Stellar Relic

Author - David Andrews

Battleclinic, EVE Online’s First Major Killboard, Is Shutting Down

battleclinic

In a forum post on November 29th, Battleclinic‘s founder SghnDubh quietly announced that the website would be shutting down this month. Battleclinic was founded in 2001 to service games other than EVE, but quickly became the most feature-complete third-party EVE Online site after EVE’s launch. It made a name for itself in the community primarily through its killboard services and ship fit sharing service, while also providing a home for the venerable EVEMon character planning and monitoring application. In his post, SghnDubh outlined the various achievements of Battleclinic in relation to EVE Online:

It’s been a fun and occasionally frustrating time, and we hope that you’ve enjoyed our offerings. We were the first and most innovative major killboard for Eve, and the first site to allow players to share Eve loadouts. We provided Evemon a permanent home and assisted many other projects. We were the first fansite to display a booth at Fanfest.

Also in the post, SghnDubh stated that Battleclinic will be archived for 6 months, though no indication was made as to what will happen exactly after that six month period. In recent years, Battleclinic was overshadowed as a ship fitting service by utilities like Pyfa and websites like Osmium and Null-Sec.com, while its killboard was supplanted by the now-ubiquitous zKillboard.

Battleclinic was the go-to third party site when it came to EVE Online when I joined the game back in 2007/2008. It was unimaginable at that time that any other website could supplant Battleclinic as the most useful place on the web for EVE players – and that remains true. No one website or application comes close to offering all that Battleclinic did; rather, the site appears to have wound down due to the fact that it was run by two enthusiasts in a part-time capacity, as well as a staff of volunteers. As with all such projects, entropy catches up with you in the end. I would like to extend my personal thanks and congratulations to both SghnDubh and MrCue for their service and their achievement.

The Civ Battle Royale Soldiers Onward

The Official rCiv 60  Civ Battle Royale!  Part 1 In the Beginning.... - Imgur

A while back we covered the beginning of the Second Civilization V Battle Royale, an effort put on by user TPangolin of reddit to pit 61 AI civilizations against each other in an epic round of Civilization V to see who would come out on top. Now, as the Battle Royale nears its 30th update, it’s time to see how history has treated the AI nations.

In 29 updates spanning over 300 turns, the world of Battle Royale is a topsy turvy one. Sparta emerged as the great power of Eastern Europe, Ireland conquered the British Isles, the Inuit founded so many cities that they ran out of names and are now borrowing from random civs (hello Inuit city of Viana Do Costelo!), and Australia looks like the future site of World Wars I, II, and III. Despite all the moving and shoving of civilizations on this crowded Earth, surprisingly few have gone into the history books as ancient relics.

Rome was the first to go, the victim of Sparta’s cruel and efficient war machine. Mali ground the weakened remains of the Ashanti to dust in turn 233 (just 32 after the fall of Rome). After given a surprising reprieve by the Australians shortly before the death of the Ashanti, the Philippines found itself in a two-front war against both Vietnam and Champa, and eventually lost their last city – Manila – to the latter in turn 256. 40 turns later, a surprisingly ambitious looking Sweden took out the last vestiges of Nazism in Europe. And then there was a firefight! In a single update, three civilizations that had been teetering on the edge were pushed right over: Poland, the Sioux, and Kongo.

civgraph

The bloodshed is nowhere near over, however, as those five civs account for just 8% of all the civilizations in the game – and the game isn’t ending until only one remains. Next on the chopping block are likely to be England (reduced to a single city by the ferocious Celts of Eire, though Portugal is having difficulty conquering that last city), The Huns (Attila may have been a bit too aggressive and was recently smacked around by the Sibir), China (long story), and the Mayans (who are clinging on to their little perch in Central America not through tenacity, but rather the absentmindedness of their neighbors).

