Hi-Rez Studios

Paladins – Joining the Dark Side

Paladins is the best small team shooter I have played. In a world of a dominating Overwatch and several fail-(ed)/(ing) Overwatch clones, Paladins stood out as a game holding it’s own. It had a lot of good things going for it – a diverse and fun cast of characters, varied and enjoyable game modes, and most importantly a load out card system that permitted – and encouraged – experimentation of different builds of the same character. I had so much fun playing and according to Steam I played 130 hours of it. That is a lot for me to play a game. I was fully engaged on the official forums, discussing my suggestions for balance, trying to keep a positive community, and generally being helpful and engaging other players. I don’t normally do that in games, but there I was, being a Champion of the realm. (Editors note: That is the tagline for Paladins. “Champions of the realm”. Very clever of the author (who is also the editor) but due to the lack of coverage of the game in Blognation I felt necessary to point that out.).   Funny, my rise and fall of the game (May to August) seemed to coincide with the popularity of the game on the PC – according to Steam Charts.

Why did I stop? I started getting League of Legends syndrome with the game – where good, fair and fun matches were becoming harder and harder to find. When you have limited gaming time you want that time to feel good. Slowly but surely I lost my love for the game and when I started getting uncomfortable with their loot box mechanics  it was time to move on. I did not move to any other team base shooter, just took my crystals (in game currency) and uninstalled. All in all I spent $86.19 on the game and hadn’t spent all of my in game currency when I quit. On a side note, I think you should be able to gift away your currency when you quit a game, but that is a topic for another day.

What happened in August? Why did things start siding down?

  • According to the patch history Patch 56 (August) was when the new, Ranked 2.0 system launched. I wonder if that acted as a catalyst for people.
  • Patch 57 (August) launched a terribly unbalanced Champion (at the time) a sniper with stealth. People were dying on one-shots not knowing where it came from or how to counter.
  • Patch 58 (September) Launched their new VIP system and VIP membership buy in system
  • Patch 59 (September) added Talus, a new champion, but didn’t seem to be an issue
  • Patch 60 (October) added a Map and new quests
  • Patch 61 (October) added a new champion, Terminus, and a third person toggle (that allowed champions to see around corners and surprise attack people without counter-play)
  • Patch 62 (November) added Legendary Class Keys
  • Patch 63 (November) added a new champion, Vivian, who was (by reports) a tanky, high damage champion which was counter to traditional gameplay

Looking at that is death by 1000 cuts. You have a popular game, you start adding unpopular champions, you add new monetization methods, you add in cheese gameplay (third person toggle), and it looks like that the pace and rate of change exceeded Hi-Rez’s capability to keep the game compelling.

Patch 64 is the nail in the coffin. The final thing that will destroy what made this game great. I don’t blame Hi-Rez as they are probably desperate to remain relevant (and profitable) but by all accounts the new system they are launching in Patch 64 has most supporters of the game uninstalling. Players have been discussing, persuading, heck – BEGGING Hi-Rez to not go live with this patch but they are being ignored. This patch has all the same elements as the Battlefront 2 fiasco EXCEPT a more ostrich-like developer. They are launching “Cards Unbound” in less than 20 hours.

Cards Unbound, to the lay-person, non-Paladins player is simple to explain. Take the current card system that every Paladins player loves, that makes the game unique, and replace it with the Star Wars Battlefront 2 card system and progression system. Pure pay 2 win, random upgrade mechanics. The only reason why I know this is because I was considering reinstalling and seeing how the game was doing, but reading about this change and the community reaction has scared me away from that.

Normally, this attempt could be chalked up as a learning experience – except the market – and players – clearly spoke very loudly forcing EA to backtrack on this. So why, in the face of that clarity is Hi-Rez sticking to their guns?

Because they have no choice. That has to be the only reason. Obviously this game is in really dire straits and they are tossing the “hail mary” pass to try and right the ship. Unfortunately, there is a reason why football people call the “hail mary” pass “fail mary” because of the low percentage chance it has of succeeding. The real danger now is that even if Hi-Rez miraculously changes their mind last minute they are losing their core audience, and that is hard to come back from. Unless, of course,  they can replace that audience with enough people that loved the idea of the Battlefront 2 progression system. Does that sound likely?

I wish them luck but am sad and disappointed. It was nice to have a challenger to Overwatch who did something better and unique – but ultimately if the business goals of the company were not being met by the current design of the game they have to tr something different.

Even if that attempt is the exact opposite of what most fans of the game were hoping for.

