World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Beta Test – First Impression

Hooray!  Blizzard has sent me a beta invite for the testing of their upcoming expansion Mists of Pandaria.  Not that it was a huge surprise, really.  Because I have signed up for their annual pass deal and I know, eventually I will get an invite.  Still, it is good to get a rather early invite as I have been a loyal subscriber since its 2004 launch (OK, my payment lapsed for a couple of months because my credit card has expired but they really should have follow-up).  One of the first 200,000 lucky ones, I am.

“Oh my, guess what I saw when I first logged into the beta test server.  So many pandas!  I think I am getting panda phobia!  Note: Each panda you see in this picture represents one online player.”

I enjoy beta testing.  The last one I did was for the upcoming Diablo III.  I get to see an evolving product, based on testers’ feedback.  That gives me more insight on Blizzard’s design strategy (like how they value UI friendliness in Diablo III looking at the tweaks they do).  If you do get a WoW beta invite, here are some friendly reminders to make your journey more rewarding:

  • Beta means that it is an unfinished product, although Blizzard does reveal beta at its finest quality.  You get to see its beauty at its rawer form.  But you also get to see some rough edges.
  • The server is going to lag like crazy, regardless of your network performance.  It could be frustrating.  Hey, look at the bright side.  How often do you get to see hundreds of online players crowded in one place?  Nightmare no doubt.  But you would cherish this insane moment looking back.

“So I created a female pandaren.  Character customization seems to give me 14 face options.  Unlike the male pandaren, there is no customization option for the female face shape.  Just different color patches. Is it because we are at the beta stage?”

Female Pandaren

I don’t think I would try out the 85-90 high level zones in this beta testing.  Because I want to save the experience for my 10 characters.  Moreover, I don’t want to be sick of it by the time Mists is released.  What I do not mind is to try out the new pandaren starting area a couple of times since at most, I would only experience it once when this expansion is live.

The new pandaren race – silly as some may say – is down right adorable, especially the female pandaren.  I must say though, the female race looks a bit plastic to me, almost like a robot in her god forbid cuteness.  Maybe just a matter of getting used to.  Also, I observe that not all customization features are opened as of now.  The male version’s face customization varies the shape of the face.  The female version seems to vary the color pattern only.  I am not sure if it will be the case for the live version.

You can have a black and white pandaren that looks more like a panda.  Or you can have an orange version that in Cynthia’s words, looks more like a fox.  Female orange pandaren comes with a big orange tail too.  Alternatively, if you wish, you could have a hybrid look.  Black and white face with an orange body and in the case of a female pandaren, a fat orange tail instead of a tiny stub.

Female pandaren, in my opinion, is a bit short and plump.  I think I may roll a male pandaren when the time comes to save me some money to do a sex change later.

“Stop humping that scroll you silly pandas!  How are we supposed to click it when there are so many pandas crowded at it?!  Note: The trick is to pan the camera as show and keep spamming right click on the top right corner of the scroll.  You will get it eventually.  Also, if too many pandas are standing on top of the quest giver, press SHIFT-V and interact with the NPC’s green name plate instead.”

New Monk Class

It has been a while since Blizzard releases a new class for World of Warcraft.  So I rolled a monk class.  This new class is quite possibly what I look forward to most when Mists is live.

Some online reviewers describe the new monk class plays like an arcade game, combo-like button meshing and all.  I was a bit weary when I first heard about.  After experienced 11 levels of playing a monk, it is not as dramatic.

True, there is no more auto attack.  It plays like a rogue and shares the same energy pool concept, except that the combo points are not with the enemy but upon the monk herself.  This new resource called Chi can be accumulated up to 4 points.  Chi does not dissipate over time, unless you log out.  Some abilities generate Chi while others consume it.  For example, at level 1, you can consume 40 energy, perform a Clobber, and whack your target with your weapon (in my case, a staff).  Clobber generates one Chi.  You can also consume a Chi and whack your target with your hand – Tiger Palm – while you regenerate energy.  Tiger Palm deals more damage when the target is above 50% health.  So common sense would tell you to whack your enemy with your palm at the beginning of the encounter.  Perhaps even unload your Tiger Palm at that early stage when you have excess Chi.