But what of potential victors, you might ask – to which I would answer “Patience, young one.” There remains a lot of Civ to get through, but right now the Boers currently control a substantial amount of Africa, Australia looks primed and ready to destroy the world at a moment’s notice, the Sibir have demonstrated they’re no slouch militarily in the steppes of Asia, the Inuit are looking to basically outgrow everyone else, and Finland is currently the most populous country in Europe.

turn312-civbrmap

Now, the death of the Ashanti isn’t particularly surprising (as you’ll recall from our previous piece, they opened the Battle Royale by sending a worker on an extended tour of Africa rather than, you know, working), but I’m genuinely shocked that Rome bit the dust first out of anyone, and the expansion of Sweden is another eyebrow raiser. So far, the Battle Royale appears to be without many bugs or hitches, and the updates remain plentiful and high quality as various members of the subreddit take turns providing narration.

As for what comes next – my money is on England finally succumbing to its fate on the Iberian peninsula before anyone else goes, and there has to be a titanic struggle for the Australian continent at some point. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next major conflict erupted in Europe, where warlike Sparta now shares a border with Sweden and the whole area is rather overcrowded. Whatever comes, though, one thing is for sure: there will be plenty more bloodshed.

Sovereignty for the Little Guy

sov

EVE Online’s July patch-pansion, called Aegis, brought with it an universe-sundering change in the core, defining feature of the venerable MMO – sovereignty. Reception for the Aegis Sovereignty System (more commonly referred to as Fozziesov in the EVE Online community) was mixed, at best – and is no better today. In recent weeks, Nulli Secunda announced they were closing their doors; Black Legion is ceding their sovereign territory (a move announced with an eloquent post headlined by the statement “Fuck Fozzie”); and UAxDeath (a prominent Russian alliance leader and, more recently, a CSM member) famously issued a proclamation of dislike on the EVE Online forums.

Last week, though, I found myself in nullsec for the first time in years, helping a ramshackle bunch of pirates, wormholers, bittervets, and industrialists take sovereignty in Scalding Pass. A Band Apart, the alliance more famous for its leader than for anything it has actually done in the game, took sovereignty with a handful of players and a great deal of pluck. It was as unlikely a sight as I’ve seen in the game – more unlikely even than the Phoenix dreadnaught I caught (and killed) in a lowsec belt, where it was ratting. 

maybe someday they'll let us name the damn system as well

That’s our system, J2-PZ6.

To be clear, this is not an event that would have taken place without the implementation of Fozziesov. While Black Legion may complain that ‘sov isn’t fun anymore’ – a sentiment that is totally valid for the PVP orientated sov holders of the world – no one can deny that sov is fundamentally more accessible now. A Band Apart took sov, after all, and did it without the protection of a regional super power or the exchange of mass quantities of ISK.

The trouble present in the EVE community – or rather, the sov-holding EVE community – is not a question of whether the current system works. Instead, the conflict between player and developer would appear to resolve over a far more fundamental question: what does holding sovereignty even mean anymore?

Gone are the days of Great Wars, but if we’re honest those days have been gone for some time. Gone are the days of vast renter empires. Gone are the days of Fortress Delve, the Big Blue Donut, Mittanigrad or bust. In its place are idiots like me, floating around wondering how I entosis things; Freeport republics that are open to all (and totally ingenious scams – but that is another topic altogether); solo pilots actually taking sovereignty in underutilized stretches of space all by themselves.

eve-captureevent

 

The Old Guard take this new age as a sign of disrespect, a slap in their collective faces by the very company they feed. They forget that Fozziesov is, essentially, exactly what they clamored for just a year ago: occupancy-based sovereignty. Sure, the system is a little clunky – no one claims it to be perfect, least of all CCP themselves. Sure, the system is obtuse – I, for instance, still haven’t the slightest idea how we took sov aside from the vague term ‘entosising’.

But. A Band Apart took sovereignty the other day. We promptly found half of the alliance locked out of the station due to obscure administration permissions and settings; we spent a good hour or so laughing at those that couldn’t get in, then laughing at our alliance leader as he, chagrined, attempted to fix the situation (an event memorialized in the name of our station: “Dad Lost the Keys”). Within days, we were beset by angry locals that fielded a force we couldn’t overcome (a seven man fleet consisting of a battleship and some cruisers of various flavors) without resorting to a swarm of Griffins that had just been brought in by a plucky industrialist within the alliance.

