Tag Archives: Auto Battler

Looking Forward to BlizzCon 2019

BlizzCon is coming and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Not that you would want to stop it.  I certainly don’t want to stop it.

In fact, I am more than a bit excited to see what it will bring.  It is exactly a month away and I already want to start talking about it.

Last year’s BlizzCon was a bit less than thrilling.  It came a couple of months after a WoW expansion, so while there were some update items to reveal, there was no big Azeroth announcement.  WoW Classic was already known so, while we got to play a demo, the only big news was penning in the ship date to summer.  Hearthstone got a new expansion, OverWatch got a new hero and a cereal, Heroes of the Storm felt lucky just to get mentioned, StarCraft received the tiniest of nods, and if it had not been for the Diablo Immortal brouhaha there wouldn’t have been a headline worthy announcement out of the whole thing.

It wasn’t as dull as some made out, but it was a lot more details than big picture, and big picture is what gets attention.

This year though, this year has some potential.  So it is time to go once again go through what I expect to hear, what I hope I will hear, and maybe a couple of things somewhere in between.

Going down the list of franchises:

World of Warcraft

New expansion announcement.

Yes, there will be all sorts of anniversary related things to talk about, with special panels and goodies and videos and whatever, and rightfully so, but there had better be a new expansion announcement on the list.

If there isn’t a new expansion announced for retail WoW the stock price will crash, there will be unrest in the streets, we won’t be able to trust anybody ever again, and the world will pretty much end.

Okay, maybe it is not that bad, but it would be an unprecedented break in the pattern of the ages not to announce a new WoW expansion here.  It would be very bad to not have one to announce. A new expansion will make fans of WoW retail will feel better and we might get a bit of insight into what Blizz has learned from the summer of slumber in Zandalar and Kul Tiras.

But where do we go from Battle for Azeroth? I know the lore is pretty pliable, but that map of Azeroth doesn’t have a lot of wide open seas left in which to discover yet another continent. So what is it going to be?  Time travel again?  Khadgar leading us through some new portal into another world?  Will it be time for another invasion from an external source (please, no more Burning Legion) that will, once again, push the Horde and Alliance back into cooperation again?

And what will be the hook to get people back and playing?  I don’t think a new race by itself will work.  I think the whole allied races thing represented a draining of all interest in going back to that well any time soon.  How many alts do people need?

So a new class then?  Is there a class niche they haven’t explored yet?  Berserkers?  Technos?  Rangers? Necromancers?

Most things I come up with sort of fit in or between the current classes.  How is a Berserker not a fury Warrior?  How is a Techno not a Dwarf/Gnome Hunter with the engineering profession?  How is a Ranger not just a Hunter without a pet?  How is a Necromancer not just a cross between a Warlock and a Deathknight?

If I had to bet, it would be some sort of magic using class I guess.  While I see the cross over, Necromancers might still have potential.

And will Blizz try something new with levels?  Maybe they have some form of alternate advancement in the works.  Or will this be another ten level expansion?  With the company floating the idea of a level squish, it would be strange for them to simply carry on as before.

While I am not playing retail WoW right now I certainly plan to go back to it at some point, which means I am still quite interested in its future.  BlizzCon is the chance for the company to set a course for our expectations.  I hope they don’t blow it, either by coming up empty or setting expectations that lead to eventual disappointment.

WoW Classic

WoW Classic is the difficult bit for Blizz.  It has succeeded beyond expectations.  I think that is a pretty safe claim when the company had to more than double the server count (see the numbers) AND THEN double the amount of people a server was allowed to hold.  Also, there is that 223% increase in subscriber revenue.  All that has put WoW in the headlines again and may have even pushed up the stock price.

Which means you can’t just say nothing about it.  You can’t just say, “Wasn’t that great?  Aren’t we all having fun?” and move on to the next topic.  There has to be a plan communicated.  It doesn’t have to be deep or detailed, but somebody has to get up there and at least hand wave an idea of how Blizz keeps this party going.  Things I think they might bring up as options.

