Monthly Archives: October 2016

Skyforge’s Ascension Doesn’t Seem that Different

Skyforge is a game I was fairly excited about prior to launch. I even gave the beta a try to see how it handled, but while I found it to be a fairly solid experience, it wasn’t quite enough to hold my attention, and by the time it launched I had already shifted focus to other games.

A group of NPCs in a cutscene in Skyforge's Ascension patch

Now, Skyforge has launched a massive new patch called Ascension. Aside from adding a new gunslinger class, Ascension rewrites many of the game systems, supposedly with the goal of making them more approachable and less grindy. This seemed like the perfect time for me to give the game a second chance.

Shiny:

I did immediately notice some changes to the game since beta, though I’m not entirely sure what’s part of Ascension and what came before it.

For one thing, the tutorial is a little different. You now go to character creation first, rather than the game making everyone a generic male character until after the first leg of the tutorial. This is definitely an improvement, though the final boss of the tutorial will still call you “him” even if you’re playing as a female character.

Otherwise the tutorial is the same, and still one of the better introductory experiences I’ve seen in an MMO. Plenty of action and some very nice cutscenes.

The layout of content post-tutorial seems a bit different as well. Thankfully I wasn’t asked to go back and repeat the same content several times as I was in the beta, but maybe that comes later.

Something else new is that shortly after the tutorial every character will be issued a small robotic companion to assist them, though the system seems a bit half-baked. Most of the time I forgot my companion was even there; it really doesn’t seem to do much. There’s a system to upgrade your companion to give it new abilities — some combat related, others gear toward convenience — but how exactly you do this is not at all clear.

A paladin fighting low level mobs in Skyforge's Ascension patch

Another new addition is that enemies may now drop powerful, limited use weapons that you can use to wreak havoc. Everything from whips to laser rifles. Those are a lot of fun and add an interesting new element to Skyforge’s already strong combat. However, the drop rates on them seem a bit over-tuned; I got them so often they quickly stopped feeling special.

Finally, I was amused to discover that I had ten days of premium time granted to me… somehow. I certainly didn’t pay for it, and nothing in the game explained it — I only noticed it because the premium bonus was showing up for all my rewards. Perhaps it’s a bonus for new players? I was using my original account, but this was my first time logging in post-launch, so it may have considered me to be a newcomer.

Streamlining:

Most of the effort of Ascension seems to have gone towards streamlining the game’s progression mechanics. Most notably, class customization is basically gone. Every member of a class will now have the same abilities, the same passives, the same build.

I have mixed feelings on this. It is true that build systems in MMORPGs are often min/maxed to within an inch of their life, and you quickly reach the point where there’s really only one “correct” build. Anyone who does anything different — out of preference or ignorance — is ridiculed by the community until they conform. A choice where there’s only one correct option is no choice at all, and Ascension’s changes seem aimed at fixing that.

At the same time, I’m not sure going to opposite extreme and doing away with player choice altogether is the right answer. That seems to defeat the purpose of an RPG altogether. I’m not sure I have a better idea, though.

In theory Ascension has also simplified currencies and lessened the grind of the game, but as someone who hasn’t invested much time in the game, it’s hard to say exactly how much difference has been made. There still seems to be no shortage of currencies and different ways to increase your character’s power.

Some forgotten ruins in Skyforge's Ascension patch

Going in, I had assumed Ascension would make the greatest difference to new players, but now I’m thinking veterans are going to notice it the most.

I’m getting into guesswork here, but I get the feeling Ascension was probably targeted at midcore players — those who had some investment in the game, but were getting left behind in comparison to the most dedicated grinders and min/maxers.

Meet the new game, same as the old game:

Otherwise, Skyforge really isn’t that different than I remember, which has its pros and its cons.

On the plus side, it still has excellent combat. It’s visceral and visually spectacular, but also a fair bit deeper than the average action combat game. A mindless button masher it is not.

It still has stunningly beautiful graphics and a very unique, colorful setting. I admire Skyforge’s unique blend of sci-fi and fantasy, and I wish more games would be willing to break out of the standard fantasy mold like this.

On the other hand, most of my complaints about Skyforge still hold true.

