BlizzCon? More like ZzzCon.

Is it just me, or was this one of the most underwhelming BlizzCons in, well, ever?

I had a gut feeling from advance mentions and hints that we should be setting our expectations really low for BlizzCon this year, but it turns out that “low” wasn’t low enough. I could forgive the extremely annoying preshow announcers (who were calling the experience of eating breakfast cereal “AMAZING!”) and even the various low-key presenters who looked painfully uncomfortable in front of the crowd (I’m looking at you, J. Allen Brack), but this was obviously a year in which the studio had nothing great to say about its lineup.

World of Warcraft had no new expansion nor classic server announcement to spring on us, and so instead we got a lame tease of Patch 8.1 and a Summer 2019 launch date for WoW Classic. That’s pretty much it. I wasn’t expecting much, but c’mon… they could have at least hinted at 8.2 or beyond. They might have said something about Old Gods. I watched the keynote looking for some reason to be really enthusiastic about WoW, and they gave me nothing. I know they talked a bit more about future patches in the panel, but even after reading up on that, I’m not seeing anything that new, surprising, or engrossing.

Overwatch had a strong showing, although that isn’t at all interesting to me. Heroes got a new hero, Hearthstone got a new expansion, and StarCraft II got its corpse dragged in front of everyone so they could acknowledge that it still exists.

The Warcraft III remaster — which had been rumored — received some positive reception. I suppose it’s something if we’re not getting Warcraft IV, but again, I’m not that keen to play a game that I played way back when I was still in love with RTS titles. I’ve moved on.

Then there was Diablo. We all knew that this show was going to be Diablo’s moment, and with multiple projects in the works, perhaps we were going to get a lot of reveals. Instead, Blizzard talked up the Nintendo Switch launch and then announced Diablo Immortal, an MMO mobile version.

Now to be fair, this is kind of interesting to me. I’ve really wanted a good Diablo experience on my smartphone ever since I had my first iPhone back in 2009, and I am sure that I’ll be playing this a lot more than I did Diablo III. It does seem like a good toilet break — er, Bio Break — game, doesn’t it? As long as it loads quickly and plays smoothly, I’ll be there. I know it’s a huge disappointment to many, and I get why, but I’m a little more flexible on this because I’m not as passionately invested in the Diablo franchise.

Alas, with that one medium-sized bullet fired, Blizzard slunk off-stage and we weren’t left with much to be that excited about. I suppose that WoW Classic’s demo is supposed to bear the weight of that franchise at this moment, but in a way, that all feels like last year’s announcement leftovers reheated.

I guess it’s a good sign for me that my decision to push WoW to the gaming backburner is justified. There is a lot else to play and a busy month of gaming ahead, so I’ll stay the course and hope that next year’s BlizzCon will give us something to talk about once more.

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Diablo 3: Machine gun in leather boots

demonh

I would post a picture of my character, but currently I’m wearing the most ridiculous headpiece and I’m ashamed of it (even though it’s legendary).

So like several fellow bloggers, I jumped on board Diablo 3 this past Friday for the start of Season 5. For me, this was my first time participating in a season and potentially completing the game (I’ve only gotten through Act 2 in the past — and it’s been a while). Instead of going with my traditional Witch Doctor (for pets), I decided to start up a Demon Hunter instead. It helped that I learned just a week or so ago that the DH gets a companion pet, and that tipped me over into trying out a new class.

I wasn’t power-leveling to 70 like others in our guild; I needed to relearn the game and wanted to explore the full story before buckling down and doing the seasonal stuff (I have three months, anyway).

I bumped up the difficulty to hard and went at it. My main focus was just to experiment with the different skills and builds at the Demon Hunter’s disposal to see what worked best for me. I took an early shine to rapid fire, although multishot is pretty awesome for screen-clearing potential. I haven’t been killed yet, so perhaps it’s time to push the difficulty higher, I don’t know.

I was pretty excited to start getting legendary drops here and there, which certainly helped to bolster my character to the point where it was actually hard for her to take damage when fighting bosses.

It’s all mostly mindless fun, like popping bubblewrap. There’s a certain satisfaction from going on a massacre or clearing an entire screen and then running around to pick up all of the loot left behind. I got into the mid-20s (I am slow, I know) and part of the way through Act II.

