhere, being used to demo super fast monitors, LED headphones and keyboards, controllers and just about anything else. Most of the vendors had LAN setups which were allegedly to demo their hardware, but really most people were just enjoying the opportunity to play 6v6 in the same ‘room’.

On the hardware front, the main thing we noticed was that VR is everywhere, though the queues were so long for all of them that we didn’t get to play any. There’s definitely some momentum around this latest attempt, no doubt seriously boosted by the offical PS4 VR hardware – they had the largest stand and longest queues.

It was also hugely entertaining constantly seeing amazing cosplay everywhere you turned. One moment you might be playing Mei, the next she’d be standing next to you with Reaper and Soldier 76 for good measure.

So far so good, but the real highlight came when we emerged from the cacophony of the demo hall into the (relative) serenity of the second main hall, which is effectively a fan-run celebration of gaming in all it’s shapes and colours. Tabletop, RPG, console, PC, retro, pinball, miniatures, dice, you name it.

You name it.
No really, you name it.

There are hundreds of tables setup for tabletop gaming, ranging from cards to miniatures to old school boardgame history (you could borrow just about anything from a huge selection of carefully maintained boxes). The amazing thing was that there were volunteers for every game, just sitting waiting for people to plonk down and learn how to play. No sales pitch, no pressure, just a celebration of a game they love and knowledge they want to pass on.

A collection of vintage machines were constantly in use (I struggled against R-Type with an very ancient joystick attached to a Commodore-64), as was the console rental area where you could pick any game from a huge library, grab some controllers and play for as long as you like. We entered a PS4 Overwatch comp and were promptly trounced, but it was a great experience complete with an encouraging audience.

Healing stream engaged
Healing stream engaged.

You could learn to paint figurines, enter pinball comps, collect and trade pins, or choose from any number of Role Playing game sessions, complete with volunteer GMs and newbie-friendly guidance. We played a one hour Adventurer’s League DnD mission which was a hoot.

The ‘fan hall’ was the true heart of PAX and no doubt a large reason for it’s continued success and popularity. No matter what kind of gaming you enjoy, there was a way here to enjoy it.

My only regret was not getting to see any of the many many talks and panels that were held throughout – Fight of Fandoms: Fallout vs Witcher, SUPER HAPPY FUNTIME TOKYO GAMESHOW HOUR, the Omegathon etc. Obviously a reason to go back next year!

Accordind to Wikipedia, PAX was created by the Penny-Arcade team because they “wanted to attend a show exclusively for gaming”. It would more accurate to say it was created for gamers, and it’s a huge success.

Team Overwatch

One of the oddities of Overwatch is that if you play with a pre-made team, the game gets harder. I go from a ~60% win ratio in random groups to pretty much 0 in a pre-made with friends.

This is somewhat counterintuitive.

We figured that playing as a co-ordinated group would make you almost unstoppable. Team comps could be spot on, choke points verbally controlled, ambushes and ultra’s given plenty of warning.

All of which is true, but the thing I hadn’t realised is that once you rock up with a 5/6 player group, the game will try to find a matching team of similar numbers to fight against. So while you’re a little more organised than a Quick Play pug, so are they. And unfortunately ‘they’ always seem to be a whole lot better.

Given the rookie status of most of the people I’m playing with, this means we have been getting hammered. We’ve gone 0/10 most nights – we were thrilled (or should that be relieved) when we won one round of a best of three! While our skill level and experience is pretty low, we should be winning at least a few.

Even though we’re theoretically being matched with similar skill levels, it’s pretty clear that most grouped players know how to play, and are probably a lot more organised. Team composition becomes much more important to counter opposition strategies – coming up against a well oiled Bastion/Mercy/Reinhardt team is very difficult to overcome without some thought and on-the-fly planning.

Luckily it’s still fun, and it also means you quickly realise that it won’t be enough to just have 5 people you know playing together: you need to communicate and co-ordinate and play as a team, not a bunch of individuals. That may work in random groups, but it falls apart against an organised attack.

It’s similar to coming up against a well oiled PVP group in WoW. You quickly realise when the other team is used to playing together, and grudgingly prepare for a short sharp lesson in defeat.

The biggest improvement would come from someone taking the leader role and co-ordinating things . Either that or an entire team of D.va’s!

D.va
Nerf this!

