With a new expansion being announced, I decided it was finally time to play Legion. This appears to be my traditional approach now - not playing until it’s almost too late. I’ve realised that some of this is down to wanting to avoid the expansion level rush, and the pressure to ‘keep up’, but waiting 14 months was probably overdoing it. On the plus side, it has meant a very relaxed and meandering approach to getting to 110.
As a Tauren I headed straight to Highmountain, which turned out to be one of my favourite zones in the game. An entire region dedicated to moose horned Tauren was as good as it sounds (if you’re that way inclined). The Taunka zones in WotLK came close, but Highmountain was something special.
You’re tasked with reuniting the scattered tribes of Highmountain, with each having their own story and theme. The quests are wide and varied and there’s plenty of exploring to be done. The mountainous design of the zone led to some terrific viewpoints once you’d circuitously scaled your way to the top of a distant peak. Perfect for the snow loving brigade out there.
There are also many named mobs - aka Silver Dragons - scattered throughout the zones, and they’re all worth seeking out for both the loot and (minor) fight challenges. There are plenty of nooks and crannies that you stumble upon, with either small stories to tell or sometimes just flavour. And of course the Murlocs are plentiful.
Draenor introduced the concept of treasures into Warcraft, and they are used in Legion to great effect as a tool to lead you to far and varied locales. Some are easy, some are tricky and may require add-on help to find, and it’s a fun addition and nice levelling boost to boot.
I would quite happily have spent the entire levelling process in Highmountain if it were possible, but as it was I had run out of content by level 105. So I grumblingly bid farewell to my home away from home and headed off to Stormheim, picked mainly due to the name sounding good. And it was quite good, with the grappling mechanic in particular being fun. Early on you’re equipped with a grapple, and throughout the zone there are vertiginous points to attach to. These allow you to scale crazy cliffs and scoot overhead through enemy Vrykul villages, which is all good fun.
The story was less compelling, but I am biased, and the zone overall had a bit of a dreary tone to it - it seemed to be raining 75% of the time I was there. I’d love to see it in sunlight as some of the vistas and golden leaves look nice. It’s a pity the Vrykul aren’t one of the new BfA playable races, but I suspect their size would be a problem (they tower over Tauren), but the models for the Highmountain are all excellent which more than makes up for it.
Just as I was done with the main Stormheim storyline I dinged 110. So it only took two zones out of four, covering most treasure finding and mini bosses, which seems much quicker than other expansions. It was nice how each zone story culminated in a dungeon, though being so far behind the curve meant the dungeons were being cleared faster than I could loot, let alone fire off a few shots on a boss.
As usual once hitting cap, the game suddenly changes tack. Instead of venturing around helping shore up our forces, you’re suddenly invited to help save some ghostly Night Elves in Suramar (and spend the rest of your days there I assume). Can’t say that was very tempting, especially after the, er, highs of Highmountain, so I think it’s back to the other two zones for me. Or maybe some alts.
Having finally played the 10 levels, I tend to agree with those that find the Beastmaster Hunter class less satisfying to play now. You are now mainly about controlling your menagerie of pets more than anything else, which leads to the animation spending a fair amount of time showing you doing anything but firing your bow. That’s kind of disappointing, as is losing Kill Shot which allowed you to land those satisfying final blows on low health mobs. Time to try Marksmanship on another character, though running without a pet may be a step too far.
The other major Legion mechanic is of course the Artifact weapon. I enjoyed slowly powering up Titanstrike, though around level 109 it suddenly ground to a halt with thousands of points being required. Which made it even stranger hitting 110, when suddenly the meager 25 point boost items in by bags morphed into 25 million point boosts. Obviously a catch up mechanic, it did make the slow progress I had made to that point kind of redundant. May have well have waited to 110 and powered up the lot on one go.
Overall Legion feels like an excellent expansion, I feel kind of silly having missed most of it. Though with BfA probably a year off, there’s plenty of time to see more.
After attending PAX Aus last year, I was keen to go again but pondering if maybe every second year was sensible. Then it was announced that Acquisitons Inc, Penny Arcade’s RPG spin-off, would be making its first trip to Australia which sealed the deal. Just like last year, it was time and money well spent.
Because AI was on Friday, and my nephews could only go Saturday, I plumped for a two day pass this time. It was definitely worth it just due to Friday being far less crowded in vendor land. There was plenty of space to try things, even the (still) hot Playstation VR setup (which was impossible to try on Saturday). Microsoft had a fully fledged tall ship docked outside on to demo the very promising Sea of Thieves, Square Enix challenged players to run boss fights in FFXIV (complete with running commentary), and best of all was an oasis in the chaos created by two picnic chairs setup for some super relaxing fishing in Far Cry 5 - a minigame within the larger shooter that made buying the full game much more appealing.
