Some quick notes

January 24, 2009

I’ve been busy at work and had other stuff going on this week (LOST is back, WOOT!) so I haven’t gotten too much WAR time, but I thought I’d throw a quick recap/update out there along with some random notes.

1.  My Archmage is sitting at 36 still.  Right at 50% through the level, I believe.   I did finally hit renown rank 33, so I can wear my 3 Annihilator pieces, which actually look pretty sweet.  I tell you though, I did some scenarios/PvE grinding the other night for a little over an hour, and even though it seemed like I was getting great XP, that damn bar just barely seems to budge.  Lucky for me, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that 40 is a foregone eventuality rather than a goal, so I don’t come away disappointed.

2.  While I only put a couple hours in the Archmage this week, my Bright Wizard got some good Guild Night action on Thursday night.  I’ve mentioned here before I had a bunch of real life friends join up recently, so we’ve formed a quaint little guild and are leveling up together.  Right now the highest of us is 22, the lowest 18, with me getting ready to ding 22.  I have to say – and this is no big revelation but I didn’t know how much difference it would really make – playing with people you actually know is so much better than having to get to know people in a new guild.  Maybe I’m just socially awkward and bad at making friends.  Especially in bigger guilds, it’s hard to make good friends when you don’t know anyone to begin with.  So I’ve been having a lot of fun with those guys.

3.  I’ve been getting strong urges to play other games recently, particularly strategy games.  It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down with a good RTS, so I was thinking about busting out some good games I probably didn’t play enough.  Sins of a Solar Empire, Company of Heroes, and Civ 4 come to mind immediately.  Plus, the Dawn of War II open beta starts next week, so I may get in on that as well.

4.  EVE Online has a kung-fu grip on my psyche.  I am going to try it, it’s only a matter of time.  Quite literally, as I don’t have the time to get started just yet.  I’ve actually downloaded the trial through Steam but not activated it yet.  I understand the character creation process is nothing to sneeze at, so I’m going to need a few hours to devote to in consecutively, which I haven’t had for a while.

5.  Me and the wife are getting ready to head back to the hometown for the weekend to hang out with some of my friends from college, which is always a good time (at least for me – she is decidedly less thrilled).  So another weekend will pass without much WAR going down, although I will try and get back on Sunday night.  What I will be playing though is a good amount of Rock Band, which should be hilariously fun with these guys.

Hopefully next week I’ll be able to dive headlong back in to Warhammer.  I do have a couple articles I’m thinking about doing as well, and I desperately need to update the blogroll for all the new bloggers and the ones I missed originally – a task I have been stubbornly putting off for too long.  Maybe I’ll do that Sunday night as well.

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What PC strategy games are in store for 2009?

January 1, 2009

Even though they often take a backseat to my WAR discussions on this blog, I am still an avid player of strategy games.  With that in mind, when I saw Big Download had a post on the upcoming strategy games for 2009, you could color me interested.  In their own gallery-style article (which I’m still not sure if I’m a fan of), the article went through several different games they are looking forward to.  I highly recommend you go through the article if you have an interest in picking up any strategy games over the next year.  I will most likely be buying at least a couple of them.  My thoughts on some of those games (when I had thoughts) are captured below:

Demigod – Gas Powered Games generally has a pretty good strategy record, and this title could be interesting, with the ability to control a hero-type character or a horde of smaller units.  Plus Stardock is the publisher, which is a plus in my book.  It’s on my radar.

Battleforge – Collectible card RTS?  I’ve never had anything inherently against card games, but this just seems to ridiculous to meld that kind of game with an RTS.  No thanks.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Entrenchment – Apparently the first of three “micro-expansions” for Sins of a Solar Empire, the surprise strategy hit of 2008.  I picked up this game last spring and enjoyed it immensely, although the lengthy games tempered my excitement somewhat.  Very good game though.  I’ve wanted since then to get deeper into it, but never got around to it.  I will definitely consider doing the micro-expansions (estimated to be about $10 apiece) when they come around.  Note that the beta has already begun for the first and is free to try with a preorder of the expansion.

Empire: Total War – I have never played a game in the Total War series, which I know is probably a hit to my credibility.  Lucky for me I really don’t have any, so I’m ok with that.  I don’t know much about these games except for the fact that they are routinely acclaimed.  That’s enough to have it on my radar – I’ll be following it more closely as it nears release.

Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II – I purchased Dawn of War off of Steam less than a year ago, and was less than impressed for two reasons.  1) I’m not a big fan of the contant dark, blood-n-guts theme the game tends to represent.  2) Company of Heroes did the victory point system better.  Yes, I played CoH (also developed by Relic) earlier than DoW, so I was kind of ruined on CoH’s excellence, which spoiled my DoW experience.  I am, however, excited to see what Relic has in store for the sequel – if they can improve upon CoH, I’ll most likely pick it up, despite the grim atmosphere that will surely be a part of the experience.  No base building is scary though.

Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor – I immensely enjoyed CoH, but again the whole no base building thing from Relic has me cautious.  I like building up my bases, dammit!

Unannounced Red Alert 3 Expansion – Without a doubt, I’ll be picking this up if and when it’s released.  Still having a lot of fun with the base game.

Starcraft II – Again, this one is obvious.  I’ll continue to follow Starcraft II developments on my blog as they surface.  Let’s just hope the game comes out in 2009 instead of being postponed.

After you factor in some inevitable surprise games, as well as the ones I didn’t discuss, 2009 is looking like it could be a busy year in strategy!


Starcraft II Battle Report #1 Released

December 22, 2008

Blizzard recently made available the first of what will surely be many “Battle Reports” detailing some of the different features and gameplay found in the heavily anticipated Starcraft II.  I actually didn’t play the original Starcraft when it was released, but being the big RTS fan I am, I picked it up a couple years ago and played through it.  Definitely an awesome game which holds up relatively well even today.  Blizzard has done a wonderful job turning it into the big competitive ordeal it is now, particularly in Asia.  Unfortunately, I never really got into the multiplayer on Starcraft, as I don’t enjoy having my ass handed to me on Battle.net, which generally happens when you pick up an 8 year-old game.  So I’m hoping to get in at ground level on the sequel.

I’ve followed the development of Starcraft II casually as various details have come out.  For example, I know the same three races are around, and I know I heard they were going to release the game in three phases, the first of which being the Terrans, if I’m not mistaken.  I also saw from the first released videos back several months ago that there will be some old units and many new ones, but the gameplay will be fundamentally unchanged.  That means the games are still going to be fast-paced and exciting, which is good in my book.

While watching the video, I made some notes:

– I love the idea of a base expansion area protected by a barrier that must be destroyed by either side (1:00 mark).  That looks like it will add another bit of strategy to the early game resource race.

– It’s crazy how fundamentally different the races are, while still maintaining the balance that Blizzard is known for (I assume it will be balanced anyway…)

– Man, it’s been a while.  I may need to pop Starcraft I back in to get familiar with the races again.  I’m lost with the units and teching up.  Some look familiar, but not many.

– At the 7:00 mark, the Protoss player makes a micro move where he pulls back the unit in his group of Stalkers that was getting fired upon, causing the enemy Marauder to stop firing and chase, then getting worked by the other Stalkers.  Talk about an advanced move I never would have thought to do.  These guys are several leagues above my level.

– I know it’s similar to the first game, but I don’t like how many SCV’s are necessary – it looks like an army of ants gathering resources.  Why can’t there be two or three doing the same work instead of 20?

– Let me just say, I love watching RTS games with commentary.  I know that’s an extreme geek thing to say, but I think the commentary provides a lot of insight I would normally miss, given my relative inexperience in the Starcraft games.

So all in all I have to say it looks very fun.  This game is definitely one of my most anticipated, and this video was very well done.  I’ll be looking forward to more Battle Reports and further information on Starcraft II as it surfaces.  Who knows – we may even see the release before the end of 2009!


Sending those commies back to their mommies

December 11, 2008

So a friend and I got deeper into the Red Alert 3 campaign mode last night. We did the final Soviet mission, which took the better part of an hour, and the first Allied mission.

The final Soviet mission was pretty well done. We had a reasonable challenge on medium difficulty, although we were never really in danger of being defeated. Eventually we amassed a huge force and rolled over the Empire without much resistance. All in all, a fun first third of the campaign. I’m going yo be surprised if I like either of the other two factions more that the Soviets, as they are probably the closest faction to the typical C&C game of old. 

