All Hearthstone progress was wiped last Wednesday, and we are now Live for all intents and purposes; no further wipes are planned between now and (eventual) release. In addition to that news, a number of careful changes have been made to cards across the game. Perhaps too careful.
The full patch notes can be read here. Some examples:
- Gold gained in Play mode has changed from 5 gold per 5 wins to 10 gold per 3 wins.
- Arena rewards now give less dust and more cards.
- More gold is guaranteed at 5 & 6 Arena wins.
- At 9 Arena wins, you are now guaranteed an extra pack or a Golden card.
- Pint-sized Summoner – The cost reduction has been reduced from 2 to 1.
- Wrath can no longer be cast on heroes.
There are a few surprising changes in there. Going from 5g for 5 wins to 10g for 3 wins is rather huge. As in, “literally a 33% increase in gold” huge. While I still doubt grinding out an entire Arena Pass in a single day is particularly viable (or sane), it will likely allow you to get a free Arena after every three days of dailies instead of four without too much extra grinding. We’re talking six extra games on average across three days instead of, you know, fifty. Plus, the Arena rewards are supposedly better, with less dust and more goodies.
The card-specific buffs/nerfs run the gamut of expected to boggling. Pint-Sized Summoner got nerfed down to (1)-crystal cost reduction from (2), Defias Ringleader is no longer inexplicably a 2/3 creature, and so on. Druid cards got an unexpected nerf, with many of their otherwise-too-versatile direct damage spells being unable to hit players any more. Rogues can no longer pump up weapon with their hero power, which probably has more long-reaching consequences than appears at first.
Then again, maybe not.
See, when I was browsing for more commentary on the patch changes, I ended up finding what lies at the bottom of the rabbit hole. Take a look at these Youtube “reviews” for some of the top Hearthstone decks, if you dare: Miracle Rogue, Divine Paladin, Pyro-Smith Warrior. Now, it’s possible that the Miracle Rogue deck was disrupted a bit by the patch, but the point is that that is what the game can be boiled down to. And that, quite frankly, scares me.
I have no illusions regarding my own competence level or willingness to compete on some higher level. Winning is great, but I would much rather win as a result of a deck I created than copy & paste a top-tier deck and harvest some tears. The feeling might be a holdover from my Magic: the Gathering days where I had an absolute advantage over my high school friends because I was willing to eBay cards; where was the fun in burying your opponents (who are also, you know, your friends) under piles of money? Skill in the form of tactical moves to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat or building decks that create esoteric, but functional combos is way more interesting to me.
These are the “Good Fights” that people like Gevlon despise, but at the end of the day, all you keep from your hours and hours spent playing videogames are memories. Will you remember winning those hundreds of games on Turn 5 against opponents who had no chance to survive make your time? Or will you remember the egde-of-your-seat victories and when you created an off-beat deck/strategy that actually worked in opposition to all logic and reason?
If you aren’t shooting the moon, you’re just killing time.
That’s right, I’m all beta, all the time up in this joint.
For those not keeping track at home, Path of Exile is a F2P love letter to Diablo 2, and the Diablo franchise in general. It features six classes, a 1350-point talent tree forest, the Materia system from Final Fantasy 7, extremely gritty and realistic graphical style, and an outstandingly clever commitment to the game’s own setting. It is currently in Open Beta, and you can download it here.
While the central concepts of Path of Exile may seem strange at first, they are all pretty logical once you get past the unfamiliar veneer. For example, let’s talk about that 1350+ point talent tree. It is not an actual talent tree as you are familiar with, at least unless you played Final Fantasy X. The tree itself is entirely passive abilities and stat increases that act as nodes you activate with talent points you receive from leveling up or getting as quest rewards. The overall tree encompasses all six classes, with the difference being the starting location for each class. Thus, for example, the Witch starts on one corner of the board nearest all the +Intelligence and other magic boosting nodes.
The bigger nodes give bigger bonuses, and the extremely large ones are sort of capstone goals to help guide your character’s overall build. While your talent selection generally builds itself, it is possible to work your way across the board into other classs’ territories, if you are so inclined. That said, while the tree is certainly impressive the first few times you look at it, I’m not entirely sure of its practical use beyond standing out from the crowd. I spent 30 minutes mousing-over everything, decided which nodes I eventually wanted, and now will spend the next fifty levels getting variations of +10 Int or +20% mana regeneration. Woo, choice.
Meanwhile, the FF7-esque Materia system that Path of Exile emulates… is exactly what it sounds like. Basically, all the abilities your character has access to is governed by Skill Gems you socket into open slots on your gear. Want to use Raise Zombie? You need to fit that Skill Gem into an open blue slot. Fire Trap? Green slot. Shield Bash? Red slot. As you kill enemies, any socketed gems gain XP and level up just as you do, under the normal sort of hack-n-slash scheme (+1-2 damage, +1 mana cost each level). Later on, you will receive gear with Linked sockets which – again, exactly like in FF7 – let you link, say, a Fireball gem with a Multiple Projectile gem to (drumroll) shoot multiple Fireballs.
It is worth mentioning that, for the most part, any class can equip any Skill gem. I found a Shield Bash gem while running around with my Witch, for example, although I was unable to equip it because it required a Strength score of 16 (I had 14). While there will presumably be some +Strength gear somewhere, I could also raise that stat by navigating my way to a +Strength node in the talent tree. Pretty cool, IMO, although I believe the downside is a more limited selection of skills available for everyone overall. Shield Bash appears to be Shield Bash for everyone, so if X, Y, or Z skill is OP or garbage, you will likely be using the same skill loadouts no matter what class you pick.
What is beyond reproach and, frankly, goddamn brilliant is Path of Exile’s integration of the game’s setting into the gameplay. The premise of the game is that your character has done something or pissed someone off enough to be exiled to some hideous and hostile land to die (think: colonial Australia). So while the game looks understandably dark and gritty, it actually goes much farther than that. For example, when you sell items to a vendor, the currency is… scraps of an Identify Scroll. Five scraps equals one full scroll. Which you can then consume to identify an unknown magic item, ala Diablo. There are other barter currencies that double as actually useful items (Transmutation Orbs turn normal items into magic ones, other orbs randomize a magic item’s properties, etc) too, which sets up some interesting dilemmas insofar as using them as currency to buy better gear or use them to possibly make what gear you already have better.