  • 100% Sure – Phase Plan – This is, to my mind, the bare minimum they can communicate, some idea of when the next five phases of WoW Classic will unlock.
  • 80% Sure – Other Expansions – The logical follow on for WoW Classic is The Burning Crusade Classic.  I expect the minimum they will say is that they are looking into it.  The upper limited of my expectations is a declaration that they will make this happen without any details.
  • 10% Sure – More Classic Servers – I will be interested to see if Blizz “gets” what makes up all of the appeal loaded into WoW Classic.  It is rooted in nostalgia, certainly.  But as SOE learned eventually, this is an evergreen proposition, not a one and done effort.  People want to start on FRESH servers and be in that wave of level one players.If they do get this, there will be a mention of a new round of servers at some future date.  Daybreak has found they can roll out a fresh progression server every other year and it will fill to overflowing.  Blizz could easily make this a filler for non-expansion years for WoW.  Maybe they don’t need 70+ servers, and it would be good if there was some sync between finishing up the phases and rolling out a new generation.
  • .001% Sure – Alternate Reality – SynCaine really brought this one up for me.  With WoW Classic essentially standing as an independent game with its own client separate from retail, Blizzard could realistically create a different way forward for the game with its own exclusive expansions.  If anybody has the resources for such a thing, it is Blizz. On the other hand, this is also very much a coloring outside of the lines move, not a Blizz strong suit, and if they can only get an expansion out every other year for retail, I am not sure they have the talent and other non-cash resources capable of producing something that would not lead to disappointment.

Diablo

Diablo IV or go home.

Seriously, if that is not announced after last year’s tease and follow ups, Blizz might as well give up on the franchise.  They have started calling Diablo III a “classic” title. I guess it is already more than seven years old.  So a new Diablo on PC/consoles seems due.

Also, give me a damn Diablo II remaster already.  I would take a GoG.com version.  I have already proven that when I bought Diablo from GoG.com.  Just give it to me already.

Oh, and we do want to hear what happened with Diablo Immortal, but only after you’ve made us all happy with the wonders of Diablo IV.

Heroes of the Storm

Auto Chess or go home.

HotS is still a thing, still getting some minor updates, and will probably get a special new hero for BlizzCon, but the esports body-blow still has many convinced the game is dead.

But Blizz has a unique opportunity here.  With Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics out there having stolen the thunder of the Auto Chess mod, the company could step into the fray with their own version.

However, it needs some special sauce, something tight to set it apart.  And I don’t mean putting making the play grid triangles rather than squares of hexagons.  They need a leap in the concept, because Teamfight Tactics seems to be doing pretty well.

Overwatch

Overwatch 2 or go home.

Okay, I am not sure whether Overwatch 2 is a good plan or not, but reports are revenue has been sagging and you know the Activision side of the house makes damn good money releasing slight variations of the same damn shooter every year.  Somebody might force that issue.

Otherwise, what else have they got?  A new hero?  A new map maybe?  A new cereal?

Hearthstone

More card packs.  Maybe a new play mode.  What else are they going to do besides milk this cow?

But I also don’t “get” Hearthstone in some deep way.  I mean, I understand how to play, I just don’t find it all that interesting.  I put the client on my iPad every six months or so, play a few hands, then wander off.

StarCraft

Yeah, I got nothing here.  I mean, StarCraft II has been out for more than nine years now… is it “classic” at this point too… and the base game has gone free to play, while StarCraft, its now 21 year old predecessor, has gotten a remaster and a DLC skin overlay.  The company is pottering around with tidbits, but nothing that is worth a headline.

What could revive the StarCraft franchise?  I think a third RTS would be pointless.  StarCraft was so well done that StarCraft II had to be, almost by necessity, nearly a direct knock-off of the original.   A new campaign module might interest some.  But something like a first person shooter would collide with Overwatch and my gut says that Blizz will never do another real MMORPG.  So what is left?

Maybe StarCraft is where Blizz goes with the Auto Chess thing?  Rather than just selecting from a random set of heroes you have to commit to one of the factions and only draw from their units?

New Stuff

There needs to be something new.  Like, really new.  As much as I dig Warcraft III or Diablo II remaster ideas, or even the thought of Diablo IV, there might be a need for some fresh blood down in Irvine.

The Blizzard tradition has been to remake a game that the devs are currently playing.  That literally covers the history of the company from its founding forward.  So what have the devs been playing?  Last year Blizz said mobile games were hot with the dev team, so what will they copy?  Pokemon Go?  Clash of Clans?  Honour of Kings?

Waiting

That is what we get to do for a month, wait.  BlizzCon is November 1st.  I am sure we’ll get more hints about what to expect as the month progresses.  The schedule, for example, is always something you can read things into.  Whichever game gets the first presentation after the keynote tends to have the biggest announcement, which will set expectations.

Of course, that can lead to disaster.  Last year that position of honor had “Diablo” written on it, but then they announced Diablo Immortal.  I expect they won’t make that mistake again.

