Marvel Heroes: The Ant-Man cometh

anthillI am deeply grateful that there is no Marvel superhero called Lice-Man (as far as I know) — I wouldn’t be able to stop scratching myself for a week.

I am also completely amazed that an Ant-Man movie actually got made. I mean, Avenger or no, he’s not the most well-known in the public sphere. Plus, “tons of bugs” is rarely a selling point with cinematic audiences (see Joe’s Apartment, et al). I guess it’s a testimony to the powerhouse of the Marvel namebrand these days that they’re able to push something like this out of the door with all seriousness and be rewarded for it. Then again, it wasn’t like Iron Man was on the average person’s lips until the movie took him from B-list to A-list overnight.

So with the Ant-Man movie comes Ant-Man to Marvel Heroes, because how could the studio resist? It’s going to be the last film in a while where a headlining character isn’t already in the game (Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel are upcoming movies, but their characters have long been in MH). Might as well make the most of it.

I’ve been growing in excitement over playing this character, so it was a good day when I finally got to slip into his powered suit and take it out for a test drive. I’m taking him through the new consolidated story mode instead of doing the Midtown/ICP/legendary quest route, just to see how it handles. So far leveling feels on pace, although it’s somewhat more difficult to gear him up.

The combination of flavors is what makes Ant-Man tick. He’s a brawler (I particularly like the skill that sends him ping-ponging between nearby foes to punch their lights out), he’s got gadgets, he can shrink (and grow), and he controls 10,000 ants at a time. Visually, it’s a treat to see him constantly change size and do some pretty wacky things, but for me it’s all about the ants.

I was hoping that his ant mastery would translate into an epic summoner, but I guess Gazillion is full up on summoners right now and decided to take a slightly different tack. While he does get to bring out a slew of ants (nicely animated in moving swarms) on command, they’re more there as a resource to be used up in special attacks than a constant moving DoT (aka Squirrel Girl’s army). The attacks are pretty neat, tho; I like the giant fist of ants that bursts out of the ground to deal damage to a cluster of enemies.

What I’ve ended up using a lot more than ants, even, is his blaster cone attack. It looks pretty cool and attacks in a nice wide swath in front of him.

While there’s a sense of novelty and some potential here, Ant-Man’s getting really mixed reviews on the forums, with many saying that he is underpowered and doesn’t have any good builds available yet. I’m still trying to figure out a rotation and what skills work best, but I will lend my voices to those who think that the ant mechanic needs some reworking.

I need a lot more time with Ant-Man before coming to any sort of judgment on him, but I will say that he’s a hero that doesn’t stand still for long. Lots of movement and size adjustment, all while using ants to control the battlefield. Could be something. I sure hope so, because I’m fairly invested at this point.

Battle Bards Episode 55: Star Wars: The Old Republic

swtorposterA long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, three Battle Bards decided to give Star Wars: The Old Republic its own show (finally). While we’ve talked about SWTOR many times before on the podcast, this week we’ll go full-on space opera with our look into what made this soundtrack both memorable and maddening!

Episode 55 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Star Wars Main Theme” and “Peace, the Jedi Consular”)
  • “Main Theme (Clash of Destiny)”
  • “Shapa Keesay (Shape-Shifter)”
  • “Romance”
  • “Tatooine, the Desert Sands”
  • “The Occupation of Balmorra”
  • “Revan’s Theme”
  • “Bravado, the Smuggler”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox: The Witcher 3, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, Dragon Quest X
  • Outro (featuring “Yesterday’s Jawa”)

Listen to episode 55 now!

WildStar: Political satire, stand, or story?

ecoI’ve always assumed that most game studios — like most of Silicon Valley and the entertainment sector — lean pretty heavy to the left politically. Usually it’s not an issue in-game (public statements on Twitter, in interviews, and elsewhere online is different), since I also get the feeling that most MMO devs aren’t out to stir up controversy by touching any sensitive topics as part of the game world and quests. I mean, you’ll always offend somehow, but no need to seek it out by grabbing hold of those political, social, or religious third rails.

I think that’s why MMO storylines and quests are fairly safe — and usually black (the mobs) and white (us). People of most walks of life can settle into gaming and agree to have fun together without dragging in the opinion section of a newspaper.

But once in a while I do see noteworthy quests and storylines that could be construed as a writer or studio pressing an agenda or viewpoint. Oddly enough, I am not opposed to these. I don’t need them all of the time, but I don’t want game designers flinching away from treating MMOs as they would “serious” video games, books, or other forms of literature. The RIFT: Storm Legion storyline that dealt with rape, animal abuse, murder, and willful ignorance of those in power stuck with me because while it was raw, it told an important story and allowed for some small measure of justice to be attained. Or back when an industry figure (I honestly forget who) was calling out a quest in World of Warcraft that had players needlessly torture a captive.

