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WoW Subscriptions Dip to 7.6 Million Under the Weight of Wait May 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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Yesterday Activision-Blizzard did their quarterly earnings call.  The recording for it, plus the slide deck, are available here.

ActiBlizz450

The overall message was that revenue was less than last year, but better than projected.  Three of the five “Strong Product Performance” bullet points in the opening were for World of Warcraft, Diablo III, and Hearthstone, followed by Skylanders and Call of Duty.  The main future outlook for the Activision side of the house is on Bungie’s Destiny, about which huge dollar numbers are being thrown about, both in terms of sales projections and development costs.  Activision is betting heavily on a Halo-like success here.  It is slated for launch on the 15th anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast launch, so it has that mojo going for it.

The Blizzard slide ran down four of the key products in their portfolio.

Blizzard Q1 2014 Slide

Blizzard Q1 2014 Slide

On the WoW front, subscriptions dipped from 7.8 million to 7.6 million, which is a fairly modest change given some of the past “would kill any other MMO franchise” sized drops.  I was wondering back in February, when the numbers were last announced as going up from 7.6 million to 7.8 million, if Blizzard getting a Warlords of Draenor pre-order out in March might help support subscription numbers.  I guess, maybe, that it might have.  But now a million people have bought the pre-order, have their insta-90s, and… now what?  I expect that we will see a more significant dip for Q2 and Q3 unless Blizzard has a surprise to spark interest in the game.

The forward looking statement about the Warlords of Draenor launch being in the second half of 2014 seems a bit disingenuous after Blizzard has already put the date in the fall, heavily emphasizing that Fall lasts until December 20th.  Still, I am sure somebody out there will read this and think it might mean an earlier launch.  Given that we’re still in the “soon” phase for alpha, I find no reason to think the WoD is being pulled in.

Blizzard itself has been busy telling people about the changes coming for the 6.0 pre-WoD patch… a gating item for the expansion… and how to get tickets for BlizzCon, which will no doubt sell out in the first few minutes of availability.

Otherwise, Diablo III was praised for launching a successful expansion.  Hearthstone was noted as a new launch, but is too new to have had any real financial impact as yet.  And then Heroes of the Storm was pointed out as an upcoming title, currently in limited alpha.  No mention of StarCraft II and the Legacy of the Void expansion, which has no target date right now.  Of course, we just got Heart of the Swarm last year, putting the SC2 expansion cycle on something close to a 3 year clock.  So, it could be worse for WoW players.

And so the world turns.

Friday Morning Blizzard Roundup April 4, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, World of Warcraft.
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15 comments

It is Friday and Blizzard has announced a bunch of things this week, wisely waiting until after April Fools day. (Unlike CCP, which did a Dev Post on drones and Summer expansion forum posts on mining ships and Nosferatu upgrades on April 1st just to torment us. I am still not convinced they are real.)

Several of the Blizz are worth noting, but I am not sure there is a full blog post in any single one yet, so I figured I would just lump them all together.

Reaper of Souls Sales

Blizz reported that Reaper of Souls, the Diablo III expansion, shipped/sold over 2.7 million copies in the first 24 hours after going on sale.  They sold a bunch as pre-orders, but were only able to ship… well, unlock… and recognize revenue on last week.

I am not sure how to parse that number.

It is surely a big number, and probably makes Reaper of Souls one of the top sellers for March, even adding in all comparable platforms.  Go PC gaming.  That number beats The Burning Crusade, which managed 2.4 million copies on the first day.

But with an installed base of at least 12 million players on the PC for a game that has been out for nearly two years, that sounds a little shy of a “hopes and dreams” number for Blizz.  They will still be pushing a wheelbarrow of money to the bank, but they were probably planning to make a few trips.

Did the rough start or always online kill off interest in the game?  Or are a lot of us still playing fresh characters through the original game to soak in the full “Loot 2.0″ experience?

The press release says that the expansion “breathes new life into Sancturary,” I am just wondering how much life.

Warlords of Draenor Alpha

Nobody out there is still holding out hope for a late spring/early summer release for this expansion, right?  We’ve all moved this to our “things to do over Christmas” list, haven’t we?

Anyway, Blizz said that the expansion is now in Alpha, which is no doubt a poke in the eye for those who were all ready for the beta announcement.  For those hoping for an early Fall release, Eldacar tweeted a graph showing the time from “Friends & Family Alpha” (are we even there yet?) to release for past WoW expansions.

F&F Alpha to Release

F&F Alpha to Release

The average is 6.6 months, which puts us nearly into November… if WoD is average and if we are at the friends & family start point.  So it is possible we’ll being playing on Thanksgiving… maybe even Canadian Thanksgiving… but Halloween will likely be free of such distractions.

