The Week That Was: Hearthstone

For a free game, Blizzard seem to really put out a lot for Hearthstone. It really doesn’t seem as if it’s been that long since the release of the last Hearthstone expansion, and yet here we are – The Grand Tournament is here.

It was a weird week. Blizzard gave us early access to a bunch of the upcoming cards in the Tavern Brawl, pitting Medivh vs. Alleria in a competition to boost the sales of the alternate hero skins. Thankfully, no-one took the bait, and instead we all got an introduction to the new mechanics of the expansion: Joust and Inspire.
Check the video for my extended thoughts on both of these – long story short; Inspire activates off your Hero Power, whilst Joust compares two random cards from both decks, with the effect going off if your card has a higher mana cost.
That’s actually quite a difficult one to explain briefly. Hm. Just watch the damn video already. 
Watched it? Good. Where were we?
Oh. Yeah. So Inspire seems to be the stronger mechanic in this Tavern Brawl. It’s an effect not dissimilar to the way Nefarian dominated Ragnaros in the first Tavern Brawl, and frankly, I can see why. Joust is just such a lackluster mechanic. It’s unreliable and oh so very unbalanced. Some creatures work well with it – King’s Elekk is a fine card even without the Joust effect, and the extra draw can be seen as a handy perk, rather than being an effect that makes the card worthwhile. Master Jouster works on the other end of the scale – with the Joust effect, it gains Divine Shield and Taunt, which on a 5/6 body makes it a better Sunwalker. If you lose the Joust, you get a 5/6 for 6 Mana, which is rather less useful than a Boulderfist Ogre 6/7. Unfortunately, far too many of the Joust cards need their effect to be useful in any way. 90% of the time you play the Master Jouster, it’ll be because you want a Taunt. And sometimes you won’t get it. And that’ll probably lose you the game.
But enough of that – glorious pack opening video ahoy!
Frankly, I felt this video was expected of me. As a YouTuber who spends a decent amount of time playing Hearthstone, a card opening video is something of a must. Next on the checklist – a Minecraft video!

Only joking.

So I only managed two legendaries, which was a bit of a let down. The average for fifty card packs is three, so to only get two… I guess I felt shortchanged. Which is a pure #FirstWorldProblem if I ever heard one. Still, Paletress can effectively summon any other legendary card, so maybe that counts for more. And Saraad is just a straight-up G. I don’t really think I could have gotten better legendaries.
Waifu!
A lot of pundits were predicting that TGT would slow the game down, and whilst the meta hasn’t settled enough to make a call yet, based on what I’ve seen recently that may be true. Slower plays with bigger swings in momentum have been what I’ve seen a lot of this past week in the little Hearthstone I’ve played. I only had a matter of hours to hit Rank 20 this month, so my Inspire Priest hasn’t had as much love as it maybe should have, but I’m enjoying playing it nonetheless. My Randuin Wrynn deck has also had a bit more flair added to it with Paletress and Saraad, so that too is a whole bunch of fun. 
Hearthstone‘s still looking plenty healthy. The barrier to entry is still as high as ever, and while the new feature of handing out chests at the end of every month has helped, it’s still pretty hard to get cards as a new player. But hey, free games are always worth a go, and opening card packs is always fun, digital or real.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is available over at Battle.net and if you’ve not tried it, you probably should. There are tablet and phone versions now, for both Apple and Android. You’ll have to find those on your own though, ‘cos my lunch break is almost over. Happy playing!
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Earthcore: Shattered Elements

So, it’s been a month.

Alright, so it wasn’t my fault. Every weekend this month, I’ve been out of my house. This just so happens to be the first weekend I’ve had in my house for ages. So we’ll have less of that judging, alright? I haven’t had time.

And it just so happens that time is the theme of this post. Turns out that with a full time job, space for gaming is pretty scarce. I’ve squeezed it in where I could, but its nowhere near as much as I wanted. So this is largely a digest of mobile games I’ve played in the last month, and the occasional bit of actual PC gaming. Because mobile games aren’t real games, everyone knows tha– OH GOD I’VE BECOME WHAT I HATED!

The fate of elitists
MFW.

In penance, I’ll tell you about a mobile game I played this last month. Earthcore: Shattered Elements. I heard about this on the Co-optional Podcast, and it sounded interesting enough to keep me entertained on the loo while at work; the effective gold standard of mobile games.

