Thoughts on DOTA Underlords

In another story where Valve went ahead and took the idea made by modders and made it their own, DOTA Underlords is the result of the success of another company making a mod for DOTA 2 (made by Valve, but in turn being originally created by a modder of Warcraft III) and its success being measurable by the company. A new genre of sorts is emerging, these games are being called “Auto Battlers.” What’s being pointed to as the original is called DOTA Auto Chess and was developed by Drodo Studio and was actually only just released at the beginning of this year. Turns out this ended up being fairly popular, by May they had 8 million unique players. The Wikipedia describes the genre as featuring “elements derived from chess, along with those from DOTA 2,” but the devs said they mainly referenced Mahjong for inspiration (which I was unaware is traditionally a multiplayer game). Since their popularity boom (they also created a standalone variant called Auto Chess), several mobile versions of the game have cropped up (I actually tried one recently and didn’t really care for it) and now it’s come full circle where Valve themselves had developed a new version. Currently in Beta on Steam, I decided to check it out to see what they hype was about.

I’m not really up to speed on the lore of DOTA, so I don’t really know anything about these characters or their abilities which probably puts me at some sort of disadvantage, but at this time I’ve only played against AI and can honestly say it’s not really the sort of game I’d normally play. Strange to say because I absolutely love Chess, but I wouldn’t compare this to Chess in any way, shape or form so there’s that.

Apparently there will be seasons so there will be a ladder and competition and all that. I’m not overly interested in trying to climb this ladder though, mainly due to some of my first impressions with the game. I understand this is a beta, but when the game crashes your entire PC when it’s been running for under two minutes is not a good look. I eventually got things set up and got into a game which started me off with a tutorial that explained things mechanically, but the knowledge of the different races and characters and how they interact is not inherent and I didn’t really get what worked better than other stuff. I generally just went for the more rare characters to run and made sure that I opened up the maximum number of heroes I could run at a time as fast as I could.

The game play is simple enough. There is a small grid (think game board) that you share with your opponent. You’ll get some currency to buy characters to dispatch into battle. Each has different stats, is a particular race/class, and has different abilities. They are arranged by rarity and the more rare characters cost more to buy. You have a bench where you can store them and swap them out between matches in order to have a better fight. You’ll place these units on your side of the board where you prefer, and then you’ll start the round. That’s where the game play stops, at this point you’ll watch your forces fight the enemy army and then a winner is declared. You’ll get currency and experience between matches, and you’ll level up as you go. Your level determines how many characters you can play per round, so you’ll want to level quickly to get an advantage. Otherwise it feels like a bunch of luck.

Getting through a single game seems to take an excessive amount of time. It’s not like playing a round of DOTA where you’ll expect to play for 30-45 minutes but you’re constantly doing things so the time just flies by. No, in this case you’ll click a few times and then watch the action unfold. Then you’ll click a few more times and repeat. You spend much more time watching things happen than actually controlling things, and that’s boring to me. I guess it’s not much different than the mobile titles with automatic battles, and honestly most of those haven’t held my attention either, so I guess your mileage may vary.

I ended up playing through a whole first game, which took over an hour, just to “win” and have the game lock up when it should have been providing me with rewards and salutations. Again, I know it’s a Beta but it’s not a good look. This might appeal to you, but at this current juncture this doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather micro manage one character than watch a crew fight automatically.

Pass Royale

Another new and rather large update has been implemented in Clash Royale, and it brought with it some interesting changes. The first and most obvious portion of the update is called Pass Royale, and it essentially breaks down to being a new subscription option. You can look at it as sort of the battle pass idea we’ve seen in many free to play titles in recent years too. I’m comparing it to a subscription because it is attached to a season number, and that season will obviously reset at some point, and I’d assume you’ll have to pay again. The fee is only $5, so it’s reasonable compared to some of the battle passes out there, and it seems to be more reasonable to complete as well. Battle passes in other games usually require playing a shit ton of games more than you usually would to get the full value, but this pass has tiers that are unlocked at the same rate as crown chests, which is something I try to keep up on daily anyway. For normal players, you just get the crown chest, but pass holders will get additional rewards, including new emotes and skins. These are supposed to be exclusive to the pass, so you won’t be able to buy them indirectly like you’ve been able to do with emotes in the past.

A new legendary card was added, this time we get the Fisherman who is reminiscent of a combination of Scorpion from Mortal Kombat and Nautilus from League of Legends. The Fisherman carries with him a big anchor, and when he gets into range of enemies, he pulls them to him with it. Conversely, if he gets within range of a building first, he’ll use the same anchor to pull himself to it. He’s weak to air cards, but he’s looking pretty strong otherwise. My favorite interaction so far is pulling a golem to you into the other lane so my opponent’s split push didn’t work out so well.  The new emotes available have to do with the Fisherman, and the tower skin is sort of related. The Legendary arena has been reimagined as a boat as well.

