Starcraft II : Legacy of the Void

StarCraft_II_-_Legacy_of_the_Void_coverDate Completed : November 21st, 2015

Spoiler warning!  Don’t read if you care!

Having already reviewed SC2 : WoL and SC2: HotS I don’t think there’s much new to say about how the game is played.  I’ll try and focus on what sets this game apart from the previous SC2 titles.

Legacy mixes things up a little bit by including prologue and epilogue missions in addition to a main campaign.  The main campaign this time around really didn’t resonate with me very much.  I think it has to do with the story – in the Terran missions there were a lot more subplots and only hints of the overarching story for the trilogy.  In Legacy the overarching story is right in your face, and all of the subplots are related to the resolution of the story.  Many of the missions reiterated on plot points that previous missions had already touched upon.  I felt to me that they were stretching things out pretty thin so they could include a full 19 missions.

The game starts with an attempt by the Protoss to retake their homeworld of Aiur.  You land on Aiur with an invincle army, and I suspect that the mission was designed with the intention of making you feel invincible.  You command a massive army and you steamroll your way easily through an army of entrenched Zerg.  The invasion seems destined for success until suddenly every Protoss is mind controlled by Amon, the dark voice from the void.  Only the Dark Templar Zeratul is unaffected and he gives his life to free a remnant Protoss forces from Amon so that they could escape.  Zeratul has been one of my favorite characters in all of gaming since my college days (I own his action figure).  I told a colleague at work that I’d rather see him die than lose Zeratul.  I think he thought I was kidding.  I’m not sure I was.

The remainder of the missions involved freeing / finding more Protoss forces so that you can make a second attempt at liberating Aiur.  The cut-scenes seem to have been taken up a notch – every single one of them is fantastic.   The story however seems to fizzle out at this point.  You know the campaign is going to end with the successful retaking of Aiur and everything else in between is just filler.  Awesome filler, but filler nonetheless.  The sentiment that seemed to shared by my friends was that Legacy offered the weakest campaign of the three games.

When I finished the final main campaign mission I decided to take a short break before starting up the epilogue.  BIG MISTAKE.  The epilogue is only three missions long (1 Protoss, 1 Terran, 1 Zerg) but it concludes the Starcraft II trilogy in the most satisfying way possible.   The ending is the most shamefully awesome fan-service of all time and I loved every second of it.  It more than makes up for any perceived shortcomings of the main campaign.

I’m sorry to see the end of the trilogy but with the upcoming mission packs I’m sure I’ll continue to play Starcraft for years to come.

Is it fun: Yes
Score: 9/10
Length:  10 hours
System: PC / Mac
Genre: Real Time Strategy

Diablo III : Reaper of Souls

Date Completed : 11/9/2014

Diablo III was fun, but was a big disappointment as well.  I can’t recall any other games in memory that has spawned more discussion with friends about what went wrong, and how it could have been better.  The conversations were very similar to the discussions about where Star Wars I, II and III went wrong.  Luckily for Blizzard it’s easier to patch a game than a movie.

I think my colleague Josh said it best when he said Diablo III : Reaper of Souls is the game that Blizzard should have released originally.  In preparation for the expansion the game was patched with major updates.  The auction house that seemed like a good idea at the time but totally ruined the original game was removed.  The difficulty level scale was completely reworked, and a few new play modes including ‘Adventure Mode’ were added that made it fun to play even after you’d cleared the game.

The expansion itself adds a fifth act to the game where you hunt down Malthiel, the Angel of Death who has gone rogue and stolen the black soul stone.  The new Act reminded me a lot of Act III, which was my favorite of the original release.  So, the new act is a good one.

It’s still too dark and violent for my boys to watch, and combined with the requirement for Internet access I wasn’t able to play at all until we completed our move into our new home.  Even after the move I didn’t play much until I found that it is quite possible to play one handed while holding my infant daughter.  It turns out that she enjoys the game almost as much as me…although I’m pretty sure my wife disapproves of this particular method of bonding.  I used to joke that my oldest boy would find the sound of gunfire relaxing because I played so much Resistance 2 while he was an infant.  Maybe my daughter will find the sounds of monsters exploding relaxing.

