PIXEL BURN – Titanfall, Dark Souls 2, Blizzard’s HoTS for MOBAs

In which Matt muses on MOBAs
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[TRANSCRIPT]

Hello my name’s Matt and this is Pixel Burn, where I look at some of the more important, interesting or irritating things that happened in gaming this week. But not before I apologise for the shameful lack of a Pixel Burn episode last week.

[“SORRY” TITLE CARD]

Right, that’s that out of the way! On with the show.

[LOADING SCREEN – TITANFALL FOOTAGE]

Lucky American gamers were able to spend a good chunk of this week riding giant robots, parkouring around and blowing the everloving crap out of each other in Titanfall, on PC and Xbox One. Europeans meanwhile had to wait two more days while us miserable plebs in the UK couldn’t jump into the fray until the 14th, even if we bought a digital version. Because Earths’ oceans somehow also magically exist on the internet, for reasons so stupid they make want to smash my head to a red wet pulp between two concrete blocks.

Oh well. At least it lets EA scale their server capacity up or down to better cope with all the demaHAHAHAHAHA.

[PICTURE OF SERVER ERRORS REPORT]

 Ah, I shouldn’t laugh really. As launches go Titanfall’s has actually been one of the smoother ones in recent years, going off without too much of a hitch or anyone complaining that it’s a broken buggy piece of codswallop *cough*Battlefield 4*cough*

 [DARK SOULS 2 FOOTAGE]

If you’re not playing Titanfall you may very well be playing Dark Souls 2, which also came out this week. Not that you ever need to ask a Dark Souls fan if they’re playing it because they’ll gladly tell you. Every ten seconds. Right up until you finally snap and start thrashing their genitals with a stick covered in wasps. Even then they’ll just complain you’re not hurting them as well as Dark Souls does. Because Dark Souls is all the joy of your childhood memories playing The Legend of Zelda blended with all the pain of a night out at Torture Garden. Or so Dark Souls fans would have us believe.

[DARK SOULS 1 FOOTAGE]

No, I still haven’t played Dark Souls 1 yet! Yes, I probably will eventually! Stop bloody harping on about it!

Anyhow, only PS3 and 360 owners are able to…ahem, “enjoy” Dark Souls 2 right now as the PC version isn’t due until April 25th. In the best of all possible worlds this delay would be to hone and polish the PC version of Dark Souls 2 to tailor it to the hardware. Just the way From Software didn’t whatso-bloody-ever for the PC version of Dark Souls 1, a port reputedly so lazy it took only a single modder – working in his spare time – to bring it up to scratch. According to Dark Souls 2’s producer Takeshi Miyazoe however, From Software is actually putting in the effort this time with support for higher resolutions, higher framerates and other PC-only goodies.

[HEARTHSTONE FOOTAGE]

And if you’re not playing either Titanfall or Dark Souls 2 you might be playing Hearthstone, which is now out of beta and has been officially released for PC and Mac. For the uninitiated it’s an online collectible card-game in the vein of Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, and supposedly just as…”compelling.” Because we can’t say games are “addictive” anymore.

I won’t be playing it myself as I don’t care much for CCGs in any form and I really don’t have the time to dedicate to it. But if you like that sort of thing, and you avoided the open beta for some deeply personal reason, you can now pit decks of virtual cards against other decks of virtual cards to your heart’s content. It’s technically free to play in that it won’t cost you anything to download, although however many packs of virtual cards you buy on the in-game store is your own prerogative. So don’t come running to me if you wind up cold and starving because you spent all your cash on an Epic Murloc. [MURLOC SOUND]

[WITCHER 3 FOOTAGE]

A game we won’t be playing anytime soon, or indeed anytime this year, is The Witcher 3. Originally scheduled for release towards the end of 2014 the game has now been delayed until February 2015.

[DARK VISUAL COMEDY]

According to a statement issued by the board at CD Projekt Red the extra time will be used to polish the game to a level of quality they’re satisfied with, and the level of quality expected by fans. Probably a good thing too given the game’s complexity and scale, and with it being open-world to boot. As well as gamers and fans CD Projekt Red also addressed their shareholders, to reassure them the decision was equally valid in business terms and that the wait would also be worth it financially.

While I am a bit miffed at not finishing Geralt of Rivia’s story as soon as I would like, in this era of day one patches and unfinished games it’s almost comforting for a company to come out and say this. Not that every delay is automatically an indicator of care and attention of course, Duke Nukem Forever being a whopping great case-in-point, but it’ll be worth the wait if it means The Witcher 3 won’t be riddled with a Skyrim-level of bugs at launch.

[“FUCK THE BARD’S COLLEGE” MONTAGE]

[DRAGON AGE INQUISITION FOOTAGE]

Some people who might be happy with the news of Witcher 3’s delay is BioWare, whose third instalment in the Dragon Age series, Dragon Age: Inquisition, won’t have any serious competition when it launches sometime in Autumn this year. Assuming it doesn’t get delayed again.

[DRAGON AGE 2 AND DARK SOULS FOOTAGE]

In the meantime I could finally get round to playing Dragon Age 2, assuming I can re-install EA’s Origin client without feeling so dirty I want to cut all my skin off and burn it in a trash barrell. That or I could actually get my arse in gear and play Dark Souls for my gritty RPG fix. And it’s not like there aren’t any other exciting games at all coming out this year, unless they all get delayed. But what are the chances of that happening?

[WATCH DOGS CLIP]

[CYBERPUNK TRAILER]

Besides Witcher 3 having a few more months worth of spit and polish, some other good news to come of this is that Cyberpunk 2077 won’t be at all affected by this delay. What with a completely different team working on it and all that. Considering Cyberpunk is still a good number of years away however this doesn’t really make much of a difference anyhow. It’s like being told you don’t have to wait an extra minute to see someone you’re not expecting for another 24 hours.

