Easing Into Riot’s Games

Somehow or another it’s been over a week since my last post. Honestly don’t know where that time went. I have been playing a ton of games though, and a bunch of MTG to boot, so I do have some drafts floating around in various states. Still figuring out where blogging fits into my life at this point, seeing as how I’ve had some swings in momentum for the last 6 months. Whatever the case, I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk about Riot Games.

The last time I did so, I wrote about the company’s 10 year anniversary and their livestream with a bunch of announcements for a bunch of different games they have in development. It seems they are aiming at being more than just the company that produces League of Legends. Since then, I hadn’t really played the game, but in the last month or so I have dipped my toes back into their content. The main reason for the renewed interest was finding out a few of my co-workers still play, and though they are much younger and definitely less rusty than myself, it’s been a reason to play. I like the camaraderie that comes from actually knowing the people you’re playing with. The one co-worker in my department actually has a friend list with people he actually knows, so we’ve gotten nearly full groups a couple of times and all get on Discord to bullshit while we run through matches. Another reason I’ve been engaged is that the URF (Ultra Rapid Fire) mode has been running for a good long time, and it’s always been a blast. We jam a few games several times a week and though I haven’t played any normals or ranked yet, but we’ve already to talked about doing so after URF rotates out. I would share more stats and figures but at this point I don’t really have anything brag worthy. I think I’ve earned one S rank the entire time and more low grades than I care to share. Thankfully the friends are pretty good and oftentimes carry me, but I am pleased with my progress. I’ve knocked quite a bit of the rust off and I think when we do drift towards ranked play I should be good to go. I will miss the max CDR and infinite mana, but I’ll adjust again.

Something that surprised me was my interest in playing Teamfight Tactics again. Riot’s spinoff Auto-Battler was in beta last I had checked, but recently fully released. I tried it out last year during the beta, and shared some thoughts. I wasn’t too fond of it, or the genre in general. Initially I played DOTA Underlords and because I don’t have a relationship or investment into DOTA I wrote it off pretty quickly. When a game that I adore made its own version I thought I would enjoy it, but it turns out I just didn’t really understand what I was doing. This is a product of not really giving it a fair shake along with really only using the experience for blog fodder.

Upon its full release, Teamfight Tactics did some overhauling to the systems of the game, and I thought I might as well check it out since I didn’t give it much of a chance in the past and my friend was talking it up as being really good. One day I finally logged in and gave it a shot. I ended up playing nearly the whole day. I’m not sure what the actual issue was in the past, but I now consider myself a fan. One advantage it has over traditional LoL is the fact that there aren’t any twitch requirements which I recall thinking was a bad idea, but in fact makes the game more relaxing. Once you start to understand how the various elements and classes work together, how item builds work and which champions tend to be better than others in various situations, it really does feel like a chess match, except you’re playing against more than one person so the strategy intensifies. My only real complaint is that sometimes the AI is stupid with its targeting system, but I have come to understand that it is working as intended, and that the characters follow particular rules for targeting. For example, when a low health enemy hides behind a higher health champion that happens to be closer to yours, yours will target the high health character when every shred of rationale is screaming to kill the other champion first. Whatever the case, it’s been a blast and I intend to continue playing it for the foreseeable future. At this point I’ve done two of my five placement games in ranked and I’m hoping to make a climb.

Lastly, one of the other games announced last year has entered beta as well, and that’s Legends of Runeterra. I went ahead and signed up and downloaded the client (which is currently separate from Riot’s launcher, though I imagine it will be integrated at some point). My initial impressions are positive, but there is one negative. Overall the game looks like it will be good fun. There’s a fair mix of CCG elements we’ve seen in other games (feels closest to Elder Scrolls Legends and Hearthstone but only in particular ways) and League of Legends characters. Riot’s rich lore lends itself to other genres quite nicely, it seems. The negative aspect was the fact that there is a fairly long tutorial (which I appreciate them having) and while I was playing I got through multiple steps, the game then crashed and I was forced to start over. I assume at some point there will be an option to skip this, but I didn’t feel like starting over and have not played since. Granted, that was only within the last couple of weeks, but I just haven’t gotten back around to it. I do intend to give it a fair shake though, because I don’t want to overlook it too soon just to write about how much I enjoy it later.

