Hearthstone The League of Explorers Hands-On Preview

At BlizzCon 2015, I played five games of the new Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft adventure, “The League of Explorers.” Featuring an Indiana Jones-style theme, an early portion of the “The League of Explorers” was playable at the show. I was able to play as the rogue (twice) and shaman (thrice) characters in a collapsing-temple setting. The game was an exercise in survival; the goal was to exit the collapsing temple after a certain number of turns. In addition to the standard battle gameplay, there were a few twists in this level of “The League of Explorers” that added a different type of fun to Hearthstone.

In between rounds, you’ll have to make a number of choices. Some of them are a matter of strategy and some are a matter of luck. Here are some examples of the choices you’ll have to make in “The League of Explorers.”

  • Gain a mana crystal or draw a card
  • Take 5 damage or take a chance of receiving 0 or 10 damage
  • Restore 10 health or draw 2 cards
  • Get one turn closer to the exit and face a 7/7 golem or do nothing

 

Adding to the fun are a number of events that occur as you get closer to the exit. From what I played, these events happen on the same turn every game, so they can be played for and around. Here are some of the “League of Explorers” events I saw.

  • A 0/4 boulder card appears on your side of the battlefield. It runs over all minions to its left.
  • The temple ceiling collapses and clears the battlefield.
  • After hearing, “Why’d it have to be bugs?”, a pair of 10/3 bugs appear as opponent minions.

 

Naturally, the most exciting part of any Hearthstone addition is the new cards. “The League of Explorers” adds 45 new cards in total. Here are some of the ones that I used.

  • Everyfin is Awesome: This shaman card gives all minions on the battlefield +2/+2 and costs one less for every murloc on the battlefield
  • Murloc Tinyfin: This is a scrub card, but the art is adorable. It’s a cute baby murloc with a sword.
  • Sir Finley Mrrgglton: This is a fun 1-cost legendary card. It lets you change hero power, giving you a choice of three others.
  • Elise Starseeker: This card shuffles a map into your deck. If everything pans out, it leads to an opportunity to play with a ridiculous amount of legendary cards. Sadly, it never panned out for me.
  • Unearthed Raptor: This card lets you choose a friendly minion and copy its deathrattle effect.
  • Huge Toad: I almost didn’t mention this card because the ugliness of the art scares me. It also has a deathrattle that deals 1 damage to a random enemy.

 

All told, I had lots of fun playing “The League of Explorers” for Hearthstone. I can see myself playing the adventure a few times, but I’m really excited about getting the new cards and figuring out how to incorporate them into my decks. Since my priest deck is the only that’s worth a damn, I’m wishing that “The League of Explorers” has some nifty priest cards. Get ready for an all-new, all-different Hearthstone exploration adventure when “The League of Explorers” hits on November 12, 2015.

Blizzard Announces The League of Explorers For Hearthstone

Just when I was getting “barely” competent with “The Grand Tournament” cards in Hearthstone, Blizzard went ahead and announced “The League of Explorers” at BlizzCon 2015. “The League of Explorers” expansion adds a new adventure and 45 new cards. Available on November 12, 2015, the expansion should add more depth and diversity to an already deep and diverse game.

Here’s a clip from the official press release:

The League of Explorers introduces four intrepid adventurers — Elise Starseeker, Reno Jackson, Sir Finley Mrrgglton, and Brann Bronzebeard — and invites players to join their journey through a series of exotic destinations, some familiar and some new, to recover an artifact of immense power. These brave explorers will face many perils as they navigate through the Temple of Orsis, Uldaman, the Ruined City, and the Hall of Explorers in hopes of discovering lost artifacts that will lead them closer to the relic. Escaping giant boulders and emerging from all of the locations in one piece will reward adventurers with a combined total of 45 treasured new cards, bringing a slew of new tactics to the game.