Now, seriously, how amazing is that economic system? Every prototypical hack-n-slash would simply have used gold pieces as the medium of exchange here. Hell, I don’t think anyone would have cared if gold pieces were used as the currency in Path of Exile, even though it doesn’t make any logical sense for there to be a vast sum of wealth in a prison colony. It reminds me of Metro 2033 where your currency for buying guns and such were rounds of military-grade ammo, which you could technically load into your guns and fire.
Are there downsides? Sure. Since there is nothing worth less than a scrap of scroll, the beginning hours of gameplay highly encourages you to loot 100% of all junk since 5 pieces of anything = 1 useful scroll. This goes the other way too, wherein selling a magic item nets you a rounded-down amount of other material rather than 1400g vs 1100g. Vendor items get a bit goofy too, when they charge the same price for a necklace that provides 2 HP/sec regeneration with another necklace that provides 3.7 HP/sec regeneration.
Another example of the noble commitment to rational setting consistency? Instead of health/mana potions, you have health/mana flasks that use X number of Y charges for Z effect. And they recharge when you kill enemies. I mean, sure, there isn’t much of a logical reason why the Frost Elemental slime drops a wooden tower shield, but at least you’re not seeing more glass beakers full of replenishing liquid mowing down zombies as you’d find in an alchemist’s lab. Monsters drop less items as a result of this artistic/setting direction, but it still manages to feel similar to the loot explosions of Diablo (if less intense).
So, basically, I am having a lot of fun thus far with Path of Exile. While the devs have posted a sort of cash shop manifesto for this F2P game, they appear to actually be taking the “no P2W” mantra seriously. Hell, I don’t think they are even selling +XP potions, which is something I have simply come to expect from these games. The one lingering concern I have is the whole Ranged vs Melee (im)balance, which is something they do have on their roadmap to address. But beyond that? If you liked Diablo 2, play this game. Hell, if you liked (or disliked!) Diablo 3, play this game. It’s a F2P hack-n-slash, so what do you have to lose?
Other than your time, of course.
My Press™ coverage of Hearthstone has been pretty glowing thus far, so I wanted to talk today about some lingering concerns about a few issues that cropped up in the last week. I do not believe these to be structural problems necessarily – I feel like they could be fixed within the Beta – but I also have no idea how Blizzard will address them, if at all.
1) Unbalanced Heroes
On paper, the nine Heroes you can pick between are balanced. Here is a rundown of their powers:
- Druid – Hero gains +1 Attack until end of turn, and +1 Armor
- Priest – Restore 2 health to target
- Warrior – Hero gains 2 Armor
- Paladin – Put a 1/1 creature into play
- Rogue – create a 1 attack/2 durability weapon, or +1 Attack to weapon this turn
- Warlock – Lose 2 Health and draw a card
- Hunter – Deal 2 damage to enemy Hero
- Shaman – Create a random totem (usually 0/2 creature w/ ability)
- Mage – Deal 1 damage to a target
By the way, all of the listed abilities cost the same amount of resources (2 crystals).
The problem in reality is two-fold. First, there is a huge difference in synergy between a Hero’s powers and the class-restricted cards. The Priest’s ability, for example, combos ridiculously well with one of the default Priest cards: Northshire Cleric, a 1/3 creature that let’s you draw a card when a creature is healed. In fact, entire mechanics revolve around and/or become enabled by the Priest’s ability. Enrage, for example, is an ability that triggers an effect when the creature is damaged. One of the most common cards that uses Enrage is the Gurubashi Berserker, a 2/5 creature that gets +3 Attack each time it’s damaged. Smashing into a 2/2 will beef the troll up to a 5/3, which is nice… but also puts it within range of a lot of counter-attacks. A simple heal from the Priest though, puts it back to 5/5, letting it snowball further. Then you have goofy cards like the Angry Chicken, which is a 1/1 with Enrage: +5 Attack. Obviously you need to combine that creature with some other effects to boost its Health, of which the Priest has many.
By means of comparison, nothing combos with the Hunter ability. In Magic: the Gathering, the devs eventually created the Bloodthirst mechanic that boosted a creature’s stats (or some bonus effect) if it was played the same turn as the opponent taking damage. No such thing exists in Hearthstone, at least for now. And while Rogue decks need no assistance, the Combo system on Rogue cards have nothing to do with the Rogue’s ability; at least the Druid, Warrior, and Warlock are thematically consistent with their class cards. Then again, perhaps we should look at the Priest as an outlier rather than the bar that other classes should reach.
The second problem is related to the first: what class cards are available by default radically changes the strength of your deck. Now, sure, technically everyone will be able to unlock all 20 basic class cards by simply playing against the computer (assuming they didn’t want to challenge players). But take my word for it: many of those early games suck. Hard.
Through either a combination of the first issue or the second, I can already tell that some Heroes are being left in the dust by the Beta population. I would say more than 95% of the Ranked games I have played have been against either the Mage, Rogue, or Priest. For a good reason: they’re strong.
There are a few clever things Blizzard is already doing to (presumably) combat this trend. One of the types of daily quests is to win 2 games as a specific class. When I logged on yesterday, for example, I had to win 2 games as a Druid and Warrior (two separate quests, as I had missed yesterday’s daily). Having played neither before, I created custom decks for both and then went for a spin against some human opponents. Those games played out very differently than my normal games, and were pretty fun to boot, although I doubt I will be spending much time with them until I luck into some of their non-basic class cards from booster packs.
The other clever move to improve class experimentation, if not promote diversity, is how Arena mode matches start by forcing you to pick between three random class Heroes before you start the actual Draft process. The other day, I had to pick between the Hunter, Druid, and Shaman, all of whom I had never played with before. While they let you mouse-over their Hero powers from that specific screen, the more critical aspect of the Heroes is ultimately their selection of class-specific cards. Spending some time in your collection looking at all of the class’ cards – which, by the way, Hearthstone allows you to do even if you don’t own them – is definitely recommended.
