Category Archives: Diablo II

Looking Back at 2018 Highs and Lows

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.

-James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion

We stand together again at the end of of another year; at least those of us who survived the journey do.  And, as has become the tradition here, I set aside some time to reflect and sum up the year that was 2018.

As usual, this is more of a stream of consciousness sort of affair as opposed to a rigorous study of the year.  Some things loom larger in my mind than others, especially the more recent.  I can’t really remember what happened in January, but BlizzCon was in November so my brain is still full of that.  Because of the method, and my general laziness, I don’t link out in this post (save for one exception this year).  You sort of have to know what I am talking about or else just let it pass.

For comparison… I suppose there is a study that could be done on my moods and views over the years… you can read the versions of this post that has come up in past years.

Not everything listed as a “low” is necessarily a tragedy, nor is everything listed as a “high” really something that was headline news to celebrate.  One year I inserted a “middle” category and then found I wanted to put most everything in there, so I set that aside.

There is also something of the accountant in me that tries to turn this into a balance sheet, with every “high” having a corresponding “low” on the list.  That works a lot of the time, but not always.  Some things are just one or the other.

Also, I remain undecided on punctuation in this sort of post.  To my mind, bullet points shouldn’t get punctuation.  Sort of.  They do when the bullet point is a question.  Also, I use a lot of semi-colons while eschewing the sentence ending period.  And then there is that exclamation point.  Does that wreck everything?  I think my life would be easier if I just made them sentences, but I am writing this after all the stuff below and I am NOT going back to change all that.

Anyway, on with the show.

Blizzard

Highs

  • A decent start of the year for Blizzard, building momentum for the WoW expansion and BlizzCon
  • Battle for Azeroth launched very well, with the build-up to the expansion drawing a lot of attention
  • Hearthstone did very well, even breaking into the digital revenue top ten on the PC platform
  • BlizzCon for once did not ignore any of the main Blizzard franchises
  • Blizzard showed they were very serious about getting WoW Classic right
  • There is even going to be progression in WoW Classic so the raiding is done with the right gear
  • We got an official announcement for the second of the three planned remasters, Warcraft III Reforged
  • Plans for upcoming Battle for Azeroth content
  • New expansion for Hearthstone
  • New hero for Overwatch
  • New champion for Heroes of the Storm, plus more plans to fix the game
  • New co-op commander for StarCraft II
  • New game for the Diablo franchise
  • Hey, Lindsey Stirling was one of the BlizzCon closing ceremony acts

Lows

  • BlizzCon seemed to kill fan enthusiasm for the aforementioned momentum
  • Even I am starting to feel that the BlizzCon formula might be wearing a bit thin
  • They say that all press is good press, but burning down that tree is going to take a while for some people to get past
  • After a strong start, flaws in Battle for Azeroth around gear and such began to tarnish the experience
  • Wait, as my ilevel gets higher mobs actually get harder rather than easier to kill?  And Blizz thinks this is fine?
  • BlizzCon divided up by six franchises means a preciously small slice of pie for any fan of only a single franchise
  • WoW Classic might be so authentic as to do to retro servers what WoW did to fantasy MMORPGs
  • Did you say WoW Classic would have progression?  This will inevitably lead to people wanting progression into expansions
  • Still waiting for news on that third remaster, Diablo II
  • The Battle for Azeroth content wasn’t all that exciting, even for a year with no expansion announcement
  • Unsure if the Battle for Azeroth content wasn’t exciting because the game is getting old and tired or I am… or both
  • Heroes of the Storm is losing its epsorts league and most of its devs as Blizz restructured it to keep it going with a smaller staff
  • I’m not even sure what a co-op commander is in StarCraft II
  • Complete fail on the part of Blizzard for expecting core Diablo fans to embrace  the mobile title Diablo Immortal
  • Failed to mitigate the above by not mentioning anything about Diablo VI, more Diablo III content, the Diablo II remaster, or anything else the core fan base might care about; vague references to multiple Diablo projects doesn’t cut it
  • Trifecta of Diablo franchise fails when rumors hit that they were going to announce Diablo IV but pulled it at the last minute, followed by a statement that the rumor wasn’t true, all of which will pretty much pull the punch from any future Diablo IV announcement
  • Gaming press proceeded to vilify Diablo fans, pretty much going full on “Imma let you finish…” over Blizz even as Blizz was owning up to badly setting expectations
  • Few people attended, and no press covered, the “Play Nice, Play Fair” presentation at BlizzCon which, among other things, presented evidence on how vilifying your player base as toxic tends to actually enable toxicity from your worst fans while alienating the 99% of your fan base that isn’t a problem
  • Allen Adham says senior devs at Blizzard are playing mobile games now, and Blizzard makes games they want to play by improving the games they are currently playing, so expect anything new from them to be on your phone

Daybreak

Highs

  • Company not shut down due to connection to Russian oligarchs via Columbus Nova
  • EverQuest still holding on as the standard bearer
  • EverQuest turned 19 and launched a new progression server called Coirnav
  • The Fippy Darkpaw EverQuest progression server is still running
  • Likewise, EverQuest II celebrated its 14th anniversary
  • EverQuest and EverQuest II both got an expansion again in 2018
  • DC Universe Online continues to hum along, getting some updates
  • As rumors indicated, PlanetSide 2 got a new map and some updates
  • Rumors also mentioned a new Norrath game, possibly EverQuest 3
  • H1Z1 actually left early access and went live, adding in a new vehicle mode along the way
  • H1Z1 became a success on the PlayStation 4
  • Some sort of joint venture with NantWorks to redo H1Z1 as Z1 Battle Royale
  • Just Survive looked to have received a last minute stay of execution
  • They finally announced a new game, PlanetSide Arena, the first since they ceased to be SOE
  • They actually sold out their 4,000 lifetime memberships at $299 a pop for a nice influx of cash