For many Hearthstone players, “The League of Explorers” will make the game even more fun and addictive. Completionists love when new cards come out and will stop at nothing to acquire them. Advanced and competitive players will enjoy finding new ways to tweak their decks and crafting new strategies. As for me — a habitual Hearthstone player that stubbornly refuses to spend money on the game — I foresee a frustrating month where everyone I play has the new cards and I don’t. I’m excited to see, learn about, and (very slowly) acquire the new cards, but I’m also prepared to hate them while everyone else has them I don’t. I’m bratty that way.

I’ll be getting some hands-on time with the game and will write about my experience with “The League of Explorers” for Hearthstone in a followup story. For now, enjoy some artwork from “The League of Explorers.”

Edit: Hands-on preview is live here!

Mario Tennis Ultra Smash Preview (Wii U)

At E3 2015, I spent a couple of hours playing Mario Tennis Ultra Smash for Wii U. I’m a longtime fan of the series and have spent hundreds of hours playing Mario Tennis games on numerous platforms (N64, GBC, GBA, and GameCube). The earlier games did a brilliant job of imposing everything that’s adorable about the Mario universe on a solid tennis game; they’re addictive, fun to look at, and play well. Last week, I played a near-final version of Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. I was already sold on the game at E3 2015, but after playing it with more characters, I can’t wait for its release.

Unlike Mario Power Tennis for Wii, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash does not use motion controls. Instead, it offers a standard gamepad experience. While fans of flailing their arms about will be disappointed, as a longtime player of games in this series, I like the traditional controls much better.

In the E3 2015 build, there were only two playable characters — Mario and Bowser. Last week, I played a doubles match that pitted Waluigi and Peach against Donkey Kong and Rosalina. The characters have distinct movements and shots. For example, Rosalina floats around the court instead of running. I was told that Yoshi takes adorably small steps, since his legs are so short. My character, Waluigi, was lanky and focused on defense. Like the previous games, I really appreciate how the different characters have noticeably different levels of speed, power, and spin.

Confirmed playable characters include Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, Daisy, Rosalina, Wario, Waluigi, Bowser, Yoshi, Boo, and Donkey Kong. In addition to the characters available from the get-go, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash will have some unlockable characters. Known unlockables include Bowser, Jr., Toadette, Dry Bowser, and Sprixie Princess. I’m looking forward to seeing what other players there are to discover and hoping there will be some nifty crossovers.

There will be a number of different courts and surfaces in Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. The real-world surfaces include clay, grass, and hard courts. Clay is the slowest and has a higher bounce. Grass is the fastest and has a lower bounce. Hard courts play fast and have a level bounce. There will also be mushroom- and water-themed courts

What makes Mario Tennis Ultra Smash different from its predecessors is its generous use of power-ups. Players can pick up mega mushrooms and grow to a ridiculous size. Naturally, this gives the powered player a ridiculous amount of power that’s difficult to handle; counter-shots have to be times more precisely when dealing with a powered-up player. Visually, players that consumer a mega mushroom temporarily grow to take up a large chunk of the television screen. While the in-game effect is fierce, the visual effect is bold and hilarious.

If you want to have a more traditional tennis experience (you know, one where players aren’t taller than buildings) then you can opt for a mode that eschews power-ups. In this mode, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash plays more like its predecessors. The exception is the new “jump shot” technique, which can be used in all modes.

Mario Tennis Ultra Smash looks like a fine addition to the Mario Tennis series. From the limited time I’ve had with the game, it looks and plays great. Like the previous installments, the developers have done a superior job at making the players and courts feel distinct. The power-ups add a new layer of fun, especially in party-game situations. Mario Tennis Ultra Smash appears to have everything I loved about its predecessors, with a new wrinkle. I can’t wait to storm the courts as Waluigi when the game hits in late November!

Guitar Hero Live Preview

Once one of the biggest franchises in videogames, Activision’s Guitar Hero series has been dormant since 2010. That’s going to change on October 20, 2015 with the release of Guitar Hero Live. With a reimagined guitar controller, a revamped visual style, and an all-new GHTV mode, Activision hopes that Guitar Hero Live will appeal to a new generation of gamers and longtime fans of the series.

