‘Voting with my wallet’ works both ways

It’s no secret that I’d been hoping for and then looking forward to a Diablo II remaster for ages. Again, it is and always will be one of my favourite games period. Even so, with Blizzard being the trainwreck of a company that we now know it to be I initially wasn’t quite sure how to deal with the release of Resurrected.

After the Warcraft III Reforged debacle I definitely wasn’t going to preorder or buy on launch day, no matter how good people’s beta-impressions had been. That much was certain, and I wasn’t tempted to relent for even a second.

But now it’s been officially live for a while and, some server issues during the first few days aside, all reviews I’ve read since then pretty much boil down to “It’s exactly what you wanted, mate. Buy, you fool!!”

So Lakisa and I did just that a couple of days ago. And what can I say, I don’t regret the purchase in the slightest because it is exactly what I wanted.

Which means, the way I see it, that I did in fact vote with my wallet and that, despite rather not wanting to support a company like ActiBlizz for numerous well-known reasons, it still was the right thing to do – maybe not from a moral standpoint, but certainly from a gamer’s standpoint. Not that these are mutually exclusive, mind you, but in this case there’s a big difference in my opinion.

Let me try to explain.

The act of “voting with one’s wallet”, when proposed by gamers to other gamers, usually means not to spend any (or any more) money on a product, thus sending a message of discontent to the developers or publishers – the assumption being that this is the only kind of message that will actually be heard.

For the most part I can’t disagree with this, and I went with that approach myself in some cases, not the least of which when I decided not to give Blizzard – yes, the same Blizzard – any more money unless they’d finally manage to deliver a product again that I’m really, genuinely happy with. That was almost three years ago, right after the infamous Diablo Immortal Blizzcon, and at that point I already hadn’t bought anything with the Blizzard logo on it for at least a year, probably longer. Which means that the forty bucks I paid for Resurrected just now marked the first time in over four years that they made any kind of profit from me.

Of course I could have gone without buying it, thereby not breaking that streak. The original’s still there to play after all, and touched-up graphics, or lack thereof, don’t make or break a great game for me.

But here’s the thing. By not buying any of their stuff for so long I basically told them “You’ll only get my money if you make exactly the game I want”. Now, much to my surprise, they actually went and did just that.

So had I refused to buy this product now, not only would I’ve denied myself the pleasure of playing one of my most beloved games with a really great-looking fresh coat of paint, I’d also have made a mockery of the stance I’ve been taking for years: that I’ll not spend money on their games if I don’t like them, but that I will if I do.

If there’s any hope at all that publishers will continue (or start again) to greenlight and fund the development of games that I want to play, I feel that I’ve got no choice but proving to them that it’s profitable to do so by, well, voting with my wallet.

Here’s hoping that it really does work both ways.

This fall is going to be (a) killer

It’s been almost two years since I stumbled across Lost Ark and wondered when the heck I might be able to get my hands on it. Well, it looks like the wait is almost over now.

Turns out the mysterious-but-not-really publishing deal between Smilegate, the game’s Korean developer, and Amazon was indeed about Lost Ark, and now we know that it’s slated to release in the NA and EU regions “this fall”.

Which is great. Of course my personal hype for the game had waned considerably after hearing a whole lot of nothing about a western release for so long, but I’d still very much like to play it, for all the reasons I’ve talked about in the post linked above. So, yeah, bring it!

Only that…

… just yesterday we learned that Diablo II Resurrected will launch very soon too, on September 23rd to be precise.

Half a decade ago this would have been a must-buy no questions asked for Lakisa and myself. However, given how much goodwill Blizzard has managed to squander in recent years, especially when it comes to remastering their old classics, we’re taking a much more cautious stance. In other words, we’ll wait for the launch, see how it goes and what people have to say about it, and then decide.

What we’ve seen until now looks promising though, and if they indeed get it right this time we’ll sure as hell play it. Diablo II is nothing less than one of our all time favourite games after all, and even gems like Path of Exile or Grim Dawn, superior as they are content- and mechanics-wise, haven’t quite managed to recapture its magic.

Which basically leaves just one question: with not one but two great games I’ve been looking forward to for years launching almost simultaneously, how will I find the time to actually play them both as extensively as I intend to? All those monsters aren’t gonna kill themselves, you know.

On the other hand, if that’s my main worry right now things are really looking up, aren’t they?

A decade of MMO gaming – Part I

Initially 2019 coming to an end didn’t feel any different to me than any other year. I don’t really tend to think in terms of decades or centuries. A year is a year is a year, as the Ferengi say. At least I think they say that.

Anyway, posts and articles looking back on the last ten years have been popping up left and right, and reading those actually made me wonder what I’ve been up to myself during all that time.

I don’t keep track about when and for how many hours I play any given game though, so I’ll have to piece things together from memory, creation dates of screenshots I took and games’ release dates. Might be fun, so let’s go.

2010

In terms of proper MMORPGs this was a pretty light year for me, probably more so than any other year since I fell in love with the genre in 2001 thanks to Ultima Online. I only dabbled a bit in EVE Online during March and April.

