Monday, June 30, 2014

E3 2014

E3 is an exciting time of the year. I remember when I was much younger; I would always be looking forward to the next E3 to see all the latest gaming news. This was during a time when there wasn’t as many gaming new sites as there are now so I would end up having to watch X-Play on Tech TV to find out the latest gaming news. However with the surge of dedicated gaming news websites, E3 hasn’t driven as much excitement as it used to.  Maybe my expectation was a little high since this would be the first E3 since the PS4 and Xbox One were launched and I wanted to see more games for each console coming out this year. Sony and Microsoft held their own conferences the day before E3 discussing their plans for the next couple of years while Nintendo had their own online conference the next morning.

Microsoft’s presentation was a step in the right direction in trying to win me back. Microsoft announced its latest racing title, Forza Horizon 2 arriving in stores on September 30th. I’m not particularly interested in racing games but Forza Horizon 2 looked great. Fable Legends was also announced but I’ve been scorned by Fable enough times to know to not listen to any hype associated with Fable. Even with the gameplay demo, I was pretty disappointed in the direction that fable took. The new gameplay mechanics is to have a team of 3 heroes face off against waves of enemies that are strategically placed by the fourth player. The big reveal for this E3 was the Master Chief Collection and Halo 5. The Master Chief Collection will contain Halo 1, 2, 3 and 4 with the Annivesary remake of Halo 1 and 2. They announced that all the original maps will be available for Halo 2’s online match making. They also announced that players will have access to all the maps from previous games but I’m not sure if they will be available for online play. Halo 2’s anniversary remake is something that will sell consoles. I’m tempted to get an Xbox One but I’m still unsure if I will be willing to buy one just for Halo 2. Microsoft also announced that Halo 5 will be getting a beta and players can gain access by purchasing the Master Chief Collection. The beta should be available around December. Microsoft did tease Conker from Conker’s Bad Fur day but he’s only going to be a character available within Project Spark which was disappointing news.

Sony is continuing to build upon the presence as a console for traditional gamers. They announced a standalone DLC for Infamous which means that players do not need access to Infamous Second Son to be able to play the DLC. They also announced Little Big Planet 3 with a few new character types that have their own abilities and unique way of solving situations. Little Big Planet has always felt a little too floaty for me so I’ve never been able to enjoy it as much as the rest of the community. Surprisingly Sony announced that all previous creations from Little Big Planet 1 and 2 will be available to use in the latest iteration of the series. Sony also announced that they are working with Tim Schafer to rerelease Grim Fandango to both PS4 and Vita. Another large announcement that I’m excited for is the Playstation TV which is already available in Japan under the name of PS Vita TV. It will allow any TV access to Playstation games through Playstation Now services and PS vita games by using a Dualshock 3 controller. I’m hoping that Sony eventually integrates the PS4 controller with the Playstation TV since it is a superior controller. I’m very excited to see that Sony cares about indie developers and gave a small time developer the chance to show off their latest creation during Sony’s E3 presentation. Hello Games’ Sean Murray was able to show the crowds at the theaters and those watching at home their latest project, No Man’s Sky. The game looks gorgeous and is set within brightly colored planets with unique sets of flora and fauna that range from orange grass and trees to caribou and large dinosaurs. Players even travel to other planets through spaceships for the ultimate exploration and survival experience. Sony also debuted a new trailer for Arkham Knight which is my currently most anticipated game. Unfortunately not much was shown other then some scenes with the Batmobile which looked marvelous.

Nintendo choose to opt out of a conference the night before E3 but instead did a direct conference that was streamed. Nintendo started off big with Super Smash Bros for Wii U. They announced that Mii avatars would be available to use as a character with three distinct fighting styles. Nintendo also announced their own figurine collection (basically a direct competitor to Skylanders and Disney Infinity) called Amiibo and will be used for multiple games, starting with Smash Bros. They also announced a new Mario spin off, Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker which looked like a 3D puzzle platformer. Nintendo also teased a little of the latest Zelda game which seems to be an open world environment with graphics similar to Skyward Sword. Another exciting is the Mario Maker, a Super-Mario level designer. It will give players a chance to show off their level designing skills and hopefully be able to share it with friends. I’m hoping to see some sort of online uploading and voting system that gets reset every week or month so we can continuously see new user generated content. Splatoon was one of my favorite games from this past E3. It’s a refreshing take on shooters where the goal isn’t to kill your opponents but to fill the map up with your color ink. The players in human form can shoot out ink that will line the floors and wall with their respective colored ink. The objective is to have the most territory by the end of the match. Players can also turn into squids to swim through their own ink spills to navigate the maps much faster while players walking through enemy ink will dramatically slow down. Splatoon seems like a very fun shooter but hopefully there will be a variety of game modes to help reduce any repetition.

