Monday, June 25, 2012

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Witch Doctor - Terror Skills Guide

Soul Harvest - Level 9

15 Second Cooldown (30 Second Duration)
59 Mana

Soul Harvest is really just a Point-Blank Area-of-Effect ability that gives you a temporary buff to intelligence.  Now, before I get off on a rant here - the amount of intelligence you can receive from this skill is substantial, it increases not only your damage but your resistances.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Witch Doctor - Defensive Skills Guide

Zombie Dogs - Level 4

60 Second Cooldown
49 Mana

Summons 3 Dogs (4 if you couple it with the Zombie Handler (level 24) passive) that attack enemies for 9% weapon damage per hit.

Thoughts:  The skill itself lets us Necromancer-nostalgic Diablo 2 players get close to the glory days of a skeleton army.  Unfortunately that reminiscent thought is fleeting, as the skill itself is barely usable outside of the normal difficulty.

Witch Doctor - Secondary Skills Guide

Grasp of the Dead - Level 2

Grasp of the dead is a little bit like the girl that got away - sure, you'll eventually let go of the ability in lieu of more tempting options, but in the end - you'll find yourself constantly gravitating towards it, or desperately in search of something like it.

Witch Doctor - Primary Skills Guide

Diablo 3's Witch Doctor has a lot of utility at it's disposal.  From summoned minions to damage dealing ghosts and everything in between, navigating the multitude of skill choices players are confronted with can be a daunting task.  Thankfully, I'm here to help!

We'll be taking a look at the skills broken up by the six sections, the first of which is (rather obviously) the primary skills!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 20

Day 20 - Favorite genre: Role-Playing Games (RPG)

The first RPG I was addicted to.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 17

Day 17 - Favorite Antagonist

Orgrim Doomhammer & All the Other Orcs, Warcraft Orcs & Humans

Long before Blizzard shit up the incredible lore and game play that was the Warcraft Series, Warcraft Orcs & Humans revolutionized video gaming with its simple point and click real-time strategy immersion. 

Thousands became addicted, dropped out of college, lost all their worldly possessions and squatted at friends houses for decades just to play the games that would follow - and it all started with a simple premise:

The Orcs were invading, and the humans had to do something about it!  They were lead by Orgrim Doomhammer, and that's about all there is to it.  If it weren't for the little act of cross-dimension invasion coupled with mass genocide, who knows where gaming would be today.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Bold Prediction

Well Blizzard finally enabled the real money auction house in Diablo III this week, undoubtedly sparking even more debate over what is a topic in which the horse has been long beaten, set on fire, beaten again, resurrected, shot into space, recovered by a futuristic civilization and then once again beaten.  This topic is, of course, real money trading in video games.  (RMT)

A lot of mainstream titles, Diablo 3 excluded, are moving away from the monthly subscription fees that we saw become the industry standard over the past decade and are instead turning to a free-to-play model with a cash shop.  What they've realized is that bored players are willing to pay MUCH more that $15 a month - especially if they want to win, look cool, or save loads of time.

These shops offer items from experience boosts, which save players time leveling up a skill or character - to flat-out advantages including better weapons and/or gear, or permanent/temporary stat increases.  Also, just about every game has a cosmetic cash shop now, regardless of its payment model - these allow for basic cosmetic upgrades to a player that don't really change anything about the game experience except for how sweet they look to their friends.

The idea behind these models and the change to cash shops becoming more of the standard than the exception is a subject ripe with taboo amongst the gaming community - but regardless of anyone's opinion, there's two undeniable facts that need to be stated before I go ahead and make this bold prediction of mine:

The first is that games which started out with a subscription model and eventually converted to a free to play/cash shop scheme have been 'saved' in doing so.  Their populations have increased, and the company's revenue has also shown noticeable improvement.  While possibly the most mainstream example of this is Lord of the Rings Online, other notable games include DC Universe and Age of Conan.  With any luck, hopefully I'll be able to add Vanguard to this list once Sony finishes their conversion of the game.

The second fact goes hand in hand with the first.  While I am a firm believer that people are stupid, I am also a firm believer that people throwing around huge amounts of money, say the amount needed to produce an MMORPG, do their homework.  Companies aren't converting and/or releasing their games in a free to play/cash shop business model because they're hoping to get lucky.  They're doing it because it works.

