Legends of Aria at PAX East: Going Back to Basics

Last year, Legends of Aria at PAX East was one of those games that had a smaller booth kind of tucked near a side wall. This year, their floorspace had expanded a little bit, which would lead one to think that the game, too, was going to expand. As it was explained to me by executive producer Jeffrey Edwards, however, the devs are taking a “less is more” approach.

Legends of Aria at PAX East: Going Back to Basics

As you’ll likely remember, Legends of Aria has already gone through a couple of iterative shifts; first as Shards Online, which let players put together their own smaller MMO worlds, and now as Legends of Aria, a full-blown sandbox MMORPG. The game was also working on a quest system, but it turns out that the quests weren’t that interesting to players and so they’ve removed quests entirely. Overall, the training wheels have been taken off.

What’s Old Is New Again

Legends of Aria definitely wants to take things back to the old school where you learn by doing. Considering the gameplay loop is still skill-based instead of class-based, it makes sense. While I was speaking with Edwards, I was online in a persistent build of the game, creating a character and wandering around to find things to do. Sure enough, there were no guiding arrows or even instructional pop-ups. Almost immediately, I just started clicking around, harvesting nearby rocks, attacking wolves and bears for the heck of it, and working out how to craft things. I also found myself going back to old MMORPG habits, talking with all the NPCs in the nearby town to see if there were any things that could be taken care of nearby.

That said, despite the lack of being given instruction, the team is going to work on making a new player experience. Legends of Aria is looking to arrive to Steam in June or July of this year and they want to be certain that they can toe the line between telling players how to play and not entirely holding their hand. As one would expect, it’s a challenge, but the devs believe they can figure it out.

The Balance Between “Risk” and “Fun”

Another thing that has me most interested in Legends of Aria’s upcoming build is how the game is handling its crafting. Of course, you get out into the world and start wailing on rocks, then take those gathered materials to an appropriate crafting station to put them together. What’s different here, however, is that you’re able to craft some useful gear from even the most basic of materials. The tradeoff is that you’re going to need a lot of those materials, which will mean it takes a long time. According to Edwards, it’s a way to make sure that Legends of Aria doesn’t conflate “risk” with “fun”; so many sandbox titles are forcing people to go into dangerous areas when they’d rather not, and Legends of Aria is granting those players their wish. As Edwards put it, they want all players to arrive to their game without feeling like interactions are forced.

Of course, there will be plenty of dangers for players to experience out in the world of Legends of Aria. PvP will, indeed, be a thing and there are going to be things for players to get into on the PvE side of things such as dungeons and the like. It’s all a matter of going out and finding said experiences as opposed to being on-the-rails. Players can speak with NPCs who might need to be taken somewhere, which will happen to pass by some interesting locations in the world. Or, ideally, new arrivals will see another person’s custom-built house or interesting gear and use those cues to see if they can get things like that for themselves. By and large, Legends of Aria’s content will be up to the players to discover and disseminate among themselves.

In spite of this scaled-back approach to design, Legends of Aria has still grown. The game’s world has expanded to include four major towns instead of the one, so there will most definitely be plenty of world for people to explore and learn about.

There seems to be a lot of sandbox MMORPGs coming down the pipeline, but Legends of Aria is one of the first that actually seems to care more about making players of all skill levels and interests feel valued, whether they’ve been behind the game from the very first crowdfunding drive or they’re arriving fresh from Steam. It’s taken a long and perhaps roundabout way to get there, but I might just have a new sandbox that will actually let me play in the sand at long last.

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Multiplayer Games from the PAX East Indie Megabooth

Among the huge set piece booths of larger companies, one of my favorite parts of PAX is the PAX East Indie Megabooth and the nearby areas, which tends to rake together some of the more unique, or less publicly known, games from all across the gaming spectrum into one massive floor area. I wanted to take a moment to offer a little nod of acknowledgement to some of the more interesting multiplayer and online titles that I feel like deserve a bit of attention during my visit to this year’s show.

If you’re curious to learn more about any of the games I’ve put on this list, be sure to click on the title of each one at the top of each game’s brief description, which will link you directly to the home or Steam page of each game. With that out of the way, let’s get started on the hidden gems!