Earthcore has an interesting mechanic. The game is played out on a 3×2 board where you and your opponent take turns laying out cards, and the battles are resolved after the board is full. The twist? Each card has an inherent element which interacts with other elements, rock-paper-scissors style. Fire beats grass, grass beats eater, water beats fire. Each card fights the card directly opposite it, and the dominant element wins the duel. Stalemates result in both cards getting flipped over onto the board. The loser takes damage equal to the “risk factor” of the losing card, represented by a number on the card. Stalemates mean that risk stacks, and whoever loses a matchup on that stack, takes all the accumulated risk on your side. The general idea is that higher risk cards have more influential abilities, but also pose more of a risk if played badly.

A fourth element also exists, known as dust. This element loses to any other element, except other dust cards, and a handful of card abilities can turn cards into the dust element, in exchange for changing another card’s element in another row, or some other advantage. Very few cards have dust as their inherent element, and those that do usually have an ability that makes up for it, like element mimicry. You’ll most often come across dust cards via card abilities, which can change your cards, or your opponents, into the dust element.

What’s that? You’re not confused yet? WELL SHIT SON, HOLD ONTO YOUR PANTS BECAUSE I’M ABOUT TO PLOT-TWIST THEM ROUND!

 There are three classes: Mage, Rogue, and Warrior. Playing Mage involves using a lot of cards that change the elements of your own cards, Rogue cards move around the board at will, and Warrior deals in direct damage to the opposing player. There are no class specific cards, but if your cards are aligned to your element then those cards have a discount on their risk.

There’s also a hero card system, which involves creating unique hero cards by sacrificing other cards to gain their abilities. But I didn’t really delve into that. Why didn’t I?

Earthcore: Shattered Elements board
It looks simple. So simple. That’s how it gets you.

Because it turns out that Earthcore makes me angry. Very, very angry.

The game has a single player mode, which follows a storyline. Something about coming back to your city and finding it overrun with goblins or something. I didn’t spend a lot of time reading, because of the rage.

This game is fucking hard. Like, really hard.

I got my arse handed to me on several different occasions by the first enemy. First AI enemy, mind you.

Playing Earthcore well is about balancing several different factors. Firstly, you have your own cards. You’ll want a generally even split amongst the elements in your deck, to give you a good reaction against any element your opponent might play – so being able to build a good deck is a must. Next, balance the risk factor of the cards you have against what your opponent is playing, whilst keeping in mind your cards abilities and the abilities of your opponent. A well-timed ability can turn the entire board against you. Irreversibly, usually.

And at the end of every round, victorious cards return to the hand, so make sure you remember what cards you saw from your opponent’s four card hand.

And it turns out that I can’t do any of these things. I’m a terrible strategic gamer, and a poor loser. It wasn’t unknown to play a few games on the bus and arrive home in a foul mood, simply because it felt like the card draw screwed me over. It hadn’t, but god damn it felt like it.

So I uninstalled it for the sake of everyone around me. I’m a much nicer person without Earthcore.

But if you’re the type of person who enjoys really deep strategic gameplay, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. The free-to-play model is well balanced, and it’s easy to get a good collection of cards just through the single player.

Well, I say easy. “Possible” is probably a better word.

It’s a good game, if you’re any good at this sort of thing. I’m not, so I utterly despised it. Still, like any free game, it’s worth a punt, and it’ll burn a few of those paid loo breaks away.

(Just a note: if you happen to employ me, I totally don’t spend ages on the loo playing games. That would be very unprofessional.)

(Please don’t fire me.)

How Blizzard Broke World of Warcraft

Cataclysm was a great World of Warcraft expansion. Under the pretense of the return of the mad Dragon Aspect, Deathwing, Blizzard gave themselves a chance to update an old game.

Cataclysm was released in late 2010, making WoW six years oldat that time. And that made it a very old game indeed. The MMO genre was moving on. Grind-heavy MMORPGs like EverQuest were out of fashion, replaced with games that were becoming ever more story-driven. Star Wars: The Old Republic was just around the corner, and it promised to make questing a fun experience, driven by your story, not y the whims on some guy who wanted some rabbit’s feet. It was about you now.

And WoW, with it’s reliance on old-style quests and gathering, was looking dated.

So Blizzard did want any sensible person would do. They threw a big-ass dragon at the world and started again.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Cataclysm. It was one of my favourite expansions for WoW, and it marked the first time I was able to reach the level cap (don’t judge me). I joined the PC Gamer guild and I took part in various raids – my first ever raids! I loved my time there. And as was usual for my cycle of sub – get bored – resub – repeat, I left WoW with the full intention of coming back some day.

About six months after I left, I wanted to go back to Azeroth. But I didn’t want to return for the new content, I wanted to return for the old.

