Category Archives: Video Game News

How Nidhogg Is Like Real Fencing…Sort Of

From the first moment I saw the indie fencing game Nidhogg, I knew I had to play it. There isn’t much to it really: two brightly colored, blocky figures that remotely resemble humans duel to the death with pixelated lines that kind of look like swords, all in a frantic game type that can most closely be likened to tug of war.

There is a reason the game grabbed my attention immediately — I duel with swords in real-life.  I started fencing around five years ago when I started my freshman year of college and since then the sport has become one of my favorite hobbies (aside from playing games and writing about them that is.) I watched the game from afar and learned more about it, and in June during the Steam Summer Sale I finally managed to pick the game up and play it for myself. It’s super fast paced, intense, and features a fantastic soundtrack. I also found that for a game about people dueling to the death for the honor of being sacrificed to a crudely drawn worm monster called the Nidhogg, Nidhogg the game actually has a surprising amount in common with real fencing and martial arts in general. Minus the Nidhogg, of course.

In sport fencing, two fencers duel to a specific number of points on what is called a “strip.” The strip is basically a narrow playing field where the duel will take place. You can move forward, back, and slightly to the left or right. Depending on what weapon you are using the rules are different, but for epee, the type of fencing that most resembles actual dueling, you can stab your opponent anywhere and receive a point. In foil fencing players earn points only by hitting the chest and having what is called “right of way,” which is basically a way to determine who will receive a point if two attacks land at the same time.

The objective in Nidhogg is a little different, but along the way does manage to incorporate many of the rules of actual fencing. In Nidhogg, one player needs to run all the way to the right of the level to win, while the other needs to run all the way to the left.  The map is symmetrical, and both players start in the middle of the arena. Killing the other player grants the winner “right of way,” which allows them to run and progress to the next screen, with the eventual goal of running far enough in their respective direction to win. The only catch is your opponent will respawn shortly after death in your path, requiring you to defeat them again. If they defeat you instead, they are granted right of way and can progress in their respective direction, essentially erasing your progress and creating a game of deadly tug of war. Watching the game in action will give you a much better understanding — it sounds kind of complicated, but in practice it is painfully simple.

Like in actual fencing, duelists in Nidhogg are restricted to a 2D plane not so different from a fencing strip. You can move forward and back but not to the side. While in sport fencing you can jump and duck, because in Nidhogg the actual objective is to get past your opponent and run to the end of the level, you can actually jump or roll past your opponent and make a mad dash for the objective. This is likely to get you killed, as players can also hurl their blades through the air in Nidhogg, something that as you can probably guess is illegal in actual fencing. Players can also punch their opponent if they happen to lose their sword and even sweep kick their opponent off their feet before killing them and taking their weapon. So you know, Nidhogg is basically real fencing.

When it comes down to it, fencing is really all about three things: distance, timing, and reading your opponent. Speed comes in at a close fourth, but without understanding the first three and putting them into good practice, speed won’t get you very far. Each of these essentials for being a better fencer just so happen to have a place in a game about virtual fencing as well.

First up is distance. Distance in fencing is everything. Distance is knowing when you can hit your opponent, knowing when they can hit you, knowing how many steps you need to take to be able to make that critical lunge, and knowing how long it will take for your point to hit its mark. Without a good understanding of distance, you will find yourself on the end of your opponents point far more often than you would like.

This applies in Nidhogg as well. Unless you are running the opposite direction, players always have their sword tips pointed towards their opponent in Nidhogg, and can raise or lower the level of their point. Depending on the height of your weapon, the longer or shorter your lunge distance (attack) is. If your opponents blade occupies the same height as yours when you attack, your blades will bounce off one another. Knowing when your opponent can hit you at any given time is critical in Nidhogg. If your blade is high and your opponent’s is low, you have to know who has the longer reach or else you will wind up bleeding neon orange blood all over the stone tiles. Unlike in real fencing, in Nidhogg players can run forward and backward as well as  jump and roll, which opens up more possibilities for setting up your distance and striking when the time is right.

That brings us to our next important factor — timing. Timing is basically just that, and is hard to exactly train for. You just have to be able to see the opportunity and take it, going all in on pure reflex and gut reaction. The moment you see your opponent flinch, lower their blade, or take a moment of relaxation, you have to be ready to spring that instant. Wait even just a second and the moment will be gone, along with your opportunity for victory.