Lack of Trust – Loot Boxes

I commented on Bhagpuss’s latest post about how I largely agree that loot boxes are a fun mechanic. This was in the context for me that it is a method of advancement and not the sole one. The example I used in Fortnite that it is basically the *only* way you can progress meaningfully so when that is gated behind a hard paywall it is frustrating and not fun. This has caused me to stop logging in execept for the idle game portion – I collect research points per hour and they max out, so I find myself logging in, collecting them, spending them, and logging out. All without really playing. Not sure how long this will go on.  They either need to grant a Llama after every cooperative round (LLama is their loot box/pinata) or greatly increase the quality of the items found within it. It is still in early access so I may revisit it once/if they announce changes.

In my last post I complained a bit about Paladins but found myself in a shooter mood last night and time to spare so decided to log in and see how things are. They added another new champion, Strix, who is a sniper with stealth.

I am going to pause there, to let that sink in. Just for people who have ever played games that had a stealth mechanic and how unfun and difficult to balance that is.

Not only does the sniper have stealth, but can shoot from it, and can 1 or 2 shot most characters. Take a guess how much fun that is. The facepalm moment about this is that they already have a stealth character (Skye) who kept getting nerfed because her stealth was so hard to balance – and she had to basically be in melee range to do excellent damage. Now take triple the damage from triple the distance with a better stealth mechanic – PLUS the ability to reveal all of your enemies on the screen in a large radius so you know where to aim (ie: no hiding!) and after the first round I was about to uninstall the game. (I still might). Things got better when every round had one Strix on each side because they had to focus on each other, but it was, largely, the most unfun way to die in a game. When you have zero chance or control to the outcome. Bonus frustration is that he doesn’t have to lead you and the bullet doesn’t path. If he is lined up at the second he pulls the trigger you are dead

This is still about lootboxes.

Paladins is also loot-box based but you can buy everything with two three types of currencies – gold, essence, and crystals. Crystals are mostly cash only (you get 50 a week for logging in 7 days in a row) and crystals are mostly used for skins and cosmetic items, so it’s not bad. I can get behind this kind of loot box. All the important things in games (champions, cards, etc) are available through gameplay – and not even that hard. A purely F2P player can literally play the entire game and unlock everything without a ton of effort. Playing a hour a day, you would unlock a champion at the rate of one per week quite easily. It would take you far longer to master that champion. I paid $20 for the founders pack which gives you every existing champion AND all future ones (plus a bunch of lootboxes for ability cards and customization outfits, etc.) It was a great investment as I have already racked up over 100 hours in the game, and even bought crystals ($35) to get some skins I like.  The tough part about their skins is that you don’t buy them directly, you still buy a loot box for a chance to get the skin. These are pretty limited (ie: hold 16 different items) and you can’t get duplicates in special chests. (Duplicates on common, Radiant chests). The challenge here is that you have a min/max on spend, based on chance. When you know you want ONE particular thing it would be better to know that cost and make that decision. In those chests might be many different things that you aren’t interested in.

This just happened to me.

I now play 4 Champions regularly. Lex (Flank), Ruckus (Tank), Inara (Tank) and Ying (Heals). Recently Inara got a skin, which I bought crystals for, and which I ended up getting half way through the chest items (8/16) and it cost me around $9. If I would have received it on the first it would have been $1. That is a big range. I wasn’t stoked with it completely.

Then, Lex got a shiny new skin.

I knew I wanted it and I still had crystals left over from my Inara skin bonanza, the question became – how lucky would I get? Turns out – not lucky at all. I got it on 16/16. To which I immediately thought:

Was that fair?

And not fair in the sense that I had bad luck, but there is no governing body to ensure that video game loot mechanics are based off of real randomization or chance. In fact, there is nothing, anywhere stating that you have an equal chance to get any item in that box. They should be 1/16 but a smart company, not required to disclose, would make the lesser, not as cool items (of which there are many in each chest) have a 4/16 chance of dropping. Sure, the chances get better as the person unlocks the items but it could drive more crystal use and hence more revenues to head office. There is no reason to suspect this isn’t happening, and no recourse or need for the company to provide drop rates.

Unless you live in China, and are selling to Chinese customers. How do the Communists get this more right than the west?

To prove my point further, I didn’t get the two best skins until the last two chests.

The V1-KTOR and L-Exo suit were the two new skins in this patch and chest

The V1-KTOR and L-Exo suit were the two new skins in this patch and chest. What are the chances that they drop 15th and 16th in a pure, random environment? Not sure.

I believe loot boxes need to be upfront, honest, and regulated, so people can make fair purchase decisions.