Anyway, the other night when I was playing WildStar I realized that the foes I had been attacking as part of challenges and quests were Aurin — and in fact eco-terrorists called the Thorns of Aboria or something. Considering that I was attacking them on behalf of the corporate Protostar, I found myself amused and curious as to whether any political statement was being made here. Making Captain Planet’s Planeteers the bad guys — even in a very light-hearted, run-of-the-mill sense — made me wonder if this was a sly conservative message, meta satire, or really just fluffy details that shouldn’t demand overthinking.

But at the least I like it when a game makes me notice the details and has me think. If you get past the stylized design and the goofy nature, WildStar is less afraid to weave a myriad of touchier topics into its world without grandstanding on any of them. I get the feeling that if you want to read into them, the devs wouldn’t mind, but they’re just as dismissable if you want to play the game. It’s an interesting approach.

SWTOR: Why is it so hard to play the bad guy?

kronkEvery time I roll up a new SWTOR character, I keep having the best of intentions to walk down the dark side. After all, my operative is pure light (with a few revenge-related hiccups along the way), so it’s all about seeing how the other side lives. But the weird thing is… I’ve never been able to stick with a dark side character for very long. I simply cannot connect with one.

It could partially be that most “evil” choices are of a sociopathic nature, playing to murder, betrayal, and utter greed. Extremes aren’t always that attractive. But I think a more important aspect is that I’m always looking to connect with my character, and while I might make noise sometime about being the rebel anti-hero in a game, there’s a line that gets crossed when my avatar becomes the bad guy or gal.

Playing an evil character, for me, satisfies a morbid curiosity about what may happen if I pull the red lever. It may even be gratifying to not always play by the goodie two-shoes rules or to put annoying NPCs in their place. But very rarely does it end up endearing that character to me.

Weird as it may sound, I genuinely care what NPCs “think” of my character. I certainly do care what I think of him or her too. When I am helpful in a quest or perform some feat of justice, it makes me smile inside. I become endeared to this character, because they’re what I’d envision I would do if I was in their place and had their capabilities (and utter fearlessness of death).

None of us in real life are truly good, but I think that most of us aspire to be and are attracted to virtues lived genuinely. It shouldn’t be surprising that these feelings translate into video games, especially ones that seek to emulate (on a basic level) the moral choices we face.

Thinking of all of this, I had to pull the plug on my new bounty hunter. I just couldn’t play the bad guy, even over on the Empire side. I spent my monthly cartel coin allowance to unlock a Twi’lek and rolled up a new (female, because the male voice is way too deep for my taste) bounty hunter.

I made a game of seeing how quickly I could blitz through Hutta to catch up with where my old character was at. I think I clocked in at under an hour, picking light side choices all of the way through. This time around, the character “fit” a lot better and I was able to sink into the role. Sure, she may go dark side choice now and then if it fits the situation, but she’s not going to be cutting off any more heads and giving them to grieving widows.

Marvel Heroes: Queen of the Squirrels

squirrelWell, I did it. After 500 runs through cosmic Kingpin’s Warehouse, I finished up my Doc Ock takedown achievement and got my coveted Octobot Controller. It’s a thing of beauty, too, with two additional levels of summon powers on top of other goodies. The controller is the last major piece of gear that I needed for her build, although I’m sure there’s still more to do to increase her stats.

I don’t mind having put in those 500 runs, either. In addition to the controller, I acquired countless runes, relics, a few very good uniques, and scads of omega points. I can’t check right now how many I’m up to, but it’s definitely a few hundred more than when I began.

Speaking of Squirrel Girl, I am beyond pleased that she’s got a new costume on the way (her Unbeatable Squirrel Girl outfit from the new comics). Love the detail on it, just wish it was here already.

Today’s the big Ant-Man update with the new story mode consolidation. I’m very interested in seeing how leveling goes with that now, especially since you only have to run through it all once. He’s not quite the summoner I was anticipating, but the more I’ve looked into his abilities and playstyle, the more I’m actually keen to get ahold of him. Should be going to see the movie this weekend too — it’s been getting good reviews. Sometimes you need a smaller superhero flick to balance all of the massive ones.

SWTOR: Ravaging the Ravagers

op1I logged into SWTOR last night with lightly ambitious plans to work on my bounty hunter (who is now on Dromund Kaas, has a companion, and three speeders to boot). And while I did run one instance with him as a healer — with not one, but TWO heals at my disposal! — my plans got waylaid when my guild invited me to join in on a story-mode Ravagers operation.

