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Avengers: Infinity War Review (Super Small Spoilers)

First, I’m going to try to write this short review without spoiling too much, in case someone stumbles across this piece accidentally, and to cater to that small crowd who enjoys reading a review before seeing the movie.

It’s that small crowd who likes knowing a little bit about the future I want to focus on to start. Really, in some ways, we are ALL part of that crowd in a meta sort of way. We all know that there’s going to be a second movie in the Infinity War series, and we all know a few things about the plot structure of a multi-part movie series. Thanos won’t be beaten in the first half, and there needs to be a problem that either remains or appears to drive the plot from one movie to the next.

For example, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, the movie ends with Harry and company resuming their efforts to find the remaining horcruxes(an existing problem), while Voldemort acquires the Elder Wand(a new problem). The link between HP and Infinity War is that while in both cases we know generally speaking what will happen, it’s the ride to arrive at that point that’s enjoyable.

I’m happy to report that while it wasn’t altogether unexpected how Infinity War ends, I became willfully ignorant of the pending ending of the movie in a pleasant way, and was able to sit back and enjoy the ride. Most characters had sweet new abilities to show off, there were many moments where applause and even cheering erupted from the audience, and for the latter two-thirds, the plot advanced smoothly despite the huge cast of characters all interacting in new ways and being split up into multiple groups. Characters are killed when you expect them to live. In particular, Thanos’ motivations and personality were explored quite well. Movies with irrationally evil bad guys don’t really work anymore, and Marvel is pretty good at showing just enough of the mind of the antagonist to make him interesting.

That said, the movie is far from perfect. The first third was rocky as characters reunited or met each other for the first time, and Thanos’ lackeys, despite having lines and being in many scenes, are nameless baddies, and I only learned most of their names as the credits rolled. The humor falls mostly flat in the face of such a serious plot. The groups align against Thanos almost too quickly, and despite his massive perceived power, they have a high level of success in combat with him, though I’m tempted to give that a pass since Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie that established that even a single Infinity Stone can level a planet with ease, was quite some time ago. Some key events are trite or even nonsensical, and while they are easy to get past in the face of such great action scenes, they linger in the mind after the fighting is done.

I don’t really rate movies, as a rating system feels so rigid. I CAN say if you enjoy Marvel movies this is worth a watch. I mean, you’ve already invested dozens of hours, it only makes sense to see it through. I feel very similarly to how I felt about Star Wars TFA, the movie had a lot of character/prior movie red tape to go through to get to the good parts, and so it gets a pass in MANY areas, including that first third. The difference between A:IW and TFA is that I actually liked Infinity War, and want to see it again, and will 100% buy it when it comes to Amazon Video.

I’ll probably still watch Thor:Ragnarok more often though. It’s the most complete movie Marvel has ever made, from action to humor to soundtrack, and remains the benchmark for greatness.

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Twenty Hours In: Torchlight 2

It’s taken almost six months to be able to finally admit it, but like so many others, I was suckered into buying Diablo 3.  While I won’t dwell too much on that failed game or it’s wasted potential, I bring up my D3 experience because my review of Torchlight 2 has been colored by how D3 changed my perceptions on the Action RPG game. Many comparisons will be made to D3 because frankly, there aren’t many other games in this genre I’ve played, or even familiar with. No, I didn’t play Path to Exile for more than an hour. I’m not paying $10 to play in a beta. I already did that in May.

Torchlight 2 appears at first glance to be a huge step up from the original, though it’s sometimes hard to tell because I played TL1 on XBLA, and TL2 on the PC. You would never know until you’ve experienced it, but little things like roaming the surface of a randomly generated world feels much more free than roaming a randomly generated ‘dungeon,’ when really they are the same thing. Also, having the layout of your town change in each act added ever so slightly to the feeling of progression, that you were actually going somewhere. Aside from those things, I don’t have much to say on the upgrade that’s too specific. I played whatever class likes shooting a gun in TL1, and I haven’t played an Outlander yet in TL2, so I can’t comment much on how the classes have changed, but I can talk about them in general.

There are four classes in TL2, and I’ll tell as much as I know on each while sharing my experiences of playing.

It’s like being the Guyver with a giant hammer!

