Category Archives: Multiplayer Games

Heroes of the Storm 2.0 Isn’t that Different

If there’s one thing Blizzard seems to love, it’s revamping games. They never seem to be able to go very long without some sort of major overhaul to one of their titles. The most recent game to get this treatment is Heroes of the Storm, having recently been given a quasi-relaunch as “Heroes of the Storm 2.0.”

Opening a loot box in Heroes of the Storm

I used to be a big-time Heroes player, having been invited to the technical alpha and playing regularly up to the official launch and for some time after. However, I had started to lose interest in recent months.

2.0 seemed like a good opportunity to revisit the game, but would it reignite my love for Heroes of the Storm or drive me farther away?

What’s in the Box?

Most of the 2.0 changes focus on revamping the game’s progression and rewards systems. These changes are too complex to be declared entirely good or bad; it really depends on who you are and what you want.

2.0 is clearly taking a lot of cues from Overwatch, and while the two systems are not necessarily identical, you’ll definitely see a lot that’s familiar in Heroes if you’ve played Blizzard’s shooter.

Firstly, leveling has been redesigned. Account level is no longer its own thing but is simply the sum of your total hero levels across all characters. Whenever a hero levels up, you earn a loot box full of random cosmetic rewards, with certain level milestones offering boxes of a higher quality. And of course you can also buy boxes for real money if you so desire.

I may have argued in the past that the furor over lockbox mechanics has gotten a little out of hand, but I’m still not a particular fan of the idea, and it’s hard to celebrate when a game suddenly embraces them with open arms.

Tracer's Spectre skin in Heroes of the Storm

That said, for at least some people, this system can be seen as an improvement. Before, if you didn’t want to pay cash for cosmetics in Heroes of the Storm, you were simply out of luck. There were very few mounts or skins available for in-game currency, and they required a lot of grind to acquire.

Now, you can earn every cosmetic in the game without spending a dime. At least in theory. If you’re unwilling or unable to pay real world money, this update is bound to be a huge boon to you.

On the other hand, if you can pay, the news is much less positive. Whereas before you could get whatever skin or mount you wanted whenever you wanted (more or less — mounts tended to cycle in and out of the store, but they always came back eventually), now only a very small selection of cosmetics will be available for direct sale each week. If what you want isn’t available right now, your only choice is to gamble.

And while you can potentially get everything from loot boxes, the odds of actually getting what you want are not great. In a rather transparent attempt to keep people chasing the good stuff, Blizzard has clogged the game with reams of new items that I can’t imagine anyone really wants.

There are banners that only deploy under certain “blink and you’ll miss it” circumstances. There are announcers that are barely heard since they don’t cover map-specific call-outs. There are voice lines that are mostly just copies of the dialogue your characters are always saying anyway. There are tiny sprays no one really uses. And there’s a dizzying variety of emojis, for those who want to add a personal touch to the all-caps bile that is the chat in any MOBA.

Through various veteran reward systems, I received over fifty loot boxes when I first logged in after the update, and out of the all that, I got nothing that I actually wanted.

Purchasing a skin with shards in Heroes of the Storm

The new pyrotechnics for making a purchase are a tad… over-zealous.

Now, to be fair, there are some systems in place to limit the negative effects of RNG. As in Overwatch, if a duplicate of something you already own drops, it’s converted to a special currency (called shards in this case) that can then be used to unlock items directly, even if they’re not part of the current sales.

So while I didn’t get any drops I wanted, I did get enough shards to buy several several skins and a mount. It wasn’t everything I’d hoped to get, but it was something.

Progressing Progression

The loot boxes can be a positive or a negative depending on your perspective, but the other changes to progression skew more heavily toward the negative.

The leveling curve has been rebalanced to provide a much steadier curve. This means that higher levels are now earned much more quickly, which is a necessary change given we are now expected to keep leveling heroes indefinitely, but it also means that the lower levels go by much slower.

One of the best ways to earn gold in Heroes of the Storm has traditionally been to level as many characters as possible to level five, due to the 500 gold reward for doing so. The reward is still there, but it’s now much more of a time investment to achieve, so it feels much less worth it. This doesn’t seem like a good move for a game that derives so much of its appeal from constantly trying new characters.