These things, these shared experiences and tribulations that will serve as the foundation of trust and friendship in the years to come, would never have been born without Fozziesov.

Progress can never be achieved without some disruption of the status quo; you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet – pick your favorite cliche and know that it will likely hold true for the EVE Online of today, next week, and next year. All that remains is to ride it all out and see where the chips fall.

The Iron Chalice, Part Two: Under Attack

ironchalice

In the last installment of The Iron Chalice, I introduced Davelandia to the world. We installed a regent, gave him a bride, and set them to the all-important task of making babies. The chalice itself was given the task of coming up with a health potion drink thing and everything was okay in the world. Five years had passed since my elevation to impotent godhood. Seven more would pass before the reality of Davelandia’s plight as the last bastion of humanity would rear it’s ugly head. Before we get to all that, though, GOOD NEWS:

Also they cost you a fortune until they leave the house

Sure she looks cute but have you ever seen a poopy diaper?

Aoife O Nuallain is our very first born-and-bred Davelandian superhero! Isn’t she cute? That cuteness is helped in part by Davelandia’s top ranked Department of Eugenics; hawkeyed, strong as a bear, and hearty as a lumberjack, Aoife is evidence that our mating policy is a good one. She is also my first Brewtalist, which I’m still not sure is a ranged or melee class, or even what it does. We’ll find out in 15 years though, I’m sure!

Shortly after baby Aoife’s arrival into this apocalypse-in-progress, the Massive Chalice informs us that the health potion research has been completed! It only took a few years to figure out what to put with the whiskey, apparently. That out of the way, I commission the building of another Keep, as that is the only way more babies can be produced. Survival through superior birth rate should be Davelandia’s motto. Actually, since I’m the demigod around here, I’ll just go ahead and say that’s exactly what it is now. Put that on the national seal!

The next keep will take 9 years to build, a substantial amount of time by mortal reckoning but in the weird immortal state of being I share with the Chalice, this is considered ‘Fast’. Ebbot Marsh and The Cinderlands both carry class-specific bonuses, so I write those off immediately. It comes down to the Salt Flats and The Pale Sea in terms of outer-region candidates, but The Pale Sea kind of wins by default as it carries a Reduced Construction Time bonus. Construction begins immediately and proceeds uninterrupted for 2 years when:

Naturally, the Cadence choose to threaten the only completed Keep I have.

Both The Augurs and Ebbot Marsh are threatened by the Cadence, but in this game of false choices I can only defend one (in reality I have more than enough superheroes to field two full Vanguards but apparently that wouldn’t be very fun). As The Augurs contains my one and only completed Keep, I choose to defend that. Should I successfully repel the invaders, I’ll be the recipient of a brand spankin’ new baby boy, fresh off the assembly line. Time to turn on the Bat Signal – next time on The Iron Chalice.

 

 

61 Nations, 1 Earth: Civ Battle Royale Underway

The Official rCiv 60  Civ Battle Royale!  Part 1 In the Beginning.... - Imgur

Back in January of 2015, a Reddit user by the name of TPangolin harnessed the destructive power of Civilization V’s artificial intelligence to generate entertainment for us silly humans. The 42 Civilization Battle Royale lasted three full months before showing signs of fatigue; first Japan’s 239th turn crashed the game and corrupted the save file TPangolin was using. Then, at around turn 298, things broke again – and this time there was no saving the save. However, TPangolin has made improvements to the system and is back with a whopping 61 Civs in a brand new Battle Royale.

“People love to assign sentimentality and personalities to these AIs,” TPangolin said in an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun back in February – and I have to admit, I’m definitely one of those people. I find myself bristling at the Battle Royale Mk. II power rankings (c’mon, you have to have Rome higher up on that list!), already leaning towards certain Civs as personal favorites, and it is all sort of silly. However, there is something oddly entertaining about watching a game’s AI break down and break out in weird ways.

From the Round 1 Power Rankings, Yakutia currently is the odds on favorite to win.

