Monthly Archives: April 2016

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void

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Save the universe from being remade in the image of an evil god.

PC Release: November 10, 2015

By Ian Coppock

Well, this is it. The conclusion to the StarCraft II trilogy. I hope everyone has enjoyed these reviews; more than anything I want to get the points across that StarCraft II‘s narrative is good, but also that everyone can access it. Everyone can enjoy it. For this final installment in the series, we’re going to take a look not only at what Legacy of the Void does well, but also the accomplishments of the series as a whole, and where it goes from here.

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As we’ve discussed this monththe overarching series of StarCraft II is divided into three full-length games that each focus on StarCraft‘s three core races: the Terrans (humans), the Zerg and the Protoss. Wings of Liberty, the first game, followed human rebel Jim Raynor on his quest to collect alien artifacts and battle a totalitarian government. Heart of the Swarm, the second installment, features the Zerg as its playable civilization and their leader, Kerrigan, on a quest for absolute vengeance.

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void is the third and final game in the series and features my favorite civilization in StarCraft: the Protoss. These psychic, highly advanced aliens have made appearances in the last two games, but take center-stage to help save not only themselves, but the entire universe.

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The Protoss are the playable race of Legacy of the Void and whom the game’s narrative focuses on.

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void begins some time after Heart of the Swarm. While Jim Raynor was busy hunting down artifacts and Kerrigan was preoccupied with revenge, the Protoss have been preparing to retake their lost homeworld of Aiur. As some of you may remember, Aiur was invaded by and ultimately lost to the Zerg in the first StarCraft, and after too long a stint of space homelessness, the Protoss have returned to take it back.

Under the command of Hierarch Artanis, the Protoss land their troops on Aiur and begin fighting the Zerg, in what is surely video gaming’s most heated alien rivalry. A string of flawless victories against the Zerg emboldens the Protoss, and my god were they glorious to play through.

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Best homecoming party ever. Look, there’s even a light show!

But, just like in the last two games, things go to shit very quickly. Throughout the StarCraft II saga, there have been whispers that an ancient alien god named Amon is returning to the galaxy after countless millennia, to take over the universe and recreate all life in his image. Turns out that the whispers were true, as Amon arrives on Aiur and takes control the Protoss telepathically.

Artanis and a few of his warriors are freed from Amon’s influence at a devastating price, and barely escape from Aiur aboard an ancient warship, the Spear of Adun. The battle to retake his homeworld has turned into a war for the fate of the universe, and Artanis, like it or not, is at the helm of the war effort. In Legacy of the Void, we see what role the Protoss play in this saga’s conclusion, and in saving the galaxy as StarCraft fans know it.

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Artanis has come a long way since being a half-naked ace pilot in StarCraft.

Artanis serves as Legacy of the Void‘s main protagonist, having gone from being an ace pilot in StarCraft, to the leader of the united Protoss in StarCraft II. In many ways, he’s still the bright-eyed optimist we saw in StarCraft, though the burdens of leadership and ensuring his people’s survival have certainly taken their toll.

Artanis has his buddies, just like Raynor and Kerrigan had theirs in the last games. He counts among his closest allies Vorazun, the matriarch of the Dark Templar Protoss, as well as an ethereal librarian named Rohanna and the engineer Karax. Each ally provides a different service to Artanis throughout the campaign, helping you to make the most of your units.

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Legacy of the Void’s principle cast is all Protoss, all day.

Your headquarters is the Spear of Adun, a colossal 70-kilometer warship that came complete with some superweapons and a slumbering army of Protoss soldiers. Artanis is not a playable character in most missions like Kerrigan was in Heart of the Swarm, but you can level up the ship to provide different offensive or defensive capabilities.

The Spear of Adun‘s solar array can be fired up to destroy enemy encampments, or you can turn on the teleportation generator to speed up training your units. As long as you can find enough solarite minerals on each mission, the Spear of Adun‘s capabilities will be there for you. You can’t have them all turned on at once, though, so allocate your capabilities carefully between missions.

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The Spear of Adun has several powers that can aid you during missions, like orbital strikes and calling in reinforcements.

Legacy of the Void presents a novel way of choosing units to fight for you between missions. The Protoss government is an alliance of various tribes, and each tribe has come up with its own spin on a mainline unit. The Zealot is the classic Protoss melee unit, but if you’re playing a mission where stealth and speed would be more helpful, you can switch out the Zealot for the Dark Templar’s Centurion. You’ll even have access to units from the original StarCraft through this system, like the Dragoon and the Corsair.

Once you’ve picked your mix of units, it’s time to teleport down to the battlefield. In stark contrast to the Zerg, who breed overwhelming numbers of weaker units, the Protoss fight in groups of smaller but much more powerful warriors. Training each one is expensive, but you can accomplish with a handful of Protoss what would otherwise require an army of humans or Zerg. This makes the Protoss my favorite civilization in StarCraft; I’m a quality-over-quantity type of strategist, and fewer units also means less multitasking, which, even for a man, I’m horrible at doing.

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Protoss units are expensive, but each one packs a wallop. Protoss units and buildings are also equipped with recharging shields, making them even more durable.

It’s a good thing that Protoss know how to fight, because what we’re up against in Legacy of the Void made me shit my pants a little bit. Amon, the aforementioned alien god, is the last vestige of a race that created the Zerg and the Protoss. He has huge numbers of both aliens at his command, as well as a large contingent of mind-controlled humans. What I’m saying, you guys, is that most missions will pit you against a combined human-Zerg-Protoss army, wielding the strengths of all three races.

Lemme just tell you; there is nothing more terrifying than receiving a knock at the door from a group of Terran Battlecruisers, Zerg Ultralisks and Protoss Archons.

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Amon has built an army out of all three civilizations and bent them to his will. It goes without saying that Legacy of the Void is a bit tougher than the previous two StarCraft games.

Artanis and his Protoss are not alone in their fight against this satanic coalition. Jim Raynor phones up our alien hero to commit the humans to the fight, and he also drops off the artifacts he collected in Wings of Liberty to see if the Protoss can’t unlock more of their secrets. Kerrigan has returned from her own journey after Heart of the Swarm, and her Zerg are chomping at the bit for a shot at Amon. You won’t control these forces during missions, but they’ll fight alongside you in some of them.

The overarching narrative has a grand, Star Wars feel to it, and the missions holding it up are a mix of recruiting more Protoss and fighting against Amon. Until now, Amon existed as a puppeteer, manipulating certain events of Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm from behind the scenes. The cues that this was going on are there to see, and Blizzard does a good job of taking those plot points and elevating them to the forefront in Legacy of the Void.

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Legacy of the Void has a grand sense of wanderlust and glory to it.

Though the main narrative of saving the galaxy is certainly compelling, I was disappointed to find that StarCraft II‘s character dialogue took a significant step back in Legacy of the Void. There is almost no character conflict between any of the main cast, and this made the down time between missions insufferable. In Wings of Liberty, there were barfights. In Heart of the Swarm, there were arguments over morality and ethics. In Legacy of the Void, the Protoss are so busy sniffing each others’ asses and giving out the Medal of Warm and Fuzzy Feelings that the dialogue is a bore.

