State of the Game: Fall Update

I thought I would take today to write about some of the other little odds and ends that I’ve been dabbling with since I haven’t done a round-up post in a bit. The new Playstation Plus titles for October were pretty meh compared to the month prior when we got Destiny 2, but not every month can be amazing. There was one of those asymmetrical horror games, Friday the 13th, but I skipped playing that as I had played Dead by Daylight a few months ago and didn’t find it to be a fun experience. There were a couple of other so-so titles that I didn’t have interest in either, and then there was Rocketbirds 2: Evolution.

Rocketbirds 2:

I played the original Rocketbirds back on the PS3 and if I recall correctly, it was also a Plus freebie. I rather enjoyed it, played it to completion and even downloaded the soundtrack because it was pretty damn good. The sequel changes things up ever so slightly, but keeps the same general formula that made the original good. It’s a side-scrolling platforming shooter, similar to games like Metal Slug or Guns, Gore & Cannoli. It has more similarities to the latter though, a comparison I made when writing about GC&C. There’s a sense of humor here that I enjoy, the soundtrack rocks again, and the gameplay is similar though some new tricks were added. Graphically it looks a bit better but still has the same style. Overall it was a worthy addition to my library and I’m glad I finally got to try it out.

Titanfall 2:

A while back I wrote about a handful of games that I had picked up on sale for dirt cheap. Titanfall 2 was one of them. I worried that the game would have a dead multiplayer community but it turns out that it’s still alive and well. This title, unlike its predecessor, has a single player campaign as well, and it’s been a blast.

I always liked the concept of Titanfall, being a FPS game in the same vein as Call of Duty and others, but having that added element of jet packs, wall running and mechs you call down from the sky to pilot. This is still true in the sequel, though having the campaign to play through is an added benefit. Not only do you get to test out different weapons and mech load outs, it gets you re-familiarized with the controls (and since I played the first on PC, there was a small learning curve moving over to the console) before diving into multiplayer matches (of which I have done as well). I’ve put a handful of hours into it so far, and I look forward to seeing the conclusion of the story.

League of Legends:

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I have been dabbling with League of Legends again. It’s been a fun experience, and though I felt rusty the first couple of matches I played, I am now feeling myself getting back to form. I was never a top tier player, only playing for fun and used to play ARAM and rotating game modes more often than not. When I played ranked I managed to make it into the Silver tier a few times but never any further as I didn’t dedicate that much time to it but imagine I could have made it into at least Gold if I put my mind to it. I still don’t really want to dedicate that time to it, and this season ends next month so perhaps after the reset I’ll try out some ranked again.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to catch up with the changes. Summoner’s Rift is a different place compared to when I last played. The Rune system seems good, but I also don’t like it as much as the old runes/masteries system. I made some generic pages for the different types of champions in the game, but they need to be honed in before I try and play anything more competitive. I’ve made a few purchases with essence (which used to be IP) for some of the champions that released since my hiatus. Of those, I’ve only played Kled, whom I like but was not very good with. Otherwise I’ve played Swain and Graves since their reworks, and they seem fine. Another big change is that they removed the Summoner Level cap, so I’ve rolled over level 30. I’m not sure if hitting a higher level rewards anything, but I’m sure I’ll find out.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!:

Lastly, I’ve played a bit of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! As I mentioned in my last post about it, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start fresh, or try and pick up where I left off. I should also note that I thought I had been playing Jack through that session, but it turns out I was actually playing Wilhelm, who is my highest level character at this point. Jack was only level 3.

I ended up starting fresh with Claptrap, but after playing for a bit I realized that I remembered what had been going on and didn’t feel the need for the refresher. At that point I loaded up Wilhelm and worked through a handful of quests before calling it a night. I plan to add this game to my active rotation and try to clear it out of the backlog!

That’s all for this round-up. I have a new deck idea I want to share sometime over the weekend, so stay tuned for that. Until then, Happy Gaming!