So with those two thoughts in mind, I make my prediction:

Within the next five years, you'll see people playing video games as full time jobs and making significant income.

Sure, that's happening already, but not to the extent I'm predicting.  Over six million people bought Diablo 3 the week it came out.  Now the patient player, that saved up their good loot, is listing it on the real money auction house and getting real, actual money deposited into an account as a result.

Sure, it's probably nowhere near cost efficient, or as profitable, but this is just the beginning, and what Blizzard really did here was take the realization that the cash shops development companies have been installing in their games for years and make it available to the every day public.  They did this because they get a cut, and now we're doing a good chunk of the work for them.  They no longer need to list good items or gear, etc.  We do it and they take a cut, simple as that.

Pandora's box opened.  What if every game  did this?  Outcry?  Panic?  Could deep-pocketed players suddenly rule their respective realms?  I'd hate to break it to most of the casuals out there, but they already do rule the realms, and they always will.  Not because they can throw more money at the game then you, but because in the end, they talk with their wallets. 

When given the chance, I'll gladly fork over a dollar or two to save myself having to sit at the computer and collect raptor claws for six hours in the hopes that I gather enough.  My time's worth more then that, and it's boring.  I'll skip the boredom, thank you very much, and get back to doing the things I want to do in the game.

Some part of me wants to end this with "Hopefully I'm right here."  But on the other hand, another part of me hopes I'm wrong.  Again, people are stupid, and video games are nothing if not addictive.  I dread to think of the families that will pay the price for their loved one's now easily-accessible gaming addiction.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review: TERA

I picked up TERA about two weeks ago now.  Truth be told, I'm torn - on one hand, I love this game.  On the other hand, I feel like I've done this all before.

The combat is a refreshing change of pace, even if at it's heart the game is still an ability and cooldown based system.  I love the need to be skillful at actually targeting people beyond clicking on the UI somewhere or pressing tab - you've got to get your mouse over your intended targets to cast spells or use abilities on them, without practice or care this can prove to be a very difficult endeavor - especially in crowded scenario's.

The concept of manually targeting abilities is new (to me at least), I don't think I've seen that before in the MMORPG genre - it gives skilled players who practice and understand timing and positioning in fights a chance to really stand out and shine.  It also isn't too abrasive to the novice players either, everyone can learn how to do it with enough practice. What really stands out is how much it makes PVP and Healing a real challenge - especially if your group clusters up and it becomes hard to single out certain players.

Aesthetically, game is beautiful, the world is huge - and for the first time in years I'm finding myself actually just riding around exploring instead of rushing from one area to another because that's where the quests have taken me.  They put a lot of time into making TERA not only look, but run well, and it shows.

I am a pirate.  You are not.
As of this writing I'm well over 20 hours into the game and have yet to encounter a graphical anomaly, error, random crash, or anything of that sort.  The display isn't choppy or laggy, and there's a rather seamless transition between areas. Dungeon cutscenes (which are frequent during boss encounters) also transition well and without any kind of tearing or stuttering.

When I started this review, I mentioned above that I also felt like I had done all this before.  That's because ultimately, I have.  For all of TERA's beauty and combatic ingenuity, it's very much almost a direct game play clone of World of Warcraft.  You run around between different quest hubs, kill x, retrieve y, eliminate boss z, and move on to the next area.  The familiar !'s, and ?'s are back, and while they're used a little differently (along with a * to indicate quests are completed and ready to be turned in), they still remain part of the mechanics we've been inundated with for years.  Perhaps they use them because they work and draw us in - I'm not too sure about that - but for the amount of complaining everyone does about the same tired old formulas, nobody seems to have a solution, and at the very least familiarity is better then boredom.

While the game play of constant questing is nothing new, what is fairly unique to TERA is that any race can be any class, and that there's no faction vs. faction centered PVP.  Thank god - I can't tell you how sick I am of faction based and race/class restricted games.

En Masse also did a great job filling the world with quests, adding an engaging lore mechanic; 'story' quests, which can take you through a wonderfully written and thought out plot.  I enjoy the story, even though I've had no previous exposure to it.  That's refreshing.  I couldn't tell you the last time I actually read a quest in a game prior to trying out TERA.  Did I mention the environments you travel through are stunning?  Right.  Moving on.