While this E3 wasn’t the most exciting event for me, I’m still looking forward to the next era of gaming. Arkham Knight was my favorite game from this E3 but No Man’s Sky and Splatoon were two games that surprised me the most. I’m hoping that Microsoft is going to continue to listen to fans going forward and make decisions that will make me interested in coming back to the Xbox brand. While I wasn’t excited by every game this E3, I’m sure this new generation of consoles will live up to their predecessors as long as we give them some time to develop new games.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Grind to Legend

The last few months I’ve been trying to hit the legend rank in Hearthstone. I’ve only tried to hit legend in the last two seasons because Blizzard finally offered a reward, the legend card back. The road to legend is an interesting one because it doesn’t seem too hard to obtain but many have struggled to attain the rank.  Hitting legend boils down to having at least a 51% win rate on the ladder and then playing a lot of games. Obviously you want to hit higher than a 51% win rate because the amount of games required to hit legend at 51% is just absurd. I want to offer some tips for those who are struggling for the next season.

The first thing you should do is keep a track of your win ratio through an excel spreadsheet. You should try to write down all the different deck types such as Control Warrior, Aggro Warrior, Zoolock,  Handlock, Aggro Mage, Ramp Druid and Token Druid. You should have a win and loss column for each and along with a win percentage next to those. You should also have a total win percentage so you can check your overall progress. One thing I should have done that I didn’t was to write down the name of your opponent in another column that corresponds to the deck they were playing. You can also fill in some extra information such as if you notice they played a card that isn’t part of the usual deck list.

You should use this spread sheet to reflect on what you need to do to improve you games. Since you are not aware of what deck your opponent will be playing you can’t que up with a specific class to counter them. However you can notice through the spread sheet what classes you are facing more often and how well you do against those. It gives you an idea of the current meta that you’re facing and what cards you might want to consider swapping in to have a slight advantage.

Understanding the current meta is important but so is understanding your current deck. I personally believe that you should stick to one deck that you completely understand. You need to know the multiple ways of obtaining lethal and what cards to mulligan when you face different classes. Using the spread sheet with the one deck will help you see the deck’s weaknesses. You can then try to modify your deck to improve it against those match ups that you frequently lose. When choosing a deck you should try to make one that is unique or not well known. Finding a deck on the internet is very easy but it also means that your opponent will know most of the cards in your deck which puts you at a disadvantage. You should constantly look at new decks that people are playing on various internet sites. Understanding and recognizing what deck your opponent has is one of the best advantages you can have on the ladder. It will allow you to make better decisions when you mulligan and when you have multiple plays.

One thing I really recommend to do after every match is to take a short break. If you won the last match, take a quick one minute break by walking around your house, getting a glass of water or using the bathroom. If you lost the last match take a longer break to cool off and try to understand why you lost the previous match. It is tempting to say well my opponent just top decked me or had the perfect hand but its important to really take time to reflect on your last loss in order to avoid it in the future. Maybe a play you did three turns ago set you up for this loss. If you had multiple losses then you should take a very long break. Losing a few times in a row can force you into a negative mindset and hinder your progress through the ladder. I’ve had a few moments last season where I let the anger cloud my judgment and I just went on a horrible losing streak.

I’ve learned a lot from my experience climbing the ladder. One thing for certain is to play early in the month. Nothing is worse then trying to hit legend with only a day or two left in the season. The grind to legend takes a very long time especially from ranks 5-1 since there are no longer any bonus stars for win streaks. I personally liked playing a control type of deck from ranks 25-5 since winning multiple times will get you to legend faster with the win streak bonus. However the downside to a control deck is that the matches are longer than average since control decks generally win past turn 10. I switched to an aggro deck after rank 4 since there were no more win streak bonuses and I just had to win as many games as I could. Faster games were much less aggravating to lose which helped me stay on track. I was lucky enough to find a deck that seemed to have an incredible win rate against my current meta which was the push I needed to hit legend. If you find a deck that just keeps winning you should play it as much as you can right now because the meta will change very quickly. I tried playing on my friends account with the same deck later that night and the meta was completely different. I kept running into decks that my deck was completely weak against. This was within a few hours of me hitting legend on my own account.

