Overwatch: Tank Hunters

The new meta in Overwatch is tanks in the backline. It’s a nightmare playing support now, so much so that it’s the meme-of-the-moment, because it’s near impossible to stay alive unless your team understands the threat. Which in quickplay is rare, for obvious reasons (everyone’s a solo hero).

The most common thing now is finding an Orisa hunting the healers, which is so peculiar. Orisa has gone from a shield building defender (ideal to partner with Bastion) to a rampaging spear-throwing damage dealer, despite still being categorised as a tank. New tank Junkerqueen is also a brutal support slayer, rounding out a trio of Australian archetypes that make me cringe with their gruesome finishers and naked bloodlust.

About the only tank who’s still a tank is dear old Reinhardt, thank goodness. Getting a game with him is a small relief as you can stick close and keep him alive - unless he’s also playing offensively in which case he’s charged away defenceless to the other side of the map.

The one-tank change seems to have also freed up other DPS to go support hunting. Sombra in particular is a one-shot Mercy killer now, even more so than Tracer ever was. Symmetra and Junkrat are equally lethal - being killed by Junkrat spam is still one of the most frustrating ways to die. Even Moira and new healer Kiriko, both support, seem to spend a lot of time now murdering their compatriots rather than healing their team.

I still feel like I can swing a match with Mercy, but only if I’m not being hunted by tanks. There’s always been barely any way to get away from a Winston, but now the other tanks are involved it feels like a losing battle. Maybe some kind of defensive buffs are required, but I suspect it will be the opposite - making Mercy et al into attacking machines too so there is no backline to dive into.

New World: No Friends Allowed

Other than OW2, New World is the other game that has leapt into the Dragonflight gap. Like everyone I was keen to jump into the Brimstone Sands patch and see what was new and apparently better. I enjoyed my short time in the game (especially the gathering) until it became a ghost town.

I have one friend who stuck with it through thick and thin (and now thick again). I asked him why and he has a great answer: it’s the first MMO where he was there at the start and feels comfortable that he ‘knows’ the game. That’s no small thing and I envy that feeling: being a master-crafter, knowing the world and players, part of a server strong guild, etc.

He’s playing Warcraft too, but only joined shortly before Shadowlands so it’s impossible to feel properly on top of the billion systems and weight of history. Even I feel that in Warcraft, the overwhelmingness of it, despite having played it for so long. It took a few deep breaths to knuckle down and start working out the new/old Talent Trees for example.

Compare that to New World where because my friend has stuck with it he can adapt to changes and new features quickly due to the deep - or at least experienced - understanding. It’s one reason I’m really looking forward to the Riot MMO - a chance to get in at the ground level with a bound-to-be-polished new game. Just like New World was meant to be, but with a team that perhaps understands the MMO genre better from day one.

So I am and was ready to dive in again, even if briefly. But I’d forgotten the fundamental flaw with New World: you can’t play with friends if the server is full (naturally Belghast has covered this topic well). I needed to reroll on his server, but it’s locked for new characters. It’s soooo frustrating. I launch the game once each day to see if I can create a character, before closing it and going back to Warcraft UI fiddling or alt levelling. Even when the ‘fresh start’ servers are launched there’s no guarantee the OG servers will be unlocked.

Oh well. Maybe it will be fixed in time for the new WoW expansion!

Overwatch: Two too little

Overwatch 2 has launched neatly into the post-Shadowlands pre-Dragonflight dwaal, filling the gap perfectly. But it’s really only a sequel in name - the gameplay is very similar, the heroes too - so the only really new things are a fine-but-not-amazing new game mode and the (admittedly rather consequential) removal of a tank from each team.

Despite being so familiar it’s still a riot to play once you settle in. And because it’s a refresh there are short queues for every role, even DPS, meaning it’s easy to squeeze plenty of games in. There’s enough of the joy still there to make it worth playing, although the new monetisation system and shooter over quirky focus means the game is walking a fine line.