And, as always…

Warlords of Draenor Patch Note Fun

Lest you think we’ll be bored waiting for Warlords of Draenor, Blizz has also published the first Alpha Patch Notes for the release, so that the hardcore fans can start panicking and complaining right now.

There is a lot to take in.  Even the TL:DR summary is 17 bullets long.  I have to spend some time digesting that.  But I can already see items in the summary that will make people run around screaming as though their hair is on fire.  This should be fun. (Is it really a return to Vanilla 1.0?)

The random perks thing sounds interesting.

And one key take away appears to be that the promised/threatened stat squish probably isn’t coming until the big pre-expansion patch.

Chat in the Battle.net Launcher

Blizzard also updated the Battle.net launcher this week.  I am not sure how widespread it is yet.  I got it when I downloaded Hearthstone, but not sure if it has been pushed to everybody.

But now, in addition to being able to see all of your online Battle Tag and RealID friends in the launcher, you can now chat with them as well.

So I’ll just add that to Steam, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, Skype, Jabber, Microsoft Lync, Raptr, TeamSpeak, Mumble, and RaidCall as another possible way people can try and chat with me while I am AFK.

I think I finally stopped logging into AOL Messenger.  You can no longer chat with me there.  And ICQ.  I think I gave up on that at last.

Did I ever tell you I had a five digit ICQ number?  True story.

April Fools Forever

Blizzard put up a page that lists out all of their major web site April Fools jokes since 1999.  Call The April Fools Archive, you can go back and find some of their best stuff.  I love when a company takes the time to preserve and present things like this.  I wish SOE would take note here, as they seem to toss things down the memory hole on a regular basis.

Still, not everything is on Blizzard’s list.  I though the funniest thing this year was the fake WoW 6.0 Patch Notes.  It is one of those things that is for the community as it pokes straight at contentious items with a laugh.

 

March in Review March 31, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, Month in Review, World of Warcraft.
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The Site

WordPress.com, ever fodder for for this section of the monthly round up, popped up something amusing this month.

Leet?

Leet?

We all love the number 1337 right, being “leet” in “leet speak” and all that.  But the pop-up does make me wonder a bit.  I am close to 3,200 posts here, but only 1,337 were likeable?  Okay, the whole “like” button thing didn’t show up here at WordPress.com until quite a while after I had started blogging, but still.  If it were not for C.T. Murphy, I wouldn’t even have 1,337.

Meanwhile, on my “other” blog, EVE Online Pictures, WordPress.com congratulated me on having 500 posts.

500! It's a round number!

500! It’s a round number!

Which confused me, because I have nearly 800 posts total over there.  However, I started posting under a different nom de plume when I launched the blog.   It was done for dubious reasons.  That whole story is here.  So what this really meant was that I changed over to just posting as me, Wilhelm Arcturus, 500 or so posts ago.

And, finally, I applied for official EVE Online community fan site status for EVE Online Pictures, and it was accepted… which shows you just how low the bar is for that sort of thing. (I decided to give it a shot after reading one of many posts on monetizing blogs.)

Between my Italian pals! Ciao!

Between my Italian pals! Ciao!

While that lead to a very minor boost in traffic, the big thing is that my main account is now a “fan site account” which means it is free so long as I keep the site active and fill out a form every few months.  The main change for me was having to put up a couple of legal disclaimers, which was no big deal.  The impact here is that I will likely remain subscribed to EVE Online for the foreseeable future, as keeping the other blog going doesn’t require a ton of effort. (And I got a pile of pictures for the site this month.)

So you can consider me bought and paid for by CCP, but I doubt it will change what I write here in the slightest.  After all, this isn’t the fan site, the other one is.

One Year Ago

Dave Georgeson of SOE said MMOs should never die. A noble sentiment at the time, it rings a bit hollow a year and five SOE MMO closure announcements later.  Business is business.

I got a seven day pass to Azeroth from Blizzard.  It was nice.  I had some fun, but I wasn’t ready to go back full time yet.

Meanwhile, Blizzard was saying they were blindsided by the popularity of the auction house in Diablo III.  They were nearly a year late on that revelation.

On a similar theme, EA launched a new version of SimCity, pretty much ignoring the obvious expectations the franchise comes with.  I could only wonder if they learned anything from their efforts.

The instance group was doing some Rift content as a four player group.  This was the time of our long hiatus, though we got a full group now and again.  And when it was just the three of us, we ended up playing Neverwinter Nights 2 instead.

In EVE Online we were chasing around Deklein, flying the Tech Fleet doctrine, and bagging a carrier or two.

EON Magazine was closing its doors, marking the end of an era in EVE Online.