Beyond getting access to these new emotes and skins, the pass gives you a gold tinted name in clan chat, allows you to queue chests for opening, and unlimited free retries for challenges. You’ll also be able to use a strike on crown chests through all of the tiers, so perhaps you’ll get better value out of the normal chests, but it’s still all random. I’m getting to a point where many times I open up cards I already have maxed out and end up with star points + gold instead, which is probably better to be honest.

Overall I think the pass is good value for the price. It’s not giving us things that are overpowered or pay to win, so I’m on board. I don’t really care about the emotes and skins, but the other perks are nice and extra rewards help max out cards faster so I’m all for that. Here’s a video version of the update if you’re too lazy to read the above linked patch notes.

P.S. Happy Independence Day if you’re in the States! MURICA!

The Steam Grand Prix

It’s that time of year again! Wallets shall weep and Gabe Newell shall rejoice at their weeping! Or some such thing. Whatever the case, the Steam Summer Sale kicked off this past week, and with it a new theme/game. This time around the theme is “Grand Prix” and instead of playing an actual game, you’ll instead play regular games to complete quests in order to affect your team’s positioning in the race. Each day a winner is crowned, and by the end we’re supposed to have a chance to earn games off of our wish lists. How likely that actually happens is yet to be determined, but out of the four days that passed, my team (Team Corgi) came in first place three times. We’re currently in first place again today, so if this keeps up I imagine I’d have a better chance to win something, but I’m still not holding my breath. Overall I don’t usually care too much about the events going on in the client, it’s all about the deals. This year my wish list is a little thin, and while much of it was on sale, I really scrutinized those items on my list again and ended up removing some of them altogether. When all was said and done though, I can’t resist a good deal, so I took the opportunity to grab a couple of games on the cheap. I had the opportunity to play both games for a while over my days off and have some thoughts to share about them. First up, Void Bastards:

I discovered this title via the Steam discovery queue and the first thing that caught my attention was its art direction. It borrows heavily from science fiction comic books, and looks great in its hand-drawn style. The main menu actually shows off the above art complete with a hallmark comic book cover, and much of the game’s style derives from this. Sound effects will also come with floating word bubbles, the cut scenes between missions play out in animated frames for you to follow along with. The aesthetics are amazing and that’s just the beginning!

The story goes that you are a prisoner on a space barge that has been floating along in space for some time. The prisoners on board are your fodder — you can die as many times as you like because the lives ready to be defrosted and then controlled by you are limitless. The corporation that owns the prison ship (and by extension, you) literally defrosts you, attached a little sentient robot to your body, and sends you on your way to do things. As far as the gameplay goes, this is a rogue-lite so you can expect a degree of procedural generation and to die a lot before getting anywhere. There is a global progression though, so as you gain key items and store them on the S.T.E.V., or unlock/build new gear the next inmate to be revived will have access to them. I can name quite a few games that have had similar concepts and where each little detail was borrowed from, to the point that this feels like the ultimate version of the rogue-lite game.

The gameplay loop contains elements from games like Rogue Legacy, FTL: Faster than Light, Sword of the Stars: The Pit, and probably others. From the star map, you’ll jump from location to location with an ultimate goal usually being a key item needed to progress the storyline. This feels much like FTL in that you need to always be on the look out for fuel and food in order to survive. When you arrive at a new location (typically a derelict ship, but other nodes exist) you can choose to jump to the next location immediately or to dock. Each ship will have some sort of item you’ll want to look for on it outside of wanting to grab up all of the fuel, food and ammo possible. These key items can usually be combined via the workbench into gear, but sometimes are quest related. While on the ship, you’ll switch into FPS mode and run around shooting goons and looting stuff. The set pieces aren’t all that random (I swear I’ve seen a few of the same layouts already) but when it comes down to it, this is just a vehicle for progression and nothing more. If you die, you’ll be greeted with a death comic strip, and then a new prisoner is defrosted and provided with a care package of goods to get started again. Currently I’m still trying to get some of the story items needed, but I have already unlocked several weapons and upgrades. Despite being the same sort of thing you would expect from this genre, it’s really well done and I am happy with the purchase.

The other game I picked up is also an FPS title, but not a rogue-like this time around. Amid Evil has been on my radar for quite some time. Apparently it was in early access for a while, and only saw its 1.0 released just this month so it was a good time to buy it especially with the discount. When I first heard about the game my immediate comparison was to old school shooters like Heretic and Hexen, and for good reason. This game uses a weird combination of old 3D graphics with some newer lighting effects to where it looks retro but still looks modern in some ways. It’s hard to describe, so here are some pictures to make my point:

So it looks kind of like that new ray tracing mod for Quake that came out recently, where it’s an old game engine that was spruced up with some graphic effects. I like the old school feel and there really hasn’t been a modernized version of this style of game, where it’s an FPS but you are using melee and magic rather than guns. For the Hexen fans out there, you’ll truly enjoy this. It’s fast, you can get swarmed, there are puzzles — it’s a blast from the past.

