R.I.P. Marvel Heroes

I know, I know, it’s been almost two years since Marvel Heroes was shut down unceremoniously by our cruel overlords at Disney. What’s more, I’ve never actually talked about the game here before. So why now?

Well, since I’m currently quite hyped for Lost Ark but can’t play it yet – Naithin’s glowing tales about the game don’t make it any easier either – I was looking for a somewhat similar substitute (an accidental alliteration, awesome). That’s when I realized that of all games I’ve ever played Marvel Heroes might have been the one with the most similarities to Lost Ark, at least in some regards.

Of course I can’t play MH either, what with it having been shut down and all. Sucks to be me I guess.

Anyway, what I can do is give the game a proper, if belated, fairwell. It’s the least it deserves because it was a really great game, and whatever reasons they had for pulling the plug, the gaming world is the poorer for it.

MH_Title

By all accounts the game wasn’t actually that good when it released in 2013. I wouldn’t know because I only started to play in July 2015, and it had been heavily improved upon by then. I picked Iron Man as my first hero and had a blast from the get-go.

Of course the MCU train had accelerated to full speed at that time and I was eager to play my favourite heroes, so the game obviously got bonus points for that. But to give credit where it’s due, they got the look and feel of characters like Captain America, The Punisher and the aforementioned Iron Man just right in my opinion.

Cap’s shield attacks, for example, felt really strong and impactful. Of all ARPG melee characters I’ve tried he was the most satisfying.

MH_Klong
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about

The ranged characters also had some cool tricks up their sleeves, my favourite being ‘beam weaving’. The term was invented by the community and referred to skills you channeled by holding down the corresponding hotkey and aimed with the mouse. You basically weaved the beam/bullets/whatever over the enemies until they were all dead, like Iron Man does here. Fun stuff.

MH_Beams
Basically like this, just more effective

What really set the game apart from pretty much every other game I’ve ever played was how much mayhem was going on at all times.

MH_Mayhem
This is actually a rather tame example, unfortunately I don’t have a better one

So many enemies, so many effects, so much loot. The game almost felt like a bullet hell shooter, except that you usually didn’t die from just one hit. ‘Patrol zones’ were the most intense in this regard because those weren’t instanced just for you or your group. Consequently, whenever you spotted a boss spawn on the map you could be sure that at least half a dozen other players were already there, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it. Of course those encounters’ difficulty was tuned accordingly, so you had to be quick on your feet to dodge telegraphs, take care of countless adds and burn down the boss at the same time.

MH_Boss down
And here I thought Path of Exile showers players with boots…err…loot

It could be almost stressful at times, frantically zipping from one bossfight or ring event to the next (noticed that Next Event timer on the screenshot above?), hoovering up tons of loot and reward-containers with even more loot, until the inventory was completely full and you had to take a break to manage all that stuff. But it was a lot of fun and felt pretty epic.

I quite liked the graphics too. The style was, unsurprisingly, somewhat comic-like, but not too colourful for my taste. Most heroes’ default costumes were modeled after their classic (read: old) looks from the comics though. If you wanted them to resemble their MCU counterparts or more modern comic versions you needed to be extremely lucky with costume drops or buy them in the cash shop.

MH_Costumes
Default Cap and Rocket on the left, Avengers-The-Movie Cap on the right

I was ok with that though because the payment model was pretty fair overall. As far as I remember there were no P2W aspects, and many shop items could also be earned by playing a reasonable amount of time, additional heroes being a good example. Of which there were 63 towards the end, so there was something for everyone, and you could level every single one of them up to level 10 before deciding whether to unlock them or not.

MH_City
One of these in-engine cinematic moments that remind me of Lost Ark

Another unique feature the game had – unique among ARPGs that is – were raids. I didn’t experience these myself, but from what I’ve seen they provided series of bossfights for groups of ten people, much akin to raids in MMORPGs. As per usual for such types of content the gear requirements were pretty high, which is why my rather casual way of playing the game didn’t get me there in time, but I would have loved to smack those bosses with a big round chunk of vibranium in the face.