EverQuest hit its 14 year anniversary, and there was some talk about the camera view’s influence on the game’s popularity.

I was still playing World of Tanks and had hit the 2,000 battle mark.  I was out there with the KV-3 and the ARL 44.

I finished up all the things in Wayfaerer Foothills, which sort of ended my time in Guild Wars 2.

Then there was the Shroud of the Avatar Kickstarter campaign, which seemed more marketing tool than funding effort, and which hit its number in 11 days.  Still, Lord British felt the need to stir the pot by declaring most game designers suck… and are lazy… and are not as good as him.  Then he claimed he was taken out of context and not just saying things for cheap publicity.  As the month closed, his Kickstarter was wrapping up, but Camelot Unchained was coming.

It was announced that Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings was getting updated to run on modern machines with better graphics.  That set me on five other older games that I wished would get a similar revamp, which I think was more useful than just declaring that game developers need to innovate.

Finally, I was looking for input on some actual, real world things.

Five Years Ago

In March 2009 we were excited about Pokemon Platinum around our house, although we weren’t really finished with Pokemon Diamond yet.

I spent a day up at GDC in San Francisco.

In WoW we finished up a short hiatus and started back in at the SteamVault.  My daughter was tearing up Warsong Gulch.  Meanwhile, the Lich King seemed to have laid a curse on my new video card.  Nothing I did ever seemed to change this issue, though it did seem to go away eventually.

In EVE Online, Apocrypha came out, and with it the classic graphics were swept away.  Adam though, was making his own adventures in New Eden.  Oh, and I bought a freighter.

Somebody tried to put together a list of the Ten Most Important MMORPGs.  Like all such list, this one started the comments rolling.

It was launch day and I was already complaining about Runes of Magic… well, about the patcher in any case.

I finished up what was the last book of the Wheel of Time series.

The EverQuest 10th anniversary just wasn’t evoking the level of nostalgia in me that I thought it would.

And we had to say goodbye to an old friend and family member.  The picture my daughter drew is still up on the wall.  It still draws the occasional tear later in the evenings when people are tired and a bit more emotionally fragile.

New Linking Sites

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogroll, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in March

You can tell when I have written nothing exciting all month, some old nuts and bolts post rises to the top thanks to Google.

  1. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  2. Level 85 in EverQuest… Now What?
  3. Warlords of Draenor to be a $50 Expansion? And Something About Insta-90s
  4. Picking My 15 Most Influential Games
  5. Blizzard Isn’t Giving You a Free Copy of Warlords of Draenor
  6. The Mighty Insta-90 Question – Which Class to Boost?
  7. Show Me The Planets Contest Results
  8. Report from New Tristram
  9. How Blizzard Got Me to Play Hearthstone
  10. Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!
  11. The Insta-90 Choice is… Death Knight
  12. CCP – Losing Money and Getting Closer to Sony

Search Terms of the Month

that moment when a ex friend still manages to steal your beer
[That pretty much cements the ex-friend status]

is there aplace where some one can get donated plex for eve
[I'm not sure that is how it works.]

how did the lego universe story end
[Quietly]

Age of Kings

Our floating Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings group managed to get in a few matches over the course of the month, including our disastrous encounter with actual, real people.  The question is whether we will carry on.  Player against the computer gets dull fast, playing against each other remains imbalanced, and playing against live people… is a challenge mostly confined to seeing how much we can slow down the inevitable steam roller.  We might need a different game.  Maybe something more in the turn-base strategy genre, playable by four people.  Ideas?

Diablo III

Loot 2.0 and the coming of the Reaper of Souls expansion for Diablo III revived some interest around the game.  I rolled up a new barbarian… can you used the term “rolled up” when your only options at start are name and sex?  Anyway,  went out and played most of the way through Act III and found the game much improved for the effort.  However, I didn’t run out and buy Reaper of Souls, or even finish Act III.  Even at my most engaged, the game never got higher than second place in my mental “what do I want to play?” list, where I barely play the third place entry and fourth is lucky if I launch the game.  Still, maybe at some point.  The expansion sounds exciting.

EVE Online

EVE Online spent most of the month sitting in that fourth place position, as reference above.  There is no real war going on.  We’re back to cloaky campers in the systems I might rat in just to earn some ISK.  I have ships scattered all over the game that I should corral and bring back to staging systems, something that can be an adventure when I am in the mood, but which has just seemed like work of late.  And our corp, which hasn’t kicked me out for idleness yet, has gone through a leadership change.  Gaff is out.  And with that change, the “more POS towers!” faction is running the show.  We had a corp day to mine ice, which I attended.  The op was to gather ice to fuel our towers, and most of the talk was about where to get the rest of the ice we’ll need to fuel our towers.  Because we have a lot of towers.  Because, towers.