I had spent a lot of time in Old Azeroth. I once spent the Easter holiday break sat at the computer, in a conservatory, in direct sunlight, with a sheet over my head so I could see the screen. I spent that entire holiday, sweat dripping down my face, leveling a Tauren Warrior.

I could barely keep the women away from me.

But the Charred Vale as I knew it didn’t exist any more.

And that, as you may have guessed, was the root of the problem. I realised I didn’t usually resub for new content, I resubbed to revisit the places I remembered from my childhood. I had spent a lot of time in Azeroth, and they were fond memories of mine.

And it was all… gone. In remaking the world, Blizzard had destroyed everything I held dear. And it was gone for good. I could never go back and visit it in the same way.

The current Warcraft storylines look incredible. Utterly amazing. Blizzard have gone from strength to strength, taking the storyline through Pandaria and back into Azeroth’s original lore. They’ve made an engaged and thoroughly engrossing world.

But Azeroth holds nothing for me any more.

Blizzard had done what I had never managed to do. They had made it so I would never resubscribe to World of Warcraft ever again.

If you fancy playing World of Warcraft for whatever reason, you can find it over at the Battle.net website. Otherwise, download something like Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm. They’s free!

The State of the Blog and Other Things

So I’ve been suffering something akin to writers block recently. I’ve been starting posts and getting about halfway through, then losing the will to write anything more after looking over my work. I’m starting to think I haven’t been writing in the way that I like to write, and that I’ve been trying to become too ‘professional’ or something. Having applied for a few writing jobs over the summer, I’ve been trying to spruce up my standard of writing, and that’s obviously been bleeding over into the blog, and for the blog that’s just not working. Shit sucks.

And that’s why I decided to write this post, and to write about the way that things have been going. The blog seems to have been having a good time since I’ve been gone. It recently passed two thousand views overall, which whilst being a large number, isn’t that impressive considering that it’s been running for over two years now. But hey, I’m an unknown who writes for fun; I could be doing a lot worse. I like to think I’m not the type of blogger that’s all about himself; I hope that what I write is entertaining and fun for other people to read. I certainly write for other people, and many posts have come from wanting to increase the reader’s satisfaction.

And hell, the readers really do seem to exist. The My Craft post is close to passing five-hundred and fifty views, and whilst it is by far the most viewed post, and by a margin that makes it the exception rather than the rule – second place, Crack, And Why I Love It So, has only sixty-four views – it still makes me happy that I’ve been able to rack up that many viewers.

And Germans at that.

I have no idea why there are so many Germans viewing this blog, but they do seem to visit an awful lot. Perhaps they’re able to pick up on my German heritage (passed down from my recently deceased Opa), but that seems like a long shot. Perhaps cruising Blogger for random blogs is a national pastime in Germany. This is the country that loves David Hasselhoff, after all. Whatever it is, the Germans have surpassed British residents as the number one country reading my blog. And that’s a strange thought.

Perhaps the view sources behind the Minecraft article hold the answer. According to the stats page, the majority of views on that post come from Google Images (this picture in particular). From this, I can safely say that posting images is the best idea when fishing for readers. Large amounts of my views (I hesitate to say readership) comes from Google Images, and that’s great. I certainly aim to post more pictures in the future. Free advertising via Google Images is fantastic!

With that said, I certainly don’t want to make it thought that I’m simply going for views. Views are mainly the means to an end; that final goal will be to have an active and avid readership. Views means next to nothing – they show me how many times my page has been viewed. I’m simply trying to extrapolate if I have a readership from the numbers. And I think I do. They might be small and comprised mostly of my Facebook friends (and Germans), but I am no less thankful for them. All I’m trying to do is to entertain them, and I hope I’ve been able to do that.

Because if I think I have a readership, then my writing will only continue. I will want to entertain those readers and continue to do so. That’s certainly my goal with this blog and I hope I’m inching ever closer to that. I sincerely thank everyone who views this blog.

A return to the posts about games soon, I promise.

Hacker Evolution – or ‘how I made a mistake’

Alright, I’m more than willing to admit when I’ve been wrong and/or talking out of my arse.

So my last post railed on the evils of the Hacker Evolution series, and how the new game wouldn’t be any good. I was slightly more subtle than that, but I think you got the message. Well with almost clairvoyant skill, Steam decided to put the two preceeding games on sale for a stupidly low price. Despite not really having any cash, how could I decline when Fate obviously wanted me to play the games? Sadly, it seems that rather than giving me ammunition to support my last post, Fate decided to kick me in the bollocks instead.

The games are actually pretty good. Cringe.

