Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Hearthstone's Druid Power Level: IT'S OVER 9000!!!

Right now in Hearthstone, the Druid class is absurdly powerful, and it's actually a very bad thing for the health of the game. It's not just a single deck either, as both Token Druid and Jade Druid are equally strong. Unlike other decks that have stabilized over time, as new strategies and counters have arisen, the Druid problem is so severe that it's actually effecting the meta. Unconventional decks like Exodia mage, which were fun gimmicky decks, have actually become viable in the meta because they are so effective at beating druid. We've really got a whole "Grim Patron" situation on our hands now: every single deck is either A) Druid, or B) deck that is specifically good against Druid, and that's bad because it limits creativity, and lessens the impact of a lot of cool cards and archetypes.

Blizzard should not take a "wait and see" approach to this problem. The time for wait and see has passed, especially when you consider that 41% of all games being played are against Druids. They need to act right now.

How did Druid get so powerful?

Druid has always been a popular, powerful class in Hearthstone, but the latest patch has given it the exact tools it needed to propel it into the unstoppable monster it is right now. Specifically: Spreading Plague and Ultimate Infestation. To understand why these cards are so powerful, you first need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the class.

Ramp it up

Ramp effects let you cheat out mana ahead of the usual curve, allowing you to play bigger minion and spells earlier in the game. They are countered by the fact that they cost a card, and have minimal effect on the board state. Playing Wild Growth on turn 2 means that you have one less card and no two drop on the board. Ramping has always been a gamble because it leaves you vulnerable, but Ultimate Infestation negates all of those negatives.

A Druid player can spend the first four turns ramping up (Wild Growth, Jade Blossom, Nourish), and then just innervate out an Ultimate Infestation. He now likely controls the board, has healed, has replenished all the cards he spent ramping, and is a full six mana ahead of you. Just watch this clip to understand how stupid this combination is.

Wall of Scarabs

Traditionally, Druid's weakness has been big boards. It lacks the hard removal of Rogue and Priest, and the AOE removal of Mage and Warlock. The best way to play against a Druid is to put down multiple, high health creatures. Once the board has been flooded, its quite hard for them to regain control. This is a natural counter to both Jade/Ramp Druid AND Token Druid. Against Jade/Ramp Druid, it stops them from being too greedy. They have to play minions and fight for board control or they will be overwhelmed. Against Token Druid, it helps control their own waves of minions it tries to flood the board with.

But here comes Spreading Plague, which a lot of the time reads: 5 Mana - Summon 7 1/5 Scarabs With Taunt. Not only does this card negate Druid's most major weakness by cockblocking the whole board, it also combos exceedingly well with cards like Power of The Wild, Mark of The Lotus and the new Bolster Bear. It's not uncommon for those 1/5's to become 2/6's, or even 3/7's within the same turn. Imagine a card that read: 6 Mana - Summon Seven 2/6 Scarabs with Taunt. Discard a card.

Innervation Intervention

All of these new tools circle back to Innervate, a card that has been a part of the core Druid kit since the beginning, and limits card design space more and more the longer it remains a part of the game. Again, Innervate is a card that was limited by the fact that it cost you a card. Yeah, you could cheat out a big drop on an early turn, but then you were down a card, and could get fucked over by hard removal. Now, Druids can use Innervate to cheat out Ultimate Infestation, which instantly replenishes their hand, negating its detrimental effect. Reynad made a strong case on the removal of Innervate from Standard, which is a possible solution to the Druid problem.

What's the solution?

Whatever Blizzard decides on doing, it needs to happen now, before we have another Grim Patron/Undertaker Hunter situation on our hand. Shifting Innervate to Standard is a good solution, but I honestly believe that the two most offensive cards: Spreading Plague and Ultimate Infestation need to additionally be directly nerfed. Possible solutions:
Related image