Overall I didn’t spend a huge amount of time with the game despite all its virtues, at least when compared to the countless hours I’ve sunk into Path of Exile and Diablo II. I think the main reason for that is the aforementioned stress level the game tended to induce, which was a bit too much for me at times. Still, it was a great game and I miss it a lot.

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Looking forward to Lost Ark

I don’t often get hyped for a game before I can actually play it, at least not anymore. As we all know sky-high expectations almost inevitably lead to disappointment, so I’m trying not to fall into that trap.

The gaming industry has given me a helping hand with that in recent years. There just weren’t many game announcements for me to get excited about, sadly. Of course I’m looking forward to Cyberpunk 2077 though. I mean, who isn’t? But even in this case I’d describe my current feelings as mild to medium anticipation rather than anything resembling hype.

Cyberpunk_Keanu
More Keanu is always a good thing though

So nobody was more surprised than myself when I stumbled upon this video review of a Korean game called Lost Ark, and somewhere in the middle of watching it I already wanted to play that game right fucking now!

The funny thing is, I’d actually been aware of the game’s existence because I’d read about it over at MOP a couple of times, but somehow I hadn’t quite grasped what kind of game it actually is. The fact that we can’t play it here in the west without jumping through some serious hoops surely helped with filing it away under not interested without a second thought.

Thanks to Quin’s review I now know that it might be the almost perfect game for me.

LostArk_Gameplay

Lost Ark seems to be, at its heart, an Action RPG like Path of Exile or Diablo. So far, so good for my taste. However it has some qualities that no other ARPG I know does, most of which borrow heavily from MMORPGs. My favourite genres rolled into one nice package? Count me in!

Keep in mind though that I haven’t played it myself. All knowledge I have about the game comes from the videos linked throughout this post as well as a few others, so I might have misinterpreted some details. Also, most of the videos aren’t exactly recent and stuff might have changed already.

Anyhow, here’s why I’m anxious to play the game and hope for a western release, which unfortunately hasn’t been officially announced yet at the time of this writing.

LostArk_Map

The game world is huge and can be traversed and explored quite freely. It’s not an open, seamless world however, as the individual areas are all instanced. Still, I think compared to its peers this one should feel much more like a world rather than just an assortment of zones. The fact that you travel from continent to continent by boat and discover islands and who knows what else during your journeys adds a real sense of exploration and adventure, which is also lacking in most ARPGs.

LostArk_Fishing

Lifeskills! OMG, the game has lifeskills. There’s a whole talent tree that’s seperate from combat stuff and solely dedicated to six different forms of gathering: herbing, fishing, mining, archaeology, woodcutting and hunting. Apparently each character can learn all of them, but I assume that if you want to get really good at one you need to specialize.

What little I know about the skills themselves does sound pretty cool, obviously the devs weren’t content with doing your typical run-of-the-mill stuff. Mining, for example, doesn’t just let you mine rocks, you can also learn the ability to blow up certain obstructions and thus get access to resources you couldn’t reach otherwise. Or how about fishing without having to hold your rod all day, placing traps and bait instead? I like it.

LostArk_Siege

One thing I really dig and that I haven’t seen on this scale in any RPG whatsoever until now is epicness, for lack of a better word. Here are two good examples (I can’t for the life of me manage to embed the videos with a predetermined starting point, so I’ll just use links for you to click):

Watch at least 30 seconds of this clip for some epic siege goodness. A bit later on there’s more cool stuff as well.

Here you will see about 25 seconds of environmental destruction and oh crap moments. I highly recommend the video as a whole too, as it is an entertaining summary of how the first few hours of the game look and feel.