From the Round 1 Power Rankings, Yakutia currently is the odds on favorite to win.

Take, for instance, the Ashanti civilization in Mk. II. For some reason, they have sent a worker unit on a long exploration trip, around the west coast of Africa. In the south of Africa, the Boer civilization is mercilessly expanding, while in eastern Asia the Korean civilization is, well, lagging behind precipitously. England looks well set up to be crushed between the Irish (whose second city, Cork, was founded in northern England) and the French (particularly since the English decided it would be a good idea to form York in Normandy).

Texas is rambunctiously settling quite close to Mexico City and even Canada is getting in on the passive aggressive movement by encroaching swiftly on the US. With 61 civilizations on the map, it can be a little intimidating trying to make your way through the entire Part 1 update on Imgur. Thankfully, the Battle Royale community stepped up to the plate and released a Google-like map of the world.

No wars have yet started, but they are coming – all around the globe. Stellar Relic is standing by to bring you updates as they occur.

EVE Online Changed My Life

EVE Online

I remember when I first sat down to play EVE Online. It was the summer of 2007. I was new to San Diego, with a new job and my first child on the way. I was a real adult for the first time, as I had just separated from the Air Force and was on my own in a way I had never been before. It was a stressful time, a time that I sought solace in something soothing. For months, that thing had been World of Warcraft – but its hold on me had waned and I was in search of new experiences in MMOs. I forget how I heard of EVE, but at that point in time it was downloaded and ready to play. When I pressed the button to login, I had no way of knowing that EVE would forever alter the course of my life. But it would. It did. It does still.

I was young and dumb. I didn’t have a ton of confidence in myself. I was coming off a six month ‘vacation’ during which I had struggled to even get an interview, much less a job. I felt lucky to have finally found something, but it didn’t pay well and it was a contract job. There were no benefits for me or my growing family, there was a ton of out of pocket travel expenses, and I was doubting every decision I had ever made. My very pregnant wife was staying with her mother 3 hours from San Diego as the due date approached and I was, quite frankly, pretty down about everything.

EVE did not immediately change that. In fact, I didn’t even make it through the full 14 day trial the first time I tried it. Or the second time, for that matter. I bounced from MMO to MMO, looking to recreate some of the feelings I had experienced in World of Warcraft, to no avail. Much of that experience had been tied to the friends I played with, friends that were now thousands of miles away and swiftly falling out of touch as our lives went in separate directions. Eventually, though, EVE and I clicked. Still, my life didn’t really change due to EVE. I didn’t play much as my son was born and work picked up steam.

Two years went by. I was working at another government contractor – still for not nearly enough to live on in San Diego and still with no benefits – and I still felt very much like the same child I had been when I entered the Air Force. Sure, I paid taxes now; I had credit cards; I got smog checks for my car; but that was all just dressing, the trappings of an adult hung on my immature psyche. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, other than the nebulous answer of ‘IT’. I was well into my 20s and felt utterly lost, which is a pretty bad thing to feel when you have a wife and a kid.

To hide out from this growing sense of trepidation about my entire life and all the choices I had made, I dug deeper into EVE. I dug deeper into EVE’s community, reading blogs and the like. I started my own blog. I made lots of good friends in-game and then started a corporation with them. And then a podcast. People started reading my blog and I began to experience something really silly – a moderate level of EVE notoriety.

I made more friends and more acquaintances; I started cohosting a popular EVE podcast (for its day); I started running some community services. I became confident in my words, in my knowledge of the game, and in myself. Sure, a lot of the ground work for this confidence was laid down in the military and I could equally claim that joining the Air Force changed my life. The difference is that the military didn’t necessarily encourage me to be me; it encouraged me to be a good member of the military. With the podcasting, the blogging, and the community stuff I did in EVE Online, I began to understand who I was.

Yes, this all sounds melodramatic and silly and this whole post is a bunch of navel-gazing at the end of the day. However, it is no less true. It was only by putting myself out there, into a community of people who had similar interests but (importantly) widely differing viewpoints on a variety of issues, that I grew up.