Nidhogg is no different.  In the game you can disarm your opponent by having the tip of your blade half way past the tip of theirs, and then moving your blade either down to land on top of their weapon or coming from under and hitting their sword up to perform what we in fencing would call a “beat attack.” In Nidhogg it is a disarm, and gives you the perfect opportunity to strike. Timing, however, is essential. Moving your blade far enough in to perform the disarm isn’t easy, especially when your opponent can simply lunge and stab you at any moment, made all the easier the closer to them you are. The perfect time to disarm then is to wait for your opponent to lunge, allowing them to bring their sword to you, and then disarming them before their sword point finds its mark. This requires excellent timing and a little bit of anticipation. Hesitate for even a moment or misread your distance and you are done for.

Reading your opponent is by far the hardest ability for any fencer to learn, and you never stop learning. Every opponent is different, and it is a constant challenge to keep up. As one of my fencing instructor’s likes to say, fencing is like playing an extremely physical game of chess. You have to always think a couple of steps ahead. If I do this, what will they do? What if I do this instead? To succeed, you need to be able to anticipate your opponents actions and be able to understand what his or her reaction might be to any given attack, all while trying to not get stabbed. By knowing those reactions, you can further set up your opponent to put them right where you want them. This is where gauging your opponents defenses and baiting them come into play. By doing attacks never meant to hit their target, you can see what your opponent does and adapt. By presenting yourself as a target, you can invoke an attack from your opponent, and as long as you are expecting it and are fast enough, can turn their attack into one of your own.

These tactics work just as well in Nidhogg. Knowing that if you turn your back and run your opponent may hurl their sword at you gives you an advantage. As long as you are fast enough to dodge the weapon, you can then quickly turn the tables on your unarmed opponent. Knowing your opponent likes to lunge high whenever your blade is low gives you a similar piece of vital information. By knowing what your opponents habits and strategies are, you can adapt and take advantage of them.

While these aspects of fencing apply especially well to Nidhogg due to the dueling inspired nature of the game, timing, distance and the ability to read your opponent can be applied to any fighting game. In this way games really do imitate life. While specific skills or techniques from martial arts don’t carry over to the virtual world, the knowledge and understanding of the concepts do. Professional fighting game players exhibit an extraordinary understanding of distance, knowing exactly how far they need to be in order to land a hit at its maximum range. They show an incredible sense of timing, having memorized the exact number of animation frames any given attack in the game takes and the time associated with it. They know when their opponent makes a mistake, and they don’t hesitate to jump on the opportunity and turn a game in their favor. They know how to make their opponent react and anticipate those reactions to come out on top.

In spirit and in concept, virtual duels and fights are not much different from ones in real life. They take the same kind of discipline, knowledge, and practice as any martial art in the real world does. Games just sometimes have giant unicorn worms that swallow you whole after you win.

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Destiny’s Optimism Is Desperately Needed

If the majority of science-fiction is to be believed, the future isn’t all that great. While the circumstances are always different — evil mega corporations, alien invasions, depressing dystopias, war and pollution — science fiction has a history of making the future out to be mighty bleak. Authors, filmmakers, and game developers always count on humans to never learn from their mistakes. We will continue to kill our planet. We will continue to wage war against our fellow man. We will continue to fail.

Destiny, then, is a breathe of fresh air, but not necessarily from a gameplay perspective. It’s a shooter with RPG elements, a fun and addictive combination of gameplay that will no doubt keep players hooked for a long time. But that isn’t what has me excited for the game. What makes me excited and what I find so refreshing about Destiny can be described in one word — optimism.

It can be found everywhere in Destiny: from the game’s fictional past to the purpose of the Guardians, to the sun filled environments and the NPC dialogue. Humanity once lived in a golden age, where they expanded to the cosmos and unlocked the secrets of the universe thanks to help from the Traveler. Human life span tripled.  It was a time of miracles. This was a future where humanity lived up to it’s utmost potential and shined.

When players start their journey in Destiny that future is no longer the case. Humanity has been pinned down into one city, protected by the power of the traveler, and their cosmic civilization has crumbled. Darkness encroaches on all sides and it is unclear for how much longer the Traveler will be able to protect humanity.

Rather than wallow in the bleakness of the situation, Bungie takes a different approach to their new universe. The darkness can be fought back they say. Hope is not yet lost, and humanity can once again reach their potential and reclaim the civilization that was at once lost. Fight back the darkness. Unite.

That optimism is a far cry from the majority of other sci-fi shooters. The future presented by popular third person shooter Gears of War is about as bleak a future as you can get, with humans waging endless wars over limited resources only to be decimated by the monster like Locusts from deep beneath the earth. The world of Gears of War is brown and gray, filled with despair, hardship and a never ending sense of doom and pointlessness. None of the characters feel like there is much reason to continue fighting, other than to simply survive and keep their friends alive. Bungie’s own Halo series is a constant uphill struggle, with humanity at the brink and the Master Chief really being the only force strong enough to fight back against the seemingly unstoppable Covenant and the horrific Flood.

