Monday, March 27

Review: Has-Been Heroes

Sometimes it is interesting how your perceptions of things can change from the first time you watch something being played to actually playing it, and this can work both in the positive and negative directions. I remember back when Nintendo did the Treehouse presentation of Has-Been Heroes I was completely indifferent to it. I saw the lanes, the slow creeping of doom of oncoming enemies, what looked like some nifty animations, and what seemed to be a constant pausing of the gameplay. It felt slow, I couldn't really get an appreciation for it in that format or time, and I couldn't get any real sense of what was going on at all. MEH!

As the weeks have gone by and I read more I began to get a little more interested with each tidbit of insight. The fact that the development team seemed to be very inspired by The Binding of Isaac. The fact that it is a rogue-like game in its design but that I don't otherwise recognize the gameplay as something I've encountered before. The fact that it made no bones about bringing the pain and challenge to its players. What was at one point a mild indifference was quickly turning into a moderate interest.

Fast forward to now and through a gracious opportunity on the part of the developer I was provided a review copy of the game to check out. Since I was given the game Friday I've sunk a solid 20 hours into the game. Yeah, I've gotten into it... just a bit. What I'm here to tell you is that this isn't a game for all gamers. It is unlikely to be mainstream-friendly because, on top of it being a rogue-like, there is no getting around the fact that it is difficult. With a nudge of help from a promised Day 1 patch hopefully this will become something that even challenge-lovers won't need to throw their controllers across the room about, but I don't think this is a game trying to be for everyone. But that doesn't need to be a bad thing, it makes the game better for the people who will want to dig in, get engaged, and have a long-term game they can continue to go back to for quite some time. My kind of game.

What has continued to suck me in with this game is that even 20 hours later I'm still feeling like I'm learning how to play it more effectively. Aside from the base mechanics that do take some getting used to (hopefully they'll be easier to learn with the day 1 tool tips or user guides like the one I've made in order to help), there's also the interactions of elements and how you can combine their effects for massive AOE damage if you set the table properly. Then there's the fact that you can get more mileage out of your spells by investing them in the right character with the right slot bonus. Then there's the moments where you'll experiment with multiple spells and buffs to super-charge a strategic attack that decimates your enemies. However, no matter how hard you then throw yourself at the feet of the RNG gods and pray for mercy they can be fickle and cruel one moment, and then throw you a bone another. It is the nature of the beast and it has me hooked.

For an old arcade game lover the basic nature of how games like this work is old hat. You put your quarter in and sometimes you completely kick ass but most of the time you die. I can live with that, I understand that. If you do as well, this game may be for you. Where it gets interesting is that while there have been a ton of rogue-likes in the shooter genre, this game is very much its own thing. While on the surface the attacks look cool and it can feel somewhat like an action game below it all, make no mistake, this game is all about strategy. You must take the hand you're dealt and often work that collection of odds and ends into something you can do some real damage with. As you unlock new potential spells and items from your many unsuccessful runs the number of ways you can really put a hurt on will greatly improve. While I would have been a little happier if you'd had an option to invest in boosting some of your heroes' base stats to make the repeated runs a little less painful when you get the right combinations of some of these powerful spells it can be tough to complain.

At the end of the day in terms of scoring this game a number of items on the normal checklist can be put aside. The graphics, sound and control are between good and great, none of them is in the way. While the controls can seem a bit unusual at first once you're used to them they're actually intuitive and generally work well. Since you'll have a tendency to pause almost constantly the good thing is that they shouldn't interfere much with your ability to be precise. While I've seen/heard a legitimate concern with the graphical variety of enemies (many of them are ultimately variations on a skeleton of some sort, though they'll have different markings or colors to indicate what sort of enhancements they may have) I'm someone who is happy that rather than investing in more graphical variety the investment was in providing so many unique variants that affect how the game plays from run to run. At some point the looks fade into the background, you're laser-focused on how to use what's in front of you, and you fight to make it work. The music is appropriate and mildly hum-able while the sound effects of various attacks help convey the level of damage you're doing nicely.

Now with the formalities out of the way we'll get to what's most important. Why you should or shouldn't buy the game. Assuming the Day 1 patch helps make the game less sadistically wild in its mood swings of difficulty from challenge to challenge I'd generally say that at this price it is well worth checking out, and I'd say if you like strategy games in any way and you appreciate a challenge it may even be a steal of a value at half the price of Isaac. While this title and Isaac are very different games in terms of genre their appeal is very similar, and since this experience is much more new to me it actually has a far greater hold on my attention now. This is something I haven't beat yet, something I'm still working out the nuances of, and it is constantly trying to tell me I'm not good enough. Maybe I'm just a “kick me while I'm down and I'll still get up” kind of guy but the best compliment I can pay Has-Been Heroes is that it scratches an itch I never even knew I had, and I don't come along games like that often enough. Depending on where you are on the challenge-loving scale will likely determine where you'll stand, individual results will likely vary.