Two things: the cooperative mode is insanely well done, and this game has character. What this game may lack on original mission types and game mechanics (they’ve all been pretty standard thus far, with limited exceptions) it more than makes up for with the co-op and the story.  The co-op is easy to get started and well-implemented, often requiring (rather than just allowing) teamwork to advance. Sometimes this is because the two commanders are limited to certain units (e.g. one gets navy, one gets air) and other times because the CPU forces are just too much to overcome without help. It definitely feels like you’re working together. A mic is definitely recommended (voice chat is built in).

The story is a big plus as well.  It’s obviously over the top and campy, with the live action cutscenes the series is so well known for.  Some hate it, but I absolutely adore it.  The actors seem to be in on the joke, and ham up their lines to no end.  And they’re more or less actual actors too!  You’ve got Tim Curry, the bad guy from Toy Soldiers, one of the nihilists from the Big Lebowski, and enough out-of-place cleavage to satisfy even the most immature among us.  Best line so far: U.S. president J.K. Simmons asking us to “send those commies back home to their mommies.”  Good stuff.

I have very few complaints about this game.  One thing I’m not a huge fan of though is the disjointed difficulty level curve associated with presenting three separate campaigns. What I mean is, we work our way through the Soviet campaign and finally unlock all the units available on the last mission. (For the record, I am in favor of this kind of progression, as it teaches you about each unit one mission at a time, which is a good primer for multiplayer.)  However, when you go on to the Allied missions, you start back at first-mission difficulty, only able to build the most basic of units.  It’s a small complaint, and honestly, I’m not sure there’s a better way to do it and keep a semi-coherent storyline, it’s just a bit jarring.

Nonetheless, so far this game has been well worth the $50.  Loads of good times to be had with a buddy.  I’ll update further here on how the Allied and Empire missions play out and also some multiplayer info once I progress a little further.  Does it change anything in the RTS world?  Not really, aside from the excellent co-op.  But it’s more Red Alert that I wanted, and that’s what I got.  No complaints.


Red Alert 3 Initial Impressions; I hate rushers

December 9, 2008
(Note that this post originally appeard at digitalschlotzky.blogspot.com on 12/6/08, but was moved when the blog relocated to this address.)
I think Command and Conquer may have been the first “real” PC game I ever played. I remember tooling around in Sam’s Club one day waiting on my mom to get done shopping (this had to be junior high or earlier) and finding this game set up on the PCs there. I was fascinated with the way you could move the units around, causing the fog of war to dissipate as they uncovered more and more of the battlefield. I think I bought it shortly thereafter.

Fast forward 13 years. After numerous iterations on what is essentially the same formula throughout the Tiberium, Red Alert, and Generals games, Red Alert 3 is the latest in the series to be released. Some would say my use of the words “essentially the same formula” in the last sentence would be construed as a negative. To the contrary, that is exactly what I want. I have loved every single one of the games in the series (except for maybe Generals). For the uninitiated, Red Alert 3 is a real-time strategy game in which you are charged with building a miliary base, collecting resources, and wiping out your opponent.

Although slightly slower paced than Red Alert 2 and C&C3, RA3 is definitely faster-playing than a lot of the RTS games out there. There’s only one possible resource (ore), and it comes from set points that are clearly visible to all players. Most online matches last between 15 and 30 minutes. These battles can range from the truly epic to the extremely frustrating and mundane (see rushing diatribe below).

I haven’t gotten through all the campaign yet. RA3 has its trademark full motion video scenes between missions, which are great. New this year is the implementation of co-op into the mission structure. Every mission in the campaign can either be played with another live person or the AI. I tried the first few Soviet missions with a friend of mine, and it works fantastically well and is great fun.

I will probably get into specifics in later posts, but let me bitch about one thing before I sign off for the night. Rushing. Rushing is the process by which an RTS player acquires just enough resources to build a ton of one type of unit, with the sole purpose of sending that mass of clones to take out your base before you can get your economy up and running. To me, this type of play requires absolutely no skill, unless you count looking on forums to find optimal build order, then typing that build order into your queues a skill. However, few things are more satisfying than fending off a rusher and defeating them.

I’m not saying the game is imbalanced – there are ways to defend all rushes, I just don’t think I should have to. It’s this way in every RTS game I’ve played, unfortunately. Is it enough to get me to stop playing Red Alert 3? Not hardly. I do automatch a lot, and I would say out of the twenty or so online games I’ve played, maybe 7 have tried to rush me, probably 5 of which succeeded. So it’s not pervasive, but it definitely enough to be highly annoying.