  • Ultimate Infestation: 8 Mana - Deal 5 Damage, Summon a 5/5 Ghoul, Gain 5 Armor - This completely removes the card draw from the card, but still keeps it as a decent card, considering that Firelands portal is basically "Deal 5 Damage, Summon a 5/5", and is considered a good card for 7 mana. 
  • Ultimate Infestation: 10 Mana. Deal 4 Damage, Summon a 4/4 Ghoul, Gain 4 Armor, Draw 4 Cards - This keeps the card draw but reduces all of the effects by 1. Honestly, I think it needs to go even further and reduce card draw to 3, but that would be a bit of overkill.
  • Spreading Plague: 5 Mana. Summon a 1/5 Scarab with Taunt. If your Opponent Has More Minions, Repeat up to Two Times - This caps out the number of Scarabs that can be summoned at 3, which still provides a tool for defensive druid decks, but doesn't become absurdly powerful when combo'd with board buff spells.
  • Spreading Plague: 4 Mana. Summon a 1/2 Scarab with Taunt for each enemy minion - Sound familiar? This is basically Protect the King, a Warrior card that never saw play. 1/1 Tokens are pretty terrible, so buffing them up to 1/2 means that they can't just be whirlwinded away, but still die to big AOE effects like Flamestrike or Holy Nova (as they should).

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Review: Aven Colony (Video)

Hey guys! Had a bunch of free time on my hands this week so thought I would experiment with a video review. Haven't done one of these since waaaay back in 2012 with Dishonored so I'm trying the format out again.

I would really appreciate as much feedback as you can offer on this one. Is it too long? Too negative? Is the quality of the video bad? Please leave comments!


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Who "Won" E3 This Year?

Hey guys. This is the first E3 in four years that I'm not working the show. It was nice to be actually able to sit back, relax, and simply enjoy the announcements as a consumer, rather than have to feverishly write everything up as a journalist, scouring the internet for even the tiniest morsels of new news. Now that all of the major companies have had their say, I've decided to do a little wrap-up. I hope you enjoy it!
Every year, there is this big debate over who "won" E3. It generally refers to the company that had the biggest showing of games people want to play, with the press conference that really ups the wow factor, and with the most down-to-earth attitude towards their fanbase. It's traditionally been a contest between the "big three" (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) but these days Bethesda, EA and Ubisoft also throw their hats in the ring. To understand who won, lets first have a look at who lost.

Loser #1 (the worst loser): Sony

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Sony was unquestionably the "winner" of last year's E3, with a very strong showing of powerhouse games like the Final Fantasy VII remake, and a very consumer friendly approach that seemed to rebuff Microsoft's anti-consumer tenancies at every turn. This year, as well as having an incredibly lackluster assortment of games to show, with the Shadow of The Colossus remake being the only really new thing shown, they also took the "dick move of the show" award by refusing to do cross-play with Microsoft and Nintendo. Here is what Sony's Jim Ryan literarlly said when confronted about Sony's lack of cross-play with Minecraft and Rocket League:
"Yeah. We've got to be mindful of our responsibility to our install base. Minecraft - the demographic playing that, you know as well as I do, it's all ages but it's also very young. We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation curated universe. Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it's something we have to think about very carefully."
Yes, you heard that right, they don't want to do cross-play because "think of the children!" Even Nintendo, who have refused to do stuff like region-free gaming or online voice chat for the longest time due to "the children!" excuse are doing cross-play, while Sony isn't. Dick move Sony.

Loser #2: Bethesda

Hey guys, do you remember when Bethesda made a game called Skyrim? Bethesda sure does! Skyrim is coming to the Switch! I also hope you like VR because there's a fucktone of VR shit coming, even if you don't want it. There's a sequel to a game that no-one really cared about. Oh and remember paid mods, that clusterfuck of a dumb idea that turned Bethesda and Valve's reputation to shit? Well they are back, but we've disguised them as the "Creation Club". The only saving grace from Bethesda was Wolfenstein 2, which looks pretty fucking cool.

Loser #3: EA Games

"Hey lets just pump out a billion sequels to all of our successful franchises." EA's conference was so boring and uneventful that the only thing I can actually remember off the top of my head was that Battlefront 2 looked pretty alright, but at this point you could slap a Star Wars logo on a turd sandwich and it would still sell gangbusters.