I did find out that one of the reasons things have been so quiet is that strat ops are no longer getting rebroadcast from Goon coms to our own.  So if I want strat ops, and that is pretty much all I want, I have to log into their coms, not ours… which is not a big deal, as I am on their coms most of the time anyway.  If I had actually bothered to post something from my SA forum account in the last six years, I’d consider just applying to Goonswarm to cut out the middle man.

World of Warcraft

Azeroth still looms large in my daily gaming, in part because I am on the auction house and daily quest treadmill.  That isn’t a bad thing.  I have a set of goals which keep me coming back.  It is when I have no goals that these sorts of things become drudgery.  The guild remains active over the weekends.  Gaff, no longer worried about running a corp in EVE Online, has joined us and brought along a friend.  So they are diving into Pandaria and doing all the usual alt-a-go-go routine.  The guild is lively enough that we’ll get to level 25 before summer I am sure.  The instance group also has enough content ahead to get to summer and our usual hiatus.  What will happen come the fall if the launch date for Warlords of Draenor is close to the first day of Winter?  I couldn’t tell you.

Coming Up

The Elder Scrolls Online launches this week.  The head start kicked off yesterday, mere mortals to be allowed in by the end of the week.  I am not buying the game as yet, but I will mark the launch date.  Have to get that into the “one year ago” and “five years ago” system.

I have a post coming up this week about new hardware and a new game I have been playing.  We’ll get to that on Wednesday I think.

The instance group carries on, World of Warcraft remains a thing.  EVE Online, likewise, remains on my list.  Diablo III… we shall see.  It has fallen into fourth place for now.  Or maybe lower.  I didn’t play it at all over the past weekend.

And then there is tomorrow, when we get to sort out the obligatory from the inventive.  I have nothing planned, so I will probably just point at others.

Diablo III – Reaper of Souls Goes Live March 25, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo III, entertainment.
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The day has come, the Diablo III expansion, Reaper of Souls, has launched.  Death is here, or so they tell me.

ReaperDeathIsHere

It had the big midnight launch, like so many past Blizzard games and expansions.  And I am not buying it.

Well, not today at least.

I have been enjoying Diablo III since the 2.0 version dropped.  The changes improved the game for me a great deal.  I am happy with that, and I do not miss the auction house one bit.

I also like a lot of what the expansion has to offer.

Reaper of Souls info

Reaper of Souls info

But I am still playing through the main campaign.  While the prospect of a 100% experience bonus weekend was somewhat enticing… that was there last minute, pre-expansion hook… and I would like to be level 60 just to have all the skills and such unlocked before I hit the expansion… other games came first for most of the last week.  Diablo III isn’t at the top of the list, so I play it when I am done with other things.  World of Warcraft still has the top spot, so I get to Diablo III when I am done playing with my daughter, or the instance group, or Gaff, or doing more of  ‘Operation Mounts & Bags’ with Earl.

I did find some play time… I had a big chunk during our EVE Online corp meeting, though I had to play with the sound off so as not to interrupt tired jokes and whining… and managed to get well into Act III and up to level 46.  I got past Ghom, the Lord of Gluttony, and into the fields before Bastion’s Keep.

Ghom is just gross

Ghom is just gross

Loot drops have also continued to keep the game interesting.  When you get something epic, it is time to stop and consider how you are playing your character.  I have respec’d for a good two handed weapon in the past.  In Act III I got an epic one handed spear that made me go back to spear and shield mode.

Arreat

Arreat’s Law

Not only is it a powerful weapon, but the model for it looks really good and the way my barbarian wields and strikes with it sells it in a big way.  Plus, it has a pulsing enchant effect on it that I would pay a lot of gold to have in WoW.

But I am still in Act III all the same, maybe two thirds of the way through at this point.  And there is still Act IV to face.  Once I am done with that I will probably look into Reaper of Souls.  But for now I am happy with what I have.

Diablo III Auction House, Going Once, Going Twice… March 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo III, entertainment.
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Gone.

Today’s Diablo III patch is set to pull the auction house out of the game.  There is, of course, a FAQ for this.

Look out

Look out

Some are building this up as a really big deal.  And maybe it is.

The combination of the auction house and the questionable itemization of the game led to a situation where the auction house got out of hand, much to Blizzard’s surprise.  Or so they claim.  It seemed to me that the itemization was going to drive people to the auction house almost immediately after launch.  Others were saying it in beta.  But we all came with the outsider’s point of view, and I have been in enough organizations where the prism of focus has distorted our view of the world as to be unable to see the oncoming train.