Score: 8.5

  • The further you get, the more you unlock, and the more there continues to be to learn and to experiment with
  • I know of no other game out there that's quite like this. Add in the fact that I tend to love rogue-likes to begin with and that's a very interesting combination
  • The level of planning and preparation, followed by the execution, of a ton of deep and inventive gameplay mechanics are clearly on display here. This game is an obvious labor of love by an ambitious and talented team
  • At the end of the day, by its nature, I think this game is a love or hate prospect with limited room in between. That's where the price point really helps out a lot to encourage people to give it a chance
  • Pre Day 1 patch, and I'm somewhat assuming this will help to greatly balance out the game without making it too easy, the pendulum of difficulty in the game swings a bit too wide. At its worst the game can move up from being crushingly hard to outright cruel. While this happening once in a while can be dismissed as the RNG gods not favoring you for the moment this happens more often than not and it takes just one bad battle to end your current run

Saturday, March 25

Tips and Tricks: Has-Been Heroes

There's no doubt this game is a serious challenge, but to make things tougher it really sort of drops you off with very little information so it can take a few games to realize important things. Here's a list of things I wish I'd known out of the gate and some general notes I've picked up as I've gone:

  • Change notes:
    • Last updated 4/10/17
      • Revised/Improved unlockable hero profile info
      • Added Spells and Items to look for
    • Previous updates:
      • Added video for the Poison / Zombie Boss
      • Added video for the Yeti Twin Bosses
      • Added video and refined the tips for the Ancient Skeleton Boss
  • General notes:
    • In general you always want to plot the longest possible path (at least the one that includes the most question mark areas) on your way to the boss. You can't guarantee you'll get battles along the way but you're hoping for as many of them as possible. More battles means more gold, more gold means you can take better advantage of shops you may hit. 
    • As you acquire candles take these into account to try to get all spots if you can (you'll lose one each time you go over a path you've already cleaerd), just don't count wrong, it could be fatal! Also, always keep in mind you want to have at least one candle in case you hit a shrine
    • Assuming you've been in battles and have some candles to spare if you come upon a Stamina camp in particular that you don't currently need look to see if you'll be able to pick it up later on you're route, even if you may need to backtrack a little. It could save your party in a pinch and you can't use a camp more than once!
    • Especially until you're deeper into the game if you get the locksmith don't waste your money on the skeleton key. Before you defeat the first boss you'll be lucky to see a single chest, let alone many of them...
    • In the map icons for shops you'll see dots to indicate how many items there are at the shop. Mostly only useful if you get the cartographer but worth planning with in the event you are lucky and get one
    • As you get further into the game beware the new shrines! The ones that look more like an owl have a much more harsh penalty to, admittedly, go with a better improvement. Both times I've used them I've lost 1 stamina for the hero using it! Pic attached!
  • Battle Essentials:
    • Probably the most important thing to focus on is whether an enemy blocks or you're able to stun is no accident, you need to look carefully at the green squares next to their health as those indicate the number of blocks they have. If you attack with your "fighter" hero (who normally has only one attack, their number of attacks are always listed next to them) and the enemy has a full set of blocks you're wasting your damage. The ideal would be to try to combine attacks from your spell-caster or your rogue to remove on just all blocks to stun them, and then come in with your heavy hitter to deliver the pain! If you get any hits on an enemy past their block number you'll get hits and usually juggle them, which sometimes is necessary but is less effective
    • Another major reason to stun an opponent and then hit them is that this will actually reduce their future block chances by one for each stunned strike. This both forces you to switch up your attack dynamics and, overall, makes your enemies easier to stun and kill
    • Backstabs (hits you get when you attack deep and then hit enemies on the way back) do some damage (and have varying potential benefits from character to character) but also reset the counter on stunned enemies, potentially buying more time and setting up a better strike
    • Knockbacks on stunned enemies are also further than those where you juggle, buying you time you'll often need. More time = better planning = more stuns = more success
  • Elemental Spells and Spell Slots:
    • Get to know your slot bonuses for your heroes and carefully try to maximize their usefulness whenever possible, it can make a tremendous difference if you get a solid combination
    • Most elemental combinations have beneficial effects so experiment with them and make things work to your advantage, you'll need it when you're facing mobs
      • Water / Lightning - Shock damage can travel, but does increased damage to enemies that are wet
      • Water / Fire - It can create steam that will slow down enemies, potentially buying you some needed time
      • Fire / Lightning - This can create explosive damage if you can combine them
    • Something/someone that is soaked with water will have an immunity to poison attacks and also fire, making it potentially wise to soak your own hero with a minor spell for the benefit of that buff if you're fighting a fire or poison-wielding enemy
  • Additional Battle Tips:
    • Spells are meant to be used and generally refresh pretty quickly in the overall scheme of things. This makes "holding" spells generally a waste, if you see an opportunity (even right away) make use of it, combining power-ups to get off to a strong start
    • If the worst is happening and one of your heroes is going to have to take a hit carefully consider who you should put there. Do they have stamina points? Where's their health level at? You should try to spread things around and you'll need to focus on keeping your already hurt heroes out of the line of attack since once one goes down you're done
    • Always be sure you're using your spells and keeping an eye on whether your princesses have built up enough point to use theirs. While it will reduce your total used towards unlocks at the end of your game, they don't keep those points available between rounds so they're use it or lose it in terms of battles. Sometimes the ability to cast an extra spell without waiting through the cooldown can make a tremendous difference
    • Learn your heroes, your spells, and all of their affinities and then be sure to assign new spells to the "best" slot whenever possible. Sometimes this isn't putting the right spell in, it can be opting to waste a slot bonus for one character that is weaker than another. Spells with elemental affinities are best used by people who may have slot bonuses geared towards that specific type of spell but use your best judgement
    • While you can lose some health when your hero catches on fire or gets poisoned one useful way to make this work to your advantage is that on your return through a populated lane your hero will give that same status to all enemies he passes through
    • The typical order of focus in battles (this changes with circumstances):
      • Finally something in the late game worse than zombies is ANYTHING that has one of those wrecking balls. Wow do these have a reach and they are devastating if you don't deal with them. While the skeleton variant with an afro and a disco ball looks awesome make no mistake, he will kick your ass
      • Whenever you see anything ethereal/ghostly on the screen you will want/need to begin planning for them or dealing with them as soon as possible. Soak them, poison them, something... you need to be sure you have a spell that makes it so you can hit them. Deal with this too late and it will be bad
