Diablo III Beta Impressions

So, Diablo 3. It’s time to talk about that game again.

Once upon a time I was dead set against even giving this game the time of day. Everything that I had heard regarding the game, such as the inclusion of a real money auction house or the removal of stat points and skill trees, made me believe that the crew Blizzard brought in to replace the former Blizzard North developers had no idea what they were doing. I was actively discouraging people I knew from being interested in Diablo 3. Factoring in how I’m a former WoW player who now hatefully rallies against the MMORPG and, gee, it made me look like a pissed off ex-Blizzard fan. To an extent I was, even though I did buy and enjoy Starcraft 2 (I have a review of it up on here for anyone interested).

After applying for the Diablo 3 beta opt-in and not getting in since day one, I finally got a chance last week when Blizzard opened up Diablo 3’s beta to the public in order to perform a stress test. I went into the beta not expecting much, and my incredibly slow download of the beta only increased my nearly unjusitifed disdain for the game. However, after sorting out the issue causing the slow download (which was tied to Internet Explorer even though I use Firefox, go figure), I was able to hop into the world of Diablo 3 and experience a new adventure in the world of Sanctuary for the first time since 2001.

So what is my verdict of Diablo 3 after slamming it for over a year? It is fundamentally a different experience than anything Blizzard North offered up in the first two games but that hasn’t stopped the new development team from creating something really enjoyable. If the small bit of Act 1 that I’ve played is anything to go by, Diablo 3 is going to shape up to be one of Blizzard’s best titles that they have ever produced.

It’s already a known fact that a fair amount of gameplay aspects have changed dramatically since Diablo 2, but just how severe are the changes? As many are aware, stat points are gone and your statistics increase automatically as you level up. This change has been welcomed by almost everyone as just about every internet user I speak to admits that this will help cut back on the amount of “character screw ups” that occurred so often in Diablo 2. Face it, how many of us foolishly sank points into energy and vitality back in the early days of Diablo 2 only to realize that our characters ended up being unable to equip almost any new piece of gear due to low strength or couldn’t even hit monsters half the time as a result of having little dexterity? The only people who seem saddened that stat points can no longer be allocated are the people who felt that it added an extra layer of customization. Did it? No, not really. It just determined if your character was playable or just plain shit. Allocating those points didn’t do anything, they were just numbers that controlled how good your character was playing through the game the way Blizzard intended. That’s not customization!

Skill trees are also a thing of the past, which is surprising to say the least. After they proved to be remarkably popular in Diablo 2, Blizzard adopted them in World of Warcraft. However, talent trees were recently simplified in WoW and they do not appear at all in Diablo 3. So what do we have now? We automatically gain new abilities when we level up. For example, say the the sorceress from Diablo 2 was returning. At level 2 you would receive a message notifying you that you can now use fireball. At level 10, the game would indicate that firewall is now available. As you level, you will gradually unlock more and more powers to use and, since they scale with your level, you will never sink a bunch of points into one or two skills while neglecting many others. This guarantees that all skills are viable later in the game and, again, helps in preventing players from building poor or weak characters. You’ll also unlock runes as you level up that you can combine with your powers. By selecting a rune, you will change the properties of an attack and almost create something brand new. Runes can radically change the animation and performance of just about any skill, so they’re definitely worth experimenting with.

The inventory screen has also been revamped heavily. No longer will players be playing Tetris and shifting gear around to make room for more equipment. This is a fantastic change, as potions and other small items take up only one block on the invenory screen while pieces of equipment take up two. There was nothing good about having pieces of armor taking up upwards of a dozen spaces in Diablo 2 and organizing your inventory became an annoying chore because of it. Anyone who disagrees with the inventory screen revamp and prefers the old system is clearly looking back on Diablo 2 with rose tinted glasses.