For one thing, that unique setting isn’t explored nearly as much as it ought to be. Environments are tiny and linear, the storyline is shallow, and there’s little to no attempt to flesh out the lore of the world.

A paladin character in Skyforge's Ascension patch

And my biggest issue with the game remains: Your choice of initial class is severely limited. Skyforge has a broad stable of some very interesting classes, but to start you’re limited to three of the most basic — paladin, cryomancer, and lightbinder.

It’s not entirely clear to me how long it would take to unlock additional classes. I don’t get the impression it would be a massive grind, but after a couple of hours, it hadn’t happened, and that’s far too long to spend as a class you’re not interested in.

I don’t have a problem with working to unlock additional classes beyond your first, but I should be able to choose any class I want from the start. I just don’t understand what the point of limiting the choice is, especially in a game with such strong class design. Why do MMO developers so often feel the need to hobble their own successes?

In the end, despite all the hype around how much Ascension is changing the game, it’s still recognizably Skyforge. It’s still got a lot going for it, but not quite enough to grab me. I’ll stand by what I said when I first tried it: If you like action-heavy grinders like Vindictus, you’ll like this game. If you want something with a bit more depth, look elsewhere.


Nova Explodes onto StarCraft II’s Co-op Scene

Fans of StarCraft II’s co-op have gotten used to fairly lengthy waits between new commander releases, but that may be changing now. Just a couple weeks after the release of Highlord Alarak, Blizzard has unleashed another new commander: the elite operative Nova Terra.

Nova launches a nuclear strike in StarCraft II's co-op

“Explodes” is not a metaphor.

A long-time fan favorite, Nova was to have been the star of the cancelled StarCraft: Ghost and has since taken a lead role in several novels and mangas, as well as StarCraft II’s Covert Ops DLC. She is the first Terran co-op commander to be released post-launch, and also the first Terran commander to take the field as a hero unit.

But that’s just the beginning of Nova’s unique mechanics. She is perhaps the most creative commander to date, and she will completely change how you play StarCraft II.

Ghost reporting:

Nova has a very unique gameplay style that focuses much less on economy and more on the action. She has a supply limit of only 100, similar to Zagara, but she never needs to build supply depots. She has access to her full supply right from the start.

The way she trains units is also completely different. Her units are deployed instantly, in groups, at any location of your choosing within vision range. The downside is that there is a lengthy cooldown between unit calldowns. If you’re familiar with the mercenary units in the Wings of Liberty campaign, it’s a very similar system.

Nova’s units are vastly more expensive than normal, but also more powerful, with enhanced health and damage as well as potent new abilities. Most of these abilities can be set to autocast, though, so her army doesn’t require as much micro as you might think. In fact I find Alarak far more taxing from a micro perspective.

As for the units themselves, Nova gets three options per production structure. From the barracks, she has marines, marauders, and ghosts. Because she starts the game with a ghost academy, she can potentially begin training ghosts very quickly.

One of Nova's enhanced goliaths in StarCraft II's co-op

For mech options, she can produce hellbats, goliaths, and siege tanks from the factory, and the starport grants her access to liberators, ravens, and banshees.

So far I’ve been focusing on mainly infantry builds, occasionally swapping to goliaths when facing air compositions, but all of Nova’s units seem pretty strong, and I think she could have quite a lot of viable builds.

Whatever build you use, I do recommend investing heavily in ravens, as they can deploy powerful healing drones. Nova’s units are so costly that any loss is felt. You want to do everything you can to keep her troops alive.

That brings us to Nova herself. She has very low health for a hero unit — lower even than Alarak — but that doesn’t stop her from being spectacularly powerful.

Uniquely, Nova has two modes — the second unlocked at level three — that she can swap between on a short cooldown. Stealth mode is her default state and grants her pretty much the toolkit you’d expect from a ghost — cloaking, snipe. The one notable new option is sabotage drone, a mobile bomb that detonates for massive AoE damage after a short arming period.

I can’t overstate how amazing sabotage drone is. It has an advanced form of cloaking that makes it completely undetectable and a very long range, meaning you can deploy it with no risk. It’s essentially free damage. It’s easily one of the best abilities in co-op right now.

Nova’s other stance is assault mode. In assault mode, she loses her cloak but gains an AoE blast ability and a short cooldown teleport that also shields her.