The Dog-Gaming Days of Summer

Ok, I messed that phrase up in a proper context, but I am still using it in the way I originally perceived it – the “lazy” days of summer. It lines up nicely with my mood and current gaming habits. (Here is the NG article explaining what it should mean)

This summer has been lazy gaming. I went through a few interesting phases – Paladins became a darling for me (until it didn’t). Fortnite came in with a bang, and out with a whimper. I realized I kind of stopped playing both. I haven’t loaded up the Battletech early access in months. There hasn’t been an urge or joy to game much. That’s ok, as there is a lot of other things to do in the summer months and I have been camping, fishing, and sailing quite a bit. Something about water and back to nature. Still, there is some excitement with Destiny 2 coming to PC (October) and Yet Another PVE Co-OP F2P Grindfest in Dauntless (sometime in 2017) but outside of that, besides the frequent yet unfilled desires to go play titles I have left on the shelf (GW2 – yes, started again. DCUO was loaded back up. LOTRO. Really? LOTRO?) just shows that I am reaching.

Doesn’t mean I am lacking in insights in the games I was involved in, and those are worth discussing.

Paladins suffered from League of Legends syndrome. In that post of mine I was enjoying League of Legends but found that due to people and matchmaking that the amount of time you had to endure not having fun in order to get to the games that were actually fun was extremely unbalanced. So much so, that while tracking games it turned out that only 18.07% of the games I played were “fun”. I defined fun not as winning, but by a game that was close enough that either team had a legitimate chance of winning. Such is the balance in most games that between troll picks, afks, and complete stomps on either side I had to play. In over 125 hours of gaming, the “fun” gaming portion was 22.5 hours – basically 1 in 5. There aren’t many hobbies I can think of that if I was told I had to spend 4 hours of un-enjoyment to get 1 hour of enjoyment I’d find a new hobby. And that is exactly what I did.

Paladins is feeling very much the same, but I can’t be bothered to spend 100+ hours and do the experiment to see where it lays in the LoL spectrum. I just know that when I hit the “play” button, I am expecting something to go wrong in champ selection which will impact the rest of the game in such a way that it isn’t fun. This always has been a danger in MOBA style games where there are optimum team compositions and strengths of weaknesses of available in game champions while also having strengths and weaknesses. Plus they add a new champion every month and with constant balance changes there is a lot to balance and it is very difficult to get all of those things to line up to have a fair and balanced game. When that does happen, it feels awesome. When it doesn’t – and lately it feels like it is getting worse – that is frustrating. I found Overwatch even worse, just so I could add in a dash that I am still a fanboy comparatively.

Fortnite is unfair-stereotype “gold-digger” good. It’s really pretty. Charming sometimes. Lots of different outfits. Great potential. Fun to hang out with. Undress it all and it is expensive as hell for a long term relationship, if you measure nice things as good progress. World of Warcraft figured this out quickly and Fortnite has not. I only keep “epics” or better “gear”. I have several Legendaries and even two Mythics! The challenge with Fortnite is that in order to progress meaningfully, you need to buy Llamas (loot boxes). They have terrible drop rates for anything halfway decent. And with so many variables, currencies, and playstyles it is impossible to make meaningful steps without a lot of cash and good luck. You can’t go for the things you enjoy specifically and there is so much out there to discover and get lucky with. It seems like – fairly or unfairly – that the game was built ground up with whale-based monetization in mind first. The gameplay is also getting way to competitive and there are a lot of nonsense barriers in the game in terms of collecting, building, and inventory space.

Compounding that problem – if you read the Fortnite Reddit – the devs do not address anything. There are so many threads about the monetization and gating model there that perception will become reality and them putting their heads into the sand is not helping matters.  A simple “we are getting great data on these and will make appropriate changes” would be helpful for the crowd.

I can’t even excuse them for it because it’s a F2P game that people paid for to early access for them. When you play it its clearly stable and would stand up fine as “done”. I just finally realized the ridiculousness of paying to early test a F2P title. I don’t mmind EA titles knowing other people will pay (and probably more) afterwards, for a feature complete experiences but struggling on that. I’ll create some kind of justification for my investment =)

Destiny 2 PC beta starts tomorrow, which I will thoroughly enjoy. Outside of that, I don’t know where I am going to spend my future gaming time.

Official Forums

as always, click on photos to enlarge!

As I delve deeper and deeper into Paladins I have made the leap from casual Paladins player to forum poster. Forum poster started off fine, but has since graduated to game defender, common sense freedom fighter, and general anti-anger enthusiast.

Boy, did I get sucked in.

I am not sure what drove me to go to the forums in the first place but there I was, filling out a profile, selecting an avatar, and combing through the various sections on the boards. They make you use your in game name as your forum name so cross referencing games and performance is quite easy. This builds some semblance of justification of opinion (oh, you are complaining about Bomb King? I have 250 wins as BK! Look at my stats!) but in truth I appreciate it because it removes a small layer of anonymity that often fuels negative behaviour online. When it’s harder to hide who you are, it’s harder to act differently than you do “in real life”.

The fact that escapes so many on message boards / twitter / facebook (etc.) still shocks me. Especially on  platforms that don’t use aliases. Either way, it’s all out there.

