Firefall Beta Review: First 48 Hours

MMO gaming has been stagnant for quite some years, thanks to Blizzard’s seemingly domination from MMORPG to ARPG. Every time a new MMO game is announced, there is this hope that someone somewhere just may innovate and do something different. I have joined beta launches from Guild Wars 2 to Marvel Heroes, Neverwinter to now Firefall. The free-to-play (F2P) model looks to mature into a viable one. I am a reasonable player. If the game is fun and I spend considerable amount of time with it (like 40+ hours), I am happy to contribute to the development cost. Firefall is an interesting find. It has the potential even at this early stage of beta. I am finding it insanely addictive. Can the ex-team leader of World of Warcraft now the founder of Red5 Studio recreate the magic once again?

After trying out a few of the battleframes, I have decided to go with Dreadnaught, which is more or less a tanking class.
After trying out a few of the battleframes, I have decided to go with Dreadnaught, which is more or less a tanking class.

What Is Firefall?

It is a F2P shooter MMO set in a sci-fi backdrop. The music and some of the elements remind me of Mass Effect. You can toggle between first person shoot and third person shoot. Shortly after you have started the game, the first thing you notice is that the entire map is like a war zone. Hubs (or bases) are constantly being invaded by the Chosen. Tornados appear from nowhere ripping everything apart. I seem to be fighting the Chosen all the time but for what? I have no idea. Random events appear all around me. I feel obliged to help driving away the enemies and to donate my resonators for the hub upgrade. I travel afar to link up SIN Towers (really begin to sounds like Ingress). The land area I can venture into is constantly shifting depends on the outcome of the conflict. Something sinister is at work, if only I know what true evil is.

Players collaborate on the fly to tackle group missions. There is no mob tagging in Firefall. You hit with a single bullet, you get the XP and the loots.
Players collaborate on the fly to tackle group missions. There is no mob tagging in Firefall. You hit with a single bullet, you get the XP and the loots.

Wait, What Is Happening?

Even as a MMO veteran, when you first join Firefall, it is likely that you have no clue on what you are doing, where you are heading to. It doesn’t frustrate though because once you pay attention to the right information, learn the rope through exploration, making mistakes, or simply ask around, you shall get the hang of it in no time. Dropping into water could be fatal. Letting a thumper – a tool to gather resources in the open area – destroyed by the mobs and you would have to build a brand new one again. You see drop ships flying around and guess that there must be a better way to go from one Hub to another. Die too many times and your gears may be beyond repair. Your team fail to halt the incursion and all of a suddenly, everyone perishes as the melding floods over the hub. It is this level of exploration and learning by observation that I found refreshing in Firefall.

Drop ships are wonderful way to travel in New Eden. It is like a bus service. Each drop ship has a list of destinations. You hop in and then you hop out. Simple as that.
Drop ships are wonderful way to travel in New Eden. It is like a bus service. Each drop ship has a list of destinations. You hop in and then you hop out. Simple as that.

Oh Man, That’s Hard!

You know how it is like when you play recent MMO games whereby your characters just don’t die often, if at all. Everything seems too easy. While I am not an expert in shooter games, I have much experienced in Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer. I play Saint Rows 3 too. Firefall is much harder than most F2P MMO games. You may be able to solo some of the missions. However, it is much better when you are grouped or simply follow the crowd. Even so, on any given day, however much I have invested into gear upgrade or learned the maps by heart, my character would die due to all sort of bizarre circumstances such as someone kills a mob that explodes onto my face, someone has made a mistake in diffusing the energy bomb and killed everyone in proximity, or someone has detonate an objective literally behind my back. Or most of the time, I was overwhelmed by the enemies.

As you upgrade your gears, you would find that some gears are not repairable. Others have a constraint on how many times they can be repaired. Because crafting can be expensive, there is a price to pay every time you are defeated.

These are my real life buddies Mark and Melvin. We often group with one another to take down missions. They are shooter veterans. Even they think Firefall is hard.
These are my real life buddies Mark and Melvin. We often group with one another to take down missions. They are shooter veterans. Even they think Firefall is hard.

Has Someone Called A Thumper?

In most MMO games, resource gathering and crafting is one of the core experiences. Firefall is no difference. I usually dislike these mini-games. However, there is something special about how these activities are implemented in Firefall. There are three groups of resources in this game: material, gas, and organic. Within each type of resource, say material, there are a multitude of resource types such as copper, iron, and etc. These resources are dynamically spawned underground all over the map. You may use a scanner to measure the composition, the quality (with a score of 0 to 1000) and quantity (from 0% to 100%). Once you have found the right spot, you can begin the extraction by calling down a thumper. During the 5 minutes long extraction, you have to defend your thumper from attack. You may send the thumper back at any time. However, upon completion, there is a double bonus. Depending on how many times the local area is thumped, the resource may become exhausted. New one may spawn.

