I was thinking about some games I’ve started and not finished, and I think I’ve figured out why: there’s too much to do.


Your to-do list

These games include Rise of the Tomb Raider and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.  I loved the games they’re sequels to, I’ve started them, got some distance into them, and just never seem to start them up again. What I realized today is that the original games were mostly linear, and the new games are far more open-world.

And it makes me anxious. I feel like I have to find everything in an area before moving on.  I know I could skip most of the stuff, but then I worry that I won’t have mastered all the skills needed for the main quest.  I have other complaints– e.g. Faith and Merc in the original Mirror’s Edge were far more likeable characters than Faith and Noah in Catalyst— but I think it’s the size of the game that bothers me.

The irony is, I’ve put an ungodly number of hours into Mirror’s Edge. But part of that it is because it’s in nice digestible chunks. I will replay the game occasionally, or I’ll spend time on the time trials.  The game is so focused that there’s no paralysis of choice.

Dishonored and Dishonored 2 hit the sweet spot of “mostly linear, but with side stuff to make it fun to explore.” There are just enough runes and lore drops.  Arkham City is also well balanced.  (I did get all the Riddler trophies– once. If I just want to mess around as Batman or Catwoman, I’ll play the challenge maps.) Saints Row 4 has a nice approach: it’s sprawling, and yet the game will lead you through all the activities if you let it.

So if you’re a developer, I’d suggest that making an open world is not something you have to do, and can even make your game worse.  Embrace linearity.  I’d rather have a solid main quest to do than a huge number of fairly shallow activities, where it’s not clear what I should be doing.  (On the other hand, a good place for those shallow activities is in a separate challenge mode.)

If you’re Bethesda, however, you should just carry on. Fallout 3 and Oblivion, for me, did open-world in just the right way. Although I completed the main story in both, I appreciated the fact that I didn’t really have to. Plus these games, and Saints Row 3/4, are great at making so much of the world interactive. That is: an open world goes well with multiple playstyles and playthroughs: if you can be a hero one time and a rogue another, if you can wander down the road and find a new story, if you can make a home and find shops to customize your character.  Neither Faith nor Lara really have the opportunity to put the main quest aside for a few months, maybe buying a house or playing as a rogue.

All this is entirely subjective (it’s quite all right if you play games very differently), and it’s not intended as the last word on these particular games.

Edit: So why do publishers insist on making games open-world?  According to this scary article, it’s because they can monetize them better. Ugh.




Marc Laidlaw, a former writer for Valve, has published a plot summary for Half-Life 2 Episode 3. It’s obfuscated and gender-swapped (which is actually kind of amusing), but here’s a deobfuscated version. Fresh off reading Shamus Young’s dissections of bad plots, I’m going to go ahead and say: it’s a terrible plot.


(Go read it, this won’t make any sense till you do.)

Now, I fully realize this is an informal treatment, probably from very early in the (now dead) development process. There’s no game here… but it would have been added, and adding game elements is something Valve is… was… good at. But it can be judged as an attempt at the story.

As a short sf story, it has a few good ideas with some horror potential: Breen as a miserable Combine slug; the between-worlds Borealis; the final reveal of the galaxy-class power of the Combine.

As a plot, it’s worse than Mass Effect 2.  (See Shamus for why the plot of ME2 is actually worse than ME3.) It not only throws out any forward progress made in HL2 and in Episodes 1/2, it actually sets things back. Is every Half-Life plot supposed to be “Gordon Freeman does something perilous to shut down a portal that’s supposed to fix things, and in the next game we find out it failed”?

The Breen encounter might be kind of fun, but it’s also a kick in the teeth to HL2 itself. Breen was a fantastic character, but just bringing him back is the epitome of genre laziness. I don’t want to read LOTR 2 where the Ring turns out not to have been destroyed, and Frodo has to return from Eressëa to destroy it again.

Having Alyx kill Judith Mossman suggests that Laidlaw forgot he was writing a game rather than a movie. As Shamus might point out, this is like your DM having the NPCS in the party kill the Big Bad. If Alyx is the protagonist of the game, make her the frigging player character.