All three franchises — Halo, Gears of War, and Destiny — have a similar core theme of humanity being on the edge of destruction, but the way they go about presenting them are wildly different. Destiny is bright, vibrant, and filled with the hope that Earth’s heroes, the Guardians, can fight back the darkness and lift up humanity once again. That isn’t present in Halo, Gears of War, or most science fiction for that matter.

That’s because Destiny embraces an older idea of science fiction, one that isn’t about predicting one of humanity’s potential dark futures but about capturing that special kind of wonder that can only come from gazing up at the stars and wondering “What’s up there?” This kind of sci-fi is about exploring colorful alien worlds and discovering the mysteries of the universe. It’s about a humanity that isn’t grounded on Earth where it is destined to stagnate, but about a humanity finding it’s place in a wide universe filled with mystery, danger, and adventure.

It’s refreshing. In an industry where dark, gritty and hyper violent Mature rated games are far too often the norm, Destiny is a Teen rated game that can be played and enjoyed by nearly anybody. Destiny embraces optimism, the idea that humanity’s best days are not behind them but ahead, the idea that maybe we can overcome our faults and our challenges and rise to the occasion. Maybe, just maybe, we can take to the stars and carve out a new destiny for the human race rather than suffer the bleak one that so often is presented as our future. I don’t know about you, but I think the game industry could use a little more optimism.

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Diablo III’s Unlikely Comeback

As my friend so eloquently put it a few days ago, if a future version of myself came back in time to tell me in 2012 that I would be pouring dozens of hours into Diablo III in the year 2014, I would have laughed in his face and sent him back to his own time without a second thought. That I would be playing the problem filled Diablo III two years after its release would sound like an impossibility, and it was. Until a few months ago.

You may have seen my write up during my GI internship on some of the Patch 2.0.1. changes. That was just the beginning. Since then with the release of Reaper of Souls expansion, Diablo III has me hooked. I’ve made a new character, poured more than 70 hours into end-game content, and have become obsessed with finding the perfect gear to finish my character builds. How is it possible that a game so plagued with problems a few short months after its original release could be completely reborn two years later? It all comes down to Blizzard, and their willingness to admit their mistakes and go back to the drawing board.

When Diablo III launched in May of 2012, it had a fair share of problems. First among them was the always online component, made even worse by the fact that for the first several nights after the game’s release it was near impossible to log on and play thanks to server issues. This, however, would become the least of the game’s numerous issues.

Diablo III at launch shared a nearly identical formula to that of Diablo II. Pick a hero and level them up as you play through the story mode multiple times, with each completion allowing you to tackle a more challenging difficulty. End-game was Inferno difficulty, the hardest of the hard. Only the most well equipped and skilled players had any chance in hell of getting past Act II of Inferno. Repeated deaths in Inferno carried a heavy cost as well, as gear durability degrades after each death, eventually resulting in broken gear and an absurdly high amount of gold needed to repair it. Trying Inferno for many players wasn’t even worth it.

Therein lied the problem. While skill was certainly a factor, progressing in Inferno mode came down more to gear than skill. Without legendary gear and item sets, you could not succeed. How is one to obtain these items? In theory drop rates in Inferno mode for better gear were much higher, but due to repair costs and the high difficulty, most players could only farm for items on lower difficulties, replaying boss battles or certain encounters in the game’s story mode hoping and praying the loot would drop after defeating the enemies.

In practice, useful item drop rates around the board were abysmally low. You could play for days and find nothing remotely usable for your character. It was frustrating. RPGs, especially ones like Diablo, are all about character progression, and due to a lack of things to do and new useful gear, Diablo III players ran into a brick wall. This frustration played directly into Diablo III’s other main problem, the auction house.

A good idea in theory, the in-game auction house became a symbol for everything wrong with Diablo III. Implemented to eliminate illegal item and gold selling sites that were incredibly popular in the time of Diablo II, the Diablo III auction house gave players an easy to use, legal version of the same idea, while also cutting Blizzard in on the profits. Diablo III’s auction house came in two forms; an auction house where in game gold was used to purchase items, and one where players could buy items with real world cash.

Many players, frustrated with being unable to obtain gear through simply playing the game, resorted to farming insane amounts of gold to purchase new gear for their characters in order to have a fighting chance in Inferno. If a player did have the luck to encounter a legendary item, chances were it wouldn’t be useful for their character, resulting in the player selling it on the auction house for huge profits and then using that money to buy gear they could actually use.

