The new MMO hotness - at least until the next Kickstarter - is Ashes of Creation, which has surpassed $1.5m in funding from hungry fans. That’s a lot of faith in an unseen digital product, especially when compared to something like the Weta Workshop Heavy Hitters Kickstarter which raised $935k for a very impressive looking boardgame.
The Kickstarter is pretty standard, offering beta access and various levels of shiny limited pixels for getting on board. Nothing terribly compelling, though two people have taken up the $10k ‘Avatar of the Phoenix’ pledge, so I guess a launch party in Vegas works for them. I’m not that interested in beta play, something I discovered once receiving the Crowfall beta invite. I dutifully installed, logged on, made a mighty minotaur, found an entirely empty world, and logged out again. Haven’t been back, but I like the idea being able to once things get a bit more interesting.
Having become intrigued by AoC based on their node hype videos, it was surprising to find that the Kickstarter actually made me less inclined to support the game. Which I’m sure wasn’t the intended effect. The main problem is the incredibly boring race options. Bhagpuss sums it up perfectly:
There’s quite a lot of new information (or at least new to me) on the game itself. It details the eight races and the eight class archetypes for a start. Boy, do they look bland. When I heard they were starting with eight races I was hoping for the chance to play something other than the usual: human, human with pointy ears, ugly human or short human. Ashes of Creation gives you Human, Elf, Orc and Dwarf. So much for that, then. Also, splitting your four races in two does not give you eight races. Just sayin'.
Precisely. Like SWtoR before it, AoC has taken a fantasy world that could be populated with literally any kind of creature, and given us a choice of four humans. So dull! Our only hope for something different comes from the just revealed $2.5m stretch goal, which teases of a mysterious ‘beast like’ Underrealm race.
Less worrying, but still kind of blah, are the character classes, which fit every archetype like a glove, with little imagination. They even go so far as to name the tank class a…‘Tank’. I only wish they had gone the whole hog and called the healer ‘Heals’. I’m kind of hoping they are reverting to some kind of vanilla MMO basics in order to reinvent the whole paradigm. The pedigree of the team would support that admittedly hopeful hypothesis.
Speaking of the team, it’s a little concerning to see the 13 person team includes all of one woman, and she is (of course) the Community Manager. Which is a vitally important role, but it reeks of the (still sadly true) corporate cliche of the only woman on the management team being from HR.
Despite all that, I happily jumped on board at the second lowest tier. Friends asked what was the point of Kickstarting (and Syp asked himself the same question, and that’s a valid question given the sub model. For me it’s worth backing these things just for the gentle entertainment of seeing progress and updates and vaguely participating in the entire process of making a game. Once the inevitable mid-development malaise sets in, I’ll just be skimming - or more like ignoring (hi, Crowfall) - the email spam.
But then will come that magical day when we can logon to a brand new world and see what wonders and mysteries it reveals. Worth $40, easy.
In a not-quite-surprising but also quite-suprising move, the Overwatch team has introduced a PVE mode called ‘Uprising’ for the latest limited time patch. It’s not-surprising because they’ve done it before (with ‘Junkenstein’s Revenge’), but what is surprising is how they’ve suddenly made an Overwatch PVE game - dare we say an Overwatch MMO1 - seem possible.
Uprising is basically an MMO dungeon, rendered in the high-pace high-colour Overwatch universe. If you’ve ever played an MMO you’ll instantly be at home: there’s mini-bosses, routes, timers, tactics, and hard-modes. It even introduces and demands the (accursed?) trinity - tank/healer/DPS - to the game. It’s a nice change of pace to the more chaotic PVP play and has been extremely well received.
Funnily enough it also introduces some of the same problems MMO dungeons have. The first time I played it was several days after launch, and by then it seemed like most players already knew exactly what routes to take, what shortcuts, where the trash would spawn, and when to burn cooldowns. So coming in cold was instantly difficult as the expectation was go-go-go, the bane of MMO dungeon running if you prefer a more measured approach. Being Blizzard they were obviously expecting this, and have countered it a little by making four difficulty modes similar to the Normal/Heroic/Mythic steps in Warcraft et al, including a final ‘Legendary’ mode that has even hardcore players struggling.
Even the first step up from Easy to Hard mode makes it clear that the go-go-go approach won’t work for long, and that a little caution and communication is required.
Which is all very smart stuff if you’re preparing/training/testing your player base to see how a PVE game might work. Jeff Kaplan has hinted at more games in recent interviews, including this quote buried in an article about Overwatch character diversity on Polygon:
We think of Overwatch as being beyond the 6v6 shooter. We think of it as a universe we hope to build many games in some day.
Of course he would say that, and it’s also fairly flimsy ‘evidence’2, but there is obviously the possibility that Titan will raise phoenix-like from the incredible success of Overwatch. Which would make for an amazing story in itself given that title’s fraught history.
In Reinhardt’s words, bring it on.
In between tackling bigger games I’m still dabbling in Overwatch, and have recently stumbled upon some good resources for learning more about playing better.
First, and maybe surprisingly given it’s rep, there’s a pretty good Reddit group called Overwatch University. The name says it all, but one of the nice things seems to be the encouragement of positive feedback to even simple questions.
