What a crazy 1.5 months. Huge work initiative is coming to a close, I passed a certification exam a few days ago, and things are approaching what might be considered whatever normal amounts to be.
So, let’s shill some more for Game Pass:
- Subnautica: Below Zero
- Tainted Grail: Conquest
- Medieval Dynasty
I mentioned it before, but basically my gaming life consisted of Hearthstone, Fallout 76, and Slay the Spire for the last few weeks. Not because they were the best games I had at my disposal, but because they were accessible, low-effort time-wasters that kept me (relatively) sane. I cannot guarantee that much will change at first, though seeing the above games available for free* is giving me a nudge in that direction.
Although I have heard mixed reviews on Subnautica: Below Zero, I never dug deeper into why things are mixed. Not necessarily for the sake of spoilers, but because games end up changing so often post-release that what people complained about originally may no longer exist by the time I get around to playing. All I know is that you apparently spend a bit more time outside the water, there is some kind of vehicle that handles like shit, and the devs turned the game into a sequel instead of DLC to the original because money and they got tired developing water games. Considering I spent 61 hours enjoying the first game, my bar is relatively more forgiving for even a v1.5 game that costs me nothing.
Superliminal looked cool and sometimes that is all it takes to get on my radar.
I heard an interview with the band Japanese Breakfast on NPR, talking about how they wrote the soundtrack for Sable. At one point they mentioned how their favorite childhood memory was playing Secret of Mana with their father, and NPR then overlaid the opening theme in the interview… and that was it. I was back in the 3rd grade coming home from school to my Super Nintendo playing A Link to the Past, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy 6, and Super Metroid for the 30th time because I got precisely two videogames a year and those were it. Funny how advertisers spend tens of millions of dollars keeping my eyeballs on the screen for more than two seconds, and a goddamn MIDI from 25+ years ago rockets past it all.
Before work stuff consumed my life, I was on a real roguelike card game kick. One of the options I was an inch from buying was Tainted Grail: Conquest. Instead, I bought Deck of Ashes and (ahem) burned out a bit on card games. Aside from OG Slay the Spire. Seeing Tainted Grail on the Game Pass certainly makes me retroactively applaud my decision to take a break.
Finally, Medieval Dynasty is one of those survival-esque games that was on my radar, then wiggled inside my radar after SynCaine’s review, then shorted out my radar once I realized that the price jumped upon full release. Which… I get it, you want to reward the early adopters. At the same time, if you are going to game theory me into buying an unfinished product at a lower price and hoping things work out, you should expect some hesitancy on the back end if I miss the “deal.” It’s not about the $5-$10, it’s the principle. Or not, because I can play for free on Game Pass.
Things are weird for everyone else too, right? Like we went from the worst possible timeline with F2P and loot boxes everywhere, to Game Pass and Epic Store weekly giveaways and people seemingly giving a shit about Consumer Surplus in general. This is exactly what competition is supposed to do, but I nevertheless keep listening for when the music stops.
As in, the Epic Store, not epic store sales.
Back in the day, which was either last year or fifteen years ago, I had this to say about the Epic Store:
As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all. Maybe that’s Plan B for when they run out of exclusivity money?
At the time, Epic was in the midst of buying out gaming devs and forcing unnecessary exclusivity deals. Which was, and still is, extremely anti-consumer. In the intervening months, it has been interesting seeing them right the ship. Epic has brought back the “endless $10 coupon” for this winter’s sale, which means you get $10 off any game that costs $14.99 or more. Some devs are getting cheeky and having $14.98 sales, but otherwise it seems above-board. And in comparing my Steam wishlist, there are some great deals:
- Disco Elysium – $13.99 vs $23.99
- Hellpoint – $17.99 vs $20.99
- Death Stranding – $19.99 vs $29.99
- Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete – $29.99 vs $39.99
- Borderlands 3 – $9.79 vs $19.79
Thing is, I’m just not buying games anymore. Part of that is WoW sucking the oxygen out of the gaming room – although that may or may not be coming to an end – but the larger issue is the Game Pass. Will all of those arrive in the near future? Probably not. Possibly none of them, ever. But both Metro: Exodus and Outer Worlds did a tour and they were “Epic exclusives” I played for $1.
But here’s the other thing: would I drop everything and play those games right now? If the answer is not an enthusiastic Yes… what are we even doing? Donating to game developers? It used to be that I would get hung up on the nightmare scenario of getting an insane itch to play a game that I passed on during a sale. But it has been months since I had any such itch, and these days I am just as likely as not to go to bed early. Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe it’s due to the 1.5 year-old that does not have a Snooze button. Everyone’s getting up at 7am even on the weekends, whether we like it or not.