Blizzard has also tried to cut back on potion spamming, which isn’t that bad of an idea. My favourite part of Diablo has always been the action and the strategy, and making several trips back to town to buy more potions for a hard boss fight in Diablo 2 was not a part of that. Potions now stack (yes!) and have only ONE slot on your action bar. You can hold as many potions as you want and, to combat potion spam, Blizzard has added a short cooldown on using potions which is also a good idea. Now, here comes something I took a serious stance against before playing the beta. Health orbs. When you’re in a big fight, there is a chance that fallen foes will drop red health orbs that will restore your life when they are touched. I thought that this sounded really gimmicky at first and wondered why an action RPG was being given platformer-esque power-ups. Well, after playing the open beta, I can definitely say that health orbs played a very small part in the overall experience. They never felt necessary to seek out and grab and, because of this, they almost became background objects to me that didn’t matter.

In terms of actual gameplay, things are actually remarkably similar to Blizzard North’s Diablo games. Aside from newer technology allowing more complex character animations and environmental effects, this is definitely the same hack and slash madness that we’ve all grown to love. This is what I was most afraid the new team would mess up, but they did an amazing job. The clickfest battles are as fun as ever, looting works the same as before, and the integrals such as town portals and waypoints are back. Town portals are perhaps my favourite improved aspect of the game since Diablo 2. No longer will we have to deal with scrolls and tomes to take up to town due to anyone being able to make a town portal whenever they wish. The ability to create a town portal is now a spell that characters learn about forty five minutes into the game, and it’s a great thing to have. Having an unlimited number of portals to call upon, in conjunction with the improved inventory screen, makes mass corpse looting a true joy rather than a frightening chore like it was in Diablo 2.

Now, how are the classes? They are wonderfully varied! My personal favourite thus far is the monk, a genius martial artist who is able to obliterate foes with some truly flashy hand to hand techniques. The monk also possesses insane survivability. Aside from being a great melee DPS character, the monk is incredibly agile and also has healing abilities as well as auras that work similarly to what the paladin had in his arsenal in Diablo 2. I can see the monk being a huge fan favourite after release, because there seems to be nothing that this class does not excel at!

Demon hunter is currently my second favourite class. This class is a lot like the amazon of the first two games, a ranged fighter with a very bow/crossbow-centric skill set. The demon hunter has all sorts of cool ranged abilities with one exciting early game ability being a sort of spread shot that fires in three directions and tears through anything in its path. Also, while most classes only have one resource pool to worry about when it comes to using abilities (mana for witch doctors, fury for barbarians, etc.), the demon hunter has two. Hatred, the red resource, governs offensive techniques meant for obliterating foes. Discipline is a blue resource and it is more defensive, allowing the demon hunter to perform acrobatic feats to put distance between him or herself and their foes.

I didn’t spend much time with other classes, but I gave them all a shot at least. The barbarian is exactly what you’d expect, though he now hits harder than ever! Don’t be surprised to see enemies go flying across the screen as you pulverize them with your Hulk-sized arms. The wizard is pretty much the sorceress from Diablo 2 but, thanks to modern technology, the class can perform moe interesting spells such as a ray of frost that will shoot anywhere your mouse goes. The witch doctor is the class I spent the least amount of time with because, even from the get go, it felt really boring to play. Your initial ability as the witch doctor is nothing more than a poison dart gun, but you’ll soon be able to summon hellhounds and such which makes the class a little more bearable.

If I were to rank the classes in order from most to least enjoyable, it would go like this: monk, demon hunter, barbarian/wizard (too close to call), and witch doctor. The monk and demon hunter feel remarkably complete and are a true joy to play as while the witch doctor feels particularly lacking in the beta.

Overall, I had a great deal of fun in the open beta after playing it for as long as my weekend schedule allowed, which was eight or nine hours. The final battle against the Skeleton King (yes, THAT Skeleton King) was insanely enjoyable and, considering that it occurs only a third of the way through Act 1, I can’t wait to see what the big end bosses are like for each of the game’s four acts. I think that we’re all in for quite a treat!

So, is Diablo 3 good? Yes, and I’m ashamed of myself for ever criticizing this game so much. It’s pretty clear that this isn’t the Diablo we played back in the 90s and at the turn of the century, but Blizzard’s new blood created an amazing impersonation of Blizzard North’s successful formula. Diablo 3 is going to be massive when May 15 hits, and I expect it to remain so for many years to come. See you all in Sanctuary in three weeks!