Lows

  • Not sure who is still playing on the Fippy Darkpaw EverQuest server, its been up for eight years
  • Company changed its mind rather abruptly about who owned it when asked about Russian oligarchs, deleting all references, attempting to scrub Wikipedia, and claiming that they misstated who actually owned the company for three years and on just about every document and press release they published
  •  After all that, Jason Epstein is/was still clearly tied to Columbus Nova
  • In the midst of changing its mind on the ownership question Daybreak took a moment out to lay off a chunk of their staff, showing that all is not well
  • Then, earlier this month they laid off another big chunk of the team
  • H1Z1 pretty much fell by the wayside in the market under pressure from PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds then Fortnite
  • The deal with Tencent to bring H1Z1 to China also failed when the Chinese ethics review board rejected H1Z1 because of “blood and gore” and “vulgar content”
  • There went that H1Z1 esports league
  • The NantWorks joint venture, NantG Moblie, seems pretty nebulous so far, and uncertainty isn’t helping
  • The NantG Mobile plane, such that it has been stated, sounds suspiciously like “What if H1Z1 were more like Fortnite?
  • EverQuest is tied up in this deal in some way, but nobody has explained how
  • Just Survive’s stay of execution turned out to be an illusion and it was shut down
  • The new game, PlanetSide Arena, seemed to be just PlanetSide 2 with well worn shooter modes… including battle royale, of course
  • Lifetime subscribers are all people who won’t be paying a subscription going forward, so Daybreak essentially took a one-time buyout from some of its core fanbase
  • Lifetime subscriptions only apply to the four oldest games, nothing new-ish is covered nor are any console players covered
  • Not sure if NantG Mobile ought to come under the Daybreak heading
  • Not sure how many products Daybreak really has now
  • Not sure how healthy Daybreak is at this point
  • Nothing so far has really quashed the rumors from early in the year about Daybreak’s plans, for good or bad

Standing Stone

Highs

  • Found new ways to expand LOTRO and hey, it was free content
  • Raised the level cap in LOTRO to 120
  • Continued updating character models
  • High elves were added in, because we need more elves in Middle-earth
  • Possibility of a new class for the game
  • Female dwarves in Middle-earth, so now the Tolkien purists can be angry
  • Some mention of a 64-bit client in the offing
  • LOTRO Legendary server proves so popular they have to open a second server
  • A new musical instrument was added, so now you can play the bassoon
  • LOTRO lifetime subscription remains the best MMO deal I have ever made, all the more so since I am back playing
  • DDO got a new race, so you can unlock your inner wood elf; go team elf
  • DDO also got some other updates I think and sold some of those two year subscription deals

Lows

  • Nothing else on the horizon for the company at all
  • Still really don’t know who owns SSG
  • LOTRO remains difficult to pick up with an aging and awkward UI, a balky client, a patcher that is in no hurry to get you patched, and that whole legendary weapon thing which should have been left behind in Moria
  • The rise in the level cap was not universally applauded, but you have to gate content somehow
  • Managed to screw up the Shire for a bit like they were Sarumann
  • The need to make money meant more focus on lootboxes and making the in-game currency situation worse by adding “ember” currency to the list
  • An announced new Middle-earth game won’t shut down LOTRO, but it won’t help it either
  • The “legendary” aspect of the LOTRO Legendary server seemed more than a bit oversold
  • And yet SSG managed to poorly promote the whole LOTRO Legendary server thing at the same time
  • LOTRO Legendary seems most popular with those already invested in the game, so likely pulled a lot of its population from the live servers of players
  • Those LOTRO Legendary queues pretty much went away inside of two weeks
  • A second server and no more queues portends a server merge when the new server joy wears off
  • DDO news was so sparse that I don’t really have anything besides the wood elf to add
  • There was bluster about what the two year subscription might get you, but since two years of normal VIP actually cost $100 less I expect to hear some buyer’s remorse

CCP

Highs

  • CCP purchased by Pearl Abyss ends having to please direct investors
  • CCP and Pearl Abyss claim to be sympatico in their outlook on games
  • CCP says they will get to keep operating on their own
  • CCP got recognition from Guinness finally for the battle at 94P-I
  • A new war in null sec has made some additional headlines
  • Lots of people got to get their titans out and shot things
  • Lots of updates and improvements over the course of the year
  • Abyssal Deadspace was especially popular
  • It is a good time to be farming Gilas
  • In game events are generally getting better
  • CCP is FINALLY trying to fix War Decs
  • With FLEX structures the problematic POS code is almost ready to be expunged from New Eden
  • New Activity Tracker shows you what you’ve been doing in New Eden
  • New games, EVE Echoes and Project: Nova coming next year
  • Working with NetEase, their new partner, to re-launch EVE Online in China
  • Didn’t lose any major third party sites on which EVE Online depends
  • EVEMon is actually back again after the swap to ESI
  • EVE Vegas was a lot of fun
  • I gave a presentation at EVE Vegas