Also, while high levels are earned more quickly, “quickly” is definitely a relative term here. Getting new loot boxes is going to become quite a grind after a while.

The new combined account/hero level in Heroes of the Storm

I’m also a little torn on what’s been done with master skins. Instead of being a mark of progression, they’ve now been thrown into loot boxes alongside all the other skins. Used to be if you saw someone with a master skin it meant something, especially if it was for a difficult or unusual hero like Abathur or Cho’Gall. Now it doesn’t mean anything.

That said, a hypocritical part of me is happy to be able to get master skins for characters I don’t play as much. I always loved Sonya’s master skin, but I don’t play her enough to justify the grind it would have required under the old system. Now I’ve just bought it with shards, which is simultaneously gratifying and demoralizing.

A Trying Challenge

Something else that deserves a mention is the recent Nexus Challenge 2.0 event. Like the previous Nexus Challenge, it sought to woo Overwatch players by offering rewards in both games for those who play a certain number of Heroes matches while grouped with a friend.

This event was a bit more rewarding than its predecessor, with four tiers unlocked over four weeks, each of which offered significant rewards for just five matches. However, the final three tiers all required that you play in PvP modes, whereas the previous Challenge only required versus AI games.

It’s a nice idea, but it didn’t work out so well in practice. The queues swarmed with inexperienced players, but what’s worse is that many of them weren’t interesting in learning how to play Heroes of the Storm and simply sought to throw games as quickly as possible. This was a miserable experience for veterans, and I can’t imagine it was a good introduction to the game for new players who are genuinely trying, either.

I don’t begrudge Blizzard’s desire for cross-promotion, but I have to believe they could have come up with a better system than this.

Status Quo 2.0

The Thunder-Guard Zarya skin in Heroes of the Storm

In the end, though, the bottom line is that Heroes of the Storm 2.0 isn’t as radical a change as Blizzard’s marketing department would like you to believe. When you get past all the pomp and pageantry of the new progression mechanics, the actual game isn’t much changed.

That can be good, and it can be bad. If you liked Heroes before, you’ll like it now. If you didn’t, I doubt lockboxes are going to bring you back.

I’m not really sure where I stand with the game. I’ve had a lot of fun with it in the past, and there’s still much about it I appreciate, but after so much time spent with it, I am a bit burnt out, and there are some things that have been driving me away.

All of my favorite heroes have been nerfed into uselessness or revamped into something unrecognizable. I swear the game was more stable back in alpha; now that it’s launched, I ought to be able to trust that my characters will maintain some kind of singular identity.

I’m also not thrilled with the direction the meta-game has been taking. Right now it seems dominated by increasing power creep, especially around burst damage. Heroes used to be a more laid-back take on the MOBA, but increasingly it seems to be the sort of game where a split second’s mistake will spell total doom.

I may find my passion reignites at some future date, but I don’t think the 2.0 update will be the cause.


Eight Reasons Your PvP Team Lost

PvP is a pillar of online gaming, whether it’s an MMO battleground, a MOBA, a shooter, or spreading gossip in Ever, Jane. The unfortunate reality of PvP, though, is that for every winner, there must be a loser. Sooner or later you find yourself not the pwner, but the pwnee.

Sometimes your best efforts just aren't good enough

As your virtual corpse decays on the battlefield, trampled by enemy mounts and teabagged by the opposing team, you find yourself asking, “Why? Why, o God, must I suffer so?”

I am not God, but perhaps I can offer some answers to that question.

The Lone Wolf

“There’s no ‘I’ in team” is a piece of advice we’re constantly bombarded with from childhood on, and it’s a good one. It deserves to be as ubiquitous as it is.

And yet, despite both its omnipresence and its fundamental logic, the concept of team above the individual is still somehow lost on a shockingly high number of gamers.

Thus, you see people charging eagerly into five-on-one confrontations (presumably whilst screaming “LEEEEEROOOY JENKINS” at their monitor) or simply camping the bottom lane while everyone else is contesting the map objective because SERIOUSLY RAYNOR DID NO ONE EVER TELL YOU THIS IS A *(@!ING TEAM GAME.

Ahem.