Overwatching

Having exorcised The Witcher, I’ve been spending some idle hours in Overwatch as a change of pace. As has been much discussed, it’s a superb implementation of the team shooter with the Blizzard signature slickness plastered all over it. Kind of Team Fortress on steroids and with a coat of shiny paint and a wonderfully varied roster of characters.

bastionFinding a hero that clicks is key and full marks to Blizzard for making each character feel distinct within their designated role. Don’t like whip fast DPS? Choose Soldier 76 over Tracer. Prefer mobility over stomping about? D.va trumps Reinhardt for you (his manic charge notwithstanding). Struggling with the pace? Bastion, despite the jealous trolling, is peerless at plonking in place and holding down a defensive position. The great range of playstyles that are supported is a credit to the dev team and no doubt a large reason for Overwatch’s success – there’s almost certainly a hero that will suit the way you want to play.

mercySo far I’ve managed to get a good handle on Bastion, Mercy, and more recently D.va. Mercy has been my go-to, which has been interesting having never played a healer. Healing really changes your perspective on the game, and makes a nice change from relentlessly hunting down the enemy. I love her flight-escape mechanism, which seems to be key to playing her well. D.va is also a bundle of fun with her two lives, self destruct, and an almost Bastion-like lock down potential.

mccreeNext I need to select a DPS to round out the specialities, with Tracer and Reaper looking most likely1. Tracer seems super hard to play well but it sure is fun having that amazing mobility – I somehow managed to get a POTG in my first ever game with her, but that was more good luck than good skill. Her Ultimate is also a little underwhelming – certainly compared to Reapers’ unstoppable reaping. Unlike WoW, DPS almost seems the hardest to play, but that may come down to no longer being the twitch gamer I aspired to being in ye olde Quake days.

Another highlight is watching good players – some really good – strut their stuff. Witnessing or watching a single-handed team wipe or epic save is humbling, inspiring, and educational. Mastering D.va’s mid-air-Booster-Self-Destruct combo move is next on my list, having been destroyed by it a few times.

It’s fun having a dip-in dip-out game on hand, which is certainly what Overwatch is: no gear grind and insta-play. And it’s also great playing a game which gets away from the drab landscapes of the typical shooter – Overwatch is all saturated colours and lens bloom. Fascinating too to think that this universe might have been the next WoW2 – a story driven version of this universe would be spectacular.


  1. McCree is tempting too, but mainly due to my love of Westerns which I’m not sure is a good way to choose! 
  2. Sadly I’m still finding it impossible to logon to WoW. Such a bizarre situation – maybe I can only play at the end of expansions when the pressure is off. Missing the new Kara in 7.1 may be the final straw. 

ReWitched

“The swamps and slums again, great”

That super-meta line, along with Firewatch, was probably the thing that got me to finally finish a play through of The Witcher.

Yep, finished. Despite my near fdisk fury, I managed to see the game all the way through, and it feels good to be done. There were definitely too many swamps and slums, but it’s an intriguing and well told tale.

Firewatch seemed to clear my head of the fug the Witcher had cast, and I was totally surprised to find myself looking forward to joining Geralt again and unravelling his story to it’s conclusion.

Diving back into a rich fantasy land was fun, helped enormously by the fact that Geralt is a pretty entertaining guy to play. His sharp humour and low tolerance for fools leads to some smart dialogue exchanges, as does his swordplay when words fail. I barely used magic, focussing on swift slaying and reckless attack – and playing easy mode. The story is the thing, not the fighting.

The game is solid if creaking with quest mechanics that remind me of old school Warcraft – back and forth and back and forth between quest giver and destination. One saving grace was unlocking fast travel, the developers finally showing some mercy on we poor suffering players (and their playtesters no doubt) with the sudden appearance of teleport portals.

One criticism is quests that can never be completed because you accidentally trigger the next story phase. A quest to create an epic armour set was only introduced in the penultimate chapter, not completable until the final chapter, and then having collected all the pieces I advanced plot before realising that meant no longer being able to create the fabled suit. Would have been nice to earn that much earlier in the game.

There was also some poor story pacing – introducing what turns out to be a very important character very late, an overlong epilogue, and a strange diversionary chapter where the main story goes on hold while you unravel a love triangle. There were moments where I realised I was really just wanting to follow the story and that the ‘game’ was getting in the way (and hence maybe I should just be reading the books). But each time it pulled back from that precipice with some clever plot twist or promise of more intrigue. And it was a very unusual love triangle!

Overall though I’m pleased to have played it. The rich story, depth of character, and slow journey to all powerful Witcher were satisfyingly delivered despite the engine showing the ravages of time. W2 and W3 are apparently leagues better, with some granting W3 All-Time-Great status, so that’s something to look forward to.

Given it took almost 10 years to play W1, I should be ready for them by…2030?

Watching Fires

Having been defeated by The Witcher’s timesink boss, I was browsing through my game library for something a little snappier and came across Firewatch. And happily a link to an article of ‘great short games’ confirmed it might be an appropriate palate cleanser.

After a little backstory setup, the game plonks you in Shoshone National Park in the US, where you are going to settle into a ‘firewatch’ tower – as a park ranger and lookout for forest fires.