Even though I’m enjoying playing it, I foresee difficulty writing blog posts about Diablo 3 in the future. What am I going to say — “I clicked! I clicked again! More clickage!”? Action RPGs are the popcorn of gaming: fun to partake but not with as much substance as other titles.

It’d be great to get to 70 and figure out what I’m supposed to be doing as part of the progression track. I read some posts that made me go a little cross-eyed at everything to be done, but like everything, it doesn’t all need to be done at once. Little bit at a time and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Postscript

Last night I switched over to adventure mode and… yeah, this is what I should be playing. Missions that skip you around the map and lots and lots of XP. I started zipping up through the levels pretty quickly — and I got my sentry turret, which is now my favoritist thing in the whole world. Well, my wife, my children, and then my sentry turret that shoots homing missiles. If only my kids could shoot off homing missiles.

Diablo III: Jumping spiders or exploding frogs?

d3I haven’t gotten a lot of spare time to run around in Diablo III as of late, but I try to log in for at least 15 minutes a day to push my Witch Doctor a few more steps through Act I.  It’s still surprisingly enjoyable in a mindless, bubble-popping way.  I suffered a lot of indecision on the class choice, as none really were calling out to me, but pets plus some pretty visually funky attacks have endeared me to the WD.

Right now I’m running around with poisonous zombie dogs, tossing out exploding frogs, and generally feeling OK about my choices in life.  I’m hitting a level every play session or so, which almost always unlocks a new skill or rune or follower ability, and I’ve even found a couple of legendaries (I have legendary pants!  My pants are legendary!  They emit a stench when enemies are near!  I can’t stop telling my friends this!).

Above all, what really endears this game to me is its atmosphere.  It’s like going through a giant Halloween playground with all sorts of visually impressive set pieces.  I forgot about the farmer you rescue who has his wife — now a skeleton in a rocking chair — down in the cellar.  It’s a goofy, grim world that would actually be pretty enjoyable to play as a proper over-the-shoulders MMO, methinks.  But this is almost as good and still quite visually detailed.

Last night I hit level 21 and finished up Act I.  It had been pretty much a cakewalk up to that point, so I bumped up the difficulty level from normal to hard, which started to feel more like a challenge.  I also got two skills I was looking forward to: my gigantic zombie pet and a fireball basic attack.  The last time I played Diablo III, I never progressed far into Act II, so I’m looking forward to seeing what lies beyond the boundaries of my past experience.

Weekend gaming report

gwwwwwwI had a very busy if scattered weekend of gaming, so here’s what I’ve been up to:

LOTRO: I’ll write up a longer post later on about the continuing adventures through Update 13.  It definitely feels like a much smaller edition so I’m trying hard not to zoom through it too quickly.  If nothing else, it reminded me how much I dislike the visuals of Isengard and am very glad I’m leaving that place behind forever.

Guild Wars 2: Nothing super-special here, just logging in to do dailies.  Dailies definitely seem to take a lot longer after the feature pack drop, mostly due to a smaller selection of options.  Some days I can breeze through them, but I’ve had at least two days where it’s taken me a good hour or more to wrap them up.  My Mesmer is level 41 and more or less doing well.  I haven’t really figured out a build with her yet, but since I won’t even hit the second tier of traits until 60, I have plenty of time to figure it out.  Hilariously enough, I’ve yet to leave the starting zones (I’m on the last one, the Sylvari zone).

The Wolf Among Us: I took an hour and a half to do the third episode, The Crooked Mile.  I really lament how short these episodes are, especially since there are no puzzles to slow down the rapid pace through the story.  It was definitely interesting and kept the twists and turns of the plot coming.  I also decided I must grab this soundtrack if it’s available.

Diablo 3: This actually sucked up quite a bit of my time.  Maybe I’m just in the mood lately for mindless action-RPGing, but dang if it wasn’t a fun couple of sessions.  After poking around a bit on a Monk, I rerolled a new Witch Doctor because throwing spiders on things is far too awesome to ignore.  I even joined a guild (er, clan) and appreciated the more social aspect of the game that’s arisen since the expansion.  Speaking of, I’m debating getting Reaper of Souls, but I think I’ll wait to see if I stick this out through the end of the storyline.  Other than the Crusader class, I don’t think the lack of the expansion is limiting my play experience at all.