Decoherence

pax east indie megabooth

One of the closest comparisons I can get to with Decoherence is a strategy game similar to Atlas Reactor. The difference here, though, is that this game doesn’t have you commanding your whole team in turn-based combat; instead it has you commanding one character and then setting AI allies up to assist you.

As the first original IP from Efecto Studios, Decoherence plays out in 1v1 competition where players set up their robot allies, program their moves, and then hop into battle to try and win the match. In between rounds, players are allowed to adjust their AI’s strategy to adapt to the situation they face and hopefully find the winning strategy.

Decoherence is currently still in active development with no hard release date confirmed through their official channels at this time.

Murderous Pursuits

pax east indie megabooth

Murderous Pursuits describes itself as a multiplayer, kill-or-be-killed, stealth-em-up that tasks you with one simple job: take out a specific target among the eight or so other human targets occupying a location. Think of it as a form of hide-and-seek except with more stabbing.

The big trick with Murderous Pursuits is the fact that players can’t just rush in and swing like idiots at every person available; they have to try to blend in with their surroundings and they can only damage their randomly chosen target. So the onus is on the player to try and act like an AI, set up their target, try to take them down with special weapons for more points, and attempt to avoid being wiped out themselves.

Murderous Pursuits is currently on Steam with a release sometime this April.

Wormhole Wars

pax east indie megabooth

What happens when you mush together Halo with Portal? You get Wormhole Wars, a multiplayer online FPS where sections of the map can be tagged with Portal-like wormholes that can completely change sight lines, movement, and other things that otherwise would be committed to memory for other online shooter games.

Wormhole Wars is the brainchild of two Stanford University students, one of whom was one of the top 500 ranked Halo 5 players in the world. After some time with the game, I can assure you that this game definitely looks easy on the surface but opens up a whole new world of tactical thinking when it comes to first-person shooters.

Wormhole Wars is currently in alpha testing.

DropMix

pax east indie megabooth

While not a multiplayer online game in the typical sense, I had to offer a bit of acknowledgement to this fascinating piece of card gaming. DropMix has players place a variety of different cards on a special board that hooks up to a free app and creates their own music mixes right on the spot. Gameplay features three different modes and comes packed with 60 different cards.

I’m not sure how popular this game will be, and at around $100 it’s not exactly a cheap piece of gaming tech, but at the same time the party game atmosphere and the technical marvel of the game system are combined to make one of the most unique gaming experiences on the PAX East floor.

DropMix is available now.

Fatal Velocity

pax east indie megabooth

After my time with a game like Sky Noon, I was pretty sure that the FPS genre held no more surprises. Wormhole Wars and Fatal Velocity both managed to quickly change that perception. Fatal Velocity doesn’t have a health bar but challenges players with slinging their opponents into the ground or other hazards at a high rate of speed to instantly take them out.

My time with the game on the floor showed that Fatal Velocity has a bit of a learning curve, but once I got an eye for the HUD that told me how fast I was going and the controls that helped me mitigate my speed and attack my enemies, it started to slowly click. There’s still some rough edges here, but this game definitely looks like it could break the otherwise thick-walled mold of FPS games.

Fatal Velocity is currently in alpha right now, with access available upon request.

Zarvot

pax east indie megabooth

If the classic Atari game Combat was brought into the modern age, you’d essentially have Zarvot. In this game, players duke it out in cubist little tank-things that fire lasers at each other. The arenas themselves are all unique and completely destructible with a promised 30+ levels and a single-player mode.

Zarvot is simple to pick up, has easy controls, and a sense of conveyance that is almost immediately impossible to screw up. It’s probably one of the perfect party titles coming out.

Zarvot is due to arrive to the Nintendo Switch this Summer, with a release to other systems planned sometime later.

Vroom Kaboom

pax east indie megabooth

Few games are as descriptive as Vroom Kaboom: a multiplayer tower defense game where you send out various land and air vehicles to blow up your opponent’s base as fast as you can. Matches work out in 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 battles where you build a deck of different vehicles, send them into a pre-determined path, and blow up things as quickly as possible.

The neatest thing about Vroom Kaboom is its unique methods of tying card games, tower rush and online multiplayer competition into one fascinating package. Each vehicle sent out can be directly controlled, or you can try to overwhelm your opponent with as many vehicles as you’re able to and let the AI handle the driving. In any case, Vroom Kaboom definitely puts a spin on the tower defense formula.

