Category Archives: Diablo II

Friday Bullet Points on Deck for Summer

Back in the day I used to have a regular “mail bag” feature that took items from the blog inbox… reader submissions and press releases… that I thought might be interesting.  I don’t get much reader email these days and the press releases… where to even start?  Leaving aside the non-gaming updates, and the interview offers for random “experts” on even more random topics, the best one I’ve seen in months was about a Hello Kitty mobile app.  It even has a video, if that is your thing.

Bullet points though… I can pull those from anywhere.  All of which was a too long way of saying we’re back to the Friday Bullet Points thing again.

  • Steam Deck

Probably the big PC gaming announcement of the week was the Valve announcement of the Steam Deck.

The Steam Deck hardware

Basically it feels like Valve looked at the Nintendo Switch and said, “Yeah, we can do that and then some.”  No doubt experience garnered with the failed Steam Machine helped them along

It runs on the Linux based SteamOS, plays games directly from your Steam library, has a docking option that allows you to hook up a keyboard, mouse, and monitor if you so desire, and is supposed to be available by December, with pre-orders opening up today.

Pricing is “aggressive” according to the company, starting at $399 for the 64GB base model and rising to $649 for the 512GB top end unit.  It seems pretty cool.  There are games in my Steam library that certainly favor a controller for input, and $400 for a mini gaming PC seems like a pretty good deal.  But I’ll probably wait and see on this one all the same.

Picking additional coverage to link to is tough as literally any web site that has any connection to video games has an article up by now, so there is plenty out there about the device.  Still, IGN’s article links to a FAQ they put together with Valve, so I’ll link to that.

  • Pokemon Go Fest

Pokemon Go turned five this month and the annual Pokemon Go Fest is this weekend to celebrate.  I haven’t really felt the need to buy the $14.99 in-game ticket to join in on the event in the past.  Some things, like all the special raids, are there for everybody.  But this time around they knocked the price down to $4.99 and have a pile of thing available for those who buy in, so my wife and I spent the money.

the 2021 event price

It is summer, we can go outside again, and it isn’t like the war in New Eden will miss me for a couple of afternoons.  I also have to go feed somebody’s cat on Saturday, a walk which will take me past at least three gyms.

  • Pokemon Go Five Year Collection Event

It is lucky for Naintic that we bought the event tickets before we finished the warm up event.  For the five year anniversary there was a run to collect all of the starter Pokemon from the first six generations of the game.  They were out in the wild, so the first dozen or so were easy enough to collect.  But there are always a few who seem reluctant to show up.  We found out that the daily tasks related to the event always had one of the starters, so the night before the deadline we were out at the community center, which has a a bunch of Pokestops, doing tasks to try and get the last two we needed.

Take 5 pictures of a wild Pokemon was a common task

After some persistence, my wife ended up getting her final catch.  I got my final one the next morning… a totodile if you are interested… so we were able to collect the rewards.

All of the starters checked off

They were some Pokeballs (yawn), a few rare candies (decent), and a special encounter.  The hope was that it would be something good.   Instead it was the anniversary Pikachu.

5 year Pika

That would have been cool… had that Pikachu not been littering the pavement throughout the event.  They were everywhere.  I wasn’t even bothering to catch them.  My wife about exploded when she saw the reward for the effort.  So here is hoping we get a bit more from the weekend’s run.

  • Pokemon Go Raid Achievements

Earlier this month, in advance of the anniversary, Pokemon Go got some big updates on the graphical front.  It is no longer either day or night.  Dusk and dawn see the light change as the sun moves through the sky.  Shadows are also more realistic.  When joining a raid there are some splashy new graphics.  And, there are now raid level achievements for things like most damage, final blow, and best dressed.

My wife got the final blow, but I just make this look good

There are, of course, badges for getting raid achievements… achievements for achievements are my favorite achievements I guess.

I can hit hard when I want

The interesting one is the traveler award, which goes to the remote raid pass person furthest from the gym.  I’ve had one friend from Japan get the furthest I’ve seen so far.

That is pretty far away… I was about 1km from the gym

  • Diablo II Technical Alpha Updates

I am trying to be cool about Diablo II: Resurrected.  We’re not getting it for a while, so no need to get all excited about it.

The return of the classic

But then we get updates from the company about how the technical alpha is going and it becomes hard to sit on my hands.  I want to play.  As a pre-order I will get a chance in about a month I guess.  That isn’t too far down the road.  Time flies.

  • Reserve Bank Keys are Coming

Back when CCP was nerfing ratting by forcing the ESS on it last November, they setup a main bank, which can be stolen from ratters, and a reserve bank, which would require special keys that were not yet available.  Since then trillions of ISK has built up in the reserve banks across null and low sec space.

CCP has announced that the reserve bank keys are finally coming.  They have put the keys, which can be found in low sec sites, up on the test server so people can try them out.

I expect comedy will ensue.  A few keen players will get in, figure out the system, keep quiet about whatever flaws there are, and otherwise position themselves to act the moment that the keys are released on the live server, at which point there will be a rush for them.  The winners will likely be the preppers and large groups that will rob their own reserve banks.

I expect that the reserve bank keys will be live on July 27th unless some tragic flaw is found, reported, and actually investigated by CCP.  At least they put the ISK payout flow on a timer,  made the keys specific to a particular quadrant of New Eden, and gave us two flavors (5 minute and 15 minute) so all the reserve banks won’t be empty in a week of furious activity like they did with structures a while back.  And, like the main bank, the payout is in bonds that need to be redeemed at an NPC, so they can be lost even after the heist.

 

Diablo II Resurrected is coming September 23

Blizzard announced at E3 this past weekend that Diablo II Resurrected will launch on September 23, 2021.

