Tuesday, 26 April 2016

C'thun and You: What Whispers of The Old Gods Means For Hearthstone

The ancient ones are upon us. C’thun, Yogg-Saron and the rest of their Old God buddies have infested Hearthstone, and with the release of their expansion: Whispers of The Old Gods, are bringing some big changes to the game. It’s easily the most significant update to the game since launch, and both new and old players alike will have to familiarize themselves to what’s new. Let’s have a look at what the arrival of the Old Gods mean for the game.

First and most significantly, when Whispers of The Old Gods launches on April 26, it will kick off the “Year of The Kraken”, splitting Hearthstone into two distinct formats of play: Wild and Standard. Wild will essentially be “classic” Hearthstone, allowing players to make decks from all cards that have ever been released for the game. Standard, on the other hand, will restrict players to making decks only out of cards that have been released in the last year, as well as the base and classic sets. In the case of this year - The Year of The Kraken - only cards from Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament, League of Explorers and Whispers of The Old Gods will be legal.

Both formats will have access to the ranked, casual and practice game modes, while The Arena will only be available in the Wild format. Additionally, “retired” cards - in this case cards from Naxxramas and Goblins vs. Gnomes, will no longer become purchasable with money. The only way to obtain them will be to craft them with arcane dust.

“Yes Steven, we understand, new formats, now hurry up and get to the new bloody cards!” I hear you screech. Hold on a minute! Before we look at the new cards, we have to check out the nerfs. Whispers of The Old Gods introduces more nerfs to old cards than the total number of nerfs the game has received since launch. Wowza! A whopping twelve cards from the classic and basic sets have been nerfed, including old staples like Ironbeak Owl, Big Game Hunter and Mountain Giang, as well as some class specific cards like Force of Nature and Hunter's mark. A lot of these nerfs were to cards that limited future design space, and indeed, quite a few of Whispers of The Old Gods coolest cards couldn’t exist with these cards in their current state!
R.I.P Combo Druid
Check out the official website for more info on the nerfs. As a note, when the nerfs go live, you’ll be able to disenchant all of the affected cards for their full dust value. I highly recommend doing this if you aren’t going to immediately use the cards, as you’ll always be able to craft them back if you need them!

Right, moving on. Easily, the most interesting cards of WotoG are the Old Gods themselves. Each has a very unique effect, are supplemented by supporting minions, and have a very specific deck archetype in mind. C’thun for example, is built around his “followers”, who will buff up his stats whether he is in your hand, your deck, or even in play. A lot of these minions are “understatted”, meaning that C’thun decks will be very slow decks that sacrifice their early game in exchange for unleashing a devastating C’thun finisher. He is sure to be a favourite for control priests and warriors!

Yogg-Sarron casts a random spell (at a random target) for every spell you have cast that game. Mages and Rogues, who build decks based on having lots of cheap, frequent spells, will be able to drop this Old God as another finisher, although he is a lot less reliable than his buddy C’thun…
Each of the four old gods has a very unique effect.

Y’shaarjis much more of a general use type Old God, and is the kind of card that can be put into control heavy decks without having to worry about being supplemented too much. He brings out a minion every turn he is in play, and has a devastating attack, making him a big-bodied threat in the same vein as Ysera.

Finally, N’zoth, rather than creating something completely new, simply supplements the “deathrattle” playstyle. Even with only a handful of powerful deathrattle minions, like Sylvanas and Tirion Fordring, he has considerable value.

The general theme of this expansion is slow. While prior expansions have favored fast, “rush” or “aggro” style decks, the Old Gods are clearly about biding your time to build up a massive, killer finisher. Many of the neutral and class legendaries, like Deathwing, Dragonlord, Malkorok and Cho’gallalso support control-heavy playstyles. Hunter in particular, which has always been a very aggro-oriented class, has been given quite a few tools to make a sort of control deathrattle N’zoth hunter viable, like Forlorn Stalker and Infest.

