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Posts tagged “blizzard

Path of Exile Beta Impressions


Last year, when Diablo III was still a dot on the horizon and I was looking for things to tide me over in between, I discovered 2 things. The first is that in the wake of D3′s announcement an entire genre seems to have sprung up around this point-and-click ‘action RPG’ concept. The second was Path of Exile by Grinding Gear Games.

Have a gander at the video above. As I said in my last post this seems to harken to a visual style and skill economy more like the first Diablo than its by-far more successful sequel Diablo II. That is to say the game is suitably dark and aspires to realism while having a system where each class can effectively acquire and use all the spells in the game. (And incidentally, isn’t there someone in particular the last video in this post reminds you of?)

I’ve now had access to the betas of both Path of Exile and its mammoth Blizzard-developed contemporary and if something strikes me more than anything else it is that the difference between the titles (budget aside) falls mostly along those lines I’d previously identified. While D3 is characterised by a strictly controlled experience to the point that it would like you to pick from subsets of skills when mapping buttons (denying the ability to map anything anywhere as its predecessor allowed), PoE seems a lot more free-form and less structured.

One stark design difference is that in PoE you’re not shepherded from area to area by quests. Indeed it’s often the case that you should explore new regions on your own before finding things to trigger new quests or open up new dialogue opportunities with the NPCs in town.

Wanderings in PoE are also less aimless simply for the increasingly interesting loot you can expect to drop. Yellows (rares) and third up the tree from whites and blues (magic) do actually drop occasionally off rare and unique monsters when in D3 they don’t even consistently drop from bosses. Also since skills are itemised and socketable, it’s not unlikely to clear out a group of mobs and find Frost Nova just dropped for you.

Funny thing to say against D3, the quintessential loot-driven game if there is one, and something that might not even be necessary later in the experience, but the loot itself was quite boring. The range of

I didn’t mean to ramble about Diablo in this post as much as I did since I fully intend to writeup that constantly-changing beta in its own article. But really, when comparing this games and others like Torchlight 2 there’s little sense in ignoring the gigantic elephant in the room that will steal players and press attention away from the smaller players however you slice it.

Anyway, next up for PoE will be my opinions of the 5 thus revealed character classes. So far I’ve been playing and liking the Marauder class as well, but to close off here are some more videos of my Witch.



Is ‘Mists of Pandaria’ World of Warcraft’s 4th Expansion?

Since the beginning of time we knew World of Warcraft would get heaps of expansions. A leaked blue post a while back, before Cataclysm leaked a ‘Maelstrom Set’ and a ‘Legion Set’ and in December a Blizzard roadmap all but confirmed XP4 and XP5.

So now is ‘Mists of Pandaria’ that new expansion? Blizzard has made a copyright application reportedly similar to those of previous XPs according to MMO-Champion who felt confident enough to plaster it across their front page. The image above was taken of a piece of concept art at Blizz HQ back in April- could it give us an idea of what to expect with Pandaria? Asian scenery and Chinese dragons?

On the one hand I think that an Asian influence is one of the few currently absent in WoW. So I’m all for that. On the other hand, I sure as hell hope they include some of the missing old world areas, like Kul Tiras and the Broken Isles along with this new continent. And I hope that recent events haven’t ruled out future includions of Azshara and the Emerald Dream either. Who knows though- Karazhan, a Burning Crusade feature, was located in the old world so there’s hope yet.

I always thought of pandas as the perennial Warcraft April Fools’ joke, but I’ve missed those kung fu panda antics since The Frozen Throne and will look forward to saying hi to Chen Stormstout in any case. Let’s see how this all pans out at Blizzcon.

Diablo III @ Blizzcon 2010 – Crafting Sanctuary Panel

Diablo III Logo

Today’s panel, ‘Crafting Sanctuary’ continued Diablo III’s coverage at Blizzcon 2010. Design issues such as visual design, level layout, loot, AI, UI and the Artisans were all covered in some depth. Here are the videos;





For those who don’t recall, Artisans were revealed as travelling craftsmen earlier this year at GamesCon. Here’s Jay Wilson’s walkthrough from that event;

Diablo III @ Blizzcon 2010 – The Battle Arena

The Battle Arena 

Diablo III’s first form of Player-Vs-Player competition was revealed today in the form of ‘Battle Arenas’. Described as small scale team PvP, Battle Arenas are progression- and rewards-based with a focus on teamwork overcoming individual class imbalances. It was also suggested that PvP would utilised the same gear as PvE, but different skill specialisations via Skill Runes would define specs differently. An Obsidian rune might add a stun effect to a skill that would be more useful in PvP than outside of it, for example. Also matches would be in rounds, so that players have time to understand the enemy team composition and formulate strategies.

Here’s a sample of a Battle Arena team deathmatch;



Visit the PvP section of the official Diablo III site for more information.