You can’t go down there. I wish you could.

Paladins seems to use ELO as a ranking system and I am very familiar with ELO through League of Legends – which arguably is the “best” (most successful?) MOBA out there, and back when I did play seemed to be the shining light of how to do Free 2 Play. Bonus is that it also makes a ton of money. ELO is a grind – lose a match? -12 rating. Win a Match? +13. Because of the closeness of proximity of the scores (typically between 12 and 19) and with base ELOs around 1500 you quickly learn that it is a very long haul to climb the ladder. I actually agree with this system because it smooths out disconnects and general poor teammates/afk’s, etc. Sure, you might get a troll but chances are they are ranked low, so you only lose 12 rating. Next game, with the fully competent team you gain 15. I have played 25 “ranked” matches and have had a troll/purposely incompetent player/afk exactly one time. If it sticks to a 4% rate then this game will be spectacular.  Using those small increments getting into the top tiers (4500 ELO) is in the hundreds of games – heck, the top two players have well over 1000 games played.  I love that there is a third party website, Paladins.guru, that tracks all of this.

I am a bit confused because in game they have a competitive rating instead. Now I am not sure if ELO is thier system or that websites. I wish there was more clarity. Either way my point is how many people are arguing about the outliers of games that is “ruining” their ranking. The truth about ELO is that it works, and you are placed in the correct ranking when you win/lose 50% of your games. That is great balance. What players tend to forget is that if you are routinely seeing a specific type of player at a general skill level that means you are home. People do not like the ELO system because everyone thinks they are better than their results show they really are. I am not telling you anything new here at all, am I?

I didn’t mean for that comment to come off as passive/aggressive or anything, but trying to illustrate facts to people when emotion are removed from it all.  The other, frequent commonality I see on the boards are with nerfs “Thanks DEVELOPER for dropping my damage by 2% This means I am TRASH and now I am QUITTING!” To these I normally get this kind of responses.

I end up having to say this alot. Repetitively. it’s a common misconception that nerfing one character is bad for the game. It is good, it makes it more fun for everyone else who is sick and tired of facing the same overpowered champion again and again. If you are that good with that champion, it might be for a reason (other than you are an elite, master gamer at 1200 ELO).

And of course, when people get angry and attack other forum posters for their counter opinion, and how theirs is more important than everyone else’s:

Needless to say I have been down this road before (ie: every other forums I have participated on in one way or anvother since the late 90s) but this time it feels a bit different. Like I am a wise, old soothsayer dispensing emotionless truth to the needed masses. Or something far less modest and it’s just a Zen like way to kill time. An out of game grind.

I care about my results in ranked (which is where you are supposed to try) but am absolutely getting killed in Casual play for two reasons. First is because I have decided I am going to play every champion to level 6. That takes about three hours of play. Some champions I am just terrible at, so that makes it a long three hours.  Still, I do improve but some I just don’t gel with well and once I get to 6 may never play again. The second reason is because few people want to play Front Line and Support, when I am not playing those (which I prefer) it usually means we have a poor team composition. Which makes playing the other roles I am already not that great at that much harder.

This game absolutely destroys Overwatch in terms of flavor, strategy, champion design, in game skill adjustment, builds (etc.). I don’t even understand how OW is still in business when you compare the two. It’s like Vanilla ice cream (OW) vs a full banana split with three kinds of ice creams, chocolate and caramel sauce smothered all over it, and cashews, chocolate chops, and little pieces of peanut butter cups on top. There is no comparison from the amount I have played of each. I hope it has a strong, bright future.

My posting on the forums will no doubt support that.

#delusionsofgrandeur.

Mr. Unpopular

Paladins

I am a Paladins fan. I couldn’t enjoy Overwatch and found it entirely bland and boring. Paladins, on the other hand, has depth, strategy, customization and challenge. I have started to flesh out my champions experience and availability quite well. Here is my level with each:

Level 6 for all, here I come!

Players get ‘free’ Radiant chests at level one, four and six so to really maximize your opportunity (with better cards, skins, etc.) it makes sense to have level 6 as a goal for all champions. You need several at level 4 to get into competitive so the extra two levels isn’t that much harder. I still have a lot of work to do although I have firmly sorted out that I am only good at two roles – Front Line and Flanking.  I can service as a support but do not seem to excel at it. The good news for me is that the ‘meta’ for team composition is two Front Line, one Support, and two Damage and few people want to play Front Line so I pretty much always get to do it. It takes around three hours to get to level 6 so on that basis alone with 28 champs is a lot of game play. Of course this also skews my stats because playing my best champions I have nice stats – constantly learning and jumping between champions takes away the comfort and skill level. The good news is there are two game modes (Casual and Ranked) so I use my good champions for ranked and learning champions for casual. (Sorry, casual players).

