The Best and Worst Games of 2012

2012

2012 is winding to a close, and while there may be a few weeks left in the year, for all intents and purposes the gaming industry has slowed to a crawl until the first week of the New Year. Because of this, it’s time for year-end lists!

Last year had some truly great, landmark games. Dark Souls, Rayman: Origins, The Witcher 2, Bastion, and Skyrim were all experiences I enjoyed, most of which I still play over a year after they were released. 2011 was slightly less spectacular, but still a pretty big year for the games industry as a whole. Beyond just the games released, we saw a new Nintendo console; we saw Kickstarter become both a viable option for funding, and a major risk to take; we saw indie and free-2-play games blur the line between “retail” and “downloadable” quality; and we saw major discussions open up about how games are made, and more importantly, how women and violence are portrayed and treated in the medium. These are all watershed moments that will be remembered and discussed for years to come, and that really excites me and makes me proud to be at least a small cog in this machine.

But what about the games!? Well, as I mentioned, a lot of what I played in 2012 were games from last year. This is mostly because I’m kind of a weirdo and like to obsess over a game for long periods of time. But also, when it comes to “big” games, I sort of ignored the vast majority of them, and instead focused on the rather amazing year it was for the indie game scene. There was some immensely high-quality stuff this year, and indie games absolutely dominated both my time and my Best of 2012 list. So, without further ado, here are my… Continue reading “The Best and Worst Games of 2012”

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I think I’m done with Blizzard.

Growing up as a PC gamer, there was always one developer you could count on for absolutely amazing games: Blizzard Entertainment. Starting out with 2D sidescrollers like Lost Vikings and Blackthorne on the SNES, the studio unleashed their groundbreaking hit in 1994, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. Throughout the remainder of the ’90’s they released classic after classic: Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Diablo, Starcraft, and the expansions Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal and Starcraft: Broodwar, and in the early 00’s Diablo II, Warcraft III, and their expansions.

Then, finally, in 2004, Blizzard unveiled what is arguably the most successful game ever made, the MMORPG landmark, World of Warcraft. Now, 8 years and a few million subscribers later, Blizzard has cemented itself as one of the greatest game developers of all time thanks to WoW’s success.

And I’m totally done playing their games.

“Why?” you may ask. Well, in order to explain myself, let’s take this one franchise at a time.

Starcraft

Admittedly the one of three major Blizzard series I played the least, but still and extremely important series, both to myself and to PC gaming as a whole. The original Starcraft is widely regarded as one of the best-balanced games ever. While the single player campaign was a compelling sci-fi story about humanity struggling against and two hostile alien races, it was the multiplayer where the game’s brilliance shone. It was so well made in fact, that in South Korea it was (and probably still is) the most played game in the country, and probably the widest spread activity amongst the country’s youth.

But for me, it never really stuck. I beat the campaigns, played a some multiplayer, but I never really got into it. Instead, I found my home with another Blizzard franchise, but more on that in a bit.

In my opinion, Starcraft II is probably the only modern Blizzard game deserving of anyone’s time. There’s a big expansion on the way (practically another game entirely) which is sure to reignite interest in the game. But I’m going to skip it, not because of the quality of the game, but because as I said, Starcraft never really stuck with me. I have Warhammer 40k for that instead.

Warcraft

I loved the Warcraft series. To this day, I still consider it the best RTS franchise, and hold up Warcraft 3 as one of my favorite games of all time. Unlike Starcraft, I really got into the multiplayer of Warcraft, and not just the matchmaking, but the custom games especially. This is where games like League of Legends and DotA 2 were born, in the custom maps of WC3. It’s also where I first entered the land of map creation and modding. I have fond memories of spending hours playing online matches, creating custom maps and game types, and even my own campaigns. Back when I was a youngling in private school, I and a buddy of mine would install WC3 on the school computers, getting in a game or two between rounds of Unreal Tournament 2003.  But it wasn’t just the multiplayer, it was the story of Warcraft 3 that really hooked me.

The fantasy tale Warcraft wove was very compelling to me, and the unique take on classic fantasy races like Orcs and Elves gave an identity to the world of Azeroth that few fantasy settings ever achieve.

So, when Blizzard announced they were making an MMORPG set in this amazing universe, I was ecstatic. After a few years of waiting, my younger brother and I finally got our hands on World of Warcraft one snowy Christmas morning. For the next few months, we ground away at our characters, trying to ascend to the mystical level 60, join guilds, and start raids. I never made it to level 60. Ever. As my brother was sucked deeper and deeper into the land of Azeroth, I found myself less and less interested. The first expansion the Burning Crusade brought me back to the fold, but after I hit a wall too steep to grind, I never went back.