The only games I’ve played to date that have this kind of in-engine epic moments are the Uncharted titles and GTA V, but even those don’t have literally hundres of units on screen. Scattered across various videos I’ve also seen player characters riding zip lines, floating platforms and mine carts, jump over ravines, mount strange beasts and lots of other crazy stuff. Pretty impressive. Also, this:

LostArk_Mech

Then there’s the fantastic training room which lets you check out every subclass or ability before you make your decisions. You can spawn waves of mobs and even bosses so you can actually test everything in a somewhat real environment instead of just hitting thin air or training dummies. This is so great, I wonder why hardly any RPG has something like it.

What about content? There’s reportedly lots of stuff to do for PvE- as well as PvP-oriented players. Dungeons, raids, world bosses, instanced PvP, island PvP (whatever that is) and more. You can also have an island of your own, but I couldn’t find out what you can do with it.

Progression systems are supposedly more akin to those of MMOs than ARPGs, but I don’t know what that means exactly. Some people even feel that Lost Ark isn’t an ARPG at all, but rather an MMORPG that happens to be played in isometric perspective. If so that’s fine by me too.

LostArk_Boss

There are also some cons. Aren’t there always?

Many activities in the game are gated by a minimum ilvl. I hated that in FFXIV, and it will almost certainly piss me off here too at some point.

A lot of abilities have quite long animations which lock you in place. Since there’s a total of 12 classes with even more to come I just hope I’ll be able to pick a couple that suit my playstyle.

There’s other bits and pieces like genderlocked classes or weird pathfinding, but nothing too serious or even gamebreaking from my perspective.

Overall the game sounds right up my alley. I really hope it comes to the west, and soon. You hear that, folks at Smilegate? That’s soon as in soon, not as in soon™. Can’t wait!

A shoutout to Quin69, TheLazyPeon and ZiggyD for their awesome videos. Thanks guys!

2018 in review

My only gaming-related resolution for this year was to stop playing stuff when it isn’t fun anymore, and I adhered to that. Looking back I can say that, yes, I indeed had more fun and less headaches with gaming overall due to that, so mission accomplished.

One consequence was that I alternated between games even more than I did in the past. While that’s not an inherently bad thing it means that I still haven’t found a proper home game.

That being said, for the last two and a half weeks I’ve played the heck out of Black Desert Online again after shelving it in April, and I’m having tremendous fun right now.

2019_BD1
To boldly go…where I hadn’t gone before. More on that soonish.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

From January to April I played mostly Black Desert and EVE Online. In BDO I was very excited about the adventures that I had, and also about gathering, cooking and crafting. In EVE we had some great fights and participated in moon mining for the first time.

2019_EVE
But mostly we just kept shooting stuff

I also mused about randomness, player made music  and non-consensual PvP in MMOs.

In April I started to play Path of Exile again, which absolutely dominated my playtime until mid-August. I talked about how much fun I have playing summoner characters, playing the Incursion challenge league and things that I love about the game in general.

2019_PoE
I also killed Queen Atziri for the first time…only 4 1/2 years late

In June I celebrated my blog’s first birthday.

In August two things happened. One: the venerable Belghast revived Blaugust, and I signed up intending to reach the goal of posting every day during that month, which I managed to do. Two: I returned to Everquest II after a break of almost seven years. I fell in love with it again and wrote quite a bunch of posts about it since then.

2019_EQ2
The terrific ‘Crafting Epic 2.0’ netted me this sweet mount a couple weeks ago

During Blaugust I also talked about playing American Football, our participation in EVE’s Alliance Tournament and some more MMO-related stuff like level scaling, soloing and faction grinds.

In November International Picture Posting Month came along, and I posted a couple of themed screenshot collections.

During the year I also expanded my fledgeling columns Memorable Moments, where I share gaming related adventures I had that are special to me, and Stay awhile and listen, thoughts about music that I like.

As I said in the beginning I recently picked up Black Desert again, but I also still play EQII and EVE regularly.

The gaming industry in general and MMO industry in particular gave us a crapton of headscratchers and serious fuckups this year, I think more so than in any other year before. I don’t want to talk about that though, this is supposed to be a positive post after all.

Ok, well, I’ll just say this: yes, Blizzard, I indeed do have a phone, but that’s none of your goddamn business because in my opinion quality games and fucking phones don’t have anything to do with each other!