Lows

  • Pearl Abyss, whose reputation from Black Desert Online is that of “cash shop pay to win atrocity horror show” now owns EVE Online.
  • We will see just how sympatico the two companies really are
  • CCP trading external investors for one owner probably means a lot more direct scrutiny
  • CCP will get to run their own show only as long as the money keeps flowing, you can bet on that
  • Monthly updates, some of which can be quite meaty, do make it hard for named expansions to stand out for EVE Online
  • The New Eden concurrency number keeps slowly moving down
  • Null sec wars only last so long, then we all go home and mine
  • Peace is boring since I neither rat nor mine anymore
  • I may, in fact, be a bitter vet at this point
  • The null sec balance of power is now skewed such that the China syndrome seems a possibility, where one power bloc essentially “wins” null sec and everybody else quits
  • Faction Warfare has gone stagnant, with key players leaving it completely
  • The change from passive income to active moon mining sent some low sec groups into decline, hurting low sec even more
  • I’ve added “when will the in-game economy collapse?” to my list of concerns about the game
  • Even the people who used to bristle when it was claimed low sec was dead are starting to feel that low sec has gotten much less active
  • Abyssal Deadspace depends on RNG to stay fresh and still has become mostly a solved problem save for some very bad luck draws
  • Still can’t figure out how CCP went this long without looking into War Decs given how completely problematic the data ended up showing they were; they were pretty much universally declared as horrible years ago
  • Seems likely that CCP will muff fixing war decs, though in their defense there is no simple answer that will please everybody nor one that adheres to the spirit of the game
  • I am going to miss the good old POS bubble when they’re finally removed
  • What were they thinking with that Federation Grand Prix event?
  • Activity Tracker is essentially achievements for New Eden
  • Activity Tracker doesn’t count anything you did before Nov. 13, 2018, which kind of stings for those of us around for more than a decade
  • EVE Echoes is a NetEase mobile game completely disconnected from the main game
  • Project Nova looks nice and could connect to New Eden, but otherwise seems to lack a distinct personality and CCP wants to make it as complicated as EVE Online if they can
  • Oh, and even CCP thinks Project Nova has issues, so it has been delayed
  • Total EVE, EVE Files, and Dotlan EVE Maps all stumbled this year, making us all aware of how fragile the third party ecosystem for New Eden really is
  • There is always a period of post-event malaise for me after the excitement of an event like EVE Vegas wears off
  • In a room with seating for 800 people easy, I had 30 people at my presentation at EVE Vegas, with even some fellow bloggers blowing me off
  • My presentation was also neither streamed nor recorded, so it remains just a special moment in the memory of a very select group
  • Whatever happened to that EVE Online TV series?  I am sure Netflix would buy it

Nintendo

Highs

  • The Switch continues to prove itself a surprising force in the console market
  • Among titles arriving on the Switch was Diablo III
  • Pokemon for Switch looking to be popular
  • Pokemon Go revenues keep on going
  • Pokemon Go released the 4th generation Pokemon, which was a nostalgia rush for me
  • There will be a link between Pokemon Go and the new Pokemon titles on the Switch

Lows

  • The Switch version of most games cost more than on other platforms
  • The Switch isn’t up to supporting ports from other platforms for some games
  • All that Switch news is cold comfort if you’re invested in the neglected DS handheld platform
  • The Switch is not a handheld, portable platform; it is too big, too fragile, and lacks the battery life to be considered as such
  • No more Pokemon on the DS line, ending more than 20 years of the franchise’s link with Nintendo handheld platforms
  • Hilarious attempts to justify the easy nature of the Switch Pokemon games by claiming that those games are “for children” as though the past 20 years of Pokemon handheld games were not
  • Nintendo actively pushing its latest/last handheld model, the 2DS XL, while pretty much winding down the new game queue for the platform in something that feels a lot like dishonesty
  • Pokemon Go is pretty much the only winner in Nintendo’s mobile strategy
  • Pretty much have to admit that Pokemon games on handhelds were the last thing Nintendo had that interested me, in case you missed that, so they probably won’t even get a category here next year

Other Games and the Gaming Industry

Highs

  • TorilMUD made it to 25 years; long live the MUD!
  • Fortnite found its niche and conquered
  • I enjoyed some time with Rift Prime
  • Having enough leftover credits from the free to play conversion, I didn’t even have to spend a single dime on Rift Prime
  • Shroud of the Avatar left early access
  • Project: Gorgon arrived on Steam
  • No Man’s Sky seemed to be finally living up to some of its pre-launch promises
  • The Elder Scrolls Online seems to be a rock, able to carry on even as other titles falter and fall into neglect, maintenance mode, acquisitions, or closure
  • Everybody seems to be raving about Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Finally, somebody mad about loot boxes and set to do something about them
  • A ruling from the Library of Congress extending DMCA exemptions for video game archiving and study to include server/client based games like MMORPGs
  • We got a good Minecraft expansion with the Aquatic Update and Pandas are on the way
  • Steam declared they weren’t going to reject any games based on content, save for those titles it felt were just “trolling”
  • Civilization V got an update… it was only to the launcher, but the launcher needed it
  • Bomber Crew ended up being a nice little game, I should write about it