Thumping for resources is rather enjoyable. You can set the difficulty level too by choosing the thumper type and level.
Thumping for resources is rather enjoyable. You can set the difficulty level too by choosing the thumper type and level.

Once you collect the resources – which are also available as mission reward, loots, or crates – you may refine them. Crafting items require at minimum refined resources. Because the resources may have different quality as well as attributes (for example copper is high in conductivity while aluminum is high in malleability) and because crafted items have different attribute requirements, crafting in Firefall is an art. You have total control on the overall item quality (again, with a score of 0 to 1000) and the attributes that deem important to you. You may ask, why not craft the most powerful gear you can? Due to the fact that powerful gears have a high loading requirement, there may be tradeoffs to be made.

Before you can craft an item, you have to spend time and resource to research for it in-game. Because there is a constraint on how much you can do at the workbench, you have to balance your time between research and development.

Crafting in Firefall has much depth in it. And it is pretty satisfying when a product is finally ready for manufacture.
Crafting in Firefall has much depth in it. And it is pretty satisfying when a product is finally ready for manufacture.

How Does Leveling Work In Firefall?

As you complete missions and kill mobs, you gain experience point (XP). Unlike traditional MMO games, there is no such thing as character leveling. You have access to five battleframes (or more commonly known as classes). You are free to try out which suits you the best. Ultimately, you may wish to invest your time on one battleframe.

For a start, XP that you have earned for each battleframe can be spent to unlock that battleframe’s ability and gear slots. Once all the slots are unlocked, you may then use the XP as well as other resources to increase the battleframe’s attributes: mass, power, and CPU as per your gear requirement and personal preference. Each battleframe attribute has a total of 10 levels. As you level up the attributes, you gain another in-game currency called Pilot Points. These points can be used to unlock any of the 10 advanced battleframes (each battleframe has two advanced variations).

You can upgrade your gears through loot drop or crafting. There are in total 4 item levels. Each level costs more to research and build than the previous tiers. Gears do break eventually (yet another constraint). You may need to balance between play style aggressiveness versus how fast you can acquire resources in order to replenish the gears.

It is all about leveling your chosen battleframe.
It is all about leveling your chosen battleframe.

Let’s Talk About What to Do In New Eden

While the lore seems enticing, in this stage 1 of beta, there are no main story related missions. The map of New Eden is filled with dynamic events. Some missions can be soloed. Others need a group. If you have played other shooter games, you may be familiar with some of the objectives. Besides these open world solo and group missions, there are raid missions such as Chosen incursion and tornado attack. As long as you manage to kill one target or are within proximity, you earn the reward. During my adventure in New Eden, I often start out solo and very soon, squads are formed with random players. Because this game is hard, everyone seems to yearn for grouping.

Some missions can be soloed. But best to play with friends or group up with others.
Some missions can be soloed. But best to play with friends or group up with others.

When I prefer a more relaxing moment, I would do thumping and gather resources. Thumping can be soloed. However, as the group size increases, there are options to increase the difficulty level in order to reap better rewards.

Besides these dynamic events, resource gathering and exploration activities, R&D work at the Hub, there are three random daily missions a day. You don’t have to do them if dailies are not your cup of tea. Having said that, most of the time, I find that as I play the missions, I get to complete some of these dailies without consciously doing them.

And of course, there are PvP actions for those who are into competitive sport. I have not tried them yet.

I spend much time chilling out at the hubs too.
I spend much time chilling out at the hubs too.

Sounds Good But What’s The Catch?

Red5 Studio promises that Firefall is not a pay-to-win game. So far, from what I have seen, I tend to agree. Their in-game store sells cosmetic and convenience items. I like their game so I bought a bike and a rechargeable glider. I do get to places faster at times. But due to the fact that the terrain can be pretty hilly, especially where the missions are, having a bike is totally optional because traveling on foot with the jumpjet can be more efficient.

I love Firefall and Red5 Studio enough to purchase this bike for US$25 (with some change). You don't have to buy it. You can craft it. Or take a walk. A bike is totally optional.
I love Firefall and Red5 Studio enough to purchase this bike for US$25 (with some change). You don’t have to buy it. You can craft it. Or take a walk. A bike is totally optional.

