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Triumphant Return, Magic: The Gathering, and Guild Wars 2

I know I said I'd be back a few months ago, but I'm really back now.  Currently into: Magic: The Gathering, Guild Wars 2, and Diablo 3, and I'll be tackling these in that order.

Magic: The Gathering (henceforth MTG), for those who don't know, is a long standing collectible card game (or trading card game).  You're a a powerful mage (known as a Planeswalker), and you get into fights with other planeswalkers.  You generally try to deplete your opponents life total before they get yours.  You do this by casting spells and summoning creatures to fight for you.  In order to do this, you need a resource known as mana.  Mana is generated by lands, artifacts, and some creatures.  You are limited to one land per turn, but you can play as many other cards as you have the mana for.  Mana comes in 6 kinds, Black, Blue, Red, Green, White, and Colorless.  Any color can be used to pay a colorless mana cost.

I got back into MTG a couple months ago, around the release of the Avacyn Restored set.  I had friends who were in it already and it didn't take me long to get a Standard legal deck together that worked reasonably well.  Now, with the Return To Ravnica set right around the corner, the game is looking stronger than ever, and it's a really fun time to play.  I highly encourage all of you to go to your local game store, check out the Duels of the Planeswalkers: 2013 game on the Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, and for iPad, and bring friends.

Guild Wars 2 was officially released today, and after playing all weekend and yesterday during the 3 day head start, I put it at a solid 9.  Finally, there's an MMO that is feature rich, doesn't hold your hand, and is much more than meets the eye.

That's not to say it's perfect.  The skill system in the game is rather...basic.  Your main combat abilities are determined by your weapon loadout.  You unlock skills in your action bar for a given loadout just by using the weapons for them.  The issue is that those are pretty much the only skills you have, and the only way to change them is to change your weapons.  Is this an issue?  Not for me.  They include the ability to fast swap between 2 different weapon sets, which means you can swap between 2 different ability sets quickly, even in combat (though in combat it induces a cooldown on your swap).

In addition to these combat abilities, you also unlock Utility abilities and Healing abilities by spending Skill Points.  You earn Skill Points by leveling up and completing certain challenges marked on your map.  The Utility abilities are broken down into tiers.  You need 5 abilities in the first tier to unlock the second, and 5 in the second to unlock the third.  You may only have up to 3 of these abilities on your bar, active, at any one time though, so choose wisely.  You also are limited to 1 healing ability, and 1 master ability (unlocked at later levels).

While playing Guild Wars 2, I never got the feeling that the game was forcing me to do anything.  There is no real "quest" system, instead you have 1 story objective at all times, and the rest are area based events.  Most of these are static and available all the time, but other, dynamic events occur that are more difficult than normal, and usually need a group to successfully complete.  For completing them, you are awarded gold, experience, and Karma (a second currency) based on your contribution.

Crafting and professions are an entirely different ball game too.  You can gather any kind of material, any time, with any professions.  This means a Chef can mine, chop wood, or gather herbs.  The mats for crafting are known as "collectibles", and from your inventory you can "Deposit Collectibles" to a special bank, that can hold as many of all the possible collectibles as you can find.  This bank is accessible from the various crafting stations, so there's no need to mine a bunch of copper ore, run to your bank, deposit it, then run back out and mine some more.  You also can learn designs through a new system known as the "Discovery" system, in which you put mats that could go together into a combiner, and when you have pieces that look like something (say, a gem, a copper ring, and a copper setting) you can craft that item, learning it's pattern, and earning a ton of experience for it.  Crafting is a more than viable way to level, as is evidenced by the first lvl 80 player, who went the last 20 purely by crafting with mats from his guild.

And finally, Diablo 3.  This game was released to mixed feelings and a lot of disappointment.  Recently, they released patch 1.0.4, which addressed a lot of the gameplay issues that fan felt the game had.  Movesets that were too weak, enemy mobs too strong, and item drops too weak primarily.  They also introduced the Paragon system, in which you level past the level cap earning stats as you normally would, with some clear exceptions.  You also earn 3% magic and gold find every Paragon level.  Paragon levels cap at 100.  All these changes are great for the game, and are encouraging different playstyles and bringing players back to the game.  The timing though, might be an issue.  This is competing directly with one of the most anticipated MMo launches since Diablo, and I don't think it looks good.  Guild Wars has so much more to offer than Diablo that the only people I see that stay with Diablo are the people who don't have plans to buy Guild Wars, as I feel like GW2 is the clear choice between the two right now in terms of fun for the player.

Some final words, I'll be updating this weekly with news about the gaming side of things.  I'll also post some technical perspectives and events in between, but for now I'm starting off slow.