Just a few months away

I have been a little concerned that the only two new titles… both of which are remakes/remasters… that I am interested in so far this year, Diablo II Resurrected and Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl were both looking to collide somewhere in Q4 when it came to release dates.

We heard at the end of May that Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl had launch date of November 19th.

Now we have the Diablo II Resurrected date, which is almost two months earlier.  That seems like a pretty decent gap.  And, if you pre-order, you can get in a few weeks early with the late beta… so, of course I pre-ordered like an idiot.  They are singing my song here, or promising me I can relive my relative youth, or something.  Just take my money already!  Yes, I know I already own two copies of the old game, give me the remaster!

I am clearly still pretty excited about this title four months down the line since it was announced at BlizzConline.  I would have been happy for old graphics that just scaled up to modern monitor sizes, but to get a full graphical remaster… with the ability to toggle to the old graphics… plus a lot of nice quality of life changes like a shard stash, that is killing it.

There is, of course, a new trailer up that shows some of the new graphics (and a bit of the old as well).

The launch date is also far enough out that it might be time for a break from Burning Crusade Classic.

So mark me down for this come September.

Blizzard Still Depends on WoW but is Pinning Some Hope on Diablo II

It was time for the Activision Blizzard Q1 2021 fiscal reports, so we can once again see what the company is hyping and what they are mysteriously failing to mentions.  You can find everything I reference on the Activision Blizzard investor relations site.

As usual, it is nice I guess that Activision is doing well with yet another spin of the Call of Duty wheel and that a bazillion people still play Candy Crush Saga, but my interest resides in Blizzard camp where they continue to talk up World of Warcraft and WoW Classic.

Overall revenue was down from Q4 2020, but that was also when Blizzard launched the Shadowlands expansion, which is usually a peak item in their financials.

Activision Blizzard Q1 2021 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 9

Margins are very good, but the only title they mention is WoW, while pointing towards “product timing” as a drag on the overall numbers.  Somebody else isn’t pulling their weight.

Details from the quarter again rely heavily on WoW.

Activision Blizzard Q1 2021 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 7

Shadowlands and the coming of Burning Crusade Classic are up top, followed by another Hearthstone expansion.  But there is always another Hearthstone expansion, isn’t there?  They’ve had so many they’ve got Hearthstone Classic option in the game now.

The only “hope for the future” item on the list that isn’t invested in Azeroth is Diablo II Resurrected, which I will admit I am a bit hyped for myself.  And then there is Diablo Immortal, which continues to take its sweet time getting to a point where it can launch.

After that we have Overwatch League and nothing else.  We heard last report that Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV are not slated for this year.

Meanwhile, the reported MAUs, monthly active users, for Q1 was 27 million which, according to Massively OP, which has been keeping track, down 29% from the Q1 2018 peak of 38 million.  If WoW is still booming… and carrying the company… that means 10 million fewer people are engaged with other Blizz properties.  For those interested, slide 13 defines MAUs as:

Monthly Active Users (“MAUs”) We monitor MAUs as a key measure of the overall size of our user base. MAUs are the number of individuals who accessed a particular game in a given month. We calculate average MAUs in a period by adding the total number of MAUs in each of the months in a given period and dividing that total by the number of months in the period.

An individual who accesses two of our games would be counted as two users. In addition, due to technical limitations, for Activision and King, an individual who accesses the same game on two platforms or devices in the relevant period would be counted as two users. For Blizzard, an individual who accesses the same game on two platforms or devices in the relevant period would generally be counted as a single user. In certain instances, we rely on third parties to publish our games. In these instances, MAU data is based on information provided to us by those third parties, or, if final data is not available, reasonable estimates of MAUs for these third-party published games

Since I played WoW and WoW Classic a bit each month over the last quarter I guess I count as two users, which seems to imply that Azeroth is possibly propping up the MAU count even more than I might have suspected.

Massively OP also has some notes from the investor calls including some inconsistencies from the company.

Anyway, that is what we have from Activision Blizzard for Q1 2021.

Friday Bullet Points with a Sore Arm

It is time for some bullet points again.  My arm is sore because I managed to get my first COVID-19 vaccine shot this week.  How easy it is to get an appointment for a shot varies from place to place, but here in Silicon Valley it was rather like trying to get Madonna or Lady Gaga concert tickets… only there were about half a dozen different web sites to check.  The state had one, my healthcare provider another, and then a few different store chains with their own.

Several times I had an appointment slot, but by the time I filled out the necessary form, all the appointments had been taken.  I finally lucked out on Safeway’s site and ended up getting my first shot on Wednesday at the store I worked at back in college.

I’m a bit tired still, which is a common side effect, and my left arm hurts.  But I still have enough in me to write up some bullet points.

  • Diablo II Resurrected Alpha

We first officially heard about Diablo II Resurrected at BlizzConline back in February, with a promise that it would ship at some point in 2021.  This weekend is the start of the technical alpha and it is getting some buzz.

The testing has begun

Some of the buzz is due to Blizz doing a give-away for access, but there does seem to be some general excitement about the remaster of this classic ARPG.  For this stage those invited to participate will be able to play the amazon, sorceress, or barbarian, single player, through acts one and two, with no level cap restrictions.  Acts one and two are the best of the game, so I am feeling a bit jealous that I opted in for testing and didn’t get picked. (Invites were all sent by 7am PDT and there was nothing for me.)  But I’ll be able to play soon enough I guess.

  • Enad Global 7 Completes Another Acquisition

I alluded to the fact that EG7 was buying another studio in my EverQuest at 22 post in March because Daybreak titles are now highlighted when EG7 speaks about the IPs they have.  They have now closed the deal, announced back in February, to acquire Innova, a publisher that runs MMORPGs in the EU and Russia.  The price was 109 million Euros (and not $109 million as was reported elsewhere.  The dollar amount is closer to $130 million.  But what’s ~$20 million between friends?)