Vroom Kaboom is currently in closed beta. Keys look to be handed out to those who sign up to the game’s newsletter.

 

If you happened to be among those in attendance at this year’s PAX East and feel there were some online or other multiplayer games that need a nod, feel free to share them in the comments below. After all, finding new stuff is my favorite part of PAX East.

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Rend at PAX East 2018: More, But Bigger

Last time I was here with Rend at PAX East, I was trying to tie together the location of a fish restaurant with what the game was ultimately about. This year, not an awful lot has changed with the survival sandbox, but there is absolutely a lot more of it: more map, more biomes, more crafting trees, and more potential for things to switch up.

The first thing that’s grown in Rend’s current build is the map, which is now five times the size it was previously. With new biomes added to the game for a total of 12, each with a whole lot of new materials and, of course, new dangers. One of those biomes is a swamp region, which was shown to me in a friends and family build of the game. The region changed from a sunshine-soaked temperate forest zone to being a black and green, fog-covered expanse with new enemies to take on.

Of course, these new biomes aren’t just set dressing. It was explained that these biomes will have their own dangers in the form of environmental dangers. For example, harvesting a certain type of plant will inflict damage on you while you’re trying to gather it. So players have a couple of options: either cover their armor to protect themselves against the toxic elements they’re facing, or build up their Survivalist tree, or even hire the services of players in their faction if they’ve built a character that’s more specialized in crafting than they are in combat.

With all of this new map space and all of these new regions to explore, doesn’t this kind of put Rend’s aim of making survival sandbox games less of a long slog in danger? Not exactly; certain materials that are required to make items, such as copper, tin, and flux to make bronze, can only be found in enemy faction territory. There’s also the potential for random map-wide events to show up, such as a bright light that can be seen by nearly everyone on the map that signals a comet’s arrival to the land; a comet that could hold totally unique and powerful items or resources. The map will also have static capture points dotted around that could confer faction-wide bonuses so long as that area remains under control. Overall the devs are working to make sure that conflict still happens as often as possible in spite of the map’s new size.

One new feature shown off in the demo includes the addition of personal base-building on the land. While faction bases are still going to offer a lot of services, these personal locations are going to offer many of those same benefits without requiring you to run all the way back to your faction center. The building system is pretty similar to other base-building systems you’ve seen in games like Conan Exiles. The bigger difference is that, once a structure’s skeleton is built, other players can feed that structure materials in order to beef it up and upgrade it. This structure-building system isn’t just limited to personal housing, either; for example, players can build a bridge over a particular river or span to help move things across the map easily.

As for the core gameplay loop of Rend itself, it’s much the same way as before; survive by handling hunger and thirst, get materials and other items to bolster your faction’s standing, and build defenses at your faction’s primary location to survive the Reckoning wave that will send enemies to your doorstep. The biggest difference here is the fact that losing your base doesn’t mean your faction is entirely removed from the game as was previously said. Turns out, players don’t like being told they can’t play a game, so instead, your faction’s primary keystone will just bleed out soul energy that you have to recollect before enemy faction members do. The stakes are still high, but they’re not so high that you’re not allowed to at least perhaps recover.

There are a couple of other noteworthy additions being added to Rend too, including the ability to tame nearly every creature on the map to have along as companions and mounts, the introduction of mod support and a related toolset to let players tweak the title as they see fit, and a crafting system that is now tree-based and expanded to include literally a couple of hundred different crafting trees.

Rend is looking at kicking off in a matter of weeks with thousands of players being added to the game. It further illustrates Rend’s desire to make their game as fast-paced and focus-designed as possible while also making it scale upwards in practically every conceivable way it can.

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Heroes of the Storm at PAX East 2018: Deckard Cain and the Newbie Experience

Full disclosure: I am not a MOBA guy and have not played a whole lot of Heroes of the Storm, so I was feeling a bit out of my depth heading for the HotS booth at PAX East this year. That said, after having a couple of matches with the newest Support character Deckard Cain, I finally felt like, at long last, this was an addition to the roster meant for the newly arrived.

I kind of already fancied myself as a Support player in Heroes of the Storm anyway; when 2.0 launched, I opted for the Support Hero bundle unlock but never really dug into the game enough to know if my instincts were correct. Sure enough, a character who played like Deckard Cain spoke precisely to the way I approach MOBAs. A character who operates best when he’s hiding behind others and is helping them stay alive.