And the quote in that link above points to what Blizzard’s goal, which was to control/eliminate third party sales of game items and currency.

Diablo II Shop

Maybe the last time I use this graphic

People who use “Legit” in their site names are clearly evil. *cough*

And a noble goal that was, given that such third parties often end up causing problems for the game.  It even appeared to work.  Pity about the hyper-inflation.  When your game is compared to Weimar Germany, it is never a good thing.  That wasn’t helped by a bug that let people create gold out of thin air.

So, after much consideration, Blizzard came up with a plan.  As part of their shipping Diablo III for consoles, they redid the itemization and did not include an auction house.   When that seemed to go well, they moved to roll those changes into the PC version of the game as part of their ramp up to the Reaper of Souls expansion.

At the end of February we got Diablo III version 2.0, which included a number of changes.

Splash Screen of 2.0 Features

2.0 Features

Itemization… or Loot 2.0…  was clearly the most important, and it looks good so far.  I have not been back to the auction house… nor have I felt any need to go there… since we got this.  I am also pleased with the change in difficulty levels.  Being able to go straight to Hard mode was good.

Today we say farewell to the auction house.  Whether you loved it or hated it, it is now in the past.

And in a week we get the Reaper of Souls expansion.  Sales figures on that will be the test for these changes.  When you just sell the box… and Diablo III sold very well… and are not worried about subscriptions of cash shop sales, your work is pretty much done.  You want to support the game, but as sales taper off, there is little financial motive to make big changes.  Unless, of course, you want to sell an expansion.

People have been coming back to Diablo III to check out the 2.0 changes.  And things have looked pretty good.  But sales of the Reaper of Souls expansion will be the referendum on the whole thing.  Diablo III sold 3.5 million copies in the first 24 hours (a number which I am guessing counts the million World of Warcraft subscribers who got the game for “free” by committing to a year long subscription) and 12 million copies in the first year. (Which also points out how important the PC platform is to this game.  XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions came out well after the 12 million mark, and the last quarterly report pegged Diablo III sales as reaching 15 million units.)

So this will be something of a referendum on the game and its changes.  If Blizzard cannot move a couple million copies next week… if they don’t have a press release out about sales… that won’t be a good thing.

I am still torn on the expansion.  I was leaning towards getting it, thinking that at my rate of progress I would be ready to jump right into a brand new Act V at about the time it went live.  And then my Diablo III play time got interrupted with one of those “always online” issues again.

Latency - Smaller is Better

Latency – Smaller is Better

Other online games were fine, including WoW.  But Diablo III was unplayable.  So I went and played WoW.

Now I am about a third of the way through Act III.  I could still catch up and be done and ready for Act V if I pressed hard, but that strays into making the game work, and I like to explore every corner of the map as I play.  So I will likely hold off on the expansion until I am ready for the content.  And I probably won’t be there next week.

In the mean time, according to the shut down FAQ, you have until June 24th to claim or clear out anything you have sitting in the auction house.  And it will remain a legend and cautionary tale, as well as proof once again that economic efficiency can transcend fantasy.  Or as Edward Castronova put it:

Being an elf doesn’t make you turn off the rational economic calculator part of your brain.

We are what we are.

Diablo III – Two Acts and Forty Levels March 11, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo III, entertainment.
3 comments

The experience, and the levels, have been flowing quite freely in Diablo III, as various boosts and bonuses stack up.

First, there is the xp boost for playing in Hard mode versus normal.  As I recall, that gives you an extra 75% boost in both the xp and gold departments.

Then there is the current community boost, which seems to lay down a 50% boost on top of the Hard mode boost.

D3CommBuff

That is the gift that will keep on giving until the Reaper of Souls expansion comes out on March 25.

And then I keep running into xp boosting shrines in the game, which appear to give you something akin to a blue bar xp boost in WoW for a specific amount of xp.

Bonus Pool XP

Bonus Pool XP

All of which got my barbarian to just shy of level 40 by the time I finished up Act II.  I suspect that if I carry on apace and finish up before the expansion launches, I should be level 60 by the end of Act IV.

Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

When it comes to playing Diablo III, I think I am more interested in the story and the loot progression than I am about levels.  Levels do unlock new skills, so it will be nice to have all of those unlocked at the end.  But being level 60 won’t inhibit me from playing further and it will set me up for the expansion and Act V.  And since the content scales with your levels now, being ahead to the curve on levels doesn’t matter so much.

Meanwhile, Act II is now complete.