In terms of the overall “winner” of the expansion, I’m gonna have to go with Shaman, Only two cards with “overload” were introduced, and they are actually quite sensibly statted. They were given an overload unlock alternative to Lava Shock with Eternal Sentinel and Hallazeal The Ascended will make lightning storming a full board also give you a considerable heal.
Finally an "underload" alternative to Lava Shock!
Warrior also got some super interesting cards like Blood Warriors and Blood to Ichor, while the Paladin’s Vilefin Inquisitor makes an all-murloc deck somewhat viable. Druid’s legendary, Fandral Staghelm makes the nerfs to Ancient of Lore and Keeper of The Grove make sense, and is an incredibly powerful card. Even Mage got some crazy good cards like Faceless Summoner, and Warlock got the hilarious “Warlock is too hard, let me play another class”-card: Renounce Darkness.

The two classes that got the shaft were Rogue and Priest. Both of these classes lost a lot of their most powerful tools with the expansion, either in the change to standard format (Velen’s Chosen and Lightbomb for Priest) or the base and classic card nerfs (Blade Flurry for Rogue), and neither were given what they need to compensate. I predict that these two will be the weakest classes in the upcoming new meta, while Mage, Shaman, and Warrior should take the top spots.

As for the expansion’s neutral cards, there are way too many to list here, but they include a lot of interesting ideas, such as Blood of The Ancient One - a kind of win condition in of itself, Shifter Zerus - Unstable Portal: the minion, and Eater of Secrets- a hard counter to those pesky secret Paladins!

Will either win you the game or be completely useless...
The folks over at Hearthpwn have put together a full list of all the new cards if you want the full rundown. Whispers of The Old Gods is probably the most interesting thing to ever happen to Hearthstone, and will hopefully be the jolt the game needs to kickstart its rather stale competitive meta. I’m excited, and you should be too!

I'll leave you with some of my favorite cards from the upcoming set, in no particular order:

Thanks for reading guys! I would really appreciate if you could, share, Tweet, reddit or just get this article out there to as many folks as possible; I want people to know that even though I don't work at The Escapist anymore, I'm still honing my craft, and willing to put out freelance articles to wherever is needed.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Back on The Market

Hey guys. Bit of sad news if you haven't already heard. The Escapist has closed up its Connecticut office, and let go the vast majority of its staff. This, unfortunately, included me. I'm incredibly grateful to Susan Ardent, the EiC at the time of my appointment three years ago who took a chance on a cocky, young, smart-mouthed kid. Additionally, I'm thankful to Greg Tito and Joshua Vanderwall, Susan's successors, for fostering my writing and editing ability.

I am a thousand percent better of a writer thanks to this experience. You can write, and write, and write, but you will never get any better unless you have someone better than you look over your work. More than anything else, this is what I took from The Escapist, and it is ultimately this experience that will lead to me finding the job I want to do long term.

Here's the last article I wrote for them. So long, Escapist, it sure was fun while it lasted!


So, I'm back on the market! Ideally, I would like to find something similar to what I did at The Escapist: video game-related freelance work that I can carry out from the comfort of my own home. That said, beggars can't be choosers, and while I do have a 1-year "safety net" of my teaching job, come April 2017 I will be back in Australia with no job, and my new wife. I will of course entertain all offers from all types of jobs around the world, as eventually I'll need to find myself a proper full-time gig to support myself.

If you know of anything, anything writing related, in either the US, Japan or Australia, please feel free to drop me a line.

In the interim, I'm going to take a short break from writing. Since being made editorial staff at the beginning of the year, I've been basically running myself ragged juggling the two jobs. It's good to actually have free time - to lesson plan at school, to spend time with Laura in the evenings, and of course play video games! I'm looking forward to my first holiday that I don't have to lug along my laptop just in case I have to write up an article...

Eventually though, I will start up writing again, if nothing else than to keep my skills keen, and my knowledge up-to-date. I will probably do something similar to what I used to do on this blog: a weekly news round-up with occasional features and reviews. After-all, it was in no small thanks to this blog that I ended up getting The Escapist position!

As always, thank you for all of your support, and stay tuned.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

New Year, New Position

Hey there, faithful Steve's Game Blog readers (hi Jerry!)

