#118: The New Raid

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(This is the first picture that shows up in the free picture search engine for “raid,” for some reason.)

Jimmy and I both agree, the newest raid added to World of Warcraft in patch 8.1, Battle of Dazar’alor, has been a smash hit. It’s a wild ride from start to finish, representing perfectly what an actual, all-out war between two juggernaut super-factions would look like, rendered into the game’s modest engine. There are hefty stakes at play from both sides; consider the targeted assassination of the Zandalari king, and the reckless defense and heated chase through the waters to hunt down Jaina Proudmoore. Amidst all the high stakes is heightened tensions between the two factions after the battle climaxes. No one inevitably dies, except for the king, which leads to the events of the war campaign and allied race acquisition in 8.1.5. This is all just about the raid’s story, touching nothing on the bosses, mechanics, aesthetics, and more. But it’s impossible to separate this raid from the overarching story, as it is a climactic moment in the tale so far.

My favorite boss I’ve faced so far has been Opulence, wherein the raid splits in two and follows treasure golems through cavernous paths lined with booby traps and flame engines. But if you make it to the last room, powerful gems await that can empower your character, allowing them to finish the golems and enter the second phase of the encounter, wherein you face the massive treasure elemental, Opulence. It’s a ridiculous fight, and I loved being able to experience it firsthand in LFR and Normal difficulties. Hopefully, with my gear level increasing so fast, I have the opportunity to raid on Heroic sometime soon. That might be too much stress though, and we already know I’ve talked enough about stress recently!

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#102: The MOBA

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MOBA stands for multiplayer online battle arena. It’s a genre of video game, typically played on computers, with its most popular entry being League of Legends, probably the most popular game in the world right now. League has had that title for well over the past few years, leading into 2012 most likely. MOBAs feature chosen heroes or champions battling it out on a map with repeatable, respawnable minions or creeps sieging the opposing team’s fortress. The goal is to completely take down the other team’s fortress, ultimately laying siege to their core, the most important structure in their fortress. If the core goes down, so to does the team. These are all features that pretty much all MOBAs share, regardless of who’s playing them or what game is being played.

Now, the reason I’ll be discussing MOBAs today is because of a certain game within the genre that’s of particular importance to myself and my friends. This game is called Heroes of the Storm, known as the third most popular MOBA on the market, behind both League and Dota 2. Heroes is a fantastic game with lots of gameplay diversity and options, despite its lower popularity. Characters like The Lost Vikings offer micro-based experiences, while newer characters like Imperius and Blaze are heavyweight, front line bruisers who tank damage and dish it out as well. They tend to be some of my favorite to play when I join a team with friends. The game itself allows me to play how I want to play by choosing my hero in advance, through the game’s quick match mode.

In continuing the trend of talking about my sleepover experiences, Heroes comes to mind because it’s frequently one of the best options we have. Being a team of three players usually, we have enough team chemistry and cooperative skills to win most of our games. And we do, and winning is pretty fun! Late at night, after some time spent horsing around on other games and devices, we end up on Heroes as a way to pass the time before bed. I can’t separate my appreciation for this game from its usual place in our sleepover schedule, as it fills such a hole in our time. Games usually go about 20 minutes or so, which is short enough for us to spam games, gain experience for each of our heroes, and win in glorious fashion. The games are much shorter than the average League or Dota game, which I’ve learned to appreciate as a way for me to not have to commit super hard to a game when I press the queue button. I know that, even if the game sucks and we lose, it only goes about fifteen minutes so I shouldn’t be too bothered by it.

#92: The Tournament

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Apologies in advance if this comes off as super confusing to anyone unfamiliar with Smash Bros. I’ll be talking about a video game I’m super interested in, and how it felt watching it over this past weekend. I know I talk about video games a lot, but they’re important to me!

So, instead of watching the Super Bowl this weekend, Alex and I decided to try something different: we watched, on our brand-spanking new 4k TV, a super major Smash Bros tournament, featuring both Melee and Ultimate competitors. The Melee tournament went late and lasted about three to four hours, about the same time as the big game itself, and we were able to watch a jigglypuff player take the entire tournament by the end. Alex was cheering for him, while I was cheering for the Yoshi and Shiek mostly. It was interesting to watch two characters I was pretty unfamiliar with take it to the grand finals against each other. That’s always an exciting twist.