My BAE

Inara is my favourite and I am climbing the ELO ladder in ranked with her. She doesn’t have a lot of flash and her skills are mostly about staying alive which isn’t glorified gameplay for those who want to shine. It is more of an unsung hero type champion which suits me just fine. In a world of Overwatch, I am a big Paladins fan. It’s a fantastic shooter and I hope it can continue to iterate and improve (it is currently in Beta).

Battletech – Backer’s Beta

Big robots waltzing

Battletech has always been a pen and paper game that should have translated into an even better game on the computer. We have a slew of FPS style games with MechWarrior series but not a pure or true translation. This game plans on being more of that. Tesh and I have been talking about the need for this game going on 6-7 years.

It was always known as a very ‘math’ game to work on so using the processing power of a computer should enhance the gaming experience. Early stages are promising but some of the current limitations (4 mechs regardless of budget, map size, etc.) keeps the game really focused. I think there are some opportunities to expand on this to make the game really exciting but it is very early  so will give time to see how it develops. Currently you can only play against the computer, there isn’t a ton of customization options, and a map selection of 4. Looking forward to seeing this title expand and grow, and the company (Harebrained Schemes) had some great titles with the Shadowrun series which gives high hopes. Inserting a gallery here of a ton of screenshots of some gameplay for those interested!

(click on any part of the gallery above to get it rolling!)

I continue to play games that aren’t that popular but that I thoroughly enjoy – which tends to limit engagement and page views – thankfully I don’t do this for a living =)

More Paladins Fun

I did a video. My mic was off, so you don’t get to hear me speak but if you are curious about the gameplay or anything of that nature it’s a fun Siege match that goes to 4 points. 1 point for capturing the objective, and 1 for the payload status (if you get it to the end point you get another point, if it is successfully defended the other team gets a point.) This was one of those “wow, we really kicked butt in the first round – I should record this!” thoughts and then I did decide to record it. And then of course the inevitable happened.

Without voice it does lack my paladin-splaining on much of what is going on but I do think most of it is self explanatory. I’ve never been one for streaming or recording and this won’t change much but thought it would be fun for a nice change of pace. I am playing Ying, a fun, illusion based healer.

I love lists and plans and serial gaming – and Paladins really helps with that. I make enough in game gold playing a character to level 5 to buy another character (more or less, so it seems) and that has been my plan. I have one of each type (Flanker, Front Line, Damage, Support) in the leveling process to 5 at any time and I fill the hole most needed for the team. Once they hit 5 I buy another champion of that category and start again. Rinse, repeat. Like most matchmaking games, perfect matchmaking would have you win / lose at 50% of the time when you hit the level where you belong. Much like League of Legends, Paladins uses the ELO system. There is also a really handy third party website (paladins.guru) that pulls your stats.

How am I doing by role?

My flanker win rate was much higher until I started leveling a flanker (Lex) without invisibility or a more clear escape mechanism. I was trending in the 70%+, but coming back down to earth. Not as many players pick support or front lines and I happen to really enjoy both roles. Sometimes in the Front Line role I get stuck playing WITHOUT a healer often which really makes the W/L hard there. Front Liners do not have a lot of built in sustain where a support / healer can still shine healing a bunch of damage dealers. I really suck in the Damage role and I think that is because I lack map awareness. As a Front Liner lacking map awareness is less deadly as you can take a few hits before going down. Support can often heal themselves at least once before it happens. Flankers have escape mechanisms. Damage are more of the sitting ducks and if you get caught on a flank or not paying attention you are a goner. It is also the quickest locked-in role so I don’t get to practice as much. I have a feeling I will have maxed out all the Support and Front Lines before I truly get to dig into the Damage class.

Here is my overall playtime, Win Loss, and K/D/A. Reading this tells me I should still climb to a bit higher of competitive level. It also isn’t a pure indication as I am constantly learning new champions.

I love data. Here are the champs I have been using and how I have done with each:


Based on my previous comment about constantly learning new champions if all I played was Skye, Grover, and Ying it looks like I would be 23-10 with lots of room to climb. Still, I firmly believe that you can’t learn to beat a champion unless you have walked 5 levels in their shoes and I plan on continuing just that. You also get a lot more chests by leveling up (there is an overall level tied to you, and a mastery level tied to each champion) so it’s a quicker and easier path to new cards, skins, and other opportunities for growth. As you can see it takes around 2 hours of playtime to get one to mastery level 5.  You need 12 champions level 4 or higher to take part in competitive, so some time left in casual before I can start playing with the big kids.