The second, and best, is a YouTube channel run by Skyline. This is a great resource full of educational stuff about heroes, maps, strategies, etc. Skyline is an extremely good communicator and teacher, but most of all he’s also pushing the positivity barrow. When he’s analysing VODs submitted by players, he takes a good humoured and encouraging line on everything he talks about, no matter how un-optimal some of the submissions are. It’s super refreshing - his ‘highlighted’ video is basically a recommendation that ‘having fun’ is the best way to get better. Wise words for any game.
Finally there was a good spontaneous Reddit AMA from Overwatch boss Jeff Kaplan, who has emerged as the Ghostcrawler of the OW team. He’s very open, communicates often, and the AMA is a good example of why the game maintains popularity despite nerfs, buffs, and loot box controversy. Plus, you learn excellent facts like:
The first hero we implemented was Tracer. We did not have any animations or gun models. So she shot laser beams from her eyes.
LASER BEAM EYE TRACER. YES!
After enjoying Dishonored, I felt like getting into a deep swords & sorcery type of game, and The Witcher 2 seemed the logical choice. Settling back into Geralt’s scarred and complex character was like pulling on a comfy t-shirt.
It’s a true epic1 of a game and story, and incredibly impressive. From the opening sequences where you find yourself in the midst of a full scale castle siege, to Dwarven citadels, Elven high citadels, and everything in between, the game oozes scale. As with Witcher 1, the story is well told, the main plot of politics and magic unfurled and intertwined with as many or few side quests as you’d like to partake. There are a lot of long static dialogue scenes, which can be a bit tiresome, but once you sink into the storytelling method it captivates - and you end up choosing every last bit of the dialogue trees on offer in order to flesh out the world and populace.
Most impressive of all are the hugely important narrative choices you can make. At the end of the first act, there is a choice between supporting two factions, and the entire second act is different depending on which choice you make. In other words you could play a quite different game based on one major decision. The developers have effectively created two games in one, not afraid to know that the audience will probably miss out on a huge chunk of content as a result.
The game world seems better planned than the first game, with less running to and fro delivering herbs. After Dishonored it was a bit jarring to suddenly find you couldn’t just jump off castle battlements, instead having to follow the developers rails, but you quickly adjust to the game’s intentions and mechanics. Character development is improved from the first game, and you can choose quite different play styles based on your preferences.
I went deep into swords, basically ignoring the magic and potion based gameplay. Playing on easy mode made that possible, I suspect any of the more difficult modes would require a more balanced approach. By the end of the game I was weaving impenetrable webs of steel with glee, which was fortunate given the challenges some of the boss fights presented.
The dialogue and characterisation is top notch, and, like Witcher 1, the European sensibility results in an adult and decidedly non-cliched approach to storytelling. Characters act and behave as real personalities, rather than storyboard plot devices. The Dwarves are a particular highlight, boisterous and tough as old boots, with lovely Scottish accents to match. And the trolls - genius.
Another nice touch is the save game import from the first game2, which impacts starting gear and some (minor) storytelling during this game. Obviously the same thing will apply to Witcher 3, which again will be swayed by some major story choices that are available late in the game. I played through two different endings and was quite amazed by the startlingly different results of the choices made.
I’d guestimate it took about 35-45 hours to play through, entirely worthwhile if you’re looking for a fantasy world you can sink your teeth into. I’m a little scared to start on Witcher 3 with it’s 100+ hours, but it’s definitely in the queue now.
I remember seeing adverts for Dishonored plastered all over busses driving around Sydney when it was released back in 2012. Another generic shooter I figured, ignoring it at the time. But I also remember seeing some pretty glowing reviews, and the release of DH2 to similar fanfare made playing the first game seem like a good idea. Plus a friend was keen for a playthrough - just the motivation required. And I’m super glad we did - Dishonored is an excellent first person adventure, leaving the well trodden path of the shooter to deliver something far more entertaining.
The keys to it’s success were the fact that you can choose entirely different methods of playing, and that the levels and zones have a refreshing non-linear nature and great freedom of movement.
Set in a steampunkian world that resembles Bioshock Infinite to a degree, you are tasked with clearing your name (hence: Dishonored1) after an assassination. So far so predictable, but once you start your quest the game delivers in delightful fashion.
You can approach the game as a run-and-gun shooter, blasting your way through everything, or as a stealth-based Thief-a-like. Compellingly, the choice you make impacts how the world reacts around you from level to level. Too much chaos and the guards are more alert. Too much death and the plague rats become more vicious. I snuck through the entire game virtually undetected using the invaluable x-ray vision - with copious reloads to do so - but the alternate approach is just as viable.
The level design is great, and the early introduction of a Nightcrawler-esque short distance teleport bampf suddenly opens up the game world to vertical and horizontal solutions. You can traverse the streets at great heights along balconies and rooftops, or scuttle through sewers and drains whilst possessing rats. The freedom of movement is very refreshing - trying other games after playing DH brings home the disappointment of not being able to go almost wherever you wish (looking at you Alien: Isolation - ‘no you can’t jump over that tiny wall or move through that obvious gap’).
There are optional goals for each level to satisfy replayability, objects and runes to discover to empower your skills, and the plot is satisfyingly political and mostly sensible (unlike the aforementioned Bioshock Infinite, which whilst fun had a nigh on impossible plot to unravel). DH also throws you straight into the main story, and keeps you there, which means it’s refreshingly short too - probably around 20-30 hours. Definitely recommended. Looking forward to DH2, maybe when the DH3 bus ads start appearing.
Ugh leaving out the ‘u’ is difficult. ↩︎