So yeah, I’ve not had as much to write about as a result of spending more time gaming. I’ll get working on these other drafts soon and give y’all something new to read. Until then.

Thoughts on MTG: ManaStrike

Being a connoisseur of all things Magic: The Gathering, it should be no surprise that I’ll try out just about anything relating to the IP. Though I didn’t care for other mobile titles like the Duals games or the match-3 title that I can’t recall the name of, this one seemed like it would appeal to me mainly because it didn’t rely on MTG to determine it’s path. Instead, it seems like a copy of other games I’ve played in the past with an MTG skin tacked on (which is what I expect when we get that new ARPG in development — Diablo with an MTG skin). In some ways, an appealing base concept then layered with a design that I enjoy (the art/world of MTG is amazing) should equal a good game, right?

Magic: ManaStrike came out of left field. For whatever reason Google Play decided to ping me that the game had released today. Being my day off, I had been lazing around in bed and looking at my phone, so I thought I’d download it and give it a whirl. It turns out, it is a pretty decent game, though I went into it filled with doubt. There is a tutorial that gets you familiar with the controls and systems, but after that it’s straight into PvP matches, just like the games it took inspiration from. If you can’t tell what games I’m referencing by looking at these screenshots, you must not have been paying attention to one of the biggest mobile titles around.

I’m sure you’ve got it by now, but I’ve written about one of these games extensively, but also made comparisons to a PC title that I enjoyed, and Magic: ManaStrike seems to be a meld of the two. Yes, this title plays just like Clash Royale in that you have two lanes and place cards on the field in real time, but then the creatures you create will automatically battle based on a set of rules. However, the game looks much more like Minion Masters in that the field is horizontal and instead of towers there are creatures that act as such. A new feature that neither of those games had is the ability to call down a Planeswalker, and depending on which one you choose, they have various abilities when entering the battlefield, while also having different active abilities. It’s like Clash Royale if you had a hero card you could use periodically through the game (a good thought too, I’d like to see that in CR). A leaderboard exists where you’ll rank up and move on to fight opponents more in line with your abilities. I played several matches in a row and managed to hit rank 2, and afterwards started playing against people who actually put up a good fight whereas I started off steamrolling everyone in my way.

Monetization seems to follow the norm. There is a battle pass called the “Magic Pass” which allows you to earn extra rewards on top of what you would earn by playing for free. There are two currencies, gold and gems, which allow you to buy new Planeswalkers, buy copies of cards and of course you can spend real money to get more of these currencies for use in game. It seems fine, I don’t see the need to spend money either, but I suppose if I play it long enough that could happen. Upgrading your cards keeps you more viable in battles, and you’ll earn packs of cards at a pretty rapid clip. After acquiring a set amount of copies of a card, you can then level it up, much like you do in Clash Royale. It seems to have taken the best aspects of multiple similar games and layered it with real magic cards to keep the lore straight for the fans. I like the concept and I enjoy this style of game so perhaps this one will find a long term home on my phone. Time will tell, I suppose.

Thoughts on Soul Calibur VI

Since moving back to my old town, I have been able to reconnect with my best friend who stayed behind when I moved away almost five years ago. One game series we both enjoyed was Soul Calibur. I believe I played either the first or second iteration way back when prior to knowing him, but we did play either the third or the fourth game together quite religiously for a time years ago. Since then, the fifth installment came along for PS3 and I picked up a copy while the two of us still lived together. We played it quite a bit too, but found ourselves less impressed with it than the prior versions of the game. One thing that makes Soul Calibur interesting is their inclusion of console exclusive characters depending on what platform you picked the game up for. For #5 I believe it was a Star Wars character on the Playstation. For the sixth game on PS4, Geralt from The Witcher series makes his fighting game debut (he’s pretty damn good too). There are familiar faces otherwise, along with some new characters.