Or, as became common, you could just spend real world money to gear out your character. Diablo III in essence became a “pay to win” game, the type of business model despised by gamers everywhere and more often seen in free-to-play titles. Except Diablo III wasn’t free to play. It was the sequel to one of the most loved RPGs in gaming history, and millions of gamers paid $60 expecting a game they would play for years to come. What they got was a game that through all i’s systems pushed players towards spending more money, with Blizzard getting a cut out of every auction sold.

Whether this cycle of “pay to win” was intentional on Blizzard’s part is hard to say, but as more and more players began leaving Diablo III barely three months after it’s release, the developer took serious notice. Numerous changes came to the game over the next year and a half, though most of them small and not addressing the core issue of loot and the auction house.

The first big step in truly bringing Diablo III back to life was Patch 2.0.1., released on February 25 of this year. While it implemented a number of changes, the most important were the refining of the game’s previously implemented paragon leveling system and what Blizzard calls “Loot 2.0.” Paragon levels could be achieved after hitting the level cap of 60, allowing players to still put their XP to good use. Each paragon level grants small choices in character improvement, whether slightly increasing base states or reducing resource costs. The more paragon levels, the more improvements, slowly adding up some substantial character improvements.

Loot 2.0 implemented  the chance of each piece of loot becoming smart loot, or items that roll intelligently based on your character to determine the item’s attributes. This made the chance of finding gear useful to your character much greater. Blizzard also greatly increased loot drop rates across the board, resulting in more and better loot, as well as completely reworking the game’s difficulties. Players could continue to progress their characters once again. All that remained was the closing of the auction house.

That finally happened on March 18, when in preparation for the game’s expansion, Reaper of Souls, Blizzard turned off the auction house, in the process killing the core game feature that plagued Diablo III for close to two years. All auctions being sold at the time either went to the highest bidder or were returned to the seller. Blizzard will close the auction house for good on June 24. While some players were making thousands of dollars in real world cash off the game, the vasy majority of players won’t miss it.

Reaper of Souls reinvigorated the game, adding a new character class, a new act for players to play through, and most importantly end game content in the form of adventure mode, an endlessly replayable form of the game that rewards players for doing bounties with quests, gear, and more. Special events like double XP weekends and a double legendary drop rate weekend, later made permanent, further added icing to the cake and attracted players like myself back to the game.

More than two years since it’s original release, Diablo III is a completely different game thanks to no small amount of effort on Blizzard’s part. No longer plagued by the auction house and lack of end-game content, the game is fun again. Playing the game, farming for that legendary item you need to complete your set, and earning more paragon levels to tweak your character captures some of the vital essence of Diablo that made its predecessor so addictive. I never would have guessed I would be playing Diablo III in 2014, or that Blizzard would put the time and effort to completely gut and reimagine their game. But I am, and Blizzard did. Now all I want to know is this — when does the next expansion come out?

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Battlefield Hardline Is A Nice Chance Of Pace

I have never enjoyed Battlefield as much as other shooters like Call of Duty or Halo. Whereas the action in those titles is near constant, Battlefield as a franchise to me features way too much down time running from point to point, only to be sniped by a sniper’s bullet from afar before I start my trek across the map all over again.

Why the heck did I sign up for the Battlefield: Hardline closed beta then, you ask? The game’s E3 showing impressed me, so when they announced a beta going live right that minute, I signed up, got in, and started playing this new take on classic cops and robbers.

Hardline is definitely still a Battlefield title. There are big teams sizes, vehicles galore, weapons, gadgets, and accessories to unlock, and large maps with destructible environments. Any player who played Battlefield 3 or 4 will instantly be at home here. The game map featured in the beta, High Tension, is set in the middle of a downtown city center, complete with skyscrapers, cranes, and overpasses. While the map is big, it isn’t near the size of many Battlefield maps, lending the game a generally quicker pace than some earlier titles.

Rather than the tanks and machines of war seen in Battlefield 4, Hardline features more civilian grade vehicles, though occasionally supped up to meet the needs of the would be bandits. Armored sedans and muscle cars can be used by the gangsters, while police have access to armored SWAT vans, squad cars, and helicopters.

What really sets Hardline apart from the rest of the Battlefield franchise are the two game modes featured in the beta, Heist and Blood Money. In Heist, robbers attempt to break into a vault and make out with the cash, with the police of course doing everything in their power to stop them. Blood Money puts a stash of cash in the center of the map and tasks each team with collecting as much as possible and bringing it back to their teams respective vaults. Classic Battlefield capture point wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but I would be surprised if it didn’t make it’s way into the final Hardline product.