Deckard Cain

Deckard’s kit is primarily about tossing Potions to the team to heal them up while offering a few area denial tricks or traps that help set people up to lay down real hurting. Cain’s Horadric Cube slowing down foes enough for his Scroll of Sealing to lock targets down was a combination that just clicked, and his potion-tossing heals and his passive granting him boons for staying close to teammates all spoke to me in a way no hero in the Nexus had previously.

According to the developers I spoke with, the noob-friendliness of Deckard certainly is a bit by design. While they do their best to make every hero as approachable as possible while being deep enough to learn more about, Deckard’s kit working for the less aggressive player has always been an intrinsic part of his design. Even aspects of play that perhaps seem odd or less valuable to new arrivals, such as Deckard’s area denial abilities, are meant to feel powerful first. Even if the term “area denial” doesn’t ring a bell to someone fresh to MOBAs.

From that point on, my questions veered towards the experience of someone like me: someone who is still fresh to HotS and wanted to pick the brains of the devs about how they want to entice new players. One of the first questions was regarding the almost breakneck pace Heroes seem to arrive to the game and whether that might overwhelm newbies. The devs are conscious of this and are doing more to break up content releases and to also make sure existing heroes are improved. The devs also brought up the fact that HotS has a vibrant Versus AI community.

Deckard Cain

 

I also brought up the 2.0 bundle and whether the devs have considered having more bundles like that on offer or customizing the game to ask questions of a new arrival and tailor their experience to their answers. While bundles like those offered in 2.0 aren’t something that’s coming anytime soon, the lessons learned from offering that do seem to be taken to heart. And while the current tutorial does adjust a bit based on whether a player admits to their level of skill, the starting experience is still something the team is looking to iterate on. After all, the tutorial is one of the most important parts of the game, overlooked as it can often be.

Ultimately, the team does want to offer as many heroes who cater to as many playstyles as possible and nodded to their ranged DPS characters as being a good entry point for those who want to be aggressive without considering the best way to engage enemies at close range. If you’re a greenhorn to Heroes of the Storm, you’re invited to play around in Try Mode and check out the 70+ roster additions to see who clicks.

In my personal experience, Deckard absolutely is that clicking character for me, so I have to believe that there are at least one or two characters in that absolutely sprawling hero roster to speak to the newly initiated. While I’m not entirely sure that I’ll be playing HotS very often, I have got to admit that Deckard, and my time with the devs, has changed my mind a fair bit about how approachable Heroes of the Storm can be. Perhaps it’s time to dive back in.

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Ship of Heroes’ Casey McGeever on Powersets, Scale, and Player Choice

I had the opportunity to speak with Ship of Heroes‘ Casey McGeever at PAX East and I have got to say, I could have easily spent an entire day talking about the game. Certainly, plenty of devs are keen to talk about their game, but Mr. McGeever seemed to be on a whole new level and was ready to discuss many things about his project that go beyond Unreal Engine upgrades and door mission tech.

Ship of Heroes' Casey McGeever

Of course, the upgrades to Unreal and the features brought with those upgrades are still at the forefront of the team, but now they’re closer than ever to putting those tools into play. For instance, while the combat alpha that ran recently was being run in an older version of the engine, the devs were behind the scenes having some time with their most recent update and all of the multiplayer-centric features they provide. One of those features, of course, is the PopcornFX special effects engine, which is giving rise to a new healing powerset that features the ability to control and apply healing nanites to friendly targets and some updated visuals to the Fire Devastator set.

With the upcoming changes to the game’s version of Unreal comes the opportunity to stuff as many as 100 characters on-screen. At maximum, the devs believe that 50 player characters and 50 enemies in one place would be more than sufficient, as the max number of people who did any one activity in City of Heroes was about 50 during a Hamidon raid. The team is preparing an “advanced login test” this May to see how their server handles the stress by inviting dozens of people to, essentially, stand in one very small space and see how much the game’s backend can handle things. Updates later on down the line include day and night cycle tests in April, another revised powerset and new powerset in May, and the first look at Controller powers, costume updates, and debuff powers in June.