After blogging and then working for TheMittani.com for a spell, I had grown a pretty great list of friends and acquaintances, people I have gone out of my way to meet outside the game. I’ve had beers with total and complete strangers and felt more or less at ease with them. I went to E3 and EVE Vegas and Blizzcon (oddly enough), all thanks to EVE Online. I got into the gaming industry thanks to EVE Online; I doubled my salary in a little under two years thanks to EVE Online. I’ve met CEOs of corporations both virtual and real. I spilled beer on a CCP developer.

In EVE Online, particularly early in my experience of the game, I found out the benefit of patience. EVE is a cruel mistress to the impatient, a fact that is regularly made plain every time a hauler dies with billions of ISK in it, or a blinged out mission ship dies to a gank. At TMC, as I was made into an editor and then a general manager of sorts, I found out how to work with people who, typically, are kind of hard to work with – video game nerds. Also at TMC I learned what drive and motivation really were about; I learned what it was to be good at something and comfortable with saying so; I learned about greed and how to let go.

There are many things I still try to internalize, lessons that have yet to be understood fundamentally, from EVE. I made many friends and understand better every day what it means to actually be a good friend. I learned how to differentiate respect and admiration and friendship and liking a person. EVE was, for me, a mental proving ground. A place I could experiment with leading, following, second-in-commanding. The most cutthroat digital universe was, in fact, my safe place.

I grew up and matured and began to understand how to operate as a human being, and to strive towards being a good one of those to boot, all because of this internet spaceship game that I sat down to play in the summer of 2007. Eight years later, I can only look back at my 2007-self and wonder where that guy would be right now, had EVE never caught on with him. It isn’t a pretty picture, if I’m honest, but the important thing about looking back is to understand and appreciate what you have now. I have a great family, I have great friends, I have a great job and greater prospects for the future. All of these things, as well as some of the very best memories in my life, I owe to EVE Online.

Level Boost: The New Sorry

Nothing says I'm sorry like 'pay me another 60 bucks for less content'

Level boosts are becoming the ultimate make good for the developers of MMOs (and similar games) who are unable to make their old content compelling enough to play. “Sorry we can’t figure out how to make anything compelling beyond the new end game” is what each developer is saying, essentially, about level boosts. Sometimes, this is appropriate; after 10 years of playing WoW, I can honestly say that I never again want to do 1-60. Other times, it is less a quality of life thing and more of a ‘yeah, we know, this whole first bit kinda sucks and always has.’

Creating content that is both repeatable and compelling is an incredibly difficult challenge. Unless you are the type to enjoy grinding, there aren’t many games that manage to do it. In most genres this isn’t much of a problem, for a variety of reasons: the grind could be the whole point of the game (Diablo 3); the game could only need to be played once for full effect (The Last of Us); the players could be the ones in charge of producing content (EVE Online).

and by history we mean our whole game

This is why MMOs in particular are susceptible to alt-fatigue, the exhaustion of static content that must be repeated time and again. World of Warcraft is a pretty great example of a game with a high level of alt-fatigue potential. The game really only starts at max level – different character roles are required for group activities and you can reasonably expect a large portion of your players to want to experience multiple roles over time. Logically this means those players should want to play hybrid classes such as the Druid or the Paladin, but humans are illogical creatures. They will of course make a Warrior, and then a Mage, and then a Priest to cover the same bases that a single Paladin or Druid can.

The problem with this is that leveling through WoW is by and large the same experience no matter what class the player chooses. It is a static experience that clashes with the dynamic experience of end game content. You must do (by and large) the same quests, in (roughly) the same order, whether you are a warrior or paladin or mage or priest. Thus, ‘illogical’ players that roll three different classes to fill three different roles will likely not be enjoying the content on the second time through, and probably start to hate it on the third.

This person has a problem. They probably also really like Friends.

Image courtesy of Engadget.com

There are, of course, exceptions to this; my wife is in fact one of them. She enjoys completing the same content over and over and over again. She also is on her 1 billionth rewatch of Friends. For most people, though, repeating the leveling experience is not a compelling thing. That’s where the level boosts come in.

