Tag: blizzcon

Heart of the Swarm: Armchair Impressions

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

Yesterday I promised I would go over the pending changes in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm in detail, and I do try to be a man of my word. Without further ado, here’s my take on the changes coming for the Terran, Zerg and Protoss races.

Terran

The core gameplay of the Terrans looks to be remaining unchanged. You can still create “bioballs” of Marines, Marauders and Medivacs and try to roll your way to victory. The standard mirror match composition of Marines, Siege Tanks and Vikings also looks to be viable in the expansion. But with the unit changes coming, I for one would like to see some variations in Terran strategy.

I’ll admit, as someone who once looked up to Optimus Prime, there’s a part of me that’s all for declaring “Hellions, transform and roll out!” every now and again. And combining the two transforming units, Hellions and Vikings, into a single force for highly mobile scouting, harassment and map control appeals to me. I can’t shake the feeling that part of the reason the Hellion attack changes from a line to a cone in walker mode is because people kept whining about how much they miss the Firebat, but given how slow Hellions in battle mode are compared to how Firebats worked, I see them filling different roles.

The Firebat and the Goliath both made cameo appearances in the Wings of Liberty campaign, and fans of the original game have been clamoring for them to come back. Instead of the Goliath, however, Blizzard introduced the Warhound, a medium-cost walking mech unit with decent anti-mech ground attacks and rapid anti-air. The Thor has been bumped up to the “hero” tier once occupied by the Protoss Mothership – more on that in a moment. The nice thing about the Warhound from where I sit is that it fills a necessary niche in mech-heavy armies but isn’t the sort of thing you can just spam for the win. It must be part of a balanced force with a specific focus, and I really dig that. It’s the reason I liked the Aspect Warriors of the Eldar in Warhammer 40k, but let’s stick with one nerdy strategy game at a time. The thing that really bothers me is how it looks. It feels too… delicate for Terran. Terran units tend to have a bulky, armored look to them, balanced by the sweeping curves of the Protoss and the spiky bits of the Zerg. The Warhound seems a bit spindly.

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

Finally we were introduced to the Shredder at BlizzCon. Yet another Factory-produced unit, this tiny robot gives Terrans some new options for controlling their opponents. I’m assuming it’s going to be less costly than the Siege Tank, as that tends to be the go-to example for Terran static board control. It sets up a radiation field that does damage over time to any unit standing in or passing through it, as long as the unit is not friendly. This mechanic, again, points to developers wanting Terrans to put a little more thought into map placement and unit control, instead of just holding down a button or two to coast to victory.

Other Terran changes include a speed boost on cooldown for Battlecruisers, Reapers regenerating outside of combat but losing their demo charges, Ghost cloaking getting tweaked and of course Thor changing to a one-at-a-time “hero” unit. Overall, I think the changes are going to shake things up a bit for Terrans, and this is a good thing, as no race in StarCraft should be pigeonholed into a single strategic line of thinking.

Zerg

So the Zerg are at the core of the upcoming expansion, with the storyline of Kerrigan continuing and all sort of variations on Zerg broods being introduced. But the focus of much of the buzz was on the multiplayer units. Zerg is a macro-intensive, reactionary race, and there was speculation as to what changes Blizzard would make to help the gameplay remain vital in the expansion.

Enter the Viper. Currently, Zerg players need to evolve an Overlord into an Overseer to have mobile detection capabilities. The Viper will be able to inject other Zerg units with a parasite that turns them into detectors, eliminating this somewhat superfluous evolution. The Viper also coughs up a noxious cloud that obscures vision of ranged units, reducing their effectiveness. Finally, you’ll soon hear Zerg players bellowing “GET OVER HERE!” as the Viper has an ability in the style of Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, pulling high-priority units usually relegated to the backs of groups to the forefront for easy elimination. Put these elements together and you have a diverse, airborne caster unit that speaks to the versatility, adaptability and overall scariness of the Zerg. I think it’s going to add a lot to Zerg play.

The only other brand-new unit the Zerg seem to be getting for ladder matches is the Swarm Host, described as an artillery unit. When burrowed, this prolific little Zerg produces tiny creatures called Locusts, that rush to their rally point to devour whatever’s in front of them. An individual Locust has, at this point, about 90 HP and a basic melee attack, but if there’s a line of Hosts outside the enemy base, each producing two Locusts every 15 seconds, and suddenly your opponent is being starved out of their base and you have another entire host waiting for them to storm out. It allows a Zerg player to exert more control on the enemy and gives them some breathing room to expand, tech, or build forces.