On the subject of debuff powers, the team has been using a toolset that shows a number of variables that illustrate how effective debuffs are and how much damage your character is doing, and they would like to have these same tools available to players; sort of like a danger room or damage parser available for players to look at. I suggested to maybe offer this feature during character creation so players could try on a powerset combination in a sterile environment before they locked in their character decision. It’s an angle that hadn’t been considered and might end up becoming a thing. Maybe.

As for powersets, Mr. McGeever offered a lot of insight into how powersets are built by the team; a process that takes approximately three or four months. While it sounded like a long process, I was assured that this was the most updated iteration of their process and they’re always looking to refine things further if they need to, especially if they’re getting suggestions from the devs who have put live games out before.

 

Ultimately, Ship of Heroes is due to launch with four or five offensive sets for Tankers and Brawlers, four or five defensive sets for Tankers and Brawlers, four or five ranged powers, four or five buff sets, and at least one or two Controller powersets with some accompanying debuff powers for a total of 200+ powers or more. Powerset choices in the various stages of development include a sword and shield melee set; ice ranged powers; a ranged set that uses military weapons like mines, grenades, and traps.

Player choice isn’t being restricted to costume and powerset choices either. Of course, players are going to get to enhance their powers by giving them slots and filling those slots with enhancements. Additionally – and perhaps more excitingly for CoH vets – there will not be forced Enhancement Diversification. Through this system, players can choose to frontload their damage output, or perhaps focus down on their secondary abilities to make a melee character more defensive than offensive. Mr. McGeever shared my frustration with some of the City of Villains archetypes like Stalkers and wants to make sure people have some more options.

In addition to customization of powersets, players are going to get tools to modify their door missions, from ramping up the difficulty to prioritizing bosses over large mob sizes and back again. Players can even turn off XP gain entirely, getting more currency instead if they’re running low. A feature will also be added that lets players “save” their favorite missions to replay them as many times as they want with the same number of adjustment options. Essentially, players are being encouraged to save their own farming mission.

In the end, McGeever wants a game where there are so many missions to do that they’re not going to be able to do them on one character and will be encouraged to roll alts. Endgame isn’t necessarily going to be a thing so much as having more missions to do and more areas of the ship opened up. There will also be special events in the form of the FHS Justice making its way to explorable planetary surfaces.

What made City of Heroes great, and what should also make Ship of Heroes just as great, ultimately, is making a game for players to enjoy no matter what. That means personalized and human-handled monitoring of player behavior. Both I and Mr. McGeever agreed that the playerbase of City of Heroes was the defining part of the City of Heroes experience, so the team is going to do the very best it can to foster that with Ship of Heroes. Considering I easily spent an hour talking with McGeever about the game and easily felt like I could have talked longer, I have little doubt that the team is driven and ready to make that happen.

Ship of Heroes' Casey McGeever

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Hearthstone at PAX East 2018: New Cards and New Meta

My first meeting with Ben Brode for Hearthstone at PAX East 2018 had a couple of new reveals in store for the upcoming Witchwood expansion. In particular, a pair of new cards – one of which immediately struck me as probably one of the most insane cards added to Hearthstone entirely, let alone in this expansion. My time with Mr. Brode was all about this new card, the thought processes behind The Witchwood, and even a couple of nods at what could have been.

 

First off, I had a rundown of everything The Witchwood is bringing to the Hearthstone table, which we’ve all heard up to this point: a new PvE mode in the form of Monster Hunts, new keywords and, of course, new cards. Two of these cards were revealed to me as part of the presentation: Prince Liam, which has a Battlecry that transforms all one-cost cards in your deck into Legendary minions; and Shudderwrock, which has a Battlecry that repeats all other Battlecries that have been played this game. That’s every Battlecry effect ever up to the point Shudderwrock hits the board, with the target chosen randomly. All of them. As Mr. Brode said himself, it’s easily the most insane card they’ve put out, as well as the most challenging card to implement. Understandably.

As Brode put it, the best way to implement this card is to have Battlecry cards that don’t have a target, making it probably one of the more interesting cards to put into Battlecry Shaman decks or those who hear about this card and already have their wheels turning on how to take advantage of this new ability. Cards like Shudderwrock are part of a dev strategy to make Legendary cards truly feel legendary and make a huge splash when they arrive to the board.