I also noticed that Leeroy Jenkins is in almost every deck I’ve faced. The current meta seems very bursty especially with the popularity of Leeroy. I have a feeling that there has to be some sort of nerf in the works for Leeroy or at least the new expansion will reduce his value with introduction of new cards.

The grind to legend is a very difficult one for those who lack patience. Getting to legend from rank 25 will take a lot of games, somewhere in the range of 80 to 100 games. It’s a huge time sink and it may not be worth it to everyone. However I love Hearthstone and I knew I was capable of hitting legend. I needed to focus all my attention on to the ladder and keep pushing forward. After hitting legend, I have a new found respect for those players who can hit legend in a month without spending a dime on the game. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Working Towards a Greater Diablo Experience

It’s been over a month since the launch of Reaper of Souls and I have a much better understanding of what the game requires to continue to keep players hooked. I still recommend the expansion to anyone who enjoyed Diablo 3 because it a huge improvement over the vanilla copy of the game. However it still suffers from a lot the same problems that Diablo 3 had even with the updates.

The first thing that needs a rework is most of the legendary items. Currently only a handful of legendaries are useful and that’s mainly because those “good” legendaries provide extra useful stats such as increase in damage or a stat that’s not generally available to that slot. Legendaries should each provide a unique buff that’s useful for a player. While players will generally want a pure damage increase on their legendary items, I think there are other viable affixes that legendaries could bring to the table that would be unique. Elite/Champion monsters have specific affixes like arcane sentry, vortex, plague, and electrify. These could be distributed to different legendary items that will allow the player to drop these affixes against enemies and scale based off either primary stat or weapon damage. We already have fire walker boots which is essentially the molten affix from mobs. You would have to change the color of the effects so players know which are friendly arcane sentries and which are ones dropped by the enemy.

I think legendary gear should also have a level up mechanic introduced. Each item should have an experience bar with a few sets of levels. Each increasing level will either give a buff or provide the player with some new effect. One example could be the following. If lets say Arcanium Boots drop one arcane sentry beam for equipping, and then each level up that the boots receive will gain an extra sentry up to lets say a maximum of five beams out at once. Vortex items could pull mobs from further away with each level up. The level up mechanics shouldn’t be just an increase in damage output or survivability. If this was the case then players would feel that leveling up a new items means they’re going to be wearing a downgrade for awhile until they can get the new item to the appropriate level. You could allow the player to transfer experience from one item to another through the Mystic vendor but allow for some of the experience to be lost. So the player would only be allowed to transfer experience from items in the same slot and they would have to transfer all the experience over but only receive lets say 30% of the total on the new item. Blood shards could be used as a reagent for this transaction.

Currently fire skills have a huge advantage over the other elemental skills. Fire naturally has an increase in damage compared to lightning and cold skills since those are considered more for utility purposes. However increase to fire skills is available on more pieces of gear than the other elements which makes fire better than the other skills. Increase to fire skills is available on a glove, a chest, two 1-handed weapons, and one 2-handed weapon. Cold damage is available on a glove, and two 1-handed weapons. Lightning damage is available on a belt, a one handed weapon and a two handed weapon. I rather not see any nerfs to the fire damage items but see new items that help close the gap between fire and the other elements.

Death’s Breath should also receive a rework. Players should be able to use Death’s Breath as a currency to buy other crafting mats. The ratios would need to be tested thoroughly before implementation but something along the lines of 10 Death’s Breath for one  Forgotten soul, 1 Death’s Breath for 5 Veiled Crystals and 1 Death’s Breath for 10 Arcane Dust.

Blood Shards could also allow players to fight the specific purple named monsters to acquire the specific legendary crafting material needed for some legendary items. The player would be able to donate 40 blood shards (again this number can change depending on which monster to spawn) and that monster will now spawn in the next rift as an enemy wandering around.

I believe the cost of rerolling an item should decrease over time. Blizzard should think about making the item cost reset back to the original cost over a two week period. I’ve gotten some items where I increase the reroll cost significantly and still had not received the stat I wanted. I ended up just chalking it up to a loss and decided to wait for something else to drop so I didn’t have to lose all my money for a single stat. Resetting the costs would also allow players to try out new stats without having to worry about the cost in the long run.

I would really like Blizzard to add in some new vanity items to help create a diverse set of armors that players can choose from. It should work in a similar fashion to the way World of Warcraft challenge modes reward players. Completing certain achievements (specifically the more challenging ones) should provide the player with new sets of armors to transmorg. The idea of tiered rifts could also give the players new sets of wings that are only available from the higher level of tiered rifts. They can also create different types of vanity rewards such as killing a monster has a chance to make it rain blood everywhere, or picking up health globes turns the character red indicating that they bathe in blood. These would be effects that you can toggle on and off in the character sheet or a new tab under the paragon menu.