Anyway. I don’t really have any resolutions for 2019 except continuing to have fun doing what I love, and I feel exceptionally blessed that, barring any disasters happening to me, I’ll be able to do just that.

I wish you all a happy and above all healthy year 2019!

Memorable Moments – Chapter Three

Most people are pretty averse to suffering significant penalties for dying in the games they play. While you always see folks demanding games to become challenging and ‘hardcore’ again in forums and on reddit, whenever such a game comes along next to nobody actually wants to play it.

All things considered I’m definitely no advocate for full looting or permadeath myself, but there’s no denying that a higher risk provides for much more excitement and a greater feeling of accomplishment if you succeed.

Which brings me to a tremendously thrilling rescue mission I undertook more than 20 years ago that I still remember very vividly and fondly.

It was somewhere between autumn ’97 and spring ’98. Two friends of mine and I were still playing a lot of Diablo. We’d regularly schlep our PCs (along with those bulky CRT monitors we had back then) to our computer club to play together.

Multiplayer characters in Diablo had one special ‘feature’, possibly to up the ante in PvP duels: when you died every single one of your equipped items would drop fountainlike to the ground, to be picked up by either yourself – provided you managed to fight your way back there without them – or by anyone else. While the irony of the heroes becoming a loot piñata for once wasn’t lost on us we were always a bit on edge due to this. Fortunately whenever one of us died the others were usually there to the rescue.

We had the game’s three classes divided between us. I played the Warrior, one guy the Rogue and my then best buddy the Sorcerer. The latter was by far the most powerful class for most encounters in the game, and he’d always talk shit to me (in jest) because I had to, you know, walk up to the monsters and actually hit them with my sword one by one like a barbarian, while he could set a whole room on fire with a flick of his fingers.

Diablo_Fire
He’s such a showoff!  [All screenshots found on Google]
There were two types of monsters though that the Sorcerer had a very hard time against: Blood Knights and Azure Drakes. Both melee mobs who, at the time, were completely immune to fire and lightning, the only two spell damage types in the game. His spells rendered useless the Sorcerer could pretty much do nothing but angrily wave his walking stick at them. Of course the Rogue and I were always happy when they appeared because those were our rare moments to shine.

One day in the late afternoon I was sitting at home doing whatever when my phone rang. It was the Sorcerer, and he said “Pack your stuff and get your ass down here, I’m in big trouble!”.

Turned out he had died to a bunch of Azure Drakes and tried, unsuccessfully, to get his stuff back on his own a couple of times. In doing so he had led the monsters closer and closer to the staircase leading down to that level. Now the whole gang sat right at those stairs and just waited to eat him alive should he try again.

Diablo_AzureDrake
A terrifying sight for sure

Of course my first reaction was the one you would expect from a good friend: I laughed and made fun of him. “The mighty Sorcerer has died? No way! Now you need, of all people, MY help?? Impossible!!”

Then I packed my stuff and got my ass down to the club. Meanwhile the Rogue had also arrived by coincidence, but decided after looking at the Sorcerer’s screen, where his most recent body was still being swarmed by those drakes, that this was indeed a job for the Warrior.

In theory my task was easy enough. Join his game, walk down those stairs and immediately start klicking as fast as I can while chugging health potions like crazy. Just one problem: had I failed and died both our full sets of gear would’ve been irreplaceably lost.

I hesitated. What tipped the scales was the Rogue agreeing to lend me a sword he’d found a while before, with the stat combo most coveted by every Warrior: a King’s Sword of Haste.

Diablo_KSoH
Just one power level shy of The Sword Of A Thousand Truths

With that beauty I shouldn’t have too much of a hard time killing those pesky drakes. Theoretically. Hopefully. Maybe.

I wish someone else had been there to take a photo of this: me sitting there, sweaty hands cramped around mouse and keyboard, the Sorcerer and Rogue standing to my left and right, anxiously staring at my screen. We remained like this for what felt like an eternity and must have looked like a still life.