In any case, the deals are there if you want them. I’m pleased that Epic is heading down this direction for competing with Steam rather than exclusives. Oh, and all the free games every week (and every day recently). By my last count, I have 109 games on the platform and only bought one of them.
After nearly a year, we’re starting* to see what actual competition looks like.
Outward has been on my (Steam) wishlist for a while, despite the lukewarm reviews. During this Winter sale period, it is the same price both in Steam and the Epic Store. In a tie, victory goes to Steam. However, the Epic Store is currently running a promotion where you get a $10 coupon applied to the first game you buy that costs $14.99 or more.
Ergo, Outward on the Epic Store costs $5.99 and thus was bought there.
This is indeed the first time I have spent money in the Epic Store, despite technically owning 28 games there. I suppose this means I will have to turn in my Steam fanboy card, eh?
…if only I had one. The only brand I’m loyal to is Consumer Surplus. After a year of dicking around with pernicious exclusivity deals, Epic finally came around. As I said in that post:
As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all.
In this case I saved $10, which is absurd, comparatively. And it appears that each time you redeem this coupon, you get another one. There does not appear to be a limit either.
The real difficulty at this point is determining what other games are out there that I would possibly want to buy. It’s a bit hard remembering because the Epic Store still doesn’t have a wishlist feature in a gaming storefront in 2019. No, seriously:
We’re working to bring Wishlist to the store. You’ll be able to wishlist any offer on the store and you’ll be notified of sales or promotions for that offer. This has been previously listed as work-in-progress development, but is requiring more work than originally planned. We’ll keep you up to date as we move the Wishlist feature along.
That “minor” detail aside, most everything else comes down to bigger titles that don’t have deep (enough) discounts in my mind. For example, Borderlands 3. After the coupon, I could pick that up for $28.99. But… is that really a deal at this point? Having already waited this long, I may as well wait some more. Same issue with Control, which has gotten some good word-of-mouth. By the time I get time to play these games, the Spring Sale will have sprung and the price will likely be less. Plus, you know, this Epic coupon is valid until May for some reason. Time to hurry up and wait.
* I’m vaguely aware that the Epic store might have already had a similar $10 coupon deal back in the Summer.
I have been musing a lot about Hearthstone and Clash Royale lately.
In Hearthstone, I bought around 22 packs of the latest expansion with accumulated gold and… things didn’t feel particular satisfying. A lot of duplicate commons, and only one Legendary (the hunter quest). I kinda screwed myself over inadvertently though, as I opened a pack reward from the Tavern Brawl, which ended up being Carine, a duplicate Legendary of mine, thus removing my pity timer.
According to Reddit, the latest expansion will cost you about $400 to get all the cards. Let that sink in a moment. $50 will get you 40 packs, and I opened about half that and got hot garbage. Spending enough money to buy a AAA videogame on release will likely not even get you remotely competitive in a F2P game.
This sort of begs the question though: how much should it cost to be competitive in a(ny) game?
On the one hand, I think cost analyses for an entire expansion are a bit ridiculous. Out of the 135 cards available, how many are actually any good? Cutting out the terrible Legendaries will reduce Dust cost by 1600 apiece, for example. Then there is the consideration of whether you really need all the cards on Day 1. There are going to be weeks and weeks of Un’goro, during which you can accumulate more packs naturally. Granted, if you are still buying Un’Goro packs a month before the next expansion’s release, you won’t have any buffer there.
On the other hand… well, it’s all terrible. A bunch of cards just rotated out, so if you aren’t rolling in the latest expansion cards you may as well just give up. Or go play Pirate Warrior and hope the other guy doesn’t have one of a thousand new taunts.
Clash Royale is a different F2P game, but I am encountering similar breakpoints. Specifically, I had a deck that I focused all my in-game resources on, the meta shifted, and now my deck gets hard-countered very easily. You can switch your cards out, but leveling cards takes increasing amounts of gold, and thus I can only field under-leveled cards against people with focused decks.
How easy should it be to max out your stuff though?
Personally, I feel that answer should be “immediately” for competitive PvP games. What is the point of a ladder in these games if you can buy your way to the top? It honestly reminds me of the gacha games, which have “VIP Levels” that unlock as you spend more money buying diamond currency. Well, except these gacha VIP levels are permanent and don’t reset each time new cards come out.
Alas, this is not the case.
What is worse is the simple fact that these games also do not have logical endpoints. They are fun. Then, gradually, they are less so. At what point on the Fun Gradient can you draw a line? I suppose games like Hearthstone are little more cut-and-dry since expansions are released, cycle out, and otherwise contain clear demarcations on the calendar. Clash Royale, meanwhile, does not. I am having less fun than I did a few months ago, but still more fun than either nothing or another game. So I continue to play, with internal injuries accumulating from the dissonance.