Hacker Evolution is not as adrenaline-fueled and paranoid as Uplink; you aren’t constantly wiping logs and watching the trace at the bottom corner of the screen. But it still has its own charm. It takes a more sedate pace that still awards speed, but doesn’t require that you be fast in order to pass the levels. Yes there’s a good amount of clicking on boxes, as I feared from watching the trailer, but the fact that the game uses a command prompt-style interface gives it a more authentic hacking atmosphere. Whilst Uplink required you to use programs from a GUI, Hacker Evolution has you looking through servers for files, finding extra servers from those files, and then using both to complete the objectives. It actually feels like you’re using a computer and your own ingenuity to hack, rather than a sophisticated program that simply followed the right steps.

It’s not as free-form as Uplink either; each level has its objectives and a timer, and to get to the next level you clear the objectives. Pretty simple, but next to Uplink‘s do-anything approach, it’s still a little lacking. Certain servers aren’t available during certain missions, like the massively helpful dot-hackers.net server in mission five, and this wounds the immersion. But despite this, there’s enough challenge that you really won’t mind.


It’s also a complete bitch. Uplink was too, but in a different way. Uplink forced you to save money to get the right upgrades at the right time, so you could keep progressing. Hacker Evolution is very similar, but unlike Uplink, reducing your trace percentage requires money, so it can be a delicate balance between reducing your trace and getting new equipment. Money is a finite resource in Hacker Evolution, and if you intend to play the game keep that in mind. If you get your balancing too wrong, you must either downgrade your equipment, retry the mission, or go back to earlier levels in order to improve it and reduce your opening trace level and/or increase your cash.

Bouncing works differently too. For those without ‘hacking’ experience, bouncing involves sending your connection through different hacked computers to make it harder to trace the original machine. In Uplink bouncing was essential, and killing the logs in at least one part of the chain was even more so to avoid the hack being passively traced back to you. In Hacker Evolution the only reason to bounce is to slow down the active trace, and there are no consequences after that, except a 15% increase to your overall trace level. If you can do something without bouncing, don’t bounce. Bouncing can only happens off a server three times, after which the server is permanently locked for the remainder of that level. Choosing when you need to bounce, and correctly gauging the capabilities of your hardware is the key and finishing a hack with 0.2s is possible and nerve-wracking.

My point is that I may have been a little hasty in condemning Hacker Evolution Duality without at least trying the series. Whilst it lacks the fast-pace and paranioa that make Uplink a real classic, it’s still a clever exercise that’s really good fun. Don’t go into this expecting Uplink. I did and I was shocked. But I’ve exjoyed myself and I’ve changed my mind about the series. I might not go straight out and get Hacker Evolution Duality the moment it releases, but I’ll keep an eye out for sales.

Consider me chastised, Fate.

Hacker Evolution can be found here on Steam, whilst Uplink can be found here. It’s actually on sale at the moment! Why not get the pack that has both that and Darwinia?Both are good games.

Blog Wonderings, More Lent Stuff, And What I Plan To Do Afterwards

After looking through my blog stats, it seems that my most popular blog post has been the ‘My Craft‘ post about Minecraft. With almost three-hundred views, it soars above the rest of my posts, the closest being twenty-eight. Not twenty-eight views difference, just twenty-eight views. That’s pretty damn impressive. And it makes me wonder what I did in that post that makes it so different to the rest of them. Was I simply pandering to a more popular game at the time? Or was it the easily found nature of the post itself? I assume a lot of people Google ‘Minecraft‘, and quite a few of my hits come from Google (slightly in front of Twitter and Facebook), so it seems that more searched games equals more hits. ‘What a surprise’, you might sarcastically comment. Well, it sort of is. I thought I already was talking about popular games, but there seems to be a difference between ‘popular’ and ‘most searched’. Minecraft is obviously well-searched for as it lacks a tutorial, and has taken the internet by storm recently. It also seems a lot of hits came from the images used in the posts. Still, despite the slightly obvious nature, it gave me some food for thought about future content, especially about what my readers want. What do you want to see in these posts? Does it even bother you? You might just read this for shits-and-giggles for all I know. I dunno why you read it, but as my readers I see you as important. So what would you like to see more of?

Away from that, Lent is going as you’d expect it to, with a few exceptions. I suffered a family bereavement recently, and that almost caused me to fall off of the wagon, so to speak, but I’ve managed to keep my willpower thus far. That said, the funeral is not out of the way yet, and I’m presuming that will be the most stressful time. With the addition of an application on my phone that allows me to play text-based MUDs anywhere with a phone signal… I can see that it’ll be difficult, even though I’m sure that no-one will hold it against me if I really need to escape that much. I don’t think I’m that much of a slave to games though, or at least I hope not. I guess I’ll have to ask Master Warcraft about that later, after my daily flogging.