Legacy of the Void is a good example of how boring stories can become when there’s no conflict among their characters. It’s a story that’s grand in scale, but there are absolutely no shades of gray. Everyone loves each other, and hates the enemy. Artanis and his buddies spend the whole goddamn game talking about how brave they are, and how strong their hearts are, and all that other lovey-feely bullshit. It isn’t until a defector from Amon’s army arrives that some discord gets sown, but by that point the game’s mostly done.

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Listening to this game’s dialogue is like listening to football players after they’ve won a big game; all the Protoss do is pat each others’ backs and compliment on how great everyone is. It’s so gratuitous.

Perhaps if the dialogue hit some speed bumps, the level design is okay? Again, Legacy of the Void takes a step back from the terrific level design of its two predecessors, dumbing the StarCraft formula back down into what made the first game so predictable.

Most missions in StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void revolve around interacting with 4-6 objects that are scattered around the map. Sometimes they’re power generators, sometimes they’re giant alien keyholes, but it doesn’t matter. In most levels, you train up your army and send your units to defend these positions until you’ve gotten them all. It’s the exact same strategy dressed up a different context, and it makes Legacy of the Void‘s levels boring. In Heart of the Swarm I was riding hovering trains and blowing up spaceships with my mind. This time I’m just training an army and taking an objective.

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I don’t know why StarCraft II resorts to the same real-time strategy conventions that, by its own hand, were turned upside-down in Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm.

It made me sad to see these problems come to the forefront after enjoying the narrative and level design excellence in StarCraft II‘s prior installments. I don’t know if there were some shakeups in the StarCraft II design team, or if they all just got lazy, but the quality of Legacy of the Void‘s story and gameplay is markedly lesser than that of the two games preceding it. The dull dialogue and samey level design stand in stark contrast to Wings of Liberty‘s seedy atmosphere and Heart of the Swarm‘s free-flowing level insanity.

To be frank, I can yammer about how big a story is all day, but I don’t feel comfortable trying to sell a game to you guys on something as trivial as scale. You can write a story about the biggest goddamn war ever, but it’s not going to make a difference if the characters in that story are poorly written. You can’t make such a tale exciting when each chapter of this battle is written the exact same way. That’s what Legacy of the Void feels like to me: a story of a huge battle, with little substance being fought over.

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Spectacle and scale have their place, but it is NOT as a filler for story.

To be fair to Legacy of the Void, despite dumbing down its dialogue and level design, does conclude the StarCraft II narrative on a satisfactory note. The last level of the game, while difficult, ties up a bunch of loose ends and sets the StarCraft universe on solid footing going forward.

Ultimately, I believe that the entire StarCraft series is the tale of Sarah Kerrigan. She is one of video gaming’s strongest female characters. The first StarCraft was the tale of her villainy and other characters’ reactions to it, much like Darth Vader in Star Wars. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty was one man’s quest to save her. Heart of the Swarm was the story of her return to power. In Legacy of the Void, the Protoss clear the way for her fulfillment of an ancient destiny, that ties all of the StarCraft experience together quite well.

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Kerrigan is one of the most complex and well-written characters video gaming has ever produced. By emphasizing her weaknesses as much as her strengths, Blizzard has produced a true gem in her persona.

My recommendation of StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void hinges upon how badly you want to see the end to the story. I found the level design and Protoss dialogue to be soundly underwhelming, and only you can decide if both of those things are worth enduring to see the conclusion to the StarCraft II narrative. For my part, I enjoyed seeing the end to this experience and walked away from it feeling satisfied, but I don’t intend on returning anytime soon. Our time in the Blizzard-verse is coming to a close, and I have one more card to play.

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You can buy StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Heroes of the Storm

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Compete for glory in online strategy battles, featuring heroes from major Blizzard games.

PC Release: June 2, 2015

By Ian Coppock

My oh my. Just when I was looking for a way to tie together all of the Blizzard games we’ve been reviewing, along comes Heroes of the Storm. Typically I try to go for some sort of thematic way to tie a bunch of video games together, but thanks to Blizzard, who have dumped a bunch of heroes from a bunch of games into one game, I don’t have to! It’s a great way to talk about games, review a new game, and be lazy as hell. I’m getting things done!

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Heroes of the Storm is what’s called a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game. Most MOBA games are isometric strategy games similar to the real-time strategy titles I’ve been reviewing recently, but there are variants on the design. As a general rule, most of them are played from an isometric perspective, and two teams of hero characters must duel for control of the battlefield.

Heroes of the Storm is such a game, featuring characters from all of the Blizzard games we’ve been talking about this month! King Arthas, Jim Raynor, Diablo, the gang’s all here. Heroes of the Storm is not canon to its component universes, of course, but it’s fun to see all of Blizzard’s best characters gathered in one place. Heroes of the Storm will also feature new characters from Blizzard’s upcoming game, Overwatch.

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If you’ve ever wondered how StarCraft’s Jim Raynor would fare against Diablo’s… well… Diablo, then Heroes of the Storm is your chance to find out!

As most of you have probably guessed by now, Heroes of the Storm has no narrative. There’s a tutorial mission in which Jim Raynor gets sucked into the Warcraft universe and you learn the game’s basic mechanics, but that’s about it. Rather than featuring a central story, Heroes of the Storm is just a big ol’ brawl. You and your buddies can select your favorite heroes from your favorite Blizzard games, and have at it.

Heroes of the Storm works like this: you and four friends create a team of five heroes, the same as the opposing team. Each team is stuck on opposite sides of a large map. Your base and the enemy’s base are connected by three paths called lanes, and these lanes are defended by a series of towers and gates. Every few seconds, a batch of computer-controlled soldiers will spawn at your base. You can’t select and direct them, but you can have your hero lead them into battle. The team who destroys their opponent’s castle first wins the match.

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Winning a match in Heroes is a matter of timing, above all else.

I come from the world of real-time strategy games, where you can actually control your units, so having the computer manage them for me took some adjusting. The key to playing this game is timing: timing your hero’s assaults to coincide with those of your army’s, and then retreating before your numbers get too thin and you yourself are in danger. Your base will automatically spawn new units every so often, so this game’s strategy revolves around making the most of each assault instead of trying to micromanage your units’ movement.

Each lane in the game is marked with a series of gates and towers, and you have to take these out in order to make your way to the enemy base. In a bit of a switch-up from, say, Dota 2, towers will only attack you once all your soldiers are dead, giving you time to cause some damage and then retreat. To say that Heroes of the Storm is like the ebb and flow of a river is not inaccurate. You surge and recede with the tides of your troops.

That’s right, folks, I’m giving you some real zen shit today.

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CHAAAAARGE!!!

Now; a game like this would be rather simplistic if all you had to do was match your moves with that of your soldiers, but the player-controlled heroes are what will win the day. Each hero you select is not only much stronger than your foot soldiers, but can gain experience from combat and killing enemies. You can use this experience to level up, gain new powers, and use those powers to turn the tide of battle. You get a huge bonus for killing an enemy hero, but if you die, you’ll have to sit out for a while and wait to get resurrected.

Jim Raynor, for example, is good with an assault rifle, but after killing a few soldiers he gains a very useful ability to summon Banshee-class assault aircraft. These things can devastate an enemy formation, giving your own men some breathing room and allowing you to press the attack. Each hero has his or her own unique powers, and figuring out how to use them in conjunction with your teammates and your units will go a long ways toward winning the match.

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Killing an enemy hero gives you an opportunity to press your advantage, but be careful. Your opponent will do the same if you die.