Once your enemy drops below 35%, you can perform a Blackout Kick that has a 3 second cool down.  Blackout Kick consumes 2 Chi and it refunds 1 Chi if the target is dead by your kick.  So in effect, it would consume 1 Chi if you kick properly.  The so-called combo move is really how you wish to optimize your abilities based on the target’s health.  You cannot spam Clobber because that consumes energy.  You cannot spam Tiger Palm because that consumes Chi.  And you cannot spam Blackout Kick because not only does it consume Chi, it has a cool down.  With a potential to specialize into tank, melee damage, and heal, the new monk class sounds interesting.

All you need to do is pray that you don’t lag.  Because there is no auto-attack to save you.

“The artwork of the new pandaren starting area is colorful and beautiful.”

The Pandaria Artwork and Quests

While I am not overly excited by the oriental theme (strange eh given my background?), the artwork is colorful and beautiful.  A lot of work must have poured into the new starting area.  The oriental music background sounds good too. Unlike the Cataclysm new races’ starting areas, in this upcoming expansion, Blizzard has minimized phasing technology so much so that it does not matter at which stage of the quest line you are at, you can always see your friends.

Truth be told, I am not against phasing technology.  The downside is that the world around you seems a lot emptier than it really is.  Players at a different stage of the quest don’t necessarily see each other’s presence.  Till today, I still think that the goblin’s starting area is the best, out of all.  Tight storytelling, full of colors and insane humor.  Questing in the new pandaren starting area appeared to be a bit bland, initially.

“OK, I need three carrots and three turnips.  Where shall I begin?”

The quests in pandaren staring area can generally be broken down into a few types.

  1. Help someone to kill some unpleasant enemies.
  2. Help someone to collect some useful items.
  3. Take someone to somewhere.
  4. Go somewhere with someone.
  5. Defeat a mini boss.

#1 and #2 often go hand-in-hand.  So in Mists, you can almost predict what your next quests are going to be.  To be honest, I yawned (staying up till wee hours trying to defeat server lag didn’t help).  But I got through them nonetheless.

“What is this creature following my panda?!”

Maybe I am getting too old for this expansion.  Mists seems to have a playful undertone to the entire setup, unlike the previous expansions.  You wake some creatures up.  Play with some creatures.  As a pandaren, you start off as a neutral race.  You get to interact with two pandaren NPCs that are supposed to help you decide if you wish to join the Horde or the Alliance at the end of your journey as an initiate.  Later in your starting area, you get to interact with traditional Horde and Alliance races as well.  I wish Blizzard could work more quests into this part of the journey, to give players a better sense of which fraction their way of life is to be.  As of now, it feels a bit too shallow.

In retrospect, I really enjoyed the blood elf and draenei starting areas.  The quests take you to around level 20 and reward you with some good blue quality items.  For pandaren starting area, provided that everything stays the same as beta, you will get to level 11, and wear a set of white inferior items.

I am quite a sad panda.

“When you roll a panda, you start on top of a giant turtle who has a Chinese name.”

Closing Thoughts

I must admit that I am not overwhelmed with the new race’s starting area.  Maybe because I was not playing with my friends and the server lag was understandingly horrible (no complain on the latter).  The new female pandaren artwork is a bit too cute and plump to my taste.  The overall artwork though, is beautiful.  The quests are still linear, not much innovation I have seen except the one you have to stand on top of a log to dual with other NPC monks.  The entire journey, coupled with the server lag, took me 5 hours to complete.  That includes reading the quest text.  By then I have chosen which side I am on.  When this is live, I would not expect anyone to spend more than 3 to 4 hours on this starting area, which is kind of short.

The new monk class though, sounds promising.  Now, I wish we have tri-spec instead of dual-spec.

“My life is for Horde!  Hellscream took me in with open arms, not without a very scary and lengthy speech (or wall of text).  When will Blizzard give us more voice acting?”