All that time, what I really wanted was a Warcraft 4. But as the stories of Thrall, Arthas, and Illadan were furthered and transformed (and, frankly, ruined) in the rather meaningless narrative of the MMO, my hopes were dashed and my interest extinguished. I don’t think we’ll ever see a Warcraft 4, and that’s fine by me, because if their recent track record is any indication, I probably wouldn’t care for it much anyway. Which brings me to the big one…

Diablo 

If you had asked me in between 2002 and 2004 what my favorite game was, I would have answered with a resounding and unquestioned “Diablo II.”

I don’t know why. I was not a huge fan of the original, though I did certainly enjoy it. But something about Diablo II, whether it was the loot, the art, the music, the community — or perhaps all of combined — whatever it was, it resonated with me in a way that not many games had done before. In fact, up until then, it was maybe the n64 Zeldas, Warcraft, and maybe a few of the classic Mario and Rayman games that really spoke to me in that way.

I spent a lot of time with Diablo II. The randomly generated maps; mounds of loot and gold; dark storyline… it’s all still so fresh in my mind.

So after years of waiting, being let down by WoW, and hearing about a Starcraft sequel, when Diablo III was finally announced, I might as well had done back flips out of my chair. Finally, a return to the world of Diablo! As details began to pour out, I got more excited. Then less excited. The more. Then Less. It went like this right up until the last few months before the open beta. I resigned myself to Blizzard’s will, deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt and keep my faith in what was sure to be a faithful sequel to one of my most beloved games.

And it was!

Diablo III fixed and changed so much about what was wrong with Diablo II (even stuff I didn’t know was wrong), while still keeping the spirit of the series intact and sticking to the fundamental design principles fans expected. Blizzard also redesigned Battle.net, so that online play was smoother and playing with your friends was as simple as clicking a single button.

Oh and they made the story a bigger part, but don’t worry, even though it was horrible, it didn’t matter much. Oh, and they borrowed a lot from WoW’s aesthetic. Oh, and the loot has been scaled back so players will utilize crafting and the auction house instead. Oh, and character building has been altered so that, despite vastly improving the skill system, your character’s stats were customized for you. OH! and now, all that random map generation that kept the previous games fresh and new, that’s all been gutted and is practically non existent.

After getting about halfway through the second difficulty, Nightmare, I stopped playing, dead cold. My first play through was great! But as I joined more online games and found myself replaying the exact same parts of the game, over and over again, with little to no change in the set of the environments, I lost interest almost immediately.

Now, I know they’re changing and adding a lot of new features, many of which address some of the issues I have with Diablo III. But that just makes me wonder “Why didn’t you just delay the game until it was complete?” I mean, they are BLIZZARD after all, the kings of “it’s done when its done” alongside Valve.

It makes little difference. I’m sure I’ll hop back in one day. Well, actually, no I’m not. I might, but at this point I have no desire to.

An alleged screenshot of Blizzard’s next project.

There was a time, years ago, when I had every Blizzard game installed on my PC. I’d hop between Warcraft III, Diablo II, and Broodwar on a whim. I thought of Blizzard’s games as masterpieces and regarded Blizz as the top game developer around. But now, with so many of the designers and creators that made those games possible having moved on to new studios and projects years ago, the company that once was no longer remains. Blizzard have stated publicly on several occasions that after the next expansions for Diablo III, Starcraft II, and Wow are completed, they plan on moving to new IPs, including a new MMO that I’m sure will turn the genre on it’s ear, so maybe we’ll see something new that will make me a believer again. But I doubt it.

It’s sad, but that’s the way life works. In their place, numerous AAA and indie developers alike have come in to offer the same type of top-shelf PC gaming I desire. But there will always be a part of me the pines for the glory days of Blizzard Entertainment.

Diablo 3 review

Amidst all this Diablo news today, it might be worth something to actually review the game, wouldn’t it?

Let’s get the basics out of the way, in case you’re unfamiliar: Diablo 3 is an action-RPG made by Blizzard. The main point of Diablo 3’s gameplay is to continually fight hordes of demons to unlock new abilities, and most of all, discover new items and better gear — all in order to fight stronger monsters, who drop even better equipment. It’s an absurdly simple feedback loop so elegant and fun it becomes the very definition of addiction. But more on that later.