Loser #4: Microsoft

The biggest thing to come out of Microsoft's conference was of course the Xbox One X: the final version of "Project Scorpio". For $499 US, it claims to bring 4k 60FPS gaming to the lowly console peasants. Most of the games they showed off with it were pretty meh, a bunch of sequels to games like Forza, Crackdown, and Metro. However, Microsoft revealed two pretty big showstoppers during their conference. The first was Dragon Ball Fighter Z, which looks fucking amazing in 4K 60FPS and was the best game to show off the Xbox One X's tech. It is also being made by Arc System Works as a proper fighting game, and has a lot of FG fans super pumped up. This game is likely to become the new Street Fighter or Marvel Vs. Capcom as a competitive gaming staple, and as a Dragonball Z fan, that makes me super happy.
The second amazing game that Microsoft revealed was an indie game called The Last Night. This is the game I have been dreaming about ever since I first saw Bladerunner. It's a 2.5D pixelated cyberpunk platformer, set in a world where automation has replaced pretty much all labor and humans live for pleasure alone. The creator of the game fell into some bullshit controversy hole with manufactured outrage from social justice warriors, but it hasn't really done anything to mar the game's reputation or anticipation.

Loser #5: Ubisoft

Ubisoft is not so much of a loser as it is "not a winner". It actually had a pretty decent showing. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle came waaaaay out of left field, but looks super fun. They also finally, finally revealed the long-in-development Beyond Good and Evil 2, a game that fans have been waiting for for way too long. It's seriously the Half-Life 3 of the company. The rest was fairly predictable but inoffensive: a Far Cry sequel, an Assassin's Creed sequel, and some other little stuff. Ubisoft would have totally won E3 this year if it wasn't for the next company on this list...

Winner: Nintendo

The Switch, despite having a grand total of... zero worthwhile exclusive games (both Zelda and Mario Kart are available on Wii U), has a lot of ground to cover if it wants people to take it seriously. The Wii U suffered greatly from the problem of game drought - there simply weren't enough regular releases of new, worthwhile games to justify the console. My Wii U sat for months without being played while I patiently awaited the next big game. Nintendo took to E3 swinging this year, showing us a lot of games to get excited for.

Super Mario Odyssey looks freaking amazing, and is out in October. You can become a dinosaur. You can become a goomba. You can become a taxi. New Yoshi and Kirby assure us that there will be a steady flow of new Nintendo content through 2018. Exciting third-party partnerships, like the aforementioned Mario + Rabbids and a Rocket League port shows that Nintendo is finally opening the door to third-parties, which will help with the game drought problem.
But the biggest announcements from the company were ones that didn't even have trailers. Metroid Prime 4 was revealed with simply a logo, but absolutely stole the show. This is a game fans have waited ten years for. Alongside the news of another traditional Metroid game for 3DS, it was certainly a good year to be a Samus fan.

The other huge news was a confirmation that a "core series" Pokemon game was coming to the Switch. You heard that right, Nintendo finally broke the glass. We got literally no other information on it, but that was more than enough to drive fans into a fervor. The idea of a Pokemon RPG, or even a Pokemon MMO in glorious console HD seems incredible. It also adds fuel to the fire that Nintendo plans to abandon the 3DS line, and simply push the Switch as both its home console and handheld focus.
So that's why I think Nintendo won E3 this year. If you disagree, be sure to let me know in the comments.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Prey Ending Explained, Deconstructed, and Analyzed

Warning: before reading any further, you should know that this article contains heavy Prey spoilers. If you haven't already finished the game, you really should go and do that first.

So Prey's ending, or rather, endings, have left many fans scratching their heads thinking "what the heck just happened?" While it did consist of a rather cool twist, a lot of questions remained unanswered, and a lot of new ones are raised. We won't fully know exactly what the ending meant until the inevitable sequel, but for now, we can analyse the endings and come to some conclusions.

Prey technically has three "main" endings with a handful of variants, and two "true" post-credits endings that vary (ever so slightly) depending on the choices you made in the game. We will look at each ending one-by-one, try to explain them, and then finish up with an overall explanation at the end to try and tie up all the loose ends.

The December Ending: Escape in Alex's Escape Pod

This ending is presented to you fairly early on in the game, and can actually be completed as soon as you get access to the arboretum and crew quarters. If you follow this ending, a rogue operator named December claims that January, the operator with your voice who has been your guide for the game, is lying to you. December offers you an alternate to going through with January's plan to destroy Talos I - just high-tail it out of there in Alex Yu's secret escape pod.