Mass Effect 3: First 40 Hours, What A Blast

Books and movies tell us stories of heroes whom we may or may not be able to relate.  Video gamers are at the frontier of active entertainment.  When you play an epic game like Mass Effect, you write your story.  You make your decisions and live with the consequences.  No longer are you sitting back at your sofa or bed reading or watching a story unfolds.  You are the story.  It is your world that is in jeopardy and it is your galaxy that you are going to save.  You lay waste to the enemies at the battlefield.  You engage in a romantic relationship in the mist of this galactic warfare, making friends and enemies along the way, and making difficult decisions whereby morality is not as black and white as you would hope.  You are Commander Shepard.  You can be male or female, straight or not.  You can make your Shepard looks completely different from the Shepard your neighbor is playing.  It is a franchise not to be missed.  So, game on!

Single Player Mode

“Make no mistake.  This is girl power!” – A screenshot taken from within the game.

If my memory serves me right, the first installment was released five years ago.  Then we have the second installment released in year 2010.  For many fans, this space-role-playing-game-slash-first-person-shooter franchise has been a long affair.  Decisions made in Mass Effect are carried forward to Mass Effect 2.  And now, Mass Effect 3.

Are you new to this franchise?  Here is what you are going to do.  Start with Mass Effect 3.  Preferable get the Digital Collector’s Edition (From Ashes DLC is a must).  You get to experience the climatic ending of a trilogy.  Since you have not played the previous games, the background story has been defaulted for you.  There is enough in-game codex for you to catch up on the lore and technology.  Once you are done with the first play through, go back to the original Mass Effect.  Finish it and import the saved game into Mass Effect 2.  Make sure you buy the Arrival DLC (downloadable content).  I regret missing that important story link.  Then play Mass Effect 3.  The experience will be more holistic.  But that will certainly take a longer time.

Besides the benefit of carrying through your stories across the installments, when you import your first game into the second, you get a little boost to your character’s level and resources.  And when you import your second into the third, you get a massive level jump of 30.  That is pretty neat and rewarding.

“OK, I see a Reaper.  I ain’t gonna down that thing, am I?”

The original Mass Effect has its charm.  I in particularly like how immerse the game is.  In order to explore a foreign planet, you land onto one with a vehicle.  Some terrains are so irregular that navigating would be a pain if you fail to observe the best possible path.  You get out of a vehicle to interact with the environment.  You could talk to your teammates during any mission.  Back then, the technology was so advanced that no ammunition was required.  You could shoot as long as your weapon did not overheat.  There was inventory management.  You got to modify your weapons, assign weapons to your teammates.  It was a role playing game in space, with a bit of shooting.  The ending moves me to tears, every time I experience it.

“Check out the field of depth in Mass Effect 3.  This game is an art.”

Mass Effect 2 has turned into a first person shooter first, role playing second.  I like the original Mass Effect a lot, and felt somewhat betrayed.  Ammunition (or rather thermal clips) – the hallmark of a shooter game – was and still is a must.  God knows why enemies left behind ammunition all over the floor for you to pick up and shoot them with.  At the end of each mission, there is a scoreboard to tell you how well you performed.  Loading screens replaced elevator rides that were used to be an opportunity for news announcement.  You could not talk to your teammates during missions.  Planet exploration has turned into scanning through the terrain thousands feet above ground.  All these shooter friendly mechanics killed the immersion, just a little bit.  The ending did not move me.  I played once, and stopped.  Mass Effect 2 is still good.  The story in between is compelling.  The computer graph is beautiful.

“Space traveling is like previous installments.  Scanning planets though has an overhaul.”

Mass Effect 3 so far seems to be a happy medium of the two previous installments.  From the role playing view point, there are enough side missions to keep me happy.  The dialog is lively.  I cannot help but chuckle at some private jokes (like Conrad on thermal clips).  Each dialog has at least two types of responses: paragon or renegade.  You can be a ruthless Shepard.  Or a nicer Shepard.  There are big decisions to be made.  What I like about this installment is that prior to that decision, you get to see things in different perspectives.  At times, that turns the decision making process even harder than it already is.  Characters who survive the last two episodes according to your actions and decisions make a return to Mass Effect 3.  Romance can be rekindled.  All those people you have saved in the past?  They are going to lend a helping hand either directly or indirectly.  One noteworthy improvement on this third installment is that characters move around quite a fair bit in and out of the ship.  Most of them are no longer stationary at the same location waiting for you to have a conversation.  Some may even have a conversation between themselves.