Diablo 3 is set in a hostile, dark fantasy world known as Sanctuary. The world is home to human kind, and some outlandish beast creatures, for the most part. However, in the dimensions of Heaven and Hell, Angels have been locked in an eternal battle with the Prime Evils — the greatest and most powerful demons of Hell. The greatest of these demons is Diablo, Lord of Terror who took the war to the world of humans after being summoned there by a dubious human clergyman. He was defeated in Diablo 2, along with several other Prime Evils, and now his brother Azmodan, Lord of Sin has begun his assualt on sanctuary to become the ruler of Hell and destroy the world…

Look, I’m going to level with you here. The world is gritty and dark, and it lends to some great art direction, but for the most part the lore is a bit goofy. This really comes to a head in the game’s exposition. It’s silly and campy and even though I enjoyed the story in a nutshell, it was simplistic and predictable, and the dialogue was laughable. The most iconic character of the Diablo series, Deackard Cain, has a far diminished role in this installment of the franchise as well. The story also builds as if there will be a massive, climactic ending, but in reality it’s a (gorgeously rendered) CG cutscene with narration over it (sounds a bit like another threequel’s ending…). I get the feeling Blizzard knew that 99.99% of players are in it for the gameplay, and even though Diablo 3 has a more cinematic feel, the story is easily glossed over once you’ve had your fill.

The setting does provide some positives, though. The areas and dungeons are dark and bleak, and even though they’re randomly generated, they feel seamless and organic. There are a few “static” areas, and a lot of the randomization is centered around events more so than layout in some places, but it still all looks phenominal, and the game’s soundtrack — while not quite as good as the previous games’ — fits the mood perfectly.

As I said before, the setting is bleak and the art direction certainly show it. Enemies loose limbs and splatter pints of blood, and even explode their guts everywhere; you descend dark abyssal pits and Gothic architecture; beastly demons mob you, many of which sport gruesome forms and outlandish weapons that look very,very painful. My only complaint here is the world is a bit too well-lit. Diablo 3 no longer uses the light radius mechanic of the past games in the series, instead having light come from candles, lamp posts, fires, and even the sun. But instead of dark shadows, the world is mostly always visible, save for a few areas and dungeons. Still, overall the game looks amazing, and what the setting lacks in story, it makes up for it visually.

Graphically, Diablo 3 is great. It looks fantastic, even at lower settings, the particle effects are dazzling, and the colors and lighting give everything an eerie atmoshphere. The animations are fluid and the physics engine makes breaking down walls and swing an axe at monsters visually gratifying.

But how does swinging that axe actually feel? Damn-near perfect.

Backing up a bit, Diablo 3 features 5 playable classes: Barbarian, Wizard, Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter, and Monk. Each have their own sets of abilities, and each can fill numerous rolls within a group. Each class also has their own resource the build during combat which is then used to unleash powerful attacks and skills.

The Barbarian builds Fury while in combat, and focuses on dealing massive amounts of damage, as well as boosting stats; The Wizard uses mana, which regenerates over time, and is used to perform spells that can damage enemies and cause status ailments; The Witchdoctor uses Mojo to summon beasts and deliver poisons; The Demon Hunter builds both Hatred and Discipline, which are used for offenseive and defensive abilities respectively; and the Monk build Spirit through lightning-fast attacks which damage enemies, and heal others.

Unlike the previous Diablo games, in Diablo 3 you do not gain skill points or utilize skills trees. As you progress with your character, you’ll unlock new skills, and further down the line you unlock runes. Runes offer bonuses and tweaks to different skills, such as increasing a spell’s duration, or boosting the damage dealt. Runes offer a deep level of customization, and because every skill and rune is open once you’ve unlocked it, there are numerous builds possible for each class. I found this change to be extremely beneficial, as I could swap out my skills on the fly, and if need be, completely change my play style just by changing a few abilities and items. It negates the need for rolling new characters to try out new builds, and makes character creation far less rigid.

Another change to character progression is the removal of stat points. Your class’ stats will increase on their own as you level up, so instead of min/maxing your character each level, you increase strength, vitality, dexterity, etc. through gear and gems you equip on your character. It goes hand in hand with the new skill system as a way to make class building and progression more open-ended and fun.

