Skip navigation

First of all – holy moly, is it that long since I posted anything? Almost three months, and I usually try and post something at least once each calendar month. Fairly busy at work as always, and I’ve been playing a lot of (very casual) WoW after a break of 8 years, which has been fun but not something that generates a lot of brilliant, original insights I want to share as the WoW levelling experience has been pretty well chronicled on a few other blogs out there. The few big ideas I have been mulling over seem to deserve longer posts and more attention than I’ve been able to summon the energy for recently so I have to wait for an opportunity to do them justice.

In the meanwhile, the Warcraft movie opened here in the UK today. Without wanting to spoil anything as most readers won’t have seen it yet, here are my initial thoughts on the movie:

  • It’s nowhere near as bad as some of the early reviews would have you believe. I was entertained throughout the two hour running time, and I don’t consider myself a raving WoW fanboy. That’s not to say it’s a great movie, and I went in with a fair amount of Warcraft lore knowledge so I may not have the WTF reaction that the completely uninitiated might have, nonetheless some of the harsher reviews seem unfair. I’m convinced that there’s a “turkey conspiracy” effect where every so often the professional movie critics form a consensus to utterly slate a movie that doesn’t really deserve it, just to prove that they aren’t soft touches handing out high marks to everything that comes along. John Carter was another example – not a classic but entertaining enough, but savaged and left for dead by the press. It would be a shame if the movie flopped, not on its own merits, but because too many reviewers felt they had to burnish their “not a nerd” credentials at its expense.
  • This is definitely a ‘proper’ Warcraft movie, not a Uwe Boll style ‘Warcraft in name only’ cash-in like some videogame adaptations. There are lots of little shout-outs to the world of the games (spot the murloc!), as is to be expected when you see the Blizzard logo right up front and a number of familiar names in the credits. Lots of familiar locations, lots of familiar architecture, the orcs are spot on in appearance and the arcane magic looks suitably arcane
  • The look and feel of the world is very much in the Warcraft style whilst being adapted to the use of live action – if you look at the early WoW cinematic trailers (i.e. the ones for vanilla and Burning Crusade) you’ll get a good feel for how this looks. It makes a nice change from the grubby shades of mud style that pretty much every fantasy movie in the last few years has adopted in an attempt to hijack the Game of Thrones grimdark mystique.
  • Travis Fimmel needed to be taken aside and told that he’s not playing Ragnar Lothbrok, so he can drop the accent and the head-tilting that he brought with him from the set of Vikings. No real complaints about any of the other performances – nothing really stand-out either, although I will say some of the orc actors managed to deliver some pretty good characterisation even through the CGI.

On the whole, as I say, I was entertained. For me, it’s a three stars out of five movie and one I’d be happy to pick up on DVD or watch on Netflix. Since it is based on events from the original Warcraft game and doesn’t even touch on Warcraft 2 or 3, never mind World of Warcraft, it’s wide open for a sequel and should one be made I’d be happy to go and see that.


My gaming PC has served me well, but it’s old and well overdue for upgrades. It plays WoW well enough (well, my toaster can probably run WoW), has no problems with GW2, even Blade & Soul runs just fine – but it doesn’t meet the minimum specs for Black Desert Online (mostly down to the graphics card), for example.

It did play The Elder Scrolls Online just fine until yesterday. I’ve recently re-installed ESO as part of my ongoing reorganisation of hard disk storage, since I’ve found most MMOs will in fact work just fine off an external hard disk drive so the games which had been purged to free up internal drive space are making a comeback. Unfortunately, ESO’s latest update includes a move to requiring a DX11 graphics card. Having logged in for the first time in months over the weekend, I thought I’d spend a bit of time running around and having a look at some of the earlier DLC. Since the update, however, the game won’t even launch.

Sigh. It’s not that a new card is insurmountably expensive (I could have a perfectly suitable one of the price of a new game), nor is it exactly difficult for me to fit the card – I might be a manager and before that a software specialist, but sliding a card into a slot is within even my capabilities. It’s just a hassle. Still, on the upside a DX11 card will let me play the latest incarnation of Tropico as well and that’s definitely cheaper than a Caribbean holiday…

No, I’ve not succumbed to mad cow disease… just a touch of mad galactic emperor disease since Wargaming’s reboot of Master of Orion is now available in an Early Access form on both Steam and which is where I got my copy with a small discount for having previously bought MOO1 and 2 from them (the previous incarnations of the game are all bundled in with the ‘collector’s edition’ which is the only one available for early access). I note that this game isn’t called MOO 4 – they seem to be pretending MOO 3 never happened, an impression reinforced by the developer videos on the website where they talk about all the lessons and features carried forward from the first two games and never even mention their disappointing younger sibling.