The game has various modes as most fighters do. There is a story mode that is fairly easy to complete (I did so in a little over an hour). It takes you through the story of the Soul Edge and various other trinkets that certain characters interact with and a culmination boss fight against Inferno, who is an embodiment of evil. Nothing too challenging, but there were some interesting bits along with beautiful hand draw art during the story bits. The in-game engine is beautiful, and the characters have smooth animations. The special moves are especially over the top and reminiscent of some of the summon spells from Final Fantasy games.

Outside of the story mode, there are the typical battle modes where you can play against friends on the same console, or you can go online to play strangers via the Internet. There is a gallery where you can view various bits of artwork (much of what was unlocked during my story playthrough) and another mode where you can create your own fighter. In this mode you’ll be able to customize the look and name of your fighter, but it inherently works like other fighters in the game (you pick a particular fighting style). One thing I will note that is different in the sixth installment is that the controls feel more fluid and intuitive. I was picking up characters’ moves very easily despite playing those I had never tried before. Old favorites still worked great, but I felt like it was easier to pick up and jump into for people who haven’t played the series before.

Because I was playing on his system over on his house, I didn’t manage to get any screens of the game, but rest assured you can find them online. We felt like it was a good time, but he was already considering returning his copy just because it doesn’t feel like much of a value for the $60 price tag. We just don’t play these types of games like we used to. He probably also didn’t like the fact that when we used to play back in the day, he would be the winner the majority of the time, but this time around I had a record of 11-2 before going home (HA!).

Monetization schemes seem to be built in as well (which is expected in this day and age), as they are pushing a season pass which I assume will add in new characters (Street Fighter V has been doing this for a couple of years now). Overall it’s a beautiful game that I’d recommend if you’re a die hard fighting game fan, but if you don’t really play these sorts of games your money would be better spent elsewhere.

Thoughts on Street Fighter 30th Anniversary

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of the Street Fighter series and fighting games in general. I’m fairly picky when it comes to the games I like, but for the most part Capcom’s fighters have always been my favorite. So naturally when I learned about the impending release of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection I knew it was something I’d have to pick up. When it released it was reasonably priced, but I still waited for a sale, and that happened just the other day so I was able to get a copy on the cheap. The game boasts a considerable line up from the history of the series:

Two things that stick out however, are that really you’re only getting 6 titles rather than the advertised 12, and also that these are Arcade ports rather than ports of the console versions. The reason I say you only get 6 games instead of 12 is because there are literally 5 versions of Street Fighter II here, along with three versions of Street Fighter III. The Alpha series is really the only one that could be considered separate titles, and the original Street Fighter didn’t have multiple iterations over the years. It’s also a little disappointing that these are Arcade ports rather than the console versions, mainly because I played most of these games on the consoles that were around at the time, and because they are less full-featured as a result. One of the main reasons I picked this collection up is because Street Fighter Alpha 3 is pretty much my favorite fighting game ever, and I absolutely loved the survival mode. I would play this for hours when I lived in my first apartment, and would play versus with friends endlessly. These bonus modes aren’t readily available, as when you hit start on the above screen, it takes you directly to character select. There are ways to play some different modes though, but they require particular button presses at the main menu of the title to do so, and they’re still not entirely what I remember. A shame, but I’m still glad to have this package.

Outside of the games themselves, there is a pretty impressive amount of information about the series. You can read details from each individual arcade title, along with seeing a timeline of the entire Street Fighter history. There are detail character bios, sketches and artwork for the games and little tidbits of trivia sprinkled throughout. It’s pretty cool if you’re a super fan, but most people will probably skip over these details.

