Friday, June 12, 2015

Heroes of the Storm Review

I've never really been a particular fan of MOBA games. League of Legends, the original DotA, DotA 2, none of them ever really caught my interest. To be honest, I was convinced that the same would occur with Heroes of the Storm. I though it was a cool idea for a game, but I felt that it just wasn't the game for me. Somehow I got lucky enough to get into the beta for Heroes of the Storm and checked it out for myself. Immediately I could tell it was a much more simplified MOBA than other games that had come before, not that this is a bad thing mind you. I played a few games during the beta, and I had a blast. Now the game is out, and I anticipate that I'll be spending many an hour in this game.

Heroes of the Storm uses a wide variety of characters from various Blizzard games. You'll see recognizable characters like Jim Raynor, Kerrigan, Thrall, Jaina, Diablo, Tyrael, and many more. While the roster is nowhere near as big as other games like League of Legends or DotA 2, Blizzard does have plans to expand this gradually with more heroes over time. In fact, the Butcher from Diablo 3 will be added into the game at the end of this month along with a Diablo themed stage known as The Eternal Conflict. 

Gameplay in Heroes of the Storm is very similar to what you'd expect in a MOBA. You and four other players go down three lanes, destroy enemy defenses, and take out their main building (known as the core in this game) in order to win. Heroes of the Storm adds its own twist to the gameplay however. On every stage, there is some sort of additional objective that you can pursue. By completing this objective before your opponent does, you can turn the tide of battle in your favor. Some examples of this would be a ghostly pirate ship firing at your opponent's base or summoning a large dragon you can control to tear through minions and buildings alike. It is this extra objective that makes Heroes of the Storm stand out among other MOBA games in a way that is unique and interesting.

Typical of Blizzard games, particularly the older RTS games like Warcraft III, Blizzard has wasted no opportunities in adding in some humor into the game. The tutorial is a silly experience which is enhanced by having a variety of characters interacting with one another. Even during actual gameplay characters will interact with one another before and during the match. Of course, characters will also so a variety of amusing things when you continually click on them. A lot of the dialogue includes tongue in cheek humor in which Blizzard makes fun of certain things in their games or events that have happened. This includes a line from the would be main character of the doomed Starcraft: Ghost, making a joke that gets “put on hold indefinitely” or Falstad referencing the infamous Red Shirt guy from Blizzcon a few years back.

I personally have been having a blast with this game, but I know that it is certainly not for everyone. Fans of LoL, DotA 2, or any other well known MOBA will likely not lose many players to Heroes of the Storm. A lot of people won't like the more simplified, non-stalemate style of Heroes of the Storm where you don't have to worry about buying items and deal with less complex talent builds. That said, there will doubtlessly be a large playerbase that is going to make this their MOBA of choice. It may just be for the prolific cast of characters, but that is one of the things that makes Heroes of the Storm so interesting.

While Heroes of the Storm is free to play, it does feel like there is some amount of encouragement to spend real money at some point. Even if you don't buy heroes and just use whoever is part of the free roster for that week, there are boosts, skins, mounts, and other things on the store that you can buy to enhance your gameplay.  This is the good kind of Free to Play where you never feel like you are forced to buy things in order to play the game (basically almost every mobile game in existence).

Overall, Heroes of the Storm may never hold a candle to bigger MOBA games, but there is room for it to coexist peacefully and grow into a large game in its own right.

RBFB Rates Heroes of the Storm: GG (Great Game)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Destiny: Expansion II - House of Wolves

As many of you are well aware, the latest expansion for Destiny went live a few weeks ago. Raid controversy aside, House of Wolves added far more content to the game than The Dark Below did, a lot more. More story missions, more crucible maps, a new endgame crucible activity, a brand new PVE game type called Arena, and even a new social space. Compared to the mediocrity of The Dark Below, House of Wolves blew players away. I'll discuss all the new additions and give some overall feedback for everything.

First and foremost, the story was expanded on through new missions. The House of Wolves have betrayed the Awoken, and now the Queen of the Awoken is out for revenge. Due to events in the original campaign mode for Destiny, you owe the Queen and are summoned to help the Awoken track down the leader of the House of Wolves, Skolas. Unlike the previous story missions, the events of House of Wolves are much easier to follow. There is a cohesive narrative, and characters actually talk to you and each other as the story unravels. This is a much better experience than the original campaign where it was just your Ghost spewing out exposition with the occasional cutscene that adds little to the story and explains nothing (AKA Not having time to explain why she doesn't have time to explain). Bungie also kept things fresh by having a few surprises along the way, including a brief visit to a certain area featured in Destiny's main PVE Endgame. Overall, the story missions in House of Wolves are a great leap in the right direction. It may not be on the same level as a Halo campaign, but it is getting closer.