The curious thing about Heroes of the Storm is that Blizzard claims it is not a MOBA, but an “arena brawler”. I find that classification curious, because Heroes of the Storm is the most cut-and-dry MOBA game I’ve ever played. Everything it does is strictly conventional for a MOBA game; combat lanes, computer-controlled soldiers, and heroes that can level up. I suspect that the “arena brawler” tagline was something Blizzard used to try to differentiate itself from League of Legends and Dota 2, but Heroes of the Storm feels like those two games in their purest, simplest embodiment.

There are quite a few differences between the three, though. I was reluctant to review this game before having reviewed Dota 2, which I’ve played a lot more, but Heroes is actually a great game to play if you want to practice for Dota 2. It’s simpler, dare I say dumbed down, in comparison to a lot of the MOBA games out there.

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Heroes of the Storm is not a complicated game, by any means. This is both good and bad.

What do I mean when I say dumbed down? Well, Heroes of the Storm has no items, robbing it of a complex strategic element endemic to MOBA gameplay. Dota 2 has a huge item selection that can have just as much bearing on a match’s outcome as its heroes, and to see this absent from Heroes of the Storm made this game feel a bit hollow.

Additionally, part of me didn’t like that the enemy towers only target your soldiers until they’re all dead, because it removed an element of uncertainty that makes Dota 2, again by comparison, more challenging. In Dota 2, you never know if the enemy tower’s going to hit you yet, so it demands more caution. Heroes allows you to throw caution to the wind and fight until you die, which, if you’re more a strategy-minded gamer, is tiresome.

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Dota 2 is fun because it’s games within games. Heroes of the Storm has no such depth.

You can see why playing Heroes of the Storm is a good way to start adjusting to more complicated MOBA games, but that’s not a very flattering credit for a video game. I will say that Heroes of the Storm remains a fun game to play, but the strategists among you will get very bored, very quickly.

I will also say that Heroes of the Storm looks a lot nicer than Dota 2. The latter game is colorful and bursts with life, but its Source-powered visuals look a little fuzzy. Heroes of the Storm‘s visuals are crisp and confident in their presentation. Hero and unit animations are very high quality, and the colors avoid looking washed out. The sound design comprises the conventional orchestral battle music we hear in games like these, but the voice acting is decent.

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The personality of Heroes of the Storm lies not in its gameplay, but in its characters. Depending on who you talk to, this is either a strength or a weakness.

Heroes of the Storm is a fun little game to play on your way to Dota 2. It manages to offer a simpler experience at the cost of strategic complexity, but it’s not a bad game. It’s also free, so grab some friends and give it a try. If you go up against each other, I can’t guarantee that your friendships will come out of the other side intact.

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You can buy Heroes of the Storm here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

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Take command of the Zerg and destroy everything in your path.

PC Release: March 12, 2013

By Ian Coppock

Just got back from a much-needed vacation in Memphis. Being unemployed is fraught with uncertainty, but I hadn’t taken a vacation in almost 2 years. Now that I’m back, we can continue our inexorable march into Blizzard’s video games with StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, the second installment in the StarCraft II series, and an interesting game in its own right.

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I like to think that I do a pretty good job keeping my reviews spoiler-free. It might mask some of a game’s juicier details from the article, but everyone deserves the opportunity to experience these stories firsthand. This time, however, I am unable to talk about Heart of the Swarm without revealing some major spoilers from StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. Again, before we continue, this review contains MASSIVE spoilers for Wings of Liberty.

Heart of the Swarm is the second installment in the StarCraft II series. Just like Wings of Liberty and StarCraft before it, it’s an isometric strategy game focused on gathering resources and building an army of units. Heart of the Swarm picks up after the events of Wings of Liberty, and rather than controlling humans, players are put at the spiky, slimy helm of the Zerg.

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Let’s get buggy!

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm begins a few weeks after the end of Wings of Liberty. Jim Raynor and his human rebels spent most of that game gathering a bunch of alien artifacts. Turns out that the artifacts could be combined into a weapon, and Raynor used it to cleanse Sarah Kerrigan, the human-Zerg hybrid in charge of the Zerg, of their corrupting influence.

Kerrigan is now human again for the first time in years. She has no memory of her time as the Zerg leader, but her psychic powers are still formidable.

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Kerrigan is the main protagonist of Heart of the Swarm. She’s back to being human… minus the hair.

Even though Kerrigan is more or less back to normal, the reason she became a zerg in the first place is because she was left to die by Arcturus Mengsk, a rebel leader who, in the grand style of too many revolutions, becomes a totalitarian leader who is far worse than the government he overthrew. Raynor spent some time harassing Mengsk’s Dominion in Wings of Liberty, but Kerrigan is determined to kill him for everything he’s done.

After Kerrigan spends some time regaining her powers and undergoing lab tests, the facility she and Jim have fled to falls under attack, and the group is scattered. Believing Jim to be missing, or worse, Kerrigan sets off on her own to reunite the Zerg and exact revenge on Arcturus Mengsk. Her reasons for revenge go much deeper than being left to die; after becoming a Zerg, Kerrigan’s insatiable bloodlust led her to slaughter billions of innocent people. She lays those deaths at his feet, and sets out to collect.

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Arcturus Mengsk is the emperor of the Terrain Dominion and the man who left Kerrigan to die at the hands of the Zerg. He is the primary antagonist of Heart of the Swarm.

Kerrigan’s de-infestation has created a few complications. Without a strong psychic will to guide it, the Zerg Swarm has disintegrated into packs of feral beasts. As Kerrigan, players have to journey across the Koprulu Sector to marshal her forces and kill any Zerg queens competing for dominance of the Swarm. Not to mention the fact that any Protoss you encounter will try to murder you, and oh yes, the Dominion has made you Public Enemy No. 1.

It doesn’t take long to see that Heart of the Swarm‘s narrative is uncomplicated. Wings of Liberty was divided several ways between several different causes, but Kerrigan’s only interest in this tale is vengeance. Plain and simple. In most situations I would say the story runs the risk of becoming a trope, but StarCraft II isn’t most situations. StarCraft fans have loathed Mengsk for years, and the fact that we finally get a shot at this asshole means that the vengeance-focused narrative is okay in my book.

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Kerrigan’s journey has been unimaginable, and Heart of the Swarm becomes a more personal story in its examination of the character.

Kerrigan gets around the StarCraft universe in the Leviathan, a colossal 10-kilometer Zerg that’s evolved for space travel. As with the Hyperion in Wings of Liberty, Kerrigan can visit different parts of her “ship” between missions and interact with various characters. Your biggest allies are Izsha, a cobra-looking thing that hangs from the ceiling and serves, more or less, as your secretary.

The other creature at your beck and call and one of my favorite StarCraft characters is Abathur, a spindly spider thing that’s responsible for introducing new DNA to the Zerg swarm. Izsha mostly briefs you on missions, but Abathur will take any alien DNA you find on missions and introduce it to the Zerg to make your monsters even deadlier. This is a useful gameplay mechanic, but it was Abathur’s dry commentary on galactic events and complete lack of social graces that solicited the most laughs from me.

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Abathur serves as a walking, talking genetics library. His failure to grasp either subtlety or morality makes him something of a comic relief character.