The dimension-hopping of the Borealis would probably be fun to look at, but it’s not used in any interesting sense here. If what we have is a dimension-hopping ship, we should have more than one destination.  (I fear that Aperture Science and Cave Johnson, however, are a little too comic to fit into the Half-Life games.)

The Dyson sphere is a great reveal.  If it’s done right, you get an oh shit moment: the enemy is even more powerful than it appeared. Only… the Combine was already all-powerful. It conquered Earth in seven hours, remember? HL2 owes most of its power to its depiction of enormous, intractable catastrophe. Only, “the right man in the wrong place can make a world of difference”, right? Even if he spends a lot of the game whacking headcrabs with a crowbar.

So what difference does Gordon— or Alyx— make in this story? Absolutely none. the Dyson sphere makes a great Act II reversal; it’s a terrible end to the story.

Plus, to make G-Man mysterious is one thing; to have him make no sense at all is just wankery. Is he like the Outsider, changing his favorites on a whim? There was the idea that he was some sort of galactic mercenary… but then it’s way past time we learn something about what entities are paying his fees.

Here’s just a few ideas that would make this plot summary at least kind of game-like:

  • Make Alyx the PC.
  • Lose Breen. Invent an actual new named Combine antagonist who is racing you to the Borealis.
  • Alyx has the ability to kill Mossman at any time. If it’s too early, you lose. If it’s too late, she grounds the ship in the Antarctic and the Combine swarm in.
  • Use the dimension-hopping to prop up the Resistance at a few key points. This is optional, but each point will give you soldiers to take along, and they’ll make the fights at the Dyson Sphere easier.
  • At the Dyson Sphere, you find your nemesis snuck onto the ship. It was wounded, but this is its home turf. You have to follow and kill it.  You are using the ship to blink about; because of its time instability, you may arrive at a location several minutes before or after the nemesis does, which affects the difficulty of the fight.
  • In the fights, Gordon is your ally and uses his gravity gun. You, however, have a portal gun that was lying around the ship.
  • When you defeat it, the G-Man talks to you.  “Good job getting here,” he smirks, and offers you three choices:
    • Use the Dyson Sphere base to destroy all Combine points connected to it– freeing a vast number of planets, but also destroying unimaginable numbers of innocent beings who happen to be near the Combine facilities.
    • Destroy the base itself– leaving the Combine and their slaves on each planet isolated from each other.
    • Open a portal that allows one of the G-Man’s other clients to reach Earth. He assures you, with a slappable smile, that they hate the Combine “and will not destroy your people.”

Oh, you want HL3 and HL4 too?  OK, some ideas:

  • Get rid of the remaining Combine on Earth before they can reconstruct a portal.
  • Or, if you chose Door Number Three, get rid of the G-Man’s pals, who turn out to be just as nasty but in different ways.
  • Take the fight to the Combine homeworld.
  • Find out why the Combine are fighting: they are building resources against an intergalactic threat. Guess what, you’re the one facing it now.


I just spent about an entire workday reading two video game reviews by Shamus Young.  They’re pretty good. Here he is on Arkham City; here he is on the Mass Effect series.

arkham city catwoman

What holds her goggles on?

Did I mention these are really long?  The Mass Effect one is in fifty installments.

Now, Shamus is pretty solid on gameplay. He agrees with me, as well he should, on the excellence of Arkham City and why its combat system is fantastic. He observes that the actual gameplay improves over the Mass Effect games. But his heart is elsewhere. What he really wants to talk about (and boy howdy, does he) is plot. And plot holes. And character problems. And worldbuilding problems.

I’m making fun of his verbosity, but I read these entire things, and he’s actually really good at this sort of criticism. He points out what works in the story, and what doesn’t.  He can be pedantic, but he’s actually quite forgiving about things-required-for-gameplay.  (Like, Batman is in the city for like 12 hours, and never once stops to eat or even take a drink of water. That’s OK, everyone understands how games differ from real life.) If you were the game designer, you’d probably bristle at what he has to say, but the thing is, he’s almost always right, and he’ll even explain, for free, how you could have done it right and make the game better that way.

On Arkham City, about the thing he likes best is the Joker/Clayface plot, and how the Big Twist is carefully foreshadowed.  And what he likes least is how passive Batman is about, well, everything.  He’s never prepared for anything, he is constantly getting sidetracked, and he almost never does any actual detecting.