Nova in StarCraft II's co-op

Assault mode seems very niche. It can devastate large swarms of low health units — like zerglings — but it’s risky, micro intensive, and it costs her the ability to attack air. Most of the time you’re going to want to stay in stealth mode, I think. Sabotage drone is too good to give up, and sniping high priority targets is generally more important than mowing down swarms of weak units.

At level nine, she unlocks powerful new abilities for both stances. Stealth mode gains the ability to call down a nuclear strike for ruinous damage across a huge area, while assault mode can summon a holo decoy that will attack enemy units, doing full damage.

Again, stealth mode seems the clear winner here. Both abilities are powerful, but a well-placed nuke can annihilate entire bases, and the fact you can’t directly control the decoy limits its effectiveness considerably.

That said, you’ll still want to use both modes at least a little. The decoy and the nuke have separate cooldowns, so there’s no reason not to use both.

Finally, Nova also has access to a number of abilities accessed from the top bar. She begins with a defensive drone that can shield friendly units and the ability to instantly resurrect herself if she dies, and as she levels, she also unlocks a devastating aerial bombing run and a mass teleport. Uniquely, these abilities have very short cooldowns, but cost minerals.

Super Nova:

Every commander has their own distinct feel, but Nova is so different it almost feels like playing a different game. Maybe a better game.

Nova's Griffin air strike ability in StarCraft II's co-op

Nova requires almost no economic management. You’ll still need to train workers and build an expansion, but it takes almost no time to get her entire base established, and after that you can ignore everything other than controlling your army.

I love StarCraft II, but one thing that’s always bothered me about the game is how heavily it’s skewed toward economy. If you can macro well, commanding your troops is almost an afterthought. Nova is a very welcome respite from that paradigm.

Nova is theoretically very micro-intensive, but between her much smaller army size and the wealth of auto-cast abilities, she’s actually not hard to play at all. In fact I find her downright relaxing to play. There’s just enough to do to keep you engaged, but not to tax you.

And she’s powerful. Insanely, ludicrously powerful. She’s so good that I think some degree of nerfs are inevitable. While leveling her, I’ve easily outclassed allies who vastly out-leveled me. At times I’ve almost felt bad for my allies. I was able to devastate the enemy so heavily and so easily that there just wasn’t anything left for my partner to do.

Some may disagree, but I think Nova is probably the most powerful commander co-op has yet seen. The last time I felt this powerful in a video game was when I was eight years old and abusing god mode cheats.

The only map I’ve seen Nova struggle with so far is Temple of the Past, mainly because her static defenses leave a lot to be desired. Her siege tanks are very good, but it’s difficult to mass up enough of them due to the lengthy cooldown on summoning them.

Nova calls down a nuclear strike in StarCraft II's co-op

It doesn’t majorly harm her effectiveness, but one thing that can also be a little frustrating is how much Nova is skewed towards a slow, methodical playstyle — picking her enemy apart a piece at a time. I very much enjoy that way of playing, but it’s sometimes an awkward fit for a game mode that’s dominated by hard time limits and impatient teammates. With a little work, Nova can tear down an enemy base without risking any units, but often your ally will just Leeroy in before you get the chance.

However, on maps where Nova has the opportunity to play offense and the time to do it on her terms, she excels. Chain of Ascension is probably her best map, but she also does very well on Void Thrashing and Rifts to Korhal. Oblivion Express is another good one for her, purely because her air strike is the perfect size and shape to deal massive damage to the trains while also cleaning out most of their escorts.

If you want to maximize your potential as Nova, my number one tip is to always be using her for harassment. Any time sabotage drone is off cooldown, you’re wasting tremendous amounts of damage. Think of it as your “maintenance” task, like dropping MULEs or injecting larva.

I often split Nova off from my main army, using them to defend against attacks or push a current objective while Nova softens up whatever’s next. If you play your cards right, you can weaken enemy fortifications so much your army can march in virtually unopposed.

I also recommend capitalizing on the versatility inherent in Nova’s army. Don’t constantly lean on the same unit composition. Consider what map you’re on and what the enemy is bringing to bear and plan accordingly.