Also, over 2.1 thousand people entered the Ultimate tournament, and it was ultimately won by MKLeo, a Mexican player and prodigy who plays primarily Lucina, Ike, and Cloud. Alex and I watched it together pretty much throughout the weekend, from top 64 all the way through to the top 8. It was exciting, thrilling, and worthwhile for us to watch. The tournament was called Genesis 6, considered by many to be the beginning of the Smash Bros competitive season for the year, and the apex of smash bros tournaments. That can only mean that more weekends will be filled with more streams in the future.

Also, considering the super bowl turned out to be pretty boring for many, I may have made the better decision to watch this instead! It is, after all, the pinnacle of competitive smash. I was excited to get the chance to watch the best in the world face off against each other. Here’s hoping there’s more to come, and I bet there is!

#88: Fire Emblem

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Since I started playing games as a young kid, I’ve been fascinated with blazing swords, fiery dragons, and relentless warriors of the fantasy genre. It’s something of an obsession, as I still play World of Warcraft from when I was in 7th grade and still write fantasy campaigns for Dungeons & Dragons when I have the time. If you read my most recent book review, you also know I love The Witcher and the book series that accompanies it, too.

So let’s talk about something new. Fire Emblem: Heroes is a mobile game I play from time to time, mostly at the gym or in the bathroom. It’s deceptively strategic, full of skills and knowledge you have to know in order to compete at the highest level of Arena play. There’s also, of course, a high bar for entry marked by money. If you have money and are willing to spend it, you can achieve as high as possible in this game. It’s a “pay-to-win” game if I’ve ever seen one, and yet I’m fascinated by it, too. I don’t spend money on it, at least never very much, and I try to limit how often I play. Considering my dad is (or was, I’m not sure any more) obsessed with Candy Crush and has spent hundreds of dollars trying to pass through all the levels, I’ve definitely learned my lesson from my elders. It’s not a good idea to go too overboard with games.

This game features everything great about fantasy games: dragons, deep lore, fascinating characters, and unique combat. You set up a team of four heroes (whoever you own) and you charge into battle against legions of other heroes, sometimes villains, sometimes not. My favorite mode is the Tempest Trials, when your group of four heroes needs to fend off wave after wave of randomized enemies for powerful rewards. Needless to say, that’s my kind of mode.

#78: Card Games

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Instead of talking directly about Hearthstone again in another blog post, I decided to talk about card games in general, considering Hearthstone is indeed a card game.

I love playing card games, of all shapes and sizes: collectible card games, trading card games, battle card games, card games with boards. Poker, blackjack, uno, crazy eights, war, solitaire, Hearthstone, Artifact, Yugioh, Pokemon, Magic: the Gathering, Duel Masters. No matter what kind of card game I’m playing, I’m interested in it.

I spent a lot of time (and money) on Magic: the Gathering back in high school and college, as it became a common hobby among our group of gamers. We built Standard-format decks first, then moved into Modern and EDH (Elder dragon highlander) formats. EDH is still my favorite, offering players decks of a hundred totally unique cards. There’s so much room for creativity in the deck-building process, but inconsistency in the playing of the game; because the deck is composed of totally unique cards, the odds of you drawing the exact card you want at any given time is around 1-100. My friend Joe probably still plays Magic to this day, as he invested much more money into it than I ever did; however, Joe is smart and knows how to make money back by selling his old cards on eBay. He even helped me when I decided to sell my stock of cards away.

Oddly enough, despite my interest in card games, I’ve never learned successfully how to shuffle cards. I still smash two titanic halves of the deck into each other, mushing them together until it looks as if they have disappeared into one deck. Then I repeat it, again and again, until I’m somewhat confident that there won’t be any major repeats of cards when we start drawing through the deck. Every time I have the responsibility of shuffling the deck, that’s my biggest fear: that the deck wasn’t shuffled well enough, that there are repeats and errors throughout, and that we have to go back and shuffle it all again, prolonging the beginning of our game.

#75: Hearthstone & Teeth

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Careful! There’s a fire burning above here, for some reason. It has no relation to today’s blog post topic, “Hearthstone & Teeth,” it just showed up under the Free Photo Library for the search term Hearth. I guess it works.