Diablo III @ Blizzcon 2010 – The Demon Hunter

The Demon Hunter

Blizzcon 2010 is underway at the moment and for Diablo III fans the first day of panels has been quite rewarding. The game’s fifth and final class has been revealed as the ‘Demon Hunter’, a ranged archetype. Here’s the class’ cinematic trailer;



The lore supporting Demon Hunters suggests they are a loose-knit, nomadic organisation bonded through a hatred of Demons. Most members, in fact, begin as victims of demonic attacks in search of vengeance. To this end they employ limited amounts of shadow magic, and wear cowls to hide their dark tendency and the glowing eyes that result.

Putting an edge on the Demon Hunter while not straying too far from its readability as a ranged class was the chief design problem. At various points in development, things like katar-based weapon combat, demon limbs and shapeshifting were all considered, but ultimately thrown out since they deviated too much from the core class identity. What are left with is a class that focuses on ranged weapons – specifically dual-wielded crossbows – traps and basic shadow magic.

As you can see in the below gameplay video, the key skills used by the Demon Hunter are Multishot, returning from D2’s Amazon, and Bolo, an attack with a delayed damage-dealing effect. Spike Trap emphasises the class’ focus on preparation and allows fights to be setup tactically. Finally Vault is the ‘shadow dash’ move that enable’s mobility, although designed mentioned all classes would receive similar attention.



For more info on the Demon Hunter, see its page on the official Diablo III site.

Diablo III @ Blizzcon 2010 – Gameplay Panel

Diablo III Logo

Here are videos from today’s Diablo III gameplay panel at Blizzcon 2010. Topics covered include the game’s fifth class – the Demon Hunter – and its creation, Skill Trees, Traits, Skill Runes, the Talisman and the PvP Battle Arena.

To summarise, the Demon Hunter is the final class in D3, filling the ranged archetype. Skill Trees have been have been simplified to show only active skills; passive skills are now ‘Traits’ and on a separate interface. Runes affect skills, adding properties like Fire Damage or control elements like stuns and snares. The Talisman now holds charms that took up main inventory space in Diablo II and the Battle Arena is the first announced implementation of PvP in the game. Have a watch for all the details.

Exploring WoW Alpha: Deadwind Pass and Old Karazhan

Deadwind Pass

Much of the old world in World of Warcraft changed a lot between alpha, beta and final retail builds of the game. In this series I’ll explore zones that differ substantially from their pre-release versions.

To revisit another Alpha zone of World of Warcraft, Deadwind Pass and the tower Karazhan have also seen significant changes during development. Karazhan was again overhauled with The Burning Crusade to accommodate its new 10-man raid instance. Here’s a look at the zone and the tower before all that.


As you can see below, little of this remains. The look of the old tower was much more imposing than what we currently have- pity that the design had to be revised to suit Blizzard’s new purpose for the area.

The Map of Deadwind Pass.New Karazhan.

One last point of trivia is that there is also a mysterious crypt in Deadwind Pass which most people know about by now. I might take my under-levelled Shaman and see if I can’t Far Sight my way in there some time.

Exploring WoW Alpha: The Kingdom of ‘Ahn’Quiraj’

Inside the Temple of Ahn'Quiraj

Much of the old world in World of Warcraft changed a lot between alpha, beta and final retail builds of the game. In this series I’ll explore zones that differ substantially from their pre-release versions.

This is an early look at the zone ‘Ahn’Quiraj’, long before the zone itself became ‘Silithus’ and Ahn’Quiraj was relegated to raid instances in it. A lot of the geometry and doodads remained but a lot were also cut. The Temple itself remains almost identical however. Take a gander below. Guess it’s coming full circle now that this is all becoming an outdoor zone again in Cataclysm.



And just to note, I’m calling it ‘Ahn’Quiraj’ because that’s how it was originally spelt as per original WoW maps. Funny, huh? Suppose they figured the Qiraji can spell however they like without worrying about pesky English conventions. Old Silithus

I’m going to attempt a couple more of these in the next little while. I think the old versions of Karazhan in Deadwind Pass and Strathholme in the Plaguelands would be fun to look at next.

Was Diablo 1 better than Diablo 2?

Diablo, back when there was only Fire and Lightning.

Let’s start by saying Diablo II is one of my favourite games of all time, if not the favourite. It’s taken 10 years but finally Diablo III is in the works and looks to take its cues mostly from the second outing, and regrettably with a little World of Warcraft thrown in. For the longest time I’d taken this as the right direction. I’d never seriously played the first game in the series until now – the lack of a ‘run’ command was a dealbreaker. And you know what? I find myself now wondering if Diablo 1 was the better game after all. Here are the things I think it did better, in no particular order.

Firstly, spells. In Diablo II all classes learned skills from a set pool as they levelled up that were unique to that class. Diablo did it differently. Spellbooks were either found in the dungeon, or bought and took a certain Magic stat to read. Subsequent books levelled up the given spell. Scrolls were used to cast a spell, if able, once before expiring. This was better gameplay; it created an environment where any class could learn any spell, provided they had the necessary Magic proficiency. Books were an item of such worth that entering a library or going up to a bookshelf was particularly exciting. In the sequel, this amounted only to receiving banal scrolls of ‘Identify’ or ‘Town Portal’ which in that game were the only unlearnable spells. The system also fostered better appreciation of spells themselves – D2 presented them as a right earned at a given level. Books added unpredictability and, when found, could completely change the way the player negotiated the dungeon. Only after playing this way do I find this freeform aspect severely missed in D2.

