On November 13, 2014, Warloard of Draenor, the fifth expansion pack for the King-Of-The-Hill MMO launched to great anticipation, and then promptly proceeded to fall flat on it’s face. The servers were unstable, the quests were bugged, the mad rush to 100 by millions of players resulted in the great story metamorphose into rabid click-fests, and to top it all off, a DDoS by script-kiddies strained the server infrastructure even further. The servers were population-capped to deal with some of the stress, which resulted in up to 10-hour queues. I myself sat in a queue for 7 hours and 20 minutes. The fault is not entirely Blizzard’s. In fact, network technicians pulled all-nighters to stabilize the situation. But this is not WoW’s first rodeo, launch stress is not exactly unprecedented, and players flocking to starting zones is not news.
On November 19, 2014, Blizzard announced 5 free days of game for one of the most embarrassing expansion launches in the game’s history.
On November 20, 2014, Blizzard announced that subscriptions were at 10 million, a 2.6 million increase since their last reported number, much to the dismay of competitors’ 10-year quest to see the titan dethroned.
But let’s look at those numbers for a second. 10 million subscribers, at an average of $15 a month is $150 million. If 5/30 of those days in the month are free, that is a flat $25 million dollars. 5 days of game time may seem a small concession to some, but the company has lost $25 million dollars in a heartbeat to try and appease its re-surging customer base.
When you start a title, do you have an urge to finish it? I do. It doesn’t matter if halfway through the game I realize it is awful, and I am not even having fun. But I must finish it, obsessively, just to make sure I got to the end, and checked it off of my list. Am I crazy? Or do most of you do that as well?!
In this month, which is about to end, I have already reviewed Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Tiny Troopers and Torchlight 2 for Hooked Gamers. In October, I will also have reviews for Faster Than Light, ARMA II: Army of the Czech Republic, Realms of Ancient War and Of Orcs and Men.
One would think getting free review copies would be awesome, but once you settle into the routine of reviewing pretty much a game a week in a 1500-2000 word feature, you realize that it is an incredibly difficult, and often thankless job! Better get to it then!
1. Four classes, 120 skills
But don’t be fooled by this. Each class had 30 skills, spread across 3 different trees. Each skill takes 15 points to max out. So even within a single class, you can have several builds that play radically different from one another. Now, multiply this by four classes. That is a lot of replay!
2. New Game+
New Game+ is not just your standard repetition of content, upgraded to match your level. You can also buy dungeon maps for gold, complete with their own set of variables, to mix things up. With a shared stash, you can keep exploring content to better equip your alts. Did I mention there are 44 dungeons to choose from?
3. Amazing graphics and sound
No review that I have seen so far, claims that the cartoony style of graphics detracts from the experience. That is because the graphics are amazing, sculpted with care and attention, and enhanced by Matt Uelmen’s riveting soundtrack.
4. Fishing and your Pet
Your pet fights by your side at all times. You don’t have to direct it, beyond setting its demeanor (aggressive, defensive, or passive). It is pretty smart about what to attack, and packs quite a punch. It automatically retreats when hurt, and does not die on you. The fish you catch can radically transform your pet into a wide variety of beasts, monsters and other colorful characters to expand your combat effectiveness. Depending on how much time you invest, you can catch fish that transforms your pet for short lengths of time, or permanently.
5. Surprises in every boss fight
Boss fights are crazy, intense affairs, and I have found myself being consistently surprised by their various abilities, fight mechanics and environmental hazards that stand in my way. Boss fights will make you think on the fly, making critical decisions in a split-second, and leave you breathless by the end of it. I guarantee, you will let out a “whew” at the end of quite a few of them.
6. Ton of loot
There is no way to express this in words. There is a nonsensical amount of loot. The deluge starts from your first swing, and never ends. You are literally showered with items, and you are constantly upgrading. It is akin to the proverbial carrot on a stick, but man I have never had so much fun chasing the carrot.
7. Enhancements: Charge Bar, Transmutor, Enchanter
There are several other elements that help enhance your game. A charge bar, uh, charges up when you are in combat, enhancing your statistics. It depletes when you are not in combat, subtly forcing you to constantly smack monsters around. A transmutor helps you craft new equipment from old items. The enchanter imbues your equipment with additional magical properties. A respec NPC restores your last three skill points. You have a personal stash. You have a shared stash for all of your characters. The list goes on and on.
8. Crunchy Combat
Combat is amazing. It is meaty and crunchy. Every blow, every shot, ever strike connects with a satisfying visual reaction and accompanying audio. You feel powerful, able to dish out devastating waves of destruction, obliterating everything in your path. Well almost everything. You will die, but that will help you learn. 🙂
9. Time spend on Not Wasting Yours
This a phrase from a review that I have been unable to find since, but its rings true. Torchlight 2 does not waste your time. The areas are huge, so you barely need to see the loading screen to begin with. When needed, loading times are practically non-existent. The character selection process is quick, intuitive and gets you in the game in 3 clicks. When you start a new character, you can get into combat, literally, within the first 10 seconds. In end game you can buy maps to get to dungeons instantly. This is a game that spends a lot of time ensuring it is not wasting yours.