Lows

  • This section is getting harder to write every year as I rarely seem to play anything new
  • Fortnite has become popular enough to start facing backlash like a ban by the NHL
  • Battle Royale as a feature is now a requirement in all shooters
  • Rift Prime, like Rift the first time around, was guaranteed to lose my attention at Storm Legion; as it was I didn’t even make it that far
  • Trion’s games were bought by Gamingo as Trion folds up shop leaving an uncertain future for their titles; I guess I wasn’t the only one not spending money on Rift Prime
  • Shroud of the Avatar then proceeded to go free while the studio laid people off
  • I still haven’t given Project: Gorgon much of a shot
  • I can’t really tell anymore, is Star Wars: The Old Republic on an uptick or a down tick this year?
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea developer Portalus Games is calling it a day, leaving it to an even smaller group to run which does not fill one with confidence
  • Wildstar and Carbine Studios are no more, victims of their own hype as much as anything
  • Tried Anarchy Online and, as it turns out, nostalgia for the “good old days” only applied to reliving your own hardships, not the hardships of others
  • Every time I see “RDR2” my brain converts it to “R2D2”
  • RDR2 is a console game and my latest console was a PS3, not counting the 2DS XL
  • Loot boxes became a political football for those looking to score points on the “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” front; actual change outside of Belgium was pretty much zero
  • Riot  Games giving the industry an even worse reputation as Kotaku exposes their caustic bro culture
  • Riot Games attempting to fix their horrible culture through platitudes and PR; I only wish I played League of Legends so I could quit dramatically
  • Library of Congress ruling is essentially useless as it only allows museums and the like to archive MMORPGs if they can legally obtain the server code, which just isn’t going to happen
  • The eventual crashing of fan euphoria as they found out the DMCA exemption also prevents remote, off-site connections to preserved MMORPGs; The Library of Congress is not interested in letting you play SWG just because you miss it
  • The last refuge of closed MMORPGs remains the pirate emulator, which live a perilous existence in the gray space between popularity and a lawsuit
  • The Civilization V launcher update seemed primarily put in place to serve as an advertising platform to push the disappointing Civilization VI
  • Just to repeat, Civilization VI was quite the disappointment so I uninstalled it and play Civilization V when I have the Civ urge
  • As it turns out “trolling” isn’t well defined and Steam pretty much rejects the same games it always has, only now that is their excuse
  • All the same, the number of new games to hit Steam every day continued to grow, leaving only those studios that can afford marketing or who have a solid reputation likely to make any money at all
  • Many game developer careers remain Hobbesian in nature (nasty, short, and brutish) as studios abuse the seemingly endless supply of young developers seeking to do what they love in order to live the dream; the dream being 80 hour weeks, low pay, and no long term employment stability
  • Gaming media, another realm where an endless supply of replacements await those who can’t generate clicks, continues to play both sides of the game as they stoke up fan expectations with uncritical assessments of studio promises and then tar video game fans with whatever negative euphemism comes to hand (e.g. entitled, man babies, entitled man babies) over any backlash when the expectations they helped set fail to deliver; but controversy gets views man
  • And yes, some fans just need to shut the fuck up; but drawing attention to them, bringing them fame, and reporting their every complaint isn’t going to make that happen… and conflating the words of a tiny minority with the views of a whole community remains asinine

Media, Social and Otherwise

Highs

  • Even more Star Wars in theaters
  • Lots of new shows and movies on services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu
  • Season five of Bojack Horseman was excellent
  • The First was slow, but good; despite his personal life, about which I could stand to never hear about again, Sean Penn remains an actor dedicated to his craft
  • Still some really nice, serviceable shows on what one might still call “basic cable” these days
  • Better Call Saul might be better than Breaking Bad
  • Honest Trailers and Honest Game Trailers just never get old for me; the Screen Junkies team is awesome
  • Honest Trailers Commentaries is my new YouTube addiction
  • Somehow Zero Punctuation has stayed pretty fresh for me as well despite the fact that I still reference videos Yahtzee made over a decade back
  • Twitter, for all its faults, remains pretty useful to me

Lows

  • Even Disney now believes that there can be too many Star Wars movies now
  • Solo was there to answer questions nobody was really asking
  • Is there any series or movie so bad that Netflix won’t pick it up as an exclusive?
  • House of Cards ends on a silly/disappointing season though, like the original, the first season was all that really made it matter
  • Whoa, have you seen the Netflix earnings lately?
  • Every network now seems to think they need to get on the exclusive streaming service train to gate in their content leading to market fragmentation and, likely, eventual failure for all but the strong
  • The strong are, inevitably, Amazon and Disney, and we know what they’re like
  • There are so many options on basic cable that I often miss good stuff until a season is part way through and then have to wait until it makes it to Hulu or Netflix in order to watch it
  • Kind of starting to resent shows that only drop an episode a week; I want to binge… and binging helps me keep the plot and characters straight
  • Screen Junkies owned by yet another new company now, I hope they continue to survive
  • CinemaSins has gotten pretty stales for me; I like to hear Jeremy talk on the podcast, but the same old complaints, like “47 seconds of logos,” have been beaten to death
  • Pretty sure at this point that Zero Punctuation is all that is keeping The Escapist alive at this point
  • The Escapist pretty much broke being able to watch Zero Punctuation on their site back in July; I hope they get revenue from posting it to YouTube, because that is where I go to see it now
  • Google announced that, due to low usage and a security issues, they would be closing Google+ in August 2019
  • And then another security issue came up and Google moved the end date for Google+ to April 2019
  • That threat by people to leave Twitter made me realize how much I depend on it
  • Mastadon, a Twitter alternative, is great… if you just want to be in a tiny echo chamber of stifling conformity
  • Facebook looks worse as a company with each passing day