Crowfall released in 2018? Who knew?

While the titles they have listed do not excite me, Daybreak having access to people on the ground to run games further afield than the greater San Diego metropolitan area might mean something good for them in the long term.  It would certainly be a better plan than selling their players to Pro.SiebenSat.1 or the like.

  • CCP Talks About A Shooter They’re Not Talking About

About two years back CCP said that their planned shooter, Project Nova, which they had been hyping up as late as EVE Vegas 2018, when we were encouraged to sign up for alpha, was going into a transitional stage.  It was going to get a new name and they would not be telling us the name or talking about it until it was ready.

Project Nova no more

Well, now CCP is talking about it, whatever it is now, again.  Sort of.  There are no details, but the new head of the UK studio that is working on the project, Adrian Blunt, gave an interview where he brags that they’re working on a “hugely ambitious” and possibly “genre defining” shooter.  The Nosy Gamer took a look at the whole thing and, so far as I can tell, the only solid information was that 40 people are working on the project.  I’ll be impressed when they have something to actually demo.

  • Runes of Magic has More Things for You

I wrote a bit about Runes of Magic and their twelfth anniversary on Monday, and they were soon back with an addition.  Later that day a message arrived with an offer of more goodies.

You actually have no idea how fast I have leveled up ever

Clicking on the “collect your gifts” link got me to a page that said they had given me a advanced experience charm, a potion of some sort, and 250 gold.  However, where all of that was delivered remains a bit of a mystery.  It wasn’t on my character on the super new EU server.  A friend suggested that it might be a US server thing, but it wasn’t on my character there.

At this point I suspect it went to my old account, which I mentioned they managed to block me from accessing, so the charm and the potion are probably hanging out with my lost diamonds wondering when I will return.

And that is all I have.  I get to head back for my second vaccine shot on the 28th.  Until then, I am still staying home and safe.

Diablo II Resurrected and the Rest of BlizzConline 2021

BlizzConline has come and gone.  It was certainly more subdued than any BlizzCon though, when you don’t have a packed auditorium cheering, you cannot expect the same energy.

BlizzCon Online over yesterday

Yesterday I went through what I considered the “important bit” for me, the status of WoW Classic and the coming of The Burning Crusade.  But that was obviously not all that Blizzard had to talk about.  So here, in my order of importance, are other bits from BlizzConline.

Diablo II Resurrected

This was the other item I was keen to hear about, and I was not disappointed.  Blizzard officially announced their remaster of Diablo II.  Having just replayed the original last year… and no longer really having the option since my big new monitor simply won’t work with it… I am excited to see this.  I am pretty much a guaranteed sale here.

The return of the classic

What they showed… remastered 3D graphics as well as the option for the 2D experience… up on screen side by side with the original looked very good, both true to the original and updated to current standards.  They also have some improvements… a larger stash, a more comprehensible character and skill sheet… that looks good.  The details are up on the site for the product, including the graphical comparisons.

Plus they are going to launch it on PC, XBox, PlayStation, and Switch.  Seems like they are going all in on this.  They are even hyping up cross-play for different platforms, so you can access your character on any of the above hardware.  I am only interested in it on the PC really, where it will be $40. (Or $60 with Diablo III and all its addons thrown in.)

As with Burning Crusade Classic, the deep dive panel (video here) was less technically focused… again, no slides or charts or numbers… and more about the drive to deliver both an authentic Diablo II experience and bring the game in line with modern expectations.  The level of detail discussed was impressive.  I suspect we’ll hear again from David Brevik about how Blizzard can’t do this, that, or the other thing, as occurs whenever talk of a Diablo II remaster comes up, but Blizz seems set to prove him wrong.

And it is expected to launch in 2021, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they did a repeat of the original for an end of the year release.  That fact that the list December on the page where you can pre-order it… because of course you can pre-order it… seems a likely sign.  We shall see.

I am excited about this, though I know Blizz has dropped the ball on the remaster thing before, back with Warcraft III.  I hope they learned the right lessons from that.  But if they are going out on consoles, this will have a lot of resources behind it.

Shadowlands Updates

It isn’t so much that I dislike the Shadowlands expansion… it seems interesting and fun in its own way, and I jumped on board at launch… it is more than when I stack rank what I want to play on a given evening it tends to fall into third or fourth place… fourth now that Valheim is on the scene.  Unfortunately, that means I am so far behind on covenant stuff (they barely know me at this point) and have missed so much that I am probably out until the second summer of Shadowlands when they smooth out the curve to let the slackers catch up.

Anyway, they announced the first big content drop, the 9.1 Chains of Domination update.  Kaylriene has a write up that covers it and the presentations in more depth than I could manage, so that probably ought to be your destination if this is relevant to your interests.

Blizzard Arcade Collection

Blizzard, on a retro rampage with their 30th anniversary, has brought back their original console titles, The Lost Vikings, Rock N Roll Racing, and Blackthorne, in the Blizzard Arcade Collection.

Back in the lineup

I have never played any of these titles.  I know just enough about them to get the occasional reference to them in WoW… the Vikings, for example, are in Uldaman.  But the games have been brought up to date and will be available on XBox, PlayStation, Switch, and PC.  I might actually give this a try on my Switch Lite.

Diablo Immortal

We have been hearing about this since BlizzCon 2018 when Blizzard failed to manage expectations after putting the Diablo franchise in the position of honor in the schedule, leading everybody and their dog to expect a Diablo IV announcement.  They told us directly to not get our hopes up, but it was right there on the schedule.  And then after the keynote the schedule was updated to say Diablo Immortal.