Ultralisks have often been ignored by Zerg players, but with the burrowing charge ability they’re getting, I expect we’re going to see a lot more. When a Zerg player evolves to Hive technology, Hydralisks will be able to move much faster and Banelings, the adorable kamikaze bombers of the swarm, will gain the ability to move while burrowed. Did I mention burrowed units are essentially cloaked? It’s a frightening prospect, which might be why I like it so much.

Protoss

I can’t speak to the Protoss situation any more than I can the Zerg, as I’m still struggling to get out of Bronze League focusing on Terran, and the new season is likely to be no different. However, I have noticed that a lot of Protoss players seem to either go for all-or-nothing early attacks or build up a huge ball of death for the assault. Very little raiding goes on.

The Oracle will seek to change that. This flying unit, designated as support, does some very interesting things in the early game. Its two main abilities lock down structures’ production and prevent minerals from being harvested. Without attacking workers, they deliver a one-two punch that can cripple the enemy economy, allowing the Protoss to dash ahead to bigger and better units.

The Replicant is a robotic unit that uses nanotechnology to clone an existing enemy unit. Rather than adding another body to the core army of the Protoss, the Replicant is meant to allow Protoss players more flexibility in responding to enemy pressure and tactics. Photon cannons take a while to set up, while a Replicant can pop a Siege Tank or Shredder into existence for some impromptu map control. Likewise, a Replicant can become an Infestor or Banshee for quick harassment while the death-ball gains mass. I can see where Blizzard is going with this, but I have to admit, my initial reaction was that they were taking the piss.

The Protoss will boast a new capital ship in Heart of the Swarm called the Tempest. Its primary attack is an area of effect anti-air pulse designed to clear the skies of light air units such as the Viking and Mutalisks, long the bane of many a Protoss fleet. It also has an air-to-ground attack to supplement the other units in said fleet, and from what I understand, it dominates the skies with its crescent shape. It appears to be more efficient at what it does than the Phoenix, but in light of an unseen cost I can understand Protoss players railing against it.

That unseen cost is the loss of the Carrier. A quintessential Protoss unit, the Carrier is being nixed because of its size, build time and the fact that few pros are using it. Same for the Mothership. Instead of this massive, expensive unit that is almost always the primary target of the opponent’s entire army, the Protoss will get a recall ability on their Nexus that works similarly to the Mass Recall ability of the Mothership, but has more flexibility. The Nexus will also acquire a defensive ability that should deter mineral line harassment.

Conclusion

Overall, I think Blizzard is doing the right thing in tweaking certain aspects of the playstyles they’re seeing in Wings of Liberty. I can’t speak to the viability of the new units or how the changes will affect the games to come, as I neither got a hands-on experience with them nor do I play all three races. However, hopefully there will be a public beta period where I can give these new units and tactics a try, and will expand on my thoughts then.

General Post-Blizzcon Thoughts

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

BlizzCon has come and gone again. And again, I didn’t get to go. Sadface. But next year! Next year will be THE YEAR OF CONVENTIONS! I’m totally going to cons next year. It is a moral imperative.

Anyway, while I wasn’t present and couldn’t shell out for the live stream, I did keep an eye on my Twitter feed and a couple other news sources to piece together what the rather mad and admittedly skilled yacht-owning developers at Blizzard have in store for their fans. Let’s go IP by IP.

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

“Isn’t it a little late for April Fool’s?” – Danielle

So, yeah. Pandaran.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the pandaran brewmasters. But to me they’ve always been on the fringe of Azerothian stories, kind of like the bounty hunters in Star Wars. Remember how LucasArts released a game all about one of those bounty hunters because they wanted to make him a “breakout hit” from Attack of the Lame Screenplay? The overall reaction was “meh.” That’s an appropriate reaction here, as well.