Of course, there are new competitive multiplayer maps to play in the Crucible. Two maps in particular really stand out, which are a base on Phobos (one of Mars' moons), and the ruins of a small town in Europe known as Widow's Court. Widow's Court in particular is very unique because it does not reuse any art style or themes present in other locations on Earth like Twilight Gap or anywhere in that overused place known as Old Russia. The map on Phobos has one of the most incredible skyboxes in a Destiny Crucible map, second only to one used on Mercury. All locations are a great addition, and I think Bungie did a great job designing them. 

Some of the items being sold for Trials of Osiris this week.
Continuing with the Crucible, a new competitive game type was added as well. Of course, I realize that calling it competitive would be an understatement. This new activity, The Trials of Osiris, has no matchmaking and is only for the best of the best in PVP. Loose three times and you are kicked out of the activity, but you can buy another pass and try again if you desire. Performing well will earn you cool weapons and armor, and potentially a visit to an exclusive social area on Mercury known as The Lighthouse. This activity is not for everyone, not by a long shot. That said, it is a great addition to the game that gives high competitive players a reason to keep coming back to Destiny on a weekly basis. 

Before discussing the Arena, it would be best to talk about the new social hub called the Reef. This location was featured only in cutscenes in the original game, so being able to go there is a great addition. At the Reef, you encounter various NPCs that offer bounties and gear for all House of Wolves related content. I'm glad that Bungie chose to open this area up, rather than taking the easy way out by throwing in another NPC at the Tower. 

The skybox for the Reef social area, Vestian Outpost.
 The new PVE activity known as the Arena (AKA The Prison of Elders) is located at the Reef as well. In Prison of Elders you must prove yourself to the Awoken by fighting off increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Then at the final round you will fight a boss and it's annoyingly strong minions. By completing all rounds you unlock a beautiful treasure trove, which is where all your rewards are located. In addition to the basic matchmaking version of Prison of Elders, there are three challenge modes that are available per week, with two of them constantly changing between 6 different challenges. These don't have matchmaking, just like the raids; so you will need to bring two friends along with you if you want to have an easier time overcoming the challenge levels of Prison of Elders.

There is a special key you can obtain through completing Prison of Elders and various House of Wolves related bounties that allows you to open a large chest at the end of Prison of Elders. This is where you can obtain some relatively nice rewards but unfortunately a lot of the gear and weapons you will find are pretty terrible compared to what you can get through Trials of Osiris. Until a recent patch, these Treasure Keys were far too rare making Prison of Elders seem rather pointless. At the very least you are guaranteed an exotic weapon when you open the large treasure chest with a key for the very first time.

Want to upgrade your gear?  All you need is some Etheric Light... if you can get any.
Overall, I really have been enjoying all the new content from House of Wolves. It wasn't perfect, but a recent patch has fixed several issues. That said, House of Wolves does have a few issues still. Unless you can get a group for the Prison of Elders challenge modes, getting Etheric Light to upgrade your armor and weapons can be difficult. They drop from Nightfalls, but that is entirely controlled through RNG unfortunately. However getting to Rank 3 and 5 in Iron Banner allows you to purchase 2 Etheric Lights, which can help you gradually catch up and reach Level 34. My only complaint is how it feels like PVE players have to dive through a bunch of hoops to get good gear, while PVP players just have to find (or get carried by) a good group for Trials of Osiris. Not only that, but a lot of vendor and Queen's Wrath weapons are completely useless. Even the guns you get from Prison of Elders don't seem as good as the ones from Trials of Osiris.

That said, Destiny is in a much better place than it was at launch and it is good to see that Bungie is constantly improving the game. But stay tuned, because it sounds like a lot more content is on the way. Rumor has it that the big code named “Comet” DLC is about to be announced at E3 this year. This new DLC is being labeled by many as Destiny 1.5 with all the new content it will be adding to the game. There is a lot for Destiny fans to be excited for as Year 1 of Destiny's 10 year plan comes to a close. Stay tuned for more information about all future content in Destiny.