“Centered to the galactic survival is the War Assets.  Commander Shepard must travel all over the Milky Way to rally support.”

In Mass Effect 3, everything you do – be it as main or side missions – contribute to the chance of success ‘when the time comes’.  The story begins with Earth being under attack by the Reaper – a mechanical race that purges organic life forms in cycles.  In fact, the entire galaxy is under siege.  As Commander Shepard, you must leave Earth and rally the support from all alien races, friends and foes, to save Earth.  Given the political complexity of the different races, it can be a tedious and dedicate matter.  Those numbers add up.  Every trooper you add into the War Assets matters.  Even the most insignificant mission seems significant when looking at the overall picture.

“Overlay on top of the War Assets is Galactic Readiness.  If co-op mission is not your cup of tea, 50% of readiness is all you get.  But fear not, according to BioWare, you can still have a good ending if you complete enough missions in the single player game.”

By default, on the single player mode, galactic readiness is set at 50%.  You may be able to gather 10,000 strength.  But effectively, you get half of it.  To boost it, you have to play co-op missions.  Fortunately, even as someone who hates co-op first person shooter mode, I love Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode.  Before I get there, let’s talk about the combat.

I am not a fan of first person shooter.  So I struggled a great deal with Mass Effect 2.  In Mass Effect 3, it is even harder.  I have to take cover, jump over obstacles, dodge, and sprint.  On top of that, I have to aim and shoot and use my bionic power.  Some may disagree.  But I find the control a bit clunky.  My character somehow does not do what I want all the time.  I get stuck in cover, wanting to run through door only to find myself going in cover, and etc.  But I live.  I learn to cope with the mechanic and enjoy the game.

“Weapons now come with a level.  And you can modify them as well.”

Another reason why I feel that this installment is a good middle ground between the previous two is that weapons now come with a level, and means to modify them as well.  I sense a better incremental progression without the headache of inventory management.  Because the total number of weapons you carry adds onto your weight.  That inversely affects the recharge time of the bionic power.  Hence, there is a trade off on what to bring to the battlefield.  This varies between different classes of course.

Multiplayer Mode

Not in a million years would I imagine myself liking the multiplayer aspect of the game.  I am not a competitive first person shooter.  And I don’t like shooting other people.  In Mass Effect 3, multiplayer is a co-op mission.  Four players go against the enemies in 11 waves that last around 20 minutes.  It is fast pace, action filled, and quite honestly, doable.  Even for a novice like I am.  I have so much fun that lately, I spend more time playing co-op mission than the single player mission.

“In co-op mode, you don’t get to play as Shepard (thank God, imagine the otherwise).  You are one of the foot soldiers who answer to Shepard’s call and stand against the enemies.”

Co-op missions are rewarding.  There are three ratings – gold, silver, and bronze – according to difficulty level.  If your team succeed, you receive a heap of experience points and credits.  Credits can be used to purchase rewards that may include one time use items, better weapons, and unlocked characters.  Receiving the same weapon increases the weapon’s level.  Receiving the same race, sex, and class combo gives you experience bonus.  You can take control of multiple characters of different classes.  Once one of the characters reach the level cap of 20, you may promote him or her to the single player story and add that into War Assets.  This action increases your leader board rating as well.  More importantly, each co-op mission you complete ups the galactic readiness.  From my experience, it does not take long to get that index from 50% to 100%.

“There are four types of packs that cost a certain amount of credits, or even real money.  You may gamble for an expensive pack for a better chance of getting some good rewards.  Or you could go for the cheap Recruit Pack to quickly level your weapons and mods.”