For the record, I chose the Hunter. And went 0-3.
2) Unbalanced Cards
Beyond the Hero issue and the class-specific card issue, I have a problem with the card balance in a few locations. Basically, I don’t feel like strictly-better cards should exist in a CCG, especially not when it appears it’s being “balanced” around rareness. Take a look at the following:
There is precisely one scenario in which you might choose the raptor over the gnome: if you were playing some kind of Beast deck (e.g. with the Hunter). And actually, you might put in the gnome even in your Beast deck; por que no los dos? At least with the Ooze, you can convince yourself that there are certain scenarios in which blowing up the opponent’s weapon is better than whittling down their blockers for free.
By the way, only the Paladin, Warrior, and Rogue are likely to ever have weapons equipped. That Ooze is pretty much a dead draw 90% of the time in my experience.
A few other cards are simply ridiculous. Pint-Sized Summoner, for example, pretty much single-handedly caused me to lose an Arena game (I had no targeted removal at the time). Bloodlust is probably balanced, but 100% of the games in which I lost to a Shaman have been due to that one card… and a bunch of suddenly bloodthirsty totems. And so on.
3) Over-reliance on Taunt
This section is going to be short, because the title sums it up: Taunt is both ubiquitous and pretty much the only means of combat shenanigans.
In case you aren’t aware, Taunt is a creature ability that forces an opponent to only attack the creature with Taunt, as opposed to being able to attack any creature or just smash the opponent’s face in directly. Without Taunt, basically whoever drops creatures first is at a huge advantage since they can decide to attack any “special” creatures their opponents play with their own creature or ignore them. Pretty much the only rational strategy then becomes A) play special creature and then immediately drop a Taunt meatshield, or B) beef up a Taunt creature and control the board. An all-in-one package example of the latter is Ancient of War, which is an absolute bomb drop in Arena, by the way.
4) Playing first puts you at a huge disadvantage
Another shorty, but basically I never ever want to go first when playing Hearthstone.
Each player draws three cards before a game, and can choose to send any (or none) of the cards back and draw different ones. Whoever goes second draws a fourth card during this phase, and thus can fish for their deck combo cards or removal that much deeper. Plus, after the first player’s turn, they get a 0 crystal card called “The Coin” that will temporarily give you 1 crystal for a turn. So, basically, going second you can cast a 2 crystal card on your turn 1, or 3 crystal card on turn 2, and so on. What makes it even worse is that The Coin counts as playing a card/spell, which can trigger all sorts of nonsense, such as a Defias Ringleader suddenly giving the Rogue a 2/3 and 2/1 creature on turn 1.
Having said all that, I do feel like these are solvable problems. For the most part. Given the simplicity of the resource system and the mechanics in this first set, I am not quite sure how things will get balanced. The Knife-Juggler and Pint-Sized Summoner could be reduced to 2/1 and 1/1 respectively, and still be worth playing. But what about those Hero powers? The Hunter power can’t be reduced to 1 crystal or the damage increased to 3. Would they buff the Hunter class cards instead? What if a player doesn’t actually use those “balancing” cards?
Time will tell upon release exactly how broken some of these interactions are. Time will also tell how much we or Blizzard particular care. I probably have the most fun in Arenas (I went 8-3 and 9-2 this weekend, the latter of which resulted in 310g) where dropping game-changing cards is the norm, and Ranked matches sorta feel like 2v2 Arena in WoW somtimes. I would rather it be balanced of course, but this is also a CCG – there being only a few viable decks at the upper-end is pretty much par for the course. But if Blizzard wants to do some (more) groundbreaking things with their game design, they are going to have to fix the above four issues at a minimum.
Yes, I made it into the beta with that ridiculous email and Press™ credentials. It just goes to show you that
with hard work and a can-do attitude Camus was right. Embrace the Absurd.
For those not following along at home, Hearthstone is a free-to-play CCG made by a small team at Blizzard, all of whom likely had an awkward conversation with their bosses as to why they were apparently hiding their goddamn genius game development and UI skills under a bushel.
Indeed, that is exactly the first thing anyone should talk about when it comes to Hearthstone: it has perhaps the best UI in any game ever made. It is both visceral and whimsical, simultaneously. You know that feeling in a pillow fight, about ten seconds in, when you are just wailing on somebody and clearly winning before Jason knocks over the lamp and your mom comes upstairs and makes everyone go to bed? It is kinda exactly like that. Or close enough that I am going to continue using this ungainly metaphor for the rest of the post.
The basic premise
of the pillow fight is that each player creates a 30-card deck, limited to 2 copies of an individual card, and then tries to reduce the opposing player from 30 life to zero in a turn-based manner. A few unique gameplay wrinkles show up immediately. First, players have to choose a Hero to represent them, corresponding to one of the original nine classes in World of Warcraft. Each class has their own unique set of cards that cannot be used by the others, although there is a large portion of “neutral” cards that can go into any class’s deck. In addition to the unique pool of class cards, each hero has a “hero power” which is an ability that costs two resources and can be used once each turn. The Paladin hero, for example, can create a 1/1 creature whereas the Warlock can pay 2 Health to draw a card (ala Life Tap).
The second gameplay wrinkle comes from the gameplay flow. Each turn, a player gains another resource point (aka Gems, Crystals, whatever), up to a maximum of 10, with them reseting at the start of each turn. While there are technically “Secret” cards with hidden triggers that can be played, there is otherwise no action possible during an opponent’s turn.
Finally, combat plays out a little differently than you might expect, coming from SolForge or Magic: the Gathering. Summoning Sickness and Haste (i.e. Charge) is all there, but there really is no concept of “blockers”; unless your opponent has a creature with Taunt, you are free to send your units to attack the player or his/her creatures at your leisure, in whatever sequence you choose. While the optimal move is sometimes obvious – sending your 1/1 into that 5/1 – the math becomes exceedingly fuzzy when you start having to compute whether it’s better to just send all the damage to their dome and hope you maintain enough initiative to win the damage race.