Removing a tank has made the entire game far more offensively focused. Unfortunately that also means there seems to be even less teamwork (in Quickplay) than there was a week ago in OW1. This is exacerbated by the changes made to many tank skills and abilities to make them less tanky and more frontline wreckers - each match now feels like the dive compilations of yore are the only way to play. Orisa has gone from being a defensive shield bringer to being a hard-to-kill offensive juggernaut. OW2 puts a lot more pressure on the solo-tank, and because of the increased emphasis on offence most tanks aren’t bothering to tank: instead, they just get into the fight and wreak havoc - just like a DPS.

The game feels faster as a consequence, more chaotic, and getting a non-team team makes it almost impossible to win with any confidence. I cannot imagine what it would be like coming in as a new player - I find it more difficult now to predict what anyone is going to do and I’ve played since launch. No consolidating behind the tanks, far fewer safe zones, and a lot less structure. There seems to be more of an emphasis on solo heroics rather than team play, despite the fact that when you do play as a team the wins are far more achievable. I guess playing Competitive would solve some of that, but I don’t like the pressure that mode brings.

Blizzard also removed the scorecard commendations at the end of a match, which is a shame. Those felt like a fun way to reward good team players, and it was nice to be on the receiving end occasionally. Now it’s a personal rather than shared recognition. And I really miss the ability to give kudos to the enemy team - sometimes you want to congratulate the enemy for superior play. Perhaps the system was being gamed, or it felt too punishing?

I really don’t like the new unlock/xp Battlepass system, which keeps reminding you that you haven’t paid for a season pass. Levelling up and being ‘rewarded’ with a notification that you can’t use the reward without the pass is demoralising. Despite loot boxes being cursed, getting one each time you levelled up in OW1 was generally a fun thing. Blizzard have a right to earn ongoing fees for service, but it’s being pushed too hard. Let it be there, but don’t rub our faces in it.

I’ve played almost exclusively Mercy so far (my DPS and Tank skills having atrophied almost completely), and she plays just the same - reliable, not spectacular, but able to keep a team going in a bad situation. And quietly fun. Unlike showboat Moira whose ultimate still seems crazily overpowered, but maybe that’s just healer-jealousy!

It feels much more like a (significant) patch than a new game. The big unknown is how the promised PvE modes will play. Hopefully they won’t be dropped (it’s been very quiet on that front), and given the intensity of the PvP player base it’s hard to imagine PvE drawing in new players in large numbers. Then again it could turn out to be dipped in the same magic sauce OW1 was when it launched. Here’s hoping.

OW2 is still a fun game, still has some stellar moments of hero interaction (combo-ults or last second saves), but I still miss the OG version where stacked teams of Symmetra or all-tank madness meant each game was totally different, and would adapt majorly during the fight to counter the enemy team. Those days have gone (despite the arcade mode variant) and it really feels like balance is the be-all-and-end-all. Instead of heroes with incredibly diverse skills and crazy specials, it’s now a more traditional shooter where everyone is balanced to a competitive ideal.

And just like OW1, it’s still impossible (for me at least) to get a Play of the Game as Mercy. Reinforcing an under-threat point with a well-timed ultimate whilst downing two of the opposition team isn’t enough - a Bastion that plonked down and mowed down two people got Play instead. Sigh.

Warcraft: Ultimate Sepulcher

After a long and entertaining journey, our raid team has reached The Jailer in Sepulcher of the First Ones.

But for one boss, Sepulcher was far easier for us than both Sanctum and Nathria, a sign that the majority of our raiders (a fun mix of vanilla vets and Shadowlands sign-ups) have their raid-legs now.

That one boss was Anduin, of course. What an amazing fight!

After finishing most bosses in low double figures, with Anduin we hit our first ever triple figure kill: 111 to be precise. Early on at that fight we realised that once/week wouldn’t be enough, as it takes us an hour each week to get back in the groove of a tricky fight. So we ran a few weeks of two night raiding, which helped, though not as much as expected. There were so many things to learn and co-ordinate in the fight, but, like most fights, in the end it came down to muscle-memorying each phase well enough to get to the next with everyone alive.

The 111th run felt inevitable the longer it went, and reaching the final stage with 12/13 raiders up and knowing we had a chance was thrilling and intense. It was only the 3rd time we’d reached Phase Four, so dropping him was very satisfying. Thank goodness that last phase was almost simple when compared to the preceding.