Of the two modes, I found I preferred Blood Money, despite Heist being the game type that is clearly trying to be Hardline’s main attraction. The pace of Blood Money is frantic. You can be killed while carrying your wad of cash, allowing the enemy to pick up your hard earned money off your corpse. Your team’s vault can also be raided by the enemy if not defended diligently, requiring some members of your team to play defense while others make cash runs.

New equipable gadgets like the zipline and grappling hook shine in these modes. Because of the verticality of the maps, the grappling hook makes reaching sniping positions much easier, while the zipline is invaluable as a tool to quickly escape to your teams vault with a money stuffed dufflebag. Other gadgets like trip mines and the taser are fun additions as well, but the utility of the zipline and grappling hook work well with the fast paced nature of the game types.

Cops and robbers seems like a strange idea to fit into the Battlefield mold, and it is. If you actually think about it, why are the police causing billions of dollars in collateral damage by blowing up buildings, cars, and overpasses just to catch some thieves who are making away with a few million bucks? While the concept isn’t perfect, the game manages to breathe creative life into a franchise that has more or less been the same since Battlefield 1942. Will the full game be worth playing? Who knows, but after spending some time with the beta I can safely say this is the first time I’ve been interested in a Battlefield game since Battlefield 1943.

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Lara Croft’s Therapy Session Isn’t A Sign Of Weakness, It’s A Sign Of Strength

When I saw the teaser trailer during Microsoft’s E3 press conference for Rise of the Tomb Raider, I was excited. I thought it was one of the better game trailers I’ve seen in a long time. It had a great sense of momentum, a wonderful aura of suspense, and a fantastic musical score that had me excited for the future of the franchise. It helped that it was also a complete surprise.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, it shows a hooded woman, later revealed to be Lara Croft, in a therapy session with an older white man. As her therapist speaks to Lara about the trauma she sustained after the events of the previous game and her mental condition, Lara can be seen visibly shaking. Her therapist worries she’s fallen into a “mental trap” that she may never escape from. But there is another possibility — Lara could become who she was meant to be.

I was impressed and excited to see Lara’s return. So when I went online later that day, I was a little confused by some of the reactions I saw. Some shouted “How dare the developers make Lara Croft seek help from a man!” or highlighted the idea that Lara receiving therapy somehow made her weak. They claimed developers were once again stripping a powerful female protagonist of her strength, similar to how Metroid: Other M transformed Samus into a character completely dependent on her male supporting cast.

For me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Lara Croft is a gaming icon, though probably for all the wrong reasons. She’s starred in her fair share of great action titles and a few poor ones as well, but she isn’t recognized the world over because of her brains, skills, or the quality of her games. She is remembered because she is a female protagonist sporting tight shorts, a small waist, and huge breasts at a time when most gamers were still teenage boys. If you don’t believe me, look no further than the above promotional image. The fact that she is a strong, independent woman is secondary to her sex appeal, at least where the old games are concerned.

I can’t say I was ever a fan of the old franchise for basically that reason. So with no history with the franchise I went into the recent Tomb Raider reboot with an open mind, and what I found impressed me.Tomb Raider is by no means a perfect game, but it does plenty right. Unique puzzles, solid shooting, good platforming, beautiful scenery, great voice acting and good writing. The story left a little to be desired, but after finishing the game and putting down the controller I can safely say that my favorite part of Tomb Raider is, well, the Tomb Raider herself.

It’s brilliant really. Crystal Dynamics managed to transform a character that existed first and foremost as a sex icon into a strong, smart, and believable heroine. She doesn’t begin as a hardened killer or expert explorer. She starts as a very intelligent woman in a deadly situation, who is forced to rely on herself to see that she and her friends make it to safety.The Lara of the the rebooted Tomb Raider has a powerful will to endure, and a desire to protect those she cares about that allows her to do the impossible.

The trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider looks to build upon this idea by looking at Lara and the events she survived with a level of attention rarely seen in games. On that island Lara killed for the first time, lost loved ones, suffered unimaginable pain and survived near unbearable conditions. But she survived, though surviving in the world of the new Tomb Raider, just as in the real world, doesn’t mean emerging unscathed.

I’ve written about this before. Though by no means the only entertainment medium guilty of this, video games seem to have a knack for completely disregarding the repercussions of a life of violence. Game action heroes kill thousands of people on screen, and then act like completely regular Joes at the end of the game. As a lover of narrative, it’s always been a disconnect that has bothered me.

Which is why I enjoyed the latest Tomb Raider and the new trailer for it’s sequel so much. The developers look to be actually acknowledging that what Lara went through isn’t normal, isn’t something that you can just shrug off. It has to be overcome.