Blizzard could add in monster challenges where you fight in an arena against a specific type of monster. You have to defeat each wave of that specific monster with each wave becoming harder then the last (increasing the number of affixes the monsters gain). Your reward could be a pet that resembles that monster or a set of gear that looks like the monster. There would be leaderboards for the fastest clear times plus highest wave achieved. If Blizzard really wanted to add some randomness to this, the higher end waves would have a higher chance to drop the pet, or pieces of gear that you use for transmorg. That way the player would have to go through the waves more than once to try to acquire all the pieces of gear. Torment difficulty would also scale with the drop rates allowing players who can handle higher Torments to have a better chance. There could be two separate modes, one for coop and one for single player since coop seems to make the game a lot easier.

I would absolutely love some controller support for the PC version. I prefer controllers over keyboard/mouse for gaming since that’s what I’ve been using for most of my life. Diablo 3 feels pretty natural on the Xbox 360 when I played the demo a few months ago. Honestly I know this probably won’t ever come to the PC since it requires an entirely separate UI but I still hope Blizzard will consider it one day in the future.

Most of these ideas help to push for more content and add reasons to continue playing but are far from the only ways to improve the Diablo experience. Most of these ideas could be fully fleshed out as separate game modes (similar to adventure and campaign). So far Blizzard is on the right track towards creating a greater Diablo experience and I just hope they don’t get side tracked along the way.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Enjoy the Reaper

Reaper of Souls was just released last week and I have to say it’s the Diablo experience that should have been what we received when Diablo 3 first launched. I’ve literally been playing Reaper of Souls non stop for the last week. It significantly improves upon all the small updates that Blizzard has been sprinkling since the launch of the original game. Blizzard should be proud of the expansion they have released and I hope they continue current their current game design philosophy.

One of the biggest changes in Diablo’s latest update was the new and improved loot system. All stats have a much smaller ranged which means randomness isn’t as large of a factor. Blizzard also developed a smart loot system which places a priority on the primary stat of the item depending on the hero you are currently playing. Players no longer need to hope for that perfect drop since the release of the Mystic. The new NPC allows players to reroll one item’s properties to another property or even a higher number of that same property for a cost of disenchanted materials and gold. You can only reroll one property per item and every reroll will cost more gold. It’s a wonderful system that helps players acquire perfect gear to slaughter the denizens of Diablo 3.

Adventure mode is a breath fresh air in Diablo 3. The original game had players just repeat the same quests over and over again doing the same exact areas since anything else would result in less gear or experience. Adventure mode fixes this with two new options, bounties and rifts.

 Bounties provide objectives in each act for the player to complete and reward the player with experience, gold, blood shards and rift keys. Most of them revolve around the idea of going to an area and wiping out most of the mobs plus a specific champion pack. Some bounties require you to kill specific bosses or cleanse a cursed chest/shrine. Cursed chests and shrines are new additions to Diablo 3. They usually require the player to kill a certain amount of mobs in a small time limit in order to receive a bonus chest of loot. Clearing five bounties in an act will net the player additional experience, gold and a Horadric Cache. These caches are filled with rare items, a chance at some specific set of legendaries, more rift keys, blood shards and various gems.

The second option in Adventure mode requires 5 rift keys. When the player acquires 5 rift keys they can open a rift which contains a randomized dungeon. The rifts usually contain multiple levels and each level is the same map layout that you find in the original campaign. However the monsters sets are completely randomized and you may face act 4 monsters while in an act 2 area. Champion and elite packs of enemies are scattered throughout the rifts along with new shrines. The new shrines are incredibly powerful providing players with short buffs such as 400% damage increase, immunity shields, no resource cost, and super fast movement speed. The main objective of the rifts is to kill enough monsters to spawn the rift guardian. Rift guardians are reskinned bosses from the campaign and always drop a significant amount of loot which includes chances at forgotten souls (the legendary disenchant material which is very useful for all sorts of crafting and rerolling), 40+ blood shards, and various other pieces of loot and gems.