The raid group kneeling around the ghost of Anduin

It’s a great credit to our raiders that no-one dropped out or rage quit as the attempts mounted - everyone wanted this one. And we killed him before everyone started to get OP from the 9.2.5 patch, which was also very satisfying (for Sylvanas and Denathrius we were definitely OP - probably just as well!). Then again, this wasn’t a fight you could overpower with gear, it was mostly mechanics.

I’ve enjoyed most of the fights in Sepulcher, especially Anduin and Halondrus. Halondrus feels unique in the way it uses the environment and how the fight moves through the map. The sound design on that boss is also great, all booming robotic echoes and chaotic explosions. Sylvanas and Denathrius had movement too, but it was teleports and bampfs rather than progressing through a wholly visible zone. I hope Blizz create more fights like that, and less single room battles.

My appreciation for that fight in particular was largely due to following the Race for World First. The Mythic Halondrus attempts were mind-blowing: a single orb or dropped bomb wiped the raid, and there were so many sub 1% wipes. Echo took 361 attempts before finally defeating it.

After our first few runs, Jailer seems a simpler overall mechanic than Anduin, though there are a lot of ‘individual mistakes means wipe’ tests. It will be good to get the Jailer down and wrap up Shadowlands and it feels like that won’t take too long - or at least not another 111 attempts.

Somewhat hilariously, I solo tanked LFR Jailer during Fated Sepulcher week when the co-tank dropped out just as the fight started. Having five healers on one tank helped obviously, but LFR really is funny with how forgiving it is. It’s a good way to learn fights, though up until now I had resisted doing any until Jailer so as to be fresh with our guild runs.

(I’ll add my obligatory complaint about not earning gear upgrades in Raids but instead from world content, World Bosses, and Mythic+, a problem Nogamara at Battle Stance has also recently written about. Fated Raids help a little with upgraded drops, but if Mythic gear can scale up each season, why not let the raid rewards do the same? Knowing ahead of time that you’ll be vendoring 100% of raid drops is disappointing. While we’re in bah-humbug mode, a title or mount for completing Normal mode raids would be nice!)

In any case, we’re a very happy raid having had a lot of fun and working hard to get to the end. One boss to go and we’re ready for Dragonflight.

Warcraft: Penultimate Sanctum

Our once-a-week raid team is on the penultimate boss of Sanctum of Domination (Kel’Thuzad yet again!) having cleared Fatescribe Roh-Kalo on our 32nd attempt. We were on target to get through Sanctum before 9.2 launched but Fatescribe proved much harder than everything before. When we finally finished him off the celebration was one of relief more than exultation, though we were all very pleased with our strategic modifications that eventually got us over the line.

Posing around the remains

Sanctum has been interesting with some good fights and some less so. Flying around in the Eye was great and had some funny moments, as did Remnant of Ner’zhul with the platform knockbacks. We were stuck on Painsmith for a while (as I imagine everyone is until it starts to make sense), and most recently Guardian of the First Ones was a hard DPS wall until everyone found a few upgrades and took every possible consumable.

We run Normal mode, and one slightly disappointing thing we’ve all found is that the raid drops are generally worse than the maxxed out Korthia rep gear. It feels like any raid gear, even normal level, should be better than the best rep grind equipment. Some of the joy of downing a boss is reduced when we see the gear being a marginal improvement at best, and often worse. It’s a shame when gear drops are as disappointing as being rewarded 100 anima. At least there’s no chance of drama over who gets the drop!

Similarly to the gear, not being awarded a title (or mount, though I can see an argument for reserving that reward for heroic) for finishing a normal-level raid is disappointing. After finishing Nathria all we got was 2000 anima (sounds like a t-shirt)! Which is a terrible reward for months of effort. 32 runs at Fatescribe was about five hours of concerted work and that’s just one boss. I expect Normal raiders are the bulk or players (after LFR) and a title celebrating achieving a major content milestone would be appropriate.

Despite these minor gripes, working slowly but surely through a raid continues to be the best fun. Progressing from 87% ‘this is impossible’ to 0.1% ‘we got this’ (yep, 0.1%, not 1%!) wipes is immensely satisfying - albeit there was a lot of spicy language after missing that last 0.1%!

0.1% left on the boss