Progressing through the battleframe takes time. Real money can speed up the manufacturing process. But the cost is high. I doubt many would do that. Majority of time I still need to be out there gathering resources and earning Accord Merit Points (another form of in-game currency) in order to upgrade my battleframe. It is something money cannot buy.

What money can buy though is the unlocking of advance battleframes. You can earn them in-game by upgrading the basic ones to near-max level (that may take hundreds of hours). Or if you have lost faith in your current battleframe or patience, you may opt to unlock new ones with money. Unlike other F2P games I have played, the basic battleframes are pretty good and sufficient. The advance ones may enhance the experience. But they are often harder to play. In short, I am happy investing my time with the basic battleframes.

This is the in-game store that sells all sort of cosmetic and convenience items.
This is the in-game store that sells all sort of cosmetic and convenience items.

What About Shortcomings?

Perhaps it is too early to criticize Firefall as it is still a game on stage 1 of beta. Having said that, I would love to see improvements on certain areas.

  • An overarching main story. Firefall reminds me of vanilla World of Warcraft. There are conflicts around the world we are in. Everything is evolving. However, for World of Warcraft back then, there was an ultimate villain, living and breathing inside Molten Core. While there is plenty of lore written in Firefall website, what we do in New Eden seems to only scratching the surface as far as the story goes.
  • Late comers for missions. As a squad leader, this is what I do. I check the map for the closest mission. Set the squad waypoint and direct my squad to the location. I do the same thing when I solo too. At times, once we reach the rendezvous point, the mission has been completed by the previous group. We head out to the next one and it is completed too. Imagine our disappointment. By and large, Firefall seems to be smart enough to spawn new missions nearby. Or large scale raid mission to suck up all the players in the region. Maybe the game needs to fine tune in some ways to split the players up with various new activities in the region.
  • Ability cool-down and health regeneration is too long. Like Mass Effect, besides shooting with your weapons, you can augment the experience with battleframe specific abilities. This makes Mass Effect insanely fun, mixing things up a bit. Firefall allows us to use four abilities but the cool-down is long (like half a minute for the battleframe I am playing). Health regeneration is long too when outside battle. Just too much unnecessary downtime.
  • There is no synergy between abilities and players from different battleframes. In other MMO games, very often, different abilities from different classes synergize with one another in order to create spectacular results. There is no such thing in Firefall. The strategy then becomes rather one-dimensional. That is, shoot anything that moves with the same set of abilities while trying to stay alive.
  • The entire action interface needs an overhaul. I think this game is designed with console gaming in mind. I haven’t tried it yet but I reckon you can play it with a gamepad. In order to say use a health pack during life and death moment, I have to hit the C key for call down support. Then scroll down to the packs category and click select. After which, scroll down a long list (according to what I have in my inventory) to find the health pack and click select. This health pack is then bound to the key 5. I then have to press 5, locate a clear spot on the ground and click so as to call down a health pack. Next, wait for the animation to complete and walk into it in order to replenish my health slightly. I end up not using it. This is just one example. Calling a bike to ride, inviting squad members, leaving squad, opening daily reward crates and etc., I have to go through the same routine.
  • Squad looting needs to be looked into. Firefall is the only MMO game I know of that group looting is free-for-all and free-for-all only. There should be some fair way of loot distribution, especially when we cannot trade items between us.
  • Gear durability may need to be looked into. Currently, I am slowly upgrading my gears to level 2. However, my existing level 2 items are also going to break soon. My challenge is that as a Dreadnaught, at least three abilities and gear items require the same specific DNA that is hard to come by. In short, I may lose my level 2 items faster than I can build them and hence, forced to revert to level 1 items. Regression is a hard pill to swallow.
  • More mission variety would be good. So far, we seem to do the same set of mission day in day out. I can’t wait to see more content.
In Firefall, the tide of war is constantly shifting. You have to be aware of the situation as it affects the things that you can do.
In Firefall, the tide of war is constantly shifting. You have to be aware of the situation as it affects the things that you can do.

In Summary

Despites some of the shortfalls at this early stage of beta, Firefall is a refreshing game much needed in the current MMO scene. It is a free-to-play shooter with a sci-fi background created by the ex-team lead of World of Warcraft. Firefall has an innovative crafting system with much depth in it. Time investment is expected to be heavy. To fully level a single battleframe (out of 15 available ones) – extrapolate from my current data and play pattern – may take 240 hours. That does not take into consideration of the item upgrade.