Blood shards serve as a form of currency that the player can use to buy randomized pieces of gear from a vendor. So far this is the only use for blood shards but I believe Blizzard has more ideas for ways to use blood shards that they are saving for future patches. The gear that you can buy is usually a rare but once in a blue moon you will receive a legendary. After spending more than 1500 blood shards, I was able to receive a perfect rolled set of legendary gloves. I was in a state of disbelief when I saw the stats that were rolled on the gloves and immediately called my friend to let him know. It was probably one of my happiest moments in Diablo 3 to receive such a huge upgrade especially since I hadn’t received anything worthwhile for quite some time.

One of the biggest changes that I am happy about is the revamped skills for my class. I believe all the classes have had changes in regards to skills but I’m only familiar with Barbarian changes since that’s my class of choice in Diablo 3. When I first played Diablo 3 at launch, there were only a handful of builds that people were following which eventually turned into one builds that almost every barbarian was using. The inclusion of element specific runes for each skill now allows the user to a variety of builds that are all fairly equivalent. I still play my bread and butter build where I use a basic attack with my Hammer of the Ancients but I was able to effectively try different builds that still work efficiently. I had a lot of fun playing a ranged Barbarian which was a very unique build in the early days of Diablo 3 but may make a come back since it deals so much more damage in Reaper of Souls. Overall I expect a lot of build  diversity among the classes and expect a lot of gear drops to influence which skills players take.

My only concern with this expansion is the rate at which I’ll receive upgrades since the only items that improve my gear are legendaries. I receive one legendary about every 90 minutes to every two hours and most of the time its some useless legendary that is only worth the forgotten soul that I get from disenchanting it. Most people will hit this wall where the only upgrades are available from legendaries since rare items are available in abundance. I hit this gear limitation in about the first day that I played since rare items are constantly dropping and are the only use of blood shards. Other players who are playing at a more casual approach may not reach this for a few days to a week. Blizzard has been watching the drop rates of legendaries and has adjusted them fairly recent to drop more frequently.

I’m also wondering how it will be possible to efficiently farm the higher tiers of Torment (the hardest difficulty). Most of the gear that I’ve seen does not seem to have high enough stats to tackle the later Torment difficulties. As far as I know each level of Torment only increases how many items you find and not the possible stat ranges of each item. My concern here is how gear progression will work when it comes to mobs having ridiculously high health and damage output when our gear may not scale as high.

I would highly recommend Reaper of Souls to anyone who wants to feed an addiction to acquiring loot and crushing monsters. Blizzard has redeemed themselves from the failure of Diablo 3’s initial launch and has earned a great deal of respect. I look forward to each and every patch that Blizzard plans on releasing for Diablo in the upcoming months.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Splinter Cell: Blacklist, a true successor to Chaos Theory

Splinter Cell Blacklist is probably one of the best games I’ve played in a very long time. I’m a huge Splinter Cell fan and I have to say that it is equal to the quality that Chaos Theory brought to the table. I’ll admit that I was at first a little disappointed at the way the game played but in the end I was proven wrong. This is Splinter Cell at its finest. It takes best of worlds, Conviction’s fluid gameplay and Chaos Theory’s emphasis on stealth. Splinter Cell Conviction was a great game but it was not a great Splinter Cell game. It lacked a lot of the features that made the original Splinter Cell games so fun. However Ubisoft has learned their lesson and made an outstanding game within the Splinter Cell Franchise. This review is mainly going to focus on only single player aspects since I haven’t had a chance to play online yet.

At first the lack of a light meter and sound meter had me worried about whether or not Ubisoft was trying to bring the Splinter Cell franchise back to its roots. The Splinter Cell franchise has evolved into a quick and action oriented stealth game.  Blacklist has three distinctive play styles, Ghost, Panther and Assault. Ghost (my preferred style) grades the player based on avoiding enemies or knocking out enemies without being detected. The player receives extra efficiency points for every guard they leave untouched. Panther style awards points to players who kill enemies without being detected. Assault is your typical guns blazing approach and doesn't rely on stealth at all.  I actually went through the entire game as a Ghost on Perfectionist. Perfectionist is the hardest difficulty which prevents the player from seeing through walls in sonar vision and removes the ability to Mark and execute. I was extremely satisfied with this difficulty since mark and execute was a simple "I win" button.

The stealth works different in this game. The player can still be detected in the shadows but they have a certain amount of time before they are detected. The time is influenced by how dark the environment is around the player. I believe higher difficulties also reduce the time available before detection. The old splinter cell games worked differently. The darkness would provide you with cover for as long as you were still covered in shadows. However in Blacklist, the player must stay out of line of site, similar to how Metal Gear Solid series operates. This is fine because it keeps the player from feeling safe in the darkness. It forces them to become more proactive.