It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous game to look at and listen to. The colour palettes are stunning, ranging from lush greenery to orange-drenched sunsets, and they change and adapt in parallel with your progression through the story. The use of light is spot on, creating a wonderful and enveloping environment that begs for idle wandering and exploration1. I found myself drifting along forest paths and grassy meadows or staring out over a stunning valley, not really paying attention to the story, just enjoying being there.

Firewatch valley
That view…

It’s perhaps not surprising when you learn that the super talented Olly Moss (he of the best Star Wars posters ever) was responsible for the 2D art. The UI and general aesthetic benefit from the involvement of Panic, who develop impeccably designed Mac and iOS apps.

The sound too is beautifully crafted. There’s a real sense of wilderness and peace – or otherwise – as you wander the fields, valleys, and streams. I turned the music right down to let the environmental ambience wash over, though Firewatch is one of those rare games where I found the music to be appropriately used. There are times where a quiet musical score will be introduced at just the right moment, enhancing rather than distracting from the journey.

Firewatch forest

In amongst all this beauty, the storyline could almost be inconsequential, but that too is well delivered and for the most part works – especially if you make sure to dive into the conversation options. There are a few jarring moments, mainly to do with the interruption to the idyll established early on, but the fundamental tale of people dealing with life changing events is built nicely and becomes quite emotionally affecting.

And only 5 hours: recommended.


  1. The beauty of the game world cries out for a free-roaming mode, and apparently such a thing is on the cards

DeWitched

During my inexplicable WoW hiatus1 I’ve been trying The Witcher for the 3rd time. I’ve installed and uninstalled it twice in the past, being frustrated each time by the amount of courier quests which take you from one end of the map to the other and back. That plus badly signposted irreversible decisions led to furious HDD wipes before even getting through the first chapter.

This time I decided to fully cheat and have a thorough walkthrough open while playing, as well as a recommended talent build ready to go as I played. Armed with this knowledge, and being better prepared for what I was getting into, I rerolled Geralt and plunged into the thick of it.

And it was better. Knowing most of the map already mean I could more easily adjust to the constant back and forthing, and the walkthroughs helped when it came to some decision point where I wasn’t sure what was going on (or worried about what was).

I rumbled through Chapter I, completing it this time, and actually enjoying the complexity of the questing and characters. The European heritage of the game shines through, both in the depth of the world building (based as it is on Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels) and the adult nature of the NPCs. There’s plenty of swearing, politics, racial tension, and sex on offer. Bad, women-as-reward ‘achievement’ sex, but at least it acknowledges that sex is a thing. There’s all sorts of sub plots, hints at a rich back story, and complicated cross threaded storytelling. It’s very different to standard Dungeons and Dragons based fantasy gaming, and all the better for it.

Feeling confident, I ventured heartily into Chapter II, which takes you into a city for the first time. The story changes to a murder-mystery of sorts, as you try and eliminate suspects whilst investigating the denizens of Vizima. Again there are plenty of complicated stories and characters, and the distances to be traversed are thankfully shorter (though still with plenty of back and forth).

The super annoying ‘drunk’ mechanic is, well, super annoying (you basically can barely see or move for what feels like 30 real-time minutes – though you can force the game to sleep it off by meditating). And the clever idea of using day/night phases to show/hide different NPCs is fun for a while, but eventually a bit tiresome. Having to meditate until dawn to generate an NPC, then immediately meditate again ’til midnight isn’t particularly thrilling gameplay.

Notwithstanding these tics, I slowly pieced together what was going on, and felt that the game was nearing it’s first story climax. I’d solved the mystery, had a suspect in my targets, and was ready to spring the trap…

… only to find that there was what looks like another 10 hours of gameplay before that was going to happen. 10 hours of trudging through a swamp, more courier quests, more sloowwww collecting of objectives. Slightly incredulously I mentioned this to a friend who recently finished (and is working on Witcher 2) who laughed and confirmed that the accursed swamp sub-chapter is indeed frustrating and time consuming.

Even with all the positives of the story, I couldn’t face committing more time into what was already 15+ hours of play to only be half way through Chapter I. It must be a 70+ hour game at this rate, which is beyond my capacity to complete I fear.

Which is kind of an odd position when I think of my /totalplayed in WoW: months, if not years. But an MMO somehow offers something different, the persistence of your characters, the evolving storylines, and the relationships with other players. The timesinks in The Witcher are pretty obvious and pretty weird, given there’s no financial reward for the developer in making us take longer to do something. MMOs on the other hand have got the timesink hiding down to a fine art. Catch 1000 fish but get a great hat? Why not.

The feeling that I’m wasting time playing single-player games is hard to ignore, even though it doesn’t really make sense – it’s ‘wasting’ far less time than an MMO. That feeling is something I guess I was trying to overcome with this latest endeavour, but while I haven’t deleted it off my HDD yet, I can feel the moment fast approaching.