Checking in on League of Legends

League of Legends is probably my most played game of all time. If it isn’t, it’s a close second to EverQuest 2, but I imagine that I have spent more time playing LoL due to the fact that I started playing the game way back in 2011, and only took a couple of breaks here and there for short amounts of time outside of my most recent break from the game. Whereas with EQ2, my only regular play time was from about 2006-2008, and then it was very sporadic and for only a couple of months at a time. My most recent trek back to Norrath was through the end of last year into early this year and only lasted for that short amount of time. With LoL I played nearly every day for years, and then when I didn’t play for like a month I’d be sucked back in by some new champion or event.

If you take a look at my match history, you’ll see that the last game I had played was in August of 2016, until the other day when I played, a full two years and a couple of months later. I honestly don’t know where that time went, outside of the fact that I know what changes occurred in my life around that time. I met my girlfriend earlier in 2016, but we were officially “an item” by August, and from then on I spent less time gaming and more time with her. That’s not to say that gaming has fallen by the wayside, as clearly I have been plugging away at my backlog along with trying new things since then. It’s just at that point I sort of put LoL on the back burner after having played pretty seriously for years prior. And somehow or another, despite thinking about firing it up on multiple occasions, it took me til now to actual do so. But hey, my backlog thanks me for the break, I suppose.

Boy, things have changed. They redesigned the launcher at some point, and apparently I did log in sometime in 2017, as my launcher was already updated there were just the normal game patches to get through. I also earned a few icons that were applied to my account last year so I know I had to have logged in, but I didn’t play as my match history has shown. Now you can see your “collection” of champions, skins, icons, ward skins and more in a handy interface that is less convoluted than it was before. It’s also neat to learn how you earned said skins/icons and when that occurred, something that was missing from the prior version of the launcher. There’s now a season pass sort of option as well, something that we’ve seen in games like SMITE and other lobby games where you pay an upfront fee to access new cosmetic items and participate in a limited-time event. Speaking of limited events, there are also still those good ol’ rotating game modes, but the most recent that I participated in was a 5 player co-op map where you kill a bunch of NPC enemies and that was interesting! I’ve never played co-op in LoL before, and in this instance I feel like you could make a skill based isometric RPG/MMO in this vein and it would be a ton of fun! But that’s a thought for another day.

Another big change is how runes and masteries work. This was a big thing for me, I spent a lot of time trying to dial in rune and mastery pages for the champions I played regularly, and I also gave general advice for building these pages here on the blog. It seems now that runes and masteries are gone as we knew them, instead of being separate pages they are now consolidated into one. This also means that there are a ton of build paths, but you basically pick a major tree, which gives you a four sets of three choices to make, and then a secondary tree that you can pick two passives from. As such, I have made a few builds to test out, each representing the different types of characters you’ll play in the game. It appears that I did not get my tank build uploaded and I’m not at home so I’ll have to add that in later, but above you’ll see ADC, Assassin, Mage and Support builds. I know I built a tank page as well but I guess it’s not all that important. These are first draft builds, so your mileage may vary.

So far I’ve played a few nights now, but I’ve only played ARAM and the co-op mode because I felt like I would be super rusty. It turns out it is a bit like riding a bike, I still have the muscle memory to handle the controls and thus far I’ve performed okay, but as you know in ARAM you get a random character, so some I’ve done better with than others. There are probably a dozen new champions that were added to the game since I last played, along with several re-worked characters, though I am familiar with most of them due to watching pro esports despite not actually playing myself. I’m actually rather pleased with the experience and intend to play more in the coming weeks. I have another post in the works discussing my backlog and play time, and I’ll cover more of why I have time to play LoL again during that time.

Hi-Rez Split: Good or Bad for Gamers?

This isn’t another developer appreciation week post, although I can say that Hi-Rez Studios has provided me with hundreds of hours of entertainment throughout the years. I absolutely love SMITE, enjoy Paladins to a lesser degree and see potential in Realm Royale (though the Battle Royale genre is already pretty stale). I would say I have an appreciation for them, but they aren’t held up on a pedestal like some other developers I’ve discussed on this blog, but I also wouldn’t put them in a pile with Daybreak Games whom have lost nearly all of my respect (save for the Norrath nostalgia I will always carry with me). A mixed relationship, though I don’t have any real ill will.