 

Battlecries and Esports

After the presentation, I went over some of the things I noticed with the cards that have been revealed to this point, specifically the fact that the Battlecry keyword seems to be in pretty heavy use. This use of that particular keyword wasn’t intended to speed up the play of the game as I had first supposed so much as a way to offer additional strategies, as well as to have complexities of minions up front with either Battlecry or Deathrattle as opposed to having to juggle numerous abilities for large numbers of minions on the board.

Of all the things Witchwood revealed, easily one of the most intriguing to me was the Odds and Evens deck strategies that were detailed earlier. Namely, were these new deck types meant to spice up the esports and competitive meta, or meant to just make things interesting. Overall, the devs do try to keep an eye on making the metagame churn and shift enough to be interesting while also spacing things out enough that people can get used to what’s new. They also want to make sure things are interesting to watch when esports broadcasts go live – something that I can certainly appreciate.

 

Future For New Arrivals

This discussion segued into a talk about the subset of people who maybe arrive to Hearthstone late and get overwhelmed with all the new cards, so what can the game do to get new arrivals acclimated? While Brode feels the game’s introductory experience is in a good place, he does agree that the greatest point of friction is the leap from Casual mode to Ranked mode. According to what Brode has seen, Casual mode’s win rates went up so much that they got confident enough to enter Ranked and found themselves facing more entrenched players or a lot of new cards with alien mechanics. The devs do hope to improve matchmaking or find other ways to prevent players from seeing too many new cards in order to make that less of a pain point.

 

Even More PvE

Finally, I decided to head in the PvE side of things, since Monster Hunts are coming with The Witchwood and players appear to have taken a shine to things in new expansions like Dungeon Runs in Kobolds and Catacombs. Unsurprisingly, future expansions are likely going to see new PvE content; in fact, the devs have hired a Missions team and Brode even sees single-player expanding above and beyond what’s been done to this point.

 

Overall, The Witchwood looks to be bringing a lot more fun and fascinating things to a swiftly growing CCG title, while also continuing to have fun with the Warcraft license. When I expressed my personal appreciation for the team’s willingness to play with the canon, using One Night in Kharazahn as an example, Brode laughed and mentioned that the team had considered making the Lich King a heavy metal theme instead of going with Knights of the Frozen Throne. It’s clear in my first meeting that Hearthstone gleefully likes to stir the pot and I’m eager to see how players take to what The Witchwood’s ladle does to the overall Hearthstone stew.

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Ashes of Creation PAX East 2018: The Nodes Are Life

Everything about Ashes of Creation is built upon their Nodes system. Quite literally. Nodes are the focus of their world’s growth, the primary focus of player advancement, and the way questing and player cities come together. That said, most of what this system is capable of has been primarily through dev blogs. With the Ashes of Creation PAX East setup, however, all of those words were put into real-life, playable, and tangible action.

The show floor had a couple of set pieces of the game’s Alpha Zero build in both PvP and PvE flavors. There’s a lot more to Ashes of Creation than what’s on the floor, of course, which was what I decided to focus on in my time with the booth.

Ashes of Creation PAX East 2018: The Nodes Are Life

First and foremost, I asked about the game’s class system and how they’ll operate. In case you haven’t been reading up, there are eight classes in the game which will make up the primary experience of your character and their role in combat. Secondary classes, essentially, operate in a form of horizontal progression. For example, a tank can use a Shield Bash like normal, but with a mage subclass, that Shield Bash suddenly sets the enemy aflame, which changes the dynamic of tanking a bit more into the DPS side of things.

What does this mean for PvP? The devs are due to find out once they begin their Phase One alpha test, which is due for Q4. Most of the testing to this point has been all about their backend and making sure their servers are up to snuff.

I had a moment to see the game demonstrated briefly with the nearby area cleared of any settlement. Players play in the general area near a node, completing tasks or gathering materials and earning experience. After perhaps a few hours, the node actually transforms the immediate area, with a small camp generating nearby. Further play feeds that Node and sees it grow into a larger series of tents with new services until, eventually, it balloons into a whole village with more quests, more services, and more features that players can take advantage of.