Heart of the Swarm is a full-length game, and nearly all of its missions see you, the player, in command of the Zerg. Once you’ve selected mutations for your creatures, you can set up a hive cluster and start wrecking things immediately. Unlike the humans or Protoss, where you typically have to train one unit per building, the Zerg can mutate their larvae into batches of new creatures at a time. You can whip up a new army in record time, to defend your base or ravage enemy camps. This quick ferocity is perhaps the best trait of the Zerg.

Once you’ve set up a nest and trained a few gatherers, it’s time to breed an army. Classic StarCraft units like the rabid Zergling and the imposing Hydralisk return from games past, but we also see a few new units, like the ranged Roach and the dastardly Baneling. Because you can train units quickly, the Zerg are best used in a blitzkrieg-style attack, or “Zerg Rush”. Zerg feel no fear and will run to their deaths if you order them.

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The Zerg’s ruthlessness combined with their quick training time makes them a powerful force… and really fun to play as.

Between most missions, you’ll have an opportunity to mutate your Zerg to suit your playstyle. Abathur can “spin” new DNA into your various Zerg units, but you’ll have to pick between two different capabilities for each one. I personally favor a quality-over-quantity strategy and keeping my units alive as long as possible, so Heart of the Swarm allowed me to pick mutations to make my Zerg tougher and more maneuverable on the battlefield. But, if you play strategy games with more of a mob stratagem in mind, you can select upgrades for that, too.

Heart of the Swarm‘s mission design compliments this unit versatility. Even more than in Wings of Liberty, Blizzard found ways to get very creative with the RTS format. One mission sees you adapting Zerg to cold-weather combat on the fly. Another, and my very favorite, allows players to infiltrate a Protoss warship as a little Zerg worm, and slowly take the whole goddamn thing over from the inside. It’s like a behind-the-scenes of Dead Space!

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Heart of the Swarm is consistent with creative, lateral thinking.

More than anything, though, I appreciated Heart of the Swarm‘s missions because they “felt” like Zerg missions. It was never a matter of just building a base and taking out the enemy… well, yes it is, but the game lets you do it Zerg-style! A few missions start you off with an overwhelming horde of Zerg, and allow you to sit back and just watch as they wash into the enemy base like a roaring tide between river rocks. This isn’t to say there isn’t an element of challenge, but Heart of the Swarm strikes a balance between giving players a lot of power and tempering it against foes.

Kerrigan is also a playable character in Heart of the Swarm’s missions, and the game adds some light RPG elements with her presence. Kerrigan gains experience from killing enemies, and you can use this to level her up and select devastating psychic powers. Generally, your options vary between massive offensive abilities, and passive powers that strengthen your surrounding forces.

Though the individual levels are great, some of the narrative structure is a bit flawed. Unlike Wings of Liberty, where you could hop between planets one mission at a time, Heart of the Swarm has three missions to a planet and you have to stay there until the arc is concluded. You also have a lot less freedom in deciding which planets to visit first, constricting the narrative a bit more. To be frank, some planets didn’t need three missions. Others could’ve done with one or two more. In all but a few cases the tri-mission model either felt bloated, or critically thin.

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Heart of the Swarm tries and fails with a one-size-fits-all mission structure.

I mentioned earlier that this game was a simple revenge story, but there’s a lot of groundwork laid down for StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, the Protoss chapter of the StarCraft II narrative. Late in the game, Kerrigan stumbles upon strong evidence that an ancient race of aliens is returning to the galaxy, among other disturbing revelations. Some games spend way too much time being a springboard for the next game, but Heart of the Swarm got it just right. Spend a little time alluding to future events, then move on.

The character of Kerrigan is also interesting because her morality shifts just as rapidly as her species. She’s definitely one of gaming’s biggest antiheroes, and witnessing her transition from pure villain to flawed protagonist makes for quite a journey. It’s even better if you played the original games way back in the day. I appreciate that a lot of time went into Kerrigan’s character building and that her dialogue is well-written, but her Zerg character model is laughably sexualized.

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Heels? Really?

Sexualization of characters in especially senseless situations makes the story less powerful. Even something as seemingly nit-picky as this screenshot sticks out like a sore thumb. Fortunately, Heart of the Swarm gets much else about the story right.

In summary, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is a decent game that I recommend you buy, but the game’s relegation to a more structured setup leaves a lot to be desired. Part of what made Wings of Liberty fun was the feeling that you could go anywhere you want, and Heart of the Swarm doesn’t capture that same sense of freedom. Its missions are funner, though, and its core narrative against one of gaming’s most hated tyrants makes it a must-play for StarCraft fans. If you’ve ever wanted to live that “drive your enemies before you and hear the lamentations of their women” phrase, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is the game for you.

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You can buy StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

 

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls

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The Angel of Death has returned. Put an end to his misguided scheme for peace.

PC Release: March 25, 2014

By Ian Coppock

This jaunt into the Blizzard universe has been fun. If the games that this company has put out have a few flaws, they’re at the least high-quality, and accessible to gamers of all kinds. Diablo III‘s chief stumbling blocks were dealt chiefly to that ideal. Its lack of tutorials makes the game a degree harder for newcomers, and its always-on Internet connection makes the game playable to far fewer people than Blizzard realizes. Let’s see if Reaper of Souls, the direct expansion to Diablo III, addresses these problems.

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So, right off the bat, Reaper of Souls is an expansion, not a standalone game. So it doesn’t do jack shit to that ridiculous Internet connection requirement. You’re killing me, Blizzard; why should I need to have an Internet connection if I’m doing single-player or local multiplayer? What the hell purpose does that serve? I don’t snort enough cocaine to think I need system updates that quickly, and I’m not going to decide so rapidly to engage in online multiplayer that I need the Internet right there “just in case”. So, yeah. Still trying to puzzle that one out.

Anyhoo, because Reaper of Souls is an expansion for Diablo III, it continues that game’s isometric “dungeon crawler” style of gameplay, and its putting you against hordes of monsters remains unchanged. The expansion’s narrative picks up right after the climactic end to Diablo III, as Malthael, the Angel of Death, arrives to the human realm of Sanctuary.

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Fear the reaper, man.

As I mentioned in my review of Diablo III, humans in this series are portrayed as the progeny of angels and demons, explaining their wide capacity for virtuous or evil acts. With the demons subdued, Malthael sees humanity as a last vestige of demonic power. By exterminating mankind, Malthael hopes to wipe all traces of the demons from existence and bring about the end of the eternal angel-demon war.

Malthael kicks off his war of genocide by attacking Westmarch, one of the largest kingdoms in Sanctuary that your hero, once again, just happens to be wandering by. Fresh from his/her victory over the demons, our hero races into Westmarch to save its people from an army of angels. I’d picked the crossbow-wielding Demon Hunter class in Diablo III, and was delighted to find that a lot of demon-hunting skills cross over to angel-hunting.

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Time to hit the hunting trail once more!

Because Reaper of Souls is an expansion and not a full game, it’s a lot shorter than Diablo III. The bulk of the expansion takes place in Westmarch, as your character fights off the angels and saves innocent lives. Malthael’s lieutenants are running around in the city trying to snare souls, and your tasks are divvied up between creating safe paths for civilians and destroying the soul-harvesting crucibles.

There’s not a lot of plot or character development to be had with Reaper of Souls. Part of this is due to the expansion’s short length, but there’s less exposition than what’s to be had in the main game. Once again, your character spends most of his or her time separated from your companions, out fighting the demons while they hang back at the mission hub doing God knows what.