Phone Diablo

Still, the word out there is that it is a pretty solid title, sitting in the story line between Diablo II and Diablo III.  I would probably give it a try on my iPad if it isn’t to dear in price… absolutely if it is free, though we know how that can go.  Of course, that is part of the problem;  we still don’t know many solid details about the game and the Blizzard site about it doesn’t have much to add.  I feel like I know way more about Diablo II Resurrected after two days than I do about Diablo Immortal after more than two years.

Hearthstone Classic

I’m not going to play this.  I played just enough Hearthstone to get the Hearthsteed mount in WoW, and then a bit more on my iPad, but it isn’t a game that holds me.  I am just amused that they’ve thrown so many expansions and changes into the game that they’re ready to drag out a classic version… though I guess it has been six years.  Time flies.

Diablo IV and Overwatch 2

We heard about the rogue class in Diablo IV and about the myriad PvE missions in Overwatch 2, but both titles are still more than a year out, so I just cannot get myself at all worked up.  There are too many things to interest me between now and whenever to divert my attention.  Also, the announcements were not all that earth shattering.  I’m not saying there isn’t something Blizz could say about either that would kindle a deep interest, they’re just not there yet.

BlizzConline Overall

Not bad.

I mean, it is hard to argue with some of the solid announcements they had.  There was enough WoW focused stuff to keep me engaged along with enough other stuff that it didn’t feel like the “WoWCon” BlizzCons of a decade back.

I was also happy it was free and readily available via multiple services and that the videos from the panels were uploaded and ready on YouTube almost immediately.

Still, it didn’t quite have the full BlizzCon feel.  As I said previously, it felt different not being in front of a live studio audience.  I may love the written word, but writing “the audience roared” and hearing a BlizzCon audience roar of its own accord in reaction to something announced on stage at the Anaheim Convention Center.

I didn’t mind the chatty nature of the panels.  I like to hear the devs talk and they have done some nice videos in the past like that.  I especially remember the series with some of the original devs talking about making WoW as part of the WoW Classic launch build up.  But I am not sure that eight minutes of that in a 30 minute panel that is labeled as a “deep dive” is quite on the mark.

I felt that there was a lot less hard information presented and that the details that were given us often were not accompanied by the bullet point slide pages to which we have grown accustomed from past BlizzCon panels.  It isn’t real unless it is in PowerPoint, right?

I also wouldn’t be surprised to find that the panels and presentations were all pre-recorded and just queued up to play.  With no live audience and nobody holding up today’s paper in frame ransom note style how could we tell?

In fact, in writing that, I will swap to saying that I would actually be surprised to find that most, if not all, of the panels were NOT pre-recorded and queued up to play.  I mean, why wouldn’t you go that route?  Though, if you did, you’d think we’d get more slides.

So, it was good for what it was.  Life in the pandemic dictates what we can do.  I think they could have done better with info, but maybe the things I wanted had not been nailed down yet.  I don’t think it had quite the impact that a live BlizzCon would have, but we still got some very big announcements.

BlizzConline Spoiled

I was going to write a night before/morning of prediction post about BlizzConline, which kicks off at 2pm Pacific Time, 22:00 UTC, today.  There were some likely bits of news we were going to hear as well as some speculation as to what other items Blizz might announce.

BlizzCon Online Today and Tomorrow

And then somebody at Blizzard accidentally let the WoW press kit out of the bag and the gaming news sites raced to publish every detail a day before the event.  That kind of takes the edge off of guessing whether or not we’ll get The Burning Crusade in classic form or what the next step for Shadowlands will be. (Here is the WoW Head version, if you’re dying to see it.)

Yes, there always seem to be leaks of some sort when it comes to BlizzCon.  The company even attempts to signal things to the fans now and then.  But when you straight up get the press release a day and a half in advance… well, the anticipation is somewhat drained.

I am still going to watch the presentations.  As I have said before, you can glean a surprising amount of information from somebody speaking about a topic that might go unmentioned in a groomed and vetted press release.  Naturally, there will be a post-con write up of my impressions.

And there are still questions about other Blizzard franchises.  What will be the news of Diablo IV?  When will Diablo Immortal finally ship?  Will they confirm a Diablo II remaster?  Does Blizzard have anything else new and/or exciting to announce?

The event schedule looks fairly anodyne, but we have seen in the past that Blizz can update the schedule based on announcements during the keynote.  Remember in 2018 when all the Diablo panels became Diablo Immortal panels?  Okay, forget that one, that was a bad example.

Who knows.  Maybe the WoW press release was just a plant, a diversion, and J. Allen Brack will go up on stage and tell us we don’t really want The Burning Crusade and we’ll be retweeting variations of that Willy Wonka “You Get Nothing!” meme all next week.

My Games Played for 2020 and Looking Forward into 2021

I am a little behind on my usual end of year posts with this.  Generally I have a wrap up and a looking forward post at some point in late December… but then I found a bunch of other things to write about.  I was only reminded of it when Belghast posted his charts.

2020 banner by my daughter

There is a history here, as there is with so much on this blog.  It started with something akin to goals, a list of games I wanted to play, often very specific games.  Then it became games I was likely to play.  Then it turned into something like a long term weather forecast with some easy calls (it will be warm in the summer) and some possibilities.

And so it was that I wrote a post way back when about what I might play in 2020.