From what I have seen, Firefall is not a pay-to-win game. The basic battleframes suffice and do the job well. The advanced battleframes can be unlocked by in-game currency earned while upgrading the basic battleframes (or can be unlocked using real money). So far, the in-game store only sells cosmetic or convenience items.

Do not expect a linear storyline to handhold you through the game telling you to go from A to B. The entire map is a war zone with dynamic events of various scales spawning every moment. The most common thing that new players say in general chat is: I have no idea what to do. My advice is, take your gun, open your map, and start shooting!

Taking down a tornado - especially a high category one - can be challenging. And that requires a lot of players to join force.
Taking down a tornado – especially a high category one – can be challenging. And that requires a lot of players to join force.

Diablo III Madness – 140 Hours And Counting

This Diablo III madness has no end.  140 hours have passed and I don’t even feel it.  It is like that one scene in Twilight whereby Bella sits by the window observing the change of seasons in one minute.  There are four levels of difficulty in this video game.  It takes me 140 hours to clear the second difficulty level – Nightmare – for all my five classes.  My next milestone is to complete the third difficulty level – Hell – and call it a day.  Inferno difficulty could well be too brutal for me.

Or maybe not.  We shall see.

Heavens burn as we cast the Prime Evil into oblivion.

I will not repeat what has already been said in my last post “Diablo III – First 80 Hours“.  What I said back then is still valid today.  Instead, I will share my experience with the game as I progress through different difficulty levels.  And a short recap on news surrounding the Diablo community from launch till now.

At launch, Diablo III smashed records, sold more than 6 millions copies excluding the 1 million World of Warcraft annual pass subscribers who got the game free.  Due to this unexpected sales record, a game that requires constant connection to the servers became unplayable as the servers were brought down time and time again by the surge in demand.  Onto then second week, when the US servers finally gained stability, reports started to come in as players’ accounts were compromised, in-game progress was lost.  The solution is to use a physical or mobile authenticator that provides an extra layer of protection like how Internet Banking tackles security.  On top of that, Blizzard gives us an option to enable SMS alert whenever account information is modified.  I do not know of any video gaming company that goes into this level of security to protect our accounts.  That could be due to the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) that I will talk about in just a bit.  Back to the first month after launch, the ride was bumpy.

Meanwhile, while the US region cried about the rumored hacks, Blizzard‘s office in Korea responsible in hosting the Asia servers was raided by the local government that sought evidence against Blizzard in their denial of refund requests.  Asia region has its own controversy.  Koreans were given more quotas in accessing the Asian game servers while other locations such as China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong needed to queue for hours just to get into the game.  In-game exploitation also ran wild in the Asian servers causing long extended maintenance that denied people from playing the game.  Players in Asia were as unhappy as the US counterparts.  I have no idea how the European players were coping.  I suspect they would have faced similar issues.

RMAH was launched in June.  Those who had high end in-game items made profits due to the initial craze.  One item could be sold for US$250 up.  While minority made money out of playing a game, the community overall appeared to view RMAH as the unnecessary evil.  Couple that with the fact that the game had been exploited by some and the economy imbalance that persists till today, RMAH has become a messy business.  However, if we are to take a step back, with or without RMAH, people trade items – items that they do not create – using real money.  While RMAH provides a safer environment for trading, it also encourages those who would not have traded trade.

To add onto this drama, Blizzard has decided that one of the gear attribute – attack speed – was too high.  Balancing the game means that all in-game items – past and future – have to be adjusted.  To compensate, Blizzard also makes Diablo III‘s inferno difficulty more manageable.  The net result was that those who have spend hundreds of dollars buying gears from RMAH suddenly woke up to the new reality that their gears were less powerful than before.  This seems to have put a brake to RMAH sales.  Are you willing to buy in-game items using real money only to find that one day, the items may be no longer what you wanted them to be?

Tricky situation.

If you read the online professional reviews, Diablo III has done pretty well.  If you crosscheck the scores with user reviews, the two do not tally.  User reviews from Metacritic to Amazon slam down the score to the lowest possible.  Some players from US demanded a full refund after beating the game and strangely, Blizzard has granted their requests.  Official forums continue to be on fire citing Diablo III as the worst game Blizzard has ever produced.  Participation in public games seems to dwindle.  The community seems to thin out.  Perhaps the end game is not quite there yet as we are still waiting for a future patch to address this issue.  Or perhaps action hack-and-slash genre is not something some would enjoy doing for hours.

What about me?