      • Freaking zombies are a nightmare and you'll want to wear them down as soon as possible, continuously attacking them if possible because they'll regenerate health and generally be a pain in the ass
      • Spell-casters of various types. As the game goes on the nastiest ones will speed any enemies in their vicinty up, they need to be dealt with quickly. There ones with orbs steal your collected souls, ones that buff other enemies, and ones that can cast elemental spells on you. Depending on the circumstances and your heroes the threat will vary
      • Fast-moving enemies, though typically these can be killed with a simple spell
      • Heartier enemies, especially the ones with weapons with a longer reach, they can cause real trouble. Be opportunistic, if possible, and rather than take the time to attack their stamina down hit them with spells to sap their HP and deal with them, whenever possible, by stunning them to save trouble. If you need to hit them remember your Rogue always has the spell to double your attacks
    • Sometimes, though unorthodox, it can pay to cast low-level spells on your own heroes in order to get their benefit. Some spells also have immunities to different elements as a side effect and they may work for you defensively in the right situation
    • Boss battles are, plain and simple, tough as balls and every boss requires you to have a pretty different strategy to defeat them. Speaking generally you need to focus, whenever possible, on doing damage to the boss themselves since if you take them out everything else will fall with them. That isn't to say crowd control won't be needed to keep you alive but you'll need to balance the mobs and keeping them at bay with actually doing damage to the boss
    • One way to deal with bosses or other tough enemies is to make use of the princess spells, allowing you to cast additional spells without a cooldown. Attack multipliers, in particular, could be very powerful if you chain them together, giving you a lot of attack power in a massive burst
  • Spells to look for:
    • Vortex: Wow, if you can get a high-damage combination going after you suck everything into one place you can practically destroy everything in one shot. Of course, if you fail at this stacking everything into the same lane can also be fatal
    • Portal: Any of the elemental portals has real use as they can bring in a given enemy, apply the effect, and stun them. Just be sure you're ready to hit them with something good. As a note the Poison portal has the opposite effect, it moves the enemy all the way to the right in the lane, still a useful thing to have in a pinch! Oh, and as a warning you NEVER want to portal a zombie to bring it in closer!
    • Lich's Curse / Flash Sweat / Eye of the Storm / Dragonblood: Any of these spells is useful for 2 reasons, be sure to take advantage of both. First, it will randomly cast an elemental attack on enemies, but second whatever you cast it on will gain an immunity to that element for the same amount of time. If you're lacking an immunity in one of your heroes and need to debuff for that elemental damage this can be used defensively as well!
    • Fear: Any of the elemental fear spells can be useful, though there are many monster types that have immunities so they aren't foolproof either
  • Items to look for:
    • Skull "pets": Any of them. While they can sometimes trigger things incorrectly in specific situations they otherwise can be a godsend, especially lightning and fire if they occasionally set things off
    • Anything that gives you stamina you'll probably want to consider every time you see it, depending on the needs of your current party
    • Anything giving elemental damage on hit/kill/whatever. Adding an elemental twist to your attacks can be extremely useful and powerful, especially if you're able to combine elements that do added damage when combined (lightning and fire, for instance). They won't always hit together but the chance of them doing so can really help out in a pinch at times. Just be sure you're keeping track of what items your hero already has and then how it is triggered and under what circumstances it will go off. Generally when your hero is charged up for an elemental attack you'll see something circling the character in some way to let you know what's coming on the next attack. Be on the look out!
    • Time-Lost Earring / Golden Pocket Watch: There are probably more but these sorts of items that can reduce the spell regen time will always be of use. Combined with something like the Luchador's melee reset on the casting of a spell this can be very powerful
  • Crucial Tips for Success:
    • In general when you see an item that will give you a chance of elemental damage you should probably take it. Lightning is probably the most useful for general AOE damage but others will work nicely to compliment damage and set the stage for doing damage to multiple enemies
    • With elemental weapon damage the rule is probably always to stack different elemental attacks on the same hero (your warrior is usually ideal since he'd probably do the majority of the killing and some are triggered on kills) but if you get a second of the same time you should probably spread the love, especially with lightning damage
    • If you get the right gear and have the proper opportunity if you don't attack with your Rogue (well, or another character but with her it would go fastest) you can stack her pending attacks to a ridiculous degree for a massive attack. I've both seen video and have gotten word that if you can get this going and amass perhaps 32 hits or more in a single burst you could either do substantial damage or even kill most anything, including bosses (though I've had a hard time getting the courage to try it)
  • Early Game Strategy:
    • While it may not seem like a great idea to hold your gold absolutely do it, if you can always try to keep your gold above 200 so you can always pick up a spell. Spells, especially if you can pick up slot bonuses, are absolutely what can win you the game
    • Consider stacking power-ups mostly with a single character sometimes, especially if they're spells and they can get you deep into that heroes slot bonuses since they get more powerful as they go. Depending on what you're getting spreading out can usually be the plan but at times you can soup just one hero up and that can be very powerful as well (but do you power up someone you consider the strongest or the weakest?!?)
  • Late Game Strategy:
    • The further you get into the game the more you'll absolutely want to take anything that will give your hero an immunity. Fire is probably the most crucial, probably followed by poison. As you get further into the game not just bosses but also normal enemies will get more nasty with elemental attacks. Short of that you may want to invest in HP regen items
    • While in the early game it may be easiest to find success by stacking a single hero heavily with all buffs and bonuses in the late game you'll accumulate a significant amount of items, to the point that you'll likely max at least one hero out. While it can be tougher in the early game to spread things out in the later game having tuned each of your heroes may be essential to success
    • For some fundamental elemental attacks (fire, water, lightning) you're going to want to ensure you've got at least one of each type of these spells in your arsenal by about the fourth boss regardless of whether they compliment your heroes. Each of these elements has a critical use when you face late bosses. Water can expose ethereal enemies (though poison will work in a pinch as well), fire can be useful for sapping health from masses of enemies if you get things going, and lightning then absolutely do devastating damage when combined with fire, but even water conducts pretty well. Always have contingencies in place, and these types of spells are essential. I'd probably even say have 2 water spells since it can be crucial
    • Absolutely towards the end you're going to want/need every one of your characters to have as much stamina as possible. There are some boss attacks in the late game that will make every bit of stamina matter and it can be a bit out of your control. Don't get that far and then die because you turned down that gear that would have added some stamina, or don't end up having a tank or two and the hero with the least stamina dies because you couldn't control the situation