I've got some good news! 2016 marks not just a new year, but a brand new position for me. I am no longer a simple news monkey for The Escapist, but have been made a part of the editorial staff! Hooray! What this means is that I am now one half of the reviews production team, and will be editing an average of 7 reviews a month. Here's the first of many:

The Witness Review

Additionally, I will also be working on the site's "Gallery of The Day" feature, as well as having a much bigger presence with additional feature articles. I'm also getting my very own weekly column: The Escapists Review. The Escapists Review is a kind of community reviews project, where I will collect and edit reviews submitted by Escapist users, and publish them on the site. It's still not 100% ready yet, but should be up and running by the end of next month, so stay tuned!

I will also maintain my regular news duties, as one of the site's most senior reporters.

As for what this means for my duties as an ALT... well, stay tuned for info on that...

Be sure to click here to see all of the articles I'll be writing for The Escapist, and here to follow me on Twitter for the latest updates. I don't really update this blog that often so those two links are the best way to keep up-to-date with all my work.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Minamiaizu - a Hidden Snowsports Paradise

Every year, Kanto’s skiers and snowboarders make the pilgrimage to one of Tochigi’s two “premier” ski resorts - Hunter Mountain and Mt. Jeans - by the tens of thousands. With how incredibly popular these resorts are, you’d imagine they were the bee’s knees of snowsports in Japan. However, in actuality, they are overpriced, overcrowded, ice-skating rinks, that more often than not have to rely on man-made snow just to get a decent cover. So why do so many people flock to these resorts? Well, they are literally the closest places to ski for those in the northern Kanto area, and two of the easiest to get to by car from Tokyo. So, to all you people making the long trek from Tokyo to Tochigi, I have a message for you: Stop! You’ve come all that way, why not add just an extra hour to your journey, and go to one of Minamiaizu’s hidden snowsports paradises?
Glorious snow awaits you in Minamiaizu.
Located just an hour and a half drive from Nasushiobara station, the two “fringe” resorts of Fukushima’s Minamiaizu ski area - Takatsue and Daikura - offer everything that Hunter Mountain and Mt. Jeans don’t. Fresh powder. Cheap tickets. Glorious, varied terrain. Small crowds. While they are a little smaller than Tochigi’s resorts, and don’t have quite all the snazz of the big resorts (like gondolas or NFC lift tickets), these quaint hidden gems are well worth the longer trip.

Takatsue has just eight lifts, but over a dozen different runs of varying difficulty, including some amazing tree runs under the lifts. It also has a full terrain park, complete with a massive, full-sized half-pipe. The snow is frequent and fluffy, and it’s a rare day that I don’t get to make some fresh tracks somewhere on the mountain. Everything except the uppermost lift is well shielded from the wind, so even in the worst of weather you’ll still have a great time. Best of all, if you don’t feel like braving the icy and snowy roads (or don’t have a car equipped to handle it), Takatsue actually offers a free “park and ride” shuttle bus service, from Nasushiobara’s “Nasu Garden Outlet”.
There's always some fresh powder on Takatsue.
If you’re just going for the one day, pick up the 4,500 yen lunch coupon ticket, which comes with a 1,000 yen lunch voucher. However, if you think you’ll be coming back at least two more times, be sure to sign up for Takatsue’s “Snow Powder Club”, which offers you a discount on lift tickets for each consecutive visit - bringing the cost of a ticket down to just 2,500 yen after your third visit. A full ski set/snowboard set hire will set you back 3,000 yen and 4,000 yen respectively, but you can get a 500 yen discount with the Snow Powder Club card.

Daikura, on the other hand, is even smaller than Takatsue, with just five lifts and 11 runs. However, it is one of the cheapest ski resorts in the area, at just 3,900 yen for the same kind of discount lunch ticket that Takatsue offers. It’s also ever-so-slightly closer: about an hour and 20 minutes from Nasushiobara station. Advanced skiers and snowboarders won’t find too much to do here, with only three, relatively short black runs, and no real tree runs to speak of, but beginners and intermediates should have a blast experiencing the same kind of famous Japanese powder snow that all its big resorts are known for around the world. Ski and snowboard hire will set you back 3,000/3,800 yen respectively for a set.
The views from Daikura's summit are just astonishing.
Both of these resorts are perfect for a day trip, but if you’d like to stay longer, both Daikura and Takatsue offer on-site lodgings. Alternatively, you could also find a place to stay in the nearby onsen resort town of Shiobara, or around the Nasushiobara station area.

