Jaina! Versus? Pyro! (Hearthstone and Team Fortress 2)

Having been more than a little busy lately, I’ve had less time for gaming. I’ve still made time, of course, I’m not that much of a responsible human being, but I’ve not played much more than my go-to World of Warcraft and, since they released their new graphics / engine overhaul this month, a bit of Runescape on the side. But I’m not here to talk about MMOs today.

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WOO, GAMEPLAY

I’ve started playing two games over the past few evenings. (For I still have deadlines! Mornings/afternoons are for writing.) The first of which is Hearthstone.

I’ve been playing World of Warcraft with my friend Kiritoya for years. In fact, I kinda introduced him to the game. He’d already played the free 20 levels, but he decided to join up with me when we started during Mists of Pandaria, and I had a little bit of experience playing the Burning Crusade many years before. It is only fitting, then, that he introduce me to Hearthstone in the same way that I ruined enhanced his life by encouraging him to play WoW with me. And so, just like those young Night Elf Druids making their way through Teldrassil many thousands of hours of gameplay before, I set out on my mission to learn and conquer Hearthstone.

It’s only been 2 days, though, so I’m still pretty useless.

But hey, I won 2 games to get my 5 extra Old Gods card packs! I followed a basic deck building guide for Mage and went from there. I also customised the basic Warlock deck to try and accomodate C’Thun, and so far I’ve won 1/4 games  with that, so either I’m unlucky or I should just stick to the guides like any sane newbie would. In fact, I’m not sure what prompted me to try and build an Old Gods card deck so early on. All I know is that the whispers… to conquer… to kill my friends… the flesh…

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Kiri and I had a pretty fun, drawn-out game. I turned his Deathwing, Dragonlord into a sheep. His rage sustained me. (He won though.)

Moving swiftly on, I’ve also been playing Team Fortress 2 with my friend Reecus. He’s rather good as an engineer, and I’m a pretty nifty Pyro if I do say so myself. The difference is that he actually changes his class based on what our team needs whereas I hug my Pyro close and tight where I can actually play the game without dying horrendously every 5 seconds. I’m still a team player, though! I’ve captured a fair few objectives in my time. And my corpse has defended their position. And in that, I’m not alone.

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Alas, poor Reecus. I knew him well.

One thing we noticed was that the community here was a little less hostile than that of, say, CS:GO. I only saw somebody get ridiculed for their choice of gun once instead of fifty thousand times, and because the scoreboard doesn’t show kill/death ratios then it’s a little harder for people to pick out the worst players and kick them for being ‘carried’. That being said, me, Reecus and Kiritoya (who later joined us) were actually consistently middling. I’m not sure how the score is calculated, exactly, but it sure worked out well for us. But, yes, in general, it was a better atmosphere to play in, and I didn’t see any cries of ‘bullshit!’ and subsequent rage-quitting.

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Oh. Except for that guy.

(Side note: I’ve been referring to my friends by their usernames because they’re both called Reece. It really makes life very difficult sometimes. I’m campaigning for one of them to change their names to Esmerelda or something.)

I’ve not really played a hero-based shooter before, and as somebody with a healthily vague interest in Overwatch (I have not pre-ordered it), getting into Team Fortress 2 a little bit has given me more cause to consider Blizzard’s new IP. Of course, further factors such as recommended specifications and attitude of the community will also play a big part in whether I eventually pick up the game or not, but for now, I’m happy to gleefully set people on fire over and over again in Team Fortress 2.

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Ratchet and Clank: A Retrospective Ramble

(This blog post is not a review of Ratchet and Clank for PS4. Unfortunately, I do not own a PS4… yet!)

On what was probably my seventh birthday, I was joyfully tearing into the presents in front of me, likely anticipating some PS2 game or another that had been on my radar for the past year. It was within one of these presents that the first Ratchet and Clank game resided, and to this day I still remember how I felt when I opened it.

“Oh… uh… thanks. This looks… cool.”