In my original Diablo III review I wrote I’ll probably be playing on and off for 10 years, and now I’m even more sure of that statement than I was when I first wrote it.  Maybe by then my sons will even be able to play with me.

Hearthstone : Heroes of Warcraft

Hearthstone-logoDate Completed: August 20, 2014

Can you ever really beat Hearthstone?  Probably not but I did beat the Naxxramas expansion and I figured the game was worth a write-up.

I was invited to the Beta of the game but I didn’t think it was very fun because I was constantly getting stomped by the insane lunatics that make playing this game their entire life.  Without a single player mode there wasn’t anything for me to do in the game except lose.  I shelved the game for a long time until the iOS version came out.  One day, I was dorking around on my wife’s iPad and I noticed that Hearthstone was installed on it.  Since we share an iTunes account It had been automatically installed for her when I downloaded the game on the computer.  I asked myself, “What’s the harm in giving the game another try?”.  I created a new Battle.net account for my wife because I didn’t want to log in to her iPad with my account and got started.  After rushing through the tutorial the game gave her a pack of cards, which I opened only to find a Legendary Illidain Stormrage card.

Illidan_Stormrage(203)

The little Orange gem in the center means it is Legendary

NOT FAIR.  I’d opened several packs and had never found a Legendary card, and had only found one Epic card (For reference in Hearthstone it goes Common, Rare, Epic, Legendary).  The game doesn’t allow for the trading of cards, so my wife (who is unlikely to ever play the game) now had a Legendary, and everything I had seemed like absolute garbage in comparison.  This sparked my quest to get my own Legendary card.

Weeks later I found myself playing the daily Hearthstone quest for in-game gold.  I must have earned enough to buy dozens of packs of cards but I still didn’t have any Legendaries.  My wife was complaining I was playing too much – and she was right but when I obsess over something I go all-in.  I’d spent too much time now to give up now.  Then Naxxramas came out and everything changed.  ‘Common’ Legendary cards were offered as rewards for beating each wing of Naxxramas.  It was no longer hard to get a Legendary card – everyone had Legendaries!

Proof I cleared Naxxramas

I was thrown into a deep and dark depression, that lasted about as long as it too me to realize that it’s just a game and it doesn’t matter.  Nothing mattered anymore.  I gave up on my quest.  I continued playing, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore.  Some friends and I held a double elimination tournament, which I lost spectacularly and I found I didn’t care.  One day I resolved to quit playing the game entirely.  Then it happened…

Alexstrasza

 

I got a Legendary!! A legitimate, non-Naxxramas Legendary! It wasn’t a crappy one either, it was the card that was pivotal in many of the strategies for beating the ultra-bosses of the Naxxramas expansion. Unfortunately like many things in life, achieving my ultimate goal in Hearthstone was kind of a let down.  I played a few more times after picking up my card, and haven’t launched it since.  When the next expansion comes out I’ll probably be back for awhile, but I think my days of insane jealousy towards my wife’s Illidain Stormrage (Come On! She doesn’t even play!) and obsessive playing are over. For now, I have achieved my goals and I can lay this game to rest.

Is it fun: Yes
Score: 8/10
Length:  Eternal
System: PC / iOS
Genre: Card

Starcraft II : Heart of the Swarm

StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm

Date Completed : 3/18/2013

There are only a few things more exciting in life than the release of a new Blizzard game.  I’ve been playing Starcraft ( and Diablo ) on and off for 15 years now.  No other game in my collection has been played so consistently for so long.  My former roommates and I played the original Starcraft game regularly for over a decade until finally, Starcraft II : Wings of Liberty was released.  My oldest boy was a bit over a year old at launch and he was able to participate in his first great video game unboxing.  He even helped to christen the box by peeing on it during a potty training incident.

