Hearthstone Battlegrounds – Brutal Battalion Fun!

Hearthstone has always been a game of pick-up-and-play styled fun. From randomized Tavern Brawls and crazy solo challenges, the game has never taken its playstyles too seriously despite the heavily weighted Championship and World Tournament brackets. Often introducing new off the wall rules through seasonal words, changing the game with combo-building eldritch horrors and interjecting light-hearted tones into dramatic storylines. In line with this theme, the Hearthstone team have injected a new gameplay mode into the versatile online collectible card game. Enter the Battlegrounds, the new free-for-all auto-battler slaughterhouse for commanders and soldiers alike!

The auto-battle has seen a big surge in popularity. Similar endeavours such as Dota Underlord and Teamfight Tactics do just as the name suggests; line up your units and they’ll engage in card-based warfare of their own accord. Crossing cardboard, they’ll attack one after the other until one side no longer has any foes standing. Rooted in the Multiplayer Online Batter Genre, auto-battlers distill the complexity into making plays between massive slugfests. For Card Game veterans, Hearthstone’s Battlegrounds play more like Yu-Gi-Oh! than it’s Magic: The Gathering roots.

Battlegrounds start off at a breakneck pace. Eight players will load into a match, selecting one of two randomly chosen heroes to work with. Some, like Ragnaros, can deal tremendous damage by spending the mode’s currency, while others like Patchwerk have a passive Hero Power. Each round begins with you loading into the Battleground Tavern headed by Bob (who will do something, when asked). There you can spend Gold which is generated once every turn like Mana in regular play, up to a maximum of ten. From there you can pick one of several options.

The first, and most obvious, is buying monsters. Your playing field can hold up to 8 at any time, including summonables. While you can store other cards and monsters in your hand, they won’t be doing anything when they aren’t on the field. You’ll start off with weaker rank 1 monsters, but can upgrade the tavern over time through large sums of Gold. Each rank up will unlock a new pool of additional monsters to draw from, but will not replace those already unlocked. Ergo, the more you unlock the harder it is to find duplicate creatures you may be looking for. And you’ll want to find them.

Assembling three of one card will allow you to create a golden, more powerful variant of the card. While this usually just results in a flat stat increase, it may also increase the power of certain Battlecry abilities. Playing a Golden Card will also net you a token to unlock a random creature from the next available unlocked rank. Giving you a choice between three powerful cards, which are often legendaries, these can rapidly evolve your gameplay and are worth cherry picking certain creatures. One must be careful about choosing which cards to play, as your board can fill up fast.

Like the main gameplay modes, your Battleground board has a limit to how many creatures you can play at one time. Unlike the main game, however, that cap is set at roughly 8 total creatures. This includes any additional minions your cards might summon, but fear not. You can certainly clear up the board by assembling a Golden Variant, but you can also sell cards in play to Bob while you’re at the tavern for one gold each. This, on top of the 10 gold maximum cap, stops you from buying and selling minions until you have the MOST optimal field, encouraging salvaging smart moves from what is available. Sacrificing is key to optimizing what you have.

During your preparation phase, you’ll set up your board by purchasing minions to add to your hand. If you don’t like what Bob offers, you can refresh his recruiting page for a nominal fee to improve your chances, or freeze what he’s offering to purchase after your next battle when your gold resets. Playing minions from you hand will allow you to sort out their placement on the board, as well as manage their on-summon abilities. Creatures with Battlecry, for example, will not use their ability when the next battle phase begins but when you play them during your preparation time.

After your board is set (or the timer runs out) you’ll be ushered into a Combat Phase. After randomly selecting your opponent, your two teams will duke it out against each other following Hearthstone’s traditional rules. Unlike other auto-battlers, however, the Azerothian AI is a bit smarter, striking your opponent’s row from their left to right. After a brutal gladiatorial combat session, those whose minions have survived will deal a certain amount of damage. Starting with the rank of your tavern as base damage, they then add the value of their minions ranks together to calculate how much damage they’ll do to your hero. Losing all of your minions to three Rank 1 minions hurts quite a bit less knowing they will only deal 4 damage, but knowing that player has a rank 5 inn can be devastating to your play.

Unlike Ranked or Competitive Play, the Battlegrounds aren’t meant to be completely competitive despite their full-frontal rating on its main menu. After playing a few games myself, it’s hard to see how it really could be; there’s simply too much luck and random number generation to consistently take home massive wins, let alone place within the top half of your game. There are roughly 10 heroes to choose from in the game mode, and every currently allowed card in Hearthstone seems to be up for grabs when you visit Bob’s inn!