I’d never seen the game before in my life, and therefore didn’t hold much hope for it in secret. And of course, I was very wrong. The day I popped that disc into the PS2 marked the beginning of a long and satisfying relationship with the franchise from Insomniac, who ever so recently released a re-imagining of that very first game onto PS4.

The reviews have been excellent, earning mostly 9/10 ratings across the board and even succeeding that on certain occasions. It’s a very heartwarming feeling to see a franchise you’ve loved for so many years return to the spotlight, as even though there were some fantastic PS3 titles, none of them ever received quite the same attention as their PS2 predecessors, for whatever reason.

Ratchet and Clank 2 was my favourite game in the series, as it introduced the ability to upgrade all of your weapons once (and a subsequent two times in your second runthrough of the game). However, Ratchet and Clank 3 was objectively better, with more incremental upgrades and better level design. Ratchet: Gladiator (or Ratchet: Deadlocked as it’s known in the US) was a stray away from the norm, with more emphasis on the shooter side of the game and less on the platforming. When I was younger, I remember not liking this type of gameplay as much, but as I got older this quickly fell into line alongside my favourite Ratchet and Clank games in the series. This was also the last Ratchet and Clank title for the PS2, and the last one I’d play for years.

One of my vivid memories outside of the actual game regarding Ratchet and Clank was reading a pre-release review of the third game in a gaming magazine during a long car trip. The review showed some screenshots of the second level of the game, and I remember getting very, very excited. However, when I actually got my hands on the game myself, I couldn’t get past the last level. As somebody who had played the previous games many times over, this was a point of embarrassment for me, and it wasn’t until sometime after Gladiator released that I went back and finished it.

I didn’t own a PS3 until 2013. Having arrived late to the game (so to speak), many of the next-gen Ratchet and Clank titles had already been released, and indeed I bought the first 3 as soon as possible. To this day, I’ve still not beaten Tools of Destruction or even played Quest for Booty, though! This is partially due to the fact that those two games didn’t have achievements, and I’d already been sucked into collecting them at this point. It was also, however, due to the fact that A Crack in Time was almost on par with Ratchet and Clank 2 for my favourite in the entire series. I plan on replaying this sometime very soon, and look forward to having a great time doing so.

So what of the next 3 titles? Insomniac tried something different with All-4-One and Q-Force, trying out party-platforming and MOBA gameplay with the two games. I did try out Q-Force, but it didn’t quite stick with me the way previous titles had. Nexus, however, was a return to form, and remains to this day one of the only games I’ve ever pre-ordered. I cannot comment on it here, however, as I’ve only played the first level and a half or so before being distracted by PC gaming, for I’d sort of accidentally switched over to PC as my main gaming platform by that point. Worry not, Nexus, you’ve not been abandoned. I’ll return to you someday. I promise…

They also released HD remasters of the PS2 titles for PS3. I’ve played a fair amount of each (having 100% completed Ratchet and Clank 2), and unfortunately have to report that they are riddled with bugs. It doesn’t exactly detract from the overall enjoyment of the games, but it’s definitely an annoyance that one could live without. It’s also amusing to note that I’d 100% completed Ratchet and Clank 3 on PS2 sometime before the HD remasters were released, having decided to fully dominate this title which had caused me such trouble over a decade before.

So… there we have it. I’m aware that there wasn’t really any coherent line of thought in this blog post, and for that I apologise, but I’m currently knee-deep in dissertation… and I just had to say something about my love for the born-again franchise of my childhood. It’s great to see people experience this game again for the first time, and I’m curious to see how the movie will be.

The Case For Vanilla WoW Servers

It’s just been announced that Blizzard is suing Nostalrius, a vanilla World of Warcraft private server that enabled people to experience what the game was like almost a decade ago, before the first expansion was released.

So from a legal standpoint, yes of course they have every right to do that, as those who play the private server (Nostalrius) are essentially playing a subscription-based game for free, hosted illegally. I am not angry that they are doing this. There’s also the possibility that the current WoW devs themselves have nothing to do with Nostalrius being sued. Developers and lawyers are not the same people, and whilst I honestly have no idea what the developers’ stance is on vanilla private servers, it might not be aligned with this all-out aggressive attack that we’ve just seen on Nostalrius.

