Thursday, May 31, 2012

Diablo 3 Review

 Some people play for the story, and some people play for the game. The ones that can keep those two aspects in balance are victorious as great games. Maybe they won't necessarily become best sellers, but they'll definitely be remembered. This is the basic philosophy behind how I review most games. The only difference is in multiplayer games, where the focus is on gameplay and community.

Diablo 3 is a multiplayer game with single player support. Usually, that's the other way around, but the always on connectivity places a heavy emphasis on playing with friends. If you have to be connected, why not use it? That could make it difficult to make a proper decision, but I have come up with a solution. We'll discuss it as both.

As a single player game, it offers a rich storyline. The game is oozing with lore. There are ancillary NPCs fully voice acted with their own dialogues about their friends and family which can be interacted with throughout the progression of events. That will go overlooked by many players, because there isn't any need to talk to Villager A who will tell you about life before the fall of Tristram, but for those that wish to delve deeper, there's a lot of substance there. On top of that are the books and monster lore hidden in dungeons and towns. One of the most interesting aspects of this were the diaries left by characters, such as Leah and Cain in Act 1. They will periodically update their entries as the Act goes on. :: MINOR SPOILER When Leah is following you in Act 1, enter her room for some unique audio clips ::

Gameplay-wise, I have some bones to pick with it. The old click control scheme requires heavy usage of the shift keys to get the most out of it. I had just finished Diablo 2, again, before Diablo 3 came out so that I could get familiar with the controls and storyline, so I'm not sure how clear the shift key usage is to new players, but I didn't notice a useful tooltip for explaining it. I also witnessed my friends playing without the shift key, and dieing a lot. They're making a slow progression through Act 1 Inferno, hampered by this and a few other things. A new idea for the game is making boss monsters actually large. In comparison to D2, the boss monsters take up over 1000% more screen real estate. It looks awesome, but in practice it can cause movement issues with the character, since clicking is both moving and attacking. My friend died to the Butcher in Inferno more than once by getting stuck in a corner and being unable to click past him before dieing.

As for the skills and abilities, they have a lot of multiplayer potential. The majority are single person buffs or DPS focused, but there are a few, such as the Monk mantras, that are team focused. I'm very interested in the PVP builds that will start coming out in a few months. Already, some broken single player builds have been discovered. Quite cleverly, a Wizard used one ability that reduced all incoming damage to a maximum of 35% of his HP, and another passive that caused him to heal over time. Sacrificing all of his vitality, enemies were hitting him for less than he was healing. Allegedly he managed to solo Diablo on Inferno. What I found the most interesting about this were the statistics for his build. Less than 0.5% of players were using that ridiculously good build. That either means that not a lot of people thought about it, or that there are other builds people are coming out with that are even stronger. The diversity promises to make playing with any new players a learning experience. "Oh, I've never seen that move before. What's it do?"

Fortunately, the community is large and open. After spending a lot of time lurking r/diablo3 (I avoid GD forums at all costs), I found that most posts are funny light hearted memes, or build discussions and gameplay tips. There are a lot of videos of people showcasing their talents in game, as well as plenty of Error 37 criticism. Playing online, you can expect to find a diverse assortment of people, but don't expect too much discussion during gameplay, because it's pretty hard to type and use the mouse at the same time. Look for places like r/diablo3 and for real discussions.

It's a tough call, but I'd have to say that Diablo 3 is a pretty good game. The gameplay is familiar to veterans, though not perfect, and the skills and abilities have a lot of potential for discovery and unique builds. The community is awesome, but you're not going to be talking much while playing, and the lore is astoundingly vast. The biggest bone I have to pick with Diablo 3, I can't really talk about. I don't want to spoil the main plot for anyone, but the characterization and ending leave much to be desired.

Overall :: 4/5

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Video and Feedback Requested

I'm writing a longer form, more serious first impressions of the Firefall Beta, but that won't be out until tomorrow. Tonight, we stream! Okay, maybe you aren't, but I'm going to be on streaming Tribes Ascend for the Double XP Weekend event. Add SaikoGekido in game, or watch it live.

There will be a vlog post later tonight about this topic, but I'm curious what the community thinks about my channel. There are a couple of videos up on the chopping block, which I'll reveal in the vlog. Suffice it to say, some of my older content doesn't really look "professional". Especially the COD style League of Legends (LOL) videos.

I'll update this post with the vlog below when it's finished, or it will come up in your feed if you're subscribed to the channel.

~ SaikoGekido

Monday, May 21, 2012

Secret World Beta Weekend #2 Day 1

You're a member of an elite secret faction imbued with celestial powers, fighting against chthonic forces bent on devouring the world. Sounds a little like the love child of the X-Files and World of Warcraft, which is a fairly accurate description of Funcom's newest MMO.

 Looks like H.P. Lovecraft. Better get a DNA test, X-Files.

The setting is a mixture of modern science fiction and fantasy, introduced to the player right off the bat by a tiny glowing bee. Have you ever heard those rumors about how we swallow bugs in our sleep without realizing it? That's how they start things off, with a pleasant, skin crawling urban myth. A bee floats into your characters room and casually slips into their mouth. Jolted awake, your coughing character reaches for their jacket, which of course lights it on fire with arcane energy. Apparently that wasn't a garden variety bee.
Bumble Bee Tuna anyone?

It was a really well done scene that illustrates how subversive the mystical side of the Secret World's  reality really is. It just creeped right on into the character's life while they were sleeping. Skipping forward a few days, your character starts having transcendental indigestion, puking energy all over their apartment like Cyclops on a bender. They obviously haven't been outside in a while, and probably lost their job by this point. It's not really clear on this part of the setting, which I will get into later.