So what’s it like, and what do the dreaded words ‘early access’ mean in this case? Well, it’s almost feature complete, stable, and pretty. Only about half the races are in the game so far, the espionage system is missing – which means there are a few technologies and colony buildings available in-game that do nothing at the moment – and you can’t score a scientific or diplomatic victory yet. It’s got be dominance via a commanding vote on the galactic council, or bloody conquest. There’s no option to vary the difficulty level yet, but it seems to be in the right sort of zone for me as it stands (probably too easy for hardened players as high settings on these games usually hand me my head). AI needs a bit of a tweak, I would say. As it stands, AI players never invade and conquer planets, they always bomb them clean of life, and the logic they use in diplomatic negotiations is a bit bizarre. Specifically, if you want to offer peace terms, what they ask for is based on how much they hate you and not on the current balance of power. This makes the North Koreans look like the epitome of rational enlightened discourse at times…

ME: Alkari leader, you are on the verge of defeat! All of your colonies are lost, your fleets have been blasted to dust, and your homeworld is orbited by my Doom Star and half a dozen titans, each large and powerful enough to bombard your people to extinction by opening their garbage chutes, never mind actually using antimatter bombs. At this final hour, I offer you my hand in peace. Will you accept?

ALKARI: Featherless scum! We will have peace only if you cede to me eight of your most productive colonies, all of the money in your treasury, backbreaking ongoing tribute and a laundry list of really cool tech!

ME: Fleet commander… set the antimatter bombs to ‘extra crispy’ and fire at will.

Niggles aside though, it really is a fun game that plays well… it plays very much like the classic MOO 2 spruced up for the modern era. One major difference is that tactical ship battles run in real time (with a pause function) which takes a little getting used to but can look truly cool if you zoom into the action. Production standards are high, this is clearly a game that Wargaming have lavished some of their oodles of World of Tanks money on, and in my view it’s money well spent. The voice cast has a string of familiar names including Alan Tudyk, Michael Dorn and Mark Hamill… who has way more lines in Master of Orion than he had in the last Star Wars film.

Belghast has also had a play with this game and seems fairly impressed. I’ll be keeping an eye on it to see how it polishes up for release.

Over at Bio Break, Syp is asking if healers should be pressured into DPSing. At the risk of being monstrously unfair to Syp, I’m going to go with “well, duh!” because you aren’t there to heal, you’re there to help your group complete the dungeon. If you’re playing a specialised healing class then yeah, keeping people alive is the most important part of your contribution, but as long as you’ve got that covered you should always be on the lookout for ways to help out the team. That’s what teamwork is, everyone pulling together (gung ho as the US Marine Corps has it) rather than standing back and going “can’t do that squire. Not in my job description. Union rules, innit?”*

Yeah, I am being unfair to Syp. He doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who would say that, and I’m not a huge fan of the optimisation-mad crowd who harangue their teammates in an attempt to shave eight seconds off the instance run time either. I’m just gobsmacked that this is even a question, and I think it relates to the recent posts by Keen and Bhagpuss about how a lot of MMO gameplay has simplified and streamlined roles (and a lot of other things). Modern games tend to expect you to perform one role, and one role only. The tank tanks, the healer heals, the DPS roll ‘need’ on everything they can. Each is very good at their job and sucks at everybody else’s. Older games were less stratified in roles, had more hybrtidisation and things were more likely to go pear-shaped but be recoverable by prompt action from the group. In DAoC the friar could stop meleeing and throw out some heals long enough to save the group; the mercenary, normally a melee DPS, had the tools to tank for a bit even if it did put a strain on the healers keeping him alive, and the cleric could smite (if he wasn’t 100% focused on saving the bloody merc’s worthless ass). If everyone pulled those trucks out at the right time, you could turn a bad pull into glorious victory. That’s unlikely to happen in WoW because the characters as so good at, and optimised, for their normal roles that assuming they’re doing content tuned for them, that’s all they can do. An enhancement shaman doesn’t bring the healing needed to keep a tank up through more than a light trash pull, and a combat rogue doesn’t have the tools or survivability to cover for a dead tank.

We’ve become very good at what we do, at the price of that being all that we can do. We don’t have to think about what we’re doing so much as focus on performing our assigned task as perfectly as possible. I view that as a loss, personally, and see it as devaluing the game experience… but that’s a whole other blog post.




  • for those younger than I am or from other parts of the world, the above quote  is a caricature of the British work ethic c. 1975.