Blacklist provides a huge arsenal of weapons for Sam to use and upgrade on his journey to stopping terrorists. Honestly I didn't see a need for all these weapons for a stealth play through since I barely shot any bullets through the main campaign. The weapons are more for the Panther and Assault play styles which depend on killing foes. Sam Fisher also gets to choose different sets of armor that suit either a stealth or combat play style. The player gets to choose from 3-4 stealth suits and 3-4 combat suits. The stealth suits make less noise and provide higher stealth rating but very low armor. The combat suits are the exact opposite of stealth. The difference between each of the stealth suit is just a higher stealth rating. The combat suits work the same way with progressively higher armor rating. The higher quality suits require the player to purchase the previous suits except for the ultimate version. The ultimate version of each can only be unlocked through finishing the specific set of side missions.

The Splinter Cell series isn't really known for having an amazing storyline but I did enjoy the campaign’s story. A group called the Engineers are planning to attack the United States unless the United States removes all soldiers from every country around the world. Sam Fisher has to find out who the Engineers are and stop all attacks. Blacklist’s campaign missions alternate between stopping the Engineers’ attacks and gathering information about the Engineers’ plan. The side missions are more about gathering general intel on the Engineers and other enemies. Almost every mission in the game has some extra objectives such as gathering data drops, capturing high value targets and hacking laptops. The player is awarded cash to upgrade armor if these extra objectives are completed.

I honestly don’t have any real problems with Blacklist. I think it’s a well designed game with a variety of enemies in each level. I did think the game was a little on the easy side since I was able to complete it with relative ease on the hardest difficulty as a ghost. The only thing I really didn’t like was the way they portray Sam Fisher in this game. However Ubisoft has been constantly changing his personality with each new Splinter Cell game so this is nothing new. I think I would appreciate them giving Sam a break and introducing a new protagonist for the Splinter Cell series. Splinter Cell Blacklist is tied with Chaos Theory as the best Splinter Cell game. If you only had time to play one game from the Splinter Cell franchise, Blacklist would be that game. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Yogg-Saron, The fiend of a Thousand Faces

In all the years I have been playing games, I think there are only a handful of boss fights that I will always remember. Yogg-Saron is one of those fights that will stay with me till the end of time. World of Warcraft has had many expansions each filled with unique boss encounters but I believe Yogg-Saron is one of Blizzard’s greatest achievements.

Yogg-Saron in the WoW universe is one the ancient creature known as the Old Gods. Vanilla WoW players may remember C’Thun one of the old raid bosses found in Ahn’Qiraj which was the first Old Gods encounter. Yogg-Saron, like the other Old Gods was imprisoned underground by the Titans and stripped of its powers. Ulduar was the prison constructed for Yogg-Saron and six watchers were assigned to stand watch for the eternal imprisonment. Four of the watchers, Hodir, Thorim, Mimiron and Freya were boss encounters found in Ulduar who were corrupted by Yogg-Saron to serve him. After defeating the four watchers you can request their help during the Yogg-Saron fight.

The primary mechanic that persist through all three phases of the Yogg-Saron fight is your Sanity. You start the encounter with 100 sanity and when the counter drops to 0 you become Insane. While Insane, the player is controlled by Yogg-Saron, increases their damage by 100% and health is increased by 300%. Basically one person going Insane can be the reason why an entire raid of 25 people end up failing the encounter. So how does a person lose sanity?  Well certain mechanics during Phase 2 and Phase 3 will reduce a player’s sanity.

Phase 1 starts off with Sara (Yogg-Saron’s avatar) in the center of a saronite pool. When players enter the room, green gas clouds begin to appear around Sara and  move in a circular motion around her for the duration of Phase 1. Creatures known as Guardians of Yogg-Saron begin to spawn at fixed intervals, at an increasing rate. The only way to move on to Phase 2 is to deal enough damage to Sara but the only way to deal damage to Sara is to kill a Guardian near her so that the explosion from the Guardian’s death will damage her. If a player stands within the range of a cloud, another Guardian will spawn which can hinder the raid if too many are spawned and not enough damage out put is available. The raid needs to kill about eight guardians near Sara to push the phase. Sara will cast three different debuffs to raid members that will give them increase in damage or healing but also make them more vulnerable to damage. The Guardians of Yogg-Saron will also cast an attack that will hit everyone in the raid and reduce healing received. Raid members have to make sure they interrupt as many of those spells as possible to minimize damage.