I agree, but of course I think the game works despite this, perhaps because the “World’s Greatest Detective” side of Batman has always been a bit of a cheat. In the original stories he’s all about the punching. If he does come up with a clue, it’s not the Poirot style of using reason to knit a story together; it’s the comic-book or Star Trek trope of “Being a super-genius, I will come up with the next plot strand by staring at this computer.” Still, it’s nice when Batman actually comes up with something to do on his own that works, rather than being supplied it by a voice in his ear. Using Poison Ivy in the first game works. About the only idea Batman comes up with himself in Arkham City is going to see Catwoman, and that actually tells him nothing.

On Mass Effect he goes through the entire plot of all three games.  In short: he thinks 1 is masterfully done, while 2/3 throw out everything that worked and try to tell a new story.  If it worked, that would be OK, though weird; but in fact it’s completely incoherent.

In short: lots of people thought that the problem was 3’s ending.  But he makes the case that the series went off the rails at the beginning of 2 and made terrible decisions throughout. The ending didn’t suck any worse than the rest of the plot; but since it was the ending, nothing came afterward to distract the player back into acceptance.

But the characters and side quests!  Yes, these were almost entirely good, and the stories here were often fantastic. On the other hand, almost all of what was good storywise came from 1. He particularly admires the Rachni/Turian/Salarian/Krogan storyline. The Rachni invade and kick everyone’s ass; the Salarians uplift the Krogans to fight them; they succeed but then become a threat on their own; the Turians unleash the genophage to beat them down.

As Shamus points out, this isn’t just a story (A happened, then B happened, then C happened), but a plot: A happened, this caused B, and that caused C in turn. It sets up a complicated history and conflicts between the species and creates multiple intervention points for Commander Shepard. The Geth/Quarian subplot is also high quality. In both cases, the story was set up in 1 and not mishandled in 2/3.

What went wrong in the main questline in 2/3?  In a word, everything. Cerberus makes no sense. The Illusive Man has contradictory powers, goals, and methods– one moment he’s a terrorist, another he’s a misguided nationalist who’s the only person willing to fight the Reapers, yet another he’s a dupe of the Reapers (yet never accomplishes anything for them). Game 1 set up a clear goal for Shepard (learn how to fight the Reapers, using her ability to understand the Protheans and her Asari friend’s special competence in that area).  2 threw all that away in order to fight a completely different threat, for completely different masters.  Then the ending of 2 was itself thrown away so that Shepard could go back to the Reapers… only she doesn’t, she spends almost the entire questline fighting Cerberus. The whole Reaper thing– the supposed inevitability of synthetics destroying organics– is completely contradicted by the story of the Geth. In the whole of 2/3 there’s no entity, from Shepard on down, who has a clear rational goal in the main story and pursues it intelligently.

Plus, outside the “good subquests”, Shepard is never given interesting choices, or even good dialog options. In all of 2 she never gets any zingers in with the Illusive Man, and in 3 she never defends her time with Cerebus, even to the extent of saying she had no choice. And yet Cerebus never has any word for itself either; no pro-Cerebus character ever explains any good thing it’s doing.

Now, as it happens, I enjoyed 2 more than 1. (I never played 3.) But that’s because I value plot far less than Shamus does. I thought 1’s gameplay was mediocre; 2’s was far better, and the squad recruitment and loyalty quests were almost all satisfying.  And this difference in evaluation is just fine.  He doesn’t expect everyone to share his preferences, and he’s very good at explaining why, for those who really care about plot and worldbuilding, failures in these areas are really obnoxious.

It’s not that I don’t care about story at all– a good one adds immeasurably to a game. But I’m willing to forgive a lot if the core gameplay is well done.  Left 4 Dead, for instance, is the stupidest of horror stories: a constant run from mindless zombies. But it’s a blast while you’re in it.

(If you know me, you might be surprised that I’m not all about the worldbuilding in games. Well, I do love a good world! But it’s only one of the things that make a great game shine, and it really can’t rescue poor gameplay.)

If all this whets your appetite, he also has good analyses on why the Thieves’ Guild storyline in Skyrim is far worse than the one in Oblivion, and why Fallout 3‘s main story is idiotic.