And just to be clear: these games are engineered this way. Payslopes? More like Funslopes. And at the bottom of this slope is just a money-pit that you fill with cash to try and make a softer landing.
One of the interesting quotes going around the block this weekend:
“Hearthstone is killing itself” – Superdata
The short version of the situation was summed up by GameRant:
In a February report about the worldwide digital games market, SuperData spelled out a not so positive picture for the Blizzard card game. It says that in February, Hearthstone revenues on iOS and Android hit the “lowest” since those versions of the game launched and is “down significantly year-over-year and month-over-month.” The desktop version of the game has also experienced declining revenue but they have been less severe, likely due to the support from more “hardcore” fans.
SuperData blames this fall on recent “unpopular” gameplay changes to the game, which have resulted in a “sharp decrease in conversion on mobile.” Although Blizzard has attempted to fix problems with the game, such as addressing problems with arena drafts and nerfing certain OP (over-powered) cards, this hasn’t been enough. Several professional players have also ditched the game recently, citing the game’s reliance on randomness (rather than actual strategy), as a reason for them to look elsewhere.
I would kinda like to read the Superdata report itself to see if they provided more context, but the paywall is kinda significant.
The dire portents are somewhat interesting, because as recently as January the reports were all glowing about Hearthstone had cleared $394.6 million in 2016. Then again, perhaps that was just your sort of standard end-of-year update, and this February news showing a more concerning trend.
The question I always have: is it really randomness that’s the issue here? Certainly for Lifecoach it was an express reason. And perhaps for the pros at the top where the delta between player skill is so razor thin, randomness effectively makes up a disproportionate amount of the outcome.
But, honestly? As I mentioned a month ago, the problem is Team 5’s fucking ass-backwards balance philosophy. Back on January 13th, the devs officially stated that they were “looking into” the Pirate disaster they introduced in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. You know, the expansion that came out on December 1st? The nerfs themselves did not occur until the very end of February. So we got 1.5 months to acknowledge a problem, then another 1.5 months to move on a solution. Then, even after the nerf, 14 of the 16 players in the HCT Winter Championships brought Pirate Warrior.
Were the nerfed cards absent? Yes. Does Pirate Warrior still consistently kill you on turn 5? Also yes.
That is the problem. You have pretty much 100% of aggro decks (and some midrange) running a Pirate package. If you aren’t facing Pirates, you are facing Jade Druid, which completely murders Control decks in two different ways (endless threats + zero fatigue). And if you happen to get lucky and aren’t facing Pirates or Jade Druid, you are facing Renolock, which is a match best described as a JRPG boss fight – get them to low HP, they heal to full, get them low again, and then they transform into Jaraxxus. If you aren’t playing one of those three decks, you are blood for the blood god.
Journey to Un’goro is coming out soon, and I am finding it difficult to imagine the meta shifting that much. Pirate Warrior loses Sir Finley, which is a one-drop Legendary that allows the Warrior to switch his hero power into something else. That is a bigger deal than it sounds, but not something that derails a turn 5 win with decent draws. Jade Druid loses a few cute moves with Brann, but is similarly otherwise unscathed. Reno Jackson himself is leaving, which is a big deal to Renolock, of course. Then again, Handlock did fine for years before Mr. “We’re going to be rich.”
You can see the entire new set yourself. What jumped out at me were the vast increase in Taunt cards, which is good. Taunt Warrior with the Rag hero power Quest is probably going to be a thing. Shaman elementals seem pretty powerful as well. I like the Druid cards, for the most part. But again, all that being said, will whatever new decks emerge actually be better in practice than Pirates or Jade?
I have my doubts.
And we haven’t really even gotten to the other parts of Hearthicide, which is doing practically nothing in the face of competitors like Shadowverse throwing out 10 free packs for their latest expansion. We’re getting some free stuff each day for logging in, I guess, but it’s hard to tell. In any case, Team 5 has got to get off their ass and at least put on the appearance of doing something, or Hearthstone is going to be competing with Heroes of the Storm soon. For last place.
one two bright spots I have encountered thus far post-Patch, is the reputation gain from the first heroic dungeon/Scenario of the day. The interface changes which governs this is pretty slick and straightforward. After finishing a Klaxxi work order on the farm, I took my warrior through a quick Scenario, which resulted in decent Shado-Pan rep (due to Commendations) and an actual 463 blue from the bag at the end. From there, I chanced a heroic dungeon as DPS and was pleasantly surprised at a 11 minute queue. Best of all, considering I was already well into Honored with Shado-Pan from leveling with their Commendation, it appears likely that I will hit Revered over the next few weeks without doing a single Golden Lotus daily (as it should be).