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Most of Reaper of Souls takes place in one location.

Westmarch does manage to bring some visual power that the main game didn’t have. Most of Diablo III is set away from heavily populated areas, but here we get a glimpse of city life in the world of Sanctuary. Much like with the Halloween vibe of New Tristram, Westmarch is a gloomy gothic city, with beautiful but shadowy cathedrals and imposing castles. The wide open countrysides of Diablo III give way to constricting streets and alleyways, where most of the fighting is also concentrated. If you’re in the process of playing Diablo III and plan to play the expansion, now would be a great time to round out your character’s close-quarter fighting abilities.

Reaper of Souls also adds a few new gameplay elements, including a new melee-based class called the Crusader. The Mystic, a new type of artisan, allows you to reassign the magical properties on many of your items. After you’ve finished the expansion, you can take on bounty-hunting assignments and hunt down dangerous monsters for coin. They’ve also added new dungeons and challenges, and the updates seem to be quite regular. It’s a good way to keep engaged with the game after you’ve beaten the story, and it gives players an opportunity to explore areas they missed the first time around.

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Is there a rave in there?

Reaper of Souls also makes a few small but important contrasts with Diablo III, particularly in the art department. Whereas previously much of the world was brightly lit and burning with demonic fire, Reaper of Souls feels cold and spooky. The all-engulfing flames of the demons have been replaced with the disquieting blue light of the beyond. Almost all of the game takes place at night, to further strengthen this atmosphere.

Despite its short length, Reaper of Souls does manage to accomplish a few narrative highs that I found noteworthy. After fighting in Westmarch, your character joins up with the angels to attack Malthael’s stronghold in Pandemonium, a purgatory-like realm. Within, your character stumbles upon the ghost of a figure from his or her past, dependent upon which class you chose, and there’s a heartrending scene between the two that I found more memorable than anything else in either game. After reconciling with this figure and making peace with your friends, you can be sure that your character’s in for one hell of a boss battle.

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Malthael’s plan for humanity seems a bit un-angelic.

There’s not a whole lot else about Reaper of Souls that I didn’t mention in Diablo III. Run between dungeons, upgrade and sell your items, and kick ass in a variety of different ways. Blizzard has continued to release new rounds of dungeons for the most avid players, though I confess I haven’t touched any of them yet. Hopefully they managed to sneak some more tutorials about the game’s mechanics in new patches.

Reaper of Souls is a decent expansion. Not super-amazing, but decent. It resolves a few plot threads from Diablo III and rounds out its repertoire of monster-hunting quite nicely. Players of Diablo III will no doubt enjoy this expansion, and the post-release content Blizzard’s continued to put out. Give it a go when you’ve got an afternoon free.

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You can buy Diablo III: Reaper of Souls here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

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Discover the key to saving the galaxy and rebel against a tyrant.

PC Release: July 27, 2010 (PC)

By Ian Coppock

For many of its fans, StarCraft is a complicated love story. We have its surprisingly strong narrative and fun gameplay, with its poor AI and unforgiving difficulty. Like relationships with people, you take the good with the bad. So, of course, the announcement that Blizzard was bringing back the StarCraft franchise after 12 years was one of great interest to the PC community, and to me. I was excited for a new story in the gritty universe StarCraft had set up, yet apprehensive of the problems that plagued the original game. Let’s see how StarCraft II handles.

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StarCraft is a sci-fi strategy game series that takes place far in a region of space far, far away from our own. Its narrative focuses on three playable races: humans (called Terrans in-game) the terrifying Zerg, and the highly advanced Protoss. Players take command of each race in real-time strategy gameplay: gathering resources, building a base and training units to engage the enemy. Whoever can destroy their enemy’s base first, wins.

StarCraft II returns with the same style of real-time strategy gameplay, but each of the three races has undergone considerable retooling, and features a mix of old and new units. Unlike StarCraft, which contained 30 missions divided between the three civilizations, StarCraft II is divided into a series of three games that each focus exclusively on one race. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is the first game, and hones in on the humans.

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StarCraft II starts things out with a human campaign.

Though it’s been a 12-year wait in real life, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty takes place a mere four years after the conclusion of StarCraft. The Zerg have retreated to their hive clusters and the Protoss are trying to rebuild their shattered civilization. As for the humans, they’ve regrouped and reorganized under the totalitarian Terran Dominion.

Well, most of the humans. Jim Raynor, the gun-slinging, tough-talking space marshal from the last game, returns as Wings of Liberty‘s main protagonist. After surviving countless brushes with death in StarCraft, Jim now spends his time plotting against Arcturus Mengsk, his former boss and now-emperor of the Terran Dominion. The two got along until Mengsk left Jim’s girlfriend to die on a zerg-infested planet. Problem is, that girlfriend turned out to be Sarah Kerrigan, whom the zerg have mutated into their new leader. Raynor resents Mengsk for this betrayal, and the ragtag group of rebels he leads were similarly dumped to the sidelines after the Dominion’s rise to power.

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Jim Raynor is the central protagonist of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.

Though Raynor’s good with a gun, his spirits are flagging, and he spends most of his time drinking instead of taking the fight to the Dominion. All of this changes when Tychus Findlay, an old friend who’d been put on ice, shows up at Raynor’s favorite bar. Findlay’s been sprung out of jail by a mysterious research organization called Moebius, and proposes that the two of them partner up to find a set of ancient alien artifacts. The pay’s good, and it revitalizes Raynor’s little rebellion into action.

As so often happens in sci-fi narratives, things quickly get more complicated from there. Just as Raynor and Findlay take off in pursuit of the artifacts, the Zerg return to human space after a four-year hiatus. Raynor finds himself fighting to stay ahead of the Swarm, as well as the Dominion, and figuring out how these artifacts and the Zerg’s return might be connected.

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Kerrigan serves as the primary antagonist of Wings of Liberty. She and her Zerg return to human space and begin tearing it apart.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty contains about 25 missions, and comprises the first installment in a three-part, overarching narrative. Though Jim’s primary mission is to collect these ancient artifacts, the ex-marshal takes plenty of other jobs across the Koprulu Sector. From saving innocent farmers from a Zerg invasion, to raiding Dominion supply trains, there’s much more going on in this game than a simple treasure hunt. You can pick and choose between most missions in any order, traveling to a diverse array of planets in the process. It’s a great way to make the StarCraft universe feel big.

It’s also the diversity of these missions that makes Wings of Liberty so much fun. Whereas most missions in StarCraft consisted only of wiping the enemy blips from the map, StarCraft II sees players do a lot more. You’ll attempt to harvest rare minerals from lava planets, break into imposing prisons with only one guy, even try to win a battle as the planet around you is caught in a supernova. You’d think that most of these scenarios would be impractical for the RTS format, but Blizzard found ways to get creative with its mission design.

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StarCraft II’s mission design is fathoms more interesting than that of its predecessor.

The other thing that’s nice about these missions is that the dialogue between characters is (mostly) constant. In StarCraft, plot and character development was confined to the mission briefings, but there’s continuous interaction during the missions and in reaction to crucial events. This lends the narrative some much-needed infrastructure; instead of cramming everything into 30 seconds of mission talk, we see the characters react to new situations in real time.