Last year Overwatch dominated all, but this year it was clear that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was top dog. It was everywhere, on massive screens with pro players competing in demo world, and being played by the amateurs on the majority of the PC free play machines.
I played for a few hours, and came away pretty meh about it. The concept is fun, with the slowly ratcheting tension, but like most combat simulators it comes down to who has the better headshot, and that was definitely not me. There is a lot of hiding and waiting for the map to shrink, which was kind of boring after a while, but the other option - run and gun hunting - means certain death. The graphics and animation are incredibly janky and second rate for such a popular game. I think I’ll give Fortnite’s version a go - it looks a bit more graphically entertaining - and see if there’s more action/less toe-tapping on offer.
The AI session was great, despite it not being D&D as I’d hoped. Instead the team ran Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, which turned out to be great fun with an intriguing dice system. Instead of one dice hit/miss rolls, multiple dice are rolled to decide the outcome of the action as well as other things like advantage or special heroic actions. It meant that sometimes an attack would miss completely but the player nevertheless earned some advantage actions, that would allow fun things like reflected laser fire or setting off fire suppressant systems.
The success of watching 5 people doing live role play in a massive theatre is very dependent on the players and GM, and lucky for us these guys were all great. Hearing an audience of thousands draw breath as a dice roll went wrong - or cheering when it went right - is pretty entertaining. As is rules-lawyering from the crowd! It was especially impressive to watch Penny-Arcade’s Gabe in the GM role, given he was suffering from a major anxiety attack at the time. Much appreciated that he not only hung in there but GM’d with aplomb (and it was super nice seeing Tycho, his long term sparring partner, subtly supporting him during the game).
As with last year, the cosplay was amazing, the tabletop section a highlight, and the enthusiasm and acceptance of the crowd was inspiring. The sign out front says ‘Welcome Home’, and that seems a perfect description of PAX - it’s a home for the people who want to dress up as elves, wear man-skirts, paint miniatures for hours, argue about the intricacies of role playing systems, and play all of the games.
The idea of vanilla servers had gone of the boil, so much that even the super obvious ice cream jokes didn’t alert me, so watching the short teaser for Warcraft Classic was jaw dropping. I still get a thrill watching the original cinematic, so finishing on the Dwarf Hunter setting off on his journey was perfect. It will be interesting to follow how this pans out.
There is very little detail, and obviously a lot of questions to be answered, but it is exciting to consider officially starting afresh. I hope they follow Everquest’s lead and take the approach of polling the community for decisions for some things (like expansions timetables or unlocks of features).
“One of the things we do know is that by announcing this, we’re in the WoW Classic business forever. Once that starts, there’s a commitment on our end that we’re going to continue maintaining those servers for as long as there is a World of Warcraft.”
Meanwhile in the current Warcraft timeline the new Battle for Azeroth expansion was announced. This was more predictable, though the pitting of Alliance vs Horde perhaps took some by surprise. Legion has seen the factions work together, and the opening ceremony boasted of the togetherness of the Blizzard community, so renting them asunder in Warcraft was perhaps unexpected.
I have a strong Horde bias, and don’t mind the idea of there being an ongoing struggle for superiority. Hints of a raid vs the other faction (“shouldn’t we be raiding a member of the opposite faction? he said this slyly!") sounds very interesting - if they can pull off something like the Broken Shore climax where the two factions are fighting in a single raid toward an ultimate boss, that could be very nice.
Overall though the excitement of a new expansion announce seemed quite subdued, so there is work to be done by Blizzard to convince the fans this is the right direction for Warcraft to take. The main thing I liked about the announcement was the ability to play Highmountain Tauren as a new race.
Also, and maybe it was just me, but was it super weird seeing Anduin dressed as Mordred from John Boorman’s brilliant Excalibur?
Meanwhile over in Overwatch land, the announcement of a new hero, new map, and new cinematic came as no surprise. Moira looks like a great addition, and it sounds like she plays well too. A channeled heal powered by channeled damage draining is a great mechanic, and her ultimate sounds lethal - or opaf as Jeff Kaplan (who was the best by far of the Blizzard presenters) put it.
I’m not sure where it leaves Mercy though - the constant nerfing of her signature rez may mean she’s relegated to a very secondary role with Moira on the scene. Mind you, watching the Overwatch World Cup finals, it does seem like Mercy changes the small one on one victories and pace of the matches a little too much even with the nerfs, so perhaps the rez rethink really is required.
The finals were good to watch, Blizzard has improved the spectator experience a lot with team colours and permanent x-ray, though there is still work to be done to direct the camera work to the right place at the right time.
The new map, Blizzard World, looks like fun in a super meta way, and I guess they’ll sneak it into the lore as it actually appears: a theme park in a fantasy world where Blizzard and their games is a thing. Kind of like the X-Men comics that appeared in Logan.