Shamus doesn’t get much into the production of video games, and this is the one defect in his analysis. He obviously understands that games are written by teams, but I think he kind of assumes that some Head Writer is in charge of everything. Now, my own knowledge doesn’t go beyond reading some interviews and diving down fairly deeply into Fallout New Vegas‘s game editor. But I get the impression that Shamus thinks games work like this:

  • writer outlines the main plot, much like a screenplay
  • writer works out the levels, main quests, and side quests
  • maybe other people come in and do some work, but writer acts like a movie director in charge of it all

And I suspect development mostly works like this:

  • developers work on the game engine
  • level designers create a bunch of levels
  • art directors create pictures; these are turned into a shit-ton of assets
  • meanwhile, a bunch of ideas are tossed around for an overall story
  • writers cobble together dialogs that justify moving from Level A to Level B
  • quests are created, each one by some designer who doesn’t talk to any of the others
  • pretty much each of these steps are reworked several times as ideas change, problems arise, and various suits step in
  • oh shit we’re supposed to ship in 12 months, we’d better get our shit together
  • the levels that demo the best are selected; the rest are thrown out
  • writers frantically stitch together those levels, patching over the missing quests that would have made sense of the overall story
  • voice talent comes in; now rewriting anything becomes nearly impossible
  • the writers grumble because things don’t make sense, but the team is shell-shocked by now, finishing final art and level design and quashing the infinity of bugs QA keeps finding
  • oh jesus we promised it’d be out by now and we can’t delay any more, HERE IT IS

Again, this isn’t to say that Shamus’s criticisms are wrong. It’s just, there was never something like a script where everything was laid out.  There was probably a treatment of the main story, but it’s spectacularly out of date. The process is designed so that a dozen people can be simultaneously writing quests without checking constantly with their boss or each other. And when you’re actually doing a quest in the game editor, there are a million things to think about– all the McGuffins have to be placed in the game-world, all the triggering boxes set up, all the dialog logic coded. You have to juggle an amazing number of possibilities that most players will never see. Players focus on a few big decisions, but a lot of the logic in a quest relates to far smaller decisions: are there ways to accomplish a goal by stealth or by combat?  Did the player mindlessly wipe out NPC #2394 who you’d chosen to produce a plot point?  What if they stumble on things in the ‘wrong’ order? Do we have a quip for each of the possible 12 companions to utter? How many NPC dialog lines have to be doubled because they refer to the PC’s gender? What special options exist because you took some perk, or you have a high (im)morality score?

It wouldn’t surprise me if Bioware was aware of half of the problems Shamus found… only once a quest is written, voice-acted, with level design and art created… who the fuck wants to redo it?

I also suspect it’s a lot easier to get all this right if you can railroad the player more. Arkham City has lots of sidequests, but the main quest is entirely linear, and the player has no story choices. (Well, technically you have one, as Catwoman, but one of them just ends the game.)

Edit: One more thought… to understand why nerds write 50-post screeds like this, and why other nerds read them, you have to understand something about nerds: we are way more frustrated by something that’s 90% what we like, than by something that’s only 50%. People really got into Mass Effect (and forgave its dull combat) because of the setting, the characters, and the pure fun of being Shepard. People wouldn’t get this exercised over a terrible set of games.


Last night I had an amazing game of Heroes of the Storm.  Like most good Moba stories, it’s the story of a comeback. (When you roll the other team, it may be a well-played game, but it’s not a story.) Here’s the situation 11 minutes in; we are the red team.


It was grim. They were two levels ahead, and were fighting at our core. (You lose the game when your core is destroyed.)

This is the Dragonshire map. The clever bit of HOTS, the thing that makes games last 15-20 minutes rather than League’s 40-60 minutes, is that each map has an accelerant, something that you can fight over that gives you enormous power. Here it’s a statue of a Dragon Knight which will come to life and fight for you if you can control two temples at opposite sides of the map. In the picture, the enemy Knight is Shodredux.

I’m playing Chromie, currently my favorite character.  She’s tiny but very powerful. Her Q is a sand blast that only hits heroes– thus, useless against forts and minions; however, that also means the minions don’t block the shot.  Her W hits a small area; her E sets up a trap, and her R is a fairly big sandstorm that drastically slows everyone in it.  Once she’s leveled up, her Q is devastating, and if you can catch people in her sandstorm, you can spam them with her other powers. She’s fragile and has no escape methods, though.