Hearthstone is a video game I’ve put tons and tons of hours into, probably more than I ever should have. It’s kept me occupied on study abroad trips, on Michigan plane rides, and after pesky orthodontist appointments. While I was abroad for six months in London, I spent a lot of my free time playing this game, as it had just released and I wanted to grind out games with my Control Warrior build.

But I also remember when the game first came out in 2014 as the year I got my wisdom teeth pulled. The release of the game’s closed beta — a pre-release copy of the game, with no strings attached, that you have to have been sent a “beta code” to enter — coincided with my wisdom teeth, actually. Maybe the beta came out in 2013, then. Either way, as I explained, a beta code is hard to get. Famous video game streamers on Twitch were offered codes in exchange for streaming the game, so that it would attract the attention of the general video game-playing audience. (Twitch.tv is a website that people stream playing video games on. It’s a massively popular site, where the highest earning streamer earns over $1 million a month.)

Well, I remember coming home from my wisdom teeth appointment, feeling super numb all over myself and in no mood to entertain anyone, and after opening up my email on my phone, I saw a message: “Beta Code for Anthony!” How cool of a coincidence is that? It blew my mind at the time, and I remember spending the next few days of numbness and frustration building decks and trying out all the cool new strategies available in this special card game.

I realized after writing this that I didn’t spend much time talking about Hearthstone itself, just its personal relation to me. Maybe I’ll talk more about the actual game in another post. So, don’t be surprised if it makes a return coming up.

#73: Water Castle

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We’ve got to beat the water castle. We’ve got to beat that damn thing.

Let’s talk about Mario games, and their addictive multiplayer possibilities. Though I prefer other platformers over New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe, such as DK: Tropical Freeze, it’s been a worthwhile purchase and a fun addition to my collection of Nintendo Switch titles. It’s provided us with hilarious moments, goofs, and gaffs, and it’s another adventure for Alex and I to complete together. Because it offers six playable characters with different properties on their jumps and power-ups, the game allows you to choose to play at your own speed. Certain characters are easier than others, such as Toadette and Nabbit, and they help players like Alex (who aren’t experts in Nintendo platforming games) gain some familiarity with the controls without intimidating them much. The feature is smart and adds a level of accessibility to the game, similar to a carefully crafted lesson plan including ample differentiation for all players and participants. It’s similar to how Mario Kart 8 Deluxe added the rail feature, preventing karts from falling off the edges with an easy button press on the options menu. We also split the price for this game, so it feels like a group purchase, rather than me buying a game and hoping Alex likes it.

But the water castle. Ugh, the water castle. When this post goes up, hopefully we’ve beaten the damn thing by now. I might write another post later about this game, to provide some updates for people who care. But at the present moment, we are struggling to beat the damn water castle, because we haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and beat it together. The current plan is to finish it tonight (Thursday evening), despite all odds.

#58: Multiplayer & Solo

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Continuing the spirit of talking about things that I talked about a long time ago but want to dedicate more thought to, here’s Overwatch again, but in a different context! (The enclosed picture is not related to Overwatch at all, but that’s because there aren’t any free pictures on the internet of the logo, so this will have to suffice.)

In case you didn’t read my last blog post on this subject or are living under a rock, Overwatch is a first-person shooter (fps) video game for the PC, Xbox, and PS4. It features quick movement, a massive pool of heroes with different niches and styles, and solid, reliable run-and-gun gameplay built around teamwork and cooperation. Six heroes make up a team and have to complete a single objective in order to win a match; however, opposing them is another team of six heroes with the sole objective of making sure the first team does not succeed. It’s a back-and-forth, chaotic, fun multiplayer game built for pre-made teams to dominate together. When I find myself hanging out with my friends, we always end up playing at least one or two games of Overwatch before the night is over. Bringing our laptops or computers together to play games is a classic tradition of ours, to complete the LAN party atmosphere, but venturing online to Battle.net to play some Overwatch is almost an inevitability.

Despite all this talk about the game’s multiplayer prowess, I also enjoy playing solo from time to time. The Quick Play mode is painless and, as its name implies, quick, a simple way of entering a game with like-skilled players but without any major competitive stakes attached, except for a small bit of experience gained at the end of the match for the winning team. There are different virtues to extol while playing the game online with friends versus online by myself, and I’ve learned to enjoy both. The fact that every match is multiplayer does not necessarily mean I have to play with other people I know in my party to have fun.