Another few days and the character has really started to get the hang of their new powers. They're just juggling a tiny energy ball, minding their own business, when there's a knock at the door. Who could that be? Why it's a super secret Templar recruitment agent. She goes through a lengthy exposition detailing the basics of the Secret World to the player, what's expected of the character, hands them a note sealed with a Templar symbol, and ends with a subtle "join or die".

I'm no snake doctor, but I'm pretty sure this kills the snake.

A little background about myself before I respond to what just happened. I have been waiting for The Secret World MMO to come out since I heard about it. The modern setting mixed with elements of fantasy and science fiction really appeals to me, because of certain horror books I read as a child and the more recent World of Darkness setting that I really dug into in the early 90's-2000's. There's just something about people living normal every day lives, oblivious to the monstrous terrors of a true reality underneath theirs, which really appeals to me. Basically, I'm going to be hyper critical of the setting, more so than the gameplay.


The setting is fantastic. Of what I've seen, and I only played through a small portion of the beginning London area, but they managed to pull off a really hard feat. The issue with this sort of setting, and it came up a lot in World of Darkness, is that it's based around supernatural creatures, but as if the events were taking place in reality. What that means is that the setting can't exclude mortal characters/NPCs and just showcase a bunch of monsters or super heroes and cool powers. There has to be reminders that normal people exist. That can be as easily pulled off as having casual NPCs meandering around the city, or expendable characters with no idea what's going on, running for their lives from black ichor soaked horrors. However, I would classify this under "World Setting", because it's external of the character.

The character needs to have a dichotomy of supernaturally imbued badass, and mortal responsibilities. So far, I haven't played enough to understand the nature of what that bee did, but what happened to your character's job? Did they have friends? Allergies? Likes and dislikes? What made them human? That's something I hope there will be more of as I play on. I had a similar discussion with a friend about comic book characters. It's not about the cool powers. They're certainly eye grabbers, but the long time readers keep reading because of the characters. They get attached to the personality. My character is mute. And I know why.

Funcom has placed their excellent setting into a classical MMO build. The combat runs like World of Warcraft, Aion, etc. However, there feels like there's a great deal less emphasis on resource management, and more on movement and action. That's one aspect that really held back the old formula, which involved a lot of staring at bars. I was only able to try out the Shotgun, but it had several different abilities that utilized the position of your character and facing requirements. Oh, and no auto-attack!

But what about white-paw damage?

There is a quest log/mission journal, and quest/mission markers on the mini-map. All the staple improvements of previous Everquest-tier MMOs are included. However, Star Wars: The Old Republic introduced your own character's personal voice acting, which is absent. I think that's really the only complaint I can think of, which popped into my head during the long rambling exposition of the Templar agent. That could have been a moment when any normal person would have spoken up.

They didn't pull a SWTOR and slave a bunch of voice actors to recite thousands of lines of dialogue. The NPCs are all voiced, and there appears to be in game cutscenes at every juncture of a mission tier, but using a voice actor for a minor character or two that only has a few lines of dialogue is different from getting one to recite nearly every possible reply for every mission in the game. Plus, they would have to implement some system like in SWTOR to accommodate multiple personalities, and really the more we talk about this, the messier it gets. SWTOR didn't even get that formula perfect, and they had EA, millions of dollars, and plenty of development time to work with.

Except replace "no" with "kill him"

Overall, I have some really high hopes for The Secret World. I'm definitely heading back to it in the next Beta Weekend for a second look, and an overview of any major changes. It still has a ways to go before release time, which leaves plenty of time for exciting surprises.

Check out the recorded footage from Day 1.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Launch That Couldn't Be Stopped

The most peculiar thing happened earlier this week. Millions upon millions of video gamers ran into a DRM (Digital Rights Management) issue, which is oft maligned and treated with grave sincerity when matters of properly purchased software become rendered inert by their arcane forces. DRM requiring the user to have an active internet connection has been seen as the hell spawn of corrupt business practices. Many a game publisher has been guilty of indulging in this practice, and they were all soundly put in their place by the angry barbarous shouts of the gamer horde. All of them except

Diablo III

There were certainly a bold few to stand up to the challenge of upholding the traditionalist values of gamer society, which say specifically to shun all DRM that makes a game unplayable. On the launch of Diablo 3, millions of gamers attempted to connect to and were rejected. The ripple of "Error 37" messages blew up Reddit and echoed off Facebook. But these weren't the actions of an enraged mob focused on a publisher, like every previous attempt at a similar DRM. People were mad, because they really, really, really wanted to play Diablo 3.

When the dam finally broke, and the people were allowed to enter Hell once again, the protest died. No one cared about the online DRM, Diablo 3 was just too good. While this lingering knowledge of obeisance to future publisher treatment is still stuck in every gamer's head that participated in the launch event, the tiny whispers of doubt and fear are just a minor annoyance. If Activision-Blizzard can do it, so can EA and Ubisoft. What if the success of the Lord of Terror reinvigorates these old gamers' adversaries. All new forms of heavy DRM could be let loose upon the masses, hidden in the gorged bellies of beloved franchises.

Assassin's Creed 3 is perched on the horizon. A bit foreboding, but let's dive away from this topic for a moment.

The actual game, Diablo 3 that is, seems simple and dumbed down at first glance. Once one delves into the multiple difficulty layers they discover the various abilities they've been sampling have a subtle range of flavor, like the difference between dark chocolate and milk chocolate. The goal is to get fat on loot, but the game must be paced and enjoyed, lest one suffer a heart attack.  SPOILER a lot of people may have already suffered at least a headache from the ending. END SPOILER All in all, the game is quite delicious and fulfilling. It was well worth the long wait and even the snooty service.