The Accidental Death Match

Team death match is a very popular PvP mode in many online games. So popular, in fact, that lots of people like to turn all the other modes into team death match, too!

Carrying the flag in a World of Warcraft battleground

This is why, while you do the boring but necessary work of guarding the flag, your teammates have charged off to some random field in the middle of nowhere to battle back and forth with enemy players for no other reason than the sheer joy of meaningless irrelevant slaughter.

They may cost you the match and your faith in humanity, but at least they’re enjoying themselves. And in the end, isn’t that the real victory?

No, no it isn’t.

The Learning Experience

Everyone has to start somewhere. You just hope it isn’t your team.

Alone of all the failures gracing this list, the newcomers are the only ones deserving any sympathy. They don’t mean to be bad; they just don’t know any better. They’re new to the game, and they’re trying their best, even as they make countless mistakes that seem glaringly obvious to your experienced eyes.

You can’t blame them too harshly, even if they sink your team like the iceberg did the Titanic. Try to take comfort in the fact that the loss will probably be a learning experience for them, and they’ll do better next time.

One would hope.

The Critic

A less than successful battle in DOTA 2

Everyone’s a critic, or so they say, and never is this more true than in online gaming.

If you play any online PvP — or really any kind of online gaming — you’ll find no shortage of people willing and eager to critique any and all aspects of your play, completely unsolicited.

If you’re lucky it’s only a critique, and their advice is actually useful. This can still be a bit annoying if you didn’t ask for it, but it’s preferable to the alternative, which is an endless string of all-caps profanity delivered by someone who boasts half your kills and twice your deaths.

The Saboteur

As we learned from Michael Caine, some men just want to watch the world burn.

As annoying as all the other mistakes mentioned within the hallowed paragraphs of this article can be, they’re mostly honest mistakes. But sometimes there is more at work, a dark malignancy at the heart of your team, a malice lurking in the heart of a teammate that is turned against his or her own.

Maybe something was said that caused offense. Maybe something went wrong early and they’ve decided a quick death is preferable to trying for the epic comeback. Maybe they don’t have any particular reason. Maybe they don’t need one. Maybe they can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with.

Whatever the case may be, they’ve decided to do everything in their power to make you lose. They’ll feed the enemy kills. They’ll sit in your base and refuse to fight. Heaven help you if the game allows friendly fire. One way or another, they’re going down, and they’re going to drag you and the rest of your team with them.

A PvP battle in WildStar

The Full Murphy

Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong, will.”

Sometimes it is not one single factor that brings an end to your dreams of glorious victory, but a confluence of them. A perfect storm or chain reaction of horror and nincompoopery.

Someone charged in too soon and got themselves killed right away, leaving your team at a disadvantage as they contest an objective. The healer goes down and spends the rest of the match throwing out verbal abuse instead of heals. Someone else decides to just start feeding the enemy free kills to “get it over with.” And all the while Raynor is still camping the bottom lane and doing basically nothing because SERIOUSLY WHY IS IT ALWAYS THE RAYNORS.

There’s no coming back from a mess like this. Just pray it’s over quickly and your suffering can come to an end.

The Unthinkable

If you look across your team and cannot find fault with their play, despite your best efforts, and still find yourself losing, it may be time to consider the unthinkable: Perhaps you are the noob.

It is a terrifying thought. The mind rebels from the mere possibility. But think back and analyze your own behavior.

When the enemy team captured the lumber mill, where were you? Were you putting on a valiant if hopeless defense of the mill the likes of which would make King Leonidas himself weep manly tears? Or were you dueling the enemy team’s rogue approximately fifty miles away from anywhere relevant?

A match in the online PvP game For Honor

When your team’s healer was dog-piled and killed, were you doing everything in your power to defend them, or were you furiously typing a thesis on their rank incompetence without contributing anything yourself?

Look in the mirror. See yourself.

The Impossible

If all other possibilities are exhausted, maybe… just maybe… hear me out… you simply lost fair and square to a superior team. I mean, anything’s possible, right?

Nah, that can’t be it.