Boss-Specific Tactics

  • Stun with spells and try to maximize damage on hits
  • Be aware that his phantoms will kill any hero they get to. While they can be attacked and taken care of one by one it is most effective to hit them on return from a deeper strike in another lane
  • When he goes invisible you won't be able to damage him, you'll need to hold out
  • Holding out, overall, tends to be the best plan within reason. He'll summon phantoms and move between lanes initially. Wait until he has settled in and hopefully he'll be vulnerable deep in an otherwise open lane. Hit him and then return in another lane to wipe out phantoms and then hopefully hit him again and get the third lane

  • Work very hard to maximize damage quickly because he'll continue to summon more and more skeletons the longer you fight him
  • He has a ton of blocks in him so you'll need to plan your attacks to try to stun him as best as you can and then capitalize with your warrior
  • Look for AOE opportunities with spells to try to maximize damage to his support skeletons and hold them off while you try to finish him off

  • Very similar to the previous one but this time his shield will generally make it unrealistic to sap through his stamina with attacks
  • On his stage there will typically be a booby-trapped skeleton that will show up periodically that will explode to freeze everything in the area when it dies. The Bard's basic water attack is perfect for killing these guys to trigger that hit remotely since if you hit the skeleton directly you'll freeze your hero as well
  • Be careful on attacking the mob when the booby-trapped skeleton shows up, you may inadvertently backstab him as you return and trigger his freeze too early!
  • Obviously if you have a freeze spell or something that will stun be sure to use it on him as well
  • Work to manage the other enemies and continue to freeze/stun the boss and wail away on him while he's frozen, maximizing your opportunities
  • A nasty bunch, they will quickly overwhelm you if you don't have a strategy
  • In general I've found it is best to focus on the tan skeleton first, since he's the fastest
  • Always be sure to use any spells that will stun strategically to either get in more hits more quickly or kept as a safety valve in case a skeleton gets too close
  • For the one that's the biggest on the top lane you can't ignore him, once you kill either the red or tan boss you'll want to begin investing your rogue in getting his stamina down or if you have a spell that will stun you can wait till he's somewhat close, stun, knock back, and bide time. Be aware that he's immune to fear though, you won't be able to use it to buy time
  • Tends to catch on fire and has a mean reach with his weapon so be very careful in planning if you have heroes that are very weak, if you have one with fire resistance that's a plus as well
  • When hit he'll almost always change lanes, making planning more of a challenge
  • This boss is also a bit faster than the others so you'll have to be very careful with how you juggle him around to be sure you don't get yourself into trouble. Focus on stuns as much as you can to minimize his potential mobility
  • Since he tends towards fire soaking with water may be an effective overall strategy, at least for helping to slow him down a little