[BIG NEWS – HEROES OF THE STORM, AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR MOBAS]

Speaking of games due for release at some murky, unspecified future date, the technical Alpha version of Heroes of the Storm has launched and a wave of lucky people were invited to play-test it. Sadly I wasn’t one of them.

[HOTS FOOTAGE, LOL, DOTA 2, AWESOMENAUTS,AIRMECH,SMITE, INF CRISIS]

Heroes of the Storm, for those of you who don’t know, is Blizzard’s own attempt to muscle in on the popular Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre or MOBA for short. A genre currently dominated by Riot Games’ League of Legends and Valve’s Dota 2, with League of Legends being the slightly more-popular of the two. Other MOBA and MOBA-like games are also available, such as Awesomenauts, AirMech, SMITE and Infinite Crisis, to name but a few.

[ANTHROPOLOGICAL IMAGES]

There is also a town called Moba in the Democratic Republic of Congo but that has nothing whatsoever to do with MOBA games. Unless there’s secretly a massive League of Legends scene there.

With a growing number of MOBAs to choose from and the two biggest having the lion’s share of the market, Blizzard has to pull off something pretty special to get the attention of people outside their own hardcore fanbase. To attract MOBA veterans Heroes of the Storm needs to provide a similar level of strategic depth as League of Legends or Dota 2. At the same time however they also need to make it accessible enough to bring new people into the genre.

[DOTA 2 AND LOL FOOTAGE]

If they make it too much like League or Dota however they’d only be appealing to an audience that already have their MOBA of choice. Whereas if they make it too simple they risk losing much of the strategic depth that make MOBAs so appealing in the first place.

Fortunately for Blizzard one thing they’ve always been good at is taking pre-existing genres or concepts they didn’t invent, and refining them into accessable experiences with a decent amount of depth.

[WOW FOOTAGE]

For example they took the unforgiving gameplay, interminable grind and quasi-impenetrable game mechanics of EverQuest and boiled them all down to create World of Warcraft, still the most successful massively multiplayer online roleplaying game to date.

[SC2 FOOTAGE]

StarCraft meanwhile, for all its delicate balance issues, is still the most popular iterative refinement of the Real Time Strategy genre, created in 1992 by Westwood Studios with Dune 2: Battle for Arrakis.

[DUNE 2: BATTLE FOR ARRAKIS CLIP]

[DIABLO]

The Diablo series distilled the RPG genre down to nuts-and-bolts hack-and-slash dungeon-crawling for epic loot.

[BLACKTHORNE]

And Blackthorne is the ultimate iteration of firing a shotgun over your shoulder at someone behind you without looking where you’re shooting, like a stone-cold 1980s action movie badass.

And from what’s been shown of Heroes of the Storm so far Blizzard indeed appear to have applied their knack for streamlining and refinement to the MOBA genre. Or “Hero Brawler” as they’re calling it. Just to be all contrary.

[HEROES OF THE STORM FOOTAGE]

Like other MOBAs there are lanes, towers, allied creeps, two teams of five heroes with special abilities, and a base structure to destroy to win the match. Instead of each hero levelling up individually however the entire team levels up as one at the same time. There are also no shops and no gold to be earned, meaning no “Last Hits” to constantly miss and no purchasing of items to agonise over. Bonuses and abilities you would otherwise get from items in game have instead been made part of the levelling system, so as you level up you pick and choose extra passive and active powers to suit your playstyle.

Heroes of the Storm also has multiple maps like League of Legends. While the main objective is always the same – to destroy the enemy base – each map in Heroes of the Storm has a unique secondary objective that can help you accomplish that more effectively or turn the game around if you’re losing.

Blizzard aren’t the first to try and make the MOBA genre more accessable to new players. Valve have tried to do it with DOTA 2 with mixed to positive results. Because while DOTA 2 has solid tutorials and plenty of aids for new players, it’s still constrained by the DOTA name which carries with it a certain expectation of complexity.

Heroes of the Storm on the other hand isn’t bound by those same restrictions, allowing Blizzard to take more liberties with the concept of what a MOBA is or should be. And I think that is a great thing for MOBAs as a whole. It’s a testament to the strength of what is a relatively young gaming genre that developers have the room to experiment with it like this, especially considering the genre itself borrows so many elements from other game types like tower defense, RPGs and Real Time Strategy.

 [LOL AND DOTA 2 FOOTAGE. ALSO A VISUAL REFERENCE TO “THE ENIGMA OF AMIGARA FAULT” BY JUNJI ITO]

It’s also healthy for gaming genres to have a spectrum of accessibility. For example Risk and Europa Universalis are both strategy games but one is massively more complex than the other, and there’s a vast range of games that fit between the two. Most MOBAs meanwhile currently boil down to either “impenetrable and terrifying” or “slightly less impenetrable and terrifying” with barely enough space between them to slide a sheet of paper.

Although Heroes of the Storm is currently only in alpha, hardcore fans of the MOBA genre are even now already arguing about it on the internet. Some are calling it a casual shitfest and an affront to everything they hold dear about the genre, while others are happy to see a MOBA-like game doing something a bit different. What they should be arguing of course is whether it’s any fun or not, and we won’t have a definite answer to that until it’s released.

[CHRIS METZEN’S STORY BIBLE]

[LOADING SCREEN]

That’s all for this episode of Pixel Burn. If you liked it then please do let me know. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. If you didn’t then I’m sorry for taking up your precious time not-spent playing Dark Souls 2, Titanfall or Hearthstone. Actually no I’m not sorry but you can still go now

[ROLL CREDITS]

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.