We sadly live in a society where to accept help is viewed as weak. Lara, to some, is showing weakness by seeking help in the new trailer. It is because she is a woman, some say, that the developers are choosing to show her seeking help, reinforcing an absurd idea that women aren’t as strong as men and somehow butchering her character in the process. If Lara was instead a man, they say, he wouldn’t seek counseling. That last bit is correct, and is exactly the problem.

I hear stories every day of veterans coming home from war who are too afraid or too ashamed to seek help for their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Instead they bottle it up and keep it inside, often with dangerous consequences for both themselves and those around them. The truth is this — men and women are equally weak. Nobody goes through traumatic events like seeing friends killed or killing others and is completely, 100 percent okay afterwards.

I would argue the problem is not with how Lara is being portrayed, but rather the problem rests with how our medium instead chooses to portray its stoic, white, male action heroes, men who often kill without hesitation, thought, or remorse. We don’t see the men of countless military shooters struggle with survivors guilt or the loss of loved ones. We don’t see action heroes like Nathan Drake think twice about killing hundreds in a quest for treasure. It’s all swept under the rug, reinforcing the fantasy that men are magically stronger and better equipped to deal with the horrors of war and combat than woman and thus don’t ever have a problem with it.

The fact that we do see Lara, both in the reboot and in this trailer, struggling with what she’s lived through doesn’t make Lara weak. It’s in fact quite the opposite. It makes her stronger, much stronger than the countless, interchangeable male heroes whose developers choose to make them mentally invincible. It gives her obstacles to overcome that aren’t as primitively simple as “shoot the bad man,” or “blow up the base.”

Seeking help isn’t an act of weakness, it’s an act of strength. And this new Lara Croft has it in spades.

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Heroes of the Storm Alpha Impressions: A Truly Different Breed of MOBA

It’s no secret I’m an avid League of Legends player, so when several years ago it was announced Blizzard would be entering the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre with what was then simply called “Blizzard DOTA” and then “Blizzard All-Stars”, I was excited. Flash forward a few years and that game is finally playable, albeit under a different name, new gameplay mechanics, and locked behind a Blizzard invitation due to the game’s technical alpha status.

After what seemed like an eternity of watching friends and acquaintances receive invites, I finally joined the increasingly less exclusive Heroes of the Storm club earlier this week. Now that I’ve spent more time playing this alpha in the last two days than I have playing many full release games, I can safely say Blizzard has once again done what it does best, crafting a MOBA with plenty of depth and complexity but at the same time eliminating many of the elements that can serve as a barrier for newcomers to the genre.

Heroes of the Storm will be instantly familiar to players of League of Legends of DOTA 2 — you choose a hero ( in this case a variety of heroes and villains from Blizzard’s core Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo franchises), waves of minions push towards opposing bases, and there are towers that must be destroyed to move forward. The similarities for the most part end there. Unlike many other MOBAs following in the footsteps of LoL and DOTA, looking to carve a place in what is becoming a quickly crowded genre, Heroes of the Storm is legitimately much different.

First up on the traditional MOBA chopping block is last hitting and farming. Rather than personal gold or experience, your team collectively levels up, incentivising teamwork and removing the need to run around in circles while you wait to hit a minion when it reaches 10 HP. Because experience is shared, you will want a member of your team in every lane to soak up experience, but other than that who goes where or does what is more up in the air than in most MOBAs. In another departure, players also start the game with their three core abilities, unlocking the choice between two ultimate abilities for the fourth later in the match. There is no need to figure out what skills you want to level up first either — each ability scales with your level, and each player comes equipped with a mount that can be summoned for increased movement speed.

Without gold to purchase items or abilities to choose and level up, what ways are there for customizing your hero? After all, experimenting with crazy item builds is part of what makes MOBA games so addicting, as there is always a new build or strategy to try. Blizzard realizes this and provides an answer with the game’s talent system. Upon leveling up, you are often presented with a choice between two or more modifiers that will determine what your character excels at. Some talents increase stats like health and attack damage, others modify existing abilities and some even grant a completely new ability to add to your arsenal. While complete role variation is much more difficult in Heroes than in League of Legends (a support for example will have a very hard time going toe to toe with an assassin, regardless of build), you can build a support with a focus on damage, or an assassin with an emphasis on dealing extra damage to enemy structures.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Heroes and other titles are the battlegrounds you will be duking it out on. Rather than the often seen 3 lane format that is almost exclusively played in other MOBAs, Heroes of the Storm features several maps, each with different lane numbers and jungle layouts. More importantly, each maps features a unique and vitally important gameplay mechanic that if ignored will quickly turn the tide of the match against you. One map, called Cursed Hallow, has players gathering tributes to the Raven Lord, who then reduces the HP of all enemy minions to 1 and the health of enemy forts by half for a limited time. The Dragon Shire map tasks players with capturing shrines in order to have one of their team members transform into a massive and resilient dragon knight, capable of punting enemy players long distances and excellent for pushing. Each of the objectives are of vital importance, and serve to naturally bring together teams for fights as each attempts to claim the objectives.