The Engineer, my first choice, is a class that uses either a two hander, sword and board, or a giant cannon based on how you build him. I liked the level of versatility I had in builds, but I found it annoying that the differing builds seemed to desire different stats(you have Str, Dex, Focus, and Vit, and you level them up in Diablo 2 fashion). I could ruin dudes with flaming craters from my huge hammer, OR summon robots, throw grenades, and mow down mobs with a cannon blast, OR I could have tons of survivability and moderate AOE damage by using a shield. The most interesting aspect of the class was this thing called the charge bar. All the classes get it, but each works differently. The Engineers worked a little like combo points did for a Rogue in Wow. Some abilities benefited from expending charge, sometimes all of it, sometimes just one charge. I really liked the charge system overall for the Engineer. I felt like I had lots of options in a fight.

The big issue I had with the Engineer, who I named Mustidia(props for getting the near reference), was that all the cool stuff I mentioned before about hammers and cannons and shields couldn’t all be used in the same spec. I didn’t get even close to the maximum level of 100 with the Engineer, so maybe this problem sorta just goes away with enough stat and skill points, but it still feel like you aren’t min/maxing if you just take all the fun stuff. Then again, maybe that’s what the different difficulty levels are for. Most of the time on Normal difficulty, I mow stuff down no matter what I do, and are only truly challenged by bosses or certain types of monsters. If I want to min/max, maybe Elite is the way to go. I’m still working out whether that’s how it was designed, or if it just ended up that way.

The reason I didn’t get to 100 with the Engineer was because I started poking around using the console command. After reading some forum posts about how to respec your character without having to buy/find this fairly expensive potion that I wouldn’t have access to for a long time, I fired up the console and used the RESETSKILLS command. Voila! Suddenly I could try out various abilities I was hesitant to put a single point into just to see what it really did. It was fun for a while trying out new ways to crush baddies. My personal favorite was the spec where all I did was lob stun grenades and whack stunned monsters, triggering all these things that proc only on stunned creatures.

But then I wanted to try out the cannon abilities, which demanded a different set of stats to be as cool as using a two hander. Looking at a list of console commands on some website, I came across RESETSTATS, which read something like ‘resets the characters stats,’ in the description afterward. Well, all the stuff I want to reset are called stats, so this must be it! I typed RESETSTATS and went to refill my 40 levels of points, only to find I didn’t have any points available to spend. A moment later, I also noticed I had no skill points to spend. I was a level 40 Engineer with level one statistics.

What. The. Crap.

I knew from the forums that using the console can flag your account for cheating, which is ridiculous anyway because they GIVE you the darned thing, and there is no ladder to compete on or RMAH to profit from. Certain commands like RESETSKILLS were not considered flagrant infractions because you weren’t adjusting your level, or giving yourself a million skill points. Given that I already screwed my character up pretty hard, I decided to just try to fix what I had done using more console commands. After some more reading I found I could just adjust my characters level to one using a command, then level it up to 40 using another. Clearly this was not good for my characters future in online games. There was an offline mode, and it’s the only place where you can use the console, but your characters roam freely between both modes. I sighed and went for it, spamming the LEVELUP command to get back to 40. I reentered my stats, thinking that they weren’t all in the same place they were before, as all the numbers looked off, but it was fine. I skilled back up, but found I was unable to get everything I did before. I mentioned it to whoever I was on Skype with, and they said that you also get skill points whenever you gain a fame level. I sank in my chair. I started to look for the command to reset fame, but stopped half way down the list. Screw this, I thought to myself. This isn’t worth it. My character is just going to get banned anyway.

So I started over. Regretfully, I could not play with the friends I had convinced to buy the game with me now, but I was determined to catch up eventually. This time, I chose an Embermage, named RESETSTATS in case anyone asked why I started over. None of my friends had one as far as I knew, and I didn’t want to either play another melee class or play a class that looked suspiciously like a Demon Hunter from D3. Initially, I didn’t like the Embermage very much, but his charge was interesting. It filled up as I hit stuff just like the Engineer, but it didn’t have marks on it to show when I had earned a ‘combo point.’ Instead, once it filled all the way up, for the next 12 seconds, all spells cost zero mana and dealt 25% more damage. Holy crap! Eventually the free spell part became less useful, but a flat 25% gain in damage was just awesome, and it was relatively easy to control when you would ‘go off’ because many spells explicitly stated that they did not build charge. I think they did this so people wouldn’t just wail on one button all the time if they wanted to take advantage of a big class ability, but I’m fine using it to mop up a fight when my bar is almost full and I don’t need it.