If you go through with this ending, however, all that happens is your screen turns black, and you hear Alex lamenting you for "giving up". He then tells someone that "This isn't the one, start over," and you are prompted to reload an earlier save.

The Explanation: This is a false ending. In order to understand this ending you have to finish one of the other main endings that reveals that you are in fact a Typhon experiencing Morgan Yu's memories. In this ending you opted to escape rather than finish the simulation, which is why Alex simply "restarts" the simulation by having you load an earlier save.

The Alex Yu Ending: Destroy All Typhon

Towards the end of the game Alex Yu reveals an alternative plan to January's "destroy Talos I and everyone on it" solution. By scanning the Typhon coral, you're able to develop a kind of omega Nullwave transmitter that will kill all of the Typhon while keeping the station intact. The only "person" you will have to kill is January, who refuses to let you deploy the Nullwave transmitter unless you destroy him. This is usually considered the good ending, because by following this ending you automatically save everyone left on the ship, destroy the Typhon, and preserve all of the scientific advancements of Talos I. 

Completing this ending will lead you into one of the two "true" ending scenarios after the credits role.

The Explanation: Read on to the "true" endings to understand what this ending means.

The January Ending: Destroy Talos I

January's plan throughout the whole game, which he insist is your plan, is to simply get a hold of Morgan and Alex's arming keys and force Talos I's nuclear reactor to detonate, destroying the entire station and everything on it. If you choose to follow this ending, there are actually quite a few variants you can follow. 

No matter what happens, Alex dies, as he opts to go down with the ship. You can also opt to go down with the ship, and bring all of the other Talos I survivors with you. Or, you can save and reprogram Dahl so that he can pilot the shuttle containing you and the other survivors to safety. Or, you can simply get the heck out of dodge and take Alex's escape pod, leaving the rest of the survivors to perish in the explosion. Note that choosing to escape means you'll also have to destroy January, as he wants everyone to go down with the ship.

Completing this ending will lead you into one of the two "true" ending scenarios after the credits role.

The Explanation: Read on to the "true" endings to understand what this ending means.

True Ending 1: Failure

After the credits role is when the weird shit starts to happen. If you did the Alex Yu or January endings (any variant), you'll be presented with a post credits scene in which Alex and four operators representing the major human characters on Talos I are gathered around you. You are strapped to a chair, and going by your wavy black tentacle arms, are a Typhon Phantom. Alex and the operators then run down a summary of all the big decisions you made throughout the game.

In this ending, Alex laments that the experiment was a failure, and you refused to show enough compassion. This is usually achieved by killing, or causing to be killed, the other human survivors on Talos I. You are then terminated, and the game ends.

The Explanation: Surprise! You're not actually Morgan Yu. You are a Typhon, and the entirety of the game has simply been a simulation of the real Morgan Yu's memories of the Typhon incident. The goal of the experiment was to try and instil human empathy and emotion into a Typhon, in order for both of the races to understand each other better, and you failed by being a psychopath. Sorry!

True Ending 2: Success

This is what I believe to be the canon, "best" ending of the game. This ending is the same as True Ending 1, but instead of being terminated by Alex, he and the operators offer you praise. To get this ending, you generally have to be the good guy throughout the whole game, by saving and helping the survivors on board Talos I.

Alex then shows you the real world. It's San Francisco, completely covered in Typhon coral. If you were paying attention, the game alluded to this with the visions it showed you when installing certain neuromods, or scanning certain Typhon. In the real world, the Typhon made it back to Earth, and are hard at work taking it over. 

He then gives you a choice. He believes that the experiment was a success, and he has succeeded in putting some humanity into you, a Typhon. If you think he's right, you can take his hand and offer to help. When you do this, you see your hand morph into a human one, showing the first step towards friendly Typhon/human relations. Or you can just choose to kill everyone. You monster.

The Final Explanation: 

Okay, so now we are finally at the end of all of the endings, and we can analyse what the hell just happened. The first thing we need to know is that the real Morgan Yu is dead, as are all of the other "survivors" from Talos I. What we can assume actually happened is that the real Morgan tried to stop the Typhon, either via Alex's plan or January's plan, and failed. Either he was killed by the Typhon, or killed by Dahl, or his plan didn't work, or something else happened. Alex, meanwhile, was able to escape - most likely on his personal escape pod - when the shit really hit the fan. The Typhon also make it back to earth somehow.