So, I briefly mentioned some form of game lottery in my last blog post and I’m sure you’ve all been chomping at the bit in anticipation for more news. Or you’ve forgotten all about it. Either way, I still don’t have full details. This is partly down to the aforementioned bereavement and my own personal laziness, but I do have some more details to share:

I. The games will be selected from my current PC collection. No games from consoles will be considered, as it’s just far too much hassle to cart them around with me. At least the majority of my PC games are on Steam, or already with me.

II. All applicable games be entered into a hat and chosen at random at the start of whatever slot. I might change this and set out a schedule before I start, simply for ease and a grim acceptance of the trash to come – I own The Matrix: Path of Neo; I really, really hope that doesn’t come up.

III. No MMOs of any kind. Pretty obvious why not, really. I don’t want to needlessly spend money on subscriptions. So Champions Online, Lord of the Rings Online, World of Warcraft etc., shall not be entered. Even if I already have an active subscription (as in WoW‘s case) I simply cannot be bothered to make an exception. Even free-to-play MMos like LotRO won’t be entered, due to the relentless patching and sheer bollocks that come with it.

IV. Once the game has been chosen I play that game, and only that game, for the time period (more on that later). Should the game need to be downloaded, and cannot be downloaded within a decent amount of time (or restrictions on bandwith), it shall be passed over to the next free slot and another game be drawn.

The time period issue has been giving me a bit of a headache recently; I cannot decide which amount of time would be best. My collection of PC games is extensive – one hundred and thirty-nine games on Steam alone. I generally buy things if they’re on offer and sometimes never play them. Playing through my entire collection of games, even if it’s a game a day, will take the better part of a year. Doing it weekly will result in several years worth of gameplay from those games alone. And that’s without buying any new games. And that would also make me more than slightly misanthropic. My main options at the moment are: daily; three days at a time; and weekly. Daily, whilst giving me a much larger range of games to play, doesn’t offer me very much scope to play the game, and very little time to do other stuff such as university work. Weekly, however, gives me time to play the game, do other stuff, and crucially, gives me time to get bored of it. One of the major points of this exercise (apart from to actually play some damn games) is to test myself, and to see how long I can play one game without going completely mad or actually getting addicted. At the moment, weekly seems like the best idea. Three days seems like a more extended version of the problems with the daily schedule, and probably won’t be chosen. Not to mention, during a weekly schedule, I can have Sundays off to relax and write up my post on the game, even if I don’t update throughout the week. Expect tears and insanity from this.

These rules are somewhat flexible, at least until I start the lottery, and are likely to be changed. For instance, I may allow myself to play certain MMOs like Achaea or Wurm. Mainly because getting past a weeks play in either game will be hell. I’m beginning to think that I’m slightly masochistic, or that I actually hate myself. And at the moment, it seems like the littery won’t be a running a running thing. I’ll likely do a week of it whenever I have the time, due to university demands, girlfriends, social life… all those meddling things that interfere with playing games whenever possible.

I will be writing a post about the games I’d most like to play and those I really wouldn’t, and the reasons why, soon. And I promise it’ll be a lot more fun to read than this post has been. Hell, Lent hasn’t given me much to write about, except the odd craving for an unexpected game. Actually writing about games again from a retrospectice viewpoint should be fun.

And that’s How, for now!

Damn That Snake!

I have a confession to make.

Months after making that post, I was led by the nose back into the accursed game which I love so much that I never play it.

Yes, I subscribed to EVE Online for a month. I regret doing so, as all people who have visited a seedy brothel do. But, like them, I hope to have left a wiser man. I’m wise enough to know that I’ll be visiting it’s turgid depths again though. Even if it did give me syphilis.

You have no idea how much I wanted to make a “your mum” joke in that last paragraph.

So, I went back to my old Caldari character for a month, hoping to do some missions and get some money and reputation. In non-EVE speak, I have a character specialising in missiles who does quests.

My hope was, as always, to get stuck into EVE and start enjoying it as much as my clan mates do. I did missions for about two days, and continued training my character for about three weeks. Yeah, I failed as epically as I usually do, and now I’m broke, which’ll hopefully stop me from charging wallet-first into it next time.

Again, I’d been brought into the EVE universe by talk from my friends and visions of doing these fun things for myself. Unfortunately, the fun part of EVE is totally overshadowed by the part of it which is no fun at all, and yet is totally vital; making money.