That’s all I ended up getting in the sale and I don’t see myself buying anything else. Other games I want to play are on the horizon but probably won’t see many discounts until the holiday season. What did you grab in the sale?

The War Report: Mail Day Part Deux

I’m not sure if this will become a regular part of this column, but I once made a post about a “Mail Day” of mine and explained the rationale behind that. It’s been a while since I made an order of singles, I only bought packs of the last set, War of the Spark. Since Modern Horizons’ release, I took a deeper look at the set and found that there weren’t actually that many cards I really wanted. It also turns out that Modern Horzions is priced more like a Masters set, so box and pack prices are a bit prohibitive and there are only a couple of money cards that would justify one of those purchases. As such, I tallied up how much it would cost me to pick up nearly every card in the set that was desirable to me, and it turned out to only be about $40 so I pulled the trigger. The cards arrived earlier this week, and now on my days off I was finally able to slot them into the decks I chose them for. I figured at this point I can show you the cards I picked up and where they are going (and why).

Estrid:

My Estrid build is centered around the Stax archetype, so I picked up some cards that were related. Gwafa Hazid is the only non-Modern Horizons card that I picked up, his most recent reprint being in last year’s Battlebond. He can easily lock down pesky creatures, and that’s perfect for this control-style brew. Squirrel Nest was already a card I had in my list (this deck is still under construction), and it’s a potential win-con in itself. Hall of Heliod’s Generosity is a great little recursion tool for my enchantments (and this is an enchantment heavy deck). Lastly, Unsettled Mariner is another nice control piece, making this deck that much more annoying to play against. Looking forward to getting the finishing touches for this one.

Yuriko:

Another one of my decks that is still under construction, ninjas as a tribe received some great support with Modern Horizons. Here are a selection of ninjas that I felt were great for the deck, replacing some of the non-ninja creatures and making the tribe feel whole. It’s still not a 100% ninjas only deck, but cards that have Changeling like the Outcast above still count as ninjas, and I’ve still got the important enchantments in the deck that will allow non-ninjas to still be ninjas. Speaking of enchantments, I added two more to the deck. Cunning Evasion is new and it’s great for ninjas, allowing those that get blocked to bounce back to your hand (allowing you to use ninjitsu again if they have the keyword) so they won’t die. Future Sight is a reprint, but with the top-deck-matters nature of this commander, I thought it was fitting to help utilize Yuriko’s ability. Another deck I can’t wait to finish up.

Tawnos:

Tawnos is actually in a playable state right now, it’s just not as good as it can get. I still need a handful of somewhat pricey cards in order to make it go off, but this spicy tech will add to it. One of those enchantments that allows you to pick from two modes, this can help beef up a token army rather quickly, or is a win-con in itself. I really like the Phyrexian option, particularly if you already have a bunch of artifacts in the graveyard, you can potentially wipe out the last opponents within a couple of turns.

Edgar Markov:

My Edgar Markov deck has never really performed the way I want it to. Each new set for the past couple of years since his release has come with some cool new vampire toys, so it has seen a number of changes and yet still feels like it doesn’t work that well. This addition will further help me to lower the curve. I need to playtest it some more, along with making adjustments because it’s supposed to be an amazing deck and never really feels that way.

Varina:

On the contrary, I love my zombie deck, and it’s seen sweeping changes since I first created it. Starting with the Dimir commander Gisa & Geralf, it later became a Scarab God deck, and I’ve finally settled on Varina. I feel it’s the most competitive version it’s ever been, and these couple of additions should help. I already have several aristocrats style cards in the deck, and Undead Augur is another that will help me drain life from my opponents, just for sacrificing my own zombie tokens and whatnot. Cycling through this deck should happen rather quickly. Endling is a new version of the shapeshifter cards that have been around for a while — a creature that has several abilities and you can choose which to use as needed. It can be a threat on its own due to evasion and the ability to pump it up.

Krenko:

Krenko has been in a good spot for a long time. I recently added the newest version of Krenko from War of the Spark to the deck, and now we have another new legendary goblin to add to the mix — Pashalik Mons. He’s got some text that allows him to ping targets every time a goblin dies, and is a sac outlet himself. It’s a bit expensive to pay four mana and sacrifice a goblin to create two goblins, but with the right set up it can go infinite. In conjunction with the two Krenkos, this can go off quickly.

Shu-Yun:

This was the best sword added to the game with this set. Since Shu-Yun is my Voltron commander, it was a no-brainer to pick this up. Proliferate actually doesn’t do much in this deck, but since it provides counters itself that’s not terrible. The protection from white and blue is what’s really nice, and I already have most of the swords in the deck so why not?