Alex then at some point, presumably on earth but possibly on another space station given he's still wearing his Transtar uniform, captures a Typhon phantom (perhaps even the Typhon phantom that rose from Morgan's corpse) and submits it to his experiment, alongside a group of operators instilled with the voices and memories of Talos I's former crew.

Alex believes the only way to save the world is for Typhon and human to coexist, and you are a result of that belief. He says that they spent so long putting "them" into "us", they never thought to put "us" into "them". Showing compassion, getting the True Ending 2, and choosing to side with the humans, is the "good ending," as it alludes to a future where things are patched up and everything goes back to normal (ish).

However, not every video game takes the "good" ending to be the "canon" one, as games like X-COM 2 memorably showed us.

Despite all of this, some questions still remain unanswered.

Who was December? As Alex says the whole thing is based on Morgan's actual memories of the situation, we can assume that December was real. So was December telling Morgan the truth, or was January?

What did the real Morgan try to do? Did he try to follow January's plan or Alex's? Or did he follow December's plan and book it out of there? Perhaps he's even still alive, or maybe he is the reason the Typhon made it back to earth?

How did the Typhon get back to earth? They were isolated on Talos I, and it looks like Alex was the only one who made it off. So either they hitched a ride with Alex, or brought the whole station with them. I find it hard to believe that earth wouldn't just nuke Talos I from orbit if it started flying towards it.

These questions may not be answered until Prey 2, but it's certainly fun to speculate!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Overwatch: an In-Depth Guide to Reinhardt

Hey guys! I've got some good news, and some bad news. The bad news is that due to a cut in budget, The Escapist has cancelled my current contract. I won't be writing for them for the foreseeable future (unless, of course, the same thing that happened last year happens, and they realize I make up the vast majority of their news views and hire me back next month...) That means for the moment, I'm back on the freelance market! The good news is that it's given me some time to pursue other projects.

The first of which is a collaboration with my good friend Kyle Best to produce a series of Overwatch guides. Here is the first in the series: Reinhardt. I hope you enjoy it!

Next up will be Zennyatta. We hope to cover all of the game's 24 playable heroes.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

C'thun and You: What Whispers of The Old Gods Means For Hearthstone

The ancient ones are upon us. C’thun, Yogg-Saron and the rest of their Old God buddies have infested Hearthstone, and with the release of their expansion: Whispers of The Old Gods, are bringing some big changes to the game. It’s easily the most significant update to the game since launch, and both new and old players alike will have to familiarize themselves to what’s new. Let’s have a look at what the arrival of the Old Gods mean for the game.

First and most significantly, when Whispers of The Old Gods launches on April 26, it will kick off the “Year of The Kraken”, splitting Hearthstone into two distinct formats of play: Wild and Standard. Wild will essentially be “classic” Hearthstone, allowing players to make decks from all cards that have ever been released for the game. Standard, on the other hand, will restrict players to making decks only out of cards that have been released in the last year, as well as the base and classic sets. In the case of this year - The Year of The Kraken - only cards from Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament, League of Explorers and Whispers of The Old Gods will be legal.

Both formats will have access to the ranked, casual and practice game modes, while The Arena will only be available in the Wild format. Additionally, “retired” cards - in this case cards from Naxxramas and Goblins vs. Gnomes, will no longer become purchasable with money. The only way to obtain them will be to craft them with arcane dust.

“Yes Steven, we understand, new formats, now hurry up and get to the new bloody cards!” I hear you screech. Hold on a minute! Before we look at the new cards, we have to check out the nerfs. Whispers of The Old Gods introduces more nerfs to old cards than the total number of nerfs the game has received since launch. Wowza! A whopping twelve cards from the classic and basic sets have been nerfed, including old staples like Ironbeak Owl, Big Game Hunter and Mountain Giang, as well as some class specific cards like Force of Nature and Hunter's mark. A lot of these nerfs were to cards that limited future design space, and indeed, quite a few of Whispers of The Old Gods coolest cards couldn’t exist with these cards in their current state!
R.I.P Combo Druid
Check out the official website for more info on the nerfs. As a note, when the nerfs go live, you’ll be able to disenchant all of the affected cards for their full dust value. I highly recommend doing this if you aren’t going to immediately use the cards, as you’ll always be able to craft them back if you need them!