To further deepen the narrative, players get to explore Raynor’s flagship, the Hyperion, between missions. You can visit different areas of the ship to get the scoop from other characters, and most of these encounters are pure exposition. The dialogue is very well-written and feels organic, and they even got Raynor’s original voice actor, Robert Clotworthy, to return to StarCraft after a 12-year hiatus. Each area of the ship has its own inhabitants, and you get to converse with each of them as the story continues to build. It’s a great way to bridge the narrative gap that real-time strategy games too often have.

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Raynor can visit with his crew between missions to get their take on recent events.

Of course, these interludes also have a more practical use. Most characters can provide upgrades to your standing forces to be used before the next mission. You can hire mercenary units to round out your forces, and use the money from artifact hunts to buy powerful upgrades. You can even research Zerg and Protoss technologies and incorporate their innovations into your military. For example, researching Protoss teleportation technology allows you to make automated resource refineries, a subtle but powerful upgrade.

Most characters, like your captain and chief scientist, are mainstays on the Hyperion, but others will come and go depending on the choices you make. StarCraft II contains branching subplots that affect how the next mission will play out. Do you side with a prison warden in helping to contain dangerous fugitives, or do you spring those fugitives out and add them to your crew? Your choice will affect how the next map will look.

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StarCraft II forces players to make some hard decisions, but their impact on the main narrative is surprisingly negligible.

Once you’ve purchased your selections and made your choices, it’s time to put boots on the ground. Just like in StarCraft, the human civilization is adept at moving quickly and producing a range of versatile units. Raynor’s forces can make most buildings take off and fly to new locations, and if you play your cards right, you can build a powerful army in impressive time. You’ll start off with space marines and medics, but work your way up to heavy vehicles and star fighters.

With each mission you complete, Raynor’s armorer will bestow you with a new unit. Early missions will yield new types of infantry, but late in the game you’ll receive such awesome weapons as the Viking, a vehicle that can transition between ground walker and air jet, and the Thor, a massive, walking tank. You’ll even have access to the full back catalogue of units that were in the original StarCraft, spiffed up and ready to join new units in the fray. My one complaint about this system is that by the end of the campaign, your unit catalog is needlessly bloated. Despite their various designs, most missions can be completed with a mix of a few units, and don’t require all the different vehicles and soldiers the game thinks you need. Still, the unit pathing has improved, so your workers won’t get stuck behind the house they just finished building.

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StarCraft II gives you access to the units from the original game, as well as new units and special, super-heavy mercenaries. It’s cool to see all that again, but much more than you need.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty‘s gameplay is phenomenal. Between the diversity of level design, the branching subplots and the many units you can choose from, Blizzard has succeeded in providing an open-end experience as diverse, in its own way, as that of Diablo III. Unlike that game, StarCraft II also gives you a decent explanation of how to use your units and technologies.

In a far cry from the previous game, StarCraft II also has different difficulty levels to suit your experience. I love StarCraft, but I feel no shame in admitting that I need cheats in order to complete it. I know dozens of people who have attempted StarCraft and only one of those dozens has actually beaten it without cheats. I don’t mind if your game is challenging, but being so punishingly hard as to be inaccessible to players is a tragedy. Especially with a narrative and universe as interesting as StarCraft‘s.

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Never played StarCraft? No problem. Wings of Liberty’s difficulty settings range from casual to hard, so that everyone can enjoy it.

Atop this smooth blend of excellent gameplay and strong dialogue is StarCraft II‘s core narrative. It’s easy to tell that the game was crafted with a lot of love; Wings of Liberty is loaded with references to the old game, and you visit many locations from StarCraft that’ve been gussied up with modern visuals. The game starts you out on the backwater world of Mar Sara, and you’ll also revisit such locations as Tarsonis, Korhal, and even the Zerg homeworld of Char. There’s an optional Protoss mini-campaign you can play in the background of the main narrative, following the dark mystic Zeratul’s quest for an ancient prophecy.

StarCraft II is one of those rare games that keeps its character development going at a steady pace. We see full character arcs with damn near everyone, even the characters at the center of minor subplots. Jim is forced by this artifact hunt to confront the pain of his past, and get serious about figuring out how to take Mengsk down. As time goes on and the Zerg invasion becomes more severe, the story becomes less about rebelling against a tyrant and more about saving humanity from this overwhelming threat. There’s a good blend of the trademark dark humor that comes with StarCraft‘s space rednecks, as well as some good ole sci-fi action. The game’s mood and tension rises and falls alongside that of Jim’s crew, all in a story whose stakes continually rise.

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There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had with StarCraft II, and it’s accessible to everyone.

I’m sure that StarCraft II‘s multiplayer mode is quite fun, but I never touched it. As I’ve said many times, narrative is the main reason I will play most games, and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is in that pile of “most games”.

Between its fun and accessible strategy gameplay, and the strong story bringing one of gamedom’s best sci-fi universes back to life, I can’t think of a reason not to recommend this game. Its selection of units gets a bit bloated, and some of its jokes fall flat, but Wings of Liberty is a strong debut for the StarCraft II series and a game that I recommend you try ASAP. It’s far and away the best strategy game I’ve ever played, and it has none of that always-online bullshit holding back Diablo III.

Admit it. That line I put in about space rednecks intrigues you.

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You can buy StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

 

Diablo III

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Save humanity from the wrath of an insidious demon.

PC Release: May 15, 2012

By Ian Coppock

I mentioned recently that the company I’ve worked at for two years closed its doors, and I’m now unemployed. In that same blog post, I discussed that I’d be putting Art as Games on hiatus until I found a new job. I’ve since rescinded that decision, because while looking for a job is obviously important, the job hunting process drives most people mad. Continuing to review video games is a great way not only of achieving a creative outlet, but giving me an opportunity to blow off some steam as I send out resumes and edit cover letters. With that in mind, our series on Blizzard Entertainment’s catalog of games will continue with their dark fantasy adventure, Diablo III.

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Diablo III is the latest in a series of isometric third-person adventure games that Blizzard’s put out. The original Diablo was released in 1996, and Diablo II in 2000. I’ve never played the former and my experience with the latter consists only of running around for a few hours in a very old-school medieval landscape, exploring caves and getting motion sickness from the poor framerate.

The Diablo series takes place in Sanctuary, a medieval world full of gothic motifs and high fantasy spins on biblical themes. Above Sanctuary sits the High Heavens, ruled over by righteous but uptight angels, and below are the Burning Hells, inhabited by conniving, bloodthirsty demons. Sanctuary itself is inhabited by humans, who are portrayed in Diablo as being the offspring of angels and demons.

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Sanctuary is the human realm and Diablo III’s primary setting.

Diablo III is a role-playing game in which you create a male or female character and pick from one of several classes. I picked the Demon Hunter because the bow is my RPG weapon of choice, and because I had the feeling I’d be hunting plenty of demons.

Diablo III starts things off when a comet strikes the town of New Tristram, and zombies begin emerging from the crater it’s made. Our hero, who just happens to be in the area, meets up with a crazy old scholar named Cain and his niece, Leah. Cain is convinced that the demons are returning to Sanctuary and that this comet strike is only the beginning.

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Any decent bars in this town?

Cain’s theory is brushed off by most as senility, until our character fights his/her way to the comet’s crater and recovers an amnesiac angel named Tyrael, who’s arrived to Sanctuary with a warning bearing Cain’s exact prediction. With your scholar friends and the now-mortal Tyrael in tow, it’s up to you to travel the world and stop the demons from invading Sanctuary. Even though the titular demon lord Diablo was vanquished in games past, you can bet that he’s scheming his way back to the top.