Sure, why not? I don’t think I’ve ever done an op in SWTOR before, certainly not this past year due to the free-to-play restriction. But now I’m part of that special sub club. I had no illusions that I was going to add a great amount of DPS to the team (I’m only just geared enough for an entry-point to hard modes and operations), but I guess a little is better than nothing.

It’s always weird when you step into an instance where everyone else knows the fights intimately and you’re just struggling to figure out what the heck is going on. While everyone was kindly explaining over Mumble what to do, it still made me feel like a little child who was being babysat: “No, Timmy, don’t eat worms. Don’t stand in the fire, either.” But we had good healers and I didn’t die, so at least it wasn’t as embarassing as it could’ve been.

op2The one cool thing about raids is that the devs tend to put some really cool visuals into them. I rather enjoyed this romp around the backwoods (so to speak) of Rishi. The fights weren’t too tough — story mode and all — but I’ve been having some problems with this computer that it’s struggling to handle everything that’s going on. I even reduced my graphics to medium, but still most of the fights were stuttery, slide show affairs that further cemented the feeling of being semi-useless.

Although considering that I haven’t really played my operative in a good while, I was pleased that my combat rotation came back to me rather fast.

op3I think my guild liked me being there simply to show off what they had seen a hundred times before. Everyone had a good laugh about a couple of cutscenes where suddenly your character is surrounded by a team that’s made up of complete strangers, including Fat Jedi and Astronaut Dude. Where did they come from? Where do they go? It’s all a mystery.

In the end we were victorious and I came away with a small pile of loot upgrades, including two new implants, a couple of headpieces, and more. I followed up the operation by heading back to Yavin-4 and farming slicing nodes for a while. Another nice benefit of being a subscriber is no more 350K credit cap; now I can get as rich as I want. I’m rounding on a million credits now, although I don’t have any specific purchase in mind. Everyone’s saving up for the Yavin stronghold, which might be interesting to buy.

SWTOR: Bodyguards ‘R Us

star1One upshot of my recent Final Fantasy XIV adventures is that I’ve come to realize that I have a deep desire to not only get back into the MMO dungeon scene, but to be a healer too. And that is a bit of a problem with much of my current line-up — mostly TSW, WildStar, and Marvel Heroes — all of which doesn’t quite offer me the experience to do that. I’m not set up as a healer in TSW (and don’t like the healing branches anyway), WildStar’s dungeons feel too frantic for me, and Marvel Heroes doesn’t really have healing characters and the traditional dungeon.

So in a weird way, FFXIV ended up pushing me right back into SWTOR’s arms. I had previously written SWTOR off for the summer until the expansion, but when I read the recent dev diary about flashpoint and operation changes, I thought that it might not be the worst idea in the world to roll up a new healer-focused character. I even subbed up for the time being, mostly to try the 12x leveling experience, but also because it gets me some extra goodies and allows my level 60 to snag the Yavin-4 companion gear sets that were previously denied to me as a F2P player.

Another nudge in this direction came when someone told me that — and I had no idea why I was ignorant of this — the bounty hunter offers a healing spec. That was perfect for me, since it would let me stay in my guild on the Empire side and play a non-force using class.

starrrrrSo Yeeti, Yeti’s older brother, was born. I went with another Chiss because the other races weren’t clicking with how I saw the character, but unlike Yeti, I’ll be playing him dark side through-and-through. Kind of a cutthroat merc who might be nice to his teammates but will never turn down a chance to get even or make a buck.

The 12x experience really is so much different than the traditional route. I wouldn’t want to do this on my first time through, and even now it’s making my eye twitch to be passing up all of these other (now unnecessary) quests. But I do appreciate how the personal story isn’t being broken up, but can be experienced straight through.

And then there’s the fact that you complete a mission and jump up two or three levels in a go. I haven’t even finished Hutta yet and I’m already level 13. I’ve had to buy some armor to make up for the lack of helpful quest rewards.

star3Still lugging around this corpse, I guess in my side pocket. Better turn it in soon or she’s going to start to smell.

I’m fairly excited about the potential to start running dungeons soon and try my hand at the bodyguard spec. Apart from heals, Yeeti is eschewing most of the bounty hunter toolset to focus on blaster skills. Hey, it’s just a for-fun character, and I get more enjoyment out of running around blasting things instead of shooting missiles and darts and flamethrowers, so why not?

I am looking forward to seeing the full bounty hunter quest line. I previously played a BH a couple of years back and got through most of chapter 1, but little past that.