So what is it going to be?  What will BlizzCon bring?  And when will the Virtual Ticket go on sale?

Addendum:  Just before this was slated to go live the Virtual Ticket was announced.  A couple of battle pets, murloc versions of Anduin and Sylvannas, along with cosmetic “Wendigo Woolies” transmog items for retail WoW players.

 

The Virtual Ticket battle pets have been some of my favorites, so even if I wasn’t already on board for the Virtual Ticket I’d be leaning heavily towards it.

I am also happy that replays of panels will be available for longer than previous BlizzCon Virtual Tickets.  I can re-watch things until March 31, 2020.  But more about the Virtual Ticket later.  Now the wait for the event schedule to be posted.  Who will get pride of place after the keynote?

Teamfight Tactics vs Dota Underlords

I have now spent several hours playing both games and I am here to break it down for you, to give you the full and detailed exposition as to how Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords are different.

It comes down to one thing and one thing only.

In Dota Underlords, you place your heroes on squares.

Dota Underlords is squared up

In Teamfight Tactics you place your heroes on hexagons.

Teamfight Tactics will put a hex on you

That is it.  Otherwise the games are literally so similar that if you didn’t know better you would swear that one of them copied the other wholesale.

Of course, we do know better.  We know that both of them were copied from the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2, which is what launched the Auto Battler genre.

But seriously, the game play is exactly the same.  You’re matched up in groups of eight, you earn gold to buy heroes, buying three of the same hero yields an upgrade, you put your heroes on the board and watch while they fight some NPCs for a couple of rounds before being matched up against the other players you’ve been grouped up with, and so on and so forth.  Heroes are also part of two or three groups, and having multiples of those groups on your team give them boosts.  Battles play out before you and, at least half the time I cannot really tell why I win or lose.

So most of what I wrote last month about Dota Underlords applies to Teamfight Tactics as well.

Right now neither is monetized, but that will change soon enough, and both feel like they need some tuning.

Anyway, that is about all… what?  What are you saying there?

Okay, stop your howling.  There are, in fact, some other differences between the two.  I’ll tick off a few of the differences… and maybe even help you choose which one you ought to try.

Teamfight Tactics is somewhat hidden in the League of Legends client, so you need to have that and an active LoL account, and the ability to find the game therein.  There are a couple of things that seem to be telling you it isn’t available on the landing page.

The hub is down, but the game is there

You need to click the play button, then select PvP (because nothing else in LoL is PvP? I don’t understand?) and you’ll find the button to launch TFT.

On clicking the button, then another, you’ll get grouped up with seven other people, at least one of which will forget to click the accept button, and the grouping thing will have to run again until you finally get into a group five tries later.  I don’t know why you have to click an accept button.  You cannot see, to my knowledge, who you are even playing.  This is why I assume people are simply forgetting to click rather than hitting the reject button.  I don’t know.  It seems like an unnecessary step.

Dota Underlords is on Steam, which means you need the Steam client and an active account, and is early access, which means it is effectively hidden from view more so than TFT.  But at least there is nothing telling you some aspect of the game is down.

DU launches as a stand alone game using your Steam account credentials.  You click the PLAY button, decide between tutorial, bots, and players, then wait a while while it matches you up.  Then, for a brief moment every single time it does something that looks like the whole process is about to fail, then suddenly you’re matched up.

TFT uses the champions from LoL, DU uses the heroes from DOTA 2, so if you play one of those already you are a step ahead of random people like myself.

TFT also has an odd start point where a bunch of champions are marching around in a circle and everybody has to run out and grab one.  That is your starter champion.  However, the champions do not have names visible nor can you click on them to get more information, so unless you know all the LoL champions it is something of a crap shoot.

TFT also, for reasons I do not quite get, gives you and avatar on the battlefield.  By default it is a little ghost that looks to be straight out of the Mario universe, though you can earn other versions.  I saw somebody who had a penguin.

My little ghost avatar

The ghost is what you use to grab heroes during what I am going to call “the circle jerk.”  Champions walk around in a circle and you jerk them onto your team.

Everybody grab your champion

You also use your little avatar to run out and grab drops from the NPC rounds.  Otherwise, your guy has no impact on the battle so you can run around during a fight to be annoying.   Sometimes I will accidentally right click on something which will send the avatar wandering off, sometimes off the board, which will drag the camera with it.  Annoying, but not something I would claim should steer you away from the game.