Presentation is just icing on the cake for a game like this, but Heroes even in Alpha looks great and packs style, from the rocking menu music to the character banter between heroes and enemies. Much of the magic of Heroes of the Storm comes from the characters themselves. In the same way that there is just something great about seeing Link face off against Mario in Super Smash Bros., watching your favorite Blizzard characters team up and face off is definitely a selling point that other MOBAs can’t match.The games progression system takes what Blizzard has learned from years of World of Warcraft and their recent success with the digital card game Hearthstone, using daily quests and hero specific challenges to keep players coming back. Being a Free to Play title, a number of skins are available to customize the look of your favorite hero for a price, but completing hero quests unlocks some free character customization options in the form of recolors.

There will be many in the MOBA community who will call Heroes of the Storm “dumbed down” or “casual.” Players looking for the relentlessly unforgiving gameplay of a game like DOTA 2 will no doubt be dumbfounded by the lack of items and balk at the idea of shared experience. While Heroes of the Storm does indeed lower the barrier of entry for first time MOBA players, that isn’t a bad thing. Even at this extremely early stage, seasoned MOBA veterans will find plenty of strategy, customization, and just plain fun to keep them occupied for hours on end, and if that’s the case, what is there to really complain about?

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Luftrausers Review: Flying High

You blast off into the sky in your high-speed super weapon, ripping enemy planes apart with ease. You dive, roll, and boost circles around enemy fighters, but before long the battle intensifies. Battleships fire streams of anti-air rounds, and you do everything in your power to evade. Instinct takes over, and before long your aircraft is performing a deadly aerial waltz. A storm of bullets comes your way, and you see no other option than to dive straight into the depths of the ocean to escape. This would be suicide for any normal aircraft, but you aren’t piloting any old plane — this is a Luftrauser, a deadly piece of war engineering that can be customized with a variety of experimental weapons and engines. When you emerge from the sea you show no mercy, but for every enemy you defeat three more take its place. You die in a hail of bullets. Thankfully, you have an ace up your sleeve. Your craft goes nuclear, taking out any and all enemies in the surrounding area.

You check your score: 20,000. Not bad, but you can do better. You launch your Luftrauser once again, and the battle begins anew. That’s Luftrausers in a nutshell, a frantically fast paced game that looks and plays like it’s straight out of an old arcade cabinet. That’s part of it’s charm.

With one battlefield, one mode, and a few plane customization options that you can mix and match to craft your perfect flying machine, Luftrausers doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t. But it doesn’t need to be. Like the classic arcade games of old, Luftrausers is all about the score. Killing enemies in succession builds up your combo meter, with each kill granting you increasingly more points until it maxes out at 20. Keeping your combo up is the key to posting big numbers, but the way the game is structured means you can rarely keep it up for long. With every kill and second that passes on the clock, Luftrausers becomes more and more difficult as it spawns deadly new enemy types, ranging from dangerous battleships to enemy aces that maneuver in ways similar to a real player. The game reaches its climax once the massive and heavily armed blimps begin to appear, flying fortresses that only the most skilled pilots will be able to defeat and live to tell the tale.

As you can probably guess, Luftrausers is hard. Really hard, and even harder when you turn on the games unlockable bonus mode. It’s classic bullet-hell, but rather than confining you to a box in which to maneuver like other games in the genre, Luftrausers gives you a freedom of movement that essential if you want to survive. Players manually use the boost on their craft to propel their plane, allowing for some fancy aerial acrobatics as you let off the boost and tumble through the air, rotating to shoot an enemy plane behind you before hitting the throttle again and ascending to the heavens.

Even if Lufrausers only featured one plane to choose from it would still be replayable due to its score focused nature, but I couldn’t imagine myself logging in more than a few hours. The inclusion of multiple engines, weapons, and aircraft bodies that unlock as you play changes that entirely. Parts can be mixed and matched, adding a great deal of replayability. As a result I’ve logged in way more time than I ever imagined I would. After dying I would almost always head back to the hanger to make a new plane combination. Trying to find the perfect aircraft for your playstyle is a game in itself, with my personal favorites being a plane that could dive into the ocean without taking damage and fire massive cannonballs or one whose entire strategy is to kamikaze ram enemy units thanks to it making you immune to collision damage. Each plane variation comes with various challenges to be completed, adding goals to strive towards every time you take off in your Luftrauser.in to ascend skyward. Watching a good Luftrausers player is awe-inspiring, as they flip and roll with ease between streams of bullets and enemy planes.