Classes in D2 were one of its high points, I had thought. Each broadly covered a specific RPG niche and I couldn’t conceive any way to improve their implementation. Until I began to appreciate Diablo 1. As I mentioned, each class could use spells. A Warrior, then, could use basic magic such as Teleport and Stone Curse to aid progression. It still worked as their small mana pool would limit them to a few casts and their magic stat prohibited reading of high-level spellbooks. However with D2’s Barbarian this gameplay mechanic is gone. This melee fighter can never use magic of any kind in any capacity. This pigeon-holes the melee fighter but does the same for the spellcaster classes as well. The Necromancer, my personal favourite class, is limited to curses, bone magic and summoning. A few of these spells, such as the Clay Golem, known in D1 as the Guardian, were available to the jack-of-all-magic-trades Sorcerer in the first game. However that class could also learn elemental magic like Firewall and Chain Lightning that would later be given exclusively to the Sorceress. While this serves to give each class a more unique identity, wouldn’t it be better to leave these specialisation choices up to the player?

Duriel, the Hydralisk / Lurker.

Lore was also a strong aspect of the first Diablo. Truly you felt as though you were battling the devil himself. Demons were demons, the context of all conversation and quests was tight and everything had personality. The world was cohesive and unique. D2 did not have a generic fantasy setting by any means, but it certainly seems to be the midpoint in a transition to one in Diablo III. There were numerous things I question in the first sequel but none moreso than the Act 2 cat-people or the Great Evil, Duriel as above. What the hell? I felt the need in both instances to pat Blizzard on the back and whisper ‘hey, this isn’t Warcraft / StarCraft’.

I have a vested interest in seeing Diablo III turn out spectacular and there will definitely be more blog posts on this subject between now and its release. For the moment though I wonder if taking a few more cues from the series’ first title might not be a wise move.

StarCraft II is tiring

A Zerg Hive in StarCraft II
You all probably noticed when this Goliath (joke, haha) of releases hit shelves the other week and subsequently sold out. SC2 has monstrous production values and yet a plotline that hardly seems as epic or impactful as its 10-year-old predecessor. It also boasts a brilliant, vertically-integrated networking service that cannot host LAN games or private custom maps. People are probably arguing about these things elsewhere and I don’t care- what bothers me is how tiring playing StarCraft is.
I’m going to digress into a bit of an immature exploration of how this game works. As far as I can see there is the mechanical skill (macro, micro, hotkeying around) and awareness, and then the knowledge of the meta game. You can get both of these with time. But I don’t have time. Nor, really, the inclination to take a 15-minute beating in order to maybe glean a single piece of information about what works and what doesn’t. The problem is that you really need both these skills at a high level to function properly in this game but it just takes too darn long to get there, and it’s a painful slog until then.
Example: I hear a safe build for Zerg is 14 Pool, 15 Hatch. But I need to watch out to see if my Toss ally is teching up. If I see a Forge, I’d better tech switch to fast Zerglings and rush some in to disrupt the workers because I’d be getting Roaches and Immortals rape Roaches. Right? I’m not sure. Even if these assumptions are correct, I’d need to be super fast. If I scout late, I’m denied all this and my knowledge doesn’t end up meaning squat. Alternatively I’d better guess right because if my Zerglings run into some Collossi on high ground then there goes a whole bunch of minerals. Also even if I guess right, and mass up a nice army of Roaches unopposed, I could just as easily be beaten by something Roaches normally hard-counter just because I was too slow. Or because I macro-ed to hard early on. Or because I spent too many larvae on Drones and got starved for minerals…
You could say those are all noob problems, play more games and man up. Or that I just don’t know what I’m talking about. The problem is if my mechanical skills are failing I can know the correct moves to make and still lose the match. Conversely I can macro up a swarm lightning fast and then lose them all to a hard counter because I didn’t know Marauders owned my units. Or even worse, it could be a combination of the two, and despite the decent build order studying and replay features it is never quite clear what exactly is going wrong with one’s play.  Such a broad and overall knowledge of the game is required, and attaining it is a head-banging frustrating experience for the new player.
And this is meant to be a game.
But I digress- I’ll often be the one to tout the virtues of an ultra-competitive and deep game with a steep learning curve and a rewarding competitive vector. Maybe StarCraft II’s barrier of entry is just too high for me? I will press on for a while longer but fear this game is one who’s shining gemmed innards are hidden below far too many layers of shale and pyrite. Enough waxing poetics and more 2v2ing the Hard AI. Very Hard is too fast for me. Case in point, I suppose. I know I’m going to get rushed by a bunch of Tier 1 and 1.5 units but can’t really do jack to stop it. And then there’s Insane… heh…


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