My local Tesco superstore has a range of Star Wars themed birthday cards for sale. This includes one addressed to “Dad”, with a picture of Kylo Ren on it.

Have they SEEN The Force Awakens?

I picked up the DVD of The Martian today. There’s an advertising flyer for potatoes inside the case…

Count me amongst the horde of bloggers who have downloaded Blade and Soul. Others, such as Bhagpuss, have given a much better overview of the game than I will attempt to here. Suffice to say that I found the game not without interest, but not with enough interest to become part of my regular repertoire. The high point was the combat, which felt like a fighting game and has a nice flow to it, with all sorts of interesting combos you can set up with your abilities (which the game does a decent job of teaching you via a series of ‘training room’ missions interwoven into the early part of the story) and quite a decent control system of contextual controls. Rather than having a shedload of abilities on a shedload of keybinds that you have to remember (a la SWTOR), or the limited set of abilities normal to an action MMO (such as ESO), B&S has a shedload of abilities on a handful of keys, with keys mapping to a different ability based on the situation. So, for example, the ‘F’ key allows you stomp enemies who are down, or comes up to activate an ‘on critical hit’ skill after landing a crit. Neat.

Downsides for me really came down to the art style, which veers between highly-realistic (apart from the OTT jiggling) human models to extremely cartoonish looking characters standing side by side, some frustration with the ‘wheel of fortune’ loot system and the fact that pretty much all loot items have to be unlocked before being used, lack of engagement with the story, and the fact that there’s no open world to speak of that I can explore – just a story on rails that moves from set location to set location (at least as of level 15, where I stopped). The story is the hackneyed staple of wuxia – you are a martial arts student, bad person turns up and kills your master, you set out to avenge master. Possibly my problem is I came straight from playing through the Sith Warrior storyline again in SWTOR, which boils down to you going on a quest to kill your master yourself, so I couldn’t take my rip-roaring rampage of revenge here seriously. Still, there’s a decent game in B&S if you like that genre… it’s just not really for me.

De-installing B&S freed up 20 GB or so of much-needed hard disk space on my pitiful PC,  a figure that sounded oddly familiar. Then I remembered someone mentioning that was approximately the disk footprint of WoW these days. Which set off some musing… I managed to remember my password and check my account status. I last logged into WoW in 2009, and that was for a cursory session or two – I stopped playing WoW with any regularity in 2008. I have, in fact, not played WoW for two-thirds of the game’s lifespan. And sitting there, on the web page in front of me, was a button that would activate a 7 day trial of the current expansion for free…

So I’m playing around in Azeroth, doing low level content like the filthy casual I am these days. My highest level characters were level 70 when I stopped playing, and were both kitted out in awesome raid gear for their day – now of course they are mid-level characters who should be replacing all that stuff with Northrend green quality drops, or would be if I was playing them. I’m spending more time on my level 40 mage and level 60-something rogue, as well as creating new worgen and pandaren characters to see what their starting zones are like. Gameplay, and especially character customisation (hah! In so far as there is any!), evokes a feeling of “it’s WoW, but not as I know it”, and all the Cataclysm changes to the world are new to me. It’s strange, but not entirely unpleasant. Is it my ideal MMO? No, but it feels comfortable, like an old sweater. Being a middle-aged dad, I well understand the pleasure of sometimes just wearing that old sweater and relaxing with what is known rather than trying to scale the heights of fashion. Next week brings new and shiny SWTOR, of course, but this week maybe I’ll just try and remember my way around Orgrimmar.

No, not Victor Victoria

I’ve just been listening to some of my music purchases from last year – two of my favourite epic music outfits released public albums, Two Steps From Hell (Battlecry) and Immediate Music (Gates of Valhalla). By what I am sure is pure coincidence, one has a track called Victory and the other has Victorious, both with a similar sort of structure. For what it’s worth, it looks like the Immediate track is an older piece of library music and has only recently been put on a public album, while most of Battlecry was written specifically for that album. Both worth a listen, anyway.