Phase 2 will begin with Sara turning into her true form, a val’kyr and Yogg-Saron will emerge from the pool of saronite. Now Sara will begin to cast a new set of debuffs on random players. Psychosis is a straight damage and sanity reduction. She also summons slow moving beams which deal lethal damage to players. Malady of the Mind is another debuff that deals some damage, reduces sanity and will jump to another player when it expires if someone is within a close distance. It also fears the player which moves the player in a random direction. All other players must move away from the player afflicted with Malady of the Mind or it will continue to spread to other raid members. The last ability she can cast is Brain Link. Brain Link will link two players together and both players must be within a certain distance of each other or they take damage and lose sanity every second. Just based off Sara’s ability we can see that the encounter relies heavily on pay attention to your surroundings and knowing when to spread out and when to group together.

During Phase 2 Yogg-Saron will summon three types of tentacles. The largest tentacle will cast a debuff that reduces damage the raid will do and stacks up to 4 times. The medium sized tentacles will spawn various curses and poisons on the raid which must be dispelled by healers or anyone who has the ability to remove the debuffs. The smallest tentacles will grab a nearby player preventing them from moving. The raid will have to kill the tentacle to release the player.

To push into phase 3, players will need  deal enough damage to Yogg-Saron’s brain. Throughout phase 2, portals will spawn around Yogg-Saron that will teleport a player into one of three rooms. These rooms will have floating skulls that will drain sanity when facing them and will have mobs that need to be dealt with before getting access to the brain  room. When they reach they brain, they only have a small amount of time to actually damage the brain before Yogg-Saron drops their entire sanity to zero. Players have to leave the brain room and teleport back into the main room with all the tentacles and Sara before he casts his sanity wipe. The portals open every minute or so and the raid must coordinate who goes through which portal since only one person can take each portal.

At the start of Phase 3 Yogg-Saron will now have 30% of his full life. He will begin summoning Immortal Guardians that deal more damage at full health. However they cannot be killed unless Thorim is helping with the encounter. Yogg-Saron will begin casting Lunatic Gaze every so often which reduces sanity of any player that is facing him. He will also begin to empower the Immortal Guardians which allows them to regenerate their health. If you only bring three or less watchers with you then he will also silence the entire party for four seconds. Phase 3 is all about managing the Immortal Guardians and damaging on Yogg-Saron before he enrages and wipes the raid.

Each watcher that you bring down with you to the fight will make the entire fight much easier. Mimiron increases the raid’s movement speed by 20% and reduces the attack speed and casting speed for all tentacles. Hodir will reduce all damage taken by 20% and has a chance of casting a protective ice block around a player when they are about to die. Thorim increases the raid’s health by 20% and will kill any Immortal Guardians at low health. Freya will increase all healing received and will generate Sanity Wells which will regenerate Sanity for any players standing in them.

Since all the watchers seem to provide very useful buffs, why would a raid want to leave them out? Well bringing only one or none of the watchers will grant the raid better rewards. If the raid is able to accomplish killing Yogg-Saron with zero keepers then they were rewarded with an exclusive mount, Mimiron’s Head. I think its one of the best looking mounts in game and reminds me of Dr. Robotntik’s ship.

Alone in the Darkness (Yogg-Saron with zero keepers) is one of the best fights in any game. The amount of coordination and skill required to even complete this encounter with gear only available at that time is impressive. It requires all 25 players to be performing at their best to even stand a chance at obtaining Mimiron’s Head.  I wanted to end this post with all the voice work of Yogg-Saron that you hear through out the fight and at different parts of Northrend. Blizzard did a wonderful job in finding the creepiest sounding voice for Yogg-Saron. I hope other developers will take a page from Blizzard’s boss fights and try to make unique and interesting encounters full of different mechanics.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Playstation 4: The Future is Here

Playstation 4’s launch has been more successful than I anticipated, selling more than 2.1 million units globally. I was fortunate enough to grab one off Amazon at launch last month and was able to mess around with it. Unfortunately there hasn’t been a game that caught my interest so my Playstation 4 has just been collecting dust. I did get to mess around with the different features and play through Contrast and Resogun which came free with Playstation Plus.

The Playstation 4 box is surprisingly thin. It comes with a power cord, one controller, the PS4 system and an HDMI cable. Luckily the power cord is just a single cord and doesn’t have a bulky power brick attached to it. Right now I have the PS4 laying down horizontally but I might invest in a stand to secure it in a vertical stance to save some space. The power and eject button are extremely small and I actually couldn’t find it the first time I tried powering up my console.