Developers like Bungie and Blizzard are no dummies when it comes to player experience; for all the griping that can occur on the internet, those two companies have actually repeatedly delivered some of the finest player experiences of their times. They worry about this problem no less than you hate that the problem exists, but creating handcrafted worlds that adhere to a narrative that they create seems, at least so far, fundamentally incompatible with a refreshing and compelling repeatable experience.

There is some hope. Advances in procedural generation of content could provide an avenue through which compelling narratives and worlds can be repeated – at least, that’s the hope of No Man’s Sky. And games like EVE Online have shown that there is a recipe for player-generated content that doesn’t end in tragic failure, though in those worlds the developer-created narratives often take a back seat to the player-generated drama.

Welcome to The Matrix, basically

For now, level boosts like the one Blizzard introduced in Warlords of Draenor and the one that Bungie are deploying with The Taken King are the implicit apology for a failure to generate compelling leveling experiences. These failures are not necessarily the result of negligence or ignorance on the part of the developer, though, contrary to what many embittered customers of those companies like to allege. They are the symptoms of the inherent design problem present in persistent, handcrafted online spaces.

Level boosts are a good thing, whether old timers or other detractors like it or not – at least, as long as developers are still trying to push the boundaries of the industry and find the way ahead. As a stop gap measure, level boosts are not only sufficient but considerate. The danger lies in whether companies see the level boost as another ‘feature’ to add on to expansions of content. Should we arrive at a point in mainstream development wherein level boosts are the ‘best practice’ for MMOs and no time is being spent on trying to fix the core issue that level boosts were created to address – well, then it’ll be time to just pack it all up and go home.

The Seven Essentials of No Man’s Sky

nms-title

There are a lot of questions left to answer about No Man’s Sky, even after multiple showcases at various events and a whole month of information that came out of IGN following E3 2015. The release date remains unknown, the story of No Man’s Sky (the central narrative we keep hearing about) is unknown, why there is a GTA-like Wanted level system is unknown – the list goes on. However, out of those showcases and those videos and all the things in between, what No Man’s Sky really is begins to take shape, both in practical and existential terms. What follows are the seven things I find most appealing and most important about No Man’s Sky.

Procedural isn’t just a buzzword

Procedural generation is not random generation, nor is it just a buzzword. We have seen procedural generation at work before, but rarely on the scale of No Man’s Sky. Here, an entire galaxy has been reduced down to (a probably not insignificant amount of) code. Code that governs the creation of stars, planets, orbits, the dispersion of elements, how those elements form together to form resources, and life both sentient and not. It is reality-lite. And while there are elements of randomness within the code, there is always a plan. This is a game without skyboxes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a sky.

And yes, it all comes on the disk

This is no doubt going to be a difficult concept to fully understand, but that entire galaxy can indeed fit on your hard drive. This is due to the fact that said planets, moons, stars, and dingo-like reptiles or whatever else we might come across in this galaxy are generated on demand, according to the code. Once the master seed is set – the numeric string that serves as a key from which all randomness springs – the game will always render Planets 1 though 18 trillion (or whatever the actual number is) in the same way, as the code executes and brings things into life. The downside to this is that should you leave Planet 1 to go visit Planet 40, Planet 1 as you left it ceases to exist; upon your return, it will regenerate as it was the first time you met it.

This planet looks pretty fuckin rad

You can play offline

This is a biggie for me personally. Not that I intend to disconnect my PS4 from the internet any time soon, but rather due to the fact that server infrastructure has not yet reached 100% uptime. The Playstation Network goes down with disheartening regularity, more so when major titles launch and random script kiddies get a hair up their ass. Thankfully, NMS will not require a connection to play; a connection will only be required when trying to log new discoveries for the rest of the world to recognize.

I think this is a place to upload your info

There is history in this universe

Rival factions fight amongst the stars; crashed ships dot the landscapes of a million different planets. This galaxy is not brand new, but rather you are new to it. Discoveries are not limited to new star systems or new plant life; discoveries of old things will enable your character to advance in the game. Upgrading your technological ability will be one of the core tenets of the game and there will be plenty of ways to do so.