I have two boys now (almost 4 and 2 years old) and they both helped me to unbox StarCraft II : Heart of the Swarm.  I’ve tried to explain the plot of the game to them but the older boy thinks that Sarah Kerrigan is a bit scary and the younger boy thinks she’s some sort of spider.  Their lack of enthusiasm didn’t slow me down much.  I was able to play through quite a bit of the game by distracting them with classic ’80s cartoons.

HOTS Unboxing

Unboxing HotS with the boys.

The game hasn’t changed a whole lot from previous incarnations of StarCraft.  If you’ve ever played a real-time strategy game you’ll know what to expect.  The big difference between StarCraft and other lesser RTS titles is the story.  I had to rush through the game because co-workers have been discussing the plot for the last week.  After playing through the game my wife actually feigned interest in the story and asked me how it ended.  After completing the game I can say that the story is excellent and it clears up most of the loose ends from the previous title quite nicely.  The between chapter videos were all as high quality as you’d expect Blizzard produced videos to be and all had jaw-dropping plot developments.  I sent (and received) many text messages after finishing a chapter that consisted only of the text “OMG!!!”.  StarCraft truly is the greatest space Opera of our time.

Most of the missions are variations on missions from the previous title.  The big difference is that this game has a lot more hero missions where you control only Kerrigan and a small attack force.  Kerrigan levels up as missions progress and gains new abilities.  Some of her abilities are ridiculously powerful and I found myself trying to beat a lot of the missions without using any of the other units that were available.  In another big twist Kerrigan is also available in most of the traditional missions.  Effectively micro-managing Kerrigan’s abilities can completely changes the tides of war.

The game is a big buggy.  There are achievements that weren’t properly awarded, sound that didn’t work right and random crashes.  I plan on playing through the game again at some point but I think I’ll wait for a patch or two.  If Diablo III is any model it’ll take about a year for the code base to stabilize.  It’s probably best to avoid the game for awhile anyway.  My kids stopped calling me ‘Daddy’ and instead refer to me as ‘That man in the back who plays StarCraft’.  Plus my wife keeps giving me the evil eye (but to be honest, that could be for all sorts of things).

I think in many ways StarCraft II : Heart of the Swarm surpasses Wings of Liberty.  The story was more enjoyable, the missions were super fun, and the Kerrigan hero unit was totally badass.  I whole heartedly endorse this game.

.Pros

  • New Missions
  • New Units
  • More Story
  • Awesome Cut-Scenes

Cons

  • My younger boy forgot my name.
  • My wife loves me a little less.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 10/10
Length:  10 hours
System: PC / Mac
Genre: Real Time Strategy

Diablo III

Date Completed: May 26th, 2012

15 years ago I was introduced to the concept of online gaming with a game known as ‘Diablo’.  AOL was still the primary ‘Internet’ service for a lot of people and my friends and I spent many long hours trying to get a game to stay connected for longer than 30 seconds.  Online gaming came with a lot of new experiences including introducing me to my first stalker.  I was playing as a female rogue and I had a stalker follow me around on battle.net who refused to believe that I was a dude in real life.  I vowed to never be a woman again.

Diablo III takes place 20 years after the events of Diablo II. If you are one of the millions of people who played through Diablo II you may find yourself wondering how Diablo III can even exist after the definitive death of Diablo in the previous title.  After playing the third game I’m still not sure about the answer to that question.  After finishing the game I spent some time on the Diablo wiki to begin to make sense of the events in the game.  Even after that I was left with questions than answers.

Action RPG games are basically just an excuse to make clicking the mouse more fun.  You point at things on the screen and click.  Sometimes you need to click quickly and sometimes you click slowly.  For some variety you may need to click with the right button and advanced player may even find themselves using some of the buttons on the keyboard (only sparingly).  Veteran players will be happy to see that clicking the mouse and pressing keyboard buttons has been streamlined and it is much easier to access your skills than in previous Diablo games.