We killed the Knight, and the enemies behind him (some were captured in one of my sandstorms, just visible at lower left in the picture).  We fought off another attack on bottom lane, which allowed us to catch up in levels. The playback is a little embarrassing at this point, as it looks like I’m just wandering around. I ended up returning to base to restore mana.

Most of the action was up top, as everybody fought for the top temple. Well, somebody’s got to try for the bottom temple, so I went there and captured it. I was alone there… only, no, Medivh flew in!


We traded blows, and I put a sandstorm on the temple region.  That kept him there just enough to finish him off with a Q. I was low on hit points myself, so there was nothing to do but teleport home, hoping that no one else would head to that temple.

I ran out mid to the Knight statue. There had been a grand battle for this, and by the time I got there it was reduced to our Butcher holding it, close to death, against Dva and Artanis.  I snuck in and took control of the Knight.


(There was no time to negotiate this; better to use him as a meat shield. It takes about 10 seconds to take control of the Knight, and you can’t be attacked during this time. And really, mad props to SassySadist playing Butcher here: he had dispatched Artanis and got Dva running away, despite being close to death himself.)

So now we had a Knight!  I headed out mid, and the rest of my team converged beautifully on Butcher and me.  The rest of the game was a constant team fight, taking down forts and towers and the enemy team. The Dragon Knight was felled, but that just meant I was at the Core as Chromie; I set up a sandstorm and kept throwing Q’s into it.

If you know any Mobas, you can see from the mini-map how strange our victory was:


Blue still has two of its three towers.  Normally you’d take them all down. You can also see that Red has no towers on the bottom lane, due to the fight at the core described above.

Only on watching the playback for a second time, writing this post, did I understand how we did it: our little knot of heroes stayed alive, and kept picking off enemies, so we usually had a 5-4 or 4-3 advantage, and right at the 20-minute mark, a team kill which allowed us to beat up their core at our leisure.

OK, these two games have nothing to do with each other, but at least one review is a positive and one is a negative.  First, To Be or Not To Be.


It is permadeath, but you have options

This is Ryan North’s choose-your-own-adventure version of Hamlet. You can play as Hamlet, Ophelia, or Hamlet’s Dad, and you can follow Shakespeare or not.  And you will do all of the above, because in classic CYOA style the paths are pretty short and you’ll want to get a good sampling, at least.

I suppose some very earnest and glum person might not care for North’s off-the-wall humor.  I am not that person.  It’s pretty hilarious, and though North is not as well-versed in verse, I have to admit that in terms of choosing adventure, he’s got Shakespeare beat. I’d venture to say that his version of Hamlet is even better than Cowboy Wally’s. It’s also pretty cheap, so what are you waiting for?

About the only other thing to say is that as an engine for a mostly text game, it’s done very well.  You have to do maybe a little too much clicking to explore a previous path to the previous branch, but there are save points to help out, and it’s really not onerous to explore a bunch of possible plots.  There are also a bunch of illustrations for those who don’t like to read.

Next, Black Desert Online.  I promised a Steam pal a review, and here it is.  That is, there’s a review that indicates how some people might like it.  I didn’t manage to.


One badass cutie, coming up

I heard about BDO, strangely enough, from a rave review of its character generator. And by golly, it does have a magnificent character generator. For instance, in the above image the blue spot isn’t a tattoo, it’s a control. You can take that area and shift it, rotate it, or resize it, and so with each other part of the face and body.

And yet, the process reveals that after this next-gen character generator, we really need a next-next-gen character generator.  As you can see, by default you get a cute Korean girl. And… what do you do next?  She looks fine.  Honestly it’s more interesting to spend the time in Oblivion  making its potato faces a little more acceptable.  Given a beautiful face, about all you can do is mess it up.  A next-next-gen program might help you discover how to move the face in a particular direction– e.g. you want Faye Wong or Lucy Liu or Ritsuko Taneda or Maggie Cheung instead of the default face.  Most of us have no idea how to program a face– what polygons to nudge to get those characters.