The Blog, Internet, and Like Items

Highs

  • Somehow, after a dozen year, here I am still
  • The month in review posts have become pretty special to me as I get to review past posts every month
  • The MMO Blog Feed in the side bar continues to function, amazing given the hack that it is and that several times the companies involved were set to make changes that would break it completely
  • A really nice Blaugust event this year, combining both the usual activity with some of the Newbie Blogger Initiative stuff
  • Blaugust was low pressure and not even gaming blog oriented, which brought in a lot of faces, new and old, to participate leading to a lot of good cross-pollination
  • Blaugust Discord was fun and has kept going as a place to chat for some of us
  • The whole thing was objectively a success on many fronts, including traffic, which ticked up noticeably
  • Traffic to this site was not only up for August, but stayed up for the months following
  • For the first time since 2012 traffic is actually up for the year when compared to the previous year
  • Average word count per post was up this year; I assume that is a good thing
  • Also, and odd metric, but “likes” were up quite a bit on the site, something I think was directly from Blaugust
  • Stalking the tags and categories feature in the WordPress.com Reader has actually led me to several new blogs, which should be a reminder that people should try to use standard tags if they want their blog to be found

Lows

  • Blogging continues its decline as an influence, remaining a hold out for those of us who prefer long form, words, and being able to collect our thoughts into a single site
  • The month in review posts are becoming more bloated and no doubt helping to inflate that average word count
  • Always somebody keen to declare any social event like Blaugust a “failure” if their own independent measure wasn’t met, even if they did not participate or understand the premise
  • Not sure traffic boost was solely related to Blaugust as search engine quirks seem to be in play as well given the specific posts that are seeing ongoing interest
  • While likes were up, comments were down for the year, and rather dramatically so; on balance, a good comment is worth a half a dozen likes in my book
  • There are days when I feel I am stuck between people who can accept no criticism of their current favorite game and those who feel that in order for their game to fully succeed somebody else must fail
  • My cynicism about new titles remains driven by the unwarranted optimism certain repeat offenders seem willing to invest in studio generated hype even after they have time and again become resentful when reality fails to meet their inflated expectations
  • So much for net neutrality
  • So much for the alleged benefits of dumping net neutrality as the promised increase in infrastructure building actually went the other way
  • So many bloggers use bad tags or categories for their blogs (e.g. “wow” rather than “warcraft” or “world of warcraft” and “eve” instead of “eve online”) which makes finding them a low percentage accident at the best of times
  • WordPress.com ads have officially crossed the line into obnoxious, proving once again that ad block is pretty much a requirement on the internet
  • My brain has started auto completing words for as my fingers type them, and the result is even worse than when my iPhone does it

Final Thoughts

My temptation is to continue to beat to death the “and so it goes” line from Vonnegut.  I read a lot of Vonnegut in college… I actually read all of Vonnegut in college, or all that there was at the time, short stories included… and it clearly influenced my somewhat fatalistic outlook on life.  Maybe “no damn cat, no damn cradle” would be better.  That might be the lesson of life in the end.

Another year has passes and the trivial pursuits of our lives continue.

Looking Towards BlizzCon 2018

BlizzCon starts tomorrow, so it is about time I got around this post.  I have ordered the Virtual Ticket, so I will be watching all of what is coming.  However, the question is, what will we actually see?

BlizzCon 2018

  • World of Warcraft

There will no doubt be some words about Battle for Azeroth, how everything is fine and wonderful and even if it isn’t Blizz will be making things better shortly.  There might even be a mention of some new content and plans and maybe a reference to how the game will be fifteen years old next year.

But the main thing will be WoW Classic.  Once I ordered the Virtual Ticket I figured out how to download the demo so I could play it once it goes live.  It doesn’t get its own entry on the Blizzard launcher… not yet at least.  Rather, it is one of the options under “Region/Account.”

The option to select

There are not any Patch Notes, the link there points to to WoW 8.0.1 patch notes.

Once you have selected it, you can click the “Install” button and off you go.

The download

The download itself is… substantial.  It weighs in at 11.5GB, so I suspect we are getting more than just The Barrens and Westfall as part of the package.

Given that I said last year that this BlizzCon would be all about WoW Classic, at least on the WoW front, I suspect that will be the case.  I don’t know what else they would go on about.

The play time people will be allowed for WoW Classic, even for the home download, is reported to be capped or otherwise limited, which I am sure will bring out some rage.  And reports indicate that the experience will be very much in the classic vein.

  • Diablo Franchise

There has been considerable buzz around the Diablo franchise over the last few months, with speculation that we might get a Diablo IV announcement.  And, looking at the BlizzCon schedule, the first item on the main stage is Diablo: What’s Next presentation.  That primacy of place usual goes to the franchise with the big reveal.

On the other hand, Blizz has been dumping cold water on rumors, warning people not to expect too much.  So who knows.

I would still like to hear something about Diablo II remastered, something they mentioned ages ago.  Other than that, and taking Diablo IV off the table, I don’t know what else they would have to present.  I mean, Diablo III on the Switch is nice and all, but it is old news by now, even if it officially launches tomorrow.

  • Overwatch

A new hero seems to be in the works.  A new map or a new play mode would be interesting, but as with the Diablo rumors, Blizz has been trying to set expectations low.  Since I don’t play Overwatch, I am not sure what else they might announced.  New cosmetics maybe?

  • Hearthstone

Hearthstone seemed to do pretty well as a franchise over the last year.  But with a collectible card game the path forward is always clear; new decks and new play modes.  Would anybody bet against one or both being announced?