Now, taking the game in a PvP direction and away from the PvE content that has not really been up to snuff since Burning Crusade is probably a good thing, as Old Republic‘s voice-acted labyrinthine quest chains are probably going to blow WoW out of the water. And the environments and new character models look great. I just can’t shake this feeling that, like in previous expansions, the other character models will remain as dated as they have been for years. There’s also the fact that adding the Monk as a basic class, while good on paper, means that all of its abilities need to be scaled and balanced against the others. I don’t know if doing Monk as a Hero Class would have been more or less work. But the game already had balance issues, mostly pointed out by the PvPers, and with Mists being aimed for PvPers, you’d think some thought would have gone into making sure things are well balanced. The talent system is reportedly “overhauled and improved,” but I for one won’t be holding my breath. Between Skyrim and Guild Wars 2, I’ll get all the fantasy RPGing I can handle, and then some.

Diablo III

“…like giving crack to a heroin fiend…” – Ross Miller

I’m also somewhat lukewarm about Diablo 3. I enjoyed both Diablo 2 and its expansion, and I’m sure that the sequel will be enjoyable as well in the same “click your way into the dungeon, click your enemies to death, click your way back” fashion as its predecessor and Torchlight. My objections to the lack of character customization leading to the Witch Doctor being a walking stereotype aside, I’m sure the game’s engine is solid, the skills of the various classes fun to use and the story as dark as the previous iterations.

In this case, it’s more a matter of prioritization than anything. I want to play Skyrim and get into Guild Wars 2 far more than I want to play Diablo 3. I must admit, though, that pitching the WoW yearly pass to players by throwing them a gratis copy of this game is a stroke of genius. Well done, Blizzard, enjoy the new yachts!

Blizzard DOTA

“lolwut” – Me.

I love the tongue-in-cheek nature in which this was presented at BlizzCon. I’ve played a bit of League of Legends and I like the gameplay that feels like the handsome bastard rogue child of RTS and RPG. Doing so with known characters has a frankly shameful amount of appeal. I just love the notion of mincing in as Jim Raynor and blasting the snot out of Arthas over and over again. Or Illidan. Let me show you just how prepared I am, bitch.

Anyway, it could be fun. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.

Speaking of Jimmy…

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

“ZOMG PROTOSS GOT SHAFTED, NERF TERRAN” – Every Protoss player ever.

Campaign looks interesting, wish Kerrigan’s skin was still as dark as it had been in the original game, blah blah blah.

I’ll talk more about the units and other initial changes in tomorrow’s post, but what struck me as the torrential amount of backlash from a lot of the StarCraft community. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, as many players have made it a point to constantly decry how one particular race is dominating the others or the ways individual units can or should be tweaked to defang a prevalent strategy. Personally I don’t put a lot of stock in public outcries in this matter, partially because I have no basis by which to gauge the power of units relative to skill as I don’t have much skill myself, and partially because I think that most of the forums on which I see this sort of caustic feedback are too loosely moderated to sort out the ruffians and bandwagon-jumpers from the people who have honest, well-reasoned opinions on the state of the game. I should really listen to the podcast of the same name more.

Thoughts on new multiplayer units and the changes I’m aware of tomorrow. Stay tuned.

The Coming Cataclysm

Deathwing: Baddest of badass dragons.

So Blizzcon has come and gone, and along with hands-on time with Starcraft II and the unveiling of the Monk class for Diablo III, the big feature of the convention was the announcement of the next expansion to the World of Warcraft, Cataclysm. The reactions to the various announcements have been mixed, and I’d like to weigh in on the upcoming additions to the game.

New Races: Goblins & Worgen

What’s interesting to me about the races announced for Cataclysm is that both show a people divergent from those we as players are accustomed to. Goblins, after all, exist in various different cartels and organizations. A Venture Company goblin is very different from one belonging to Booty Bay. I have no cause to doubt that playable goblins will be just as greedy, affable and clever as those we’ve seen in NPC roles, at least when played correctly. As for the worgen, most World of Warcraft players probably see humans as hailing from the sunny lands of Stormwind, and tending towards a friendly relationship with other members of the Alliance. From what I’ve seen of Gilneas, the homelands of the humans bearing this lycanthropic curse, the general demeanor of those citizens will be as dark and brooding as the rainy landscape. I kind of want to roll one of each, if just to see their starting quest chains.

New Class/Race Combinations

This is another mixed bag, at least to me. Some of the choices that will be available, such as human hunter and blood elf warrior, make a lot of sense. Others don’t, and the biggest example is the concept of a night elf mage. It was the meddling of Queen Azshara that caused much of the strife now rampant across the face of Azeroth, and her motivation was meddling in arcane magics. Since those ancient days, arcane magic has been taboo to the night elf race as a whole. Apparently, though, some of the younger night elves (and the game developers) have short memories. Dwarves don’t strike me as particularly shamanistic, either, but I guess someone on the Alliance side needed to join that class if Tauren are getting paladins.