Ways of making Interstellar Kredits (ISK) involve one of the following:

  • Mining – this involves targeting an asteroid, turning on your mining lasers, and then al-tabbing out of game until your hold is full of minerals. Then you sell the minerals.
  • Ratting – grinding in MMO terms. You kill NPC mobs over and over again for the loot. Majorly boring, basically.
  • Mission running – this is the EVE version of quests; you pick up the mission from an NPC agent, and you complete the objectives given to you. This actually sounds like fun, until you realise that almost every single type of mission is the same. It’s either “go here and kill stuff”, or “go here and get stuff”. That’s it. That might sound incredibly similar to the World of Warcraft quests, and pretty much any MMO, but at least they give you stuff to look at. Once you’ve seen one starfield, you’ve pretty much seen them all.
  • Complex running – pretty much the same as instancing in WoW, only you’re not certified to be alone. If they can find you, anyone can jump into the complex to get you. So yeah, that can be jumpy. This is rather higher end than the other stuff though, so don’t expect to jump straight into doing this one.

I’m sure there are more, but I don’t really know what they are. Apparently planetary stuff has really taken off (lolirony) and can make you money, but I don’t know much about that.

From my personal experience of talking to many EVE players, the process of making money is a precursor to the fun part of the game, and a necessary evil. Because it is an evil. A boring, soul-destroying evil.

But I think that’s what a lot of players enjoy. It’s a totally immersive and hardcore game. The learning curve is the first test of that. It weeds out the players it doesn’t want or need in order to progress. EVE doesn’t want the carebear fest that WoW can be. It isn;t going to hold your hand, and it certainly won’t cuddle you after pirates have brutally taken you from behind. A trained monkey could reach level 80. It couldn’t play EVE. The totally immersive, real universe feel of EVE is something that brings in a lot of players.

And sadly, it’s not something that I go in for. I don’t have the patience, or indeed, the concentration to play it properly. I’m not ready for a second life. I struggle with having one most of the time. I like having games I can dip in and out of at my personal whims and desires. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t like that, and I could play games like EVE Online, Achaea: Dreams of Divine Lands and Wurm Online properly, and to the extent that they deserve. But that’s not me, and EVE isn’t my game.

The sooner I realise that, i can stop tempting myself back into it every few months. Damn shiny thing syndrome.

In the meantime, here’s a video that shows EVEs charms in a way that I couldn’t describe. Skip to about 50 seconds in, to trim the excessive intro.

Just Explosions 2

Just Cause 2 is probably one of my favourite games of all time.

It’s not the first holder of that esteemed title, of course. Being as easily distracted as I am, many different games have been made my favourite game of all time. Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts II, Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain… the list goes on for some time.

To be fair, Just Cause 2 actually deserves its praise.

Just one of the many beautiful landscapes.

Going into the game, I’d already read a lot of blog posts about the game, and I thought I knew what to expect. Ten minutes into the game, it gave me an AA gun and a bunch of stuff to destroy. And I knew immediately that the multitude of blogs and reviews hadn’t scratched the surface of it.

Lots of games give you the option to blow things up. Red Faction Guerrilla is a great example of the same style of game-play; you’re given a wide open landscape, and one simple order – go blow shit up. And it’s fun, for a short period of time. After that, you realise that whilst everything is falling down in a rather pretty fashion with bits flying everywhere, the structures stand up if you’ve left so much a biscuit wafer attached to the upper platform. Nothing keels over due to gravity. Alright, it’s set on Mars, where I’m sure the gravity is weaker, but I still take falling damage, and I’m fairly sure that the material isn’t that tough if I can knock it down with a hammer. And that aspect kind of killed the game a little bit for me. It just didn’t feel quite right after that.

Just Cause 2 gets around this by not knocking things down at all until you’ve destroyed them. At which point they go berserk. Pretty much everything blows up, if you shoot at it. Hell, the guard towers blow up if you shoot them, even if there’s nothing explosive in there. I know, I checked. And that gives the game a certain charm. It’s absurd on so many levels – the way civilians go flying if you so much as brush them, the infinite parachutes, and the similarly-limitless grappling hook – but that absurdity makes it good. Red Faction failed because things didn’t react as they should. Just Cause 2 succeeds because things react as you think that they should. It’s Hollywood movie-standard, and that’s good, because surely every gamer wants to be in their own personal action film. A moment of this occured whilst I parachuted off the side of a snowy cliff, a military base exploding behind me. And you can do that a lot, if you want to. The game world is of such a size that you can do that again, and again, and again.