Jodah:

People are saying that this version of Sisay is actually better than Tazri at doing what Tazri does. I’m not really interested in that style of deck though, so instead I’m going to put her where she makes the most sense — Jodah. She’s cheap to cast, so an early drop, and I’m already rushing to get to WUBRG anyway, so her ability will be usable quickly. She can tutor up most of the 18 or so legendaries I have in the deck including the Eldrazi Titans. She is also a late game threat herself given enough legendary creatures on the board.

Karador:

I haven’t really even begun to work on my Karador build, but I picked up an extra copy of Altar of Dementia and it turns out I had it on this list (and already in another deck). It’s a great card when you can use it effectively.

Not Yet Placed:

Otherwise I picked up the new Talisman cycle, a few Tribute Mages to spread around, Pondering Mage, Llanowar Tribe and Astral Drift. I’m not sure where I’m going to put these cards but I know they will get used, the rocks especially. Tribute Mage works well in Inalla or an Artifact deck where I need an extra tutor. The Tribe will go in either a mono-green or Elf heavy deck eventually. Pondering Mage is going into Inalla as well, because otherwise it’s not very good, but getting the effect twice for 6 mana is decent. Astral Drift is a card that interests me, and I think I may build a cycling deck at some point so it’s there for when I do.

Overall the set was pretty good, and there are a couple other cards I would like but I’m going to wait until they come down in price. Core Set 2020 comes out soon as well so I’ll probably do the same thing with it and pick up whatever is decent that I can use.

Quick Thoughts: CTR Remake

We first heard about the Crash Team Racing remake back at E3 last year. Having already played a bit of the Crash Bandicoot Trilogy remake, I had a feeling this would be just as good, and knowing that this was my favorite game to feature Crash I went ahead and preordered it a few days before its release. When it became playable, I checked it out for a bit and was not disappointed, though I had to head to bed for work so I didn’t get a proper session in until the next couple of days. Since, I’ve completed the first zone, a few of the side events along with parts of the second zone. This game is what I remember it being from my early adulthood — it’s a great kart racer, and it still has a nice difficulty curve that keeps it from being something you’ll finish in a day or two. If you’re a completionist, there are trophies for completing both the “new” Nitro-Fueled version of the game, along with the original version. The differences between the two are that you can’t customize your character and you can’t change characters in the original, and the new campaign mode introduces a bunch of new characters. A “Pit Stop” feature works like a shop but is completely micro-transaction free, all currency is earned by playing the game. Many of the skins, carts and characters are also unlockable by playing, so it’s a win-win.

The campaign has a small zone that you can explore and the races are found on little teleportation pads. You’ll have to complete all of the races in a zone to open up the boss, and after completing the boss you’ll get access to new zones. Our goal is to complete four boss battles to have enough keys to unlock N. Oxide, who is the final boss (and rather difficult from what I remember). Normal Trophy races are just that, you’ll vie against 8 computer controlled racers and you’ll want to finish first in order to earn the trophy. The AI is pretty good even on medium difficulty (there’s also a trophy for beating the game on hard), they’ll wait for you to line up before they use powerups, and they’ll piss you off when they always manage to hit you right before the finish line when you’re in first place. If you can race fast enough though, you’ll get far enough ahead to avoid most retribution.

Bosses are unlocked once the zone is cleared, and they amount to a slightly more difficult race, because they have special moves and tend to be pretty fast. Once they’re bested, you’ll move onto new zones and this play pattern repeats until you complete the campaign. There is more, though.

After a boss is completed, Relic Races and CTR Challenges appear. These will take place on the same levels you’ve just completed, but they require different win conditions. Relic Races are essentially time trials, but there are crates scattered about the levels that stop the clock for 1, 2 or 3 seconds. You’ll likely need them in order to complete the race in the given time, so try to grab as many as possible! For CTR Challenges, you’ll race against AI again, but there are a C, T and R hidden around the level and you’ll have to collect those before the race is over. I’m not sure that you have to finish in first place too, but I did just to be safe. After racing a bunch, you’ll want to visit the pit stop where you can unlock new cosmetics for your kart, unlock those characters and also get skins for them, along with accessories and paint jobs.

I spent what I had earned on unlocking a sweet shark that shoots laser beams out of his helmet. Turns out he’s a better fit for my playstyle than the default characters as well.  One thing that is present with this title as opposed to the original is online play, where you can have races with friends (or strangers) along with playing sweet battle mini games. These can also be played locally, split-screen, and with AI bots if desired. There’s really a ton to do here and I really only wanted the new campaign, so it was well worth the $40 spent! I highly recommend this one if you like kart racers, Crash Bandicoot, and especially if you played the original — you’ll love it.