The biggest and most obvious change to Guitar Hero Live is the controller. Instead of a single row of five buttons, the new controller features two rows of three buttons. In normal and harder difficulties, the new button arrangement is pleasantly challenging; you’ll often have to hit multiple buttons in multiple rows. For newcomers and those that enjoy music games but aren’t very good, the easier modes allow for single-row play.

It took me several songs to get used to the new controller and even then I didn’t have enough time with it. I enjoyed being challenged by the different permutations of button presses. The dual-row “chords” make the game more interesting and difficult (in a good way). While some claim that Guitar Hero Live approximates power chords, I disagree. The game is certainly more fun with the new controller, but still a far cry from playing an actual guitar. I don’t see that as a fault at all (go play Rocksmith for that) — just disagreeing with some game writers.

The first three Guitar Hero Live songs I played were a mess due to a combination of the new controller and songs I was completely unfamiliar with. I recall butchering a song by The Black Keys, murdering a Fallout Boy song, and demolishing two songs by two bands I never heard of (I fail at modern music, fyi). After getting accustomed to the new controller and switching to a different kiosk that had songs I knew, the game was easier. Part of it was simply spending time with the controller, while part of it was my deep love of Warrant and Faith No More.

Guitar Hero Live adds some significant visual changes too. Instead of cartoon-like graphics, the game uses live concert footage from the perspective of the guitar player. You’ll see your bandmates and the crowd as you play. The visuals change depending on your performance. I’ve never paid too much attention to the graphics in previous Guitar Hero games and the new graphics were mostly lost on me in the bit of Guitar Hero Live I played. I’m so focused on the notes that I block out most of the visuals. That said, it was cool to watch other people play and there are plenty of gamers that watch the whole screen while they play music games.

In addition to the main “Live” mode, Guitar Hero Live features GHTV mode. This mode features different channels of music, allowing constant access to a variety of new songs and different genres. Songs in GHTV mode feature music videos from the associated acts, as opposed to concert footage in Live mode. While you can play along with a GHTV song as it’s streaming, replays require a microtransaction purchase. It’s an interesting approach compared to traditional scheduled downloads, but I’m not sold on it just yet. I need to experience GHTV when it’s full functional and accessible to millions of players before making any judgements.

If you’re interested in the developer of Guitar Hero Live (and I hope you’re interested in all creators of the games you play) then check out FreeStyleGames. Acquired by Activision in 2008, the company has experience with music games, including B-Boy, DJ Hero, and Sing Party.

For the most part, I enjoyed the brief time I spent playing Guitar Hero Live and am excited to play more. Part of it is that I haven’t touched a music game in years and part of it is because the new controller is lots of fun. I’m confident that fans of the old Guitar Hero games will enjoy Guitar Hero Live and curious to see if it will appeal to younger games (i.e. those pesky Snapchat kids).

Guitar Hero Live will be available on October 20, 2015 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Rocket League Preview (PS4, PC)

Rocket League has a premise that’s so preposterous that is must be fun — cars playing soccer. If that’s not enough to get your attention then how about ridiculously acrobatic cars playing a physics-enhanced death-match version of soccer? Okay, fine then. Let’s add Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal to the mix! That dude brings an absurd amount of fun to any party he’s invited to and he aims to amp up this game. From the brief time I spent checking out Rocket League, I found it to be a game that’s pure fun, whether you’re playing it alone (good) or playing it as a party game (better).

Let’s get some of the official particulars out of the way. Rocket League is being developed by Psyonix, a company known for creating Unreal Tournament 2004, ARC Squadron, and Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars (Rocket League’s forerunner). The game will be available for PlayStation 4 and Windows PC on July 7, 2015. In addition to playing against Rocket League’s AI, the game supports up to four players in split-screen mode and up to eight players in online mode, with drop-in drop-out gameplay.