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Final Fantasy Blackmoon Prophecy Completed

Blackmoon Prophecy is a fangame (or tribute game as I like to call this) that I began in 2004 which is based on the Final Fantasy franchise. I had abandoned it several times between 2004 and 2008 (the last time I think I worked on it before now) for various reasons. Sometimes I would mess something up that affected the entire game, or I’d simply lose motivation for one reason or another and give up. I released several demos between 2004 and 2007. Initially, not a lot of people took to Blackmoon Prophecy. There were lots of bad maps, dialogue was overly juvenile, and the overall presentation (such as battle animations) was a little disheartening. With each demo, I refined the game more and more to carry a more authentic Final Fantasy feel until it seemed that almost everybody who played the later demos at least partially enjoyed the game. Negative feedback dropped quite a lot over the three years of demo releases. It has now been a few years since my lastdemo and I can safely say that, now that the game is finished, the refinements I’ve made since then are very thorough. Many dialogue sequences and maps have been completely remade and, in some cases, areas of the game have been completely removed because I deemed them to be too amateurish. There are still a few bugs lurking in the game and a few dialogue sequences are still pretty outdated, but general reception on my hosting site (RMN) has been exceptionally positive so far. They’re also helping me out immensely by locating bugs and eventing issues, so I’m very quick to iron out any issues and upload fixed updates.

As for the story, it is meant to emulate classic Final Fantasy titles of the early 1990s. Because of that, the following description is brief.

Blackmoon Prophecy is the story of Vahn, a dragoon from the Branch Kingdom. A year has passed since the Crystal War which saw the King of Branch wage war on the worlds via crystal power. The King was defeated and the crystals returned to their rightful shrines across the world. Now, something mysterious is clearly going on. Strange happenings have been occurring at the Water Shrine, and a local dragoon named Darius has been acting peculiar and defiant in many cases. Can Vahn get to the bottom of it all?

What was it made with?
RPG Maker 2003.

Do I need to RPG Maker 2003 RTP to play?
No sir!

Can I edit the game if I find any bugs or errors that halt my progress or result in my character getting permanently stuck?
Yes, but the David patch is required due to the monsters in this game requiring more than 999 for stats and 99,999 for HP. If you are going to open this game in RPG Maker 2003, be sure that you have the David patch! It is available on Blackmoon Prophecy’s blog on RMN.

How long is the game?
This is a very good question. After two full days, I’ve had some people on RMN playing for about 10-15 hours and they’re only halfway through the game. By RPG Maker standards, it’s a decently long game. I expect that it should take most people about 20 hours, maybe more.

How big is it?
130 megabytes decompressed. Not bad for over 1200 maps and a wealth of compressed mp3s! As well, I frequently post updates which are only 1 to 2 megabytes in size.

What makes this game a tribute more than just a fangame?
I make constant references to the fourth, fifth, and sixth Final Fantasy games throughout Blackmoon Prophecy. For example, there is one location called Branford Hollow, which is home to a mysterious girl who wants magicite shards. The girl was sprited to look like Terra in the form of a miniature Final Fantasy 4 sprite. I also bring Ultros in. Many item names reference particular games in the series. As well, Mystic Mysidia is ripped straight out of Final Fantasy 4. There are other little details, but I think it’s best for the player to find them rather than having me blab about every single thing.

How does it play?
Blackmoon Prophecy is meant to emulate the older Final Fantasy games in many ways. Walk speed, locations, battle system, items, character roles, and so forth are all emulated to an extent. Basically if you don’t like how Final Fantasy 4 plays, since it is the game I emulate the most, then this may not be a game for you. However, if you enjoyed that particular game in the series, then you may like Blackmoon Prophecy.

Will powerleveling be required like in the original NES titles, or the original Japanese version of Final Fantasy 4?
Yes and no. If you skip most fights and only get by on bosses at first, you won’t have many issues due to the game starting off quite easy. However, the game will eventually punish you if you don’t make an effort to level up at least once in each new area that you visit. There are two distinct difficulty spikes in the game which make themselves known as soon as they are reached.