This is the secret level, “pony land”. Rainbow and all. Colorful but deadly.

I love it.  My friends seem to love it too.  Day in day out, I play with my friends online, overcoming challenges.  The contents may be the same.  It is Act One through Act Four.  The story is linear.  But different classes play differently.  Different difficulty levels play differently.  After we have cleared Nightmare difficulty (the second level), Hell plays like a whole new different game.  The challenge requires me to pay attention to mechanics I may have overlooked in the previous difficulty levels.  To me, Diablo III is like Tetris.  The framework and the pieces do not change over different levels.  But the fun stacks up as the pace increases.

How long will I stay with this game?  I am not too sure.  Maybe till the new World of Warcraft expansion Mists of Pandaria is out?

Diablo III – First 80 Hours

What a blast!  20 days into Diablo III and I have clocked in 80 played hours.  On top of that, Ihave finally defeated the ultimate evil for one of my five characters.  One down.  Four more characters to go.  And then onto the next difficulty level.

Note: Did you know the Diablo III runs in both PC and Mac platform?  Once you purchase a game key, you can download and install the game to either platform as many times as you wish.  Do check minimal system requirement though.  To purchase the game, click here to create an account and head to Blizzard Store.  If you are a Android or iPhone user, don’t forget to download the free  Battle.net Mobile Authenticator app (or you can purchase a physical one online at Blizzard Store).  Also, you may wish to turn on the SMS verification feature in your account management for extra security.

“You dare to judge me?!”

Games are certainly more fun played with friends.  In general, that is true – physical and virtual world alike.  So I have played with Cynthia mostly, when she is online.  Sanctuary seems less lonely that way, and less scary for sure.  She can go head-to-head with the mobs at the frontline while I, well, I heroically shoot the enemies from a safe distance.  Now you know who wear the pants at our home.  We have played with our real life friends too.  It is mindless zerging, destroying all things that move, all things that don’t.  It is an insane fun, in a therapeutic kind of way.  Though at times I wonder if we are holding our friends up by too obsessively exploring every corner of the map and smashing every jar we see (there is an achievement for 1,000 jars destroyed for the OCD ones, like me).  At times, we join the public games just to repeat some of the memorable boss fights.  Getting a random group is super fast compares to, say, World of Warcraft.  In that online game, we could end up waiting for up to half an hour or more for a group to be assembled.  In Diablo III, it is instant.  As our party size increases (up to four), so is the strength of our foes.  When one is leaving, no problem.  Our foes will scale down accordingly.  I like this dynamic aspect.  It keeps the encounters challenging and from the social interaction point of view, the more the merrier.  Almost always.

The game in Normal setting does not require 30 hours to beat, which we eventually did.  Typically, it can be done in 20 hours, or even less.  Cynthia and I are the thorough ones.  We enjoy opening up unexplored areas to hunt for treasure and face the seemingly formidable foes.  I take one step further that drives Cynthia nuts.  I listen to all the dialog, again and again.  My only complain with the public games is that most random players would choose to skip the cut scenes and dialog.  That is totally understandable.  But as for me, I am in for the full experience.  Discovering the little stories my in-game companions have to tell, pieces of lore, trivial dialog that keeps the game alive, and more.  To that end, I solo the contents as well.

Scoundrel (my rogue companion in-game when I have no one to group with): Sometimes I wish that when we’d met, you’d taken one look at me and fallen desperately in love.  But then I think of all the gold I’ve gotten with you.

Kasumi (my demon huntress): You know that that it won’t end that way, right?

Scoundrel: Right.

Upon completion of Normal difficulty setting, characters are typically around level 30.  After which, the entire game play can be repeated in a higher difficulty setting called Nightmare.  That boosts character level from 30 to 50.  To reach the level cap of 60, Hell difficulty awaits.  Beyond that is Inferno setting that is tailored for those who demand the ultimate challenge.  If you are seeking for a deeper thrill and a sense of purpose, Diablo III offers a Hardcore mode whereby all deaths are permanent.  That is pretty hardcore.  It is like play Tetris with one life and you want to see how far you can go before getting beaten.  My goal is to reach the level cap for all my 5 characters covering all 5 different classes.  Inferno is likely not my cup of tea.  If and when I reach there, I would love to take a holiday for a well deserved break.  Hawaii would be nice.  How many times must we save Heavens and Sanctuary?  As many times as we defend Azeroth from Deathwing I suppose.

“Cartoon-ish? Perhaps. But the level of detail is astonishing.”