Recently the company announced that it is splitting into three different studios that will handle each of their titles. Titan Forge Games will continue to maintain and develop the company’s flagship title SMITE, Evil Mojo Games will oversee development of Paladins, and a new studio Heroic Leap Games was created to push Realm Royale towards its 1.0 release. At this point it’s hard to decide if this is a good or bad thing for the gamers who have invested countless hours into the company’s titles. One the one hand, having an individual team that is dedicated to producing new content and maintaining each game with bug fixes and balance changes should theoretically mean each game gets the time it deserves. On the other hand, it’s easy for one company to spread itself too thin with multiple studios demanding development time and funds and Hi-Rez has a bit of a bad track record when it comes to supporting games that just aren’t cutting it.

Another story broke that shows a huge decline in player numbers via Steam tracking for Realm Royale, and seeing as it’s only available on PC at this time that should be a reliable data point. It is only in Alpha testing at this point though so most people probably aren’t super committed to it until launch and the Battle Royale sphere is getting pretty crowded. Signups for the console beta of this game are already ongoing, so there are still plans to bring the game to consoles which has worked well for their other titles though it’s harder to track data about player bases reliably. I can attest to playing their games on console exclusively, and am already signed up for the Realm Royale beta on PS4, as these are great games with low barriers to entry and something I can play with my friends. It is troublesome to speculate on real data as to the health of the player base as a whole for each title due to having methods to track Steam numbers but not those on console or via the Hi-Rez launcher.

Looking at the Steam Charts for each reveals that they do all have player bases, but they vary wildly and it’s hard to say what the company would consider successful. I don’t have raw data on what happened with their handling of Tribes Ascend, but a cursory Internet search brought up this article. It seems that the studio dropped support just a year after “rescuing” the title that was already dead. I didn’t play Tribes Ascend, so I can’t say this bothers me. Looking at it from the outside I feel like it was probably a good business decision and since they didn’t really have anything invested in it they cut their losses. But if we look at the Steam charts for SMITE, it doesn’t seem to have a very large base and yet it continues to soldier on, four and a half years later.

I was surprised by the numbers for Paladins on Steam Charts, considering at the end of last year there was a controversial decision made involving the cash shop for the game. Isey covered this better than I could, I encourage you to read his article on the matter. I have since played the game and it’s not terrible and they seemed to sort of back off of the pay 2 win aspects that made people angry, yet it still commands more players on PC than SMITE. Realm Royale is facing a growing genre that is already dominated by the likes of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, and their Steam Charts numbers show it. A game with less than 5,000 players can easily stay alive, be it a MOBA or an MMO, but if the developers don’t think they are going to make enough money off of that player base, the game is likely to sunset. Games such as these sometimes depend on whales and that’s why the predatory cash shops exist, but even normal players like myself haven’t had a problem plunking down some cash for cool skins or champion bundles. Developers need to make compelling games to get our money, but also need enough money to keep the lights on. A vicious cycle.

Clearly I have no idea if this is a good or bad move for the company or its games. I think Realm Royale has a chance on consoles, because despite my lack of numbers I have played these games personally on PS4 and never had issues with long queue times that are evident in dying games. I would like to see all three of these game succeed, as I think the company has designed interesting games that vary enough from the competition to be as-good-if-not-better in my eyes. I’m not sure if this is the way to secure the future for them, but time will surely tell.

SOTG: Checking in on Old Friends

For Memorial Day weekend I ended up going to visit my Mother and as she lives in the same town as my best friend, I ended up paying him a visit as well. One game that we’ve been playing together for a very long time is Awesomenauts, but through the years we’ve picked up quite a few different titles that we’ve spent some time on. In that same vein, we’ve been picking up some of our old favorites, and I thought I’d use this fuel for a new round-up post. As I’ve only mentioned Awesomenauts to this point, I suppose that’s a good place to start.