Using those skills is extremely fun, too. You use your left and right mouse buttons to perform attack skills, and numbers 1-4 act as your skills bar. You’ll use all those skills in combat, and figuring out new strategies is almost as exciting as the loot enemies drop. This works well, but you’ll be locked into using only certain skills per slot until you go into the options menu and select “elective mode” which allows for full hoykey customization. In fact, in order to see “advanced” tool tips like what percentage an ability boosts weapon damage, you must also enable advanced tooltips from the options menu. Similarly, detailed character stats are not readily available in the character menu, but in a separate tab. However, once these options are enabled, the issues are alleviated.

On top of abilities, health potions have also been changed. Potions are relegated to a single, dedication spot on your hotbar (defaults to Q) and now have a rather long cool down between uses, and mana potions are gone entirely (mostly because each class uses separate resources). This cooldown time is partially negated though health drops that drop from some enemies, and wells that dot each map. They dropped frequently enough, however there have been several times I’d desperately need to heal and my potion is cooling down, and no health drops were near by.

But even that hasn’t stopped my enjoyment of the game. The random loot the drops off each enemy has me feverishly clicking for more. And even though the always online connection has caused some hitches in player’s ability to access the game at times, the Battle.net features are a boon the the multiplayer. Even when playing alone, I still feel connected to my friends and fellow questers, and at any time can join their games or open up mine so others can join without a hitch. The in-game Auction House and robust crafting makes gold a needed resource, and gives each item the potential for profit, and making your private stash and gold universal between all characters is brilliant.

Diablo 3 may lack the deep story that some gamers have come to expect from their games, but as a person who prefers gameplay over story, Diablo 3 is a triumph — proving that in order to be successful, all it takes is a simple, albeit impeccably polished, gameplay design to draw players in and keep them playing. The dopamine-inducing promise of loot, experience, and harder enemies masks the intrinsic repetition of Diablo 3’s gameplay so well that it’s sure to be played for years to come.

Pros: Near-perfect gameplay; addicting loot system; ability and class building is dynamic and fun; the art direction is beautiful; excellent Battle.net features

Cons: Shallow, cliche story that doesn’t matter to the gameplay much; repetition may turn some off; some odd design choices; static areas can get boring; online issues makes single-player difficult

Power Cords on Diablo 3’s record-breaking success.

Last week’s release of Diablo 3 was a milestone for PC gaming. Not only did it mark the series’ return after nearly 12 years, it also set the record for being the fastest selling PC game to-date, selling over 3.5 million copies in its first day, breaking Amazon’s pre-order record, and has now gone on to sell nearly 6.3 million within its first week. After factoring in online sales, there is a total of about 7.7 million people playing Diablo 3 (that’s nearly half of WoW’s subcriber base at its peak numbers).

And these numbers don’t even include Korean sales, where the game is reportedly the most played game in the country right now, with about 39 percent of the nation’s gamer population logging in daily. That’s a huge number.

We’re no Korea, but I can say Diablo 3’s certainly been one of the most played games by the Power Cords/Powercast team.

This is obviously a massive achievement for Blizzard. Not only do they have the most played MMO — strike that, most currently played PC game period — World of Warcraft, and the highly successful RTS Starcraft 2, but they now also have the fastest selling PC game ever and undoubtedly the most played action RPG with Diablo 3.

It’s clear Blizzard have talent and eye for quality games. In fact, with the sole exception of Valve, Blizzard is the one development studio pushing PC games forward, despite the fact a small, vocal minority seems to have taken offense to the game’s online features.

I’m very curious to see how the game will persist over time (considering Diablo 2 was played for almost 12 years), especially with the inclusion of the real-money auction house soon. It’s off to an incredibly strong start, so who knows just how many copies Diablo 3 will sell in its lifetime.

What are you thoughts on Diablo 3’s record-breaking sales? Are you one of the millions currently clicking away? Let us know in the comments, or email us at askpowercords@gmail.com

ps. If you’d like to play with me (Brendan) you can find me at EyeAmAhab#1247 on battle.net

Thoughts on Diablo 3 launch.

After nearly 12 years, Diablo 3 finally arrived last Tuesday, May 15th, returning players to the dark land of Sanctuary on an eternal quest for better loot.

But Diablo 3’s release certainly was not without bumps and errors. Players stayed up all night, ready to push play at 12:01 a.m. , only the be shut out of the servers and unable to play for hours. These server maintanance periods lasted throughout the day, and even now some players still have connecton errors. If you’ve followed gaming in any capacity, this is old news.

But for many gamers, Blizzard’s handling of Diablo 3’s online-only infrastructure is an inexcusable crime. Players took to Metacritic, giving the game poor ratings despite its high level of polish and well crafted gameplay. The online functions were too much for them, and the Metacritic score for Diablo 3 now sits at a 4.1/10 user score.