The list was broken up into several categories:

The Sure Things

  • WoW Classic
  • EVE Online
  • EverQuest II

The Likely Candidates

  • WoW Shadowlands
  • RimWorld

Possibilities

  • Civilization V
  • Stellaris
  • World of Tanks
  • Minecraft
  • The Witcher

The Long Shots

  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • EverQuest
  • Diablo III
  • Elite: Dangerous
  • New World

I Should Make Time

  • Project: Gorgon
  • Grim Dawn

So, now that the year has gone by, what did I actually play?  ManicTime has some numbers for me.  I am only listing the top ten because after that the times drop down to mere minutes played.

  1. WoW Classic – 33.33%
  2. EVE Online – 32.69%
  3. World of Warcraft – 14.02%
  4. EverQuest II – 6.03%
  5. Minecraft – 5.25%
  6. EverQuest – 2.16%
  7. RimWorld – 2.08%
  8. Diablo II – 2.02%
  9. Pokemon Sword – 1.24%
  10. Minecraft Dungeons – 0.75%

At the top is a close race between WoW Classic and EVE Online, with a gap smaller than ten hours played total between them.  I guess Azeroth wins over New Eden overall, since retail WoW is in third place.  Everything else shakes out from there.

As has become the custom of the neighborhood, I have a chart.

2020 games timeline

At the top are WoW Classic and EVE Online, both of which I played throughout the year.  I also put Pokemon Go on the chart.  It isn’t tracked by ManicTime, being on my phone, but I played every day in 2020.

Technically, looking at my times, I also played retail WoW every month, but there were months where that did not represent a significant investment.  I have made those months where I pretty much just did Darkmoon Faire and some pet battles as a narrow streak.  And once the level squish came and then the Shadowlands expansion launched, I spent quite a bit of time there.

EverQuest II and Minecraft had their runs.  The former was me finishing up the Blood of Luclin expansion to the extent I felt I needed to, and Minecraft was a bit of a pandemic diversion setup by Skonk.  I played a bit of EverQuest after the anniversary gave us another heroic character boost, though I ended up mostly tinkering with the Overseer feature.

RimWorld had an update that I wanted to try out.  That was good for a bit of a run, though like so many build and conquer games, it suffers from the mid-game malaise once you get your base setup well enough.

I had a great run through Diablo II to celebrate its 20 years.  The game still lives up to its legend, though I would like it to run at a resolution higher than 800×600.

I received a Nintendo Switch Lite for my birthday with a copy of Pokemon Sword, which I played for a stretch.  I just wasn’t that into it.  For a Pokemon game to grab me I have to be in the right mood and have a real goal.  I couldn’t quite get either this time around.

And then there was Minecraft Dungeons, which is a serviceable and solid but shallow ARPG whose main attraction is being set in the Minecraft IP.  I played through the story, but it doesn’t have a lot of replay value save to boost up stats so you can face harder monsters that drop gear that let you boost up your stats further.

So that was 2020.  What of 2021?

As with last year, there are some sure things this year, games I am actively playing right now so that has already been decided.  They are:

  • WoW Classic
  • EVE Online
  • Retail WoW

And, given the news, we can add one slight variation to that list:

  • WoW The Burning Crusade Classic

After that, however, the future is a bit fuzzy, and part of the problem is hardware related.

As I wrote about last year, I have a 34″ 3440 x 1440 wide screen monitor now, and I love playing games on it full screen.  But not every game I have plays nice with it.  The three titles I am playing now all happen to work great with it, but others struggle and have issues or won’t run at all.  I actually tried to play Grim Dawn, which was on my “should make time” list for 2020, but it was not having it at all.  It would not even launch correctly with the new monitor hooked up.

And there is a further constraint, which is my video card.  I currently have a EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB card and, given the price of college and my wife being somewhat under-employed for the last year, spending a few hundred bucks on a new one is way down the priority list right now.  So whatever I play needs to work on the big screen with that video card.  WoW Classic and retail WoW both manage very well, with a few settings dialed back a bit, and EVE Online works like a champ, all settings maxed out, save for fights where the ships on grid get past the 2,500 mark.

But most newer games require a lot more horsepower to drive all those pixels.  There is no way I am getting something like Cyberpunk 2077 or Red Dead Redemption II or Black Desert Online or anything like that to run well.

Meanwhile, a lot of older stuff is a bit shaky.  As I wrote back when I got the monitor, EverQuest, EverQuest II, and LOTRO all sort of work, but have some issues, while Minecraft gives me motion sickness on the wide screen unless I dial back the field of view so far that I might as well just play it on my phone.

First world problems, I know.

Another angle is strategy games.  Things like RimWorld not only run fine, but the large screen improves the experience.  Maybe it is time for a bit of Civilzation V again. (I’m, betting Civ VI has too much going on visually to work with my video card at that resolution.  It is the way.)  Maybe I’ll pick up World of Tanks again when I need something fresh.

Of course, the lack of desire for something fresh is part of the problem as well.  I’ve been kind of okay playing the same stuff all year.  We shall see how I feel in 2021.

Looking Back at 2020 and Trying for Highs

2020.  What a year.

Every year I try to distill a bit of the world I focus on into highs and lows.  There is a history of posts here.

Sometimes I include a “middling” category, but usually not.  This year though I have had enough lows.  This year I am going to make a list of highs.  And I am going to try… though I make no guarantees… not to include sarcastic highs that are back handed jabs to highlight actual lows.  Your mileage may vary.

Video Games Overall

  • 2020 has been a banner year for video games.  SuperData Research has reported every month since the pandemic began in earnest that sales have been up over last year by double digits.  Lots of new releases, lots of good games, lots of revenue to keep the industry going.