Regular readers will probably recall my history with this game, but to briefly recap, I received the game for free via Playstation Plus when it first released in 2012. I played it with my friend and he loved it, picking up a copy for his Xbox 360. We’d play splitscreen when at each other’s houses, and eventually he got a PS3 and we’d play together online. I picked up the Steam version of the game at one point because I was frustrated that a bunch of new characters and features we being added to the game on PC and not the platform that it started on. Later, the game would get expansions and a new version called Awesomenauts Assemble was released for PS4. My friend and I came back to the game at this point, and though I already owned the expansions on PC, I had to pick them up again via a bundle purchase on Playstation. This was fine as I enjoyed the game and wanted to support it, but a little more frustration came my way when I learned that the title went Free 2 Play earlier this year on PC, and the console version has not followed suit. When we picked up to play this past weekend, there were a few more characters released and I had to drop $6 to get them. Apparently with the PC version being free to play means that there is an in-game currency that allows you to buy individual characters, while there are bundles to buy them all along with skins for real money. I suppose that makes it the same sort of deal but I think the virtual currency should make it’s way to console as well… going free to play will likely bring in new blood though I haven’t had trouble finding games anyway. Here’s the new additions since I last played (around the time Overdrive released).

I’ve managed to play a handful of games with some of the new characters and they seem about on par with what you’d come to expect from this 2D MOBA.

I’m not disappointed with the game all that much. Owning it on two platforms gives me options but honestly I play the game because my best friend loves it and we’ve put a lot of time in.

You remember H1Z1? Yeah I talked about it way back when, I was there when it first came out, playing what would later become Just Survive. I remember when they added the Battle Royale mode. It was fun and something new and different, but now BR clones are a dime a dozen and the most popular ones are PUBG and Fortnite. By the time H1Z1 was split into King of the Kill and Just Survive I had already uninstalled the game, and I haven’t really kept up except for hearing that JS is about dead and Battle Royale was coming to PS4. I never played PUBG but it seems like the same sort of shit, and Fortnite’s BR mode is garbage. It’s too light and kiddie for my tastes, and though I’m sure PUBG is great I don’t want to pay to play it. Enter the H1Z1 PS4 Beta. It’s free to play and it’s the same Battle Royale that I remember, but then it’s been clearly worked on for a long time. Much has changed to this point, but the game looks and plays pretty much the same as I remember.

I think if I am in the mode for some Battle Royale, this is the one I’d play just because I don’t have to think much and I don’t have to pay for it. So win/win.

The other Hi-Rez title that I used to play quite a bit has seen some changes as well. Paladins got a bad rep in recent months by trying to do some cash grabbing, but it appears that the UI and the character customization has changed a bit too. The card system isn’t anything like I remember, having set cards for champions and only the ability to raise points in your build which in turn makes the card’s rarity change. It’s a dumbed down version from what existed before, but perhaps the streamlining was good for newcomers.

That’s really my only complaint. It looks great and still runs perfectly. I still have the game down pretty good as well, as my score below will attest. There are a handful of new champions but I’m not sure about map changes. There are some different modes that I don’t recall, but as I said there have been many changes in the year or so since I last played. One thing that stuck out was the season pass sort of thing that the company does with Smite, where you have to essentially buy in to receive rewards for playing, but the rewards aren’t exactly guaranteed unless you grind out some games. So yeah, a bit cash grabby, but I’m not going to give it to them.

Still a fun shooter in short bursts.

The granddaddy of Hi-Rez titles for me, and it’s been a year since I played this one as well. That’s one thing, playing MMOs or persistent account games like MOBAs/CCGs/BRs is that you have to spend a lot of time to keep up with the patch to patch changes, new characters, shifting metas, etc. I was shocked to see how much just the UI has changed in a year:

I didn’t take much in the way of screen shots, but my bff and I played a few rounds the other night and won them all. Between this game and Paladins I also had a shit ton of rewards given to me when I logged in, and the only reason I can think of is because I’ve played other Hi-Rez games in the meantime? I have been playing Hand of the Gods: Smite Tactics and even recently tried out Paladins Strike. I assume some cross promotion exists, and maybe there’s even some sort of welcome back rewards, I’m not sure but I had 100s of notifications between the two games. I’m not complaining by any means but it was a nice surprise. I’m looking forward to playing more of these games, as the itch still hasn’t been scratched.