Videogame Critic and Industry commentator Jim Sterling supported this mindset in his most recent episode of his webshow The Jimquisition. In the episode, he backed up angry gamers, saying since Diablo is an intrinsically single player experience, Blizzard should not have required a constant internet connection. Sterling beleives gamers are fully justified in their anger, and in fact suggested they should continue to express their discontent to prevent future games from utilizing the same sort of online functionality as Diablo 3.

This may be one of the few times I disagree with Sterling. The defense of the online features is simple: Blizzard has an auction house where players may use real money to buy and sell gear they find in the game. In order to prevent people from hacking items and duplicating them (things we all knew how to do in Diablo 2) to then sell on the auction house unfairly, Blizzard implemented an always-online system. But Sterling believe it goes even further than that, positing that this is just DRM to prevent piracy.

The bane of every Diablo player’s existence.

I’m sure that’s a part of it, but to suggest that Blizzard is doing it to save themselves from piracy is incorrect; they’re doing it to insure players who utitlze the auction house will do so honestly, and without worry of being duped. Diablo 2 was played for nearly 12 years, if Diablo 3 lasts even half as long, Blizzard has given players (and themselves) the ability to make money on the game for as long as it’s being played. Rather ingenious in my opinion.

That being said, I certainly don’t think players should stifle their discontent, but I also think they should try to see the merits in this system. Sure, sometimes the connection issues are annoying, and I certainly have been far luckier than others in terms of latency issues and server errors. But I also oppose the “Diablo is a single player game” argument, simply because for that 12-year life span, Diablo 2 was being played online the overwhelming majority of the time. I will even argue that the online Battle.net functions have enhanced my experience, making playing with friends seamless. And those moments when I want to play on my own, I can still chat with my friends and people I’ve quested with at any time. I’ll take a few hours of down time or lag every once in a while to keep that experience. Because what’s a few hours versus years of potential entertainment?

Have your own opinions on Diablo 3’s launch?  Let us know below in the comments, or email us at askpowercords@gmail.com

Powercast Episode 5: All kids outta the pool!

Heyo! It’s episode 5 of the Powercast!

This week, we wade through some recent news: RE6, new Hitman game, and the Halo 4 and Crysis 3 leaks.

We dive into some in-depth talk on the Diablo 3 beta, Legend of Grimrock and the possibility of Toonami’s return.

Also keep an ear out for how many facts Nick gets wrong…

Enjoy! And don’t forget to send us questions to askpowercords@gmail.com

Power Cast Episode 5: All kids outta the pool!

With: Brendan, Nick, Evan, Kyle, Connor, and Jeremy

Time: 1:08:03

Download (right click, saves as)

Ruminating on Diablo 3’s release date

by Kyle

With all this recent news surrounding Blizzard’s upcoming Diablo 3 in the past few weeks, yet still no confirmed release date, fans have been looking for any clues as to when to expect this long-awaited sequel. Kyle takes a look:

There’s been a lot of talk in the gaming community lately about the release date of Diablo 3. The game has never had an official release date, but some recent events have caused rumors to spread about an immenint release.

Diablo 3 was supposed to be released sometime late 2011, with people speculating it would be around Christmas. Then Bashiok (aka, Micah Whiple, Blizzard’s Diablo 3 community manager) came out and announced that we wouldn’t see D3 until at least the first quarter of 2012. To me this was no big deal; I actually applaud Blizzard for holding their game back and making sure it is perfect, unlike others who would rather the game just come out and patch it later.

Continue reading “Ruminating on Diablo 3’s release date”

Why Diablo III’s senior producer leaving isn’t as bad as it sounds.

–By Brendan

Over the weekend, now former-Senior Producer on Diablo III Steve Parker Tweeted the following:

Hey Twitter, I’m no longer working at Blizzard or on D3. I’ve had a great 5 years there and those guys are going to kill it with Diablo.

For most, that probably came off as an ill omen, but fret not, fellow clickers, the evidence shows that we have very little to worry about. Continue reading “Why Diablo III’s senior producer leaving isn’t as bad as it sounds.”

Big News from last week’s Blizzcon.

–By Brendan

So As most of you know, last week was the annual convention for one of the biggest names in PC gaming, Blizzard Entertainment. Blizzcon has become their new outlet for all the big new announcement from the developer. Naturally, some big things were announced, so let’s take a look at some of the most important news. Continue reading “Big News from last week’s Blizzcon.”