HotS: Shut up newbie

March 24, 2015

First, we have one spot open in our CoC clan, “Supreme Cream!”. If you are at least TH7 with lvl 2 dragons and a functioning brain, feel free to apply and just mention the blog. Also the Boom Beach Task Force has two open spots as well; Hardcore Casual. No requirement on that as BB is more casual than CoC, so the braindead are welcome!

Moving on, a few follow up points from yesterday’s HotS post:

If HotS is your first MOBA, I would expect you to enjoy it, but that has more to do with you finally playing a MOBA rather than specifically playing HotS. Imagine if your first-ever MMO was current-day LotRO. You’d enjoy it more than a seasoned MMO player because all of the normal MMO stuff would be new to you, and only after some time would you come to realize that LotRO is a pretty poor MMO.

MOBAs until LoL were the hidden gem of gaming, and the core ideas behind the genre are solid and great. There is a reason DOTA was such a popular WC3 mod for so long, and why LoL today is the top game out year after year. The model works long-term, and HotS doesn’t appear to destroy that model (it does, but that’s not something you will notice immediately). Much like I wouldn’t put a ton of stock in someone telling me LotRO is amazing because you can group with other players to complete quests, people who haven’t played a MOBA before saying HotS is a lot of fun should be taken in the correct context. Not saying you’re wrong, but… you’re kinda wrong.

The “Blizzard wasn’t aiming at LoL” argument. This goes back to the Hearthstone discussion about that game being a bearly-top-50 mobile app. Old Blizzard didn’t release niche products; they made niche products/genres mega-hits and mainstream. If the argument for New Blizzard with both HS and now HotS is that New Blizzard is just aiming at a little slice of the pie, that alone shows how far Blizzard has fallen. Also I’m not sure investors on the stock market would agree that Blizzard is the little guy just hoping to attract a niche audience to one of its ‘different’ titles.

I think it’s more accurately to say that with both HS and HotS, Blizzard simply missed the mark and created two sub-par games. Games that area very easy to pick up, but also very easy to put down due to a lack of depth, a quality previous Blizzard titles always had. And with both games not having a box price, and business models that rely on long-term retention (and continued spending as the dev teams continue to work on them, although I’m not sure I’d call the Hearthstone support ‘work’), that’s a big problem.

Shorter games: I haven’t played a HotS game under 20 minutes yet, while I believe the average ARAM in LoL is less than that, and I’ve personally had plenty end in 15 minutes or less. The surrender time in a ranked game is 20 minutes as well. Worse still, every game so far in HotS has taken that long regardless of what is actually happening. Very close game in terms of kills? 20ish minutes. Complete faceroll? 20ish minutes. It’s almost like what you do in the game doesn’t matter, which linking back to Hearthstone, is perhaps the New Blizzard design mantra? Creating games where player action matters as little as humanly possible?

Same for the community; don’t confuse people not caring to flame you because actions don’t matter with somehow the actual community being better. Let’s not even get into the whisper spam from bots/hackers that doesn’t happen in LoL but is rampant in HotS already.

Where HotS is facing an even bigger challenge than Hearthstone is that we have direct comparisons to other games. People got very upset when I compared Blizzard’s mobile game to the top mobile game out (oh how crazy of me!), but at least there they are very different games. HotS is a very poor LoL, and there is no denying that. Regardless of how much you try to explain the ‘Blizzard twist’ on HotS, it’s a MOBA. And in the MOBA genre, updates are expected to come quickly and with solid depth. Mechanics get tweaked, skills get adjusted, and new heroes are released. Blizzard can get away without updating Hearthstone for months (as is currently the case, in the last few months exactly two cards have been tweaked and NOTHING else has been done with the game), but that won’t fly in the MOBA market, especially when said MOBA is already a kiddie pool of depth banking mostly on a gimmick rather than core gameplay.

That rapid update requirement is going to be a big problem for Blizzard when HotS underperforms, especially after you take into consideration how slow in general Blizzard is about updating anything. How big is the HotS team going to remain when things go south? And how quickly will whatever players the game has left begin to jump ship when the updates slow due to the dev team getting cut back?

HotS is shaping up to be a rather beautiful disaster, one that will be fun to watch unfold.



HotS: A new low for Blizzard

March 23, 2015

Heroes of the Storm is to League of Legends as Hearthstone is to Magic: The Gathering, and yes, that’s not a good thing.