Quality toilet time and Diablo III

Food poisoning sucks.  I’ve never had it before, but boy howdy did I make up for that oversight this past weekend.  My wife, my one-year-old and I all got it within a couple of hours of each other, and let me tell you that there’s nothing like trying to care for a projectile-vomiting little kid while you just want to be curled around the toilet yourself.

I bring this up because my gaming plans for the weekend got preempted by all of this, which is to say that I didn’t get to game much at all.  About the only thing I did was to reinstall Diablo III to see how the expansion updates changed the game.  From about 20 minutes into Act 1 I can’t see any huge changes, but it’s been over a year since I last played it, so I barely remember what it used to be like.

I did have one thought pertaining to MMOs from this brief expedition into D3, which is that I kind of really like the 3D isometric perspective — and I wouldn’t mind having that same view for an MMO.  Your character and everything else is smaller, sure, but you get a much greater sense of your surroundings.  It reminds me a lot of the worlds of Baldur’s Gate II and Fallout and those older RPGs.  Even though I’m not face-first into the surrounding details, the total sum of everything in the area sort of makes up for that.

Maybe there are MMOs apart from action-RPGs that do this, but it’s early on a Monday morning and my facilities have yet to be brought back online fully.  Ultima Online, definitely.  Salem?  I recall that there’s a sandbox MMO in the making, Albion Online, that uses this perspective and I definitely liked the look of it, at least.

albion

Guest Post: The Diablo III that should have been

Syp’s out of town this week and has turned the keys to Bio Break over to fellow bloggers.  Today’s post is from Doone of T.R. Red Skies.

I was wondering to myself: what would have made for a proper sequel to Diablo 2? Diablo 3 clearly isn’t it, even if it’s great on the action of gameplay itself. In my opinion, it’s not an actual sequel in terms of gameplay. It’s actually a few large steps backward. Some players try to compare Diablo 2 at releast to Diablo 3 at release. This is a flawed approach; Diablo 3 came after the last patch of Diablo 2. Therefore players are expecting things to improve on Lord of Destruction and patch 1.12. That’s the starting point for Diablo 3.

Keep Itemization the Same

Let’s see …the sheer variety of items alongside a robust skill system meant players had a level of character customization no game on the market has yet met. Throw in ladder competition and you have a game that’s STILL entertaining players the world over (after 10 years)! Cool things I would have kept:

  •     Ethereal Items: Could have been enhanced by allowing Tyrael, the fallen angel, be able to upgrade and imbue them with special powers.
  •     Rune Words: Doesn’t need an explanation. The exploration and experimentation this promoted made the farming game richer and worthwhile.
  •     Jewels and ALL gems would still be in game.

I guess I wouldn’t have harmed itemization too much except to improve balance and desirability. It would have been nice to take some of those loot algorithms and improve their relevancy to players based on what class is doing the killing.

Clans on Bnet

It’s like, they keep talking about connecting players and Bnet *still* doesn’t have ways for guilds/clans to socialize online. Real ID and friends lists, sure. But all of their games feature multiplayer. What’s the reason there’s no functionality on Bnet for build boards, guild messaging, and guild calendar?

They just keep confirming that Bnet wasn’t really made to improve the player experience. That just happens to be a pleasant side effect that they *might* get around to implementing one day. Currently, it’s little more than a glorified friends list. There’s no interaction for players; it’s not a tool that allows players to more easily connect and game together. It’s just a friends list. Guild support, armories, ladders …just a few throwbacks that should have been default features of Bnet are completely absent.

In Diablo, like so many other games, clans were an important part of the community. Diablo 3 should have made space for them. Currently, Blizzard is proving that Battlenet is nothing more than their DRM control center. It doesn’t have gamers in mind, not the way it’s currently designed. This is the sad state of affairs at the company; all of these changes really show that the player experience comes second to their coffers. For me, Diablo 3 shows that the developers are doing as little as they possibly can to deliver a great experience. We can always count on Blizzard to deliver seamless combat gameplay …but just think of your experience in Diablo: that’s the ONLY area that’s really achieved greatness in this game. The story is an example of awful video game narrative, itemization is the worst this game has ever seen, and now a Real Money Auction House (RMAH). It couldn’t be more apparent what was important to devs.

The Horadric Cube

This little mysterious object was an important part of the itemization meta-game of Diablo 2. It’s a shame something like it wasn’t carried forward in D3. But this needs little explanation; if the game had continued with runes as items, the cube may have made it in. I think, coupled with bringing back D2 itemization, the cube would have been a great hit with the community.