A lot of those features are all about fostering community. Players can become gatherers, which feeds the needs of crafters, who offer new goods to sell, which offers the Node’s mayor or leader their proper tax revenue that can be applied to opening up spaces that players can use like housing or taverns. All of this should happen on its own, as a Node leader who tries to spike taxes could end up driving people away, which will see their Node shrink to literally nothing.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot to demonstrate regarding crafting for Ashes of Creation yet as all of their ideas are in document form right now and their next phase of alpha is centered on PvP. That said, they are building for co-dependency and are adamant in making people specialize in a trade, meaning people can’t gather and craft with one character. There will also be limitations on vault storage, keeping it to an account-only system. That said, if players want to run their own vault or bank service in-game, the devs won’t get in the players’ way.

With all of the complexity this node system has, I voiced a concern about how long development time would take. I was assured that not only has the team gotten things working, they’ve done so in an astonishingly short period of time. Part of that is the ease of using the Unreal Engine, but another part is having devs who can iterate and switch things out in pretty short order. It’s easily one of the most efficient dev environments to work in, apparently.

After the demonstration of the Node system and watching things take shape in front of my eyes, all of the blogs about Nodes suddenly made complete sense. By their own admission, describing the Node system in words has been challenging and definitely is one of those systems that are better demonstrated than described. Seeing it all unfold before me definitely changed my mind about the Node system from being just “interesting” to “genuinely something to look forward to in MMO gaming.”

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Guild Wars 2 at PAX East: Fueling Community

Currently, there’s no major expansion pack or other content bundle arriving in Tyria right now, so it stands to reason that Guild Wars 2 at PAX East would be about its community. Considering the game’s biggest feature on the floor was a photo-op, which let people ride on the back of a griffon mount (the discovery which drew many players together), the community is absolutely at the forefront of the minds of the developers. Or, as was said to me, “it is their game.”

guild wars 2 lootboxes

Part of making the game all about the players was, of course, the addition of sitting. When asked whether the team expected people to latch on to the ability to sit in chairs as deeply as they did, I received a very blunt “yes.” It’s a feature that has been asked for frequently and started as something of an April Fool’s joke that took a little more life of its own, which has happened with this game before.

As for the players of Guild Wars 2 that are focused on World vs World, I’m sorry to report that there still isn’t any ETA on when the planned adjustments to WvW are going to arrive. The devs are focused on introducing systems to balance World populations in order to lessen handholding in WvW. Hence, their focus is on the World Restructuring tech to ensure that matches are fair first. Right now, as they see it, getting that right is a higher priority.

For those invested in the game’s Living World, I did try to pry a few hints on what’s next. As expected, I didn’t get a full answer but it was mentioned that there were “enough clues” put down in the last chapter that players will perhaps be savvy enough to put together. They are working up to something big, of course, and the devs are pleased with the new character content and their narrative style.

As for fans of all stripes, they’re very likely going to see more community-driven events like the recent Friend/Ships campaign. While not exactly something that will be repeated on a regular basis, the devs have definitely noticed how much fans enjoyed things like Friend/Ships and are going to continue to foster their fanbase in that way. There was also reference back to the present the devs sent to the first player who discovered the griffon mount. This cycles right back to the mount photo-op, where the booth was handing out discount coupons to fans for merchandise purchases.

As was said during my time with the folks at ArenaNet, “we can’t do this without the fans.” In my first time interacting with the devs of Guild Wars 2, it’s pretty clear that they feel beholden to their players and are hoping to continue to make their game a place that is steered by their desires.

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Battle for Azeroth at PAX East 2018

As one would expect, Battle for Azeroth at PAX East was most definitely a thing this year, particularly since the expansion decided to drop its launch date on us. I was fortunate to join the developers of the new expansion to learn a little bit more about Warfronts, the new Heart of Azeroth item, and a couple of thoughts on how PvP is going to tie into the overall conflict that powers the expansion.

One of the primary causes for all of the tension between the Horde and the Alliance is the material known as Azerite, which is quite literally the crystalline blood of the planet that can be utilized to power new technologies as well as the Heart of Azeroth item that players will be empowering. With this new item now conferring bonuses to the players, one of the primary concerns that came to mind was whether this item was once more going to end up repeating the mistakes that Artifacts had during Legion’s update cycle. The developers are taking some of the lessons they’ve learned to Battle for Azeroth’s newest power-shiny, but one of the big things that should make the Heart of Azeroth less prone to those issues is that it’s tied to your class, not your spec, meaning players can switch over to what they want (or need) to play.