  • As you can guess he's a fire summoning boss, he'll tend to be a bit mobile and if you can't interrupt his spells he'll either summon more skeletons for you to deal with or he'll charge them up with fire and they'll speed up
  • Be sure to douse people and hopefully you'll have your Bard's second slot filled to create extra puddles as these will slow your enemies down and help out quite a bit
  • Lightning skills = explosive energy so hopefully you'll have either lightning-enhanced melee attacks or some good AOE lightning skills
  • If you don't have fire resistance be sure to keep an eye on your heroes and their health. If they're on fire too much they will die

  • Who hates zombies? I do! What does this boss do? Summons zombies like it's going out of style! Fortunately in the 3 times I've faced him I've never lost to him but each battle against him has been quite long and difficult
  • Against him you're absolutely going to need to be rocking some hard elemental affinity AOE attacks of some kind. My combination of the Tiger Dude's fire attacks with the Luchador's lightning attacks was very effective, without doing a lot of damage to a lot of zombies I doubt you could keep up (for illustration here's what the field looked like when the fight was over):
  • Even if you don't have someone like the Bard who has some water attacks going on either a water attack or a freeze attack that you can melt with your fire would be helpful to keep the lanes a bit wet and to try to slow things down, buying you more time
  • The first problem is being able to hit him. Both water and poison spells absolutely work, hopefully you have some of these... or at least a freeze spell and fire if you're in a pinch. There does seem to be some other method of being able to hit them but I haven't been able to isolate what it is. If you're using water to douse him just be sure not to cast fire spells anywhere, it will evaporate and let him go back to being a ghost!
  • Definitely will want to have immunity of some kind or water spells ready to keep soaking your heroes with as he casts poison like a mofo! Just be sure you're soaking him at some point so you can work on his damage and not just preventing yours
  • I seemed to be most effective when I couldn't hit him doing crowd control and attacking him with melee attacks that had lightning enhancement in his vicinity, the really kept him occupied. All of my heroes had at least 1 immunity, 2 of them had lightning, and this seemed helpful because usually before being able to hit him he'd send out a massive surge of lightning
  • Both times he killed me it was because he froze one of my heroes right near his minions, basically allowing them to then gang up on them and kill them before I knew it. Be on the look out for this and it would probably pay to hit them with a fire spell or an immunity to try to get them out of there. Still not positive which animation it is where he does this, but here I think the crowd control helped greatly, even if he had frozen one of my heroes deep there weren't many minions there that could have attacked
  • Only fought these yeti twins once and managed to defeat them but they were tough. Essentially one seemed to be fire and one seemed to be ice and they were both pretty quick
  • I was able to take down the fire one first, at some point he had spawned another monster but I was so occupied casting AOE spells on them that I couldn't see much
  • Once the fire one was dead the ice one was PISSED and changed forms, making it move quite a bit faster. Since I didn't have a whole lot of water to throw around I had some very close calls and got pretty depleted but defeated him as well. They don't bring much anything for a mob and they both had quite a few immunities, anything that increases attack speed or stuns would be a good bet against them
  • Only fought him once but it was a solid fight. You'll need to hit him with water or poison to get him hittable (he has an immunity to freeze I believe)
  • I remember crowd control getting a bit on the hairy side, you'll want to have some good AOE damage available or things like Charm or Fear to be able to keep them at bay

  • Beat him the first time but there's no doubt this was one of the craziest fights I've won in the game
  • The first problem is he gets his minions riled up and moving fast the majority of the time. Efficient crowd control will need to be a priority to stay alive
  • To make this more challenging the second issue is that randomly he'll charm someone... the problem is that sometimes it is randomly one of your heroes. This presents 2 problems. First, it makes them very exposed as nothing can hit enemies on their lane, making them vulnerable. Second, if you aren't able to hit them with something to remove the status before it is through they'll attack one of your other heroes, removing stamina in the process. Probably nothing worse than being killed by a fellow hero
  • You absolutely need to have your stamina up and multiple ways to force a stun when facing him, he moves very quickly and has a burst move, in particular, when he's coming at you at that is very bad if he executes since then he's right on top of your hero for a substantial amount of damage
  • Be very aware of his many immunities, several attack types won't work against him so your tactics that have worked before may not here
  • If you can throw down some water to evaporate for steam to help slow him down
  • Be on the lookout for when he appears to be getting ready to cast a spell. Save spells that interrupt him (water, poison, fire) for when you see him start to do this to prevent him from casting to further help himself
  • It has been suggested to try backstabbing him in a sort of a loop once you stun him to hurt him badly without retaliation
  • The first level boss is water-based and overall isn't too tough to deal with. Your focus should be on his statues, being sure to take them all out while managing the mob
  • You'll need to clear all statues 3 times, making the boss materialize at the right end of the middle lane. You don't need to be fancy, you just need to hit him with anything, whether an attack or spell, and he'll go to the next round