Here is an example of some strategery:
It’s turn 7, and the Warlock has a 7/7 mob. On my side, I have a 3/2, a 1/1, and a Young Dragonhawk (1/1 with Windfury, which lets it attack twice per turn). In my hand is Raid Leader (2/2, gives my other creatures +1 Attack), Blessing of Might (gives creature +3 Attack), Lord of the Arena (6/5 mob with Taunt), and Shattered Sun Cleric (3/3 that gives a creature +1/+1 when it comes into play). My moves? Blessing of Might on the Young Dragonhawk, Shattered Sun Cleric also targeting the Young Dragonhawk, and then playing the Raid Leader. Attack the Warlock directly with all my creatures, dealing 6 + 6 + 3 + 1 damage to the dome, bringing him to 8 life with more than lethal damage still on the board.
Why play this way? There are a few reasons I chose to, and a few more that argue for a more conservative approach. Warlocks have a lot of removal by default, including Hellfire that deals 3 damage to everything. As amazing as my 16 damage was the prior turn, a single Hellfire would have wiped my entire board and left the Warlock with a 7/4 creature wailing on me. I could have perhaps played the Lord of the Arena and then Blessing of Might on the Dragonhawk, dealing 12 damage and leaving a sort of Taunt barrier that would survive (and trade) a Hellfire. Or I could have done my big play like last time, and sent the 6/2 Dragonhawk into the 7/7 as its second attack and finishing it off with the 1/1, having dealt a total of 9 damage to the Warlock.
Having actually wrote all this out, it has become apparent that my original play was monstrously dumb. A single Hellfire would have wrecked me, to the point of not being able to recover. At the time, my thought process was that the Warlock had to remove my Dragonhawk or lose the next turn, so he’d send in his 7/7 targeting my 6/2, leaving it as easy picking on my next turn… which would be irrelevant because I’d have lethal damage available anyway. Shit, I was probably just too damn excited to contain myself. “Sixteen damage in one turn! Ka-Pow, right in the kisser!”
While there are moments of high excitement, there are also moments of extreme depression. Hearthstone, like many (most? all?) CCG games, forces one to become intimately acquainted with the Three Sisters: Tempo, Card Advantage, and RNG. Take a look at this screenshot which, days later, still causes me to groan:
My opponent is at 1 HP, and it’s their turn. They send their 3/3 (which makes a 2/1 at death) at my 5/5, and then the 2/2, and then send a 1-damage fireball at my 1/1 creature. Approximately 247 days or five turns later, whichever is worse, the Mage wins. Wins. I never draw a creature with
Haste Charge, or any “direct” damage (by Paladin standards), and nothing on my side of board lives long enough to attack. I created a 1/1 each turn only to have it pinged away.
You will have games like this, and it will suck. It is not quite on the same level as being Mana Screwed in Magic, but games possibly grinding to a halt is at least one problem that Scrolls solved beautifully – in Scrolls, you either turn a card into a resource or discard it to draw 2 new cards. With Hearthstone, some heroes like the Paladin have a severe problem with running out of steam. There are technically some Paladin-specific trickery to “solve” this issue – Divine Favor is a 2-cost spell that let’s you draw cards until you have as many as your opponent – but that is heavily dependent on actually having said cards in your collection, and drawing into them at the opportune moments.
Speaking of which…
The Business Side
So where are the Hearthstone F2P hooks? Well… it’s kinda weird. I mean, not really, but it sorta is. Here is how you spend money:
You can buy 5-card booster packs for 100g or at an escalating discount; they come out to be $1.50, $1.43, $1.33, and $1.25 apiece in the various quantities. Entrance into the Arena (which used to be the Forge) is 150g or $1.99. Purchasing boosters for 100g is almost always a waste of precious gold, considering that even if you go 0-3 in the Arena, you will receive a booster pack at a minimum in addition to some other prizes. Supposedly, if you win 7 or more Arena matches, you will make enough gold to purchase another entry. I went 4-3 and came out with 45g and some dust (used to create cards) in addition to the booster, so I technically “paid” a 5g premium for a series of fun games and dust instead of simply having a booster.
What are sources of gold? There are basically two: daily quests and winning matches against people. The “daily quest” is really just a random quest that asks you to win 3 matches, kill 40 creatures, play some games as a specific class, and so on, with a reward of 40g. Winning matches gives you 5g after you win a total of 5, e.g. 1g apiece. I think there might also be a gold award when you level a class up to 20.
So you can sort of see the outline of the F2P hooks. You are not going to be playing in the Arena every day without forking over some serious cash. Being competitive in the Ranked games will require Legendaries and other power cards, which come from random packs. All pretty standard for a CCG, really.
But honestly? Blizzard is pretty much doing everything wrong if their goal was pure F2P exploitation. There are no special classes of booster packs (more expensive versions that have guaranteed rare cards) like in SolForge or the upcoming Hex. You can play the equivalent of Booster drafts using in-game currency. And the biggest jaw-dropper once you think about it? You can manually create any card in the game via the dust. Including Legendaries. Yeah, it takes like 1600 dust to craft a Legendary and your sole source of dust is going to be from activities that involve money (e.g. boosters or Arena), but again, you can substitute in-game currency for the costs. So, eventually, a person that spends $0 can have a full set of all the cards in the game.
Probably around the same time a new set comes out, but hey.
Bottom line: Hearthstone has some legs. In fact, it’s about to have a few more pairs after it chops the current (and upcoming) competition off at the knees. The game is fun, the UI is a feast for the senses, and the few issues I do have with the game can easily be addressed by the end of Beta. This Impression post is already absurdly long, but you can be certain that there will be more to say about Hearthstone in the weeks and months to come.
Subject: Hearthstone Beta Press™ Request
My name is nice try, NSA , aka Azuriel, and I run a gaming blog called In An Age (inanage.com) that has a focus on PC games. While the topic of my posts varies between what I’m playing, to game reviews, to MMO design critiques, I am especially passionate about my Beta Impression posts. I have wrote beta impressions about WoW expansions, Guild Wars 2, Darkfall, Card Hunter, and more. In fact, I just completed two more within the last week: Scrolls and SolForge.
I would be extremely honored if you allowed me to add Hearthstone to that list. By letting me in the Hearthstone beta. As a member of the Press™.