Diablo III‘s narrative is presented in a fairly linear format, despite the open-world nature of Sanctuary. In the tradition of most isometric “dungeon crawler” games, your character is given missions by various non-player characters, and these almost always involve fighting through hordes of monsters, completing an objective and teleporting back to the mission hub. These missions are a lot more diverse than the hum-drummery I found in World of Warcraft, and the powers and skills your character develops means that machine-gunning zombies with twin crossbows will never get old.

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The Demon Hunter is adept at taking out hordes of enemies from afar, making it my favorite class in Diablo III.

As you kill demons and find treasure, you’ll level up and have access to ever-branching tiers of powers. The Demon Hunter, for example, eventually gains access to a plethora of hunting tools, like mines, grenades and more powerful crossbow powers. The world of Sanctuary is stuffed with loot, and Diablo III‘s in-game economy revolves around finding and upgrading new equipment. You can sell the stuff you don’t need, but your most powerful tools will be your only hope against the demons.

Diablo III is also built to incorporate multiplayer or single-player gameplay, and I had loads of fun with both. My buddy Trent was an absolute menace with the hammer-wielding Barbarian, which played off well against my range-based Demon Hunter. Diablo III balances itself out depending on how many people are in your party, so solitary gamers like me need not worry about getting outmatched. The game remains a challenge no matter what your preference.

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Whether you’re in a wolf pack or a lone wolf, there’s no shortage of fun in Diablo III’s monster-hunting.

Diablo III‘s sheer number of powers yields an endless mix and match of demon-slaughtering capabilities. You can shoot them into the wall, set traps and summon monsters to fight for you. Certain classes are more adept at different combat methods than others; obviously the well-armored Crusader is the better choice for swordplay than a Demon Hunter; but this is a fact of role-playing games. The items you find carry different properties suited to different play styles. You can also modify them with gems and other add-ons to amplify their properties.

Each region of the world you travel to has its own cadre of monsters. From the dark forests of New Tristram to the scorching deserts of Caldeum, the local monsters have their own spin on things and their own reasons for wanting your blood. Combine this with Diablo III‘s variety of powers, and its thousands of item combinations, and you have a game that is an exemplification of versatility. Few games I’ve ever played have been so open-ended in how you go about things. Lots of games post the “play it your way” marketing material on their covers, but Diablo III is one of a select few that actually implements it.

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Diablo III’s labyrinthine item system can take a while to sort out, but you’ll be an absolute boss once you get it down.

The one caveat about Diablo III‘s enjoyable gameplay is that it doesn’t have much in the way of a tutorial. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the mouse button is used for shooting things, but the game just assumes that you know how to hotkey powers and how their energy meters work. It was only through sheer trial and error that I figured out how the Demon Hunter’s powers tick, but all of that could’ve been avoided with a simple text window. Each class of Hero also has its own type of energy meter, called different things like Hatred or Discipline or whatever. Why not give all classes the same type of energy meter and call it good? It would be easier for veterans of one class to get acquainted with another, for a start.

Additionally, Diablo III has perhaps the best item management and modification system I’ve ever seen in a video game, but figuring it out is a goddamn nightmare. You’re presented with a giant pile of menus and absolute bugger all on how to navigate them properly. Which items can a blacksmith work on versus an alchemist? What are the benefits of melting down materials? How do I add gems to an item? Which items can even receive gems? Diablo III tells you none of this and expects you to sink additional hours into figuring it out yourself.

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7 items crushed? I understand that statement in a general sense, but what does it mean in the context of Diablo III?

So what is the central motif that this abundance of good gameplay is holding up? The term “dark fantasy” gets thrown around a lot in video games, and most developers assume that it means fantasy with dimmer candles. I think Diablo III‘s spin on the term holds up the best; the game contains a lot of bright colors but they’re all swathed in shadows. Most of the game takes place at night to reinforce the game’s eerie gloom, if the hordes of twisted, grotesque monsters you’re up against don’t already do that. Seriously, Blizzard didn’t hold back on making some icky shit, like giant intestinal worms and zombies that belch poisonous gas.

More to the point, though, Diablo III‘s story is dark. It combines the visual accents of, say, Lord of the Rings, with a dystopian atmosphere akin to Batman. The main characters don’t have a lot of room for development, since most of the game is spent alone and far away from them, but the narrative is not afraid to assault you with an overwhelming sense of dread. From rampant diseases to hordes of hellish creatures, Diablo III‘s visual and narrative subject matter is no joke.

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Diablo III treats demons as the true end of humanity rather than giving them the burning bogeymen treatment common in so many games, and this makes them an emotionally terrifying foe.

The other thing I appreciate about Diablo III‘s narrative is that it weaves many shades of gray into the picture. You might think a story about stopping demons sounds pretty cut-and-dry, but there are layers of human intrigue woven into the story. Even the angels are not above having questionable motives in this whole mess. They’re also not above disagreeing among themselves how best to handle the demon situation.

Diablo III is also not above killing off beloved characters. It is not nuanced with its emotional heaviness and goes right for the gut in many instances. This addition of drama and suspense is something rarely seen in dungeon crawlers and in most video games released these days, and it’s something I mightily appreciated.

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For all its hordes of monsters, Diablo III is surprisingly deft in its handling of narrative weight, and its employment of tragedy.

Diablo III is a well-polished game with an enjoyable narrative and gameplay, but it suffers one fatal flaw that I’ve been holding back on until now. The game will run on most systems and doesn’t require a power plant of a processor. However, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom, Blizzard requires that you have a constant Internet connection in order to even play the game. Even if you’re only on single player.

Yup. You read that right. Even if you’re by yourself and have absolutely no need for an Internet connection, Blizzard built the game to require one at all times. This design facet angered a lot of gamers, quite understandably. When asked why such a thing was included in Diablo III, the game’s lead designer meekly replied that, “it’s kinda the way things are these days”.

What in the hell does that even mean? The way things are these days? Even in the age of Uplay and other draconian digital rights management, very few games have this heavy of a DRM setup. Anyone who is so twitchy over needing new updates immediately enough to justify an “always on” Internet connection should be in an asylum, not a games room.

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What a cluster. Oh, I meant the digital rights management.

Diablo III is a fun game that I recommend you try, but I can only recommend it to people who have a constant, high-speed Internet connection, and I think that’s a demographic far smaller and more privileged than Blizzard might think. I hate to mar a recommendation because of a technical detail, but Jesus Christ… no one should need a constant Internet connection to play a game. At least, a game that can be played in single-player mode.

Digital rights management is dangerous business, my friends. Ubisoft, for example, constantly freaks out about piracy, but what they fail to realize is that they perpetuate that problem with DRM-heavy services, such as Uplay. The creators of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt put almost no DRM on their game, and they found that the rate at which it was pirated was substantially lower than that of games with lots of annoying security and restrictions. Simply put, the more DRM you have on your game, the more likely it is to be pirated, because you’re letting your newly minted customer know that you’re not to be trusted. Diablo III is still a great game, but its emulation of this line of developer thinking is disturbing.

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You can buy Diablo III here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

World of Warcraft

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Blaze your own path and create your own legend in a massive high fantasy world.