10. It’s $20.
You really need an explanation for this? Go buy it!
Part of the reason I love post-apocalyptic fiction is because I find it fascinating to get the various takes on how civilization would go on if there was nuclear war, a zombie plague, a natural plague, or a synthetic virus that threatened to wipe out earth’s population. I don’t think I have ever seen a post-apocalyptic event play out where the protagonist was completely prepared for the end of the world. Mostly they are just shocked and trying to survive, or they wake up in a world gone to hell (28 Days Later, The Walking Dead comic).
So here is a thought, if such a catastrophic event were to take place today, what would you do? Where would you go? Who would you save? How would you survive?
For me, the mark of a video game is when I slam my keyboard in disgust because my character died. Permanently. Only to come back to it an hour later, hungry for me. That is what DayZ does to you. It is an intoxicating love affair. It is terrifying, heart-pumping, and incredibly, frustratingly arduous. But it is currently the most fun I am having online.
The following details my first three lives in DayZ. Bear in mind that during these three lives, I didn’t know you could simply respawn instead of having to get yourself killed if you wanted to start over.
I spawn at the beach. I had read some tutorials so I knew the most important thing in the first few seconds was to get a good bearing on my position in the 225 square kilometer world of DayZ. This information appears in the form of the nearest town in the bottom right corner of your screen for all of two seconds. Yet somehow, as I looked around the completely dark surroundings, I miss that critical piece of information. I know that by walking along the coastline, I will undoubtedly come across some settlement, and from there I can get my bearings. I turn left, and start running. Since you spawn along the coast only, you could be headed south (if you spawned on the eastern shore) or west, (if you spawned on the southern shore). What I did not know, because I had missed the location information initially, was that I was near Kamenka, a the south-western most settlement on the map. And by going left (further west), I would never come across any other towns.
I ran for fifteen minutes, and in the first few minutes, the terrain turned into a bare, barren wasteland. I switched to a daylight server, and ran some more. I ran inland, hoping to find another landmark. I ran further along the shore. Soon, however, I realized that my water and food need was growing rapidly, and turning an uglier and uglier shade of red. I alt-tabbed, and read up on what I was doing wrong, since it had been a good half hour since I had spawned. Some forums tell me that if I can’t find any settlements and all brush, trees, roads etc. have disappeared, then I have traveled off of the map.
I run back to the shore then, and start making my way back. My thirst level reaches flashing red before I reach the play area, I start losing health every few seconds. By the time I reach Kamenka (I have been playing for close to an hour now), I have 2K health left, and no hope of finding water. I run into the first zombie I find, and I let him kill me.
I was upset initially, thinking I had fucked up. But the fact of the matter was that I had screwed up royally. I breathe deeply, and get into it again.
I don’t miss my spawn location this time. It says “Komarova”, but I have no idea where this is exactly. I open an external map, and see that this spawn location is very close to my previous spawn location, just a little east. I take a look around. To my west, I see a lighthouse in the distance. To my east, I see some docks in the distance. I decide to go west first, and see if I can get anything from the lighthouse. I keep a lookout for any movement, knowing that zombies are found near all settlements. But I suppose a lighthouse isn’t exactly a settlement, as I find none in the area. I get to the lighthouse, look around it, go inside, climb to the top, but I see zero supplies. Cursing myself, I realize that the height is a good vantage points. So I look to my east, towards the docks. I can see a big industrial building. Surely that must have some supplies.
I descend the lighthouse and start running towards the docks, closer to where I spawned I suddenly come across another survivor. My heart get caught in my throat. What the fuck is he doing all the way out here? I ask myself. The survivor looks around, realizes that I am standing barely fifteen feet away and goes completely still. Then I get a local text message.
“Don’t shoot, friendly!”
“I have no gun,” I type out.
“Whew. Well take care!” He takes off directly north.
“Wait,” I say, running after him. “You want to team up?”
“No offense man, but my team is in the S.Barracks,” he says. “And trust me you don’t want to be there, I just got sniped up there.”
I watch him leave, as he clambers up the steep hill, and disappears over the ridge. I turn east, and get back to making my way to the docks. Closer to the docks I crouch run. Then I crouch walk, then finally as I approach the crumbling concrete wall, I go prone. Thank god I did, because on the other side of the wall is a zombie, a fat dock worker wearing a beret. He shuffles aimlessly a few feet in front of me, and slowly moves away.
I realize I had been holding my breath. I exhale slowly, and crawl over to the blue double-doors of the first building. It has a ramp circling the internal perimeter of the building. I hear a noise. In the dank gloom, I realize I am not alone. The other inhabitant of this building is another zombie, crouching low and making low growling noises. I slowly back off, and it starts to move. I cut a small circle around the inside of the building, and I realize that it detects me. I have 1 visibility and 1 audibility, implying that at such a close range (3-4 meters) it can detect there is something there must get closer to investigate.
And that is exactly what it is doing, getting closer.