There is, however, a sense of progression in the Battlegrounds though it’s currently locked behind a pseudo-paywall. Successive wins and participating in the system will unlock more options and flexibility in your playthroughs. Winning just one event will allow you to pick from one of three heroes instead of two, with additional brackets making future runs easier. Unlocking this progression system requires purchasing a pack from Hearthstone’s upcoming expansion: Descent of Dragons. With Battlegrounds in Open Beta and this in effect, its safe to say this will find its footing and a live release on December 10th alongside the newest adventure for Azeroth’s eccentric heroes.

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WoW Wednesday: What’s New In Patch 8.1.5?

With Patch 8.1.5 just on the horizon, the story of Battle for Azeroth begins to chug on past the utterly deadly siege on Dazar’alor, the capitol of the Zandalari Empire. With the Alliance and Horde returning to lick their wounds and welcome new allies into their ranks, its time for us to take a keen look at what is on the horizon for our heroes of Azeroth. This week we’ll be dissecting what’s coming up for players in this bridge-patch for World of Warcraft, introducing two new allied races, a new raid, and a plethora of additional and returning content.

The first major portion of the patch is of course the introduction of Azeroth’s two newest Allied Races. The Alliance will finally formally invite the kingdom of Kul Tiras into its ranks, while the Horde will stand by the empire of Zandalar. Both require additional pieces of content for players to complete before they are unlocked, which may take you a significant period of time if you haven’t been working away at them. You must have reached Exalted with either the Proudmoore Admiralty or Zandalari Empire factions respectively, as well as having completed all of their home continent’s major storylines. Players must also have completed both components of their faction’s War Campaign from 8.0 and 8.1. For players wanting to make either a Kul Tiran or a Zandalari Troll, you can only create them if that server has a level 110 character on it, similar to old Hero Class Restrictions. For those who have been skipping on their current patch content there is no need to complete any part of the Battle for Dazar’alor raid in order to unlock either Allied Race.
 Starting April 16th and additional bridge-raid will open for players beneath the Shrine of the Storm, similar to the Trial of Valor and the Ruby Sanctum. The Crucible of Storms has been prepared by N’zoth, Old God of the Deeps and Patron of the Naz’jatar, for players to test their mettle. While only comprised of two bosses, the Crucible will offer loot at a higher item level above Dazar’alor, including artifacts with unique abilities and terrible power. Players will also see the return of Xal’atath, Blade of the Black Empire as she is reawakened. Seeking freedom from her eternal prison, she will reveal the darker history of the Stormsong Valley, and reveal to heroes the terrifying truth of what may truly be driving this war forward.

For those looking to escape the battlefront, the infamous Brawler’s Guild returns to both Stormwind and Orgrimmar. While players can return to prove their grit in the pit players will also find that a grizzly murder has twisted the once (relatively) peaceful brawling clubs. As players progress through the ranks they’ll uncover more about the mystery and its supposed suspects, culminating in some clever detective work. Players solving the mystery will find themselves saddled upon the just as dangerous Bruce, while those who top out at Rank 8 will unlock an exclusive Brawler’s Guild transmog set. Challenge Cards and Shirts will, of course, be returning, as well as mysterious additions throughout the clubs…

For those diligent tradesmen, new quests will open up through your Professions for your Tools of the Trade. These epic relics will be unlocked through a series of involved quest chains, some taking you beyond the realms of time itself, in order to achieve these powerful tools. Each item has a unique effect for players to utilize, from stealing the health of the fallen to creating indestructible armor. These will only be created and found by those with crafting professions, but are no doubt a vital addition to any tradesman’s collection.

For those who like to skip beyond the bounds of time, Timewalking will also be expanding its roster. Scaling players back to expansion-based statistics, Timewalking challenges players with Heroic level dungeons from the time, offering the bold a change of pace and unique rewards to go along with it. New to the line-up will be (in)famous dungeons from Warlords of Draenor, Warcraft’s 5th expansion. First planned to appear in May of this year, six dungeons will be available during this timewalking event including: Everbloom, Bloodmaul Slag Mines, Iron Docks, Auchindoun, Shadowmoon Burial Grounds and Skyreach. New rewards will be available with the event’s currency, Timewarped Badges, including two new mounts that made exclusive appearances alongside Beastlord Darmac’s encounter inside the Blackrock Foundry raid.

For the more PvP oriented, two older battlegrounds will be receiving a heavy facelift. Both Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin have received large-scale cosmetic facelifts to match the ongoing war across Azeroth. While the old physicality and design of each battleground will remain the same, both have been adjusted and uprezed to a more modern world. Included in this update is also the new Arathi Basin Brawl, “The Arathi Comp Stomp,” where players will fight Island Expedition style AI in the Basin! Alongside them, the Siege of Wintergrasp returns for players, which will be accessible through the Epic Battleground group finder.