What they do need to do is take a lesson away from this. When asked at their convention a few years ago whether they’d ever open up “servers for previous expansions”, they replied with, “No. And by the way, you don’t want to do that, either.” And I get where they’re coming from. As developers, their job is to continue improving World of Warcraft, and they do this by constant re-iterations of class abilities, UI, graphics overhauls and endless amounts of quality-of-life changes. So after over a decade of continuous improvement to the game, players who ask to be given availability to the original version of the game will surely be met with cynicism, likely viewed as players wearing rose-tinted glasses wanting to live out the glory days of vanilla WoW, not realising that they’re associating their golden memories with gameplay which is, in reality, far from perfect.

You know what would prove them wrong, Blizzard? Opening a trial run of a couple of vanilla realms.

The fact that Nostalrius would peak at 15,000 players online at once and had almost 1,000,000 registered users is a fact that cannot be ignored. Whilst many players undoubtedly are looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses, there’s also a large faction of players who aren’t and do legitimately enjoy vanilla gameplay. This number could even grow if Blizzard added vanilla servers into the game, and would give existing players a reason to stay subscribed throughout the always-present content droughts between expansions. I, for one, would be very interested in playing vanilla WoW (as somebody who played a few months of Burning Crusade when I was 13 or so, and picked up the game properly towards the end of Mists of Pandaria), and have even been tempted by servers like Nostalrius before reminding myself that I’d rather play the game in a legal environment.

Blizzard need look no further than Runescape for an example of a successful reintroduction of an older iteration of the game. A few years ago, Jagex Studios dug through their archives and found the oldest version of the game they could, and brought it back, playable as a alternate character for their existing subscribers. Old School Runescape has since flourished into its own game, with a driven (if not slightly poisonous) community, a democratic voting system for updates that they may or may not want added to the game (starting with quality-of-life updates, before evolving into unique OSRS content), and with a team of dedicated developers to touch up the old game and take it in the direction that players who preferred the 2007 experience would like it to take. I’m not saying that vanilla WoW servers should have updates or tweaks, as Runescape has changed its fundamental core far more than WoW ever did. I’m just saying that this project was undoubtedly a success on Jagex’s part, and has likely been a great tool in squashing the need for private servers in the first place.

There are, of course, some legitimate concerns regarding the reintroduction of an older iteration of the game. Splitting the community would be a problem, with many players abandoning their guilds for the vanilla servers. But to that I feel the need to raise the point that players are already abandoning their guilds for vanilla private servers, or more often for different games entirely. This is what happens during a content drought, and it would actually be to Blizzard’s advantage to introduce vanilla servers during a content drought (such as presently) to keep players subscribed to their game. Furthermore, after playing vanilla for a while, some players might realise that they have taken for granted much of WoW’s current level of quality, and find new motivation to continue playing the current game. And, of course, when an expansion drops, you can bet that anyone with a current WoW subscription is more than likely to put their vanilla romping on pause to go and explore the new content for a few months at the very least; those that would return to vanilla WoW after only a few months would also likely be the ones who would have simply unsubscribed in the past, reinforcing once again that it would be a financial benefit for Blizzard to open these vanilla servers.

In fact, I can’t really see any way in which Blizzard wouldn’t benefit from such a venture. Sure, it may be difficult on the technical side, I can’t speak for that, although I’m sure that if private servers can host the vanilla game, then Blizzard should be able to find a way, too. Not only would it be a financially viable investment of resources, but after it was up and running, Blizzard probably wouldn’t even have to bother with it apart from the occasional maintenance work. It’d stop players from constantly whinging that vanilla was better, give new players the chance to appreciate quality-of-life improvements, and win the hearts of the players… well, at least, the hearts of players who don’t complain about every single thing that Blizzard does. I’d recommend that Blizzard put a small, dedicated team on getting vanilla servers up and running, even if it was just as an experiment, and then everybody could see how the situation would pan out, once and for all.