Blizzard

  • The Shadowlands pre-patch events went well.
  • Shadowlands launched to big numbers.
  • WoW Classic remains strong despite the pull of the retail expansion.
  • The instance group’s return to WoW via WoW Classic has kept on rolling throughout the year.
  • Bobby Kotick says WoW is a billion dollar a year franchise.
  • Shadowlands and WoW Classic combined have revived the fortunes of WoW… though the pandemic helped some too.
  • The retail WoW level squish clearly did not drive too many people away and made getting into the latest content less of a chore.
  • It seems likely we’ll at least get some news about a classic The Burning Crusade server.
  • Had a fun run through Diablo II, which still plays pretty well 20 years down the line.
  • Blizz has been quietly fixing Warcraft III Reforged after its bad launch.
  • We got some scraps of information about Diablo IV.

Daybreak Game Company (now including Standing Stone Games)

  • The games are set to be run by EG7, a company optimistic about being in games.
  • The company actually makes money.
  • The games they still have all actually make money too… well, maybe not H1Z1, but most of them.
  • The mystery of who really owns Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online was finally revealed.
  • EverQuest and EverQuest II both got updates and expansions this year.
  • EverQuest was able to play the special server card successfully yet again.
  • We learned that DC Universe Online has what would have been considered a huge player base in the pre-WoW era.
  • LOTRO got a 64-bit client.

CCP

  • The EVE Online franchise is a resilient part of the Pearl Abyss portfolio.
  • EVE Echoes, the mobile version of the game, has grabbed a lot of new players, and took less time to get out than Diablo Immortal.
  • The pandemic helped boost the PCU over 40K for the first time in a couple of years.
  • Hilmar said at the Youil Fireside that 1.9 million new people logged into EVE Online this year, more than the past three years combined.
  • World War Bee got enough players together organically to set two Guinness World Records.
  • Andrew Groen delivered Empires of EVE Vol. II, another great installment in the history of the game.
  • That Triglavian event wrapped up with an epic finale that tore systems out of New Eden to create a new Triglavian region.
  • CCP seems really, really serious about fixing the in-game economy.
  • PLEX for Good ran for both the Australian wild fires and pandemic relief.
  • Tech II salvage drones.  At least one person got their Christmas wish.
  • CCP finally rolled out the replacement for the old fansite program.  I did not make the cut, but a lot of streamers now how free accounts and extra PLEX to spend.
  • CCP still has hopes for an EVE Online based shooter game.
  • The CSM15 election saw a peaceful transition of power and nobody has been kicked off the council… yet.  Seriously, it is a rare CSM when somebody doesn’t get voted off the island.

Pokemon

  • Pokemon Sword & Shield launched at just the right time before the pandemic to become a staple of play.
  • The new Pokemon model on the Switch is expansions after the main game drops, and Pokemon Sword & Shield had The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra this year, which helped keep the game a hot property.
  • Pokemon Home showed up to provide a link to bring Pokemon forward from the DS era and transfer them in from Pokemon Go.
  • Niantic changed up Pokemon Go to adapt to the pandemic, giving us things like remote raid passes to keep us playing when we had to stay home.
  • Niantic also raised the level cap on Pokemon Go in a way that didn’t toss your accumulated xp by tying levels 41-50 in with both xp and special tasks.

Other Areas of the Video Game Industry

  • TorilMUD carries on for another year, making it a total of 27… and even added a new class this year.
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons landed just in time to give many a shared virtual experience as we stayed home for the pandemic.
  • Minecraft got a big update to make the nether a more interesting place to explore.
  • Minecraft Dungeons launched, and was a nice, if somewhat simple, clicky ARPG.
  • EA managed to ship another decent Star Wars title, Star Wars: Squadrons, which is supposed to be quite good in VR.
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator had an excellent launch.  Again, another title that was supposed to be good in VR.
  • There was a Half-Life game.  That almost never happens.  And, one more time, Half-Life: Alyx was good for VR.
  • Crusader Kings III gave people the medieval royal soap opera simulator that they didn’t know they needed.
  • GuildWars 2 has an expansion coming.
  • A two year old game, Among Us, suddenly exploded onto the scene thanks to streamers.
  • New consoles!  The Xbox Series X/Series S and PlayStation 5 came out!

Blogging and the Like

  • Hey, the blog is still here!  Both of my blogs.
  • This blog is also experiencing a bit of a revival… or a dead cat bounce… as traffic has been up a lot over last year.  It is still a far cry from the heady peaks of 2012, but I guess the pandemic didn’t just boost video games.
  • I wrote a lot of posts in 2020.  This post number 403 for the year.
  • I actually got close to 800 followers on Twitter… and then they purged a bunch of bots and I fell back down.  Also I strayed into the political with the election and no doubt scared some people off.
  • We had a double event year with Blapril and Blaugust.
  • Lots and lots of plumbing related spam comments this month… like tens of thousands. If your comment got stuck in the spam filter I probably never saw it due to that.  Hrmm, that wasn’t a high, was it?

Television, Books, and the Media

  • I watched a LOT of television this past year.  There is probably another post on that coming, though I have done those Pandemic Binge Watching posts along the way.  While not everything was great, there were a lot of good shows available.
  • My reading routine was disrupted by the changes the pandemic brought.  I have to find a regular time in my schedule for that or it won’t happen.  But still I managed to read a lot of books in 2020.
  • I spent a lot more time reading the news… and I do not shirk on that front on a normal year.  No doubt this is some attempt to foster a feeling of control in the world, but I suppose I learned a lot.
  • Podcasts and YouTube content kept me going at times, with new faces popping up like Julie Nolke and Sarah Cooper.