New to the wonderful, marvelous Darkmoon Faire is the Darkmoon Roller Coaster! Easily noticeable by any entering the Faire’s main gate, this new attraction is best experienced in first-person view, and will set players on the tracks of a turbulent attraction! Just like the Darkmoon Carousel, players will also gain the WHEE! buff based on how long you ride the treacherous coaster. After all, doesn’t fortune favor the bold?

More controversially added into Patch 8.1.5 is the heavily requested Portal Rooms. Located in the Stormwind Mage Tower for the Alliance, and the front Gates of Orgrimmar for the Horde, these rooms now include portals to each major hub across the expansions of Warcraft, including the Jade Forest and the Court of Farondis. However this change has come with an ill-received, and in my opinion poorly made, decision on Blizzard’s part. Across the rest of Azeroth, any major city that contained a portal will now only contain one back to your faction’s major city, including Legion’s version of Dalaran which included portals to the Caverns of Time and Karazhan, two zones which both Alliance and Horde players respectively need to go extremely out of their way for. There is also no manner to travel to Hellfire Penninsula in Outland for players, not on the introductory quest to The Burning Crusade content. These rooms also do not contain portals to other major faction cities outside of expansion locked ones.

But I think perhaps the best, and most overlooked addition is, of course, the new Heirloom pieces which will raise experience-boosting gear to level 120. A necessary addition to those of us looking to finally create our Zandalari Paladins and Kul Tiran Druids.

So what are you most excited for with the release of Patch 8.1.5? Zandalari Paladins or Kul Tiran Druids?

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E3 2018: Hands-on with For Honor: Marching Fire

Last year I was present at E3 for For Honor’s coming out. As a digital murderer, I’m usually bored with raw combat, especially in non-persistent, lobby-based games. However, what I saw from Ubisoft gave me hope. I admittedly didn’t buy the game at launch due to some personal issues at the time, but I’ve been following the news and still feel like it’s added to the online multiplayer sphere: simple combat design with deep mastery, fun gameplay, and yes, avatar gender and ethnic flexibility that still brings in people of other cultures to help respect the team’s modifications. It may not be important to everyone, but at the very least, the base game had well designed combat.

The Marching Fire update takes that and goes further. While it’s cool that we have the new Wu Lin faction and four new classes, what MMO fans might really enjoy is the new Breach mode, which plays like an action-oriented Alterac Valley, after the World of Warcraft devs streamlined it. And honestly, AV is still the PvP experience I use as a baseline for decent MMO PvP scenarios. While I enjoyed my hands-on with the new mode, I also got to sit down with Ubisoft Montreal’s Creative Director Roman Campos-Oriola to talk about cultural influences, bugs, and balance.

For Honor Marching Fire

Shaolin Viking Showdown

People around the internet have complained about the game’s inauthentic take on history and gender. Black vikings? Female knights that can stand toe-to-toe with a man? “Where’s the realism?” they ask. Campos-Oriola responds by asking how many times you find Samurai fighting vikings. It’s all fantasy anyway. The question is how to present it in a way players can enjoy, and enjoy they are. While dark corners of the internet may be brooding about their perceived loss of exclusive main roles in game stories, the people actually playing For Honor are actually pushing for more flexibility. When certain classes are restricted for a certain gender, the team does it for story purposes, but fans want Ubisoft to nix that. It’s something Campos-Oriola doesn’t say will happen, but he understands that players are passionate about wanting more freedom. Perhaps if people push hard enough, we can get stories for the other genders currently locked out of some of the class fun.

But story is important in For Honor. It’s not just lore but dictates how the characters come into being. The Wu Lin aren’t joining the fray because the team wanted a Chinese faction but instead because they picked out certain weapons and looked through various martial arts to see where it would fit the best. Once chosen, the team not only got cultural experts to help them tell the story, but practitioners and stunt people familiar with the martial arts to help Ubisoft build enough immersion that the game feels grounded despite obvious fantasy influences. Just the same, what’s refreshing to me about the series is that it’s still simple combat mostly grounded in reality. All melee, no frostbolts or darkflames whizzing by.

That being said, the game isn’t perfect. Some of you may recall that the game’s first tournament had an embarrassing exploit still in it that the champ used to win. While Ubisoft made the bug more difficult to execute, some of them still remain. The difficulty to execute them makes Campos-Oriola unfazed by their existence, but acknowledged that, yes, bugs do slip in, despite having internal and external people helping the team quash bugs, including fans. Some bugs are bound to slip by, but many more are caught.

Balancing the classes, of course, is another priority that fans sometimes have trouble appreciating. Campos-Oriola noted that there’s essentially two types of balance. One is actual balance, like with the Peacekeeper. It’s not just the developers thinking, “Oh, this is broken,” but looking at damage numbers, player statistic data, the meta, the pro scene, etc. As it’s been said, the Peacekeeper was overpowered, but it was also a one trick pony, in that most of its kit was useless compared to the overpowered aspects. Balancing that gives Peacekeeper players more tools and also makes the class less predictable to fight against, which is hopefully more fun to play against too.