We play this cat n’ mouse out into the courtyard, and I finally manage to lose him by crawling in a straight line for a while, then making a sharp 90 degree turn, and going a little further. With the zombie out of the building, I am free to explore it. So I get inside, and try to get up the stairs. No matter how hard I try, or which angle, I can’t seem to make it up the slope. So I have to at least crouch. Crouch-walking creates a sharp “clank-clank” on the floor that makes me wince with every step. I find flares, a can of beans, some wire, some scrap metal and several empty cans. I pick up everything but the empty cans. If I had known at the time that the empty cans could distract zombies, I would have picked up some.
I get out from the eastern entry, and crawl around to the next building. There is a door that serves as a ramp between the floor and the ledge that leads into the second warehouse. I crouch again and make my way up there, and in that same moment, the beret zombie comes shuffling around the northern corner of the building. I hit the deck, hoping it has not noticed me, but to no avail, it has changed direction and it walking towards me. In short, it has not seen me, but it knows something is there. I hastily crawl into the building and look around for an escape. There is a door on the other side. I crawl over to it, only to realize it has barb wire all over it.
I am trapped, shit!
I realize that the building has several ladders that go up to higher platforms. The zombie is at the entrance of the building. I crouch walk to get to the first ladder and climb up as quickly as possible. Once at the top, I go prone again, with the lower half of my body dangling off of the ramp…
… and then a very prominent glitch causes me to fall through the ramp. I land on the floor, there is the sound of a crunch, my interface flashes a broken bone icon, and an hourglass timer appears, indicating that I am unconscious. And that is when the zombie starts eating me. So much for life 2.
This time the text says “Prigorodky”. Looking at the map, I realize I am someplace between the two largest urban centers in Chenarus, which also happen to be two major PvP hubs because of the plethora of supplies, equipment and weapons that spawn there. To my east is Elektrozavodsk (or Elektro for short), and to my west is Chernogorsk (or Cherno for short). My first instinct is to go to a city, and Elektro being the smaller of the two seems like a reasonable choice. But as I start making my way over to Elektro, I hear shots in the distance. There are small bursts, like a rifle, and then a few, sharp, cracking shots, like a high-caliber sniper rifle. I decide that I don’t have enough know-how in this game to just waltz into a major city, so I take a u-turn and head back towards Prigorodsky, along the main road.
Once I am right next to the main town, I crawl around, avoiding the first few zombies. I decide that one of the best ways to try and learn the game is to crawl through the middle of the town, avoiding zombies as I go searching the different houses for supplies. This is where I learn two very important lessons. First, avoiding zombies is actually very easy, as long as you understand how they function, and how sight and sound work as you move around at <insert speed> at <insert day time> on <insert surface>. Second, and perhaps more importantly, not all houses can be entered! Several houses are just static markers, useful for cover and just about nothing else. The first house I actually manage to enter has some ammo that I cannot understand, it has a long, complicated name. I also find some food, a can of soda and blue chemlights. On the porch of another house, I find camo clothing. I get super excited and immediately change into it.
I realize that there is a large barn in the distance, and I know barns have a high chance of spawning at least the starter weapons. I start making my way towards the barn, crawling ever so slowly through this suburban nightmare. During this long crawl, I realize that you can move faster by pressing shift (or by toggling it with a double-tap) in any mode, walk, crouch or prone. I finally get to the barn, and on the first landing I find a hatchet. Further up, I find wire, some empty cans and flares. From this vantage point I look across at the other ledge, and see a rifle. I am elated! Finally a weapon. The weapon turns out to be a Lee Enfield rifle, complte with two magazines (that’s 20 rounds total). I also find some more food, a bandage, and two cans of coke.
I decide I have enough gear to at least try and flirt with the outskirts of one of the major towns. I get out of the barn, head north into the treeline, and then head southwest. After a little distance, I realize I need to do a little more research on what to expect once I get into Cherno. I crouch by a tree next to the railway tracks, and alt-tab out. When I tab back in a few minutes later, I see a zombie, crawling in prone, moving determinedly toward me. I have no idea where it came from, but it is so close that if I go prone, I might not have enough time to get away and it could get a few swings in. If I run now, it will detect me. So I do the only thing that this split-second allows me, I aim my Lee Enfield at the little fucker’s head, and fire off a shot.
Worst. Idea. Ever. (see footnote)
I am still in close proximity to Prigorodky, and at least half a dozen zombies. I start firing shots. I get hit a few times. I start bleeding. I fire off more shots. They keep coming. I have only six shots left when the last zombie collapses to the floor. My heart is thundering in my chest, I have a dry throat. I am frightened. But I know i have survived my first real fight with the zombie horde.
The screen goes black and white as I take damage. My screen is clear so I turn around, and realize at least a dozen other zombies have been attracted to the gunfire from a settlement that is neither Prigorodky, nor Cherno. I manage to get three shots off before another melee swing results in a broken bone, and I lose consciousness. I die before I wake up.
Footnote: Firing off a Lee Enfield near a settlement is a terrible idea. The weapon has an effective audible range (for zombies) of 234 meters. Compare this to a sidearm’s average range of about 55 meters, or an M16’s or M4’s 80 meters. No wonder it attracted zombies from half a kilometer diameter!