Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10 games of 2013

1- Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Probably the most impactful emotional experience and reaction I’ve had with a video game ever. The game is extremely well put together, and is very immersive and beautiful. As you control both characters at the same time, this leads to some fun puzzle solving and is critical in conveying thematic story lessons as well. Being about 6 hours long, I highly recommend this one to anyone; grab it on steam if you can.

2- Rogue Legacy

20 goto 10. This game kept me up till wee hours of the morning with “just one more level” Very tight iterative progression and controls. Just a great dungeon diver all around.

3- Something Wicked (World of Warcraft)

World of Warcraft is probably my most played game this year. My monk has been a roller coaster ride between the tiers this expansion, but peters out towards the end. MoP built on lessons learned, so it’s taken about a year to feel like more of the same. Raiding has been impressive all expansion.

4- Zelda: Link Between Worlds

I was expecting it to be “Link to the Past” HD, but I was pretty surprised at how wrong I was. It’s still some Zelda ass Zelda, but they made some pretty good deviations from the formula to make this game stand out. Being able to choose which tools you want to take on your adventure from the beginning rather than unlocking them linearly was pretty great. The story is also pretty twisty, which is something I like.  

5- The Last of Us

I came to this party late, and heard a lot about it. I mean it’s a Naughty Dog game, so going in I knew that there were going to be great set pieces and the gameplay would be engaging. The character development between the protagonists is phenomenal, and I think that Joel is the best character of 2013. He has his flaws, but his heart is in the right place. Just picking nits, but Ellie swears worse than a sailor, and you end up killing more humans than zombies than I would like for a “zombie appocalypse” shooter. Mad props though, that even I was careful with my supplies, crafting and scrounging, I never quite felt safe or over prepared for the enemies in the game, which augmented the story and the atmosphere.

6- Bioshock Infinite
The whole universe is weird, and you need to keep playing it just so you can figure out what the hell is going on. The art design is fantastic, and playful. You feel like you are in a very familiar place, even when there are rifts opening in space and time all around you. All the characters play their part well, which is what the game is all about. Songbird though...

7- Ni No Kuni

I haven't played a JRPG in forever, and this is the kind of experience I remember it being. A little Final Fantasy, a little pokemon, and cute as hell. Very punny, and just the right amount of grind. The whole broken hearted people theme was a fun minigame.

8- The Swapper

Gritty and gross, this game’s main mechanic explores some strange morality in terms of “what is a soul?” The puzzles are excellent, and it’s just fun to make lots and lots of clones of yourself to shoot yourself into space.

9- Guacamelee

Another good revival of an older genre, the metroidvania. Just really silly, and the combo system was great to pile drive people into oblivion.

10- Papers Please

It’s a game? I mean, it conveys a really powerful message, but for some reason I play a shift about an hour a day stamping passports. I haven’t finished it yet, so I’m hoping it has some good payoff.

Honorable Mentions:
Super Mario 3D World
Card Hunter
The Stanley Parable

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Monkbots, Roll Out!

Currently, my guild is just beginning progression on Garrosh Hellscream and is a mere few weeks away from finishing off the tier, until we begin the long wait for Warlords of Draenor. I am most likely going to be kiting the adds to victory for the kill, so this will be the second progression kill that I will not be playing my main spec (I was Mistweaver for our Lei Shei kill.) As raiding is on the precipice of farm, I want to take a look back where the class has been.


Monks are the second new class added to the game since World of Warcraft launched in 2004. When Blizzard added the Death Knight in 2008, the general perception of the class was that it was overpowered, and it unbalanced the game, for better or for worse. Based on this precedent, I think a lot of players were expecting monks to be given the same treatment: very powerful at the beginning of the expansion, but balanced out as time passed.  

Looking back on the expansion, the monk class has been competitive, but not game breaking in any way like the Death Knights were when they were introduced:

Windwalker – They have been solid melee DPS every tier and competitive with other classes. Their main drawback has been lack of meaningful raid utility. Blizzard has iterated on the spec for every tier, and has been adding flesh to bone where it was needed. Tier 15 added a cleave to the toolset, and Tier 16 polished talent choices. Our mastery has come a long way from the original Combo Breaker, and now sits in a good place overall, with a crazy rollercoaster detour that was Rune of Reorigination.

Mistweaver – Conceptually very cool. A healer that can be effective at ranged or in melee, and play very differently in either place. This ultimately did not pan out as well as most people hoped it would. The melee rotation was nerfed for being too simple and too effective, while the bread and butter heals feel out of control and way too automated. The legendary meta gem became far too effective, and ultimately made mana irrelevant. Priests and paladins dominate the whole expansion due to absorbs, as mistweavers shine in Throne of Thunder with impressive throughput.