  • Heroes of the Storm

It is getting a “What’s Next” presentation on the main stage, so something is up.  I suspect we will hear more about how they are going to make it better and/or more competitive with its rivals… though, it main rival, League of Legends, has been down so far in 2018, so maybe the MOBA thing is fading.

Also, new heroes and new cosmetics I am sure.

  • StarCraft

What do you do when your franchise doesn’t get a “What’s Next” panel until mid-way through day two?  I suspect that means no big announcements.

StarCraft and StarCraft II have their own room and channel for the esports league competition, so the franchise remains a staple there.  I expect that the most likely news will be some sort of adventure pack for SCII.

  • Others

Along with the StarCraft and Diablo II rematsers, there was also talk of a Warcraft III rematser as well.  Maybe we might hear something about that?  StarCraft made it and is on the launcher, so the trail has been blazed.

And then, of course, maybe Blizzard could announce something new.  They have been hiring for new projects and they are good at announcing and keeping momentum going through until launch.  But I don’t see any large, unaccounted for open slots on the schedule.  Maybe that “Inside Blizzard” presentation is just a decoy?

Anyway, that is my somewhat mild forecast for BlizzCon.  Blizz could still shake things up with a surprise or two, but unless there really is a Diablo IV announcement I think WoW Classic will be the big item for the event.

Can We Trust a Torchlight MMO?

…because of WoW, and all the dumb money and all the publisher pressure, there’ll be lots of games that shouldn’t have been MMOs but would have been great boxed products. Lots of publishers are pushing for that subscription pie, but they’ll fail.

-Rob Pardo, MMOs Past, Present, and Future Panel at GDC 2007

We’ll get to that quote in a bit, but first we must go back to 2012, back to the war to see who would be crowned the REAL successor to that most beloved ARPG Diablo II.

The claimants were Diablo III, which had the name and Blizzard’s might behind it, Torchlight II, which had some of the original Diablo development team on board, and Path of Exile, which was the dark horse indie candidate in the race.

The competition was a big enough deal that I made categories on the blog for all three of them.

In the end I think Path of Exile felt the most like Diablo II when it came to style and atmosphere.

Diablo III, after a bad start, eventually got fixed when Blizz removed the auction house and got the itemization lined up  correctly and went on to be the big money maker of the three.  It sold more that 30 million copies, got an expansion, and continues to get attention and updates from the company that we could only dream of during the Diablo II era.  A version was just announced for the Nintendo Switch even.  Still going!

And then there was Torchlight II.  It was good.  Cute.  Colorful.

But where Diablo III had story and Path of Exile had atmosphere, I am not sure what Torchlight II really had.

Not that it did poorly or anything.  According to that Steam leak thing I wrote about a few weeks ago it was in 57th place on the list with close to five million copies in play on the platform.  The is an impressive haul, well ahead of Civilization VI.  Nobody can fault you if you beat Sid Meier.

Granted, it took them a few years to get the promised Mac OS version out the door and at that point it sounded like those working on the game were done with Torchlight.  That seemed to be the end of plans for a Torchlight MMO, something that had been talked about since the original Torchlight came out.  The original talk was of going from single player to multiplayer and then to an MMO.

And then there were some of the founders leaving the studio along with the fact that Perfect World Entertainment bought them out, and it seemed like the Torchlight saga was done.

Again, not that it had gone badly, but maybe Torchlight II was enough.  I mean they never did any addon expansions or DLC or any of the usual things you do to keep something you want to remain a franchise in the public eye.  Sometimes you just reach the natural end of things, which was what seemed to have happened here.

So I was a bit taken aback when a couple weeks back there was an announcement that Perfect World was planning a Torchlight MMO.  What is the vision for Torchlight Frontiers here?

Torchlight Frontiers

Not to rain on anybody’s parade, but I couldn’t see the real point, at least not in MMO form.

And no, I am not going the Gevlon route about “productive MMOs.”  That is nothing but the usual gamer hubris where we project our own likes on the world and pretend that everybody thinks the same way or that it has some actual logic to it.  Wrapping your personal bias in a tissue thin layer of faux objectivity doesn’t change what it really is in the slightest.

My objection tries to get closer to objective reality, or so I would hope.

MMOs are not easy to make and they certainly are not cheap to make.  Also, the market is already crowded with competitors.  Meanwhile Perfect World has traditionally been a purveyor of Asian style MMOs that don’t really do all that well in the West along with titles that couldn’t keep their original studios alive and were no doubt scooped up at bargain basement prices to be milked via cash shops and lockboxes for every last farthing they can provide.

In that scenario it is difficult for me to see much in the way of hope for anything worthwhile coming out of this idea.  Instead of an attempt to meet some real world demand or cater to a specific demographic, this all smacks of the quote at the top of the post, except in 2018 we have to substitute in “pushing for that cash shop pie” in place of “pushing for that subscription pie.”

Yes, there is talk of there being some Diablo and Torchlight devs involved, but when they say it won’t be a generic MMO but a Torchlight MMO through and through it sounds almost like a contradiction, because if I were to fault Torchlight II on anything, it would be on its mild blandness.  There was nothing wrong with it, but despite playing through the game I barely remember any of it.  I am sure there must have been a story to it, but I cannot remember any of it.