Decade1

I ran a couple of missions in my shiny new Marauder class battleship, which finally made that process at least somewhat efficient and even a bit fun. I wasn’t in the mood to join a corporation at the time though, so there was no PvP action to be had and I faded away again after a while.

Decade2

My main game during the early months was CoD Modern Warfare 2, which I’d bought when it came out in late 2009. Its multiplayer mode had just the right feel and pace for me, and I was pretty good at it, too. It was the last time I could say that about a shooter though.

Decade3

2010 was also the year I played Diablo II for the last time. Since its release in ’98 it had always been my in-between game, filling the gap between other games for a couple of weeks or months at a stretch. It’s definitely one of my all time favourites.

Decade4

I don’t remember where I’d first read about All Points Bulletin, APB for short, but I was pretty hyped for the game’s July 1st release, had it preordered on Amazon and played from day one. Unfortunately it had many flaws and problems, bad weapon-balancing and an abundance of hackers only being the most serious ones. The fact that it launched full-price with a 10$ subscription on top (seriously) didn’t help one bit, so there weren’t many players to begin with, and after a very short time only the most faithful (and the hackers) were left. I believe it was less than two months later that the game’s shutdown was announced for September 16th, earning it the Guinness world record of the “Shortest-lived major MMORPG”, which has to be the saddest gaming-award I’ve ever heard of.

It’s especially tragic because in my opinion the game had some outstanding, very unique features and a crapton of potential, and I was pretty crushed by the shutdown. It was later resurrected by GamersFirst as APB Reloaded however and is still going today, which is great. I play it from time to time, but while most serious issues have been adressed said potential was never fulfilled. 2018 saw another change of hands and the new owners, Little Orbit, seem determined to lift the game from maintenance mode. As of yet not much has happened though, so we’ll see.

2011

Decade5

This was the year I returned to Everquest II once more. Lakisa was along for the ride, making her first foray into the MMORPG genre. We played mostly as a duo, but also joined a friendly guild and did some group content with them. It was a very enjoyable ride and we probably would have stayed longer had another, new MMORPG not loomed large on the horizon…

Decade6

Being a huge fan of both Star Wars and old Bioware RPGs it’s no surprise that I was pretty excited for SWTOR. I applied for a spot in the beta and got in for a very fun weekend with Lakisa looking over my shoulder. After that there was no stopping us. We preordered immediately to secure early access codes and started playing on December 15th, five days ahead of the official release.

We started on Tython as a Jedi Knight / Jedi Consular duo and had a great time.

2012

The year’s first half was completely dominated by SWTOR. We played through the story together, did all side quests, traveled from planet to planet and just enjoyed the ride. We also joined a great German guild, Die Pangalaktischen Donnergurgler. We hadn’t reached level 50 yet when they started to run the first operations (raids), but we were determined to catch up.

Decade9

Meanwhile another new MMORPG had launched though, and I read so much good things about it at Massively-of-old that I just couldn’t resist. I bought The Secret World and fell in love with it so hard that I splurged on the lifetime subscription almost right away, before the first monthly fee was due. The world (man, that atmosphere!), the quests, the skill system, the wardrobe…there was much greatness to be found. I still mostly played SWTOR when Lakisa was at home, but my solo gaming time was solely dedicated to TSW.

Decade8

I had totally forgotten this one, but my screenshots prove that we also tried out newly launched Guild Wars 2 during that same year’s September. Don’t ask me how we had time for all that. It didn’t click with us at all though, so we dabbled for just over a month and never touched it again.

2013

Decade12

At the beginning of the year we briefly tried TERA, but that one didn’t stick either. It had a rather different approach to combat that I quite liked though, I’ll give it that.

Decade13

Once we’d reached max level in SWTOR we joined our guild’s raid group and got our feet wet in Eternity Vault and Karagga’s Palace. After that we wiped a lot in Explosive Conflict, hunted for datacrons, ran battlegrounds to bash imperial heads in and did lots of other stuff. My favourite MMO raid of all time, Terror From Beyond, was also visited regularly. After a while I started to lead raid groups myself, which was fun too.

Meanwhile our guild leader was burnt out and Lakisa, myself and a good friend of ours volunteered to form a three-headed guild council and share the mantle. It went pretty well, however the responsibilities that come with such an assignment take a toll on anyone, as time would tell.

Decade7

In August I finally managed to convince Lakisa that The Secret World is a game one just has to have played, so I created a fresh character (I really wanted to play as an Illuminati by then) and we gave it a go.

2014

Come spring I started to feel I’d had quite enough of SWTOR. The guild leadership played a part in that – turns out it is in fact impossible to cater to both casual players and progress oriented players and still make everyone happy – but the game itself had also worn thin on me. I resigned from guild and raid leadership and took a break.

Decade10

I’d loosely followed Path of Exile’s development and was intrigued, but I didn’t really think about playing it until I watched the trailer for its first expansion, Sacrifice of the Vaal. In April I finally tried it and the rest is history. It’s a great game with a terrific business model, and it has taken Diablo II’s place as my in-between game I play for a couple of months pretty much every year.