On the whole, Nova is an incredibly inventive, incredibly fun addition to StarCraft II’s co-op. As a long-time Nova fan, I had very high expectations for her, and she’s exceeded all of them. I can’t recommend her enough.

* * *

Nova is currently available to all StarCraft II players for $4.99USD.


BlizzCon 2016 Predictions

BlizzCon 2016 is now just a few weeks away. It’s bound to bring some exciting reveals, but the interesting thing about this year’s BlizzCon is that we don’t have any clear idea what those reveals will be.

BlizzCon 2016 celebrates all things Blizzard Entertainment

While the exact details may be a mystery, we can usually make some ballpark guesses on what the big news at a BlizzCon will be. We might, for example, suspect that a World of Warcraft expansion is being announced, even if we don’t know what specific features it offers.

This year it’s a lot harder to predict.

What we can expect:

There are a few things that are probably a given for BlizzCon 2016, or any BlizzCon these days.

For Heroes of the Storm, we’ll probably hear about some new heroes, and maybe a new map or two. The rumor mill has been floating Warcraft’s King Varian as a likely addition in the near future, so be on the lookout for that.

There have also been some teases about a very “crazy” new hero soon. Fan speculation points at either StarCraft’s Arcturus Mengsk or Warcraft’s Gelbin Mekkatorque for this role, both of those being characters that have been mentioned by Blizzard or found in datamining in the past.

I also wouldn’t be shocked if another Overwatch hero made the jump to Heroes. There’s been rumors of datamined dialogue pointing to D.Va as a possibility.

Heroes just got a couple new maps with the Machines of War event, so more coming soon isn’t too likely, but I wouldn’t entirely rule out some early concepts being announced at BlizzCon. I would have expected the new version of arena mode to be announced at BlizzCon, but that’s already been announced as Heroes Brawl.

The Li-Ming character in Heroes of the Storm

Similar to Heroes, I would expect Overwatch to unveil a few new heroes and/or maps. There’s been a lot of teases for a hacker character named Sombra lately; I expect that she’ll be announced before BlizzCon at the current rate, but if not, expect her then. Even if Sombra’s reveal is at BlizzCon 2016, I would expect to see other reveals, be they heroes, maps, or both.

Personally I would like to see an announcement of some PvE content for Overwatch — maybe even a story mode — but for now Blizzard seems content to remain incredibly unambitious with Overwatch, so I wouldn’t bet on it.

I think another expansion for Hearthstone at BlizzCon 2016 is a very strong possibility. It gets new expansions pretty regularly, so that would hardly be a shocker.

We’re still pretty early into World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, so I wouldn’t expect any terribly big news for it. Expect some previews of upcoming patches — maybe a glimpse of what the next raid might be, though given that all of the launch raids haven’t even been enabled yet, even that’s in question.

There’s a slender chance we might hear about a sequel to the Warcraft film, but it’s probably too soon for that.

So that leaves Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, and Overwatch as franchises likely to have announcements, but also unlikely to have any earth-shattering news. BlizzCon is an expensive convention to run, though, so they wouldn’t run it without something big to announce.

So just what are they up to?

The Black Rook Hold dungeon in World of Warcraft: Legion

Where the guesswork begins:

By process of elimination, it seems StarCraft and Diablo are the only franchises for which there could be major announcements. I very much doubt they’ll be announcing another new franchise.

The hardest evidence — and that’s not saying much — is for a StarCraft announcement. StarCraft’s in-game rewards for those who purchase a BlizzCon 2016 virtual ticket are being kept a mystery until the convention, and they only do that when rewards are relating to a new announcement that they don’t want to spoil beforehand.

My initial thought was the announcement would be a new mission pack DLC. The timing makes sense, since the final installment of the Nova DLC should be out pretty soon.

However, there’s now word that Blizzard may not be doing any more story DLC, so that idea is out the window.

I think some announcements for co-op may be a good possibility, but that would hardly justify the cloak and dagger attitude around the virtual ticket rewards. The StarCraft II trilogy has wrapped up, so another full expansion being announced is unlikely, and I think it’s far too soon for StarCraft III to be a possibility.

But there is one other option.

There have been fairly credible rumors for a while that Blizzard is planning to announce a remastered version of the original StarCraft. Without a lot of other strong options, that seems the most likely bet… though it is worth noting the virtual ticket page specifically mentions StarCraft II content.