Finally I gave myself a push and klicked on the stairs.

As expected I was swarmed the moment the level had finished loading, and I started swinging that sword like a madman. The first drake died, then the second, and another one. My health dipped every now and then, but potions in Diablo were instant and I never dropped to a critical level.

After what must have been less than a minute it was all over. The drakes were dead and the way to the Sorcerer’s precious items clear. We let go a huge collective sigh of relief. He picked up his gear, I gave back the sword and we decided that we’d had enough excitement for one day. If I remember correctly we celebrated by getting ourselves a nice, unhealthy meal at our favourite greek fast food place and headed home pretty soon afterwards.

Like I said in the beginning, I don’t really miss the danger of losing all my stuff in today’s games, but I do miss these kinds of great adventures that would’ve never occurred without such mechanics. Quite a dilemma, isn’t it?

92!

Not very long ago I talked about having reached level 91 in Path of Exile, a level I’d never thought I might achieve in that game. Well…

PoE_Lvl92

Unfortunately there was so much going on – as you can see – that I didn’t manage to press the screenshot button while the golden beam of light announcing my awesomeness was still…err…beaming.

Anyway, the build is still a lot of fun, and the XP bar still keeps on moving. Not quite finished yet…

IntPiPoMo picture count: 1 (this post); 27 (total)

Quo vadis, Blizzard?

I initially didn’t want to talk about this, and now I’m way late to the party. I realized that I need to get it out of my system though, so here goes. There will be bits of strong language in this one.

Seriously Blizzard, what the fuck?

I’m of course talking about BlizzCon and Blizzard’s unfathomable decision to present Diablo Immortal, a title for mobile devices, during the first and thus main presentation on their ‘mythic stage’ – and absolutely nothing else Diablo related.

Seriously, this is what they expected their hardcore fans, who had spent a good amount of time and money to be there, to get really excited about. It didn’t quite pan out as they seem to have imagined.

Well, who could’ve known, right? It’s not like the vast majority of people attending BlizzCon are used to playing high quality games on PC and crave only one thing: more of that, just bigger and better.

The assembled Diablo fanbase basically wanted to see one of the following things (or, preferably, all of them):

Diablo IV on PC; new content for Diablo III; a high quality remaster of Diablo II on PC.

Had Blizzard announced at least one of those after their Immortal thing, this would’ve been a wholly different story. Personally I wouldn’t have cared much about the former two, as Path of Exile sates my needs for a modern ARPG well enough, but I’d devour a good DII remaster, that’s for sure.

DII
It’s astonishing how much nostalgia fits into 800×600 pixels

This isn’t the first time Blizzard comes across as tone-deaf, indifferent and even arrogant towards their playerbase though. As I’ve said before their attitude of ‘we know better what you want than you do’ has effectively kept me from playing WoW when I maybe would’ve at least tried it out at some point otherwise.

Until now this arrogance seemed to have been limited to the people in charge of WoW, at least to me, but right now it’s hard to shake off the feeling that Blizzard as a whole has gone full ‘Shut the fuck up and just buy our shit’-mode.

You see, Starcraft II didn’t fare any better. I bought all three of its collector’s editions at the time, and I’d kill for new story missions. Instead we get more co-op heroes which, of course, cost money but add nothing storywise.

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One of many great ‘holy crap’ moments during the campaign’s missions

Overwatch seems to be the only franchise that’s still handled by people with a healthy portion of love for their own game, which is mostly to ‘Jeff from the Overwatch Team’s credit. Sure, not everything’s perfect over there either, but, again, I can at least feel some kind of connection between the makers, the game and the players here.

Its monetization though…no thanks. I unfortunately have to admit that I bought some of their lootboxes during the game’s first year, but I don’t intend to do so ever again.

Overwatch 2016-08-26 23-57-21-479
My favourite bad guy looks best sporting his default look anyway

For a long time I’ve been one of those people who said ‘Yeah, some of this is bad, but the game is fun, so I just play and ignore everything else’.