  • The second pirate boss is lightning based and he has little rods in the ground sparking electricity. Focus on destroying these one by one until the boss is exposed and then hit him with anything
  • This is another where managing the mob seemed reasonably doable as long as you had some strong skills for combining and doing AOE damage
  • This guy ups the challenge quite a bit, you need to be prepared for fire damage and your timing will have to be much more precise
  • You'll want to have either fire immunity you can apply to your team, a AOE water spell that you can cast against your team on a periodic basis, or live with trying to put people out as needed
  • The fire skulls on the ground blow flames periodically and you'll want to be sure you're hitting them when they're closed to avoid damage unless you have immunity. This can be tricky for the top lane, in particular, since your view will be blocked by monsters, flames, and carnage!
  • Once you destroy his devices and deal with pretty tough set of shielded skeletons you'll need to go with AOE damage against you just need to get any hit or spell on them and he'll go to the next phase. Thank god, by the time I got him exposed the third time I was hurting bad!
  • Strangely I found the ice pirate boss to be easier to defeat then the fire one. Rather than having staggered devices to take out he has an ice wall at a decent depth that is about mid-way into the lanes
  • You'll still need to be on the lookout for the timing since the faces on the wall will give off an ice attack, and you'll need to attack them with melee hits since they appear to be invulnerable to spells
  • There is a yeti-like creature you'll need to deal with in the center lane but with a fear attack or something to drive him back I was able to manage him pretty easily and kept him behind the wall quite a bit. Once the walls are all gone for each wave you just need to get in your hit and then on to the next. Another final boss I was able to defeat on the first try, I think when you're souped up enough to get to them the challenge was in the getting there. :)
  • The zombie/poison pirate boss predictably took some time to take out since zombies are always a pain. The rocks you need to destroy take some effort and are staggered pretty deep past the middle of the screen or so in some cases, you'll need to probably focus on a lane at a time to push the zombies back, just don't let the other lanes sneak up on you
  • As usual once you destroy the rocks you just need to hit him with anything and it is on to the next round. To do some zombie control AOE combinations are, as always, recommended
  • The wind pirate boss was pretty tricky and most of the fight was pretty unpredictable. Aside from dealing with trying to destroy the skulled windmills each round he's constantly summoning some pretty focus-intensive enemy skeletons with shields. You'll hopefully have things like charm or fear spells to help manage this, vortex can also be handy but sometimes that can make matters worse depending
  • The worst thing about fighting him was that he periodically uses a wind attack that essentially reshuffles where all of your enemies are. This can ruin your AOE attack plans, your lane line-ups, basically everything and anything. Be ready to be flexible