Some asked me if this game is any good.  It is an incredibly easy game to pick up.  In the initial stage of the game, you can simply hack and slash your way using the two mouse buttons.  As you progress, you can use the four extended skills that are mapped to the numeric keys 1 to 4.  6 buttons are all you need to master this game.  You get to choose 6 active skills from a total of 22 at any time of your game play.  Each skill can be augmented with one of the 5 different runes (6 if you count the no rune option).  That in turn changes how the skill works.  On top of that, you get to pick 3 passive skills from an array of 15.  You can do the mathematics and work out the potential number of combinations.  It is rare to see two players picking up the same configuration.  Individual build shapes one’s play style.  Coupled that with the individual’s gear stats preference, there is much depth in Diablo III.  Now, while I cannot vouch for what happens in the Inferno setting, I am pretty sure that it is Blizzard’s interest to avoid cookie-cutting builds that make everyone alike.

If you are into or open to hack-and-slash role playing games, Diablo III is the benchmark.  The game play is fluid.  The artwork and soundtrack is beautiful.  Each time you level, you feel more powerful as more skill options are available at your disposal.  Within the virtual world of Diablo III, you are always gold hungry, loot hungry.  All items’ stats are randomly generated making it unlikely that two gears are identical.  Blizzard, unlike other developers, continues to improve the game based on community feedback.  Other developers more often than not de-prioritize the fixing of their games after they have taken your money.  Instead, their first priority is to build new DLC (downloadable contents) and new expansions.  Not Blizzard.

In this new era, no man is an island.  Collaboration and trading for mutual benefits trump working on your own.  You may hate the concept of the in-game Auction House that facilitates the trading of game items using either in-game currency or real currency.  But it is a good way to help each other in order to fasten the pace and overcome challenges.  Items that you no longer need can be offloaded into the Auction House so that someone else may find a use of it.  Or you may pick up an item from the Auction House that others do not need.  If you are not the type who spends real currency to acquire virtual items, you can stick with the in-game currency.  If you do, Blizzard provides a safe environment for real money trading to occur.  Is Blizzard charging too much as a middle man?  I do not have a benchmark for comparison.  Besides, I hope Blizzard can continue to make money somewhere so that the servers can be funded – free of charge for us folks – for many months or even years to come.

Any downside?  Sure.  It is called weekly scheduled maintenance that happens during our prime evening hours.  Something some of us have been bearing since the launch of World of Warcraft.  It is worse than Error 37 if you were to ask me.

To continue reading my adventure of 140 hours with the game, click here.

“You still haunt my sleep.”

Evil Is Back: Nine Things To Get You Ready For Diablo III

Update: You can start to install the digital download on May 14 11.01pm GMT+8 and the server live date is May 15 3.01pm GMT+8.

For some, this has been a wait more than a decade long.  It gets more excruciating as we approach May 15.  Diablo III is featured on our local paper today.  One couple has postponed their honeymoon to next year in anticipation of the game’s release.  That is some kind of commitment!  I am unsure if I would love Diablo III that much.  Not even sure if Cynthia who gets the game free thanks to WoW annual pass would enjoy playing this game with me.  I have faith in Blizzard.  They make good games.  And to my readers, here are nine things you should consider doing in getting yourself ready for this upcoming epic gaming journey.

1. Watch the Cinematic Trailer

Here is a little crash course for you.  Mortals have been using Soulstones to trap the three Prime Evils from Hell.  The bad guy you see in the video below is Azmodan, the Lord of Sin, who is also one of the four Lesser Evils.  According to Book of Cain (which I will cover later), the Lord of Sin is a clever manipulator who trades in vice and coruption.  He is passionate and plotting – both to very dangerous degrees.  He is by far the most charismatic and seductive of all the Evils.

Little has been revealed about Azmodan, yet it is hinted that he is looking for a promotion to be a Prime.  I suppose Diablo III may tell a deeper story on this Lesser Evil, who is by no means less evil.

2. Read Book of Cain

When I played Diablo II eons ago, I did not really get into the story.  In fact, I did not complete the game.  I have participated in the closed beta.  It was a pleasant experience, with voice acting and etc.  Still, I could not quite get the story.  What I missed was the lore.

To fully enjoy Diablo III, you have to read the lore.  There is one such book that fits the bill.  It is Diablo III: Book of Cain.  148 pages only, with tons of artistic illustrations.  The book tells the story of the beginning of time, before Heaven and Hell were created.  It is a book of mythology that defines the universe of Diablo.  In this realm, mortals as products of angels and demons are not powerless.  That’s why we get to trap the Evils inside the Soulstones in previous episodes.