The problem with Diablo III is that in an effort to make the game less irritating than it’s predecessor they actually ended up making it less awesome.  Diablo II had a rich leveling system and skill tree system that had it’s flaws but it added strategy and replayability.  In Diablo III you never have to worry about where to put your stat points, or which skills to research.  You can’t totally botch your character and be forced to start over.  This may sound like a good thing but in a game that essentially involves clicking the left mouse button over and over it eliminates the only strategic aspect of the game.

There’s also the pesky always-online system.  StarCraft II required online access for achievements or multiplayer but it had an offline mode that you could fall back on if say, COMCAST SUCKS (Which it does) or if your in-laws live somewhere rural and are on Satellite Internet.  Diablo III has none of that and while it hasn’t been a major inconvenience for me personally I know several people who this is a game stopper for.

There are four difficulty levels and beating the game on the hardest mode takes quite a bit of effort.  In fact, playing through Diablo III all the way can become more of a way of life than actual gaming.  Some of my colleagues have suggested that you haven’t truly defeated Diablo III unless you’ve defeated it on the hardest difficulty ‘Inferno’.  After much soul searching I have decided that beating it on Normal is enough to count.

Diablo III is a fun game.  It’s not quite as great a game as Diablo II but I do plan to be playing it off and on for the next 10 years so I won’t complain too much.

Pros

  • More Diablo!!
  • In theory, you can make real money by playing the game. (at the auction house)

Cons

  • No Offline Play
  • Skill System / Character Leveling greatly simplified
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 8/10
Length:  ~10 hours to beat Normal
System: PC / Mac
Genre: Action RPG

StarCraft II : Wings of Liberty

While I was playing this game my wife often referred to herself as a ‘StarCraft Widow’.  Every free moment I had was spent playing StarCraft.  I would sneak away when she wasn’t looking so I could play more StarCraft.  I became obsessed to the point where I started buying StarCraft books and I almost ended up purchasing the StarCraft board game (Thankfully I did not).  I wish I could blame StarCraft for most of that but I think my obsessive personality may have had something to do with it.  


StarCraft  II isn’t just a game – it’s a way of life.  If you want to experience everything this game has to offer prepare to offer up your soul.  There is simply too much content for one normal person to get through in a lifetime.


The main campaign of StarCraft II revolves around the Terran race.  You follow the wacky exploits of James Raynor and his band of rebels as they try and save the universe from Arcturus Mengsk.  The main campaign has 26 missions each of which has multiple objectives.  Many of your objectives are optional but completing them will help you out in the long run by unlocking additional technology upgrades.  Each mission also has optional ‘Achievements’ so if you are in to that kind of thing you may end up playing many of the mission multiple times to pick them up.


Objectives in the game are much more varied than in the original title.  Instead of ‘wipe out all enemies’ there are objectives like ‘protect 5 colonist bases’ or ‘destroy 8 dominion trains’.  There are such a wide variety of objectives that I never found myself getting bored with the missions, even after 26 missions.  I had so much fun playing through the missions on normal that after I beat the game I immediately began a new game on hard and started over.


In addition to the campaign mode there is also a challenge mode available to single players.  It is a good tool to prepare you for online matches.  The challenge drops you into a scenario and you are awarded a medal on how well you perform.  The challenges are very practical and are good practice even if you’ve beat that challenge before.


Finally we have online play.  The online play is amazing.  Everything from the original StarCraft has been improved.  The only complaint I have heard is that new players are often confused that some units from the original StarCraft are missing.  If you read Blizzard’s documentation on the matter this was done for a reason, but it may confuse you if you are a fan of the original.  There are normal custom matches, but there are also league matches, cooperative matches, quick matches and team matches.  Any one type of match could consume all of your spare time.  There truly is endless game play potential.


Overall this is one of the most amazing games I have ever played.  I was a fan of the original StarCraft but this game takes it to a whole new level.  I haven’t played a game that I enjoyed this much in a long time.


Pros
* Improves on the original StarCraft.
* Tons of content.

Cons

* Kiss your life goodbye.


Is it fun: Yes
Score: 10/10
System: Mac (Battle.net)
Genre: Real-Time Strategy