  1. The irony and horror of posting this on the first night of Legion raiding is not lost on me. 

Stalled

After all the anticipation for Legion, and two weeks after release, I’ve managed to get to level… 100.

Yup, not a single level in two weeks. I’ve hardly logged on, and when I do it’s more to potter around Dalaran fishing and avoid making decisions. Thinking back, this seems to have happened to me for every expansion since WotLK: the xpac drops and I get totally paralysed and barely play. And each time I wish I knew why.

This time around the BM weapon being a gun really threw me. Which is patently ridiculous given transmog. Nevertheless, wanting a bow, I spent time testing a MM spec, but don’t find it that compelling and don’t like the proc-based rotation.

Next I thought maybe I should change class altogether, so I tried my Warrior in Fury spec. That was pretty fun, and the animations are top notch. Nothing like a plate-wearing huge-weapon-wielding Tauren to get the blood boiling. But melee? Healers have enough to worry about without more melee. And he’s always been a tank.

Meanwhile I lost interest in my Paladin and Druid once they boosted to 100. That’s a strange phenomenon too, though I guess it’s explained by the fact max level means you have to start grinding, unlike the constant gratification of levelling. Plus dungeon tanking at max level means a sudden escalation in expectations and low-patience from LFD queuers. I feel like the only way to play a tank is to take it from 1-100 so you know the class backwards. Bampfing to 100 has made me lose touch with the rotation and playstyle. Whoops.

A couple of friends who left back in the WotLK days have also (almost) returned, throwing more confusion into the mix. I’d like to be able to level and group with them, but they play far less frequently so there’s a waiting game there.

One other issue, which I’ve seen others express too, is not wanting to rush through the new content. I’d like to see it all, rather than sprint to 110 and start gearing. But if I want to raid then that’s pretty much the expectation, and fair enough. I guess the solution is to have a raiding main that focuses on just that (rather than on exploring the content), and a stable of alts who can meander their way to the top.

So. We finally get new stuff, and reportedly great new stuff, and instead of playing I’ve been actively avoiding it: experimenting with Project Gorgon, installing and trying The Witcher for the 4th time, playing Overwatch, speculating about Crowfall. Guild chat is alive with links to epic gear and flavour items galore, and I’m standing paralysed in Dalaran clutching my Mastercraft Kalu’ak Fishing Pole.

Totally stalled.

There’s no way I’ll be ready for raiding when it opens in a week. Which is ridiculous given my stated goal of being there at the start for once. I guess I’ll just have to wait for this malaise to pass, and join in if and when I can.

Vaguely prepared

‘Vaguely’ is probably the best descriptor for my Legion readiness. Bags are half empty (could do better), gear is good (though soon to be very dated), pre-patch achievements are complete. No real plan about how to level, but I’m keen to start in Highmountain due to the strong Tauren connection. And I can’t wait to get cracking on the Underlight Angler fishing Artifact!

One major decision is whether to stick with BM, or go over to Marksmanship. By all accounts Marks is going to be well ahead in the early Artifact days due to its rapid power accumulation. I think I’ll put my faith in Blizzard to balance that out though.

I much prefer the idea of a bow over a gun, which is a vote for Marks. As just about everyone has commented the models seem the wrong way around, despite the archetype of the Vanilla-cinematic BM Dwarf with his gun. The ‘hidden’ bow model for BM is a pretty ordinary mechanical looking Goblin creation unfortunately, so transmog is the only route to a handsome bow, which is a shame given the changing Artifact appearances.

Marks sounds quite RNG dependent for Marking Targets procs, which might become frustrating. And having to abandon pets also seems a bridge too far.

Strangely BM is getting very mixed reviews – many hate it or find it unplayable, others love it and are switching mains to BM. I’m finding it tolerable, if a bit limited in terms of opportunities to do things. I miss having Kill Shot as a finisher (my thumb still instinctively reaches for it), and there is often an autoshot zone where you’re just waiting for an ability to become available. Stampede also seems a bit borked in the way it won’t adapt to boss positioning, as very few bosses will stand in one spot long enough for the full impact to be felt.

Garwulf’s biting criticism that BM has become almost a caster class is pretty insightful too – your ability to do physical DPS is far outweighed by summoning Crows, Dire Beasts, and Stampedes. Add a lightning-powered Artifact and summoned wolf and BM has become very Shamanistic.

Still, if I was going to swap the invasions would have been the perfect time to test out the new model, but I’ve left that too late now. So BM it is. I think.

Other than spec, the biggest decision left is whether to abandon Tailoring for Mining, to better match Engineering. It seems a bit of a waste having burnt through all that cloth to level Tailoring, but Legion seems to heavily favour matching gathering and crafting professions. I fear that without mining there will be a shortage of Blood of Sargeras drops, which would be super annoying.

20 hours to go. Better make some decisions!