Otherwise it’s still the same old Street Fighter that we know and love. You can play pixel perfect (a border surrounds and looks just like the old arcade cabinets) or stretch the size of the screen from more modern TVs. If you had a favorite version of Street Fighter II, it’s here and you can choose to play it over the others. Honestly it doesn’t make a huge difference but there are nuances like the speed in which the game plays or the amount of playable characters or even if there is an inclusion of a super move bar. Capcom is still doing this sort of thing to this day, as with Street Fighter IV there was a normal, arcade and super edition of the game, and Street Fighter V just recently added the arcade edition of the game (for free if you owned the base game) which I wrote about here. Another new feature is the addition of online matchmaking to some of these titles, though I believe this was already done for some of the games in the past. I know that you could have purchased Super Street Fighter II on the PS3 and it had online matchmaking, and a version of Street Fighter III did this at some point to. In this collection, you can only play Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Street Fighter Alpha 3 (I believe this is the first time you could play online with this one) and Street Fighter III 3rd Strike. I’m not sure what the population is like but I was able to play a few matches online so far with short wait times.

If you’re a fan of the series like I am, I’d recommend picking this up just to complete your collection. I’m happy with the purchase.

Zeal Goes Live on Kickstarter

I gave my first impressions of Zeal not too long ago. It’s a game that’s in Early Access on Steam and as of right now you can download and try it for free. It doesn’t seem to have that big of a playerbase at the moment though, as I didn’t have much luck in finding matches when I tried it out. There are some basic arena and training areas to test and the game is being updated frequently with new tweaks and balances. Apparently the developers are aiming higher though, and have just started up a Kickstarter for the game. The video above will give you an idea about what to expect from the game, as can my impressions post. It’s basically a PvP arena with predetermined character builds with a smidge of customization options. It does sound like the developers have more in mind though. From the description:

Zeal is a 3rd person Action RPG where you don’t need to level up and gear up your characters, you just pick a class, make a build and jump right into the action!

Depending on the success of our campaign, the game will feature:

— No more placeholders, 90% of the assets will be replaced and graphics, animations, optimization and effects will be greatly improved.
— Up to 16 playable classes 
— Arena mode of 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 with ladder system
— Battlegrounds, big scale fights that ranges between 5v5 to 20v20 depending on map with interactive objectives such as Capture The Flag or Defend The Base.
— Dungeons: An action-packed PvE mode with different difficulty levels.
— Conquest Mode: A massive map with 35 teams of 2 players fighting for dominance until a last team is standing.
— Story Campaign which can be completed alone or with up to 2 friends.

One of my early complaints was that the game looked kind of crappy and the animations were pretty wonky. Apparently they are planning to update their assets, which should definitely be a step in the right direction. There were already 8 or 9 characters to choose from when I played, but looks like they are shooting for 16. I also only tried the arena mode, but they aim to add Battlegrounds, Dungeons, Conquest and a Story Campaign. So they are trying to have some PvE content as well, which is good for people who care, but I would think that if they stretch themselves too far you might get lower quality in each. They also aren’t promising all of this for their original asking price, some modes are only part of stretch goals.

As of this morning, their crowdfunding efforts have brought in $8638 of their $102,691 goal. There are 29 days remaining, but that probably doesn’t bode well. $100k isn’t that much to ask for games these days, but I don’t know that this is exactly what people want. Some players actually enjoy the grind and many don’t want a predetermined character. This mixes some of the elements of MOBAs and MMOs in my mind, where you get the MMO style gameplay but you get more of a predetermined MOBA character with which to do so. I don’t see it as being detrimental, because I don’t really enjoy the grind and I would prefer to just jump into a MMO-like PvP experience without it. It’s definitely a to each their own kind of situation, but I have my doubts they get funded without an explosion of pledges soon.

I’ll keep an eye on this and update when the campaign is over.