Finally, I’ve been getting in some time with MTGA as well. Still not doing great at it though. My mind has been so wrapped up in EDH for the past year and a half that I don’t really look at other formats all that much. Since I’m going to GP Vegas during the middle of this month, much of the events going on are drafts. I have never drafted in MTG. As such, it seemed like a good time to try it out, as this past weekend there were Dominaria drafts going on. So I paid my entry fee and got down to business. Things did not go well.

I didn’t get a single win, but I did learn a lot about the format. Sealed and Constructed are so much different than a draft, and in this case I ended up building a trash BR deck that almost won me a single game before the draft was over. I know now what I should have been focusing on, and I might do another draft or two before the Vegas trip, but as of now I’m still not that big on this type of Magic. I know that the event will have a lot of drafting going on so I’m sure I’ll participate in a couple, but I also don’t want to spend a ton over the weekend so I’m limiting myself. I think I might end up doing Battlebond again, but I’m really hoping to just play some EDH with random people from around the country. Speaking of, if you’re a regular and happen to be going to Vegas that weekend, drop me a message and maybe we can meet up!

That’s all for this time.

Thoughts on Paladins Strike

It’s been a while since I gave a new mobile title a whirl, and Paladins Strike was a game I pre-registered for so that I could check it out when it was available. As regular readers will know, I’m a fan of much of what the developers Hi-Rez Studios have created in the past, from the Smite franchise to Paladins, which this mobile title is based on. Smite Tactics is still a thing too, though I understand why people aren’t too keen on the company due to some things that happened with Tribes, etc. I wasn’t so thrilled myself about some of the monetization that was going on that Isey covered so well earlier this year. Honestly I hadn’t played it for a couple months before he had talked about this stuff and haven’t played it since then. At least they went back on the whole thing, and I’ve actually given some thought to playing it more often again, been in the mood to revisit some old titles I spent a lot of time on… things like League of Legends, Awesomenauts (actually played that one a little over the weekend) and Smite. Anyway, let’s get back to the main event!

Paladins Strike showed up on my Google Play store at some point a few months back and I ended up hitting the preregister button. I had forgotten all about it until I was notified that it was ready for download. I’ve had it installed for a bit but finally found the time this weekend to check it out and I was fairly impressed! The game plunks you down into a tutorial mode, and explains the above control scheme to you. I was wondering how they would translate the gameplay of a team based shooter to a mobile platform, but it seems to work well enough despite utilizing the touch screen. You’ll move your champion with one thumb and aim/shoot with the other. Extra buttons are present to represent the abilities of characters that you’ll already know if you played the full Paladins game.

As you can see from the above screens, this looks more like a traditional MOBA and not a first person shooter. Despite being set up in a different fashion, the rest of the game is nearly identical to Paladins. The characters are the same and have the same abilities, and though the maps aren’t the same, they do feature capture points and payloads to push, just like in the original game.

The menus and interface are spot on in look and feel compared to the original Paladins. There is a cheeky monetization system that might lure some folks in… some free spins for chests and things await, and you can of course pay real money to buy skins and things. I’ve been known to do these things in the past but I don’t see myself spending money on this one. It’s an interesting title, but not money worthy at this point.

I played a round after the tutorial and felt like the game ran pretty smoothly over Wi-Fi. I didn’t test on pure phone signal, but I assume you wouldn’t want to play it under those conditions due to lag. I felt like most people didn’t really try to dodge or move around much, our enemies just funneled into our team and were slaughtered over and over again. I can see where the game could be fairly competitive but hardware lag is probably a thing on some phones. It was fine for me but it’s always hard to say with all the hardware that’s out there. I’d check it out if you’re looking for something a little more involved on your phone, but otherwise you’re probably better off playing on PC or a console.