PVP relies on not only the standard quick-reflexes and decision making, but also the players ability to position themselves well and target their foes before they can react.  It's the act of targeting that gives player vs. player (PVP), and to an extent even some player versus environment (PVE) their hectic, adrenaline-packed, nerve wrecking sense.  You get a rush when you're in the thick of it, I like that about TERA.  I never felt that way auto-targeting an enemy and pushing buttons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, over and over like some other games while walked in circles.  As with PVE, good PVP players can really stand out in TERA.  It's easy for any class to dominate an opponent if played by an experienced player with half-decent timing and reactions.

PVP servers carry a pseudo-hybrid rule set.  Players can use a skill to effectively 'outlaw' themselves, and allow them to attack other players, and allow players in turn to attack them.  This is the first time I've seen an elective PVP system that isn't really elective.  That might not make sense when you read it, but allow me to explain:

Declaring yourself as an outlaw accomplishes one major aspect - it allows you to attack other players.  Aesthetically your name turns red, and everyone can see that you've either recently killed someone, or are planning to.  It's a 100% self-triggered skill, so everyone who flags up as an outlaw does so voluntarily.  The key thing to realize here is that even if you aren't flagged as an outlaw, you can still be attacked and killed by someone who is.  So all you're really doing via this skill is broadcasting that you're looking to PVP.

I'm not too fond of that idea, especially on a PVP server, with an ability that takes about a second to activate.  It allows players that aren't flagged outlaw to sit around and flag up when choosing - which is good, it keeps people on their toes when they realize that while a player not too far away (who otherwise might be innocently questing) could potentially become a threat at any moment.  On the other hand, it seems ultimately stupid.  PVP servers should be PVP-enabled 100% of the time, no excuses except for safe areas, and places where people load into (instances, etc), and even then should only be temporary.  Someone going AFK in a town to avoid PVP shouldn't be immune to it - give them a 15 minute timer, then make them vulnerable.

One other intolerable thing is the 'death' penalty in TERA.  Every character has Stamina, which can provide bonuses if you rest and charge it up (takes about 2 minutes by a campfire, which are mobile and in generous supply).  The stamina system is great - but the crystal system, which allows you to augment weapons and armor with different abilities - is a bit broken.  Not because the crystals can actually break upon death, but because they can break if a maximum level character decides to go outlaw in a starter zone and kill all the low-level characters over and over.  They lose those crystals, and they shouldn't.

En Masse really needs to make PVPing through drastic level differences harsh.  Not impossible harsh, but there's no reason a level 15 should lose 5 minutes of playtime and some of their hard earned money because some level 60 douche bag cruised by and decided to one-shot them.  Perhaps make the higher levels lose a lot of stamina for killing lower levels, inconveniencing them as well.

One penalty with death is thankfully NOT the equipment degradation system.  You don't need to repair things, ever.  Thank god.  This is a fantastic feature and more games need to get away from repairing equipment.

The overall feel of the game's control scheme works well.  You can use a controller (PS3 or XBOX) and map buttons as you see fit.  It helps to do so, especially if you're having problems targeting with a mouse.  Aside from that, there's nothing really new in terms of usability or interface/controls.

And hey - the auction house UI works.  I'm not constantly plagued with bugs and search problems like I was when SWTOR released.  Thank god.  It's actually almost another direct copy of World of Warcraft, with quick-fill UI (Control+Clicking an item to auto-fill a search bar, etc).  Brokers, unlike WoW, are in just about every major hub or town.  No more haunting the auction house endlessly, no more checking my mailbox, it can all be done at the broker - unless an item expires and isn't sold, then it gets mailed back to you.

Skills get augmented with glyphs, which are available for a reasonable price for a vendor that's conveniently located near your class trader.  Some higher-level ones drop from killing monsters, but from what I can tell there's no reason every character won't have every glyph with a minimum amount of time invested.  Some glyphs reduce cooldown time, some increase the damage, or decrease the casting time - there's all kinds, and you can pick and choose what you want.  It's ingenious in a way.  Much like a talent system, you're limited in just how many glyphs you can have on at once - this number goes up as you gain levels - and each glyph can be worth a different amount, so you can pick and choose - it's a good way to rehash a very outdated system and provides each character with a bit of customization and utility should they decide they aren't as effective as they'd like.

So I've talked about a lot here - and while there's a few other nuances and features I'd love to discuss, I'll perhaps save that for another time when I've delved a bit deeper into the game.  I'm very much looking forward to max level and experiencing the end game of TERA.  More on that when it becomes available.

