Hearthstone

I am a Blizzard fan boy. There I’ve said it. I’ve tried almost (if not all) of Blizzard’s games at some point or another. I admire Blizzard as a game company. Back in the day they stood right next to Westwood and Bullfrog as my 3 most favourite game companies. Now the latter two are dead. Somehow Blizzard has stayed and grown, and grown, into the great powerhouse it is now. Thankfully it seems it is here to stay. With Overwatch and an actual movie looming up on the horizon, I’d say (and hope) that things are looking good for Blizzard for the next decade or so. Now back to why I actually bothered to write a post at 11.44 pm on a work-day: Hearthstone.

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Hearthstone In-Game Screenshot – Landing Screen – Copyright Blizzard Entertainment

I started to play Hearthstone very recently because a friend of mine suggested that I give it another go. I had attempted it a number of times but I never really got into fully. Until now. I decided to start playing some of its adventures and got a “couple” of Old Gods Expansion card packs. I ended up hooked. I am now doing dailies almost … well… daily. If it were not for the occasional Overwatch game that’s all I would be playing at the moment. *my Steam library is looking at me like a jealous ex-girlfriend*. Anyway, I love this game. It gives you some amazing highs. The exhilarating feeling of a card drawn and played at the right moment is a feeling I never knew existed. Especially when said card wins you the game. Moreso, when the opponent has been battering you to bits all game. Old Gods capitalizes on this by means of the C’Thun card. I think Blizzard designers are really good at what they do and I love the fact that they get to try new mechanics through Hearthstone. I am quite sure that they are collecting analytics with the aim of understanding what makes people play and pay more.

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Hearthstone In-Game Screenshot – C’Thun Mage Deck – Copyright Blizzard Entertainment

So yes, Hearthstone gives you some interesting highs – but also some interesting lows. Just now I came across this Druid deck. I don’t know for the life of me how anyone could beat this one:

Hearthstone Druid Deck Massacre

Hearthstone In-Game Screenshot – Druid Deck Massacre – Copyright Blizzard Entertainment

For all of you who never played this game: I am royally done (for lack of a better term I wish I could use but have not for the sake of decency). In the next turn my opponent can do a total of (12+10+5+3+5+5+5) 45 damage. I have 23 health which means that with just the first 3 minions attacking me in the next turn I have already lost. That is not counting any spells my opponent might have available (doubtful given the deck I guess, but possible nonetheless). This is a low, a terrible low, because I was playing the game confidently with quite an initial lead. Now I know that this guy was probably very lucky but damn does this feel like the game is punishing me for not spending more money to find more legendaries! If you don’t know how that part of Hearthstone works: the minions on the board with the dragon-like outline are legendary ones. They are extremely rare to come by and can be found either by buying a ton of card packs or by crafting (which also requires you to have a number of extra cards).

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Hearthstone In-Game Screenshot – My Collection – Copyright Blizzard Entertainment

Bottom-line, getting those cards is expensive and requires either a ton of time and dedication playing dailies or throwing a ton of money at the game. I personally maintain that legendaries win the game and this is how Blizzard make money – they want you to find them or craft them since this means you have to spend money in the game. Since most of us cannot spend so much time playing the game they know we will eventually cough up the money and pay and this is what they bank upon. I have no numbers to prove this and this is just what my gut tells me so I might be completely wrong but to me it does add up somewhat.

All the negatives (perceived or real) aside, I’ll probably still go back to playing the game again and again as I find it quite enjoyable. Even if I know that I might loose more than half of the games I play, the fun factor is there. I think Blizzard did it again. GG Blizzard, you magnificent bastards! 9/10

Risk of Rain

Risk of Rain is a rogue-like 2D indie platformer that ran the risk of being yet another game I bought and added to my Steam library and never played due to lack of time. Thankfully that was not the case! I bought a couple of copies for my friends and we decided to give it a go during lunch break at work. And. I. Was. Hooked.

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Risk of Rain In-Game Screenshot – Copyright Hopoo Games

We died. Oh how we died. This game is a bit hard for a newbie. At first the game lulls you into feeling safe. A few enemy spawns here and there. You’re like: Ok I can do this. You kill them easily at first. However, after a few minutes of fighting you realize that there isn’t really a point to standing still and fighting everything that spawns on screen as they keep coming at you relentlessly. Soon you are no longer killing them easily. Soon you’re running around trying to survive being decimated by the myriad different types of enemies and their painful attacks. And then one of you realizes. Guys we need to find a portal. Huh? It says so at the bottom of the screen. Oh! That’s the kind of game Risk of Rain. Old school. No tutorials. You learn by exploring or you die and try again. Back to the good old days where games were challenging instead of the current trend to have everything explained with a million screens or endless text. Just one sentence and you have your mission.