Evil is back in this third episode.  Get acquainted with the lore today!

3. Pre-order the Game

Unlike Starcraft II, there will be no price difference between getting a local physical copy or downloading the game online via Battle.net.  Either way, after online registration, you will be able to download the game client to any machine – PC or Mac – in the future.  Getting a physical copy saves you the hassle of spending 6 to 12 hours downloading the game.  Getting a virtual copy saves the environment (sort of), with one less packaging, and you get to download the game client in this very moment.  The choice is yours.

Local copy of the game is marketed and distributed by Asiasoft here in Singapore.  For pre-order information and more, visit this link.

4. Attend the Launch Party

Like all Blizzard games, there will be a launch party at Funan DigitaLife Mall and it is held on May 15, 2012 from 9am to 9pm.  For those who have pre-ordered the game, you may collect it from 3pm onwards.  Marc Messenger, the lead developer of this game will be there.  There will be cosplays, hourly giveaways, and lucky draw.

I wonder if the local cosplays standard will be as close as Tasha and Miyuko who are featured in the official Diablo site (see picture below).  What do you think?

5. Create a Battle Tag

You will need a Battle Tag in order to play Diablo III.  It is a name that represent you in Battle.net.  So, choose wisely.  Since it may take time for you to dream of a handle, start dreaming now.

From my experience, a short Battle Tag is much desired.  You may wish to call yourself Iamawesome1337.  Unfortunately there is a space constraint in the game interface.  To others (and even to you), your portrait may show Iamawe… instead.  This may frustrate you.  Think of something short.  It doesn’t have to be unique.  Because Blizzard will tag a 4-digit random code behind your tag.

Diablo III is meant to be played with your friends online.  It is built that way.  Enemies scale up as more join the party.  So, start socializing with your friends and sharing your Battle Tag.  Mine is Lace#1115.  See you in the game!

To create a Battle Tag, you will need to first create a Battle.net account.  Head to http://battle.net for more information.

6. Pick a Class

At launch, there are five classes to choose from: barbarian, wizard, demon hunter, witch doctor, and monk.  You will need to pick one to start your journey.  The question is: Which one will you pick?

I have participated in the closed beta.  I enjoy all five classes.  With ten character slots and a shared stash for you to pass the items around, you are free to experiment what works for you.

Barbarian and monk are melee classes.  You get to face the enemies up close.  Barbarian is the traditional warrior class.  You jump into the battle faster than any other classes.  And you hack and slash your foes away, right to their faces.

Monk on the other hand is a nimble melee class.  You get to jump in and out of the scene and to think how to deal damage without taking too much of it.

Witch doctor, demon hunter, and wizard destroy enemies from a distance.  Witch doctor summon pets to assist you.  Damage over time is the key strategy.  Contrast to wizard, wizard deals direct damage.  Initially I thought wizard would be boring to play, but it is not.  As for demon hunter, first, know that this class does not come with a pet (somehow WoW players associate the word ‘hunter’ with pets).  Second, this class gets to carry two bows that do some really funky stuffs.  It is probably the most interesting class in this genre.

In short, pick your first based on your play style or even artistic preference.  However, I suspect you will get to play all eventually, in different difficulty settings.

Still need more inspiration on which class is for you?  Head to PC Gamer site and read how game developers may pick as their first.

Oh, when you first start the game, make sure you pick the correct geographical region.  You are allowed to switch between the three regions.  The game is not region locked like Starcraft II.  However, characters created in different regions are not connected.

7. Know Your Resources

This may sound obvious.  Official forum is the best place to get up-to-date information, contributed by the community as well as the developers.  There will be discussion and sharing on how to play your classes better.

Character profiles will be available for the tracking of your and your friends’ progress.  There is a skill calculator for those who enjoy fine tuning their characters’ abilities based on play style.  Have you ever wondered what Diablo III is?  The video below will have the answers for you.

8. Watch the Wrath Animation

For those who enjoy watching animation, this close to 7 minutes video clip depicting the conflict of High Heavens and Burning Hells is not to be missed.  It is created by Blizzard Entertainment teamed up with renowned director Peter Chung and acclaimed animation studio Titmouse.  This video does make more sense if you have read Book of Cain as recommended earlier.

9. What’s Your Excuse?

Come this May 15, you may find your colleagues disappear, your loved one disappear.  Try to think of the annual Great Singapore Sale, or the upcoming Euro Cup.  People do disappear for various reasons.  Be sympathetic.  Chances are, your friends are busy fighting demons in the Burning Hells.