A screenshot from the Mass Recall mod for StarCraft II

The Mass Recall mod already allow players to experience the original campaigns in StarCraft II’s engine.

If a remastered original StarCraft is what’s coming, it will be welcome news for anyone who misses the original StarCraft’s multiplayer scene, but the original campaign was already playable with modern graphics and mechanics via the fan-made Mass Recall mod, so it’s not quite as exciting as it might otherwise be for single-player fans. Personally, I’d be more interested in remastered versions of the old Warcraft games, or maybe even the first two Diablo titles.

Speaking of Diablo, that’s another franchise around which much speculation has been floating. BlizzCon 2016 will also celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Diablo franchise, so it would be a good time for a major announcement.

The obvious option would be another expansion pack for Diablo III. Even before the base game released rumors swirled that Diablo III was slated to receive two expansion packs, and given the huge financial success of both the base game and the Reaper of Souls expansion, a second expansion would seem to make good sense.

However, recent events have thrown that possibility into doubt. It’s been so long now since Reaper of Souls was released that people have begun to despair of ever seeing another expansion, and the fact is we have no evidence to support an expansion announcement beyond the fact that the timing seems right.

It’s also true that Diablo III is the only game in Blizzard’s portfolio with no monetization beyond box sales, so that might discourage them from further development on it.

Further complicating matters is the fact that a number of high profile Diablo-related job postings have appeared on Blizzard’s career page in recent months. They could be for positions working on Diablo III, but it seems more likely they’re for a new game in the franchise, presumably Diablo IV.

A Nephalim Rift in Diablo III

It seems supremely unlikely that a new Diablo game would be ready to be shown at BlizzCon, so if Blizzard’s decided to abandon D3 for a new game, the odds of a major Diablo announcement this year are virtually zero.

That said, it’s also possible that Blizzard is working on both a new game and a new expansion. The severe content drought Diablo III has experienced over the past few months has been interpreted by many as a sign the game is being put on maintenance mode, but it could also be a sign that the team has decided to put all their efforts toward a new expansion.

This would be consistent with Blizzard’s behavior elsewhere. World of Warcraft frequently suffers lengthy content gaps in the lead-up to a new expansion.

Finally, there are also those speculating that BlizzCon 2016 might see the announcement of remastered versions of one or more earlier Diablo games, but there’s no hard evidence to back this up.

For my part, I hope for an expansion announcement. The ending to Reaper of Souls left the story obviously unfinished, and the core gameplay of Diablo III remains strong. I don’t think we need a new game yet.

If we do see an expansion announcement, I’m expecting druid — or something similar to a druid — as a new class. It’s the only archetype from Diablo II that isn’t represented in any way by the D3 class line-up.

There would also undoubtedly be at least one new act of story content, though its setting is anyone’s guess. My hope would be for the northern isle of Xiansai to bring in a nice Eastern flair, but it could be anything, really.

All hopes aside, there remains a strong chance we may see nothing at all significant for Diablo at BlizzCon 2016. Our only real evidence that there might be something is a single tweet by the official Diablo Twitter account saying that BlizzCon will be “cool” this year.

On the whole, BlizzCon 2016 remains shrouded in mystery.


ESO: A Better Single Player RPG Than Skyrim?

eso vs skyrim

While playing a brief, uninspired spell of Skyrim, my mind began to wander. Skyrim was failing to hold my attention once again. Yet it’s brother, Elder Scrolls Online, didn’t have the same failings. And this wasn’t due to friends playing the Tamrielian MMORPG with me. I’ve had plenty of fun playing Elder Scrolls Online by my lonesome. The only times I’ve really managed that with Skyrim lately has been thanks to the mod scene. Then the realization hit me. ESO might just be a better single player RPG than Skyrim. Taking out the interaction with real people, which one plays better?