Once the game starts, what do you get?  I’ve read about it being a Different Kind of MMO, but it seemed like every other MMO I’ve tried, only more generic.  You have a starting village where you talk to people and learn the interface.  There are starter monsters that never go away, and yet killing a few seems to make an NPC happier. There are quests and item sellers and other PCs dashing around and having endless discussion of Trump in open chat. Combat is mostly mashing keys, though I’m told you get various combos later (but no real aiming). You can certainly keep busy, but none of this is as well done as (say) The Secret World, and the world isn’t as interesting as (say) DC Universe Online.


It is gorgeous, I’ll give it that. It’s a pleasant colorful world. Above is how your character will appear in the world after all that customization: almost identical to other PCs.

Now, from the real review I linked to, you can see that you can invest in businesses, go fishing, hire NPCS, and so on.  Which sounds excruciatingly dull to me.  I can be amused building bases for awhile, as in Empyrion, but hauling products was a chore in Civ 2 and I doubt it’s improved since.  (Well, I did like Euro Truck Simulator 2, but the minimal tasks required to drive a simulated truck are more interesting than following a path in an MMO.)

So, if all this sounds like your cup of simulated medieval gruel, dive in!  I absolutely can’t say I’ve spent enough time in the game to really see what it has to offer.  But I do say that it does a poor job of selling itself in the first 4 to 5 hours.



This sounded intriguing, and it’s discounted in the Steam summer sale, so I picked it up. It’s not quite what I expected (which was roughly, more like Bayonetta, which is from the same developer), but I’m digging it.


Operator 60 confesses her girl problems

I’m about 7 hours in, which might be a quarter of the way through the main story. Like Bayonetta, it’s intended to be played through multiple times. Unlike Bayonetta and just about everything else, the game is different on the second playthrough.

I did get a crash when I first started the game, but I upgraded my AMD drivers and it’s been fine ever since.

One warning: the beginning hour or so offers no autosave, a poor design decision that is not true of the rest of the game. And it ends with a massive boss fight, which sends you back to the beginning if you fail. This is pretty crappy while you are still learning how the game works.  Fortunately there’s a legit workaround: go through it on easy mode, and turn on the auto-targeting (with Q); then 2B will fight on her own and all you have to do is move her around.  You should only need to do this for the boss fights.  (It’s a nice mechanic, though.  You can enjoy the story without being fazed by twitchy bosses.)

Basic situation: you are an android named 2B, basically part of the android special forces. Aliens have taken over the earth, though they are unseen; instead you fight their emissaries, machines ranging from the size of a trash can to the size of a refinery. The androids fight on behalf of the humans, now exiled on the moon.

2B, because this is a Japanese game, is not a chunky space marine but a girl with twin samurai swords (plus a flying probe with a laser gun), dressed in Gothic Lolita style.  She has a partner, another android named 9S, also dressed in black but in boyish shorts. For some reason they both wear black cloth visors that cover their eyes. (Presumably not blindfolds as they seem perfectly able to see.)

You can either go up close and use your swords, or stay back and use the probe’s gun.  Or both at once.  It’s said to work best with a controller, but I don’t have one.  Many enemies shoot out big purple bullets in nice patterns– a genre known as bullet hell.

I recommend rebinding the keys, though.  The default keyboard setup is absurd– e.g. weapons assigned to left and right shift.  How you are supposed to use those and navigate using WASD, I have no idea.  I moved all the weaponry to the numpad so I can move with left hand, fight with right.  (You can’t assign the weapon keys to the mouse, though you perhaps wouldn’t want to, since there are four keys. The mouse can be used to control the camera, or to advance dialogs.)

What surprised me is the pacing. Past the initial section, Automata becomes almost tranquil. You find an android base in a ruined city. You can talk briefly to various androids and collect detritus to sell. The city has some peaceful machine residents, and only a few hostile ones. When you see running water, you’re prompted to go fishing.  You have missions to go to, but in between you can simply walk around the pretty post-apocalyptia.

It’s pretty much lampshaded that Things Are Not As They Seem.  The androids’ dedication to unseen humans (they salute each other with “Glory to mankind!”) is a bit creepy. 2B is all business, mostly shooting down 9S’s friendly overtures. We soon meet peaceful machines who don’t want to fight the androids. We don’t see either the aliens or the humans.