On the plus side, TFT does seem to be a bit more free with gold.  I never feel quite as cash constrained playing that as I do in DU.   Also, the pace in TFT seems a bit quicker, though that is in part because you seem to lose bigger as the game goes along so you are rarely lingering along in way behind in 8th place for many rounds.

That bigger win factor also means the tide can turn pretty heavily.  One match I won the first 9 rounds in a row.  I still was at 100 while the next highest player was at 56.  And then my advantage faded and I lost the next 6 in a row and was in sixth place and the lowest ranked survivor with only 4 points left.  And I managed to hold on and end up in fourth.  Wild turns of fate happen, and make the game interesting.

When it comes to Dota Underlords, one of the primary problems is that it isn’t as far along as TFT.  Neither feel done yet, but DU has been changing up quite a bit every week.  For example, even as I started writing this DU was updating to add a competitive ranked mode, something that TFT already had in place for a while.

But DU has what I feel are two big advantages over TFT.

First, DU is available on mobile.  I am rarely in a match where there isn’t somebody who has the cell phone icon indicating that they are playing on mobile.  I haven’t tried it myself yet, but my daughter says it is pretty good.  It might be a decent iPad game to play on the couch for me.

And second, and more important to me, the UI in DU is dramatically better.  It is more clear, more helpful, and much more informative that the TFT UI.

For example, if you look at the two game screen shots further up the post, it is easy to see which units in DU have been upgraded.  Normal units have one star above, the first upgrade has two, and the second upgrade gets you three.  Easy to see.  You need to click on units in TFT to see their status.

When buying units, if a unit in the list pops up that will complete a set for an upgrade, DU highlights that unit in an obvious way.  TFT doesn’t give away such hints.

Not getting a hint might not matter if the units in the buy list were easy to discern.  They are in DU, where they use the same avatar in the buy list, the reserve slots, and on the game board.  There are a couple that looks a little too similar, but I am able to discern most of them pretty easily so I know what to buy.

TFT on the other hand seems to want to punish you for not knowing all their champions by heart.  In the buy list TFT doesn’t use the field avatar.  Instead it uses a dramatic graphic of the unit, which doesn’t always look a lot like the champion on the field.

Units in the TFT buy list

I spend way too much of my time between matches trying to figure out if one of these champions on the list matches somebody on my team, which means matching names.  It is just a lot more work.  And then there is the above mentioned “circle jerk” event, which comes up every so often during a match, where you have to pick a champion based on no information at all… unless you know them all by heart.

And just beyond that, the UI in DU has larger, clearer text consistently throughout the game when compared to TFT.  The UI clarity is probably related to the fact that the game also runs on mobile, but even on the PC this is actually important to some of us old farts who now have to wear glasses to read text smaller than a certain size.  I don’t have to wear my glasses to play DU.

So if I were to recommend one these games to a new player who was not invested in LoL or DOTA 2, it would be Dota Underlords.

If you’re already invested in one of the MOBAs, then you play the spin-off that has the units you know.  If nothing else, deep knowledge of LoL champions will give you a marked advantage in TFT.

Of course, there is still Auto Chess Origins, the stand alone game from the team that made the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2 that kicked all of this off.  And, given the buzz that the Auto Battler genre has been getting, I expect we will see more knocks offs, so there is still the potential for a Fortnite-like entry into the field with some special twist that will steal market focus away from the first round of games.  We shall see.

Auto Chess and Dota Underlords

Somebody tell SynCaine I actually tried a new game.  And not just a “new to me” game, but something actually new on the market as well as being new-ish as a genre.

In one of those “plate of shrimp” passages of time, last week the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2 and the games that have spun off from it started popping up repeatedly for me.  Various news stories, mentions on Twitter, an Honest Game Trailers video, and Valve pushing their game at me on Steam all combined so that when my daughter came over to ask if I had heard about this new game she and her friends had been playing, Dota Underlords, the Valve spin on the concept, I could tell her that I had just run through the tutorial.

I don’t understand what the hell is going on half the time in the game, but I’ve been trying to figure it out.

As I noted above, all of this seemed to have spawned from the DOTA 2 mod DOTA Auto Chess.  I didn’t even know you could make mods for DOTA 2, but I guess you can for most Valve games, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

The name “Auto Chess” breaks down, so far as I can tell, as:

  • Chess – because the game takes place on a 8×8 board, like a chess board
  • Auto – because you have no control over the actual battles

My live experience of the genre is made up of a few hours playing Dota Underlords, so your mileage may vary, but this is what I have seen so far.