Anyway, I didn’t like the Embermage as much at first. I took a fair amount of damage, and had a Camel-Bak full of health potion juice running much of the time. I probably just wasn’t used to being so flimsy(apparently Engineers get a flat 25% DR after your normal armor), but also I missed the little robot the Engineer made that just spammed you with HoTs and mana over time (is MoT a thing?) effects. The first ‘build’ I discovered was using this spell that did a tiny amount of damage of each damage type, with a resaonable chance to inflict each damage types debuff. Embermages have Fire, Frost, and Lightning trees, though they aren’t really trees per se. You can jump around in them at your leisure, as skills are restricted by level, and each skill has a cap of 15 points. Either way, each ‘tree’ had a passive that dealt a big chunk of the appropriate elemental damage to a target when it was hit by the right element if they already had the right debuff on them. Fire from fire if they were burning, Frost from frost if they were frozen, etc. The spec was just maxing the spell that did all those little bits of damage and debuffs, and all three of the triggered elemental damage skills. Unsurprisingly, I mowed everything down with just a few casts. Did I mention the spell releases FIVE+ bolts? Did I mention they were like elemental smart missiles and would seek out enemies? It was as boring as it was effective.

Once I achieved a high enough level that I could wear this awesome ring that my poor Engineer found before she ‘died’ that granted an extra 30% or so on fire damage, I swapped to all fire, all the time. Of course, wearing this insane ring that I only had because I put ten levels worth of stats in to Focus to use it early(items have a level OR stat requirement), I blew up everything just as easily as I did with the Seeking Missiles of Elemental Destrcution spec. This was supplemented by a staff I had no business having either, but once the staff became just good instead of the stone nuts, I started having trouble killing stuff without taking a fair amount of damage. I tried the other specs, but they all seemed to tail off in damage. Sure, potions drop like actual candy, so I could just constantly have one ticking, but that’s a horrible way to play the game, so I kept trying out different things.

In the end, the right answer was to just take whatever you thought was the most awesome without regard to flavor, or much of anything really. The Embermage has three spells you can use at level one, one from each tree. They all start you down this road of elemental synergy. But there’s another kind of synergy the Embermage can make great use of. The synergy of AOE spells is surprisingly powerful. My current spec, and easily the most fun spec of either class I’ve found, is to expel fire, frost, and lightning on demand. I have enough points in focus, and do enough damage to fill the charge bar quickly enough that mana is not an issue. My gear isn’t even that good anymore by my level’s standards, but almost nothing can stand up to me. I don’t just kill everything with a single click. I have to lay it down in the right spots usually, and use the CC spell I took to hem enemies in. Sometimes, I have to use the blink spell with no cooldown(!!!!) that does damage both ways as well. If nothing else, just watching the mayhem is incredibly satisfying.

Just another day in the forest, with Pillars of Fire, Ice Walls, and Lightning Orbs 

I’ve just caught up to my dead Engineer at level 40, and the game is only getting more fun. The gear and abilities scale very well, keeping a good sense of forward progress. Somehow the game seems very fresh compared to Diablo. Maybe it’s because I’m not at level 100 endlessly grinding, but I don’t think this is that type of game despite it feeling very much like Diablo. I get the feeling that if I ever got bored, I would have far less of an issue leveling up a new class (Berserker obviously) because of how enjoyable the leveling up period is. The best part of the leveling up half of the game being so great is that you can go at your own pace. When I didn’t play D3 for a week, I felt like everyone else was getting farther ahead of me. Truthfully they were too. As I sat inactive, my gold AND items were depreciating in value as more of both entered the system, and it drove me mad to no end. Delving into the differing play styles of the classes is far more satisfying than it was in D3, and the hours spent leveling up four characters to 100 alone makes Torchlight 2 a solid buy at $20($15 if you buy the four pack for $60), and I would advise anyone with some spare time, spare friends, and spare change to try it out.