Unlockable Hero Tactics

Favian the Bard [Monk]
  • Base Capabilities/Benefits:
    • Base Health: 80
    • 1-15 damage per hit
    • Increases group's health regeneration (10 HP every 5 sec)
  • Though the Bard looks pretty goofy he can do pretty well for you with his water spells, particularly in his second slot with the added puddles... they can save you if you're dealing with fire enemies
  • His base skill is simple but recharges pretty quickly and is very helpful when you need to trigger a booby trapped skeleton or douse someone who is on fire
  • His melee isn't too strong but his healing rate seems to be pretty decent. You obviously don't want him to take too many hits but if he can take a hit he'll heal reasonably quickly comparatively
Florencio the Luchador [Warrior]
  • Base Capabilities/Benefits:
    • Base Health: 380
    • 100-200 damage per hit
    • 55% faster melee recharge
    • Casting any spell instantly recharges your melee attack (highly useful, and makes him tempting to load all spell slots for him to have this associated advantage)
  • Wow, do I love playing with the Luchador. To open he has 4 stamina, something that can really save your ass if you can position him to take hits instead of your other fighters
  • His base shock attack is great, but be sure to use it correctly! You should always use it for its ability to stun enemies, don't think of it as a cool finisher with lightning... that would be wasting it!
Kedi the Tiger Dude [Monk]
  • Base Capabilities/Benefits:
    • Base Health: 100
    • 40-60 damage per hit
    • On hit: Gain 10 health
  • His default spell is a fireball so he pairs pretty well with the Luchador for a 1-2 punch
  • I'd beware a bit, through the few runs I've done with him he just "seems" to be a bit of a glass cannon and not great at taking damage. How this compares to the Bard or the Monk I couldn't say, but it is an impression
  • His slot bonuses are where he gets both odd and interesting. Once you're able to unlock more of the spells he may become quite powerful since his slot bonuses don't focus in a single affinity, he starts with poison, and then each slot is geared to something different. That may make him very powerful, we'll see when I'm more consistently pulling those types of spells
Zakwas the Sultan [Warrior]
  • Base Capabilities/Benefits:
    • Base Health: 405
    • 160-190 damage per hit
    • 60% faster melee recharge
    • On backstab: +50% damage for next melee combo
  • While I call him the Sultan his nickname would be Backstabby McBackstabberson. He is absolutely a finesse hero and you should probably only use him if you like planning your attack lanes carefull to maximize backstabbing. Why? Because he gets an attack bonus for your backstabs on the previous attack. Very different
  • He only starts with 1 stamina (versus the Luchador's 4, ouch) but especially when he gets his backstab bonus his base damage does some significant damage
  • His base spell is an ice spike, which obviously can be very useful
  • His slot bonuses don't kick in until slot 2, but that has a freeze enhance which could likely be nasty if you could line one up there
Khar the Dwarf [Monk]
  • Base Capabilities/Benefits:
    • Base Health: 150
    • 1-50 damage per hit
    • On hit: Recharge a random spell by 2 seconds
    • Immunity: Poison
  • I call the new hero Happy Gimli, I don't care what people think or say
  • His base spell is a poison dart which actually infects the are around where it hits, and that cloud will even infect your heroes, though it doesn't seem to do too much damage. If you attack quickly and get it on your other heroes you can make it spread a little as well
  • He starts with 3 stamina so if you combine him with the Luchador you really have a high stamina bunch, but I'd wager he also doesn't hit as hard as the Tiger Dude. 
  • I did combine him with the Luchador to beat the 6th boss. Their base stamina was a big help and I was able to slot him in spells that didn't make much use of his slot bonuses but that better complimented the Luchador
Roho the Super Awesome Robot Dude [Warrior]
  • Base Capabilities/Benefits:
    • Base Health: 800
    • 100-160 damage per hit
    • 45% faster melee recharge
    • Spell casting causes next shot to burn target for 4 sec
    • Immunity: fire and poison
  • Starts with base stamina of 3, which is nice, and his base spell seems pretty worthless since it just propels an enemy back a bit with wind, but it does then charge up his next shot to do nasty fire damage!
  • The most significant thing to know about him is that he fires a shot at range on enemies meaning with him there is NO BACKSTABBING! This very much messes with the flow of the battles I've done to this point, still working out whether I think this is an improvement or a curse, we'll have to see how well he works as he is powered up

Tuesday, March 21

Editiorial: The Positives and Pitfalls of Review Democratization

The release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild certainly brought out a lot of opinions. Many of them were extremely positive, but there was obviously both a reflexive backlash of “artificial” reviews (created with the express purpose of simply trashing the game) as well as “reviews” whose goal may not have been to objectively review the game but instead to act as an expression of defiance for specific communities. While the outright bogus reviews tended to be in the user community space, disqualifying them from being counted in aggregation scores on metacritic, what created a little more of a stir was that a small number of less-than-stellar reviews also got counted, bringing down the overall average for the game in the all-time rankings. All of this brings us to the point of this editorial, which is to explore where things were at earlier points in time, where they are now, and then some of the potentially difficult questions that may need to be asked concerning what reviews (both good and bad BTW) merit being “counted” at the end of the day.

Before getting too far into things lets get one thing out of the way very quickly. All people are entitled to their opinions, no matter how they may be formed or influenced, and they even deserve for those opinions to be shared and read (whether you decide to care may be a different matter). In reviewing games, in particular, what qualifies someone to review a game has obviously reached a pretty low bar. People no longer need a journalistic platform to publish their thoughts on, reviews are solicited almost everywhere and, again, that's fine. The trickier part of things is tied to aggregation and whether you're interested in the raw mathematical average or whether you want it to be set up in a way to at least attempt to be accurate. If you read the content of a review you're often able to quickly discern whether it is the ramblings of either a fanboy or hater and you can pretty well throw those out on both ends. If all you're dealing in is the final numbers that gets a bit hairier. Keep in mind, as well, part of the reason how these scores are averaged matters is because literally peoples' careers and corporate decisions can be informed by them as repeatedly it has been noted some publishers look at the metacritic scores to “grade” development efforts. So this conversation is for more than just abstract interest in accuracy.

Getting on to where we once were, back in the stone age there were pretty well only mainstream print publications to go by. You could check the scores in the latest EGM, GamePro, Next Generation, and a host of others... and that was roughly it. Sure, at some point word of mouth would get rolling but the overall lack of variety in reviews made it tough, sometimes, to be confident. Worse, these publications would sometimes print reviews without attribution or they would be a product of collective opinion, possibly robbing readers of getting an honest feel for a particular reviewer's style or preferences. Even if you did know who wrote the review since almost all publications would only post one review per game even that connection could end up worthless if someone you didn't know/like/trust was the one who did the review that month. In short, looking back, going back to that era wouldn't be preferred.