So whether you’re a powderhound who’s sick of having to share the slopes of Hakuba and Niseko with a million other foreigners, or a local in the Kanto area who is just looking to get in a bit of skiing, next time you think skiing or snowboarding, think Fukushima, and its unspoiled snowsports paradises.

-Steven Bogos
Minamiaizu... let's go!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The "Gamer Gate" Post

Hey guys. There has been a lot of talk about "Gamer Gate" in the gaming media world as of late. I would like to say a few words on the matter. You may be wondering why its taken me so long to post a statement, and why it's appearing here, instead of on The Escapist. Well, after a whole lot of back-and-forth with Defy Media (The Escapist's parent company), we have been told that we must post a collective "group" statement, rather than personal statements. I respect Defy as a company, and I don't even feel that strongly about Gamer Gate, but forcing us to act as a "collective" rather than an individual really bugged me. Maybe it's because of all my time living in Japan's "collective-focused" society.

That said, here is what I have to say about Gamer Gate:

When I started my career as a journalist, I chose to go into gaming journalism for two reasons. The first, is because I am passionate about (read: obsessed with) video games. The second is because I didn't want to end up writing gossip tabloid stories for some bottom-of-the-barrel mainstream media publication, digging into people's private lives and attacking their character and reputation. But, in the weeks surrounding the "Gamer Gate" controversy, I was ashamed to see so many outlets in the gaming media and community descend into the exact kind of "he-said, she-said" bullshit that I tried to avoid by entering this industry.

I just want to write about video games. I want to write about what people say about video games, and occasionally, I want to write about cool science, tech, and geek culture tidbits. I don't care what these people do in their private lives. I don't care if so and so slept with so and so, and I certainly don't want to write about it. The vitriol from both sides of Gamer Gate made me sick and ashamed, and I vowed to have as little to do with it as possible. This statement will be the first, and last, time I address my views on the controversy.

While sexism, equality, and journalistic ethics in the gaming industry are definitely discussions worth having, Gamer Gate was certainly not the way to go about having them. We, as gamers, should be better than this. I thought we were above this kind of tabloid-newspaper garbage.

-Steven Bogos

PS: Just to end on something a little more lighthearted, here is my League of Legends World Championships Cosplay Gallery!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

VIDEO: Here's a couple of Diablo III Witch Doctor videos

Hey guys,

Been getting pretty big into Diablo III now that Reaper of Souls is out, so here's a couple of quick videos I put together about legendary effects and the Witch Doctor:

Sorry I haven't been updating as much! Be sure to check out all my Escapist news posts!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

REVIEW: The Last of Us (PS3)

The Last of Us has one of the best written plots I ever have experienced in a video game. Period. It is a fantastic human story that is fascinating from start to end, and that fact alone makes it one of the best games of 2013. So, if you came to this review with the question "is The Last of Us worth it?”, then you have your answer - yes, it is most definitely "worth it". You can stop reading right now, and go and buy the game with my guarantee that it will be an incredibly satisfying gaming experience. However, if you'd like a bit more insight into why I believe it's not quite as deserving of all of the gushing love fans have slathered on it, then please, read on.

Essentially, The Last of Us is a perfect example of how a well-written plot can't (completely) carry a mediocre game, and while it does try its best, the actual, you know, game, behind The Last of Us is what drags the rest of it down. And honestly (well, at least to me personally), that's kind of the most important part of a video game.

But let's start with what The Last of Us did well, because overall, the game generally deserves to be applauded. If there is one award that The Last of Us truly deserves, it is the Writer's Guild of America's "best writing in a video game". I laughed. I cried. I screamed in fear. The Last of Us may be a "zombie game", but like The Walking Dead before it, the real story is the human drama - how low, how high, and how downright horrible human beings become when they have their backs pushed up against the wall. Throughout the game, I was delighted to see Joel and Ellie's blossoming relationship, whether it be from the random little quips Ellie will spout while progressing through a level, or her and Joel’s heart-wrenching cutscene performances. All of the supporting cast you’ll meet along the way also does a great job of helping bring Joel and Ellie's story of survival in this beautiful, yet broken world, to a satisfying conclusion.