Looks like there might be a bit of a conflict here

One ship at a time

In NMS, you’ll only ever have one ship at any given time. You can upgrade that ship, or trade it in for a totally different model at one of the space stations that float amid the stars, but ultimately you’ll only ever have one. No space garages required. Purchasing ships will be transactions occurring in ‘units’, the NMS universe’s universal currency. Units will be earned by shooting pirates in space, uploading discoveries you’ve made, or selling resources you’ve harvested from the planets you explore.

Who's flying the other ship? No idea.

The universe is alive with life

Planets will be populated by animals, and mechanical Sentinels will seek to punish those that harm them. Space factions will war in space and trade convoys will dodge pirate patrols. Everywhere in the universe, even if the universe isn’t rendered on your machine, things will be happening. Day/night cycles will affect the behavior of animals and plants; supply and demand will affect market prices.

I will not rest until I find a dinosaur

Your story is your own to make

NMS is categorically not an MMO. Though no doubt many people will experience NMS, each of those experiences will be their own. With an entire galaxy to get lost in, the chances of ever coming across another living soul will be rare. Hello Games has stated that while there is an overall objective – to journey to the center of the galaxy – and a motivation to do so, there is no narrative. The narrative is what you make with your time in No Man’s Sky.

 

World of Warcraft: Legion Unveiled

Yep, this guy - again

On August 6th, at Gamescom in Germany, Blizzard held a press conference to announce that WoW 7.0 is going to be called Legion. The venerable MMO’s seventh expansion will take players to The Broken Isles, a set of sundered islands that are home to High Elves and the revived Burning Legion. And yes, that means that once again we’ll have Illidan Stormrage to contend with in an expansion.

First we went back to Draenor. Now we’re fighting Illidan again. One has to wonder if perhaps the lore of Warcraft has been exhausted at this point.

While the narrative might not be the freshest thing in the world, the features presented in the Legion announcement trailer seem substantial enough to lure back a large portion of players. Garrisons have been replaced with ‘Class Halls’, communal areas open to all members of a particular class; followers are becoming more powerful and more direct in their effect on your gameplay, with examples like ‘providing buffs for your hero in the zones the follower quests in’ being thrown out over the course of Blizzard’s hour-long press conference.

The big highlight of Legion has to be the new class being introduced: the Demon Hunter. Restricted to either night elves or blood elves, Demon Hunters will become the 12th playable class in World of Warcraft. While they are certainly visually striking – essentially mimicking Illidan in the aesthetics department – they are, at the end of the day, another leather-wearing hybrid class. They will use Demonic Fury and will be capable of either tanking or dealing damage.

I SEE GREEN PEOPLE

Hot on the heels of the Demon Hunter, though, was the revelation that essentially every specialization of every class will be receiving an ‘Artifact’ weapon – an upgradeable legendary that is consistent with the lore of the spec. Most intriguing about this system is that each weapon will represent a sort of secondary talent system, making me wonder how much of the artifact upgrade system is in fact the end result of the old Path of the Titans system that was announced for Cataclysm but never made it into the game. I also have to wonder if the artifact talent system will share the same fate, come to think of it.

The expansion features lots of new dungeons and raids and 10 more levels to get through; in addition, those who pre-order Legion will receive a complimentary character level boost to 100. While no official date of release was announced, a Blizzard press release did state that the beta would be out this year. Earlier this week, Activision Blizzard also announced that World of Warcraft subscriptions had fallen from 10 million seven months ago (upon the release of Warlords of Draenor) to 5.6 million (which is still a lot, but also a 10 year low point for the MMO).

THIS IS PROBABLY JUST A SHITTY TASER

If I’m totally honest, I’m not sure how I feel about Legion at first glance. The Demon Hunter is something I’m very interested in playing (IT CAN DOUBLE JUMP!) and I love the idea that not just every class, but every spec, will have their own personal storyline to get through with the artifact system (I was a fan of the old Paladin and Warlock mount quests in vanilla). Class Halls strike me as odd, though, and there just has to be some other compelling stories to tell than a rehashed Illidan arc.