Personal Life

  • We’re in the back half of December and I still have a job and haven’t caught COVID-19.
  • I have somewhat adapted to my new life where I spend 23 hours a day, seven days a week inside at home.  Nothing tests your introvert status than forced isolation from the world I suppose.
  • Daughter made it through her first semester of college living on campus and came out with both good grades and good health still.
  • I bought an exercise bicycle for home and have been very good about using it regularly… except over the holidays when my now weak grasp of time fell completely apart and I only know what day it is when I open up the blog.
  • I started depositing checks via my phone.  This was largely because my credit union finally added that feature to their mobile app.
  • Let me reiterate; family still healthy and safe.

This ended up being a somewhat shorter list than past years.  In part that is because the scope of my game knowledge has been funneled down to a few titles of late.  But mostly it is because I am better at writing negative entries I bet.  The post would be more than double in length if I let go on that front.  But we’ll let sleeping dogs lie, for now at least.  There will be plenty of time for that in 2021.

But if you’re dying for some 2020 sick burns, Honest Trailers has you covered.

Take that 2020!

Diablo II Act Five and some Thoughts

In my brain Diablo II ends with Act IV.  I mean, you kill Diablo, whose name was on the box, just like in the original, you feel like you’re done.  So once that was done, my arrival in Act V and the town of Harrogath, home of the barbarians, felt a bit strange.

Deckard Cain is always there waiting for me

That isn’t to say I am knocking the Lord of Destruction expansion.  It brought a lot to the table, like new classes and the coveted upgrade from 640×480 to 800×600 video resolution.  But the actual content… it only stuck with me in a very vague way.  Something about being in ice tunnels and catapults… though that latter might have been from Diablo III, which itself is already eight years old at this point.

And you don’t even get an opening quest to send you off into the wild.  I mean, sure, you got the pep talk about Baal, so you know who the final boss is, but beyond that you don’t even get a “good luck storming the castle.”

So I just headed out the gates to see what I could see.

Cain’s words about Harrogath being untouched only apply to inside the town.  Just outside are the armies of hell who have the place under siege.  And there were catapults to destroy, so I did at least remember that bit.

You only get the first quest at the far end of the first zone, once you have cleared enough stuff out.  Then it is back to town for an update and a plea to go into the next area and release captured barbarians.

The next zone is more of the same.

I will say that the zone tiles were all new, so it wasn’t a repeat of any of the last four acts.  And there are new mobs, some new mob mechanics, and all that, but I wasn’t feeling a lot of attachment to it either.  That may be due to the new zones being somewhat sprawling in an aimless sort of way.

I freed the barbarians, the reward for which was the ability to put some sockets in a piece of gear.  I bought the highest armor class piece of chest armor I could find, put sockets on that, then put two runes in it, which ended up being the last item upgrade I did during the game.

My memories of Diablo II don’t include crap itemization and drops, but here I was in Act V and I was still wearing a couple of items from Act I because I had yet to find anything better.  And I think the most recent piece of gear was from Act III.

Basically, there isn’t any feeling of planned gear progression.  Some of the stuff at the vendors gets better as you level up, but not radically so in most cases.  My rogue companion had a very good bow with two sockets that I picked up in Act II and I never once saw anything better drop or show up at a vendor.

My stash was overflowing with gems and runs and whatnot, just waiting for a good item to use them on, and I got nada.  I complained about pre-expansion itemization in Diablo III, where it felt bad, but at least it did progress somewhat regularly and, more important, it got fixed with the expansion.

Anyway, I carried on, found the start of the ice caves.  There I realized how nice the open plains had been to me.

Having spec’d as a Hammerdin, as I mentioned last time, I was pretty dependent on that attack in order to kill things.  You launch the Blessed Hammer and it spins around you in an ever widening spiral, applying damage to any mob it passes through.  A pretty good attack when you’re in the thick of things, though the spiral does open up wide enough between orbits that it does miss mobs at times.  It only stops when the hammer fades after it has traveled its full distance, or it runs into something solid, like a wall.

Caves are nothing but walls, so my Blessed Hammer often faded as soon as I launched it.  So I learned to train things back to open areas to make better use of it.  Eventually I found one of the people I was looking for as a follow up quest.

Really, I only vaguely remember why I came here…

There was a quest update, and then more caves.  I could feel myself starting to lose interest in the cave crawl, something not helped by the fact that waypoints seem poorly scattered.  There were the usual full complement of them, but I somehow managed to miss three of them along the way.

I ended up popping out of the caves into an open area again, where I faced a boss challenge blocking my progress.  Something different at least.

Challenge accepted!

This was at least in a nice, open area, where my Blessed Hammer could be used to full effect.

Beyond them was the Worldstone Keep, another indoor crawl.    The mobs ramped up a bit in there and tended to come in large groups.  I hit a few points where I got overwhelmed and died and wondered if I should really bother carrying on.  The closest I came was when I died trying to get my gear back before I could toss a fresh town portal, so there was going to be a long run back to where I was.  But I persisted.  I felt I was close enough to the end that I should hang on.

And I did come to the throne of Baal.  There he throws five waves of special baddies at you, including some old favorites, as they appear to be a group from each of the previous acts, plus a special new group for Act V.  The most recognizable group was the councilors from Act III, largely because they and Mephisto were the only memorable bits of that act.

There were issues and a couple of deaths and a some regret that I didn’t thoroughly clear the whole level before I started on these event spawns, but I managed to defeat them.  Then Baal disappears through a portal and you get to follow him in for the final fight.

This way to Baal

When you get in, you find you are fighting two Baals.  There is no doubt an endless supply of testicle jokes in that.

In the chamber there is a real Baal and a fake Baal.  They look alike.  There is apparently a way to tell them apart by their name tab, but in the end fake Baal is less tanky so it becomes obvious which is which.

It is another fight with a lot of running away, using portals back to town to refill potions, and scrambling about to stay out of the way of Baal’s big attacks.  Keeping on your feet slows things down, but eventually I got the best of him.