The business model isn’t bad, but not great either. My most interested part is building out new decks to customize and personalize the champions for gameplay. That costs essence, of which you can only get by getting duplicate cards. Building a legendary card costs 12,000 essence (which fundamentally changes the way a champion plays, and is hella fun) and you get between 250-500 essence per duplicate card. New to the game, I do not get a lot of duplicate cards, meaning I could probably play another month or so before really getting to the point where every card is essence based. There is no way to buy essence – I find that a miss and have since learned that it never existed in the game before open beta 42 or 44. This tells me that the company was not happy with the profitability and are trying to find creative ways to change that.

There are few ways to spend money. The first is $19.99 to unlock all current and future champions. I like keeping focused on my unlocks as it forces me to practice and learn champions as I go. You can buy crystals which you can ‘boost’ your character with, gaining faster XP, money, extra cards on unlocks, etc. I hate the way they do boosts because it is done on a time basis (7 or 14 days) and I feel like I would not be able to maximize my time under boost so I wouldn’t get the same value. I would probably buy a boost if it were for a set number of matches, for example.

Crystals also unlock special skins – some are crystals only while others are gold or crystals. You can also upgrade keys to your Radiant Chests to enhance them, giving you a better chance of getting something spiffy. At the end of the day right now I find myself wanting to give Hi-Rez some well earned cash but not sure where to spend it to feel good, so I am just holding onto it until something becomes clear. I don’t want to buy a skin yet for a character I am only playing for 5 levels – and for the record, in all the loot boxes I have earned i have only received one armor piece (a chest, for Ash, a character I don’t play yet. There are skins and armor sets so you can get weapon, body, or head upgrades).

I think I would spend more if the business model was more like League of Legends (who does F2P the best, in my opinion) as of right now I am still trying to understand the relative values between the currencies and opportunities. The good news is, I am just having a ton of fun with this game and I will continue to play it until such time I can sort out how to support it financially.

Paladins – You Might be Missing Out

(click on pictures to see big ones in new windows, I know my frames are small.)

The initial title of “Team shooter perfected” was a bit of a click-bait title and I am far too early in on my Paladins journey to give it that much credit this early. They are well on their way, however, and have definitely solidified themselves as my favorite entry into this genre and deservedly so. Of course, before talking about the present, let’s talk about the past.

I played team shooters back when it was real tough. Rainbow six had message board ladders (nothing in game for rankings, matchmaking, etc.) and a punishing play style. I did do a lot of Counter Strike back in the day as well. Then, for years, there was nothing. I skipped Team Fortress 2 for the most part (which I suspect most would argue is the true inspiration for the new group of bright and cartoony team shooter offerings) and when I did try to get into it the matchmaking was so poor and everyone else was so far ahead of me that I couldn’t find fun or get a foothold. I spent years not playing small map team based shooters, and instead stuck the to the Battlefield 2142’s and Project Reality’s of the world.

My son started playing Overwatch with his friends and in true Blizzard fashion it looked slick, interesting, and fun. I tried to get into it myself only to find things a bit bland for my tastes as well as matchmaking being completely broken (when you are level 14 playing against a guy who is level 314 you know there are issues.) So much clutter onthe screen, claustrophobic maps, lack of customization options and enemies that were just so good it also felt like there was no chance to catch up (already) and that things just weren’t “fair”. Add to the whole buy + microtransactions model that I fundamentally disagree with I just didn’t stick with Overwatch. It wasn’t terrible but just wasn’t a place I wanted to dedicated any more time learning in or trying to have fun in after 20 hours of ‘meh’ gameplay. I gave it a fair chance.

Enter Izlain, and his recommendation for Paladins – the F2P team shooter option from Hi-Rez Studios, and it does everything that Overwatch doesn’t and then some. I have over 7 hours played and  this is my new go to game. So much to discover, to unlock. So much fun. While it isn’t a huge departure from what we know (and what is popular) it does have some neat options which make it a bit more complex and fun. Let’s talk about those after a general explanation about how the game works.

Like most team based shooters there are a lot of different champions. In Paladins they are split into four groups – Damage, Front Line, Support, and Flank. Those are self explanatory for the most part (Damage, Tank, Heal,  Light Armor Damage). There are four modes currently (three standard, and a new one being tested) and they are also very similar:

Pre-match, but clean window and useful UI

  • Payload (moving an object from a starting point to an ending point). Swap from offence to Defence. 1 point for objective, need 2 of 3 to win the round.
  • Siege (battling for a position on a map, which, once won spawns a Payload phase). Need 4 points to win. 1 point for securing the objective, 1 for the payload.
  • Team Elimination (die once, no respawn) first team to 5 full team eliminations wins.
  • Onslaught (control point time + kills). Game is over when the total points hits a threshold.

They are all fun. The maps are varied. Where Paladins truly wins is in the customization. First, characters – you don’t only have different weapons and outfits to equip, you can fundamentally change the way a character plays using the card based system. Here is the best example of this, with Skye.