Minigames? Side quests?
There are hidden side quests all over the place and, in most cases, the player must really look for them. NPCs in towns who look completely unimportant may hold the key to obtaining some nice loot. There are a few minigames of sorts as well such as an arena where the player can fight and unlock treasure chests, a sheep chasing game that awards items based on how many sheep are caught, a Black Jack clone, and an auction house that functions exactly like the one in Final Fantasy 6. There are also LOTS of optional locations to visit.

Blackmoon Prophecy can be downloaded at RMN by clicking here.

Game of Thrones – Season 2 Premiere Review

So! It’s been almost twelve hours since the season premiere of Game of Thrones and I have to say I came away from it very impressed! The only jaw dropping moments came in the final minutes of the episode, but that is in no way saying that the rest of the episode was worse. It was all very, very, good.

Where to start? Perhaps with the fact that now everyone knows the truth about Joffrey and that he is a Lannister? As much as I hate Joffrey, I do feel a little bad for him because even he knows the truth now, but he seems a little torn on whether or not to believe it. When he confronted his mother about it only to have her slap him, I was blown away when he said that she had committed a crime punishable by death. He said this to his own mother! Cersei, you’ve created a monster!

I was excited about Tyrion being in King’s Landing, but now I’m worried. We know how he treats Joffrey, and if the Boy King is willing to treat his mother with such disregard then what could be in store for Tyrion? I expect that Tyrion is too smart to try anything drastic, and I doubt that he’ll be slapping Joffrey left and right again any time soon.

Sansa’s role was quite minor in the season premiere, but it was still nice to see her save that poor fighter from being executed. She’s definitely very submissive right now, isn’t she? No doubt she knows what will happen if she says a single word that upsets Joffrey and wants to avoid more beatings! I can’t help but feel bad for her as she is stuck in King’s Landing and is surrounded by Lannisters, the very people who are offing her family members left and right. I can’t imagine she’ll be stuck them forever, but how will she manage to get away? I’m very interesting in seeing how she could possibly escape.

Robb had a few good scenes. I especially liked his little meeting with Jaime Lannister. Robb wasn’t able to get through to Jaime too easily, at least until his dire wolf decided to wander into Jaime’s makeshift cell. It was great to see Jaime almost wetting himself as Robb’s gigantic pooch got right up in his face! I’ve never seen Jaime look so uneasy before, it was a great sight.

Daenerys didn’t have any stellar scenes throughout the episode, but it was still really great to see one of the dragons making itself at home on her shoulder as it looked all around and roared as hard as it could with its little set of lungs. I also appreciated her scene with Jorah in which she truly conveyed how much she relied on him. The two definitely share a very close bond and I’m glad to see Jorah sticking with her through thick and thin after his original objective was to do nothing more than merely spy and report his findings to Varys.

The highlight of the episode was, without a doubt, the introduction of Stannis. Right off the bat he made it very clear that he didn’t love Robert as a brother and that his only desire now was to become a conquerer. He is the living definition of cold and ruthless, and I can’t wiat to see more of him. Davos and Melisandre (the latter not being named on-screen yet) are also looking like pretty cool characters. Davos reminded me a bit of Jorah in some ways, but I’m sure that there’s a good amount of individuality to Davos’ character.

As far as the sets are concerned, I was really impressed with Dragonstone! The interiors were so dark and moody, conveying everything that the directors wanted to inject upon their audiences’ imaginations. I was also very fond of Iceland’s frozen vistas being used for the scenes shot north of the Wall.

Overall it’s a bit hard for me to focus on anything to speak about because the episode jumped around so many times due there being such an insane number of characters to follow. Because of this, I didn’t write anything at all about Jon Snow or Bran, though they each had interesting scenes (Jon being north of the Wall, Bran having a dream about being a wolf).

It will be interesting to see how the Lannisters’ hunt for Gendry progresses. After all of Robert’s bastard children were seemingly slaughtered by soldiers, the former blacksmith’s apprentice is the only one who still seems to be safe and sound. The Lannisters have discovered that Gendry left with the Night’s Watch though, which is an interesting revelation. They’re going to try and hunt him down, but will that even work? If they successfully track Gendry down, they’ll also come face to face with Arya as well. Will Yoren allow the Lannisters to lay a hand on Arya or Gendry? I can’t wait to see.

Next week can’t come soon enough… But it sure beats waiting ten months!

Episode Rating

A