Then there’s the perception of balance. Many people have asked Campos-Oriola when they’re going to revamp the Lawbringer, but in fact, it’s already one of the most balanced characters. This is a bit harder because you need to change people’s perception of the class. Hopefully, balancing the actual broken classes, like the Peacekeeper, helps make balanced characters, like the Lawbringer, stand out more.

Campos-Oriola couldn’t hint at any possible future factions, but I felt like he expected this question and didn’t want to give me too many details. We certainly won’t find out until Marching Fire’s been out for awhile.

For Honor Marching Fire

Into the Breach

While I certainly enjoyed talking shop with Campos-Oriola, it’d be a mistake to not address the hands-on demo I had with the Breach PvP mode that Marching Fire brings to For Honor. I had quite a few demos this year, but I don’t think my fellow press or demo guides were more enthusiastic about any other match I played this year.

The demo started off fairly basic. I was allowed to practice a bit with several characters on the roster, including the new Tiandi and Shaolin Monk classes. The Tiandi I played was the standard soldier class. I’m no For Honor veteran, but it very much felt like a default character, which isn’t necessarily bad. The Shaolin Monk, however, was quick, able to weave about a bit, though it’s power attack still felt slow and left me wide open. When it came time for our Breach, I went with the monk in hopes that it would be more useful for doing objectives.

Think of Alterac Valley. Now cut it in half and make one side attacking and the other defending their keep. The defenders have infinite lives, the attackers only have so many. The objective for the defenders is to use up the attackers’ lives, while the attackers need to breach the castle and kill the enemy lord.

I started the match on defense, manning the ramparts. I had several NPCs helping me, and enemy NPCs came in to attack. It kind of felt like Dynasty Warriors on hard mode, in that the enemy NPCs fell easily enough, but they could do some real damage if I wasn’t careful. This always was significantly more obvious when a player assisted them. For those unfamiliar with the series, you choose to attack or defend high, left, or right. If both of you choose the same area (high) for example, you can’t damage each other. A blocked attack leaves you open, so you need to figure out where to attack your enemy and when to do it so as to not get blocked and leave yourself wide open. Is simple sounding but is rather difficult, especially given combos, nearby NPCs, and possibly having to fight multiple people at once.

While I was trying to repel the invaders, my teammates were down on the ground floor trying to destroy the enemy battering rams. Of course, they’re also guarded by NPCs and players. Our guide tried to help coordinate us a bit, but my main issue was I simply didn’t know how to find the healing station for a while, and that was good, since coordination mattered. Going into even a 2v1 fight is quite dangerous, as I learned a few times when I got to my ally just when multiple enemies had finished them off.

After losing the outer walls, we fell back to ours lord in classic Alterac Valley fashion. We needed to keep our lord alive and make sure they died enough for the match to end. While this sounds simple, at this point, we had another big issue: we didn’t have the environmental advantage to stop our enemies from resurrecting their dead anymore. Revived characters don’t count as a death against the attackers, so not only did we have to kill them, we had to make sure they didn’t revive their allies, which is difficult when you’re also trying to guard your faction NPC.

No moment better highlighted this than when I got caught unaware while trying to revive my teammates behind a not-so-secret piece of cover. As the last man standing, my death gave the enemy a window of opportunity to really hit our lord hard. Except that, well, we’d already chipped away enough damage that our lord was able to finish them off. Both teams and the demo guides were floored, as it hadn’t happened in previous demos. It was a tense moment, but also one where we’d made a good dent in their available lives.

We rode that small victory through several more waves of attacks. By staying near our lord, we were able to intercept the enemies quickly and wear them down so the lord could finish them off. The enemy zerg attacked, racking up their own deaths. It took them a few waves to reorganize and come in as a group again, but we were within two full wipes of winning the game. Everyone was hungry for a victory. Both teams were trying to make use of cover, NPC allies, healing stations, revives, everything. We had no discernible way to heal our lord, and visually he looked wounded without even needing to look at his health bar.

In the end, there was a final stand. A lot of people on both sides died. When the match ended, it took everyone a few seconds to process what had happened: our lord fell. We’d taken many of them out, but they’d won by a hair. Everyone, on both sides, both press and Ubisoft employees, cheered. It was a fun match for everyone involved

I can’t promise that everyone’s match will be so thrilling, but the game’s combat already felt, well, fair. Breach, however, is a familiar kind of PvP for MMO players, and combined with For Honor’s basic gameplay combines into something that feels accessible, deep, and familiar all at once. If you haven’t bought the game yet, you may want to consider trying it out when the new update arrives later this year.

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