This game makes you feel cool, and that’s not something that games make you feel enough. I last felt it with Mirror’s Edge, and with the original Devil May Cry before that, but it’s not something that is pushed at us enough. Lets be honest, the way that people play games is by trial-and-error. We bungle through, roughly scraping through levels in a cack-handed sort of way. We need games to give us an essence of cool to that stupidity. And Just Cause 2 has it in spades.

So much good boom.

The little touches that make the game as much as the explosions. Drifting slowly over a quiet forest, the game throws little music clips at you, highlighting the peacefulness and the beauty of the landscape; something that you often fail to notice whilst you’re blowing the shit out of it. At another point, I was torn; should I blow this mountain-top community’s only water tower sky-high? Their nearest water was several miles away, and all I’d get was a silly little completion point. My conscience was torn with my desire to complete the settlement and move on, and to be a decent human being. Eventually I stopped being such a pussy and did it, but I was genuinely torn. It’s nice for a game to do that you. I’ve never felt like that in Fallout 3, or Oblivion. But then, I’ve never played such an ass in those games.

Rico’s little quotes are another nice addition. “Now, we’ll have some fun” when he picks up a minigun, or “tough luck” when he throws a 747 pilot out into the open air at several thousand feet; the fact that he’s an asshole shines through with pretty much every action, and I don’t mind. I don’t usually like playing assholes – Mass Effect, Fallout 3 and pretty much any role-playing game can attest to that – but something about Rico appeals to me. Perhaps it’s the cheeky-boy charm as well. Or simply because it’s amusing. Either way, the developers made someone who I regarded as a complete asshole likeable, and that’s a task worth praise.

And it’s beautiful. I had to upgrade my XP OS to Windows 7 before I could play it, but by the almighty PC gaming gods, it was worth it. Standing on the suspension bridge leaving one of the cities, it started to rain. And the rain stuck to Rico like a sweaty prostitute. If I’d been a gay man I’d have licked my screen. The whole thing was that beautiful. And the sunsets, oh god, the sunsets… One mission takes you to a far distant island, where an EMP system installed by the Japanese in World War II is still active, and is blowing planes out of the sky. The level itself is one of the benchmarks, the “Dark Tower” they call it. The whole collection of towers was simply sublime.

In fact, here’s a video:

Just beautiful. And it’s not just great looking, it’s a great level to play in the game too.

The clinching point came for me whilst I was drifting around aimlessly on my parachuting from a plane in order to reach a mission. I suddenly realised that everything that I could see, I could go and visit. Nothing was a background texture, and everything was there for real – so to speak. At that point I realised that this was probably my perfect game. I would often set off with one goal in mind, only to reach the halfway point, and notice something cool quite close, and end up chasing that instead. Halfway through that task, I’d notice a tall structure sticking out of an otherwise featureless area. So I’d go investigate that and end up on an oil rig. And so on. I’m constantly being distracted, within the game. I was almost trapped within the game, until I stopped turning it on. Aha! Victory is mine, silly game!

Of course, it has downsides. But these are minor, and if you’re enjoying what the game does well, these will mean fuck all to you. Sure, the storyline is paper-thin in substance, but every other part of the game is polished to a near blinding shine. None of the bad points matter that much, because this game is so good, and the bad points are so minor. Get this game, if you enjoy having fun. And I’m sure you do.

No, I’m Not Dead

So, I’ve been playing Team Fortress 2.

And well, no Golden Wrench for me. But I did have a great time searching for it, and I don’t regret a moment of it. Sure, it was a market ploy designed to pull players back in again. But hey, I love those cynical market ploys!

Seriously, this was a great update. I clocked up around seventeen extra hours on Team Fortress 2. It might not sound like a lot, but when you think that I’d only played eighty hours before the update… that’s a fair increase.

tf2-20100706-231504

I crafted so many usually priceless items into scrap metal – The Scotsmans Skullcutter, The Pain Train and The Ubersaw were all victims of my frenzied search for the elusive Australium-plated tool.

And I loved every tearful, despair stricken moment of it. It’s just a shame that there are no more class updates left, because Valve really pulled a beaut this time, and I’d have loved to do it again.

Just not so soon, eh?

I’ll try not to leave it so long before posting again, I promise. I’ve been stuck on a post about Mirror’s Edge – a case of severe writers block, it seems.

Over and out.

Crack, And Why I Love It So.

So, it’s been a while since I updated this blog at all, and an awful lot of games have been played in the time between my EVE craving and now. I’ll try to cram them into a few posts over the next few weeks, but I’ll probably miss some stuff out.