After a quick demo and some gameplay, the aspect of Rocket League that I enjoyed the most was its feel. The game is flat-out fun. I loved the silly premise of cars playing soccer. Rocket League’s physics are extremely enjoyable, so much so that driving around and seeing what the cars could do was as much fun as competing in a match. I would say that the physics are accurate, but I have no idea of what the physics of driving up walls and on arena ceilings is actually like (I’ve lived a limited life, sorry). Where I think the game will really excel is as a party game; sure, solo and online play should be lots of fun, but I can easily picture having a blast playing Rocket League with several buddies on a couch.

Driving in Rocket League is much more than crashing into a giant ball and trying to get it into a net. The game’s cars are capable of outlandish maneuvers that will have you soaring through the air and performing acrobatic stunts. The cars can drive on walls, execute bicycle kicks, double jump, perform wicked power brake moves, and more. In the time I spent playing Rocket League, I found the driving to be insanely fun.

As you play Rocket League, you’ll unlock features. The developers were keen on going heavy with unlockables, so as to keep players coming back for more. I was told that Rocket League is loaded with Easter eggs, to the point that players should discover something new every time they play the game.

When playing against AI-controlled characters in Rocket League, Psyonix hopes to offer an experience that’s lifelike. From what I was told, the AI shouldn’t fall into predictable patterns. Sometimes the game will go at you aggressively and other times the game will emphasize defense. Psyonix’s goal for the Rocket League AI is to make it feel like you’re competing against an actual person.

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Like many car-based games, Rocket League offers lots of customizability. Players can choose from up to ten body styles — buggies, trucks, a Batmobile-like vehicle, RC cars, sports cars, and muscle cars. Paint color, paint type, wheels, tires, decals, exhaust trail colors, and more can be customized. I was shown some cool customizations, like sparkle exhausts and rainbow exhausts. I was told that other exhaust types include money and grass, while various paint types like glossy and metallic will be included.

Of course if you want to go with a pre-made vehicle, Rocket League should have some cars you’ll immediately recognize. Sweet Tooth of Twisted Metal fame will be exclusive to the PlayStation 4 version of Rocket League. You can see Sweet Tooth in action in the video embedded below and check out several screens of the iconic ice cream truck in the screenshot gallery above.

Other Rocket League features include extensive stat tracking, a robust replay editor that takes advantage of PlayStation Share Play, season mode, and (for your trophy whores out there) platinum trophies. At a glance, Rocket League appears to be a complete game. While I’m fairly sure that it will be entertaining as a multiplayer game, I haven’t seen enough to say if the single-player mode will have much longevity. Details on the game’s season mode will be revealed at E3 2015, so hopefully that’ll give me more of an idea of the single-player fun. For now, check out the Rocket League media in this story and kindly let me know what you think of the game in the comments section.

Endless Legend Preview

A couple of weeks ago, I caught a demo of Endless Legend, an upcoming 4X strategy game (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) for PC. The game is being developed by Amplitude Studio, the creators of Endless Space. Endless Legend takes place in the same universe as Endless Space, but is set during an earlier time period. As you’d expect from an experienced 4X strategy game developer like Amplitude Studio, Endless Legend is shaping up to be a deep, cerebral, and engrossing experience.

Versatility is one Endless Legend’s fortes. The game accommodates a wide variety of playing styles. The different clans offer various strengths suited to a particular style. Whether you prefer a militaristic offense, an airtight defense, or economic supremacy, Endless Legend offers complex gameplay that will tickle your fancy. Best of all, you can experience the game in different ways, depending on the play style and clan you choose.

Like other 4X strategy games, combat and exploration are heavily featured on the surface level, while intense resource management serves as the game’s underpinning. There are four basic resources in Endless Legend: food, industry, science, and dust. The last one is a resource that can be used for purchasing and maintenance, while one clan uses it in lieu of food. I was told that “influence” serves as a fifth resource of sorts, making it the Brian Epstein of Endless Legend resources (What? No Beatles fans?!?).