In Summary

Initially, I wanted to continue my First Eight Hours series with Mass Effect 3.  That is proven to be impossible.  I spent the first eight hours admiring the in-game artwork, talking to other in-game characters, and refreshing my knowledge of the lore with in-game codex.  Completing missions now require you to pay good attention to the dialog.  Combat mechanic has also become more complex.  Even the planet scanning mini-game requires me to run like hell when my ship is spotted by the Reapers.  All in all, Mass Effect 3 is, to me, the hardest of the three installments.  But once I get over the initial learning curve, I am cruising and enjoying the journey.  I like both the single and co-op aspects.  I do not know when I will finish this game.  When I do, I will certainly discuss the ending here.  No spoiler on the comment section please!

“The female version of my Commander Shepard looks like this.  What about yours? How does he or she look like?”

 

Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning – The First Eight Hours

“My name is Cara.  I was dead and am resurrected at the Well of Souls.  I am reborn with no destiny, thanks to the gnomes.  I am the fateless one.  And I choose my destiny.  I cannot remember my past, nor do I know what my future will bring.  Where is the Well of Souls?  Destroyed, perhaps.  I could be the last mortal in Amalur who has cheated death.  You may say all things happen for a reason.  Why does this happen to me?  I honestly do not know.”

Finally, Kingdoms of Amalar (KoA) is out.  I have started playing the minute the game is live and have clocked in eight hours of play time so far.  I reckon the first eight hours into a game gives us a good feel as in whether or not we shall continue investing our time into playing it.  Hence, I am starting a new First Eight Hours series in my website.  If time permits, I shall write a first forty hours follow-up and post it here.

I doubt KoA would satisfy all the role playing gamers out there.  Even Skyrim – recently awarded Game of the Year by AIAS – may have drawn a fair share of criticism that may or may not work for some.  Below are my observations.  Does KoA work for you?  Only you can decide.

Engaging Combat System

My take after playing the demo is still valid.  I have not seen a combat system quite like KoA in any role playing game.  Using a gamepad for the PC platform is highly recommended.  Because of the flexible character development, you can possibly find a balance that suits your play style.  Special moves can be unlocked.  With the dodging and blocking, charging and slashing, very soon, you may find that you are playing an arcade game.  Yes, all combats happen in real time.  There is no pausing and re-positioning.  You roll, you hack, you slash, and you loot.

Open World, Vast but not that Vast

Some say KoA is an open world.  Some say it is merely zones connected by narrow tunnels.  However you see it, KoA does require a fair bit of walking and exploration.  If you feel that walking is too inefficient, you could sprint.  If you feel that sprinting is not good enough, you could open up the world map and perform a fast travel.

The zones are not that vast.  You do not need to comb through a huge area to look for that something.  It is less likely that you will get lost.  It does not feel too empty like some other open world role playing games I have played.  There are always packs of enemies lurking somewhere, guarding some treasure chests.  Some enemies may spawn from nowhere and charge onto you.  There are herbs to collect, and other mini-games to play such as lock picking and dispel.  Enemies seem to respawn at a regular interval.   So there is no shortage of loots and gold, experience points and action.

“Ah, the great outdoor!”

Artwork has a Cartonish Feel

Some despise gaming environment that is too cartoonish, say it is too dated.  Some dig it.  I happen to love how the fantasy world is painted in KoA, as I am a big fan of World of Warcraft.  Since I have only played the game for eight hours, there are two towns I have seen.  One is colorful and shiny like the picture above.  The other is gloomy and dark, full of spider webs.  I can understand why some may prefer artwork to have more realism.  While I am on the topic of graphics, the retail version has a much higher quality than the demo version.

A Game for the Casuals?

Should games be hard?  As hard as, say, Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls?  Some enjoy dying a million times before seeing the ending.  A true test of skill and concentration.  Some prefer playing a game to relax.  The normal mode of KoA is accessible.  My character has yet to die once.  There were some hair rising moments, including a curse that indefinitely zapped my mana and rendered my character incapable of casting any spell until she visited a healer.  But with a bit of dodging and a bit of potion drinking, my character seems to do fine.  Some gamers find the normal mode too easy.  And they find the hard mode too easy too.  If you are one of those, there are always ways to make such a game very challenging.  Inspiration can be drawn from here.

Questing and Questing, Wait, Where is the Main Story?