Act II Map

Act II Map

As Act I was an echo of the first act of Diablo II, so Act II was an attempt to hearken back to the second act of that game as well.  And while Act II has all the elements… encounters in the desert, tombs buried under the sands, and even some time in the sewers of the main city… it doesn’t quite resonate with me in the same way Diablo II did.  I do not know why.  The graphics are quite good, especially in some of the locations under the desert.  I guess the place doesn’t seem as sun drenched as the desert was when searching for Tal-Rasha’s tomb.

It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t evoke as much emotion as the original did.

I also settled down on a set of skills and weapons that carried me pretty well through the whole act.  While I keep unlocking new skills, I have kept with an early set that focuses enough on healing to keep me alive while having enough AOE potential to allow my barbarian to wade into masses of lesser foes.  For weapons I have been happy enough with a one handed weapon and a shield.  Act I ended with an epic orange two handed flail that had good damage and an excellent life-steal on each attack.  So I ran with that for quite a bit.  But eventually I ran into the same issue I always do, which is that damage and stats from one handed weapon drops quickly caught up to the flail as I went along (no doubt due to leveling up so readily) and while the epic was in a league of its own at level, for the most part two handed weapons tend not to have the stats and damage to make them obviously better than going with a one handed weapon and a shield.

So if damage output and stats are about the same, why not add in a little blocking to mitigate incoming damage?  That got me through the final battle in Act II with Belial.

Finishing up Act II

Finishing up Act II

My first time through the game, back at launch, Belial was a tough boss for me.  I think it took me three tries to get past him.  But I was not optimized so much for self-healing back then.  This time around I got him on the first try and was never really in any danger.  It wasn’t a faceroll, but hard mode still strikes me as “just hard enough to keep you on your toes” as opposed to being really difficult.

Now I am on to Act III, which departs from following the Diablo II locations in order, being akin to the campaign from the Lord of Destruction expansion.  Time to fight on the battlements and in the basements of Bastion’s Keep.

Report from New Tristram March 5, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo III, entertainment, Path of Exile, Torchlight II.
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17 comments

Wasn’t 2012 going to be the year of the heir to Diablo II?

We had multiple contenders.  There was the designated heir, Diablo III and all the weight Blizzard could bring to bear.  There was Torchlight II, from a team that included many of the people who actually made Diablo II back in the day.  And then there was the dark horse candidate, Path of Exile, planning on a free to play experience and the grandest skill tree ever seen.

So many skills...

Yet not really overwhelming…

Each of them managed to hit a few marks.  Diablo III carried on the Diablo story line and was polished in that Blizzard way.  Torchlight II clearly had the upper hand on price and play options.  And only Path of Exile managed to replicate the dark atmosphere of the past Diablo games.

However, in my opinion, each of them failed in some fundamental way.

Diablo III had always online problems at launch, but the real issue became itemization.  Gear drops, ever the life’s blood of a Diablo game, were huge in quantity and very bad in quality.  The only way to reliably find some gear close to your level was either via a higher level alt or through the auction house.  I didn’t really want to play via the auction house, but felt I pretty much had to when it came to end of act bosses.  Tired of being pulled out of the actual game to upgrade gear, I stopped playing.

Torchlight II was better on itemization.  It still had huge quantities, but quality wasn’t as universally awful, though without the auction house to fall back on, comparison of at-level gear wasn’t as obvious either.  However, colorful and well lit graphics hampered any feeling of atmosphere and the story line felt very weak to me.  I can give you a synopsis of the story line in all three Diablo games, but couldn’t begin to tell you what Torchligh II… or Torchlight… was really about.  That and the dev team punting on the Mac version of the game… and just about anything else it seems… thus killing off any chance of playing with my daughter, put the game pretty low on my play list and I haven’t been back to it in probably a year.

And then there was Path of Exile, which certainly won on price.  It is about a free as free to play can be I suppose, though a friend of mine who played a lot of the game says that there is a point after which you pretty much have to pay to progress the grind of leveling becomes unbearable.  That point is just much farther into the game than I managed to get.  While winning on atmosphere, it also had “always online” problems.  Basically, melee classes became pretty much unplayable at peak times, and I always play the melee classes and I apparently play at peak hours.  That ended that.

So three contenders, all of which I felt I was pretty much done with by the end of last year and none of which I could whole heartedly recommend for one reason or another.

But the dev teams were still working on at least two of the three games.  The Blizzard team, while slow to acknowledge that they had a problem, eventually owned up on the itemization front and last week those of us on the PC got Diablo III version 2.0.

It was time for a return to Diablo III.  I rolled up a new barbarian and played through act one.

The first thing I was looking at was gear drops.  And, hey presto, they did in fact seem to be better in quality and more likely to be relevant to my character.  Quest rewards for various stages of the story seemed to be better tuned, mini-bosses along the way seemed much more likely to drop something useful, and even the vendor in town seemed to be stocking a higher quality selection of goods.