Progress into the early internet age and things began to get a little more interesting and served as a sort of preview for where we are now. Independent game networks and fan sites of various kinds began to crop up, some with more polish than others, but the benefit was an increase in volume and diversity of opinion. Especially in the early days most independent sites weren't getting free games, the opinions being offered were from fellow gamers just like anyone else who had spent their money and were going to share their thoughts whether good or bad, in some ways improving their authenticity. Of course sometimes this would come at the cost of consistency or perspective so, in particular, fan sites could skew heavily positive at times. But since most sites would post multiple reviews you could at least have the advantage of diversity even within the staff of a website and you could come to value the opinions of specific reviewers as well.

This cascades into the modern day, and the point where things get both complicated and a bit overwhelming. There's just a load of opinion out there, plain and simple. Some of it is still in the mold of the integrity exhibited in the classic print publication space, whether private or professional, and a ton of it isn't. The great thing is that this climate amounts to there being reviews to fit all tastes and temperaments. If you can't find someone with a review style and track record you generally agree with you probably aren't looking hard enough. With the climate being what it is perhaps if this is the case what you should be doing is writing your own reviews to establish your own following... it really is just about that crazy anymore. But that same diversity and craziness is where the question begins to crop up with which reviews, at the end of the day, deserve to be counted. This is where things can get a bit ugly.

We'll start with a reviewer who shall not be named (if you read my opinion on the review it will be clear why I'm not doing it) and a particular score given for Breath of the Wild that did get counted. Again, I won't question the overall principle that people are entitled to stating their opinion, but I also disagree with that specific review score being counted. The complication with this type of reviewer is that rather than being from a school of measured thought first and foremost they're focused on the persona they project to their fan base. The new-ish creation in this generation is the “personality” reviewer, people with a shtick and a following that is driven more by the adherence to that gimmick than necessarily being accurate. In this specific case I'd argue that it wasn't brave to score the game low, it was actually self-serving and a manufactured score that would appease the rabid community who loves contrarian and anti-establishment grandstanding while not scoring things so low as to lose any hope of legitimacy. Let's face it, it was a very “safe” score to give for all of the hub bub... bravery would have been making it higher or lower.

To be fair, though, if we begin being critical of the lower and possibly troller-ish end of the spectrum we also need to take a hard look at the people who may be skewing things up unnaturally, in the end doing just as much damage (if not more since they're probably more prevalent). Are there really “legitimate” reviews out there for 1-2-Switch that are over 8? Or even as high as 7? Really? This game would be considered worthy of what would be considered a “passing grade” in peoples' traditional thoughts? I'll probably write something else in the future about how value versus purchase price really need to factor much further into modern review scoring but at the point this game gets higher reviews the legitimacy of them should be pretty severely questioned. This all ultimately means you're combating a problem both from the bottom and from the top.

That gets us into the last phase, trying to determine what could and should be done to aid in making the aggregated scores more “accurate”. Even among publications or sites that are considered to be “legitimate” I think a strong case could be made that rather than attempt to determine, as a whole, whether to add/remove a site or reviewer across the board it would be easiest and best to do what many places do when determining averages: Throw out both the top x and bottom x (whether this should be a set number or percentage, and what that number should be are up for debate). It would, in theory, mostly balance itself out if all reviews were 100% legitimate, doing no real harm, but it would likely prevent severe outliers from skewing things up or down. If enough people think a game is great or stinks obviously removing that number wouldn't change a thing, you're only removing individual reviews from the average and if enough people agreed on a specific numeric score the majority of them would still stand. 

Barring some other type of standard adjustment of this kind the only option I would see possible is, again, going to a need to continuously evaluating whether individual reviewers or outlets should be considered legitimate, pretty well an impossible task and one that would generate far more controversy than it is worth (especially given the tendency of “personality” reviewers to be a tad dramatic with a mentality of “forget the games, just focus on me”). Also, though on any given review an outlet or individual reviewer may skew up or down quite a bit (I would have likely been eliminated back in the day because I pretty well detested the original Tomb Raider games by likely 2 or more points below the average) I would guess most of the time they likely would have scores that are a little closer to the norm. I understand that metacritic attempts to help with an adjustment based on their “weighted” score of individual outlets but honestly that method is even more prone to issues if one of their highly-weighted outlets turns in a skewed review somehow, making the problem worse. Besides, don't you think if people found out how those weights were determined people would likely begin to nitpick even that? I know I probably would.

At the end of the day the fact that all games currently scored by metacritic have all had the same criteria applied to them (sort of) makes their aggregated scores "fair". However, looking over the top 5 ranked games of all-time, the fact that the most recent of them was from almost a decade ago likely isn't a coincidence. The fact is that as more reviews are added to the mix, especially considering the diverse voices that can be out there, the more uncertain it is how you'll necessarily break out from the pack. With those added voices and numbers also comes the probability of baggage, both high and low, coming along for the ride, further complicating getting an accurate picture of things other than by hoping that the sheer force of numbers will help average things out. But when you see a variance of 3 – 4 points or more from your highest score to your lowest score perhaps something is up there that, in the end, may not be worth counting. It may be silly to worry over it but if the goal of an aggregated score is to be accurate, this sort of adjustment would seem to at least be more honestly set for meeting that goal.