Coming from the background of a massively multiplayer online game, I find the questing structure of KoA perfectly acceptable.  Each town is a questing hub.  You get to talk to the town folks, learn the town history from different perspectives.  Some may need help from you.  You may ignore and continue pursuing your main quest.  Or you should spend time doing some side quests.  Of the eight hours I have poured in, ignoring the beginning bit that is more like a tutorial, the time I get to experience the main story is very minimal.  There seems to be so much to do.  It take a quality assurance game tester 200 hours to test out all the quests on easy mode, skipping all the dialogues.  It would probably take more than 300 hours to complete everything, if I so choose to.

I have not completed many quests so far, just a handful because it does take time even to tackle one.  Some do have memorable stories provided that you have the patience to listen through the scripts.  I do.  Because I want to know what I am doing, why I am doing things.  For those who prefer to skip through the audio dialogue, these quests would likely be reduced to the common tpes of kill and collect, collect and kill, FedEx, and escort.

Also, because this game encourages open questing, the main story may not seem as tight as those that are scripted linearly.  Pros and cons, for either approach.  I enjoy both extreme.

“OK then, let’s talk.”

PC Version or Console?

I don’t really have a choice.  Because KoA and FF13-2 are released in the same time period, I play FF13-2 on PS3 when Cynthia is not watching TV and I play KoA on PC when she is.  PC provides a higher resolution but requires you to be seated quite near to the monitor, unlike playing console games on a large flat panel TV.  I play KoA through Origin and my progress is saved onto the cloud online.  You can also take screenshot on a PC.  For trophy lovers, you can more easily brag about your achievements on a console platform, or if you play via Steam.  On PC, the switch between keyboard + mouse and gamepad is seamless.  I don’t think playing KoA using only keyboard + mouse is a wise decision.

I am inclined to say that for some, the console version may be slightly better.  Field of View and Level of Detail – both are hot topics on the forum, a concern for the PC gamers.  KoA may be more tuned to console gaming, from the graphics point of view.  Playing KoA on a PC may cause motion sickness.  I would strongly advised you to play as far from the screen as you can.  And yes, a gamepad would help.  KoA is not a first-person-shooter.  You don’t need to spin your view that fast.

Fancy a Re-spec?

I have not tried the re-spec function yet.  But I read that it is possible to reset all your point allocation and potentially play the game in a completely different way.  If stealth is not your cup of tea, no problem, try out a magic caster, or a strong melee.  If you don’t like your skill specialization, reset it!  If you don’t like a hybrid class and want to try out a pure class, pay some gold and get it done!

For my first play through, I have picked a three-way hybrid class.  She is certainly not the most powerful being in Amalur.  What to wear has always been a struggle (armors are itemized to the pure classes).  But I enjoy a bit of flexibility.  Because I cannot decide.

Did I Mention Player’s Housing?

Without giving away too much spoiler, yes, you can have a house of your own.  You can even pay someone to upgrade your home by stages.  There is a stash that store your hard earned loots.  A mirror that allows you to change your appearance.  Your home is going to be very functional too.  You will see.

“Welcome to my home in Amalur!  There is a bedroom upstairs and a basement below too.”

Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning – A Demo Play

Update Feb 7, 2012: I have pre-ordered the game and have started playing since last evening at eleven.  The graphics display is so much better than the demo version.  I use a game pad (Xbox Controller) on a PC version.  All the clumsiness of the keyboard and mouse control has gone!  Yes, use a game pad to play this game.  And if you are put off buy the demo quality, I am happy to say that the full game version is so much better.

I have not heard of Reckoning until recently, when the media starts to pick up on this upcoming western role playing game.  Some label this as one of the most anticipated games in 2012.  Wow, really?  So I gave the demo a try.  Now, before I get into that, here is a little background for you.  Lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Ken Rolston is the executive designer of Reckoning.  Fantasy author R.A. Salvatore writes the lore and Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, creates the artwork.  In 2009, THQ sold Big Huge Game – the then developer of this game – to 38 Studios, which is owned by former baseball pitcher Curt Schilling.  And EA Game is the publisher for Reckoning.  I think so far so good except the last bit.  I am not a fan of EA Game (recently broke the $1 billion mark in 2011 by the way).  While I am pretty sure EA Game will destroy any sequel Kingdoms of Amalur may have – as how they destroy the Dragon Age franchise and more – let’s enjoy Reckoning while it lasts.