Brewmaster – I think Brewmasters ended up being the most consistently potent throughout the expansion. Shuffle is a very well designed active mitigation system, and the class did a cargo ship’s worth of damage in an expansion where tank damage not only mattered, but was substantial. Monks have lots of personal survivability cooldowns, so they can take a burst beating in addition to being as smooth as butter to heal.

So yea, all in all Monks getting a passing grade in the expansion they debuted in. While this is all well and good, and they are a complete class, why does there still feel like there is something missing? In comparison to the Death Knight, the Monk class did not feel as powerful as Death Knights in the expansion in which they debuted.

Enter the Fist?

From playing Blizzard games as long as I can remember, their game philosophy has always been “Make everything overpowered” and emphasize “Concentrated Coolness”:

I think this is where the Death Knight design philosophy differed from the Monk, and why the Monk feels less complete in comparison. Thematically monks represent balance, incorporating elements of both the yin and the yang, harmonious, subtle, and Zen. I think the introduction of such a serene force into the game is in direct opposition to their design philosophies. The balance that monks represent ultimately works against them as an engaging game element.
Balance is boring, and imbalance is interesting.
The Death Knight was wildly popular when it was first introduced, they can be summed up with once simple ability: Death Grip. This ability changed the way the game was played forever, because it was powerful, and introduced a very visceral disruption into the game. Everything about the Death Knight was disruptive and imbalanced, and I think that resonated with a lot of players and injected a very large player base into the class.

I will extend this metaphor a little further, and say that every class in the game has one iconic ability that represents them. Paladins have Divine Shield, Warriors shout, Druids shift, and Shaman have totems. All of these things are awesome, concentrated, powerful.

Monks have….Healing Spheres? Jab? Zen Meditation? ROLL? Please. What’s missing from the monk is that iconic ability that sums up everything about them, and broadcasts that to the player and everyone around them. I will say that the Tea/Brew concept is unique in how well monks can throttle their performance, but it does not stand out enough to attract players to the class.

At least to me, there was never that one ability that stood out from the rest of the classes and was an icon of monks uniqueness. A lot of our abilities are bled and borrowed from other classes so that we fit the paradigm of the more homogenized game we play today in comparison to where the game has come from.

It’s the community, stupid.
Warcraft players can be summed up in one word, community. That community could be raiders, PVP, RPers, altaholics, transmog fiends, auction house barons, or a million other little niches within the game. The monk community is still nascent and growing as people pick them up and start to play them more and more, whether that be as a main character or an alt they play on a regular basis. While other classes in the game have had a strong, established community that has been building for nearly 10 years.

Where Death Knights exploded onto the scene, Monks came in as a trickle. Monks didnt get that huge player infusion simply monks didnt get that overpowered feeling from the get go (in my opinion) from either a class balance perspective or a lore perspective. I dont think they were front and center for this expansion, and didn’t have that “Turned up to 11” feeling that Death Knights came to the game with.

Ultimately, it will take time for the monk community to become as vibrant as any other class community, and that’s not a bad thing. Little by little the bird builds its nest. Nor do I feel like monks have been ignored by the developers, though some specs feel more complete than others. Right now we are absent a central hub to exchange ideas and learn from each other, but that will organically come with time.

A part of me worries that monks won’t become a core part of the game, simply because of the type of player that the class and the game attracts now is different from where the game has come from. As warcraft built momentum, it was a brave new world, and enterprising players learned every nook and cranny, and explored the mechanics of this crazy new game. I feel that the roads have been paved, and the wilds have been tamed, and a more civilized and docile player has came and replace the people who blazed the trails and have since quit the game, or have firmly established their empires within Warcraft. If the monk class and community is to become as vibrant as the others, we need such enterprising souls to come through and establish monks as a force to be joined together.

Why did I monk.

I have been playing a paladin since Vanilla, and raiding since Burning Crusade. I played the same character for nearly 6 years. I’ve played all three specs in raids, and felt like I had exhausted my ability to learn something new from the class. I quit raiding in Firelands due to real life, and just general frustration with the game.

If Mists of Pandaria had launched without the introduction of a new class, I would have stayed unsubbed. I rolled a monk, because I wanted to learn something new, and explore the game with fresh eyes. The monk represented adding something new and funky into the mix and it held the promise of changing the game paradigm. I will admit that I expected another Death Knight type of disruption into the game with the Monk.

I do feel that my expectations didn’t match reality. The monk didn’t do what I thought it was going to do. Maybe my expectations were misplaced, and I think everyone’s were to a point as well. A lot of windwalkers simply gave up on the class when they realized they were underpowered and brought very little raid utility. I feel like my raid spot was based on the promise of future performance that never really materialized.

While each monk spec performs competently, there is something missing, something that sets us apart, or adds to current game environment. I feel like Blizzard was fighting the last war when they designed us and other classes got better toys.

Monks didn’t change the game like I expected them to. So in the end I am left with a question: Were my expectations too high or unrealistic, or was the introduction of the monk class just a flop? Rhetorically, I think it’s a little of both.