…Ladders

I think this will actually re-emerge with the new PvP Arenas. I’m just not confident it will deliver in the same way that it did in D2. In the previous game, the ladder went hand in hand with the item grind. Current itemization in D3 shows that even if a ladder were instituted, it wouldn’t go hand in hand with it. Itemization is designed to be mostly uninteresting by intent. A ladder isn’t going to save this. All of my imaginings here depend a lot on stronger, funner itemization. I fear Blizz has crossed the Rubicon on that.

On the one hand though, that makes it that much easier to bring Diablo 3 up to par with it’s predecessor: improve itemization and all other things will follow.

I guess these are the things I see as most important to making a proper sequel to Diablo 2. But everything hinges on the devs bringing itemization up to par with D2: LoD 1.12. Slim hopes are slim.

Character Building

Progress? Character customization screens from Fallout 2 (top) and Mass Effect 3 (bottom)

Yesterday, Azuriel wrote an excellent post in which he responded to some of the current backlash going on regarding soling and solo-centric content in MMOs.  It’s an interesting argument, especially the “show and tell” element, and I encourage you to read it.

As with all good posts, it got me thinking on a tangent — specifically, how utterly lackluster modern single-player RPGs are in regards to their combat and character building systems.  Azuriel made the point that they don’t really have to be as deep as MMOs, because the time spent in the game will be quite limited in comparison.

Several of the newer RPGs I’ve played in the past year felt extremely basic in comparison to what I’m used to in an MMO.  Dragon Age II, Mass Effect 3, Skyrim, even Diablo III — all have some measure of character-building, but it feels like a token effort in comparison to the legacy of the single-player RPG genre that came before.  The stats are swept under the rug, the choices are made with BIG BOXES AND SIMPLE NUMBERS that convey the message that you’re not to be trusted with complex decisions, and the talent trees or class paths are a mere handful of steps from beginning to end.  Mass Effect 3, in particular, could have just chucked the entire character-building system and been just fine (and in fact the game does allow you to play in a mode that doesn’t require any combat).

They’re great games, for the most part.  They tell wonderful stories, have engaging cinematics, and are action-heavy.  And yet one of the most enjoyable parts of any RPG — online or offline — has been dumbed down to such a basic level that it’s no longer enjoyable to spend any time building up my character.  The system feels like a vestigial tail that’s there to justify the “RPG” moniker, instead of dropping it and revealing itself to be an action-shooter-platformer like these games apparently want to be.

I love, love, love building up a good RPG character.  It’s always been one of the greatest attractions that the genre’s ever had for me.  I used to pour over RPG sourcebooks just to look at all of the character-building options and imagine what I’d make.  When 1988’s Wasteland came out, I agonized for hours how I wanted to build my team and what skills I would take.  Likewise with Baldur’s Gate II, Fallout 2, Arcanum, and scores of others.  Even my Final Fantasy journeys were made more exciting because of the depth of the character building systems.  Engaging in this builds a connection between you and your character — you’re a vital part of their development and choices.

Yet somewhere along the line, the complexity and detail of character building was inherited by MMOs and forsaken by single-player titles, which is why I vastly prefer MMOs (not the only reason, but one of).  I’m not just building up characters for a short 50-hour stint; I’m building them up for an epic journey spanning months and even years.  There’s always so much to attain, to pursue, and to choose when it comes to my character’s growth that I’m rarely bored.

I vividly while not proudly remember spending many walks back in 2004 and 2005 planning out the lives of my World of Warcraft characters (this was back when hitting 40 was a huge game-changing event for you that included your first mount and first 31-point talent).  City of Heroes’ main draw to me was always the powerset choices to be made and how my character would gradually grow in abilities and strength.  And while I might bemoan how top-heavy LOTRO’s features have become, I’ll still take that complexity over Commander Shepherd trying to decide between shotguns and pistols while puzzling over tying her shoes.

It’s this complexity and depth that makes sticking with a character for a long journey fun and rewarding.  It’s why these characters often feel more alive to us than those of long-dead games that existed for a brief flash.  It’s why any time a new game is announced, the first thing I want to know is just how much I can customize and tweak when it comes to my character.

So while some may elect to lavish praise upon single-player titles, keep in mind that there are plenty of reasons to be praising MMOs for different reasons.