Combat

Skyrim’s base combat is pretty awful. It’s disappointing that this aspect of the series still lags so far behind other action RPGs. Mods like Wildcat and Combat Evolved add a more visceral and immersive experience but are starting behind the eight ball. Without any mods, Skyrim’s combat is airy, repetitive, and simplistic. High difficulty settings are countered not be better play, but by more frequent inventory usage to chug potions. Inventory management in Skyrim isn’t strategic and it certainly isn’t action filled. So what is it? A mess.

eso combat

By comparison, Elder Scrolls Online is all action. You can’t just pause combat to heal. There is more than one tactic for players to use. Although it’s more action oriented than typical MMORPGs, ESO’s fighting still tends to encapsulate the same MMORPG combat feel. The main differences are limited active abilities, the lack of cooldowns, blocking, and dodging. Regardless, the usage of abilities at key times puts ESO worlds above Skyrim’s combat. Enemies also come with more varied moves in ESO. I wouldn’t call the game particularly challenging, but certain enemies will punish lackadaisical play.

Winner: Elder Scrolls Online

Story/Lore

You don’t really play Elder Scrolls games for a good story. They have their moments (Morrowind main quest, Oblivion’s Dark Brotherhood, etc.) but by and large, it’s all about freedom. That said, there is still a lot of lore that’s built up over the course of several games. Elder Scrolls Online makes better use of that lore than Skyrim does. Several quests in ESO are engaging with intriguing plot elements. Instead of ascribing to the MMORPG philosophy of thinly veiled fetch and kill quests, ESO tries to deliver meaningful quest objectives. For the most part, it succeeds. Really, the game is worth playing for the main quest alone. It’s that good. Skyrim, on the other hand, feels pretty lifeless. The quests are bland, the characters are shallow, and the story is weak. For a single player game, Skyrim does very little to advance the lands of Tamriel.

Winner: Elder Scrolls Online

Longevity

MMORPGs are all about longevity. New content for popular MMORPGs is always just around the corner. Elder Scrolls Online frequently releases new high quality DLC. A lot of that content is available for solo players to enjoy. However, without other players the endgame is impossible. Obviously PvP is a no go, and PvE in the form of raids will literally be impossible on your lonesome. There is a lot of content in ESO, but let’s be real here. Skyrim wins every battle with every single player RPG game in terms of longevity. Why? Because Bethesda delivers the modding community the right tools to get the job done. Nearly 50,000 mods reside on Nexusmods alone. As enjoyable as ESO’s DLC has been, it’s just too difficult to keep up with the breadth and depth of Skyrim’s mod scene. And without human interaction, ESO players will find much less to do.

Winner: Skyrim

skyrim dragon shouts

Exploration

Exploration and mods are the two key ingredients that have made the Elder Scrolls series so popular. Neither Skyrim nor ESO fail in this regard. Elder Scrolls Online opens up the entire continent of Tamriel to explore vs. Skyrim focusing on one region. One would think that would give ESO the win right there but no so my eager friend!

The focus on ESO’s story has led to less interesting exploration elements. A lot of the joy of Skyrim comes from going off on your own to see what lies underneath various caves and ruins. You’d find anything from treasure to dragon shouts to enemy hordes and everything in between. You would also do so knowing you’d be challenged by the game’s level scaling. With that, any dungeon in Skyrim could be a dangerous affair. Going off on your own in ESO doesn’t bring that same level of excitement (although it’s better compared to other MMORPGs due to level syncing). The reason to explore in ESO is because a quest brings you there, not because you genuinely care about what’s on the other side of that hill. In addition, the Skyrim modding scene’s lands and dungeons are tough to beat.

Winner: Skyrim

Character Progression

The key difference between The Elder Scrolls Online and Skyrim is the former uses a class system and latter does not. The class system offers a lot of flexibility and decision making in building characters. Character progression in this way reminds me of hack and slash ARPGs. There’s just a lot of joy in building and planning a character. Skill points gained from leveling will generally be spent on an active ability. Since only six can be equipped for each of the two weapon slots, players need to pick and choose. The selection of weapons, armor, and other equipment in ESO is a whole lot more interesting than Skyrim’s gear as well.

eso skill system

Of course, even with a more open class system, it can’t compare to the freedom of a classless system. Characters in Skyrim can be built however the player sees fit. Want to be a plate mail wearing, destruction/restoration mage? Sure. How about a pirate specializing in thievery, stealth, speechcraft, and dueling? OK, no problem. If you can dream it, you can build it. If you play long enough you can transcend mortal classes into practical godhood. However, I find the perks from leveling to be generally underwhelming. It’s great to play any character you can think of, but the lack of interesting choices on level ups means those characters rarely last long.