In return, I can promise you a minimum of one (1) brutally honest Beta Impression post, and possibly dozens more if the game is as amazing as it looks. In fact, since I would likely spend money in the store for the tournaments (as investigative journalism), you could almost say that I’m paying you for free advertising. Just think: a Hearthstone article by me could be seen by hundreds (!) of people! That’s a PR coup if I’ve ever seen one.
In any case, I want to thank you for your time, and stalwart support of the blogging community. Your willingness to give members of the Press™ (such as myself) beta keys is an inspiration to us all. Hopefully.
– don’t doxx me, bro (aka Azuriel)
P.S. If you ever need to fill a slot on a Press™ tour of Blizzard HQ or on the WoW dev team, I am available.
After becoming increasingly disenchanted with Scrolls while still craving a card-game experience, I found out that SolForge was in Open Beta as a F2P game. On Steam, no less. Score!
SolForge plays a lot differently than many other CCGs (there is no trading that I’m aware of): it has the most distilled, fast-paced card gameplay that I have ever seen, outside of maybe Dominion. The basic premise is that you build a 30-card deck with the goal of reducing your opponent from 100 HP to zero. There are four “factions” that roughly correspond with certain card themes, and your deck is limited to having cards from only two factions. Each player draws five cards, someone is selected to play first, and then you see this screen:
The first big twist is that there are no resources to manage. On your turn, you can play two cards from your hand, be they creatures or spells. When you play any card, an upgraded version of that card is shuffled back into your deck. There is a combat step where all creatures attack, and you can trigger it at any point during your turn (before, in the middle of, or after you played your cards). At the end of your turn, any leftover cards in your hand are also shuffled back into your deck and you draw a new hand of five cards. Every four turns or so, your avatar “levels up” and then you are able to start actually drawing the upgraded versions of the cards you played previously (even if the original is still on the board).
A quick note about the leveled-up cards: it is way more strategic than you think. A lot of cards might have an especially weak Level 1 form, only to ramp up in power with Level 2 and Level 3. Others are strong Level 1 contenders, but feature a definite lack of scaling that almost make them dead-draws in the endgame. Still others sort of force you to use them early to keep them relevant at all. An example of the latter is Cull the Weak, a removal card which destroys a creature with 4 Attack or less, which ramps up to 7 or less and finally 14 or less at Level 3. Played early, Cull will serve you immensely well into the late stages of the game; drawing into a Level 1 Cull around Turn 15 though, and it may as well be a blank card.
Examples of the first two types of cards (late vs early game focus) can be seen here:
Where things really get (further) mind-bending is combat. Creatures you play
have Summoning Sickness are “On Defensive” until the start of your next turn, meaning they won’t initiate combat. Creatures will also stay in the lane you played them in (unless they have the Mobility trait), attacking anything directly across from them. Once creatures are “On the Offensive,” they will attack every turn. As in, creatures will attack on your turn, and then attack again on your opponent’s turn. Damage a creature takes is permanent, as are most boosts and the like. As you might imagine, creatures die pretty quick; conversely, this means that any creature that does stick around (especially if they have a nice ability) start becoming increasingly dangerous.
What I am failing to get across in words is this: the tempo is SolForge is insane. And addicting. Let’s say that I play a 5/5 creature and my opponent then plays a 7/7 across from it. If I do nothing, my 5/5 will automatically run to its death, and my opponent will begin dealing 7 damage a turn with the now 7/2 creature. Before the attack phase, I might cast a spell that gives one creature +3 attack and another creature -3 attack, making the match-up a 8/5 versus a 4/7. On my opponent’s turn, if he/she doesn’t kill the creature with a spell or throw another creature in front of my now 8/1, it will attack again on his/her turn.
Goddammit, words aren’t working. Here was board position of the closest fight I have ever seen:
It is my opponent’s turn, late in the endgame. His creatures are the 6/10 Savant that let’s him give a creature -3/-3 whenever he casts a Level 1 spell, and “just” a 24/7 wurm. Mine are all just vanilla creatures aside from the Dryad, which gets +1/+1 each time a creature comes into play on my side. He just cast the +3 Attack/-3 Attack spell I mentioned earlier, targeting his wurm and my dryad, taking out one of my 2/3 Ether Hounds with the -3/-3 trigger. He then plays his own Ether Hounds, providing blockers for my Dryad and Marrow Fiend, using the Savant’s trigger to kill my last Ether Hound. He attacks, creatures die, and we go down to 7 and 4 HP respectfully.
What are my options on my upcoming turn? Well… the 6/5 is just a vanilla creature; the 4/6 will spawn a 1/1 creature in its space after it dies; the 14/14 creature has Mobility and gets +6/+6 when a creature dies across from it; the card Enrage gives a creature +5/+5; and the last card gives a creature -3/-3. Hmm. After I make my moves, the board looks like this:
I had tossed my 14/14 in front of the Savant because the -3/-3 triggers were generating insane card advantage, and would basically negate my center lane gambit. Said gambit was tossing in the 4/6 creature in the path of the 24/7, and relying on the 1/1 that spawned after its death to give me the reprieve I needed to win. And, in fact, I would have won on his turn, but he managed to cast either another Savant or perhaps a Gloomreaper Witch (kills a 1-power creature when it comes into play) to remove my 1/1 and block my 20/14, and then some other throwaway creature to stand in front of my 17/11. The wurm, unopposed, kills me. GG.
Whether all of that sounds like gobbledygook or a smashing good time probably depends on how familiar you are with card games, or with Magic specifically. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Richard fucking Garfield had a hand in SolForge’s development, along with the guys who made Ascension, who were already pro Magic players. Now that I think about it, Richard fucking Garfield worked on Card Hunter too. Dude gets around. Considering how everything he touches seems to directly trigger my nucleus accumbens, I’m going to say that this is a Good Thing.
Less so for my wallet.
I tried out Scrolls the other day, mainly due to this video. My initial impression is… mixed. Which is not good for a game that requires $20 to buy-in into a beta state.