There are some unusual design choices… one is that you can encounter the corpses of other players.  There is no multiplayer, but when you find them, you can choose to revive them (they will fight by your side for a time), or retrieve their parts. In either case you also get a little meditation on mortality.


Ave atque vale, Eason. Though you must have been a noob to die in this spot.

But the real mind-blowers are supposed to come later.  E.g., there are 26 different endings.  You can sell various bits of your HUD if you like.  You can even remove your operating system… which will kill you, you fool.  Apparently one of the endings is a bullet hell version of the credits.

More later, but I like what I’ve seen so far.  (After the prologue.)



Back when I was playing League of Legends, I thought it should have a Legends Lite. Several people suggested Heroes of the Storm, but I didn’t play it until I had to in order to get a cool D.Va skin.  Which I don’t use because an even cooler one came out.  But I kinda got a liking for Heroes.

Screenshot2017-06-15 01_44_02

They could’ve called it Horses of the Storm

Mind you, I’ve almost exclusively played against bots, and I’ve played, I think, eight heroes– two of them ones from Overwatch. Still, I’m a hundred games in, and I kind of know how to play Li-Ming now.

So, if you’ve played League or Dota 2, it’s definitely a Moba. You are on a team of five, you have minions and lanes, you take the enemy’s towers, and you end up destroying their Core.  You got your basic attacks and your Q/W/E/R superpowers, you got more heroes than you feel you’ll ever learn, you got your increasingly long respawn times if you die. You’ve got your tanks and your supports and your assassins.

But it really is a Moba Lite too, for several reasons:

  • The maps are smaller, and go faster.  A game is less of a commitment.
  • There is no item store.  Every few levels you get a choice of upgrades to your powers– there’s not much extra strategy there.
  • There’s no last-hitting and no denies.
  • For now, there’s about half as many heroes as Legends. And if you’ve played other Blizzard games, you know some of them already.
  • Roles are way less important. The laning phase is short anyway, and (so far as I’ve seen so far) people don’t get hung up on the meta.
  • There are neutral camps which you can take over, and then the dudes will fight for you. But there’s not really enough of them to make jungling a role.

There are a bunch of maps, each with a special activity.  E.g. on one you try to control two points, and if you do better at this you get a bunch of Zerg fighting for you. (These are a StarCraft villain.) On another you collect gems dropped by minions, and if you get more than the enemy you get a giant spider fighting for you.  On yet another a demon lord and an angel are fighting, and you are allied with one of them; if you defeat the other, your demigod will join you for awhile.  All this adds some variety to the gameplay.

Of course I tried D.Va, but she’s tricky.  Also strangely off-model. It’s weird that artists from the same company can’t quite seem to match the original art.


And that’s the closest one. Her other skins are weird

She can bounce around quickly, getting people out of position and causing some damage, and she can create a small shield, but when I try her I feel like she’s too weak, and yet doesn’t hurt the enemy enough.

Li-Ming is fun to play. She’s an assassin, so she has a lot of damage.  She’s fragile, but her attacks are all at range, so she’s very effective against melee heroes. Her Q/W abilities are skillshots, but not hard to make– what I have to remember is to position myself so the minions don’t get in the way. Her E is a tiny teleport– often just enough to get out of someone’s range.  HOTS gives you two possible R’s; the one I choose is a disintegrating laser. The best thing about Li-Ming is that her Q recharges really really quick, so you can spam it shamelessly.

About the only other hero I’ve enjoyed is Valla, who is another ranged assassin.  Her Q takes more time to charge, though, so I will have to practice more.

I have to say, Blizzard’s art direction improved a lot between HOTS and Overwatch. Every Overwatch hero is colorful, attractive, and immediately identifiable. HOTS heroes run to interchangeable-looking humanoids in chunky armor, or weird-looking aliens in chunky armor.

If you’ve played Mobas before, you’ll get the basic idea quickly.   And if you haven’t… well, I can’t tell you how easy it will be.  There’s more to learn than in Overwatch.  But so far I don’t have the sense of a cliff of unknowns as in Legends.  But I’ll report back once I’m playing against more humans.

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