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Diablo 3 Patch 1.0.4 Interpretation and Predictions

I’ve never attempted to write a review for a patch before, but given how important a patch 1.0.4 is for the survival of a game that thrives on what are essentially microtransactions via the RMAH, I thought I’d give it a shot. Truthfully, I haven’t actually played Diablo 3 since July. After weeks of farming A2 Inferno, I had finally gotten a truly gross item to drop. An Amulet with 500+ LoH, 60+ All Resistances, over 220 Int, and some other not as impressive stuff. It was an insane Melee Wizard Ammy, and was so good that I could use it on my barbarian if I wanted until I moved it. The monster slots had finally hit the jackpot, and I suddenly had an item that was worth literally millions of gold. There was nothing as good on the RMAH, or the gold AH, so it was hard to discern just how much it was worth. I asked around, did the research, and looked for trades. Most people just didn’t have the gold to buy such an item. Eventually, I became discouraged, and just stopped logging in to try to sell it. The problem was not just the AH, where you could only search for 3 affixes at a time for a given item slot. There just weren’t many ways to talk to other players in an open forum. The trade channel only ever had about 100 people in it, a pittance to the amount of people playing at any given time. The game was slowly dying as people realized that D3 was not an vast game that you could play for eight hours a day for six years like World of Warcraft, and the negativity on the forums and in the minds of the players was pretty plain. I knew I was buying an arcade like smash-the-monsters-and-grab-their-stuff game, but most people just couldn’t make that transition.

Clearly that situation doesn’t illustrate all the issues D3 has, but it showcases two big ones. A lack of what people perceive as an end game(something which doesn’t truthfully exist in games like this), and the community being fragmented and isolated into small pockets.

Now we have 1.0.4. Mind you, I haven’t played it for even a second, mostly thanks to Nunu being free this week on LoL, and Chet calling me during what was supposed to be my only game of the night(I had planned to check out the patch personally). Five or six games later, and it was bedtime. Still, assuming these notes are accurate, it’s not difficult to discuss how these changes affect the game and the community. So here we go!

The big huge flagship of 1.0.4 is the Paragon system. Oddly enough, I first heard about this idea from a dude named Kripp, who streams every night on twitch.tv, and posts YouTube videos every so often, like http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bdwQ5aXOStQ . Start at the 10:50 mark to hear where I think the Paragon system originated. Note that it was posted on June 24th.

Anyway, without describing it in too much detail, the Paragon system allows a character to continue progressing by earning small stat increases each new level, along with a permanent 3% increase to their MF and GF. Additionally, MF has been capped at 300%. Sounds great right? It eventually will solve the issue of players gear swapping into MF gear just before a rare/champ pack dies to maximize drop potential because after attaining the 100th(and last) Paragon level, their MF will naturally be capped, which also releases the tension players currently have between balancing MF gear with their ‘best’ gear. Still, since the Paragon levels will take quite a bit to get through, the problem will remain for a few months. More importantly, it gives people a feeling of getting better without having to resort to upgrading an item. Getting to level 60 is very, very easy, and hitting that brick wall of itemization really sucks. Now, it’s still going to suck(though not as much as you’ll see below), but every now and again, you’ll ding a Paragon level and feel good about accomplishing something. Hooray!

The other big huge gigantic change is the elimination of averaging the MF in a party for multiplayer. Now, this change only took up a single line in the patch notes, and was kinda just tucked in there, but of everything that’s changed, this is second only to the Paragon system. See, people want to play together these days. All the big games have random matching systems. LoL, CoD, DOTA 2, and countless others all have systems that randomly place you on a team with people. The downside to all this is that when you get paired with bad players, you suffer. In D3, after they changed monsters so they don’t hit harder in multplayer games, the only thing holding multiplayer back was the MF problem. If you joined a game, and saw that you had more MF than everyone else, there wasn’t much reason to play, as they were just leeching off you. If you joined a game, and saw that you had less MF than everyone, the higher MF players had an incentive to leave, because you were practically robbing them of drops. As a result, everyone pretty much played alone, or with friends they trusted to share drops. With averaging gone, the only way you can really be punished for using multiplayer is griefing, or someone just being so poor that they can’t make up for the 75% increase in monster HP for them being there. Since blue/yellow monster HP is actually down with this patch, it alleviates this issue even more. Now, people are going to get the awesome action they wanted when they bought the game. Barbs spinning everywhere, Witch Docs throwing curses, fire, and toads, Wizards just asploding everything, Monks flying around the screen kicking shit, and DHs standing in the back still shooting stuff because they die in one hit(:P). All that, at once, without the problems of other people so easily bringing down your game experience.