For those who may have forgotten, Scrolls is the TCG follow-up project to Mojang’s genre-defining Minecraft. It is essentially Magic-lite with a few extra tactical considerations. Each player has five 10-HP totems at the end of five lanes, and take turns placing creatures or structures or casting spells/enchantments in an effort to reduce three of those five totems down to zero health. Creatures will attack down their lanes when their timer reaches zero, damage is persistent, and creatures can also be moved usually one “hex” each turn.
What I enjoy about Scrolls so far is its rather ingenious, nested card mechanics. At the start of the match, you draw five cards and thereafter draw one card per turn. Each turn, you have the opportunity to discard a card to increase your resources by 1 permanently (e.g. turning it into a MtG “land” essentially) or discarding a card to draw two new cards. As you can only have three copies of a given card in your deck, this immediately makes the early game exceedingly complex on a strategic level. Should you turn that high-cost card into resources now, or save it for later? Now that you’re at 5 resources, should you discard in order to draw two new cards or continue pumping up resources to allow you more options each turn? I doubt that Scrolls is the first card game to feature a system like this, but I am finding it extremely… delicious.
Now that I think about it, my mixed reaction basically comes down to the Store aspect. After you purchase the game, you unlock one of the three Starter decks to play with. Thereafter, you are stuck purchasing new cards in awkward increments using in-game gold earned from winning matches (either against AI or people). I made the unfortunate mistake of purchasing the Order deck and realizing that I don’t actually like its gameplay – a high emphasis on maneuverability and defense and so on. I am getting around ~300g for winning Trial matches (e.g. scenarios), but the other Starter decks are 6500g total. I started with 2000g, but foolishly purchased the 10-card booster packs at 1000g apiece.
So, essentially, I am stuck with a deck I don’t particularly enjoy playing while having to grind out dozens of games with no hope of actually seeing any new cards for that entire duration. Technically, I can also purchase things in the store for Shards, which is the RMT currency. However, the thought of spending more money on top of the $20 I already paid to play the game in the first place is repulsive. Scrolls is not a F2P game. Finding myself confronted with a payslope after the initial paywall is incredibly frustrating, especially with there being no way to undo the designer trap (having to choose a Starter deck with zero information) I fell into to begin with. This is a TCG, sure, but if your Starter deck isn’t fun to play, most rational people won’t be playing for long.
I am going to continue playing in the hopes that things improve, but at the moment I couldn’t really recommend Scrolls to anyone just yet.
Downloaded the Firefall open beta client yesterday because, you know, Press™.
For those not keeping track at home, Firefall is… well, hell if I actually know. Without looking it up, I’m assuming it’s a F2P MMO set in an open-world, over-the-shoulder Borderlands 2 with bugs taking the place of bandits. After looking it up, it seems the devs want to emphasize the fact that it is a skill-based action shooter with sandbox MMO elements. Apparently the world is a not level-restricted, but the highest-ranked “dungeons” will need full groups with crafted gear. Which sounds like roundabout levels to me, but let’s play along.
One of my biggest fears with new MMOs – or any game which expects me to be playing for 50+ hours – is losing on the character select screen. How am I supposed to know which class will be the most fun months from now? And even if I luck into the best class for me, how will I know it won’t radically change (or get nerfed) years later? So, right away, Firefall got some major brownie points with me once I understood that a “class” means a Battleframe, which you can swap out at pretty much any time. Need a healer? Jump into your healer suit and go play.
Loincloth starting armor tropes aside, I think the whole Battleframe direction is pretty clever. Not only are you allowing people to play whatever role is necessary at the time, having independent frames means a player has to “level-up” multiple times while still allowing for quick catch-up. In other words, it’s horizontal progression. PlanetSide 2 has this same sort of thing, where you might have to purchase various levels of Flak Armor for each class (which is expensive with Certs), or you can just focus on playing Light Assault or Medic and save your currency.
In any case, from the extremely limited amount of time I spent playing, things seem fun enough. They certainly looked good, at any rate.
Some people might not like the sort of cel-shaded motif here, but this sort of thing has never bothered me. If the game runs better and has more options for crazy effects, then I will “sacrifice” ultra-realistic graphics any day. Plus: everyone has jetpacks, right from the start.
I can’t give much more of an impression beyond the above, as I was unable to progress past the second “quest.” The first quest was to follow a waypoint, and the second was to kill some bugs and then return to purchase your sidearm from a vendor. Unfortunately, either I am completely oblivious (possible) or the the game was bugging out for me (likely) seeing as how no menu would appear after interacting with said vendor:
Since the mouse controls your aim, I know that I successfully clicked ‘E’ on the vendor because the crosshair disappeared and an actual mouse pointer appeared. But no menu. I tried highlighting the guns in the background, clicking on every on-screen icon-looking thing, reloading the client, and finally restarting my computer. Open beta is open beta, but I was left feeling pretty disappointed all the same. Hell, I couldn’t even submit a ticket because that interface wasn’t showing up either. I could probably submit a bug report on the forums… or I could go play some other game that works instead.
While I was clicking around, I did notice something particularly interesting:
That’s right, you can move shit around your screen and I think resize elements right from the start. It might seem like a small thing, and it arguably is small, but it begs the question of why some MMOs *cough* require you to download 432 mods to do the same sort of things. Artistic restrictions? General laziness? More of this sort of thing, please.
I might check back in on Firefall later to see if the problem resolves itself, or I might simply wait until release. Until then, feel free to try it out yourself.
I got into the Card Hunter beta last Thursday.
It is rare anymore for me to spend a lengthy amount of time playing the same game. Game developers these days front-load their daily bonuses in such a way that the most “efficient” way to maximize your playtime is to switch between 3-4 titles. And yet I spent ten hours playing Card Hunter on Saturday, and another six on Sunday. So, spoiler alert: I really like this game.
Card Hunter grabbed me from the word Go. In essence, this F2P browser-based game is a tactical, turn-based RPG where your abilities come in the form of random cards. Instead of building an entire deck on your own, a character’s game deck is actually the sum total of the cards associated with that character’s equipped items. This might sound complicated, but it is the exact opposite – after about 5 minutes of looking at the screen, the system becomes immediately grokkable and engaging. For example, here is a character sheet:
All of the cards along the bottom are the sum total of the deck. When you look at a specific item…
…you can see what cards it contributes to the overall deck. As you might imagine, weapons usually contribute attack cards, armor contributes armor cards, and so on. Occasionally though, you will have some items that contribute cards from outside their “theme.” Most items are limited to certain classes, of which there are three: fighter, cleric, and wizard. You can have either human, elf, or dwarf versions of any of those classes, with the differences being the typical D&D tropes; elves have low HP and fast movement, dwarves have the opposite, and humans are in the middle.