For Honor Is Fascinating, Baffling

For Honor is the latest buzz-worthy title from Ubisoft, promising intense competitive action against a brutal Medieval backdrop. In the lead-up to launch, they held an open beta event, and I dove in to see how this latest entry in the online PvP field stacks up.

Two teams zone into a match in the For Honor beta

For Blood and Honor

Providing For Honor impressions requires taking a step back just to define the game. It incorporates elements of MMOs, RPGs, MOBAs, and fighting games, but it doesn’t exactly fit into any of those genres.

Its basic premise is an ongoing conflict between three factions: Vikings, Samurai, and Knights. You must pledge yourself to a specific faction, but oddly this doesn’t affect your choice of class. You can, for example, play a Knight class even if you’re sworn to the Samurai. I suppose it helps keep things balanced.

There are three classes per faction, and it seems each can be customized a fair bit, both visually and in terms of gear and stats. Some are gender-locked, though, which is a bit off-putting.

For Honor does feature a single-player story-mode, a decision I salute given how many similar games have neglected this feature (looking at you, Overwatch), but the beta only included competitive modes, so I can’t comment on its quality.

The heart of For Honor is its unique dueling-focused combat system, which utilizes combos, counters, and multiple angles of attack to create a very deep and challenging experience.

Executing an opponent in the For Honor beta

Executions are delightfully brutal.

If you’ve played Age of Conan, For Honor’s mechanics may feel familiar. You can angle your weapon to the left, the right, or above. This will block attacks from that angle, but also prevent your own attacks from getting through as long as your enemy’s stance is focused the same way.

This makes combat into something of a cat and mouse game where you are constantly trying to exploit your enemy’s weaknesses without exposing yourself too much at the same time. It rewards a deliberate style of play, but it’s also quite fast-paced, so you need to be able to think fast.

You can also guard-break an enemy to get in a few free shots — though there are counters to this — and each class also has access to some active skills that are unlocked as you gain experience throughout a match — much like a MOBA. Some game modes even have swarms of weak AI minions to farm for XP, strengthening the MOBA feel.

But this barely scratches the surface of the incredible depth of the combat system and its various combos, counters, and abilities. When I first started on For Honor, I thought the tutorials were incredibly thorough and had covered everything I could possibly need to know, but it quickly became clear they were only the most shallow and basic introduction to the game’s mechanics.

I’ve been gaming for a long time, and For Honor is honestly one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. It took me a fair bit of practice just to be able to survive basic training scenarios against the AI. The sheer number of different combos and interactions across all the classes is staggering.

A failed mission in the For Honor beta.

This image pretty much sums up my experience with For Honor.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to experience much of the game’s PvP thanks to frequent crashes and disconnects. On the odd occasions the servers did cooperate, I was once again slaughtered quite handily.

On the rare occasions everything aligned and I was able to best my opponent, I found it an incredibly satisfying experience, but that’s not something that’s going to happen often when you’re still new to the game.

That same complexity applies to its meta game, as well. While For Honor focuses on small scale matches — including duels, deathmatches, and a point control mode called Dominion — it all feeds into a massive territorial war between the three factions. A video explains the mechanics of this when you first investigate the game’s multiplayer, but it dumped so much information on me so fast I failed to absorb any of it.

A Niche Perfected

While I spent much of my time in For Honor being frustrated, I nonetheless developed a high opinion of it, at least from a certain perspective. It’s extremely challenging, but it doesn’t feel cheap or unfair, and I greatly admire its depth and complexity.

However, I do think it will only appeal to a specific type of player.

Let me be clear: For Honor is not a game you can just jump into and play. I do not think there can be such a thing as a casual For Honor player.

A duel in the For Honor beta.

This is a game that will require hours of research and practice in order to achieve even a basic level of competency. You will have to pay your dues.

For those who are willing to put in the time and effort to “git gud,” I think For Honor will prove an incredibly rewarding experience. I could also see it being a strong contender as an eSport, depending on what kind of community it ends up having. I think a duel between two highly skilled players could be thrilling to watch.

But for those of us who don’t want to put that much effort into a video game, For Honor will likely never serve as anything but a source of frustration. It’s an excellent entry in its niche, but that niche may end up being rather narrow.

I come away with two totally different yet not incompatible opinions. As a student of game design, I love For Honor. As a guy who plays video games for fun, I don’t like it at all.