As for finding Azerite itself, that’s part of tie Islands gameplay that the developers are extremely excited for, particularly since it’s applying some new AI tech to the game. Since Islands are going to be the focal point of getting to the Azerite, the developers have elected to do a little something different with their AI. This new “advanced NPC” tech they’ve pieced together looks to recreated the behaviors of actual players, whether they’re aggressive, defensive, or a bit more cautious. One example given was a test of one NPC named Sneaky Pete, who the developers dropped into a town to see if the NPC could successfully tail the player. Sure enough, Sneaky Pete was using cover, darting away from sight and avoiding contact as often as possible. It ended up being quite creepy to witness, apparently.

So what does this new tech mean for the rest of the game? Immediately I thought how this new advanced NPC AI would apply to content like future raids. One of the developers shared my enthusiasm as well, and while they’re most definitely eager to see if this AI can be applied elsewhere, the developers are right now focusing entirely on making sure that it works for its intended purpose before trying to shoehorn it into other systems. An example was how the developers first came to use a fog of war mechanic in the Arathi Basin Battleground; once they saw how it worked and how players reacted, they expanded on the fog of war tech further. After all, as they said, sometimes game designers like to make something happen before fully asking whether they should.

Azerite not only fuels your character but it also will be what leads to Warfront gameplay – a PvE mode that, at least to me, sounded like it was going to be a PvP format. The reason for this is pretty apparent, now that I think on it; the developers want to be sure the fantasy of conflict between the Horde and the Alliance is felt without force-feeding PvP to people’s throats. Warfronts will be a form of end game feature but are the next step after players have done their Azerite hunting on the Islands; Islands are a personal interaction with the enemy faction, while Warfronts are the big set-piece interaction.

Naturally, this isn’t going to mean that Battleground PvP and world PvP are going to the wayside. As a matter of fact, the storyline that will play out during Battle for Azeroth means there’s more potential for new Battleground PvP to be introduced. As for world PvP, despite the fact that shard types are going to merge, players are still going to be able to opt-in as they see fit.

With these new AI systems in place to make PvE more dynamic, the draw of Azerite fueling factional tensions, and the storyline offering the leaders of each side their opportunity to show themselves growing into their respective roles, it’s likely going to be a very intriguing time for World of Warcraft players once the expansion goes live.

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World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth Launch Date Announced

Blizzard is starting off PAX East with a bang by announcing the launch date of World of Warcraft’s next expansion, Battle for Azeroth. The expansion will launch on August 14, 2018. It was first announced at an exclusive preview event at Blizzard’s Headquarters in California held earlier this week. The embargo has just dropped and we’ve got all sorts of new information about the expansion. Beyond this point, there will be spoilers for the pre-patch an expansion. Continue at your own risk.

Game Director Ion Hazzikostas revealed that before Battle for Azeroth launches there will be a pre-patch to help bridge the gap between the expansion and the previous, Legion. The pre-patch will act as a prologue in which Alliance players retake the Undercity while Horde players burn Teldrassil to the ground. Hazzikostas couldn’t confirm exactly when the pre-patch would launch, only that it would be “weeks earlier.”

We also learned what Allied Races will be available at launch. Those who prepurchase Battle for Azeroth can already unlock Lightforged Draenei, Void Elves, Nightborne, and Highmountain Tauren. This we’ve known for some time. Dataminers also uncovered other Allied races. Well, it was confirmed that Dark Iron Dwarves and Mag’Har Orcs will also be available to unlock from launch. Kul’Tiran Humans and Zandalari Trolls will not become available until later because they’re a crucial part of Battle of Azeroth’s history.

Finally, details were revealed about Warfronts. The 20-player PvE mode emulates Warcraft’s RTS past by having players gather resources, build a base, and lead soldiers in an assault on an NPC fortress filled with the opposing faction. Each Warfront is tied to a zone in Azeroth that is owned by either Horde or Alliance. In order to unlock a Warfront players on the opposing faction must stockpile enough resources. This is a region-wide process. If the Warfront is successful the corresponding zone becomes theirs and it is up to the other faction to repeat the process to try to take it back. The first Warfront takes place in the Arathi Highlands and others will be released later.

 

Source: Press Release, PCGamer

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