The Reinhardt cinematic was gorgeous and interesting, as it painted him as a bit of a jerk, which took some of the oomph out of the live crowd’s reaction to the unveil. Having the voice actor on the spot was a win though - very discombobulating hearing Reinhardt’s voice coming out of a dapper fellow in a suit.
Overall Blizzcon was a fun series of reveals and teasers, with the Classic server being the most intriguing, and unfortunately the one we’ll have to wait longest for. Major props to the Wowhead, Blizzard Watch, and Massively OP teams for the coverage - no need for a virtual ticket with those teams on the case.
Tyler F.M. Edwards over at Superior Realities wasn’t impressed by the Destiny 2 PC beta:
It proved to be a deeply disappointing experience. Not because of anything wrong with the game, but because the beta offered such a small sliver of it as to be entirely pointless.
Having also played the beta I can see where he’s coming from. For someone who never played the console original, there was no tutorial or explanation of what was going on, you are more or less just thrown in and told ‘go’. And there was only really the intro run and a single PvE mission to try out (unless you like PVP).
In fairness to Bungie it was meant to be a beta, not a free ‘check this out’ weekend, or an introduction to the game. However unfortunately for Bungie that’s exactly how a lot of PC players treated it, especially those that always wanted to play Destiny but never owned a console. For those players, it was a bit of a mystery how everything worked, but like any shooter it’s pretty quick to pick up the basics. And I assume the full release will offer a much better paced introduction to the concepts.
I had played Destiny, on PS4, and admired how the game looked and felt, but as usual found a controller hopeless for FPS shooters. So I was super pleased to hear D2 would come out on PC. It seemed to play pretty much exactly the same as the original, though apparently there have been (controversial) changes to loadouts and how you can equip certain weapons.
It’s a fast paced, in your face gun shooter, with hordes of faceless aliens and the occasional boss. After playing the intro I didn’t feel particularly compelled to keep going, but I queued up for The Inverted Spire, the only ‘Strike’ (aka dungeon) available, and I’m glad I did. It was a great showcase of what I assume is D2’s best content (other than raids), a three player fight against the environment and some nasty bosses. It was surprisingly lengthy, and surprisingly challenging in parts. My pug was silent but helpful, rezzing when you were down and even sticking around to retry the boss when we wiped.
It often looks spectacular, particularly some of the set pieces. Massive - really massive - mining equipment grinding a pit into the ground was a highlight, as was coming up against the final boss who drops you through floors and takes a lot of shooting and agility to take down.
My main disappointment is not being able to convince any of my gaming friends to even try the beta. As usual, the social/schedule boss is the hardest to defeat. It seems like the kind of game that would be excellent for a three person team to challenge, particularly if the dungeon quality is maintained throughout.
Bungie are spending a lot of time emphasising that D2 missions and raids should require planning before attempting, so a good team and good comms seems like being essential. So it’s a solid ‘maybe’ - with three like minded players I can imagine it being a compelling challenge, but as a solo player it probably doesn’t offer enough gameplay variation.
(Images borrowed from the Internet, as I forgot to screenshot before it was all over)
Dishonored 2 follows in the esteemed footsteps of the first game - both great, involving, story based FPSs.
As with the first installment, it wastes no time putting you straight into the game, only this time you have a choice between Corvo (protagonist of the first game) and Emily, the (now) Empress. The choice seems to make a fairly substantial difference to how the game plays out, or at least the reactions to your presence, so it’s not simply window dressing to allow a male or female lead.
You’re introduced to your powers in short order, and spend the game tweaking them via runes and bone charms that are hidden throughout the world. It’s designed to allow you to craft how you want to play: run and gun, hide and sneak, or some combination of both. As in the first game, the vertical movement allowed by your powers opens up the game to great creative ways to progress through levels. There were several levels where I barely touched the ground, instead bampfing around ledges, rooftops and sentry poles with the patrolling guards none the wiser.
The real strength of D2 comes in the level design. Two in particular - the Clockwork Mansion and Aramis Stilton’s Mansion - are stunning pieces of work. The first is, as the label says, made of Clockwork, and you have to learn its mechanical secrets to get through the puzzles and guards. And the the second opens up an entire new time based system that is ingenious and brain stretching to decipher, but the rewards are great when you do.
It’s worth mentioning and applauding how the game treats women: no differently to men. The developers don’t make a fuss about it or single women out, it’s just entirely normal that there are an equal number of female guards and NPCs as there are men. Similarly with the heroes and villains, people are just people rather than being defined by their sex. It’s refreshing and shows how (relatively) easy it is to accomplish balance in a genre that often suffers the reverse.
Entirely worth playing, especially if you play the first one, um, first, as some of the background and echoes of the past come through very strongly in the sequel. Added bonus: if you start now, there’s just enough time to play through before the next expansion - Death of the Outsider - which is due soon.