Old Blizzard made games that were easy to get into but hard to master. New Blizzard makes games that are easy to get into because there is little to master. Hearthstone is an ‘accessible’ card game because not only is it incredibly shallow, but luck plays a huge, often game-deciding role, so even a poor player will think they are doing fine. HotS is ‘accessible’ because most of the actions one needs to think about and make in a MOBA are removed, and what’s left is so slow and ‘who cares’ tainted it puts you to sleep after only a few games.

Before I get into mechanics, is Blizzard not capable of making above-average looking games anymore? HotS doesn’t look bad, but why is a game that is still in beta worse-looking than an older game like LoL? If you aren’t going to make the gameplay interesting, can’t you at least make something that looks better?

HotS doesn’t have a “most people play this most of the time” map like summoners rift. Instead it has a collection of what LoL usually does with short event maps; gimmick stuff that moves away from the core MOBA gameplay. LoL doesn’t keep those gimmick maps around for long because people tire of them quickly and return to the core map. HotS struggling to retain people isn’t a surprise when you ignore the core of the genre and instead make an entire game around a gimmick.

The gimmick maps in HotS are also pretty boring and cheesy. Each one is ‘collect/claim this when the time is up, cash in, move closer to winning’. It makes the fact that the game has lanes and minions comical, because they really don’t matter, and in fact are more of a distraction than a core component. A ‘minion wave’ isn’t really a thing in HotS, which much like Hearthstone and the remove of land cards, cuts a huge chunk of gameplay and strategy right out without replacing it with anything worthwhile. Its a reduction in the learning curve without any replacement at the back-end.

The intent was to kill the laning phase and have the game be all about the team fights (so basically, ARAM), only you aren’t in a single-lane map, so ‘team fights’ is just as often about moving around the map is it is about actually fighting. I don’t think trading minion last-hitting and laning only to ‘gain’ “ride around 50% of the time” is a good trade for a MOBA, but people do love mount collecting so hey, maybe it will work out for the game (spoiler: it won’t).

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the game is how sloppy it feels compared to LoL. Blizzard was known for taking an existing idea (or entire game) and adding polish. HotS is Blizzard taking LoL, making the core design worse, and then releasing it without said polish. Hero movement feels like everyone is ice skating around the map, and skill shots feel terribly off compared to the animations. Standing next to a laser beam still resulting in you taking damage, for example.

Hero design, from my limited experience, is what you would expect from a dumbed down LoL. The usual simple skills are there, while combo abilities or something remotely complex/interesting seems to be missing. Additionally, the game is overall much slower, so killing someone feels like it takes forever unless someone walks into a 4v1 situation, and even then the odds are decent they escape. An entire game might end if two heroes stand next to each other and auto-attack before someone dies. Not that it matters, because killing someone also feels completely unrewarding. No gold gain, no fanfare, and only marginal, behind-the-scenes progress towards victory. Amazingly Blizzard has made a MOBA where killing the other team doesn’t feel special, which is really saying something.

The biggest problem HotS faces is that unlike with Hearthstone and the utter lack of any competition in terms of similar titles (MtG:O isn’t on mobile, and is itself horrible as an interface for MtG), this game is walking right into the most popular genre out with a pitifully weak offering. LoL isn’t just the current king of gaming because of its depth of content and ability to draw in everyone from casual to ultra-hardcore, it’s also the far more polished experience compared to HotS, which usually is the one thing Blizzard does better than others. If HotS makes it out of beta, I’ll be surprised, because right now the game might be the worst thing Blizzard has ever produced, and that includes Hearthstone.

Trion bring Trion: Even I don’t care at this point

March 20, 2015

Blah blah blah Trion being Trion, blah blah blah.

Even when failing Trion is boring me now. Sad times all around.


Shocker, a successful MMO is going to the sub model

March 19, 2015

Lineage 1, which I’ve actually played a good amount of and must say the game is very solid (in a very Asian, hyper-grindy way), is opening up a sub-only server in China. In freaking China!

Really weird how if a game is successful, it stays or goes to sub, while if an MMO sucks, it launches/stays F2P. Almost like each model represents something. Someone should blog about that a time or two…

To play now or wait for later

March 19, 2015

As noted before, Cities: Skylines is a great title that I’ve enjoyed a good bit, but having ‘finished’ a fairly major city, I’m now somewhat paralyzed with the game. On the one hand, I want to start a new city because the game is fun, but on the other I know down the road there will be a lot of great mods that make the game much better, and part of me wants to hold off until that happens.