How does the game play? Fabulously.
As you can see, the “setting/lore” of the game is retro-D&D, and it is adhered to from start to finish. All characters are represented with those figurines, and all the maps are exactly like this one (with different terrain and such, of course). The game’s F2P currency are slices of pizza, the battles are all prefaced with D&D-module write-ups, and there is clearly some tension going on inbetween the new DM Gary and his rules-lawyer brother Melvin in campaign mode – not to mention Gary’s awkward crush on the pizza delivery girl. Change some names around, add in two more teenagers, and Card Hunter could have described my high school D&D experience to a T.
As far as the game flow goes, it is pretty intuitive. You and your opponent take turns playing one card from any of your characters’ hands. You don’t have to alternate which character’s cards you play – if your warrior has 3 attack cards and someone within reach during each of his/her turns, you can wail on them 3 times. When you and your opponent pass turns in sequence, the Round ends, everyone discards down to two cards, three cards are drawn (one of which is always a movement card), and any Round triggers fire (e.g. players starting their turn in lava take 10 damage, etc).
The strategic brilliance of this combat system simply cannot be praised enough. Yes, the card-based nature of abilities can lead to immensely frustrating, if not outright impossible scenarios. In the screenshot above, for example, my elven mage has drawn all movement cards, severely crippling any initial attack I could muster. Defeat can (and will) be drawn from the jaws of victory even if you are careful. Here was a moment I exclaimed “You have got to be shitting me” out loud:
The above screenshot was taken from the dreaded Compass of Fucking Xorr level, right from where you might imagine is an insurmountable advantage. The armored dogs are dead, I have the last mercenary backed into a corner with 5 HP, and all my dudes are (barely) alive. It’s a new Round, my turn, and… look at the bottom. Don’t see many red cards, do you?
In fact, I drew exactly one attack card, and it only deals 3 damage. That larger card in the screenshot is a “seen” card that I know is in the merc’s hand, and it’s a doozy. Basically, any time you would deal damage to the merc, he rolls a d6: on a 4 or higher, the damage is reduced by 3. Like many Armor cards, it also has the Keep quality, which means it stays in his hand after triggering, ready for the next reduction in damage. And from fighting this guy, let me just tell you that his attack cards all deal 6+ damage from two squares away.
I did kill the merc on the turn after this one, as he just happened to draw a “drawback” card that caused him to discard all his armor cards. But it was a close one either way.
In any event, I am having a blast with Card Hunter thus far. That might sound strange after I just dedicated a few paragraphs to describing what could have been a terrible RNG-based wipe, but that kinda goes with the TCG territory. Who hasn’t been mana-screwed in Magic: the Gathering before? Part of tactical thinking should include the possibility of things going wrong – if games like Frozen Synapse taught me anything, it would be that. If nothing else, it keeps you on your toes.
I’ll go over the other elements of Card Hunter, including the ever-important F2P bits, next time.
I have had words regarding Guild Wars 2 previously. Based on my experiences mere minutes ago, I am almost ready to recant all of them.
Err… the bad words, that is.
As way of preface, since the Sylvari and Asura were available for the first (and last) time, I decided to forgo retesting that Thief nonsense in Queensdale and focus on the new races. The following points/impressions are in the order that I experienced them, with the ones that inspired my opening lines coming at the end.
Point 14: Sylvari are People Too!
That was not even the most interesting bit of shrubbery dialog. This was:
I was not even out of the tutorial yet and already I am being told two dude plants love each other. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course.
Nevertheless, presenting a gay relationship right at the beginning struck me as an unexpectedly bold move on ArenaNet’s part. Every single person that rolls a Sylvari character is going to be seeing this (if they are paying attention), as opposed to hiding it in random NPC dialog.
Then again… is it really all that bold? Sylvari are plant people modeled as pseudo-elves; male elves in videogames are traditionally metrosexual at a minimum. If ArenaNet was really bold, they would have transplanted (har har) this situation over in the human section. But, as far as steps go, this one ain’t a bad first one.
Point 15: Visuals, Jumping Puzzles, and View Points
As far as zone visuals are concerned, the Sylvari thus far take the vegan cake. Alternatively, ArenaNet may have boosted the graphical optimization several notches with this build. Either way, I always have respect for artists who are capable of taking the cliche – plant people living in a giant tree – and still making everything interesting to look at. Remember when you strolled into Northrend during Wrath of the Lich King in WoW, expecting every zone to be snow, snow, and more snow… and being more than a little pleasantly surprised? There is more than enough stereotypical plants to go around here in Sylvariville, but their configuration remains fairly fresh.
Speaking of jumping puzzles, I am not sure if they are brand new to this build or not, but… there are jumping puzzles now. Hard ones. The one in the screenshot above took probably ~20 minutes to complete (I’m a pro) and even awarded an achievement for making it onto the cliff over on the left. To be honest, I thought the whole thing was a part of the Skill Challenge – the actual challenge was, no joke, clicking on an item in your inventory you got from clicking the bush at the bottom – so I was a little disappointed after the fact.
In any case, another new addition are
Kodak Moments View Points: map icons hidden in relatively hard-to-reach locations that start Assassin Creed-esque flybys. Sometimes literally:
To be honest, View Points are kinda pointless insofar as they do not reveal anything of note, but I suppose they incentivize climbing on top of things. If you are into that sort of thing. Actually, I do have one minor gripe with that…
Point 16: You Fall Too Fast!
I noticed the instant-terminal-velocity way back in the first minutes of the first beta, but until View Points and Jumping Puzzles were introduced I never had a reason to gain unsafe amounts of altitude. Falling anywhere in Guild Wars 2 feels like you are falling into a black hole. Know how characters sometimes feel “floaty” in MMOs? Imagine the opposite of that. It’s jarring. It may be a minor point, but I was tired of not talking about it like nobody noticed.