Skye’s Legendary cards plus some others

Skye is flanker. The flanking play style revolves around sneaking around the back (or side, literally, flanking) and while big heavies and damage dealers are focusing on an objective swoop in and cause havoc from a different angle. Skye has a stealth on a high cooldown (15 seconds). This ability has huge gameplay ramifications as it gives you the freedom to move around the map. The first three cards are the legendary cards and you must choose one before the match. The picture above shows the new card I built (you can loot them or spend in game resources) which changed her default gameplay style from “Do 30% more damage to enemies hit by poison bolts” (secondary attack) to “Reduce all cooldowns by 100% when getting a kill or elimination”.

Totally different playstyle. Striking from the shadows, and immediately entering back into the shadows, versus applying a shred that can take down even the tankiest of enemies fast, but far more exposed. The third legendary option for Skye is an Alpha strike option, doing 300 more damage on the first hit out of stealth. So, now you have a themed character that you can change to better suit a map or playstyle you prefer. The other cards allow you to further personalize your abilities. I am going to use Ying, my first support character, as the example here.

Ying heals by creating illusions of herself that cast heals every second to the most injured team member in their range. They are stationary. Her other abilities are to swap positions with her furthest away illusion (escape),  do damage, and “shatter’ her illusions – they charge the nearest enemy and then blow up. It is a really fun kit and I am having the most fun healing with her.   With all characters you get to select up to 5 cards, and use 12 points (you can improve each card – so if one says increase health by 100 as a base, you can spend three additional points and make that 400. As an example) to make your character yours.

Here is the base Ying.

Base loadout – I kept to the base ones for learning until I better understood the gameplay dynamics for the champion

This impacts her gameplay.

  • Spring Bloom (4) Illusions are on a 5 second timer, and have health. If one dies the counter goes down 2 seconds faster.
  • Squadron (4) Her illusions are a lot beefier with 4 points (+400 health)
  • Disappear (1) Ying can move faster out of combat with a 7% movement speed increase  (and if you added a point there, would most likely be 14% faster).
  • Efficiency (1) Reduces the cooldown of Dimensional Link (the teleport swap skill) by 1s.
  • Tangible (2), increases personal health by 100 (Tangible 1 would have been 50. It moves it very round numbers).

This kit its focusing on personal and illusion survivability with good movement. It’s the base Ying everyone plays. I found that I was ‘shattering’ (exploding) my illusions a lot and that if someone got in my face and I teleport swapped then they would kill the illusion. I also wanted more than one illusion up at a time effectively I loved the theme and mood of Ying but wanted to create a playstyle that was a bit different. This is what I came up with:

Second loadout – 8 per character are available

  • Mesmerism (3) increases the range where you can deploy illusions by 30% (Now I can stay safer and further away)
  • Squadron (2) increases health by 200 (I didn’t need 400 because I was blowing them up a lot anyway to do damage)
  • Rewind (1) swapping to the spot of a dead illusion spawns an illusion with 25% health (great emergency heal escape if low)
  • Carry On (4) – your illusions last 4 sec longer (now I can layer them better)
  • Spring Bloom (2) – when illusions die to an enemy reduce the cooldown of illusions by 1 sec (get them back up faster)

I absolutely loved the new deck, and my first game, kicks some nice butt with it too. There are a few tweaks I might use (taking a point off of Carry On and adding it to Spring Bloom) but that is what is great about this game – you can make the champions your own in a controlled environment.

Here was the results of my first game with Ying v2.0

#flex #epeen #humble #karma

Remember, Ying is a support/healer. I had the highest kill streak, most objective time (escorting the payload), comparable damage, and only healing in the game. My 11/4/13 KDA outshone most of my team (who were all playing pure damage dealers).  It was a great round for me.

The customization doesn’t start there. In game  you can also customize your champion further based on who you are facing in game and how the match is going, through an in game item store – of which, you score points during the match and then spend. Remember that Skye I told you about, that could stealth after every kill and is a great harasser? A skilled player could see that happening and adjust in game to better deal with her by buying the Illuminate skill (increase range you detect stealthed characters). If Ying’s illusions are taking you down during shatters get the Blast Shields – they lower AOE damage. If your support isn’t healing, buy Life Rip – which gives your damage a leech effect. Against some big tanky front lines with shields? Wrecker takes those down fast. The item shop gives you more options to strategically support your success. It is pure awesome. You can lower cooldowns, increase ultimate charge, lower healing on players you did damage to – all sorts of steady states. It is limited to one item per line (Defence, Utility, Healing, Offense) but you can also upgrade the item in the same category for more money. When I was trying to increase my illusion uptime on Ying I would go with level 3 Chronos builds (30% cooldown reduction).