Reckoning is a vast open world western role playing game with an engaging combat system.  It plays almost like a hybrid of Oblivion and God of War.  Because the executive designer comes from The Elder Scrolls, Reckoning has a distinct Oblivion feel.  I have not played Skyrim.  Reckoning appears to have fixed a lot of annoyance I found in Oblivion.  I don’t need to keep jumping or walking in stealth in order to gain level.  Lock picking seems less frustrating.  Spell casting and melee fight appears to be more seamless.  It is so much easier to target, execute the moves in arcade style, dodge out of the danger, and continue to hack and slash, mixing magic with brutal melee attacks.  And the dialogues?  They have brought in the experts from Dragon Age team to help.  Hence the strong resemblance.  Although I must say, try not to expect the same level of cause-and-effect as it is in the Mass Effect universe.

There are four playable races.  Two look like human race while the other two look like elves.  You don’t get to pick a class, but rather you may specialize into might, finesse, and sorcery abilities.  That roughly maps to a warrior class, a rogue class, and a wizard class.  You can also have a hybrid of two, or even three.  According to the interviews I have read so far, hybrid classes are totally viable.  And you get to reset your choices in-game, if you so wish to.  In another word, you don’t have to get stuck with a character development that you may have regretted.

Specializing into finesse can be very satisfying.  As a rogue like class, you can eliminate your enemy with one-shot (that comes with decent animation).  I  have also tried a wizard like class.  For these sort of games, I often find it hard to survive as a magic player.  Reckoning‘s combat system makes it somewhat easier.  But I still prefer a strong melee warrior type of character.  I am just not too good at button mashing.

This game will be available on Feb 7 for the three gaming platforms.  I feel that the game play may flavor the use of a controller, rather than keyboard and mouse.  I have tried the PC demo.  It does require my fingers to be quite acrobatically agile.  To sprint, I need to toggle the left control key while performing the traditional WAD mashing.  To execute the reckoning nuke move, I need to press and hold the X key while moving around and mashing both the keyboard and the mouse.  There is no jumping in Reckoning (boo?).  Pressing space bar enables your character to dodge at a direction you desire (yes, more button mashing).  Some dislike the menu system.  It does require quite a few clicks to get to where I want and quite a few ESC buttons to get back to the game.  Because of the traditional inventory management system like any good old role player game has, I tend to visit the menu quite often to equip items during game play.  I wish they could streamline how items can be equipped rather than the need to click through different categories in order to equip them.

I have played the demo twice.  The game is certainly growing on me.  The lore seems interesting and the encounters are refreshing.  According to the developers, if you are to play Reckoning on easy mode skipping all the dialogues, it will take you 200 hours to complete all the quests.  This is one very lengthy game, be warned!

  • Click here to view in-game images (with captions).

If you find the demo unplayable, you are not the only one.  EA Game has sent the 3 months old code (prior to reaching gold standard) to a third party to package into a demo version.  The result is a disaster.  This is so typical of EA Game of course.  On one end of the spectrum, we have games like Diablo III whereby the demo or beta is almost flawless.  The game takes forever to be released.  On the other end of the spectrum, we have Reckoning whereby the demo is so broken that it leaves many on the fence.  Shall I pre-order or shall I not?  Ken Rolston is right about one thing though.  EA Game does generate the buzz as promise.  I hope it is a good buzz.  If you have time, you may wish to read Curt Schilling’s sincere apology.  That post moves me.  According to one official game reviewer, the game in its released form plays smoothly, with no issue.  So it could well be the demo’s poor quality and not the full game.  Back to the PC demo, if you have a black screen problem (like I did), go to video setting and disable the post-processing option.  If you are unable to connect to EA server and claim your bonus items should you buy a full game, open the personal.ini file located in your document directory, wipe away the “blaze_email” entry, and restart the demo.  This should solve your problem.