Everything Old (world) is New Again

In running around the older parts of Azeroth in pursuit of Horde reputation, I’ve noticed that the newer content has outstripped the original in terms of graphics. There’s also long been the question of how developers justify higher-level characters with flying mounts being kept from using those mounts to get around Azeroth. The developers are addressing such things by reworking the old world into something new, the result of the expansion’s tagline.

On the one hand, it’s interesting that the developers went this route, and are choosing to rework the world within the same game rather than releasing a sequel (as Sony did with EverQuest 2). On the other hand, it seems a little lazy. Rather than coming up with another new venue that nobody’s ever seen before, all the dev team has to essentially do is detonate a few sub-nuclear weapons all over the existing continents, plant trees in places currently without vegetation, and give new scripts to the NPCs that survive. When the expansion comes out, I’m sure it’ll be stunning to see how the world has changed, but it’ll still be old Azeroth with a more dire paint job.

“Because it’s BADASS.”

Speaking of short memories, there are rumors regarding a changing of the guard in Horde leadership, and the reasonings behind it so far seem somewhat dubious. It’d be heartening to me if the rumors turned out to be false, and the team at Blizzard had paid attention to the precedents set in previous games rather than pretending over a decade of lore didn’t exist. Even if they do go against the established canon, however, I’m still probably going to stand in line for the Collector’s Edition.

I mean, you really only need one kidney, right?

Fly Me To BlizzCon

BlizzCon (copyright Blizzard)

BlizzCon is the annual convention of all things Blizzard, held in Anaheim, California. Panels will be held for all of Blizzard’s upcoming products, from class balance in World of Warcraft to the latest buzz about Diablo 3. Given it’s location and the rarity of tickets, I always figured it’d be highly unlikely that I’d ever be able to attend the event.

I was apparently mistaken.

I entered a contest at WarCry, sister site to The Escapist, on a whim yesterday. One-day contest, answer a few Blizzard questions and cross your fingers. I thought that the site would be bombarded with nerds like myself trying to win a ticket as coveted as the golden pass to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and my chances of getting any sort of response whatsoever after hitting the ‘submit’ button would be between astronomically low and something on the subatomic level. So I all but forgot about it after I sent in my entry.

Apparently, I won.

I got an email from Jeff, brand manager at the Escapist, congratulating me. After restarting my shocked heart, I did a fanboy flounce worthy of a teenager getting tickets to see a favorite band or a meet and greet with Robert Pattinson. But I’m not a teenager. I’m a thirty year old geek with an apartment, a somewhat estranged son, a new fiancĂ©e and a very needy cat. So after my excitement cooled down I began to wonder if this would be a practical journey or just a flight of fancy.


It turns out the flight is the problem. I have a friend who’s been bugging me to come visit her in California anyway, and she’s got a spare room. She also assures me that transporation to and from the convention center in Anaheim is something we can suss out later. So how do I get to California? Well, if I don’t fancy taking the time off from work to live out of my car for a few days and smelling up the place when I walk in, I’ll be flying.

That’s where I need help.

A ticket, with discounts from websites, is likely to run around $300. There’s no way I can put that amount of money together on my own – unless I turn to a life of crime or something. So what I’m going to do, dear readers, is turn to you for help.

Below is an image from Blizzard’s site for the convention which cleverly disguises a PayPal donation link.
If you want to help me get to BlizzCon, donate as much or as little as you choose.

What do you get for your money, you ask? Other than my undying gratitude, I will be putting together packages of photos taken from inside BlizzCon which I will happily share with you. This space will contain the best shots combined with notes taken from the panels and observations of the goings-on, but if I shoot any videos or anything, they’ll come to you personally. In other words, I’ll snap a plethora of photos, put them in an attractive and easy to use Flash photo book, and send you the end result as a thanks for helping me fly the friendly skies to California.










(Image copyright Blizzard)

And if that doesn’t work, I guess I’ll have to rethink how I’m spending that weekend.

EDIT: This entire thing is going to take a lot of thought and I’ll revisit it at a later date.

EDIT 2: I think it’s more a flight of fancy than anything else.

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