Once you find the level’s portal, which by the way, is never in the same place because every level is randomly generated, you think to yourself. On to the next level. But no. The game decides to punish you for your minor achievement. You survived this long? Let’s see if you really deserve to proceed. With that it starts spawning a number of enemies at a faster rate near where you and your team-mates are. Since that is not enough it also spawns one of a number of boss enemies. Cause: Hey! Why! Not! Each boss enemy is a b**ch to kill and downing them is an achievement in itself. Once the timer expires no more enemies spawn and finally you have earned a bit of respite. You get to clear all the enemies and then using the portal you get to do this again on an another level. Only this time it’s harder and harder. Risk of Rain punishes you the longer you play. Enemy spawns happen more often, have more hitpoints and often become more advanced versions of themselves the longer you play. Just to give you an example, the first enemy you are bound to meet in a game is called a Lemurian. A Lemurian is your height and is relatively easy to fight and kill. An Elder Lemurian in comparison is more than 3 times your height and shooting it feels like you are tickling it. Either way, if you think you are going to blast your way through and survive you are wrong. You have to keep moving and shooting until finally you say to yourself: Are they really all dead? At which point the game starts spawning enemies again…

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Risk of Rain In-Game Screenshot – Copyright Hopoo Games

Not all is doom and gloom however. As you kill enemies they drop some coins and experience for you. The latter helps you level up and with that you become a bit stronger. Not enough to survive, however, but your odds are, if ever so slightly, a bit more in your favour. The coins on the other hand can be used to open chests/trigger statues and repair drones. Once opened or triggered, the former two drop items which you can collect. Items give you a slight advantage such as enabling you to jump higher or faster regen. You get the idea. They are not going to win the game for you but no player, in their rightful mind, would decline collecting them after they have played the game for a few minutes. Some items are use items which are equipped in your action bar and allow you to trigger an effect such as firing a powerful weapon or spawning a ghost of some of the dead creatures in the level to help you in your fight… Drones are … well… drones which follow you around and help you in various ways. Either by helping you increase your damage output or by healing you up. They do get damaged however by the enemy spawns so moving is imperative to keep them going for longer. If they do get destroyed you can repair them but this often takes more coins each time it happens.

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Risk of Rain In-Game Screenshot – Copyright Hopoo Games

Once you run through a number of levels you are greeted with the final level and boss. I won’t spoil the final fight but if you manage to defeat the final boss the adrenaline kick you get is amazing. So much so that, if you are like me, you’ll end up wanting to do it again. And why not? Risk of Rain is not a long game but it’s replay value is great. Every run is guaranteed to feel like a new experience not only because of the different layouts, different items you can collect in a run or the different enemies that spawn. You also get to play it with different characters you can unlock and which change the game completely. Each of the characters in-game has 4 different abilities. I personally believe which one you choose says a lot about you as a player. When my friends and I started to play the game we immediately found a character we liked – often when you unlock a new character you end up either never going back or quickly realizing that you prefer the previous favourite’s style of fighting.

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Risk of Rain In-Game Screenshot – Copyright Hopoo Games

Another cool feature of the game, which also adds to its replay value, are the hidden areas. These sometimes spawn in the map and if the level aligns itself properly you can collect an artifact item. Artifact items are special items which enable you to change the game in a subtle way before you start a run. One of them for example removes the RNG of the items which drop from chests/statues and allows the player to pick the item they prefer allowing for a more customized experience. Me myself? I usually end up puttiny my fate in the hands of the RNG gods.

Some other things which are worth mentioning: its atmospheric music gets stuck in your head. It’s that good. More than I expected for an indie game of its price to be honest. And if you like pixel art you are in for a treat. The environments, characters, enemy spawns, biographies (which you can collect by the way) and effects are really amazing as well. Currently my desktop background is one of the environments in fact. It’s that good. Finally the game has challenges and achievements too if you are into that kind of thing.

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Risk of Rain In-Game Screenshot – Copyright Hopoo Games

There are only two minor things I can mention as negatives: the game only updates your stats if you play on normal mode (not on easy). I didn’t understand this at first and thought the game was buggy. The other one is that sometimes the character you are playing with clips through the level. This usually happens at the very beginning of the game and then it is usually fine for the rest of your run so no biggie.

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Risk of Rain In-Game Screenshot – Copyright Hopoo Games

Risk of rain is a game worth every dollar/euro/pound/yen/etc you pay for. The small team that made it deserves what they get from you because they produced a solid product with an unlimited amount of enjoyment. 10/10

The Masterplan

I got The Masterplan (by SharkPunch) as a surprise game in the December (or is it January?) Humble Monthly Bundle. I must admit, I had never heard of it but one of my new year resolutions was to try to play more games and blog more about gaming in-general so well… here I am! I’ve only played the first few missions but I can already see that this game has lots of potential.