PS. Reckoning is the title of the last episode of Legend of the Seeker season one.  In that episode, the Seeker’s eyes send out beams of light, just like in this game.  And in this game, the destiny card for a character that generalizes into three abilities is coincidentally called the “Seeker”.

Diablo III Beta – Part 1: First Impression

I am grateful, to say the least, when I received a beta key from Asiasoft, the new distributor of Blizzard Entertainment games in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.  Thank you Asiasoft!  I tried to ask when the Collector’s Edition of Diablo III will arrive in Singapore and they said Soon™.  It’s OK.  I am a patience man.  I have been anticipating this game since 2008 when Blizzard first put up a site for Diablo III.  Apparently, I was too optimistic back then to think that the wait was over.  The wait is still going on.

For this beta testing (patch 5), we are free to choose any of the five available classes and play through one satisfying mission.  I picked a female monk because she is likely to be the hottest character in Diablo.  Besides, in the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, a new monk class will be introduced.  I am all hyped up for the year of the monks.

“Picture speaks a 1,000 words”

I have played Diablo II.  That was back in 2000.  If you love Diablo II, it is without a doubt that you would love this sequel.  The familiarity is overwhelming.  But yet, there are enough improvements to impress.  It  is like Starcraft II.  The game still plays like the original version, despite the fact that so much have changed in a positive way.

Diablo III is a third person role play game.  Interaction with in-game characters (or non-player classes) are fully voice animated.  There is no need to read the quest texts.  You can engage a two-way conversation with humans you see (in the Universe of Diablo, non-humans are bad).  Or as you get closer to people, you may overhear a conversation.  Now that we are on the topic of music and sound, the soundtrack matches with the mood of the game too.  You can always make out if there is danger ahead, or an upcoming plot to be revealed as the music transits to a new theme.  If you pay attention, you can always hear something luring in the background you even them.  Fortunately, at a low level, these monsters are quite a push over.  These ‘warning’ messages build up my anticipation rather than fear.

“It is often peace in town”

For the first 10 levels, I can practically play it through using only two mouse buttons.  I enjoy the simplicity.  Left click anywhere on the ground moves the character.  At a low level, I can map two abilities to the two mouse buttons.  At the highest level, the number of abilities I can bring to the battlefield is six out of a total of twenty.  Hence, all we really need is two mouse buttons and a keypad of one to four.

You may say: This really seems too easy!  Quite rightly so.  It appears to me that deep within the core of Diablo is still pretty much a hack-and-slash type of game.  However, because the different combinations of abilities we have, the play style can be different.  For example, I can pick a main ability (as a monk), to hit the enemies from afar.  More like a combo style as in each subsequent hit increases the distance required of the next attack.  And as for the ability that consumes my monk’s resource – spirit – I could pick an area of effect by knocking back the enemies, keeping them close but not that close.  Or even a decoy that has an area of effect explosion after a few good seconds of taunting the enemies onto it.  For the third ability, I could pick a buff or mantras that increases the chance of dodge for my party and I.  And if balanced type of combat is not your cup of tea, you could mix the combinations and go for a more offensive approach.

Since Diablo III is a co-op type of game capable of putting four players into a single party, it will come a time whereby you would want to pick abilities or classes that compliment each other.  That is when the complexity kicks in, I suppose.

“Choose wisely!”

I will not be able to cover all aspects of Diablo III Beta in one post.  I intend to share with you more as I dive deeper into the beta testing.  One last topic I would like to cover is crafting.  Looting and crafting is a main feature of the Diablo franchise.  I can’t exactly recall the inventory management system of Diablo II.  But I suspect it is somewhat like you loot and loot and eventually your inventory is full.  You then have to open a portal, return to your home town, clear some space in your inventory, and then return to where you were via a portal.  Diablo III has that facility too.  But it also allows you to savage your unwanted loots on the fly into components that stack.  And then you can use these components to craft items.  Simply put, if the god of RNG (random number generator) hates you, you still have a good chance to get what you want.

I have put up a small photo album in Google+.  You can view the screenshot here.  Patch 6 is out this morning.  Stay tuned for more sharing!

 “So I crafted a pair of fist items for my monk (who is now vanished as the new patch arrives)”