Overall, I'd Highly recommend TERA to anyone who enjoyed WoW or any of it's clones/versions throughout the years.  TERA offers a new spin on combat that might just be what the doctor ordered in terms of making the tired old formula's of last decade come back to life in a new and exciting way.  But don't be surprised, with the exception of combat, the game is very uninspired and even at times dated.  You truly have done most of this before.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 16

Day 16: Best Cut-Scenes

I had to sit here and think about games I've played recently for awhile.  It's been months (or possibly even a year) since I played Black Ops - but unlike the other Call of Duty garbage storytelling that I was so used to, I found myself intrigued.  Not only because of the familiarity with the events and lore regarding the setting of the story, but because of the way they wished to integrate it with real events and people.

While not overly surprising, the way the story unfolds in Black Ops really had me riveted.  I wanted to play a COD title not just for the game play and mayhem, but for the progression of events.

Also, the scene related to the picture above kicks ass.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Review - Diablo 3, Part 3; The Balanced

First off I've got to note that my previous entry, Part 2 of my Diablo 3 review, was more of a victim of anger then it was passion.  I've been so infuriated by Blizzard over the past week that I simply let it spill over and as a result have compromised what I set out to do here every time I post; to inform and educate.

Moving on, despite of my efforts to stay objective while writing this I, like many people, feel either hot or cold about things pertaining to Diablo 3.  There's very little middle-ground, and while I've already covered things both praising and condemning the game, here's a few that I missed that honestly fall about as close to the middle as possible.

Irrelevant, but funny.
 - The overall challenge in the game is appropriate until, again, Inferno level, which really just puts the player in an endless equipment grind against radically overpowered opponents in the hopes that one day they will be able to either find, or afford, an upgrade to their current equipment that will make the challenges in Inferno just a little easier.

Challenge can mean a lot of things - and even though Inferno is nothing less than one of the hardest game mode's I've ever encountered for any game, ever, what I will praise as fair and balanced is the AI controlling your enemies.  They don't really do anything 'cheap' or run from you for hours making you chase them for kills, they react appropriately and accordingly to your actions.  Enemies and bosses use their abilities exactly how they should be used - I've never wondered why a boss with ability X didn't just use that ability to kill me.  It's so unfortunate that Blizzard mucked up the end-game (inferno) scenario so poorly that this really can't be seen by players without frustration taking control of their senses.

- The UI is largely useful and informative, with a few noteworthy exceptions.  All in all, with the issue of comparing rings (and only being shown one via the UI), there aren't many noteworthy examples of things gone wrong.  It's laid out and executed with a familiarity that gamers have come to almost instinctively gravitate toward over the past decade.

- Crafting, while futile, is a fair system that allows you to share your progress ad stashed items across all characters.  This is an absolutely excellent decision by blizzard.

Now, it's here and not in the good section because it's still subject to the same ludicrous odds as random-equipment drops, but that makes crafting an upgrade that much more satisfying when and if you actually accomplish it.

Another note is that while still random, this system lets you pick the type of equipment you want to craft, while endlessly hunting monsters just lets you pick up almost anything.

It's also of note that cost/benefit wise, your time is still better spent farming gold and buying an upgrade off the auction house then it is attempting to craft one.  This is mostly due to the amount of players currently in the game.  Expect this to change in months to come.

 - The followers you receive in game provide little in terms of usefulness or distractions.  While the Templar can heal you, and the Scoundrel can provide some cover fire and additional DPS, they have almost zero chance of killing a single enemy alone after the normal difficulty level.  This chance becomes absolutely nothing once you kick up the difficulty to hell.  The only exception is the enchantress and her charm ability which, with some luck, can actually turn the tide of a hard battle in a pinch.  If it wasn't for that ability, this would be in the bad section of the review.

- Finding players, joining quests, and starting games on a previous quest is easy, but the descriptions lack enough meat in them to find out exactly which part of the quest you're starting on.  Until you try it a few times, picking up a new game at a previous quest point can take some practice.

- The characters and lore of the game seem rushed, and at times ridiculous.  I've talked about the lore some already, but its worth noting that at more than one point I just sat back and was frustrated at the lack of care and dedication that went into not only the voice actor's part, but the part of the writers that came up with story.  There are parts that are simply horrendous.  The evil's lines mostly being the focus of the previous sentences criticism.