I actually reinstalled it via Steam last week just to revisit it for a while to see if my memories of the game had just faded over time.  After a couple of hours of play my hazy impressions were pretty much reaffirmed.  It is a decent game, if a bit bland, with a story that never really gets much traction in my brain.  It feels more incidental than anything.  There are just several other ARPGs that I find more engaging, such as Grim Dawn, Diablo III, Path of Exile, or even the remastered version of Titan Quest.  So I am not really seeing this as a property that screams to be made into an MMO.  Of course, I could say the same for the other four titles I listed out.

I know, I know, you can say you’re going to make any sort of MMO and you’ll always get some people excited about it.  In spite of our constant and repeated experiences over the last decade the acronym “MMO” still retains some magical properties.  People still long for a shared, persistent world to travel.  People will project their memories and ideas on it and get all excited about an imaginary game that as like as not will bear no resemblance to reality.  That path leads to inevitable disappointment.

So given all of that I cannot help but draw back from this and ask if it is really a good idea.  Given the state of the market, the limits of the franchise, and the reputation of the publisher is this something to get emotionally invested in yet?

And that leaves aside the basic game play questions.  For example, is playing Torchlight II with more than the full party you can play with now really a worthwhile goal?  Are dozens or even hundreds of other people around in this click-fest really a benefit?

I think that the best possible outcome might be a setup like the original Guild Wars, where there were certain shared areas like towns but that the actual content was limited to you and your party.  That sounds a bit like what they are aiming for, though I think having the overworld all shared and only dungeons instanced out for parties might be too much shared space unless they plan on a lot of dungeons.

As for the worst outcome… the mind boggles at the possibilities.  I would not bet against something like a revival of the failed Diablo III real money auction house for starters.  But we know from history that you don’t even need a cash shop to get RMT in motion in an MMO.

Diablo II RMT site ad from back in the day

I mean, Path of Exile is there as an example of how not to get mired in RMT, but I suspect that that Perfect World would see that as limiting their revenue potential.

Meanwhile, the fact that it is targeted for next year (developer optimism is evergreen) and is planned for Windows, PlayStation 4, and XBox One makes me wonder if Torchlight Frontiers will in anyway resemble what made Torchlight and Torchlight II as popular as they were.

That is the problem with experience; it inevitably makes a skeptic out of you.

Anyway, we’ll see what comes of this.  Maybe we’ll even see it next year.

Others who have chimed in on the topic:

Kickstarter – Stay Awhile and Listen Campaign Ending Soon

The Kickstarter campaign for Stay Awhile and Listen Book II is wrapping up in just a few days.  You pretty much have through this coming Wednesday to pledge.

The campaign is closing in on its $12,000 goal, sitting at just past $9,300 as of this writing, putting within striking distance of success.  But “almost there” isn’t there yet.

If you look over at Kicktraq you can see that, while there have been some pledges recently, the curve has flattened out and unless there is a last minute rush of people, the whole thing is going to come up short.

So if you were considering this project, but had put it off, now might be the time to revisit the campaign and see if this is the sort of video game history project that interests you.

Kickstarter – Stay Awhile and Listen Book II

My fondness for video games and Kickstarter has cooled, this is true.  Except in special circumstances, it feels like making a game ends up being too sprawling of a venture to fund this way without inviting the inevitable delay and disappointment.  And doubly so (or more) for anything in the MMO genre.  I’ll buy games when they launch.  Or when I fail to notice they’re still in early access.

Books on the other hand, books seem to work out okay.  While the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls campaign went way past their promised dates, that is pretty much a game.  But things like Empires of EVE have kept reasonably close to their timelines and deliver on what they promise.  And even the laggardly Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls ended up on my bookshelf eventually and was worth the wait.

And so it is that I have another book based Kickstarter on my radar, Stay Awhile and Listen Book II.

Of course, my first question was, “What happened with Stay Awhile and Listen?”  I mean, if we’re speaking of a “Book II” then it seems likely that there is an original out there.

And there was.

The author already has the first book out, Stay Awhile and Listen Book I, released initially back in 2013, which you can find over at Amazon.  While the title suggests that Diablo is the focus, the author’s description of the series says it covers more of the evolution of Blizzard as a company and has tales about other projects, including both those that shipped and those that never saw the light of day.

Stay Awhile…

The book itself is said to be essentially done and the funding is for editing and artwork to get the whole project wrapped up.  So the amount of funding requested is not huge when compared to some other projects, sitting at $12,000, of which $5,500 has already been pledged.

And while the campaign hit my benchmark of 20% funding in the first 24 hours, meaning that it has a chance of success, the pledges really dropped off after day three.  Like, off a cliff, to the point that I suspect the campaign won’t fund unless it gets some more attention.  So I want to help get the word out lest the campaign founder midway through..

This sort of behind the scenes book is something I enjoy, so I am in for $30.  That gets me a paperback of book II and ebook versions of both book I and book II.  If this sort of thing interests you as well, take a look at the Kickstarter page.  The campaign has about 20 days left to run and the estimated delivery date for the finished product is June of next year.

The Necromancer is Coming

Last year and BlizzCon Blizzard promised two things for Diablo III.

The first was the original Diablo experience mocked up in the Diablo III engine… with Diablo III assets.  The Darkening of Tristram event.  We got that in January, and while the experience was not very old school Diablo, it was, as I opined, at least some new content to play through in the game.

The second was the return of the necromancer class, which we will get next week in the form of the Rise of the Necromancer DLC.

The necromancer arrives soon

One of the questions unanswered at BlizzCon was how much the necromancer DLC would cost, because it was made clear it wouldn’t be free.