What really sells Luftrausers though is its visuals and soundtrack. The 8-Bit sepia tone look creates a 1950s vibe that invokes a post-Word War II world where aerial supremacy meant everything and new and experimental weapons were becoming reality. Adding to the package is an amazing soundtrack unlike any other I’ve experienced in a game. It’s really only one core track, which can be listened to here, but becomes modified and transformed according to which parts you choose for your craft. What begins as a triumphant military march becomes a sci-fi space battle as electronic sounds begin to blend into the familiar theme, and there are literally dozens of unique versions, each one the perfect background music to accompany your aerial achievements.

There has been some controversy surrounding Luftrausers — its art is clearly inspired by that of Nazi Germany, leading many to criticize the games creators. I can see where they are coming from. Luftrausers definitely glorifies the idea of aerial dogfighting, and with the inclusion of all the eagles, crosses, and character portraits like the ones seen above, it’s hard not to draw the comparison. The developers were clearly looking for an alternate history that would fit in with the the game they wanted to make. What they landed on was a unnamed country reminiscent of Nazi Germany that emerges victorious from World War II and in turn is able to implement many of its fabled “super weapons” that never saw the light of day. It’s important to note that none of this is ever explicitly stated. Being an arcade game at heart, Luftrausers has no real story. Kill planes, get score, test your Luftrauser, rinse and repeat.

Minor controversy aside, Luftrausers is a great fun. For me it conjures up memories of hour long 1942 sessions at a local arcade trying to beat my previous score, entering a trance-like state as the pounding military march that is the games music blares into my ears. If you love bullet-hell shooters, a great challenge, or want to feel like an aerial ace for a few hours, Luftrausers is more than worth the $10 it will cost you.

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League Of Legends’ Newest Champ Is A Step In The Right Direction

As a longtime player of League of Legends, I’ve always been bothered by how one of the most popular games on the planet portrays it’s women characters.

It’s sadly not anything video games haven’t seen before. The game is filled with women champions for players to play as, almost all of them boasting ridiculous breast sizes and skimpy outfits. Heck, even the most clothed women in the game, the armored Leona, is still wearing high heels.

Thankfully, developer Riot is not completely blind to criticism. The champion Sejuani upon her initial release wore a helmet, a fur bra, and a loincloth. If that sounds like a severe lack of clothing for a warrior who fights in the frozen north, where sub-zero temperatures aren’t uncommon, you are probably right. They remodeled her based on player feedback and now Sejuani is among a select few female characters in the game that isn’t overly sexualized.

Going hand in hand with the game’s sexualization of it’s female characters is one of the game’s champion roles – support. Supports in League of Legends exist almost exclusively to help their AD carry, making sure the carry gets as many kills and as much gold as possible so they can deal out heavy damage to the enemy team. The AD carry gets all the glory, but it’s the supports that are the unsung heroes of the League.

This role, defined by supporting others from the sidelines, is almost comprised exclusively of female champions, with the exception of a robot, an undead creature, and a very obviously gay man. There are women champions for every role in the game, but support limits itself to primarily women. Sure, a women can be an assassin or an AP carry just like a male character can, but women are the only ones who can support. To support is to be feminine. Perhaps it’s not such a surprise that support is the least played role in the game. Intentionally or not, Riot is sending a message.

Riot’s newest champion looks to be changing that. Recently unveiled, Braum is probably the manliest man in the entire League of Legends. He’s also a support. Bare-chested and sporting a supreme mustache, Braum protects his carry and teammates with a massive shield, taking hits so they don’t have to.

This is incredibly refreshing to see. It sounds silly, but developers should be thinking about how their game’s depict gender, race, and sexuality. Like it or not, our worldview is shaped, even if only in a tiny way, by the games we consume. Millions upon millions of gamers play League of Legends every day, viewing the splash art for the game’s sexed up girls that reinforce the idea that to support is to be feminine. If women are only there for support in game, what does that tell players about women in the real world?

Riot with Braum is showing that support is not in fact feminine in nature, and that there is no shame in a manly man protecting others instead of going for the kill. No doubt Braum players will frequently find themselves supporting female carries, intentionally sitting out the spotlight so their women partners can carve a path to victory. It’s a step in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done. I just hope Riot can continue to build on what they’ve learned so far as they move the game forward.

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