Oh, as a note, I never got back into EVE. I managed to stave off the pangs of hunger long enough for them to subside and be replaced with something else. In this case, Lord of the Rings Online – which I’ll mention in a later blog post. Briefly.

Alright, I’ll kick off my post with a biggie; World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft

So some of you are guaranteed to be groaning at this point. But really, as an easily distracted gamer, how can I not have played World of Warcraft at some point? As the guy to be distracted by shiny things I can’t fail to have been pulled in at some point.

Alright, so that point was around four years ago (the seventh of August, 2005, to be exact), but that’s not the point. At the time (bright-eyed and innocent), I was looking for a MMORPG to involve myself in; having a strange, rose-tinted view of online play ever since my Runescape days. After trying many, many different free MMOs, I came across World of Warcraft. Alright, it wasn’t free, but doing a little research, it seemed worth the money.

Of course, my “research” was looking through their official site. Again with the shiny things.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I bought the game and have been having a love-hate relationship with it ever since. The longest I’ve ever gone for without a subscription has been five months, even though I’ve probably never played a subscription all the way through. I’ve always gotten bored before the six months is up, and am usually inactive when it runs out. Still, I always come back.

The main reason I’ve always come back is because of the involvement I have with the game’s society. Despite never having been a major member of a guild, or joined a WoW-centric forum, I’ve always had links back to the game that’s dragged me back in again and again. One of these has been the WoW podcast, Taverncast; a childish, yet mature trip through various bits of Warcraft fun with added beer. Seriously, any one of their episodes can get me cracking up, regardless of what it’s about. The other one of these has been my cousin. I’d have been clean from my personal crack for several months, say, and I’ll go to visit him.

And he’ll be raiding.

Or doing something cool.

Or just AFK in a city.

All it takes is for me to see it. Or for him to talk about it. And I’m straight back in again. I’ll get home and throw myself on Blizzard’s mercy, apologising feverishly for my foolish desire for a life, and offering my money and my soul in recompense.

And Blizzard would look down at me, laugh and supply me once again with six months of grinding and leveling…

And yes, only those. Because I have never ever hit the level cap in any of my almost five years playing Warcraft. My highest level character is a 72 Rogue, who was leveled up to 75 by some hackers when my account got highjacked. Again, my love of trying new things, and consistently getting bored of old ones crosses into games, as well as across them, accounting for my alt-o-holic attitude.

But why do I love this game so much as to come back to it, again and again? I really couldn’t tell you. I love the art style – it’s bright enough so that distinct contrasts between characters and landscapes are actually possible – unlike Age of Conan, for instance. It’s also cartoony, and wonderfully exaggerated. Areas always have an air of difference to them, perhaps to a stupid degree in some cases (the area full of snow being right next door to one full of lava, for instance), but hey, that’s what Cataclysm’s for, right?

Anyway, back to what I actually did this past month. Well, I’ve been leveling up my Undead Mage. I’ve always had an urge to play a Mage, and earlier this year, I bit the bullet and raised one past level 18, finally surpassing my previous efforts. I’ve been having a lot of fun with this character, and I certainly want it to be my first (level-capped character, of course). I won’t deny that a large part of my leveling experience has involved a lot of adventuring using the Dungeon Finder, which has been an absolute boon for someone like myself. I’d never been half of the dungeons in Old Azeroth before the Dungeon Finder would randomly put me there. Maraudon, Lower Blackrock Spire, the three Dire Maul wings, and even a brief and brutal foray into Undead Stratholme.

All this has taken me to level 59, and my progress has somewhat stuttered there for a time. Oddly enough, it’s not down to my attention span this time. Most of the dungeons that I’m eligable for at this point, tend to take a fairly long time to complete, and I simply don’t have that much time now I’m at university and have developed what is known as “a life”. Scary, I know. I could leave halfway through an instance, but I’ve never liked that approach, especially when there are shiny things waiting at the end of it.

As another excuse (or reason), the university has a Firewall that allows Warcraft under the most silly of exceptions. After logging onto my account, I must log into a level 1 character on the Darkspear realm. Then log out. Then I can log into a level 1 character on MY realm. Only after logging out of that character, can I then access my real character. It’s bloody wearing, let me tell you. I can’t just log on; I need to go through this rigmarole every single time. That’s the reason I have a character called “Access” on my character list.

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Haha, this was originally meant to be a post amalgamating all of my gaming history of the past month into a single post. After writing almost a thousand words on WoW alone, I’ve decided that I’ll just leave as a standalone WoW post.

‘Til next time, true believers!