The other bright spot was also Reputation oriented, and it has since rocketed up to be one of my favorite parts of the expansion: the Zandalari Warscouts. If you have not been following along, there are now new rare spawns across Pandaria that have a 100% chance to drop Bind-on-Account +1000 reputation tokens for various factions, and sometimes loot bags. I am not talking about the 5-man, 21 million HP rares, but rather the easily soloable 7 million HP ones; they do usually spawn in similar areas. I spent the better part of 2 hours off and on flying around, and ended up with tokens for August Celestials, Golden Lotus, and Shado-Pan x4. The spawn timers for the Warscouts is probably less than an hour.
And this also happened:
Remember my quaint hope of getting to Revered in a few weeks? Ain’t nobody got time for that:
The new daily island on the other hand… good lord.
I wonder if the Blizzard devs truly understand how outdated, archaic, and downright stupid their questing design philosophy looks in a post-Guild Wars 2 world. While running around on the new island, I encountered a group of five Alliance players also doing the daily quests. While all of us were able to get credit for killing certain mobs, the other 95% of the time I did nothing but stare slack-jawed while they tapped and cleared out the rest of the mobs in the area, while occasionally ninja-ing the vases (or whatever) we needed to break for another quest. Had there been 1-2 Alliance, I could have manually invited them to a party so we could actually share in the completion of objectives. Since they were already in a 5-person group however, they became nothing more than annoying obstacles in my way.
Do you remember the response one of the blues gave to the question of why you can’t complete quests as part of a raid group? “Because then the correct way to level would be to join the rolling STV (etc) raid.” Oh, yes, of course! That makes perfect sense. We cannot possibly allow organized grouping in an MMO, lest the player come to the mistaken conclusion that players of their own faction are a welcome sight, there to enrich their lives and make it more social and enjoyable. Heavens no! All other players are competition for limited resources, and two is a crowd already! Can you imagine the anarchy that would reign if each individual player did not kill their full allotment of 13 gnolls? Five people sharing the credit is bad enough!
What a joke.
I can understand that ArenaNet outmaneuvered Blizzard so resoundingly on this issue – seriously, folks, I don’t even play GW2 anymore but you can’t go back to tapped mobs afterwards – and it takes time for an oil barge as large as WoW to turn around. Hell, sometimes the blues indicate they don’t even know how some shit even works, like the original programmers died or translated the vanilla code from alien hieroglyphics or something.
I will even grant that the GW2 system could not simply be implemented wholesale, provided the Blizzard programmers were up to the task in the first place. A lot of the underlying systems would need to be changed, and not even ArenaNet thought a lot of it through. In WoW, for example, even though a 5-person group gets credit for shared kills, only one person ever gets loot, be it round-robin or rolls. The big issue in GW2 is that one mob can drop 5+ pieces of gear (one for each player that damages it), which rapidly inflates the volume of items floating around. By the time I stopped playing, the GW2 marketplace was identical to the Diablo 3 AH disaster wherein both crafting and mob drops were pointless due to the vendor+1c priced goods flooding the market. Then again, it would be much less of an issue for WoW considering 99.99% of all mob drops are useless vendor trash, up to and occasionally including the epics (beyond ilevel cheesing).
To be perfectly honest, I do not know if I ever want to go back to the Thunder Isle. The Isle of Quel’Danas and Tol Barad were fine for what they were, but they were also products of their time. This mob-dense, poorly-routed, arbitrarily designed, anti-social hellhole is two years two late. I had time to ponder all these things as I blithely soloed a 7.8 million HP rare elite on the ilevel 455 warrior (Second Wind is overpowered), watching one, two, three Alliance players go skipping by in pursuit of solitude. After picking up my loot, I sought to join them… only to have the bitter irony collapse in upon itself from the sheer weight of poor design.
Also! Who was the fucking genius who decided to implement crafted PvP gear for a new season, only to hide it behind once-a-day random research, the plate gear of which cannot even start being learned until Stage 3 of the island? Who is the crafted gear designed for? The new PvP players starting three months from now? You can purchase 470 ilevel gear for Honor right now! In every possible scenario you are better off getting farmed to hell and back in random BGs than A) waiting for the myriad of crafters to auction their individual pieces at 1000% profit margins, or B) unlocking the recipes yourself. You are going to replace this crafted gear with Honor pieces anyway, so… what the actual fuck?
Christ on a cracker, I feel like I’m watching a version of the Washington DC bullshit playing out between Blizzard devs and common goddamn sense.