This patch has tweaked just about every aspect of the game, from monster stats/affixes, to character abilities, to itemization. I’m not going to list everything since you should read the notes yourself. The point is that all of these changes all point toward the game being easier. Now, recall that I haven’t played this patch yet, so all those numbers on reduced monster damage and higher minimum/maximum damage affixes on level 60-62 items don’t mean a whole lot until I’ve carved up a few thousand demons and seen the effects in a more organic way. I’m also not sure whether I should like the direction these tweaks take the game. I was very unhappy the first two times Inferno got nerfed. It’s not often that a game has a setting that so efficiently crushes your soul for the smallest mistakes. It was very rewarding whenever I did much of anything right in the original Inferno, but it didn’t happen often. Mostly I just ran away from stuff, or died alot. At this point, nerfing it for a third time doesn’t really do much in terms of making it less rewarding. It already wasn’t very satisfying to overcome a challenge. The reward has become the items and Paragon levels now, which is a fine switch because it’s so much easier to keep that feeling of progression going using those tools rather than clearing content. Under the old model, the progression essentially stopped when you killed Inferno Diablo anyway, and this isn’t an MMO where every three months there are brand new things to do. You aren’t paying for new content with your subscription fee like you did in WoW, so don’t expect it often.

What the nerf DOES do is allows for new builds to emerge. Making stuff easier to kill, allowing for players to take a hit or two more, and bumping the damage on many underused abilities makes for tons of new ways for players to explode the forces of Hell. I’ve always wanted to try a Throwing barbarian(like the old D2 one), but I couldn’t get it to work right. I just died too often, and it was too slow compared to the WW builds.  I don’t know much about the Monk or Demon Hunter, but I know that the buffs the other classes got will enable new builds, and diversity makes the game exponentially more interesting. Perhaps the game getting easier just provides for a different kind of fun, and missing the old tearing-my-hair-out version of Inferno is just poor logic when I’m having so much fun now. Suppose we’ll see about that.

Something else in the patch is contributing to the viability of these new builds as well. The buff to legendary items is great, not just because now sometimes the best item won’t be some randomly generated name and stats. These buffed items also tend to have unique effects that are tailored to specific purposes. In D2, the Lightsaber really filled a niche role for a WW barb who wanted to be able to compete against a Trap Assassin. It was solid all around, but the Lightning Absorb was really the unique effect that really made it special. Now, there are items like the Three-Hundreth Spear, which provides a hefty bonus to Weapon Throw and Ancient Spear, and are specifically designed to be a desirable item for that type of barb, and at the same time makes the build more viable. Creating new(though not always strictly BETTER) legendary/set items are another way to give that sense of progression to players who are always looking for ways to expand their ability to do things in new and exciting ways. It also keeps players actually playing the game itself, since they have to get those items from somewhere, and the items will be so expensive on the AH to start that people that take a break will quickly find that their gold’s buying power has diminished substantially. This also helps drive the RMAH, since demand will be very high to start on premier items. Whether I’m alright with Blizzard being in control of the supply of a commodity that they earn a percentage on per trade, let alone being able to create newer or better versions,  is not for this review, but to provide closure on it for now I will simply say I have never used the RMAH to sell or buy anything.

There are dozens of other changes that impact your play experience, like now being able to search for up to six affixes in the AH for a given item, making it easier to narrow your search criteria to exactly what you are looking for. As mentioned in my story about 1700 words ago, this makes it far more likely that your item will be seen by exactly who is looking for it, and give you a better idea of how to price your finds. Perhaps most importantly, it also means that more people will be playing, and the ship will be righted, heading right towards 1.1, where PvP awaits!


Thanks for reading! Please comment below with your thoughts,

Nigel H

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