Baal down at last

That is the queue for Tyrael to show up for another one of his expositions.

He is always impressed, isn’t he?

After that, you are about done.  You get the victory screen where it announced you have a new title.

Slayer Wilhelm at your service

And then you are tossed back out to the character screen where you can choose to start over again at two of the three difficulties.

Hell remains locked

That is it, I made it through.

Final Thoughts

Despite the low resolution and the distortion caused by the game being rendered at a 4:3 screen ratio, the whole thing was very playable 20 years down the road.

In various ways the experience of playing through was both better and worse than my memories.  A lot of the game is very well tuned and timed.  The waypoints are… mostly… spread out just right to make for nice play sessions in manageable chunks.

The play though showed, once more, that Act I is good and connects you back to the original Diablo.  Act II then takes everything up a notch and gives you a brand new feel and locale.

Then comes Act III, which isn’t bad, but which doesn’t have a lot of flavor to it.  It feels like a bit of a slog just to get to the fight with the council and Mephisto.

Act IV is short, but lively.  And, of course, you face off against Diablo again here.

After which there is Act V, a level that feels like an expansion level, tacked on and perhaps unnecessary.  It wasn’t horrible.  The team clearly had some ideas they wanted to try out.  But the whole act felt like they stretched it out more just to make sure you felt like you got your money’s worth.

Having done a play through, the question becomes what to do next.  I am not particularly keen to run through the same content at Nightmare difficulty.  I am just not that engaged.

I could try another class.  The paladin has been my go-to for ages.  I might try out a druid or an assassin, the expansion classes.  I am not sure I have ever played them at all.

I should/could play each class through at least Act I… maybe Act II… to compare the classes.  We shall see what I feel up to.

But for a 20 year old game, it isn’t so out of date as you might think.  Playing through does make me wonder how a remake or remaster would play.  The temptation to update things that feel “wrong” in 2020, like the respec option, would be strong.

Diablo II Act Four

Having made it through the long and linear third act of the game, I was deposited in the Pandemonium Fortress, the base for the fourth act.

Tyreal is there to greet you

I tend to think of this as “the short act” as well.  There are only three quests, two of which are optional, and three waypoints, including the one you start with.  Feeling a bit of completionist drive, and knowing the act to be short, I took the time to take on all three quests.

The act itself takes starts in a gray hellscape as you follow the path to the final confrontation.  Along the way I found Izual and confronted him.

Izual speaks

Finding him is worth it as the quest reward is two more points for your skill tree.

After that, you keep moving forward… though I ran into a problem in getting to the next zone, The City of the Damned.  The path there are some stairs that are on the edge of the zone and, after having circled the perimeter of the entire zone, I realized that there was one tiny bit off on one side that I had not gotten close enough to, so of course that was where the stairs were.  But I fully explored that zone.

In the city you run into Hephasto the Armorer, who works at the Hellforge.  Fighting him is a bit of a battle, and he drops some gems and runes when you defeat him.

Hephasto the Armorer

But what you really need is the Hellforge on which you destroy Mephisto’s soul stone, which you have left over after defeating him at the end of Act III.  That knocks out the second quest for the act.

From there you hit another NPC who gives you a pep talk about moving forward.

On the path forward

Tyreal has your final goal to hand as well.

The final mission

From The City of the Damned you enter the River of Flame.

That is a lot of flame

From that point you are on the route straight to Diablo.

This is where I started having some problems.  I managed to fight my way through to the five seals that you need to unlock in order to release Diablo, but forgot that clicking them spawns a boss and some minions, so clicking two in quick succession got me in over my head and I died in an awkward spot.

Also, I had not thrown up a town portal.  So it was back to the way point for a naked run to my corpse, where I put up a portal, then started kiting mobs away from my corpse.  Of course, I died a few times doing that… and blew a bunch of gold reviving my mercenary each time as well.

Eventually I got things under control, but it was one of those situations where, after I had several corpses on the floor and my gear as yet not recovered, that I started thinking about calling and end to the run.  I pressed on though, got my stuff and then, carefully, cleared out the area and clicked on the final seals.

And then Diablo himself shows up and the fight is on.

A wild Diablo appears!

And then things were slow going.  I am honestly surprised that my “seemed like a good idea at the moment” spec actually lasted this far into the game.  But here, at the final fight, it was not cutting it.  I wasn’t doing enough damage and was having to jump out through a portal for more heal potions (and to revive my eternally dead merc) way too often.

But I had planned for this.  Not too long after launch Blizzard added a reward to one of the Act I quests that let you re-spec just once.  I had been waiting until I hit a wall, so I decided now was the time.  If not on the Diablo stage, then when?

Googling paladin builds, I came across the Hammerdin spec, where you go all in on Blessed Hammer, and skills that boost its damage.  Once I had that set, I went back to Act IV and jumped back in to face Diablo.

It took me a bit to figure out how to use the spec… maybe I should have read that bit before jumping in… but I got it down after not too long and managed to bring Diablo down.  Victory was mine.

I went back to the Pandemonium Fortress and got the pat on the back from everybody.  I had defeated Diablo, something I probably last did more than 15 years ago.  But I was not done yet.  I had created my paladin as an expansion character, so there was another portal go jump through, to get to Act V, and another prime evil to slay, Baal

Deckard Cain is always there waiting for me

The first two acts I remember very well.  I’ve gone back and run them many times.  The third act was a bit hazy, while the fourth act is so short that there is little really to forget, save a few details that might get you killed.

But the fifth act, the expansion act… I was having trouble recalling anything at all about that except for being in a frozen tunnel at some point.  So I pressed on.