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The MasterPlan In-Game Screenshot – Copyright Shark Punch

The game consists of you controlling Joey and his ‘colleagues’/goons on a number of heists with the aim of making money in order to fund even bigger heists. You have a number of actions at your disposal with more becoming available as you pick up more items from the environments. Some items can be found lying around others have to be extorted from a number of NPCs which you come across. The NPCs themselves exhibit scripted but intelligent behaviour. In one mission I had to wait for a mini market clerk to visit the toilet in order for me to hold him at gunpoint while Joey’s brother punched him relentlessly in order to knock him unconscious. This happened in the toilet so that the mini market customers could not see what happening and notify the police from the phone boot outside. All this happened after Joey’s brother sneaked in one of the backrooms and disabled all the cameras by bashing the camera panel… and so on and so forth.I guess the game can be described as a tactical real-time strategy game where your resources are limited and every action counts. The view is top-down and is similar to games such as the original GTAs and the Hotline Miamis. What differs from these latter two is that you can take control of more than one character in The Masterplan and sometimes even force NPCs to do actions for you while they are held at gunpoint. In this respect this game is more similar to games such as Commandos and Frozen Synapse.

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The MasterPlan In-Game Screenshot – Copyright Shark Punch

A nice feature of The Masterplan which I have to yet learn how to use properly is Slow-Mo mode. The game has two speeds: Slow-Mo and Normal speed. In Slow-Mo you can issue commands and the NPCs move at a more manageable speed. That said they do still move so you can get punched even while in this mode. This is something I need to explore more as it gives you more time to execute the perfect heist.

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The MasterPlan In-Game Screenshot – Copyright Shark Punch

Each mission has a total number of cash you can obtain from the establishment you are trying to rob. If a heist fails or you fail to obtain all of the cash you can try again. The game attempts to be ‘politically correct’ by giving you an incentive not to murder people unnecessarily: an unconscious shop keeper is better than a dead one!

Now for a few faults: I found the controls a bit clunky but that can be attributed to me not having learned the hotkeys yet. I also saw a number of UI-related bugs but these were minor and did not break the game. Finally, I encountered a crash when I attempted to replay a heist but no progress was lost.

All in all an enjoyable game you should definitely try if you like tactical games. 9/10

 

Diablo 3 and Starcraft II Heart of The Swarm

Blizzard you had me sorely disappointed when I played Diablo 3. You had re-hashed Diablo 2 but forgot what the nice things about it were. I basically played it once through on Normal and forgot the game completely. Don’t get me wrong it is still a good game but the only reason it was decent for me was because of the story and cinematics. The gameplay mechanics from the 2000 game did not live up to the expectations and hype in 2012. Maybe it felt too similar to World of Warcraft in some ways. Anyways I hope that the upcoming expansion will restore my faith. Blizzard, the Diablo universe has too much potential. Don’t let it go to waste! 6.5/10

Now to the real reason why I decided to actually update this blog at 1am: SC2: HoTS. I am still feeling psyched! I haven’t felt this good about finishing a game since forever. The gameplay mechanics are a testament to a true old-school real-time strategy game and the graphics are incredibly detailed and polished. However, for me, the actual magic comes from the story, the cinematics, the characters, the sound: everything here screams EPIC. Everything blends seamlessly. The final cinematic… wow. Thank you Blizzard for keeping that star-struck, magical feeling alive and for the gentle reminder of why I’ve always wanted to create games. I don’t think there is any other medium that is able to achieve this level of immersion when all the aspects are done properly. Kudos to Blizzard for managing this yet again. 10/10

Shank

Shank is a 2D side-scrolling brawler and platformer which reminds me of the 2D incarnations of:

all jumbled up together in a very awesome way.

The story is quite cliche: you are a mercenary, Shank, who has lost everything and you want to set things right. How do you do that? You go on a rampage to kill the person who has caused you all this trouble. Unfortunately this means killing everyone who tries to stop you on your path.

The game focuses almost exclusively on the killing-everyone-who-tries-to-stop-you part. Shank has three weapons active at any point in the game. His most basic weapon is his knife or shank which is his trademark weapon of choice. He can use it to make quick attacks. Next he has a melee weapon and finally a ranged one. Various assortments of these latter weapon types are collected along the way. You can swap between them as you play. The melee weapons are slower than the knife but do more damage. Range weapons do various amounts of damage but are more useful to keep enemies off you.

Shank can perform other basic attacks which are blocking, dodging, jumping, leaping onto an enemy, throwing grenades and well, shanking (a form of grip). Chaining a number of these moves and attacks allows you to perform some wicked combos. This enables you to clear your enemies in style and quickly. To this day I still don’t know if I know how to perform all the combos but they are insanely fun to find and execute.