Winner: Elder Scrolls Online

ESO: A Good Single Player MMORPG

It’s pretty close, but I believe Elder Scrolls Online actually makes a better single player experience than Skyrim. Obviously mods can change things dramatically, especially in a game like Skyrim. But that also brings greater inconsistency in content and burdens on the player to seek these out. Ultimately, I don’t feel strongly enough about it to consider this an open and shut case. They each have their strengths, and player preferences play a huge role. How do you think Skyrim compares to ESO?


5 Free Diablo Clones

Blizzard’s Diablo has now achieved such a level of notoriety that an entire genre is now based on its name. While many people refer to this genre by more generic terms such as action-RPGs or hack and slash MMOs, nothing gets the point across faster than “Diablo clone”. The commonality between these games is tons of loot, fast paced combat, lots of enemies on screen, cooperative play, and character build variety. Different games accomplish this in different ways, and it’s hard to beat free. Thus, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the 5 best free diablo clones currently available, along with who they best appeal to.

path of exile free diablo clone diablo 2

Path of Exile

Appeals to: Old school Diablo II fans

Path of Exile launched about a year after Diablo III. Whereas most games in a similar genre typically benefit from a first mover advantage, Path of Exile probably received a nice boost from its later release. You see, the latest Diablo release changed a lot of things from Diablo II. It wasn’t an iterative improvement, but an entire overhaul. The problem with that is Diablo II is and was a great game. Many People weren’t looking for a reworking of the wheel, but changes to improve on archaic design flaws of Diablo II. In many ways, Path of Exile did both.

It’s a game with its own unique vision but stays true to what made Diablo II a classic: trading, impactful character building, PvP, and crazy amounts of loot. There’s a ton of character build variety in the game with its huge passive skill grid, reminiscent of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid. Weapons and armors with numerous effects are important, but Path of Exile steps it up with its skill gems. Skills gems are socketable items that provide active abilities for players to use. These gems also level up during play. Instead of learning skills on level ups, you “learn” them by equipping skill gems. As any Diablo fan will tell you, finding new loot is the best part of the game. In Path of Exile, not only do you find equipment, you find new skills to mix and match with your build.

Between passives, skill gems, gem modifiers, and randomized loot, there’s a near limitless number of ways to build characters. What’s truly impressive is how many players enjoy creating new characters just to try new builds. Theorycrafting is definitely alive and well in Path of Exile. While there’s no way to fully respec, you can also make small changes to your passive skills. No longer do you need to fear an errant click ruining your build like in Diablo II.

And more than anything, it’s these small things that make Path of Exile most appealing. The character sheet is chock full of information. Potions refill on their own and a variety of different potion combinations impact builds in their own unique way. Inventory management is now a breeze. Instanced dungeons and loot runs with friends is now faster, more intuitive, and easier to setup.

Path of Exile might be the best free Diablo clone simply because it’s the game that actually plays most similar to Diablo. It’s also notable for lacking any “pay for power” cash shop items.

Read our full Path of Exile review or play it now.

herowarz free diablo clone anime

HeroWarz

Appeals to: Cute and silly anime lovers who like switching characters and faster paced combat

HeroWarz is the latest free MMO on this list to follow in Diablo’s footsteps. Releasing earlier this year, it surprised a lot of people, myself included. Expecting another generic anime MMO, I braced myself for the worst. Ultimately though, I found the game to be a very enjoyable experience.

First, the style is a welcome change from the dark and dreary colors of most dungeon delving ARPGs. And unlike Diablo III, it actually fits the atmosphere. Instead of playing different classes, players select characters that they can freely swap between. This plays out similarly to different characters in MOBAs like League of Legends or DOTA2. As someone who had spent hundreds of hours playing League in the past, I really enjoyed this setup. Additionally, the PvP mode also feels like a MOBA so HeroWarz ends up offering two unique experiences in one package.