Point 17: Necromancers are Boring
While on the character creation screen for Sylvari, one class choice was immediately obvious: Necromancer. Or, well, Engineer might have worked too. If you pick anything else you are squandering the opportunity denied to Draenei Warlocks and Undead Paladins everywhere. Fight the power!
While I breezed through questing as a Necromancer (*cough* ranged are OP *cough*), I never really liked any of my base skills. Sure, it was fun being able to run around with a Blood Fiend, two Bone Minions, and a Shadow creature all by level 10, but everything else felt… meh. Death Shroud as my F1 ability was incredibly disappointing; I do more damage normally, and if it exists solely as a defensive move, well, that still sucks. Overall, the class just seems too damn meta. Dispel buffs, steal buffs, corrupt buffs, use abilities that give yourself debuffs so presumably you can spread them around later… yeah.
Okay, ArenaNet, you have the convoluted PvP interactions down. Now what is a Necromancer supposed to do while questing? Auto-attack + press 2 every 8-12 seconds? Yawn.
Point 18: Elementalists are the Most Fun I Have Had in an Action RPG
In blinding contrast to Necromancers, I feel I need to repeat myself for emphasis: Elementalists are the most fun I have had in an Action RPG. Guild Wars 2 is not strictly an action RPG, of course, but it goddamn turns into one when you roll an Elementalist.
Necromancer was Press 1 (auto-attack) + Press 2 every ~10 seconds while your pets unfailingly tanked mobs.
Double-dagger Elementalist? Your auto-attack shoots three flame arrows in a spread pattern. Right off the bat you grok the strategic possibilities: the closer you get, the more likely your target will get hit by multiple arrows, increasing the deeps. But maybe you hang back and let your arrows hit the crowd… oh hell, naw! Get in there, boyz! Button number 2 is a channeled dragon breath you can use while moving. Button number 3 is one of my favorite in the bunch: it is a charging jump attack that leaves a trail of fire on the ground while you blow the area up when you land. Nothing says badass pyromancer like one jumping at your face with an explosion. Follow that up with button number 4, which is an AoE fireblast that leaves a ring of fire on the ground that burns enemies who step through it. Flame Wreath this, beotch! Finally, button number 5 is another cone-shaped attack that simply deals extra damage to Burning enemies, such as those who took damage from button(s) 2, 3, and/or 4.
All of that is just double-daggers under the Fire sign. Pressing F2 at any time brings up the Water sign, whose auto-attack is spinning icy hula-hoop of death¹ which passes through all enemies in a line and debuffs with stacking Vulnerability before boomeranging back and hitting them a second time. F3 is the Air sign which, admittedly, is pretty lame aside from the 1,200-ranged charge attack called Ride the Goddamn Lightning. Finally, F4 busts out the Earth sign, with all its fairly Necromacer-ish short-ranged-but-powerful Bleed attacks.
Again, all of that was with the same weapon loadout. Most classes in GW2 have 5 abilities per weapon combo, changing only two per offhand switch. The Elementalist gets six (6) no matter what you switch around. I did not make it to level 10 to check, but presumably I could go from double-dagger to scepter-focus and get 20 different abilities to play around with each time I press the ` button. Other classes may get a similar number of abilities overall (since the Elementalist cannot wield as many different weapon types), but none of them have as much access to these abilities at any time. We are talking about 10 vs 40 here. It’s ridiculous. And even if there is some kind of Elementalist-only weapon-swap limitation, it’s still 10 vs 20.
If it was not obvious by now,
check your pulse I had a ton of fun playing the Elementalist. At the same time, the Elementalist is so clearly some designer’s pet project it is not funny… and that worries me. Nothing comes close to this class’s complexity, and I have to wonder at what (eventual) cost. Thieves can press F1 to Shadowstep and get “stolen” one-time-use abilities, Warriors press F1 when their Rage Adrenaline meter fills up, and so on and so forth. Are Elementalists going to be balanced around correct usage of 20+ abilities? Or will they simply be OP as they stab you in the face with their explodey burning rings of fire?
I have already heard grumblings vis-a-vis Elementalists dying practically instantly in PvP, so maybe this issue “fixes” itself. I hope not. I want an Elementalist main and to run some BGs.
Point 19: Asura Females (Can) Straddle the Line between Cute and Uncomfortably Cute
If you were originally put off by the Asura concept art (like I was), feel free to give it a spin:
If you liked the original concept art look, or are afraid of what your probation officer would say if he walked in while you were playing, ArenaNet still has your back:
Luckily for everyone, Asura act more like Goblins/Gnomes from WoW rather than Elin from TERA. And they go back to looking like the cute, cocky nephews and nieces of Yoda from Episode 2 in the main world:
My Asura was the Elementalist, by the way, so that Episode 2 reference was especially apt.
Point 20: It Will be an Interesting Ride, One Way or the Other
Lest I be confused for someone with boundless optimism in the integrity of the human race, I still have major concerns regarding damn near everything I said previously under the Guild Wars 2 Category tag. Things like unbalanced melee, bad pacing when it comes to Personal Stories/questing in general (the Sylvari starting zone was smooth as butter, but I still had to grind mobs in the Asura zone twice), how Thief, Guardian, and Necromancer gameplay feels pretty bad, suspicions regarding the cash shop and how it affects future game design, and so on and so forth.
In fact, regarding the latter, I was reading a comment to this post over at Keen & Graev’s mentioning being an altaholic. Uh… not unless you pay $10 per slot beyond five. Five slots, eight professions, you do the math. And it is not as though you can roll on another sever either – “guest” anytime anywhere, but it will always be a pain in the ass if your friends rolled elsewhere unless there is an “auto-guest on X server upon login” option. Maybe an extra $15 here and there is nothing as long as it doesn’t happen faster than once a month. But for me, there is no such thing as a friendly, on-your-side cash shop.
Anyway, that is that, my friends. I might have some leftover screenshots, but they will definitely have to wait until next time.
¹ Don’t tell me you never gave a hula-hoop a reverse spin before tossing it down the driveway.