I’ve seen some reference to Legion potentially being the spiritual successor to both The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansions and I agree it certainly has that feel at first blush. Then again, so did Warlords of Draenor.

Destiny Year 2 Is Coming

Liam Neeson Stars in...

As Gamescom 2015 hits the mean streets of Cologne, Germany, news is filtering in on The Taken King, Destiny’s next expansion set to launch September 15th. Peter Dinklage is being retconned right out of Destiny (replaced entirely by the superb, if overused, Nolan North), light leveling is dying a quiet death, the level cap is increasing to 40, and the ability to boost a character’s level to jump straight into the new missions available with The Taken King are the highlights of Destiny’s Year 2. There are also some tidbits about the loot system in general – a new dynamic loot system that will take your current gear into account when dropping new gear (to help alleviate the “I got three Gjallorhorns” problems some of us have) and the revelation that your gear today will be outdated the moment The Taken King goes live. Shocker.

Peter Dinklage’s performance in Destiny was, if we’re kind about it, flat. If we weren’t being kind, we could call it garbage. How much of this is due to the direction and guidance he received in the studio and how much is due to Dinklage being somewhat unfamiliar with the idea of voice acting (which is a very different discipline from film/television acting) remains unknown to this day. However, Bungie has apparently decided that enough is enough and tasked their audio department with finding someone – anyone – that doesn’t sound like a piece of cardboard. They came back with Nolan North, the hardest working voice actor in video games.

Light leveling was an attempt at building in a dynamic alternate leveling progression from the get-go that failed to really spark a lot of love. I personally never had a problem with it (though the grinding required at high levels for marginal light increases was perhaps a bit much), but enough loud people in Bungie forums did, apparently – that, or Bungie wasn’t able to flesh out light development in the context of a ‘mass reset’ (the likes of which are entirely commonplace in MMOs). Light, of course, plays a pretty huge role in gear as it stands today, so it only makes sense that along with the death of light loot itself would be reworked.

Because this will fix all your problems with Destiny

Image courtesy of MMGN.com

There is some good news and some bad news on the loot front. The good news is that Bungie will be deploying a system to reduce duplicate gear drops and help ensure that new gear drops are actually upgrades for you. Hooray! However, all that crap you have now is crap and will be outdated when The Taken King launches, thanks to an experience-only new level cap of 40. If you’re new to the game, though, or haven’t max-leveled all three character slots you have available, you’re in luck: The Taken King comes with a level boost pack-in consumable, good for one use, to get you straight into the new hotness.

Game Informer’s September spread on Destiny contains all this information and a little bit more. There will be a new ‘mercy’ system in Destiny’s Crucible, allowing teams that are being absolutely dominated to be returned to matchmaking – because nothing makes you feel better about yourself than the game actually being unable to watch the travesty of your performance any longer. Bungie is also enabling players to, for the first time, try out guns before you buy them. Here I thought Bungie hit upon a neat way of doing things: the Gunsmith (an NPC) will have bounties associated with particular weapons in his inventory. He’ll loan you the gun and tell you to go test it out for him by shooting bad guys in various ways and combinations. Once you complete the bounty, you turn the gun back in for some reputation gains that will eventually allow you to purchase the weapon straight from the source. Sure, this is little more than faction grinding in a game already lousy with it, but at least they tried to dress it up in narrative-appropriate clothing.

Loot 2.0 is great and I’m sure plenty of people will rejoice at the removal of Dinklage from the game. I can’t help but think, though, that I would have vastly preferred a retcon of the game’s narrative rather than the voice of a majority of that narrative. Dinklage didn’t bother me much because the whole game’s story and structure and pacing bothered me, not just his voice acting. For those crowing in victory at the casting of Nolan North (a particularly uninspired but solid choice) should maybe reassess what actually matters in Destiny. As for the rest – window dressing. Cool little tidbits and improvements to a variety of systems that ultimately do not address the game’s major failings.