And boy, is this world beautiful. I was skeptical, having not played a game on last generation consoles in quite some time, that the graphics would be unbearable, but Naughty Dog has done an amazing job of squeezing those last scraps of performance out of the aging PlayStation 3 hardware. The world of The Last of Us, while not really being anything we haven't seen before in games like Half-Life 2, Resident Evil, or even Fallout, is a gorgeous place to explore. I am a sucker for urban decay, and having Joel and Ellie adventure their way through collapsed skyscrapers, abandoned subways, and cities being slowly reclaimed by nature, made me giddy. It's a lot of the little attention-to-detail stuff that Naughty Dog added, such as Ellie reacting graffiti marking the aftermath of some conflict, or the collectible notes left behind by survivors, that really breathe life into the world.

Unfortunately, the beautiful world turns a little bit ugly when we look at the game’s actual gameplay. The Last of Us' gameplay is split into three main segments: exploration, zombie combat, and human combat. The exploration sections were acceptable, as the only real complaint I had is that the solution to almost every "puzzle" is just finding a ladder or plank and boosting Ellie up to a higher location to use it.

The survival horror-style zombie combat is probably the best-designed of the three. Some levels, such as one in an abandoned high school, were truly, nail-bitingly terrifying. The only problem is, as the game progresses into the later stages, the enemies don't seem to get any harder, and once you can figure out that stealth + melee is king, and that it is impossible for your allies to accidentally trigger a zombie, the challenge kind of diminishes.

But even with the reduced challenge, the survival horror segments are still pretty satisfying. The human combat segments, on the other hand, go downhill real fast. At first, the absolutely shocking gunplay controls (who the hell thinks its a good idea to bind reload and fire to the same godamn button?) really frustrated me, but after a while I learned that, just like in the zombie segments, it's much more effective to hide and punch than shoot and flank. It doesn't help that the human AI is shockingly inconsistent. There will be times when I can strangle a dude while his buddy literally two feet away doesn't notice, and times when I barely pop my head out of cover and someone half a mile away sees me.

The human enemies are also generally, really, really dumb. It's so easy to find a cramped space where guns aren't useful, lure one guy there, kill him loudly, and then just punch all his buddies to death when they inevitably come, one by one, to investigate. And when all else fails, you can just pick up a baseball bat and sprint full tilt at rifle-armed-thugs. All they'll do is look at you, and maybe think about shooting you, right up until you knock their blocks off.

Because I barely used my guns, and almost never used the "special" weapons (such as bombs and molotovs) I always had a massive surplus of weaponry, so whenever a "boss" fight came up, I would destroy him with ease.

Furthermore, the game practically showers you with the materials for medkits. After a while, you learn exactly where to look to find their components, so I always had at least two in reserve. There was one time when I had actually ran out of medkits, and was kind of in a bad spot, when all of a sudden Ellie turns around and says "here Joel, I found this for you" and hands me one. Really?

Normally I wouldn't be so harsh on a game's difficulty, but I was playing the game on "hard" - the hardest difficulty available when you start the game. Yes, there is an additional difficulty level ("survivor"), but it is only unlocked after you have finished the main game once - a practice which I absolutely cannot stand. So yeah, If you are somewhat competent at video games, you will breeze through The Last of Us without breaking a sweat.

The best part of this game, by far, is its story, and I found myself “forcing” my way through it’s gameplay segments just to get to the next cutscene, or see the next area. While you may see this as an almighty praise for its writing, it’s also quite a harsh criticism of it’s gameplay. I shouldn't want to avoid the gameplay segments of a video game.

So while The Last of Us is an amazingly well-written written human story, Naughty Dog forgot to  pair it with an equally well-made game. Despite this, it is still a fantastic experience, and if you just want to sit back and enjoy the ride, by breezing through it on easy mode to enjoy the story, you will be satisfied. But if you came here expecting a challenge, you've come to the wrong place.

Verdict: Buy