In fact, that was going so well that the game started to seem a bit easy.  I was blowing through masses of undead or goatmen or whatever without much effort at all.  That looked to be the downside of the boost to itemization quality.

But I had another 2.0 feature available to me.  I was able to jump directly from Normal to Hard with my character.

This was actually a big win.  One of the 2.0 changes was to remove what was effectively level ranges for various areas of the game and, instead, make all of the content scale to your current level.  No more out running content and hitting a wall that could only be cured with a serious injection of new gear. (Itemization problem strikes again.)  And no more playing through the whole story in normal mode just to get to a higher level of challenge.

While loot quality, experience gained, and gold dropped all went up with this change, difficulty went up enough to more than offset those and made the game much more of a challenge.  Rather than cutting through mobs like butter, I actually had to start working for a living.  I couldn’t just rush into a room and collect everybody the way you can in a 1-60 dungeon finder group in WoW.  I found myself in trouble and in any number of close-run fights if I didn’t take care.

Still, I am not sure that “hard” is really the right term.  It is closer to “not easy” in feel.  While I got down to the red screen of limited health now and again, I never once died.  It is just the right level of resistance to keep the game interesting.

It was also fun rediscovering some of the cool bits of the game after a long absence.  While the atmosphere isn’t close to the play of light and shadows that was such a deep part of Diablo II at times… and honestly, none of the three games got all the way there… it isn’t the bright and colorful beast that some people were afraid it would be way back when.  The atmosphere is pretty good.

About as bright and colorful as Act I gets

About as bright and colorful as Act I gets

Then there was the dynamics of the game while playing the barbarian.  For a full on visceral experience, this is the class.  I love how elements of the world react when he is pounding out a big attack.  Furniture disintegrates, shelves tumble, tapestries whip and swirl, and corpses fly.  Oh, and how corpses fly.  Ending on a big pound can send multiple foes dead and sailing through the air, sometimes headed completely off screen. (Note the flying goatmen in the screen shot above.)  It never gets old.

And the game itself is as well put together as one would expect from a Blizzard product.  And the game is divided up into nice, bite size chunks via the waypoints, so you can get in and play for a bit while making it to the next stage of the story.  Of course, this can still lead to the “one more waypoint” urge.  Not nearly as strong as “just one more turn” is in a Civilization game, but it is there.

There were a few other small features added.  We now have a map for the various waypoints as opposed to the old listing that the game and its predecessor used.  I guess this adds a bit of immersion, or a sense of place, though it does also point out that I was traveling in a big circle as well.

Act I Map

Act I Map

I made it through to the final boss and remembered enough of it to get through the fight on the first try.

In this corner, The Butcher!

In this corner, The Butcher!

I had rather optimized myself, my skills, and my companion (the Templar this time) for healing, so it was more a matter of building up fury for big hits and staying out of the fire.  I did not end up using either of the health shrines in The Butcher’s room.  And then it was through to Tyreal and the wrap up of Act I.

Me, Tyreal, and the Templar

Me, Tyreal, and the Templar

So far, so good.  Now it is on to Act II.  We shall see how well the game sticks this time around.

I also managed to get quite a few levels in, as there was a pre-expansion experience boost in effect while I was playing.

D3CommBuff

That wasn’t a big deal to me.  I guess it will get me closer to the level cap sooner.  Is that a good thing?

And the question remain whether or not I will pick up the Reaper of Souls expansion given what it offers.

Reaper of Souls info

Reaper of Souls info

I like the idea of Act V, and the Crusader class feels much more like my favorite Diablo II class, the paladin.  But is that enough to justify the cost?  Has Diablo III version 2.0 changed things up enough that I will make it through Act IV?  I have time left to decide.  And to play.  We shall see.

Diablo III Version 2.0 February 26, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment.
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Blizzard dropped… after a fashion… the 2.0 patch for Diablo III yesterday.

That was the first of the three events planned for the next month or so for Diablo III.  There is the patch, the removal of the Auction House on March 18th, and the release of the (first?) expansion for the game, Reaper of Souls, on March 25th.

I am completely in favor of the removal of the auction house which, even by Blizzard’s own admission, hasn’t worked as planned.  I feel I know why they put the auction house in, but the way they coded loot drops for the game seemed designed specifically to drive people to it, so I remain a bit skeptical at their protestations that they were surprised by its popularity.

But it is going away, so water under the bridge.  It won’t be a problem soon.

And then there is the expansion.  More content and a new class, the crusader, that sounds interesting.  I am not willing to buy it quite yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out eventually.  It depends on the 2.0 patch.