The PS4 UI seems like an evolved form of the XBM found on the PSP and PS3. Every time you add a game to your console another icon for that game is created. Right now it doesn’t seem like a problem but when we start having a larger collection, the menu will become cluttered and increasingly annoying to navigate. There isn’t much customization features available for the UI such as setting custom backgrounds or changing the color of menu backgrounds but I believe Sony will add those features in future updates. I hope there is some sort of way to organize your collection by folders that doesn’t require an automatic sort by name, genre or some other predetermined method so that I could tailor my collection to my needs. I would also like an updated Trophy system. I prefer the way that Xbox live achievements work where if you press the guide button while an achievement is popped up you get taken to that achievement in the guide menu. It’s not a deal breaker but it certainly makes it easier to hunt for achievements/trophies if it would work similar to Xbox. Sony added a percentage next to each trophy indicating how many people have acquired that specific trophy which is nice to see how you compare to the general public.

There hasn’t been a single game that I am willing to pay retail for the PS4. But this is something I expected since it’s still very early into the launch. I didn’t want an Xbox 360 until Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released which was about 6 months into the life of the 360. I expect 6 months down the road I’ll probably end up picking a bunch of games that either dropped in price since the launch or some new games that have been teased for a mid 2014 launch. I did get Contrast and Resogun for free with my Playstation Plus subscription. As long as I continue to update my Playstation Plus every year I’ll continue to keep these games and any other Sony decides to give out for free.

Contrast is a basic 3D platformer with an interesting mechanic of going into a 2D shadow world. It has some clever moments for some of the puzzles but its a short game so many of the mechanics aren't as deep as I would have liked. The story line seems a little sparse offering very little incentive to revisit it. The lighting effects demonstrate the power of the PS4 especially since its an early release game and developers will eventually learn how to properly utilize the PS4 in the future.

Resogun is actually probably the highlight of the PS4 launch. When I first started playing Resogun I didn’t really understand any of the mechanics or why my humans were dying. The game doesn’t really teach you anything at all and I ended up having to look online to figure out the different mechanics and reading the manual in the in game menu. However after I understood the game, it became one of my favorite games to play. You’re basically flying a ship that can shoot either left or right and you move along a 2D plane that is essentially a circle. You’re objective is to clear through the enemies and save any humans who are imprisoned in boxes. Releasing humans vary from having to kill certain green glowing enemies to maintaining a combo during a certain time. However losing human’s doesn’t really serve a penalty. You can win the level without saving a single human. Saving a human and placing them at the safe point will gain you bombs, lives, shields or extra points. The real objective of the game is to try to continue to beat your high scores and try to get your name on the leader boards. It’s very similar to geometry wars but I think I still prefer geometry wars over Resogun.

The share feature for the PS4 is better than I expected. I always wanted a way to stream gameplay so that my friends can watch me play but until now there really wasn’t a way to do it without the aid of a PC. Pressing the share button brings up a menu that allows you to connect to your Twitch account very quickly and start streaming right away. You can even change the button to do different things like taking a screenshot or record the last 15 minutes of gameplay if something incredible just happened. Its definitely a feature I expect to use going forward when I have a collection of games available to play. There is even an app that allows you to watch other PS4 streamers which is a good way to see some gameplay footage of games that might not have a demo available on the marketplace.

The best aspect of the PS4 is the controller it self. When I first saw images of the controller I was skeptical that it would be better than the current 360 controller. However after actually picking up the controller, I can safely say it’s probably my favorite controller of all time. Everything just feels right, the way that your hand rests and curves to the controller, the weight of the controller and even the trigger feel great. I haven’t had any games that use the center touch pad so I can’t comment its responsiveness. The directional pad is still the same great directional pad we had from Playstation. The share and option button might feel a little too high up but other than that the controller fits perfectly in my hands. One huge negative is that you can’t turn off the light on the front of the controller. This can become a problem because the light will glare off a television set which can become distracting. The best part of the controller is the headset port at the bottom. It allows you to connect any regular headset to the controller and you can choose to have in-game audio to be played through the headset. This allows for those gamers who have irregular gaming hours or really late night sessions to play without waking up the entire house. This headset port also allows you to use your headset’s microphone which prevents you from having to buy very specific first party microphones that you’ll only end up breaking a few months down the road.

PS4 may not have a great line of games right now but it sure does deliver an amazing console experience. Sony has done a great job in marketing the PS4 towards the needs of traditional gamers. Sony just needs to make some UI improvements and start releasing some must have games for the PS4. I’m looking forward to the future of gaming on the PS4.