Here’s Two Steps From Hell at the peak of their epic game:

And here’s Immediate Music’s take on the theme:

I saw The Force Awakens last night. Without wanting to spoil anything, I left the cinema happy and thought one of the over audience members I overheard nailed it when he described the film as “Star Wars in a nutshell”. I had re-watched the original movie (well, one of the versions butchered with gratuitous extra CGI, that being all that was available on DVD) just a couple of days before, so it was fresh in my mind for comparison. The original is, well, it’s a great film from the 70’s. I don’t have an automatic hate on for older films, but you would have to be blind not to notice that the film-making art has evolved over the years and Star Wars was a film of its era. I’m not just talking about the dodgy sideburns sported by far too many characters (which The Ancient Gaming Noob has already pointed out) but also the fight choreography, dialogue, cinematography – modern films do these things differently. TFA takes many of the story beats of the original film (a GREAT many of the story beats – while it’s not an exact remake, there are plenty of points in common) and makes the film in a modern style while keeping the good vs evil moral sensibilities that so often get jettisoned to make things ‘gritty’ but are at the heart of Star Wars (side note: Marvel films have a similar theme, where even though Tony Stark and Star Lord are flawed human beings they are still heroes who when push comes to shove do the right thing. These films sell tickets by the metric shitload. Maybe we aren’t as cynical a society as we like to pretend).

I also saw a fair few nods to The Old Republic, real or coincidental. Some of the scenes and landscapes in the film just look like something from SWTOR – watching Rey clamber round the crashed Star Destroyer on Jakku reminded me intensely of the Endar Spire on Taris. And in this film’s take on the cantina scene, one of the patrons looks awfully like SCORPIO. Which could be coincidence, could be a little nod to the game by reusing the look… or could be a bigger nod. We are talking about an effectively immortal self-upgrading droid/AI, after all.

Of course, if you look to the customer reviews and the SWTOR forums it’s easy enough to find people who hated the film. Some of it is hate for hate’s sake, of course, what one of the posters described as trying to muster cool cred but there are also real fans genuinely disappointed by the premise of the movie. A lot of them seem to be unhappy that the universe has moved on (people and things are NOT as Return of the Jedi left them thirty years ago) but it hasn’t moved on in the way the now-defunct Expanded Universe novels did – no Grand Admiral Thrawn, none of the tedious hack-work Jedi Academy, no invasion of the Force-immune You Suck Dong from beyond the galaxy… yeah, I’m not a fan of the EU In its entirety and I honestly believe that jettisoning it and going with a new storyline, which has some common elements with parts of the EU without being bound by all the crap which went with it, was the right decision.

My own main grumble is that the ultimate Big Bad, Supreme Leader Snoke, seems to be a lazy copy of Emperor Palpatine who has appeared from nowhere to take on the role of manipulative master of the Dark Side. As of RotJ we were all outta Sith, yet Snoke has apparently popped up to orchestrate the (now much more diverse) forces of evil and to train apprentices in the Dark Side. We can only hope that there is more to be revealed, but for now the copy/paste Dark Lord is the weakest element of the film for me.

I feel I’ve got my GW2 groove back, to some extent, playing around with the new elite specialisations in the expansion. For those who aren’t that close to the game – an elite spec is a bit like a prestige class in D&D (3rd edition) in that it unlocks after playing the base class and gives you the option of modifying it into a different or more specialised role. In GW2 it takes the place of one of the 3 specialisation lines you pick (so instead of a normal character choosing 3 out of 5 spec lines of talents, an elite has 2 out of 5 spec lines from the base class plus the elite line), requires a hellacious number of skill points to unlock all abilities and each elite spec gets access to a weapon type not available to the base class. While I’ve had good fun with the Reaper (a necromancer who picks up a greatsword and turns into an unstoppable force of melee destruction), my new true love is the Daredevil – a thief who uses martial arts type moves and delivers non-stop beatdown with a staff.

I’ve mentioned before my love of the Friar class in DAoC, and I’ve been searching for a worthy successor ever since. Rift came close by letting me build a melee cleric, but the problem was the staff models in the game. Like most fantasy MMOs, the staves in RIFT are ornate things with top-heavy decorations, suitable for wizards to brandish whilst yelling “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” but utterly impractical as melee weapons… even when wielded in melee (along with a sword!) in LotRO by that game’s wizard wannabes. GW2 gets around this by handing out a nice new simple -looking quarterstaff with your choice of stats immediately upon you unlocking the Daredevil specialisation. With this weapon I can smack, thwack, twirl through my enemies, swipe and dodge backwards, knock dust into my enemies’ faces to blind them or vault and smack down to deliver massive damage to an area. Add in a ‘utility’ skill that is basically the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique and I’m in love.

It almost makes up for the fact that my existing level 80 thief was a Charr, and the image of a 7foot tall, 500 pound cat demon monster bounding around doing staff vaults was so ludicrous that I had to roll a new, human alt for the purpose. Tullius Tremayne will have to remain a base thief and wait for a Sniper elite spec what uses rifles. Go on, ArenaNet – you know you want to.