Because the patch, the 2.0 version of Diablo III, is where the meat of the changes are coming.  This was the reason I wanted to patch Diablo III last night.  And once I was able to log in, Blizzard was keen to let me know what was new. (Patch notes here.)

Splash Screen of 2.0 Features

Splash Screen of 2.0 Features

Of all of that, I think Loot 2.0 is the most important.  If they are going to dump the Auction House, they need to make the loot you do get much more viable.  Some of it sounds like it came from the loot lessons they implemented in Mists of Pandaria and what they have planned for Warlords of Draenor.  “Smart Loot” includes more drops appropriate to your class and no class items with stats that are not important for that class any more.

Of course, they have also made higher quality items bound to your account.  No trading, because Blizzard still wants to keep the real money market down.  The whole point of the Auction House, to my view, was to eliminate that market by controlling it.  With the Auction House gone, other methods were required.

Diablo II Shop

It burns…

There are a host of other changes.  There were changes to classes, to monsters, to difficulty scaling, to bosses, to the paragon system, along with the addition of community items like guilds.  I am actually quite happy about that last bit.  While I am kind of past having to be in a guild in every game, we had to create our own ad hoc guilds back in Diablo and Diablo II.  Nice to see that Blizzard has finally acknowledged that this is a thing.

And, of course, Blizzard also had a splash screen in the game about the wonders of the new expansion as well.  Always be closing.

Reaper of Souls info

Reaper of Souls info

With all of this, I thought it might be time to return to the game and see how these changes feel.  I rolled up a new character… best to start from scratch I think, with all the changes… to try it out.  I did not actually get very far, but I want to try to find some time this weekend to at least get through the first act to see how it goes.

How about you?  Does the 2.0 version of the game have any appeal?

Blizzard Isn’t Giving You a Free Copy of Reaper of Souls January 8, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo III, entertainment.
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2 comments

We have a new Blizzard release coming up.  In this case it is the Diablo III expansion, Reaper of Souls, which is due out on March 25 of this year.

And, as seems to happen with all such Blizzard releases, email scams are beginning to show up.  I have seen one in particular show up a couple times now, so I thought I would pass it along as both warning and humor.

I think the first hint that this was a scam was the message title.

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls now Invite you to join!

Say what you will about Blizzard, broken English just isn’t one of their faults.

Then there was the come-on part of the pitch, the bait to get you to fall for it.  In this case, I must admit they might be on to something, as they gave you a big string of characters and claimed that this code would enable Reaper of Souls on your account.

Go ahead, try the code

Go ahead, try the code

Usually they just tell you to click the link to get the game.  Here they have a code for you that they say you have to redeem on your account.  And, of course, a handy bogus link to a Battle.net look-alike site where they will steal your account information and use it to strip your account bare.

As is often the case, all of the other help and support links point to legitimate Blizzard sites, but the key one is a trap.

So be wary.

Blizzard Killing The Diablo III Auction House September 17, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment.
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Reality has finally sunk in down in Anaheim I guess.  The in-game auction house, both gold and real money sides, will be shut down on March 18, 2014.

When we initially designed and implemented the auction houses, the driving goal was to provide a convenient and secure system for trades. But as we’ve mentioned on different occasions, it became increasingly clear that despite the benefits of the AH system and the fact that many players around the world use it, it ultimately undermines Diablo’s core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot. With that in mind, we want to let everyone know that we’ve decided to remove the gold and real-money auction house system from Diablo III.

We feel that this move along with the Loot 2.0 system being developed concurrently with Reaper of Souls™ will result in a much more rewarding game experience for our players.

We’re working out the details of how the auction house system will be shut down, but we wanted to share the news as soon as we made the decision in order to give everyone as much advance notice as possible. Please note that the shutdown will occur on March 18, 2014. We will keep everyone informed as we work through this process.

Josh Mosqueira and I wanted to provide everyone with a little more information behind this decision, so please have a look at the video, and stay tuned to this site for further updates in the months ahead.

I was a bit surprised at how long it took them to realize (or at least admit) that the auction house was taking over the game, something that some suggested might happen before the game even launched.

As it turns out, it is better to put up with a bit of this…

Diablo II Shop

Diablo II RMT

…than to kill off the key game play component of your game.

At least Blizzard has recognized the issue and is acting on it.  It is painful to come out and admit you have made a mistake.  While there is no release date for the Diablo III expansion, Reaper of Souls, I doubt they pulled that March 18, 2014 date out of thin air.  At a minimum I suspect that the change will be part of the ramp up to the expansion.

Hopefully with a re-tune of the loot drops and an expansion on the way, Diablo III will be a better game and one more worthy of its lineage.

Now, is doing this almost two years after launch going to be enough?