The basics of the game seem fairly straightforward.  I came out of the tutorial knowing the basics, even if I did stumble a bit.  The game goes in rounds, at the end of each you gain some coins.  You use the coins to buy new units to use in battle or to increase the number of characters you can commit to a battle.

Going into round 1, use your coin to buy one

You start round 1 with a single coin with which to buy a unit.  You get a few warm-up rounds against NPCs during which you earn some coins to expand your group as well as collecting a few special items to improve their performance.

The units have levels, so to speak.  They start at level one.  If you can buy 3 of the same unit, they combine into level two, which makes the stronger.  You can also get to level three by combining three level two unit, but that takes some luck.

In fact, luck seems very much in play, akin to some card games like Gin Rummy.  You decided you’re going to concentrate on a particular unit, only to never see another one while multiples of another unit appear in the buy options with every round.  So you switch, only to have the next round go the way you were originally headed.

After the NPC rounds, the battle begins in earnest.  You are grouped up with seven other players and each round has you battling one of them.  You all start with 100 points, and with each loss you lose some points based on how badly you lost.  There are further NPC rounds at intervals, but the game itself is to be the last one left with points.

Sometimes victory, mostly not

This is where I begin to fall down.  In addition to luck there is also… well… more luck… and some knowledge that I do not yet posses.

Each of the units also has a type, and having more of the same type can improve how they play fare in battle.  Again, you have to invest in the right units.

And then there is unit abilities.  Some counter other types or work well when mixed with certain units.  However the tutorial is pretty vague on that and, while you can get some basic information about units, the rounds run on timers so you’re always pressed to pick and move on or wait for the next round.

My battles over the weekend indicate that I am not alone in lacking unit knowledge.  I am never the first one knocked out and, as time wore on I was able to get into the final three survivors.

On the flip side though, there are clearly people who have figured out which units work better together and what to concentrate on.  In several matches there was that one guy who went undefeated, winning with their 100 points still intact.  They clearly have played enough to have figured out the meta, while I am still struggling just to upgrade a few units and hope for some cross-unit bonuses.

The problem for me is figuring out what went wrong in a given match.  Sometimes if it easy to figure out, like if I just have unlocked more units on the field or if I have clear superiority in level two units or some such.  But sometimes the other person wipes the floor with me despite my having more units on the field or having parity or superiority in units that have been leveled up.

So this week I need to find a wiki or a unit guide of some sort to help me find tune which units I am buying and upgrading and which I am leaving behind.  Also, I am not certain how various formations lend themselves to units.  You can place them however on your half of the board, but whether being in columns, line abreast, spaced out, or bunched together makes much of a difference I cannot yet tell.

Overall the game seems interesting, though the randomness and hands off battle method makes it feel a bit like Hearthstone to me.

Meanwhile, if the genre appeals to you, there are other options.  In addition to the DOTA 2 mod, there are two other major contenders for the Auto Chess (or Auto Battler as the genre may be called) stand-alone rip-off throne.

Riot Games has added a mode called Teamfight Tactics to League of Legends, which is their own take on the Auto Battler idea.  Unlike Dota Underlords, this is not a stand alone game, so you have to log into the League of Legends client. (Expect LoL MAUs to go up I guess.)  My daughter’s boyfriend likes Teamfight Tactics because he used to play a lot of LoL and it uses the same units as LoL so game knowlegde transfers.

The unit thing may also apply to Dota Underlords, but nobody I know played DOTA 2, so really have no idea on that front.

Then there is the upcoming Autochess Origins, a stand alone game from the team that developed the mod for DOTA 2, which is rolled into a fresh IP, so there is most certainly no pre-knowledge of units giving people any advantage.  From what I understand, Autochess Origins will be available from the Epic Store.

Dota Underlords is still in Early Access on Steam, which means whatever it means these days.  It is also available as a mobile, which reinforces the Hearthstone comparison for me as well.  As of now there is no cash shop or monetization scheme in place for it, though there are plans for a battle pass of some sort and I am sure other things to spend your money on are in the works.

And speaking of Hearthstone, how soon before we see a Blizzard version of this, either as a battle mode for Heroes of the Storm or a spin off with a name like Heroes of the Board or OverChess or some such?  It feels like Blizz ought to have all the pieces in place so that they shouldn’t need two years to get something out the door.

Then again, this is Blizzard.  BlizzCon 2019 announcement or no?

Anyway, for those interested, Kotaku has a piece up about the emerging genre, and then there is the Honest Games Trailers take on it as well.

Are wee seeing a new genre emerge here, or just a passing flavor of the month?