 

#55: The Witcher

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Since leaving my teaching job, I’ve had a lot of time to return to my hobbies, such as journal writing, blog writing, and of course, video games. It’s not a day without touching at least one game, whether it’s on my phone, the computer/laptop, or television. One such game I’ve taken an interest to recently is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Considered by many to be the game of the year in 2015, this game features a sprawling open world, a dark, unrelenting morality system, and the opportunity to slice, slash, and slay nearly anything you want to, whether it’s ruffians at the tavern or ghouls at your campsite. The Witcher 3 has helped me find new interest in open-world RPGs, especially modern, western-developed ones. I don’t think I’ve played a WRPG this consistently since beating Fallout 3 years and years ago. I’ve plugged 15 hours into it so far, and although I hope to beat

Speaking of witchers and witching, I’ll likely make a separate blog post about this sometime in the future, but I’ve recently gotten into reading the witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. Spectacular battles and raging warfare abound in the books, as Geralt of Rivia slays many a monstrous foe. So far, I’ve found The Lash Wish to be a wonderfully easy, digestible fantasy read, which is what I was looking for upon buying it a few afternoons ago. Whether or not it lives up to the hype by the end, I can say for certain that it captures the feeling of playing the games well.

Yes, I know the books came before the games, and yet the games gave the books popularity, in the same way A Game of Thrones had a cult following before bursting into the mainstream thanks to HBO’s hit TV show. I am a fan of the mantra, “the book is always better,” but in some cases, the book is not where my experience with the media starts. For those who have had that privilege, that’s wonderful for them.

#43: The Mythic

Mythic dungeon runs in World of Warcraft are stressful, nerve-wracking, and high stakes. They can sometimes take an hour or more to complete, and their completion insists and relies upon five people and their ability to coordinate with each other through dangerous obstacles and trials. One healer, one tank, and three damage dealers join together as a makeshift team to take down bad guys and delve far into some of the most deadly places you can imagine. Often, the obstacles in the way test the stability and patience of those brave enough to venture inside. Bosses, which are difficult enemies that require more intense coordination and mechanics to triumph over, line the path to the dungeon’s exit. Trash, which is what the nameless enemies you face between bosses are called, can test your patience too, if you’re not careful enough. Trash often is grouped up and has to be aoe’d down (aoe = area of effect, which are spells or moves that deal damage in an area, affecting multiple targets, rather than just a single one.)

The difference between a mythic dungeon and a regular dungeon is that mythics are timed. Each mythic dungeon has a specific, preset timer that your group needs to overcome in order to progress through your key. If the dungeon key is a high enough level, you might even face against certain “affixes” that make it even more difficult, such as quaking, which makes it so that every 20 seconds or so, your character exudes a large area move around them that deals friendly fire damage to the team. The strategy for dealing with this, ultimately, is to keep separate so that the area doesn’t overlap with anyone else’s before it spawns. Accidents happen, as they often do, and strategies can dissolve in an instant if the unexpected takes place. The truth to overcoming a mythic is complete trust between group members: trust that they won’t screw each other over, and that they will do their best to avoid making other people’s lives miserable.

More often than not, the dungeon has a clear path from beginning to end, leading through all the aforementioned baddies. But, sometimes the dungeons have branching paths, and sometimes there are efficient shortcuts that skip certain packs of trash, if you’re careful enough to avoid their sight range. Sometimes, the trash is as powerful as a boss, and there’s lots of trash to clear on the way to the end. There are, however, some common strategies that help you take down these threats. It’s the tank’s responsibility to “tank,” or command the attention and aggression of, all the enemies you face, while keeping the rest of the party safe. The healer’s responsibility is to cure any wounds the party faces along their journey, while the damage dealers are glass cannons: especially weak to damage, but especially good at dishing it out as well.

Now by this point you might be thinking, this sounds stressful (remember that they are timed, too). And it is, no doubt about that. But the rewards are often worth the stress that goes into it. Mythic dungeon runs are repeatable, and each new difficulty level (+2, all the way through +25) has a chance to award new levels of gear for completing it. If your character wants to progress at all, they’re probably doing some manner of mythic dungeons.