The action is a lot more frantic than other Diablo clones. Enemies basically rush at you in waves (rather than you going to meet them). Players can get overwhelmed if they’re not ready or playing their characters correctly. Healing potions also work on a 30 second timer rather than using a limited supply, which I prefer. The name may be really dumb (seriously, a z replacing an s is so 1998), but HeroWarz is a welcome addition to the stable of free Diablo clones.

Read our full HeroWarz review or play it now.

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Drakensang Online

Appeals to: Those seeking a balanced and solid web based Diablo experience

Drakensang Online doesn’t innovate as much as Path of Exile or HeroWarz. It’s also much older, releasing in 2011. While it does offer a standalone client, Drakensang Online’s biggest plus is its accessibility. Any somewhat modern computer can run it straight from a browser. And for a browser title, it looks pretty damn good.

One of the cooler design decisions for a free to play game is that Andermant, Drakensang’s premium currency, drops from monsters and chests. While the cash shop plays a larger role than other free Diablo clones, it’s mitigated by this simple feature. The gameplay itself is solid but not spectacular. There are four unique classes in the game, all of which are surprisingly well balanced. Customization comes in the form of three different ability/attribute trees. You won’t make many agonizing character build choices, but leveling does bring some interesting decisions.

The itemization is solid. The quests are solid. The overworld map has fun places to explore. The color palettes and enemies fit the tone. Everything works well in Drakensang. While there’s not a lot of flash here, it’s a very solid game.

Read our full Drakensang Online review or play it now.

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Guardians of Divinity

Appeals to: People who like ARPG loot without the work or want a Facebook version of Diablo

Guardians of Divinity is another browser based MMORPG. Whereas Drakensang Online feels first and foremost a Diablo-esque game, Guardians of Divinity feels primarily a browser game. By that, I mean to say it’s much simpler and dumbed down. The quests are uninspired and the whole story is filled with complete randomness. So why include Guardians of Divinity on this list?

Guardians of Divinity’s appeal lies in its autoplay system. With relatively minimal input, players can instruct their characters to kill mobs, pickup loot, and turn in quests. Players will want to check in occasionally, but it’s a perfect game for playing at work. It’s also perfect for getting ahead without really putting in any effort. One of the most divisive issues when it comes to ARPGs is the grind to level new characters or get new loot. While I think the other four Diablo clones listed have improved core gameplay components, the real joy is still in finding sweet new gear to equip. Guardians of Divinity offers players.

Like many Facebook games, it’s a bit hollow and fairly shallow. But it’s also addictive to see new rares in your inventory every time you alt+tab over.

Read our full Guardians of Divinity review or play it now.

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Marvel Heroes

Appeals to: Superhero fans, someone seeking a Diablo clone with more MMO features, or players who suffer from Altitis

Marvel Heroes is perhaps the best video game use of the Marvel license yet. The game was pretty awful at launch but has turned into something pretty remarkable. Players in Marvel Heroes can unlock dozens of iconic heroes and villains, each with their own unique skill sets. Players can also switch characters mid-mission and take part in MOBA PvP like in HeroWarz. Each of these characters have their own unique tree that allows for a staggering number of builds, given the breadth of character selection.

The core gameplay of Marvel Heroes is fairly similar to other Diablo style games. Where gameplay gets really interesting is with its MMORPG components. First, Marvel Heroes has raids. These are ten person raids that are meant to challenge groups. The green/red difficulty scale is akin to World of Warcraft’s normal/heroic scale. In true ARPG, hack and slash MMO fashion, the loot can be pretty amazing for overcoming raids. It’s a worthwhile endgame goal that sure beats Baal runs. Players can also craft gear from components in between missions for even more loot based fun.

I find playing Marvel Heroes to be most similar to playing Diablo III. Players can respec freely an unlimited number of times. The combat pacing mirrors the most recent Diablo and some of the levels eerily feel like Blizzard even designed them.  Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Marvel Heroes (and Diablo III) are very polished with easy to grasp gameplay and tons of progression. However, these similarities are noteworthy for deciding whether Marvel Heroes is right for you.

Read our full Marvel Heroes review or play it now.

Picking One

I’m really impressed with what’s available for free to play Diablo clones. I can truly see the appeal of all of the above games. While I don’t have near enough time to grind for loot in all of them, an occasional mission might just hit the spot. And after a while, maybe one will emerge. Which one will it be for you?