Item Store in game

There are a lot of other topics of discussion to discuss about Paladins and I will more deeply explore them – it is my definite new go to game for the forseeable future. If you feel like picking it up (it’s free) add me as a friend and I’d love to learn the game with you. My in game name is “Founts”. Looking forward to exploring and understanding this title better – and already absolutely in love with it.

The Overwatch Conundrum

My son and all of his friends play Overwatch. Typically that style of first person shooter (spammy, jumpy, TF2-ish is probably a fair description) has never been high on my list. And yet, I find myself playing it. The oddity of this isn’t the fact that I am playing it (I play all sorts of games) but the fact that I am playing it and still haven’t figured out if I like it or not. It is a strange beast. After 10 hours or so and getting into online matchmaking there are some things I know I DISLIKE about it, but I am having a hard time putting my finger on the things that I DO like about it.

compliments of razerone since screenshots are hard to port over from PS4

I dislike that you can change characters upon death. While that makes sense for matchmaking purposes, I find that it helps the winning team more. As soon as you switch thinking you are bringing a counter to the table to balance it out more the other side just does the same thing. There is no strategy behind this and it becomes a guessing game of who is going to pick who. I would change this to the losing side can only change at any given time (to balance it out) or not have it change at all. Of course, the game is not up for changing something as fundamental as that design choice. It is pushing me away from the game. I yearn for a mode like League of Legends where people pick one at a time and stick with it.

I also dislike the lack of customization options. The skins, for the most part, are just re-coloration on the low end and things like tags and voice lines you don’t get to really enjoy. If you stop to check out a cool tag you are dead, plain and simple. If you are paying attention to interesting or fun in game speak you are dead. The game is too fast and spammy to enjoy the majority of the loot box items – emotes, voice overs, and tags. The only weapon customization that I have seen is golden guns which feels like a HUGE miss.

I dislike the lack of strategy. Things happen so fast that there is no time to work out any sort of fundamental strategy outside of spam here and spam there. Objectives are won and lost so quickly that it’s simply run back, try to find a group, and spam/shoot away. I know you are probably thinking “well duh, that’s the beauty of it!” but I don’t see it that way. I wish there was more to it but it feels very shallow in so many ways.

And yet, I play it. I don’t know if it fits in mindless zen grinding for loot boxes territory (which I do like, actually, but think you should get one for every match – not level – as a B2P game it’s a bit crappy) or the semblance of semi interesting characters (albeit devoid of story or purpose). There is definitely some sort of hook to it that I just can’t put my finger on. Maybe someday soon I can explain, if I continue playing it.

Enter the competitor, Paladins.

Izlain over at Me Myself and I made a post that included Paladins and when I checked out some reviews and videos it hits a lot of the check boxes of things I dislike about Overwatch. Player is locked in for the match, but they are further customized by cards you collect as well as in game gear you can buy (much like League of Legends). There is a loot box pathway in the game that doesn’t also charge you a box fee. The gameplay and characters also look varied semi interesting. I also have nothing to lose by trying it, so I will. Will be interesting to comp the two.

easy peeyzy lemon breezy

Bonus here, as a PS4 noob that I could get the game and download it to my home PS4 from the PS store in my browser at work. I didn’t realize it had that functionality and quite frankly, that is awesome. I was honestly thinking that I wished I could do that from here, and tried it for the heck of it, and sure enough it worked. Makes so much sense and removed another barrier to purchase. This could end up being a costly and dangerous feature for me.

What do you think? Do you play either? What do you love about it? I am going to continue to explore this further and any tips or suggestions would be helpful.

Here’s Your Answer, Tesh!

I suppose the Global Agenda ‘strike while the iron is hot’ promo is, uh, striking while the iron is hot.

Last chance for APB refugees and other Shooter/MMO fans to receive discount

Dear Shooter/MMO Fans:Image

Recently, I wrote an open letter to APB Refugees and other fans of the Shooter/MMO genre. In that letter, we offered players 30% Off Global Agenda when purchasing from our webstore using the promotion code “LongLiveShooterMMOs” (that’s $20.99, £13.12 and €15.75).

Since that letter, we’ve had thousands of new players join the game! With each additional Shooter/MMO fan the Global Agenda community grows stronger and the online multiplayer competition becomes more intense.

Based on this, we’ve extended the promotion through Monday, October 4.

So if you are interested in Global Agenda’s high-flying shooter combat inside a futuristic game world, there’s no better time to strap on that jetpack! And, remember, the game has no monthly fees.

Still unsure? You can try before you buy by playing the free trial, available here.

We welcome all the new players that have recently joined us, and hope to see the rest of you in game soon!

Todd Harris
Executive Producer, Global Agenda

Hi-Rez Studios

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My own emphasis on the ‘thousands of new players’.