If you are finding it hard to come up an excuse for your colleagues, or your loved ones, here is a fan-made website http://www.sorryformay15.com that may just do the job for you!

Banshee, And A Look Into Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Versus World Of Warcraft Dungeon Crawling

The resounding wailing of a banshee is enough to send a chill down my spine.  First, the bone chilling scream.  Then, the sighting of a banshee from afar.  Shortly after, she performs a series of biotic jumps that closes the distance in a frightening, lightning speed.  Blast!  There is a big bolt of biotic energy radiates outwards that hurts.  If she is close enough, she would carry you up in the air by your waist and with another hand, she caresses your head.  Time seems to stop.  Before you know it, your spine is snapped, you body is discarded.  It is an instant death that not even your teammates could revive.  The banshee screams, looks around, and onto the next target she goes.  This weekend is Operation Silencer.  Mass Effect 3 players at a global level are tasked to take down 3 million banshees in multiplayer mode.  I have played my part, with blood and fear.

“Into thy embrace I surrender my body, once again.”

Like the picture above?  I have more in my Google+ album.

I wrote about my first impression of the highly anticipated video game Mass Effect 3 in March.  I went on dissecting the controversial ending in April.  To wrap things up, before I dive into Diablo III next Tuesday like millions will do, it is fitting for me to write a short entry on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode.

Initially, I found it odd to read critics’ comments.  They said, the multiplayer mode works much better than they thought.  Now that I have sunk in a fair bit of hours into the multiplayer mode, clocked in enough rating to attain a ranking of #39 at a national level (as of this morning), I can understand the critics’ sentiment.  It is good.  So good that it overshadows the single player story mode, which is a shame.  Because traditionally, the Mass Effect franchise is about an individual compelling story, with players’ decision inputs that steer the events in game.  What makes Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode such a success?  Is there something the aging online game World of Warcraft can learn from it in the design of PvE contents (player-versus-environment)?  I think so.

  1. Fast Pace, Fast Assembly, Fast Reward – Getting a team of four online in Mass Effect 3 is fast.  Almost instant.  Once a team is assembled, you get to pick another class to compliment the team.  Each game takes 15 to 25 minutes to complete.  At the end of the game, credits are rewarded depending on performance and difficulties.  Credits can be used to purchase items.  In World of Warcraft, it may take up to half an hour for a group to be formed.  You are stuck with the character you queue for.  Each game takes up to an hour to complete.  You may end up with no loot after the game.  And some tokens that take a long time to accumulate.  Up to weeks.
  2. Skill Matters, More than Gears – To do well in Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, skill matters.  Because the score is published at the end of each game, you feel motivated to do well.  I do not know why till today, World of Warcraft still does not have an official scoring system for PvE contents.
  3. The Same Gear Dropped?  No Problem! – To keep the long term attention of the gamers, developers introduce random rewards.  In World of Warcraft, you grind the same dungeon many times in the hope of a gear drop.  When it drops and is won, you care less about that encounter anymore though you still may have to do it for different reasons.  What if every time you win the same gear (which would have been a waste now), you get a slight upgrade to your existing one?  In Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode, a gear can be upgraded 10 times.  When it reaches the highest level, that gear will no longer drop.  This makes so much sense.
  4. Gear Tiers Decoupled from Challenge Level – In Mass Effect 3, casual online players (or players with a low level character) can join a bronze challenge – an accessible content for most with 33% to 50% of success rate.  Or they can up the challenge for silver or gold.  Higher level of challenge rewards more credits.  Credits can be used to randomly unlock items of different tiers.  High tier items, of course, cost a lot more credit.  If you have a bunch of reliable friends to do gold challenge, that is great.  You get to unlock highest tier items at the fastest rate.  What if you don’t?  Not a problem.  You gain credits in a slower rate through bronze and silver challenges.  But you still have access to the highest tier items.  I wish Blizzard could incorporate this to their massively popular online game.
  5. My Loot Is Mine – I know Blizzard is changing how loot works in the upcoming expansion, for some of the encounters.  However, it is still worthwhile to mention that without having to roll against each other like in Mass Effect 3, it wipes away any negative feeling on who should get what.  Suddenly, there is fun, and peace.
Back to the banshees, I am going to meet a few more before the weekend expires.  Don’t forget to check out more pictures here.  I am out.  Wish me luck.

“Oh banshee, I do love to see you go up in flame.”