The answer is: $15

Not a bad price for DLC I guess.  For your fifteen bucks you get access to the necromancer class, a bunch of cosmetic fluff, two additional stash tabs (PC master race only), and two character slots. (details here)

But no content.

So if you miss the necromancer class from Diablo II and want to see it remastered in Diablo III, this is probably an easy choice.  A new class through the current content is likely draw enough for fifteen bucks.

But if you are indifferent to the class… I played it back during Diablo II and it was interesting, but not a class I finished the game with… it is also easy to pass on.  I thought Blizz might have a hook in there, something to attract those for whom the class and the fluff aren’t much of a draw.

And I know, I sound like I am expecting too much for that price, though I will point out that Blizz has added whole new areas for free in the past… and there was the Darkening of Tristram event I opened the post with, which was free as well.  So a bit of content would not have been wholly out of the question to my mind.

As it stands though, I’ll likely let this slide.  But if the necromancer is a must-have for you, look for it on Tuesday!

Projecting on BlizzCon 2016

I must admit that this year’s BlizzCon doesn’t have much going for it in my book.

blizzcon2016

The only game of theirs that I have played in the last six months is World of Warcraft, and that got an expansion just about two months back, so there didn’t seem to be much in it for me.  I wasn’t going to actually GO to BlizzCon or anything, which would be a totally different experience, if only because I just got back from EVE Vegas… and, also, tickets to BlizzCon sell out in seven seconds.

So I was tempted to simply ignore the whole thing and ready about it in the funny papers next week.

Then Blizzard went and announced that “Weird Al” Yankovic was going to be the closing musical guest and I decided I kind of wanted to see that.  I mean, he isn’t Permaband, but he does have more than five songs.  With my daughter keen to see the costume contest and my wife always amused by the dance contest, I subscribed to the pay per view version of the event.

So there we are.

And if I am paying for the event, I am certainly going to pay attention to it and get at least two blog posts out of it, so here we go with the first one.  As with previous years, my mostly uninformed preview of the event will include what I want to see and what I actually expect to see.

World of Warcraft

As I noted above, WoW just released an expansion, so the options are limited.  It likely won’t be a WoW year on the main stage.

expect to see:

  • How great the Legion expansion is doing
  • Some hint about the next content drop
  • WoW in other media (film, TV, graphic novels, etc.)

want to see:

  • Details about the plan for 7.2, 7.3, and, one would hope, 7.4
  • When we will get flying in the Broken Isles
  • Something about retro/nostalgia/legacy servers – Yes, I know, the have already explicitly said they will NOT talk about this, but a man can dream right?
  • Nothing whatsoever about Mark Kern, who is still trying to inject himself into the legacy server thing so he can disrupt BlizzCon with it
  • Tom Chilton saying something he shouldn’t about WoW just one more time

Diablo Franchise

Unlike WoW, the world of Diablo is prime for something new.  Diablo III is going to turn five next May and even the expansion will be three in March.  Presumably, with more than 30 million copies sole, Blizzard isn’t going to let there be another decade gap between releases.  Plus, the 20th anniversary of the original Diablo is coming up.  They have to do something.

expect to see:

  • Positive but vague words about how popular the game remains
  • The Diablo 20th anniversary plan
  • MEUs MAUs and China
  • Something new coming for Diablo III seasons

want to see:

  • Diablo IV announced… Reaper of Souls setup the next game
  • A new expansion for Diablo III announced… if not a new game, at least this
  • Something about that remastered version of Diablo II they were talking about a year ago
  • The original Diablo either remastered or on iOS and Android… I would throw money at the screen for a good remaster of the original

StarCraft

The StarCraft franchise is in an awkward place as Blizz has sort of finished up what they initially planned to do for StarCraft II.  Last year the big news was DLC missions to come after Legacy of the Void shipped.  We got a three part module in this year in the form of Nova Covert Ops.  The first two parts have been released and the third is promised for December 1.

expect:

  • General “Woo, StarCraft!” stuff
  • Reassurance about the third part of Nova Covert Ops shipping
  • A DLC pack for 2017
  • Tournament play

want:

  • Remastered original StarCraft because, honestly, I would much rather play the old version if it wasn’t locked into 640×480 resolution (because this)

Other Titles

I don’t play the other Blizzard titles so I will lump them under a single heading to hide the paucity of entries about individual games while condensing the cynicism into a single, bitter pill.

expect:

  • Everything is Awesome playing on continuous loop, at least metaphorically
  • New hero and/or map for Overwatch
  • Positive Overwatch play time stats
  • A new card pack for Hearthstone that will make all previous packs obsolete
  • Some over the top stats for how many games of Hearthstone have been played
  • Some new play mode for Heroes of the Storm to try and make it at least visible in the market after League of Legends and DOTA2
  • Tournament plans or some such that make it sound like a lot of people play Heroes of the Storm
  • A mobile game from Candy Crush Saga division using Blizzard IP; Manic Murloc Melodrama or some such

want:

  • Overwatch on MacOS so my daughter will stop complaining about Blizzard betraying her
  • Any mention of the original Warcraft RTS games being remastered
  • Report on how that Cho’gall plan from last year turned out for Heroes of the Storm
  • A “Weird Al” song about any Blizzard product

And that is about it.  I hope it will be a big year at BlizzCon for Diablo, give the 20th anniversary and all, but I have been disappointed on the Diablo front so many times in the past that wouldn’t bet on it.

What else should I expect to see… and what do you want to see at BlizzCon?