Speaking of clans, the developers gave me a quick rundown of some of the factions in Endless Legend. The Wild Walkers are the rough equivalent of elves featured in numerous fantasy games. The Broken Lords are knights and builders, that may or may not have a problem with dust-related vampirism. The Necrophages are evil, zombie-like insectoid beings that aren’t particularly nice. The Roving Clans are renowned for manipulating dust for profit. Lastly, the Vaulters are the science nerds of Endless Legend and their society revolves around ancient technology. The last one was slightly disappointing, as a strategy-game clan comprised of pole vaulters sounded all kinds of awesome. Lastly, I was told that there are up to 16 minor factions that can drastically alter gameplay.

The game’s main quest is divided into eight chapters, with each faction offering a unique experience. While side quests for minor factions are more generic, the developers told me that they aimed for variety with the main factions. In addition to battling, there will be quests that revolve around exploration and economy building. The player will sometimes be given broad goals, with multiple ways to achieve them. For example, the player can be tasked to get 10 of “resource X” and can do so through different means.

From what I was shown, Endless Legend looks like an intense game that will satisfy a very particular type of gamer. While 4X strategy doesn’t have the broadest appeal, gamers that are into it are super into it. Endless Legend looks like a home run for those kinds of gamers. At the same time, the game is surprisingly approachable. Yes, it’s very involved, but it’s also accessible to gamers that are curious about 4X strategy and have never delved into it. It certainly won’t appeal to balls-and-guns gamers, but there’s a chance that Endless Legend will create new 4X strategy fans while satisfying existing ones.

Endless Legend is currently in public beta and available through Steam.

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Arena of Fate E3 2014 David Bowman Interview (Crytek)

Arena of Fate is an upcoming multiplayer action game that’s being developed by Crytek’s Sofia studio. It features five-on-five battles with characters from different eras and cultures (both historic and fictional). On the practical side, Arena of Fate skirmishes can be completed in 20 minutes or less, making it ideal for gamers with tight schedules. On the cool-as-hell side, it’s awesome watching Little Red Riding Hood vs. Jack the Ripper, Nikola Tesla vs. Frankenstein, Baron Münchhausen vs. Robin Hood, etc.

In the E3 2014 interview above, Crytek publisher producer David Bowman talks in detail about Arena of Fate. Kindly watch the clip to learn more about the game and to see it in action. For additional details, the press release is copied below.

Arena of Fate E3 2014 Interview

History’s Greatest Heroes Clash in “Arena of Fate” – a Brand New IP from Crytek

Frankfurt am Main (Germany), Sofia (Bulgaria), May 22, 2014 – Step into the shoes of legendary heroes from history and fantasy and lock horns in “Arena of Fate”; an action-packed online multiplayer game coming to PC and consoles soon from Crytek.

Featuring fast-paced 5 vs. 5 battles, Arena of Fate expands Crytek’s range of Games-as-a-Service, and will be playable for the first time at this year’s E3 expo in Los Angeles. Players will be free to choose from a huge roster of famous characters before engaging in star-studded skirmishes with fresh gameplay twists.

Among the iconic figures in Arena of Fate are the likes of Frankenstein, Jack the Ripper and Baron Münchhausen. Tap into their famed traits in battle as you bring Frankenstein back from the dead, use Jack’s cleavers to gruesome effect, and launch across the map on Baron Münchhausen’s cannonball!

Managing Director of Crytek Black Sea and Game Director of Arena of Fate, Vesselin Handjiev, said: “Imagine Joan of Arc and Robin Hood cooperating to hunt down Little Red Riding Hood – Wouldn’t that be terrific? But besides the game’s iconic heroes, which everyone in the team really loves, we are also challenging ourselves to carefully craft a streamlined player experience that allows for both greater accessibility, and rich, deep, action-packed gameplay. We are very excited to meet the first wave of players in the arena this summer, and will be listening carefully to the feedback we receive and making the community’s contribution a key part of our efforts to perfect the fun.”

The game is being developed by Crytek’s Sofia studio, which was established in 2008 following Crytek’s acquisition of Black Sea Studios. Originally founded in 2001, Black Sea

Studios made their name with critically acclaimed real-time strategy game “Knights of Honor” and sci-fi online RTS/RPG hybrid, “WorldShift”.