PC Release: November 23, 2004

By Ian Coppock

It shocks almost everyone when I tell them I’ve never played World of Warcraft before. Not even a little bit. It’s a general assumption that if you’re an avid gamer, you’ve played World of Warcraft, and played it a lot. Not me.I’ve put off playing World of Warcraft for a myriad of reasons, but I finally decided to fire up WoW” as it’s popularly known, and give it a long-overdue try. What I found surprised me, and gave me a glimpse into the digital landscape that’s ruled gamedom for over a decade.

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In terms of revenue and number of players, World of Warcraft is the biggest video game in human history. Since its release in the fall of 2004, World of Warcraft has been played by tens of millions of people, and has grossed over 10 billion dollars for Blizzard Entertainment.

Ten. BILLION. Dollars.

The original version of WoW contains a decent amount of content, but five expansions have been released since the game hit the market, with a sixth expansion due to drop this fall. It is a fact, not an opinion, that this game is one of the biggest digital ecosystems ever devised by mankind.

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World of Warcraft is its own weight class in the world of video games.

How, then, has such a gargantuan entity eluded my interest for so long? Well, World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) meaning that it’s a persistent game world populated by thousands of players at any given time. Longtime readers will know that I’m not traditionally a multiplayer gamer, but recently I’ve recanted those feelings and branched out a bit. WoW allows many players to inhabit that same instance of a game world simultaneously. You can duel each other or, more importantly, team up to explore enemy-laden dungeons.

Gone are Warcraft‘s real-time strategy trappings, and in its place is a world where instead of gathering resources and building armies, you’re forging alliances with your friends and tackling dungeons requiring five, ten, or several dozen players.

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The Warcraft universe has been re-imagined as a multiplayer role-playing game, with groups of players teaming up against a dangerous fantasy world.

Though World of Warcraft‘s gameplay is a far cry from the strategic intricacy of its predecessors, the game is set in the same universe and picks up about five years after the events of Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. In the years since the chaotic events of the Warcraft III games, most of the world’s races have grouped together into two competing power blocs: the Alliance and the Horde. The Alliance has expanded beyond its human/dwarf base to include the Night Elves and a new race, the gnomes, while the orcish horde has absorbed a rogue faction of undead who do NOT answer to the Lich King. Both sides are led by a mix of new and old heroes, and uneasily coexist in something akin to the Cold War.

In the backdrop of all of this, I decided to create a Night Elf character who was good with a bow, and set off into the heart of the forests these purple tree-huggers call home. You can create a character by picking from one of several races, and then pick a class. I’ve heard that in the years since the base game’s release you can mix and match almost all of them. Most races, though, are locked into either the Alliance or the Horde.

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I rocked the Night Elves in Warcraft III, so it’s only natural that my new character would be one. Besides, I am absolutely that muscular in real life.

Anyhoo, after creating a burly hunter and befriending a baby tiger, I set off into the woods to embark upon my grand adventure. My first mission? Kill five baby tigers.

My next mission after that? Gather five units of moss.

My next mission after that? Find three gemstones.

My next… mission… after…. (snore)

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Holy CRAP this is boring.

One of the reasons I’ve never played this game before is that I was told that the entire game is about 50% boring fetch quests, and 50% raids with friends. The former of the two is certainly true; I spent a few hours running around the woods collecting shit before I realized, “what the hell am I doing?” I don’t consider gathering groceries for a mute non-player character very fun.

To be fair, World of Warcraft locks off a lot of content if you haven’t advanced to level 20, and though the game is free up to that point, I’m going to give it some benefit of the doubt and assume other, hopefully more exciting stuff was barred from me. I make pretty decent money these days but I’m not about to shell out fifteen bucks a month for a bunch of fetch quests. That’s the second reason I’ve never played this game.

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WoW’s side-questing leaves a lot to be desired.

By now, any WoW fans among you are probably screaming that I should bring up the core missions, which I will do. The main plot of World of Warcraft concerns the disappearance of the human king, and some nefarious plot involving dragons. When you’re not busy completing quests out in the countryside, you’re gathering friends for all-out war against the monstrous inhabitants of these dungeons. You’re also spending time leveling up your character by killing random monsters, or “grinding” in the wilderness.

Once again, this was a gameplay function I found less than enthralling. I generally don’t like any form of turn-based or cooldown-based combat; I find it cumbersome, and silly to see in action. You just walk up to a creature and hammer your spells and attacks as they become available, until the thing dies. There’s no finesse or agility to it; the combat is simply walking up to a hostile creature, letting it hit you as you hit it. Whoever dies first loses.

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WoW’s combat basically breaks down to who can mash all their power buttons the fastest.

So the side questing is a bust and the combat is a bit repetitive. Is fighting in a dungeon or raiding with other people fun? I will say yes, but it’s much better if you’re with friends. Most of my friends have neither the time nor the money to play WoW consistently, so I dived into the splintering hell that is joining up with random people. I will admit that there is some small thrill to ganging up against some big creature, but more interesting to me were the conversations I had with a few other players.

I asked some people in my party what made the game fun for them. The few who answered my question earnestly instead of with a smartass remark said that exploring dungeons with friends was fun. When I asked why it was fun, they said it was because of leveling up, and because they got new items. And then they’d go exploring again.

An endless cycle of dungeons, leveling up, new items, and dungeons again. I think I’m starting to understand why some call World of Warcraft addictive.

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Raid. Get items. Repeat ad nauseum.

I’ve read many articles over the years as to how the allure of World of Warcraft has ensnared so many people. My next-door neighbor in college lost his scholarship and grades to its alleged grasp. But, for whatever reason, World of Warcraft has failed to grasp me.

Yes, I didn’t get past level 20 and a few features of the game were locked off to me. Some WoW fans will probably say that this is therefore not a full review of World of Warcraft, and they may be right. However, I just couldn’t push myself to keep soldiering through boring side quests and repetitive, button-mashing fights with random creatures. I didn’t want to spend hours fighting animals in the forest just to level up. It also didn’t help that the game’s visuals have not aged well, and that any exposition or narrative to be found in the game is tied up in a crucial few NPC conversations and cumbersome writing. This game’s higher-level ecosystem of guilds and fighting may very well be interesting, but I couldn’t be asked to surmount its basic mechanics. If a game’s basic mechanics are boring, its funner higher functions become inaccessible.

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These pictures are starting to blend together.

Ultimately, narrative is what makes me decide whether a game is worth my time. It’s not everyone’s preferred criteria, but it’s the criteria that I believe most strongly argues whether or not video games can be art. More than that, it’s the thing that holds my attention. Pretty visuals do the job sometimes, but the gameplay offered in World of Warcraft did not. The story-rich universe I was introduced to in Warcraft III felt stripped down and pushed to the back in World of Warcraft, and I didn’t care for that one bit.

Now, none of this is to say that World of Warcraft is a poorly designed game, because it wouldn’t have taken over the video gaming world otherwise. It’s a well-oiled multiplayer machine with lots of features, but not a lot of soul. Lots of colors and explosions, few stories. Maybe the narrative of World of Warcraft is destined not to be an overarching story, but the tapestry of jokes and shared experiences between players. Either way, it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t understand how millions of people find this game so enthralling, but if any of what you’ve read here sounds intriguing, I doubt there’s a better-designed game out there for it than World of Warcraft.

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You can buy World of Warcraft here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.