Right, moving on. Easily, the most interesting cards of WotoG are the Old Gods themselves. Each has a very unique effect, are supplemented by supporting minions, and have a very specific deck archetype in mind. C’thun for example, is built around his “followers”, who will buff up his stats whether he is in your hand, your deck, or even in play. A lot of these minions are “understatted”, meaning that C’thun decks will be very slow decks that sacrifice their early game in exchange for unleashing a devastating C’thun finisher. He is sure to be a favourite for control priests and warriors!

Yogg-Sarron casts a random spell (at a random target) for every spell you have cast that game. Mages and Rogues, who build decks based on having lots of cheap, frequent spells, will be able to drop this Old God as another finisher, although he is a lot less reliable than his buddy C’thun…
Each of the four old gods has a very unique effect.

Y’shaarjis much more of a general use type Old God, and is the kind of card that can be put into control heavy decks without having to worry about being supplemented too much. He brings out a minion every turn he is in play, and has a devastating attack, making him a big-bodied threat in the same vein as Ysera.

Finally, N’zoth, rather than creating something completely new, simply supplements the “deathrattle” playstyle. Even with only a handful of powerful deathrattle minions, like Sylvanas and Tirion Fordring, he has considerable value.

The general theme of this expansion is slow. While prior expansions have favored fast, “rush” or “aggro” style decks, the Old Gods are clearly about biding your time to build up a massive, killer finisher. Many of the neutral and class legendaries, like Deathwing, Dragonlord, Malkorok and Cho’gallalso support control-heavy playstyles. Hunter in particular, which has always been a very aggro-oriented class, has been given quite a few tools to make a sort of control deathrattle N’zoth hunter viable, like Forlorn Stalker and Infest.

In terms of the overall “winner” of the expansion, I’m gonna have to go with Shaman, Only two cards with “overload” were introduced, and they are actually quite sensibly statted. They were given an overload unlock alternative to Lava Shock with Eternal Sentinel and Hallazeal The Ascended will make lightning storming a full board also give you a considerable heal.
Finally an "underload" alternative to Lava Shock!
Warrior also got some super interesting cards like Blood Warriors and Blood to Ichor, while the Paladin’s Vilefin Inquisitor makes an all-murloc deck somewhat viable. Druid’s legendary, Fandral Staghelm makes the nerfs to Ancient of Lore and Keeper of The Grove make sense, and is an incredibly powerful card. Even Mage got some crazy good cards like Faceless Summoner, and Warlock got the hilarious “Warlock is too hard, let me play another class”-card: Renounce Darkness.

The two classes that got the shaft were Rogue and Priest. Both of these classes lost a lot of their most powerful tools with the expansion, either in the change to standard format (Velen’s Chosen and Lightbomb for Priest) or the base and classic card nerfs (Blade Flurry for Rogue), and neither were given what they need to compensate. I predict that these two will be the weakest classes in the upcoming new meta, while Mage, Shaman, and Warrior should take the top spots.

As for the expansion’s neutral cards, there are way too many to list here, but they include a lot of interesting ideas, such as Blood of The Ancient One - a kind of win condition in of itself, Shifter Zerus - Unstable Portal: the minion, and Eater of Secrets- a hard counter to those pesky secret Paladins!

Will either win you the game or be completely useless...
The folks over at Hearthpwn have put together a full list of all the new cards if you want the full rundown. Whispers of The Old Gods is probably the most interesting thing to ever happen to Hearthstone, and will hopefully be the jolt the game needs to kickstart its rather stale competitive meta. I’m excited, and you should be too!

I'll leave you with some of my favorite cards from the upcoming set, in no particular order:

Thanks for reading guys! I would really appreciate if you could, share, Tweet, reddit or just get this article out there to as many folks as possible; I want people to know that even though I don't work at The Escapist anymore, I'm still honing my craft, and willing to put out freelance articles to wherever is needed.