Not anymore. During the last couple of years things went from bad to worse in terms of customer friendliness, and I’ve finally decided to draw the line. From now on I’ll boycott the worst offenders.

Yes, I might miss out on some stuff, but you know what? There are other games to play – too many, in fact – and other products to use.

Blizzard and Apple are the first companies who won’t squeeze another buck out of my wallet as long as they don’t manage to genuinely convince me that they value me as a customer again. If enough people do this maybe, just maybe, things might change again.

IntPiPoMo picture count: 3 (this post); 17 (total)

Return of the Firestarter

I hadn’t played any of my non-summoner characters for quite a while in Path of Exile, the main reason being that summoners are just so much fun.

However there are some things I’d rather do with a different type of character. Also, a change of playstyle every now and then keeps things from becoming boring.

So I decided to brush the dust off my level 85 Marauder. I didn’t quite know what to do with him though. Until now I’d always just specced back into his old build that I’d used for over four years and that was quite fun. Unfortunately that build isn’t really viable in today’s endgame content. A couple months ago I tried to do the Eternal Labyrinth with him and couldn’t even beat the first Izaro fight due to lack of damage output.

I did what I always do in this situation: I went to the Classes / Builds forums and browsed various build guides looking for an inspiration. My old build had had a fire theme going and I really wanted to retain that, so I specifically looked out for builds using Molten Strike, a skill that was introduced after I had settled on Infernal Blow back in the day, which seems to be a strong choice if you want to go melee in the current meta.

After a while I stumbled upon a build that not only sounded pretty strong and fun to play, it also utilizes two copies of a unique weapon I just recently found when I killed the Elder (for the first time even): Nebuloch.

PoE_Nebuloch1
I’d rather bugger off than let that thing hit me. Yuck!

When I found it I thought “Well, the bonuses are nice and all, but no way I’m working around that drawback, how’s that even possible?”. Which again shows that I’m not very good at theory crafting, because of course it’s possible. Did I mention that the build dual-wields those bad boys?

The trick is to use items and skill tree abilities that give you a truckload of passive life regeneration in combination with a high fire resistance (which mitigates a lot of that damage, a fact I hadn’t even thought of). That way you can fully benefit from those nice bonuses and don’t even notice the drawback.

So I went to work. Building the passive tree was easy enough, but almost all of the character’s items and gems had to be replaced, and since I don’t have everything the guide suggests at my disposal (and some pieces are quite expensive to trade for too) I had to find substitutions. For starters it works pretty well though. He regenerates almost 600 life per second at the moment, while taking a maximum of about 336 damage per second from Nebuloch.

What I also had to do was complete the Labyrinth once to change his Ascendancy class. He was a Juggernaut before, but for this build the Chieftain is the class of choice.

PoE_Nebuloch4
I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you…

In hindsight it would’ve also been the class of choice for my old build, but, yeah. I’m bad.

For changing your Ascendancy it doen’t matter which difficulty you run the lab on, so I went for Cruel, which is level 55. Although the build is far from finished it went without problems.

And I have to say, Molten Strike really is a great skill. It’s strenght is that while it’s a single target skill it also has an AoE-component in the form of magma balls covering the ground near the initial impact, which can also hit your main target for extra damage. This makes it equally great for clearing packs and killing bosses, you don’t actually need two different skills. I just swap out one support gem depending on the situation.

PoE_Nebuloch2
This is the more-AoE-setup, obviously.

Now I also have a couple of specific goals to persue: get a second Nebuloch, get the rings and a couple of other items suggested in the guide, beat Eternal Lab for those last two ascendancy points.

And get a good looking skin for the maces. Nebuloch doesn’t have it’s own 3D art yet, and the default one-handed mace looks pretty unimpressive even with a fire effect applied to it:

PoE_Nebuloch3
Big man, short…stick.

I’m having much fun already and have done maps up to tier 6 without problems. I’m looking forward to playing the build in it’s full glory. Thanks to FJ for the great guide!