Steam Hammer Interview: Survival in a Steampunk World

Steam Hammer just wrapped up a $50,000 Kickstarter to help bring to life their hardcore steampunk, sandbox-style RPG. Lots of words there, but there’s a lot to describe. We talked with Konstantin of Big Way Games to find out more about their upcoming multiplayer title.

Steam Hammer is a sandbox survival RPG. Aside from the Steampunk theme, how will Steam Hammer differentiate itself from other multiplayer survival games?

The game also includes the Acribians, a race with their own architecture, armor, weaponry, and, of course, airships (they get flying whales). Other survival games generally stick to one race, while Steam Hammer players also get to enjoy how Acribians fuse flesh and machinery. The result is the kind of Frankenstein/cyborg mix you’d expect from the end of the 19th century.

steam hammer

Since it’s important to our audience, what sort of features will most appeal to MMO fans?

MMO fans get your standard package: 64-person servers, the ability to create and join guilds, and the opportunity to play on a single server with friends. That way they can build the city of their dreams without worrying that someone is going to come rampaging through and wreck the whole thing. None of that should come as a surprise, however, so, again, I’ll just say that what we offer is fairly standard.

What was the motivation behind choosing a Steampunk setting?

We’ve had a soft spot for steampunk ever since Arcanum. I think it’s becoming more popular lately, which means we can make money on a game we’ve had a blast spending more than a year developing.

What are the biggest incentives for players to work together in Steam Hammer?

Players pick from a variety of professions, and the fact that they can’t master them all forces them to work together. You can only pick one or two classes to perfect. For example, you might be an armorer and a farmer, but that rules out being a builder. That, in turn, means that all you can build is a miserable little shack. If you want to create a powerful weapon at a factory, you need someone to build the factory and then an engineer to build the machinery. Plus, there’s collective defense—you can’t stand alone on the field of battle. Large airships, to take one example, have four turrets, and so you need four gunners as well as a pilot to man them.

Players can fly airships! So how difficult is it to build one?

It takes a three-person team something like 30 hours to build a large airship, though we’re currently working to balance that. Our Kickstarter campaign let us add small airships to the game as well. They’re still in development, but I imagine they’ll take half as long to build.

steam hammer screenshot 2

Steam Hammer looks to be a very socially interactive. Are there any AI controlled threats in the game or does most of that come from other players?

Other players definitely represent the most serious threat, but there are also ornery wild animals to worry about. At some point in the development process we also plan on adding blots, which are humanoid monsters that swim up out of the depths of the sea to raid player settlements. In addition, there are also caravans of airships flying over the islands that can be looted or even boarded and captured.

Will the game feature long term progression for your characters like a typical MMORPG?

You can play Steam Hammer for quite a while, spending the time mastering different professions and switching classes. Another factor is that all materials and weapons have a quality attribute that takes a long time to max out. Leveling up several combat and peacetime professions will take about 10 days of playing time.

How will the servers operate for Steam Hammer?

We will have plenty of very customizable servers all around the world. For example, on our servers at around 7-8 p.m. we have a judgment hour, which is when you can attack any guild or player without your karma taking a hit. When you set up your own server, you’ll be able to turn judgment hour off or turn on those conditions permanently. You’ll also set how fast players level up and many other parameters.

Can players transfer character between servers?

No, they cannot.

Steam Hammer seems quite ambitious. Are you worried about not delivering any of the features promised in your Kickstarter?

Everything is right on schedule. We’re currently hard at work building everything our backers paid for.

Finally, for those that missed the Kickstarter, is there any way to late back Steam Hammer?

Certainly. The game will be released to Steam in March 2017, and buying it will be the best way to support us. Strong sales, after all, will give us impetus we need to keep developing and making the Steam Hammer world more interesting and engaging.

Thanks for your time!

There’s no short supply of multiplayer survival games on the market but a well-done steampunk setting is sorely lacking. Big Way Games looks to fill that gap in impressive fashion, if all goes according to plan. With Early Access launching in just a couple of months, it won’t be long before we can dive in. Follow Steam Hammer on Steam and get notified as soon as it goes live.