Speaking of enemies. Enemies come in four main forms which basically are: thug, huge thug, hound and boss. The first two come in various variants wielding different weapons. The hounds are really annoying (because they can break your combos) but easy to dispatch. Bosses are huge (they usually take half the screen when the game camera is zoomed-in). Killing them in a conventional manner is often tedious. I won’t go into how you can dispatch them but the game does help you figure it out via hints.

Bosses are key components of the story-line and facing them/killing them entails watching a cut-scene. The cut-scenes themselves are well-made and prevent the game from being just a key-basher. They tie the levels with the story seamlessly and give your character depth. You are not killing people mindlessly, your motivation is revenge. Like the cut-scenes the level and character art are well executed and fit well with the game mechanics.

Sound is also well implemented within the game. Nothing beats pulling off a combo with a chainsaw and hearing it roar as it tears through your enemy (yes yes a bit graphic but remember this guy has nothing left to lose). Voice acting is also decent. All in all sound is mediocre but verging on the good side. Not as good as say Bastion but good enough for a game like this one.

All in all I think this game is solidly made and good for mindless de-stressing. I played it two hours straight last night trying to win a hard-mode level. Ah about difficulty. Normal is nice and easy. Hard is merciless. If you get killed you start from the beginning of a level again. That tingled my stubbornness to no end. Hence the two hours.

There is coop mode which apparently is also nice to play and worth a visit. Haven’t done so myself but will give it a shot with people on my Steam list at some point. Finally, the only negative feedback I have for the game is two-fold. One is from me: I discovered some minor bugs while playing. The other one is from a friend who has played it. He finds it too repetitive.

These things aside I would say this is a definite yes for me. I will definitely play Shank 2 and Mark of the Ninja from Klei Entertainment. 9/10

Vessel, Shatter and SPAZ

Vessel

Vessel is a 2D puzzle platformer where the protagonist (you) gets to make use of a number of devices in order to progress. Each of these so-called devices are essentially puzzles which the game teaches you to use as you go along. The cool thing about Vessel, much like LIMBO, is that every puzzle seems mind-boggling at first until you try it a few times and you get that “Eureka” moment. Another nice twist about Vessel is that you can create AI helpers which assist you (or hinder you sometimes). Haven’t finished it yet but can confirm this makes for a good time-waster. 7/10

Shatter

Shatter is Breakout/Arkanoid on mega-ultra steroids. The basic idea is simple, hit the bricks with a moving projectile and make sure said projectile does not die by hitting it with your paddle. Some bricks are harder to destroy then others while others explode taking their neighbours down with them. You also sometimes get powerups and extra-lives from certain bricks. Not much different from the two previosly-mentioned games so far. What Shatter adds is a bunch of cool mechanics. Let’s list some of them:

  • You can push and pull the projectile allowing you to maneuver it into position.
  • As the bricks explode you can collect their remains by pulling these towards you as you do the projectile. The annoying thing is sometimes this makes you lose focus on your projectile…
  • As you fill up on brick debris you fill up a meter which allows you fire a barrage from your paddle.
  • Your paddle is NOT safe. Certain bricks come towards you and you have to shield yourself using an ability you have.
  • You can release as many projectiles as you wish based on the number of lives you have. This grants extra bonuses.
  • MEGA BOSS FIGHTS!

All-in-all a good tribute with a good twist. 8/10

Space Pirates and Zombies

With a name like Space Pirates and Zombies (or SPAZ) I was a bit sceptic. Yet another generic indie game? Fortunately not! I started playing at 1700hrs and ended up stopping at 1830hrs only because a friend of mine messaged me. Needless to say I was engrossed. The game’s main aim is to obtain as much as possible Rez or E-126. An element which is used for warping around planets. Various factions trade/mine/pirate Rez as it is the most sought after commodity in the universe. As the game starts it puts you in the pants of a falling apart mothership which you repair via various tutorial missions. The nice thing about SPAZ is that you get to play on both a macro and micro level. On the macro level you get to pick where your faction goes to mine and who to attack/befriend/trade with. You also get to choose which ships your mothership builds based on your current scenario. On the micro level you can outfit most of the ships you use and even pilot them to mine asteroids and attack enemy ships. When you are making use of more than one ship you can switch between them. The AI takes care of the ships you are not directly controlling and does a decent job. Apart from Rez there are other commodities which the game uses such as Goons (or enemy pilots you rescue) and Data (used to upgrade stuff)… I’ll be honest, I probably have just scraped the surface of this game but I find it really makes up for its cost. My only qualm about the game is its presentation and interface but it is something one can get used to quickly. 8/10

LIMBO

LIMBO is what every platformer should strive to be. Great story, eerie atmosphere, awesome animations and, above-all, mindboggling puzzles which when finally solved give you a great sense of achievement. My only grievance relates to a certain type of puzzles (not going to mention which so as not to spoil the game) but these are probably a matter of preference. Overall a nice little gem everyone should own. 10/10