Decade11

ArcheAge is another game I initially didn’t intend to play, but once again the writers at Massively did a great job at conveying the strenghts and uniqueness of this title. By then Lakisa had been the sole remaining SWTOR guild leader for a while and was burnt out quite heavily too, so she was more than happy to try out ArcheAge with me. We played it for the rest of the year and well into the next.

To be continued…

In part two I’ll look back upon my MMO gaming during the last five years. Until then I wish you all a happy and healthy start into the new year (and decade)!

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.

SC2
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)

Revisiting Path of Exile (again)

During the first half of April we went on vacation. When we returned home I was looking forward to diving into gaming again, but, as is often the case after such a ‘forced break’, once I sat down at my computer I wasn’t quite feeling it. To not log in and play your MMO of choice for a couple hours a day every day for a while sometimes changes your perspective on things, it seems.

I still log into Black Desert every day to get my login goodies and Boss scrolls, but that’s pretty much it at the moment. I don’t intend to quit, but I don’t want to invest the time and energy it takes to do something substantial either. For now.

Whenever I don’t devote most of my playtime to an MMO (or several) and just want to dabble for a bit every now and then my genre of choice is the Action RPG. I fell in love with the playstyle these games offer at the start of 1997 when I sunk ungodly amounts of time into the first Diablo. Since about four years ago my favourite ARPG is Path of Exile.

I started playing after I had watched a trailer for its first expansion, Sacrifice of the Vaal, which I quite liked. That many people dubbed PoE the ‘true’ successor to Diablo II, which I loved and still love, sealed the deal for me.

It’s indeed very obvious right from the start that the folks at Grinding Gear Games are big fans of Diablo II. Even the first thing you do after creating an account and logging in, namely choosing a class for your first character, looks and feels exactly the same.

It’s not a simple carbon copy though, far from it. What they managed to do is to take almost everything that was great about Diablo II and make it even better, perfect it and expand on it, while leaving out its (precious few) weak points.

For example, my most played and highest level character in Diablo II was a Frozen Orb/Fireball/Meteor Sorceress, but my most beloved character was a Necromancer with his army of skeletons, revived monsters and a golem. The playstyle of managing an army, supporting it with curses and other spells while focusing on staying out of harm’s way myself feels incredibly satisfying to me.

The Necro’s design wasn’t perfect though, especially concerning the minions. In PoE I can play an ‘Armymancer’ exactly the way I like, because the most glaring weaknesses the DII-Necro had are gone. When I revive monsters to fight for me they don’t vanish after a couple of minutes, so it’s actually worth it to take the time and hunt for the best possible monsters at the highest level for this. They even persist after logging out of the game nowadays! There are other minions which do have a limited lifespan, but I can do neat things with those too. I can for example place totems which then continuously spit out these minions, so I don’t have to cast them myself and can concentrate on other things.

PoE_Summoner
My Summoner-Witch in her element (sans minions, else you wouldn’t be able to see her).

PoE’s most talked about feature is the passive ability tree. Just one look at it perfectly illustrates why.

PathOfExile Skill Tree
My Summoner-build at level 88 with all available points spent.

It seems overwhelming at first, but you get used to and comfortable with it pretty quickly.

What it indeed does is give you a lot of flexibility to build your character of choice. In a lot of games such perceived flexibility often turns out to be pretty fake in reality because there’s just one or two ‘optimal’ paths. By not choosing one of those you’d gimp yourself, and who would want that?

With this passive tree you can fully play to your build’s strenghts, iron out weaknesses and/or let it do things that it otherwise could not. Above all it makes the character your very own. I’m pretty sure there exists no other Witch with this exact same passive tree, the same items and the same skill gems. As long as you don’t copy a character from the forums or reddit to a T it will be unique, and can still be strong at the highest levels.

Graphics, sound and moment-to-moment gameplay all feel very familiar to Diablo II veterans. The 3D-engine doesn’t quite match the level of detail Blizzard managed to cram into their 2D 640×480 pixels (800×600 with the Lord of Destruction expansion), and in terms of great, spooky atmosphere nothing beats DII’s Act 2 and 3. In my opinion these two aspects are the only ones where PoE doesn’t match or surpass its unofficial predecessor though.

PathOfExile Spectres
To be fair, PoE has some pretty creepy monster design. Fortunately these guys follow MY lead now!

Now, what about the payment model?

It’s free to play and has arguably the best (while not the cheapest) item shop of them all. Not a single item in that shop has any impact on gameplay whatsoever. GGG sell exactly two categories of items there: stash tabs and eye candy.

It’s true that you will definitely want some additional stash tabs once you play the game for longer than a couple of days, but if you wait for a sale on those you can easily nab a lot of storage space for the price of a normal game – and PoE is at least worth as much, let me tell you.

The eye candy is, as always, a matter of taste and completely optional. There are a lot of really nice armor sets, weapon effects etc. on offer, but also some rather hideous ones. Since most armor and weapons found in game aren’t exactly lookers and I wanted to support GGG anyway I’ve decked my other characters out quite a bit too.

PoE_Characters
From top left clockwise: Marauder, Scion, another Witch and Shadow.

If you like ARPGs and haven’t tried out PoE yet (unlikely but possible) I strongly recommend giving it a go.