In a way this is similar to waiting for Steam sales vs just buying a game; often I want a game that I think might be worth full price or whatever the price is at the time, but at the same time I know with 100% certainty that at some point, usually sooner rather than later, the game will go on sale.

First world problems.

FFXIV: Playing different roles on one character is brilliant

March 18, 2015

Quick note to start with: Playing the relaunch of The Elder Scrolls Online just reinforced how much better FFXIV is at being a thempark MMO. I might still try to get back into ESO at some point, but after spending 15 minutes with it, I’m more than fine waiting a bit longer.

Anyway, FFXIV. Having finally hit level 30, I’ve dug more seriously into leveling other roles using other (non-questing) systems, and man oh man is it fun. As I keep saying about FFXIV, what makes the game great isn’t the addition of some new magical feature, but rather taking the existing themepark formula and significantly refining it towards perfection. Rift certainly wasn’t themepark 3.0 (thanks Trion!), but FFXIV is. The order of significant themepark evolution now goes EQ1->WoW->FFXIV.

When I play MMOs I want to play my avatar, which is why I’ve always hated alts. I don’t want to be a bunch of characters in a game; I want to be ONE character in a world experiencing things. I don’t have multiple people playing my account, so I shouldn’t need multiple characters to play the game.

FFXIV nails this by letting you switch from role to role, and also by making the gathering and crafting roles a real thing rather than just a single skill bar to max out. Finally I can ‘play an alt’ in an MMO while still being my one character. That sounds so simple, but at least for me goes such a long way.

But that feature alone wouldn’t be nearly as great if FFXIV did what most other themeparks do and force you into the normal questing grind until you can do other stuff. FFXIV has that option mind you, there are three separate leveling chains from 1-cap (I believe), but that is but one choice among many (how sandboxy huh?), and you can mix and match all of the options as you go, which is also brilliant. Whether you decide to chase Fates, run dungeons, do guildhests, or just farm mobs for xp and crafting resources, how often and in what order you do all of this is up to you.

What turns a lot of MMO players off from a sandbox is the lack of direction, while what annoys others in a themepark is the on-rails experience. FFXIV has plenty of guided content (and also plenty of not-so-guided content), but at almost any point you can stop the ride and do something else, potentially never returning to that ride again (the main quest chain aside). I love that, because I can play an MMO ‘my way’, but it’s not as investment-heavy as a sandbox often requires.

Cities: Skylines has solid city-builder bones

March 16, 2015

Mostly agree with what J3W3L wrote about Cities: Skylines. In short, its a very solid city building sim that is more than worth the $30 to grab right now on Steam.

A few additions to what was already written. I love that mod integration happened day one, and that in the game’s own lobby screen you see a selection of Steamworks mods. This is a game type made far better with mods, and taking this into consideration right away is a great move.

Fully agree that how you unlock some of the unique buildings is a bit silly. For example, to achieve the 50% crime rate unlock, I basically built a test city, got it to a certain population, then deleted all of the police stations and let the game run for an hour or two while I did something else. And the crazy part? It took over an hour on the fastest time mode for the crime rate to get that high. How is that fun or good design? Granted some of the other building unlocks are better (10k industry space, 5000 elementary students), but to unlock everything you are going to be making test/dummy cities.

I think city builders last longer for kids than adults. The comparisons to older SimCities are a bit unfair IMO, because I think a large factor in how long you played those games is based on age. The younger you were, the longer it took you to master the game. An adult is going to figure things out in fewer cities or fewer hours, and this taints how we view these games sometimes. As someone who recently played SimCity 4 for the first time in a LONG time, it certainly didn’t have the replayability I thought it would, while at the same time I feel my mastery of Cities: Skylines is also climbing at a very fast rate. I don’t think that is so much a flaw with the game as it is just a reflection on who is playing it.

I also think future mods that increase the complexity will help. I view it how I view Mount and Blade; the base game is very solid and fun, and then you have total conversion mods that build on that and greatly increase the complexity. A mod like Prophecy of Pendor wouldn’t work as a standalone game, it’s way too complex, but it works great as a next-step after you play the base game. I’m hoping in the future we get such conversion mods for Skylines that also greatly extend the games life/appeal.

Complaints aside, this is still a title worth picking up at ‘full price’ (it’s $30 so not really ‘full’). For a new release, its nice to get a game that isn’t early release, in beta, or whatever the hell pre-alpha means. So far I haven’t had the game crash once, didn’t notice any bugs, and there aren’t major content gaps that you can clearly spot “future DLC” content coming. Very solid title and recommended for anyone who enjoys city builders.


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