A New Venture: DOTA 2

One video game genre I have steered clear of is the MOBA — the so-called Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, as descended from the Warcraft III mod “Defense of the Ancients” and its relatives and descendants. This genre has largely taken the place of the MMORPG as the big moneymaker in the world of PC gaming, and has stolen much of the spotlight as well.

I did try. I played Mythic’s Blood of Heroes WAR spinoff when it was in beta and dabbled very briefly in Funcom’s Bloodline Champions and even League of Legends. The former was… well, it was obviously a pretty half-assed piece of work that never even made it to launch, but it wasn’t the worst thing that I have ever played. Had it actually been released I would likely have fooled with it a time or two.

League of Legends, on the other hand, I just couldn’t get into. I can’t even say that I disliked it, but I found even the tutorial needlessly opaque. I ditched it after maybe an hour. Bloodline Champions, which, as a then-subscriber to Age of Conan I got a beta invite to, had an even shorter lifespan on my hard drive. I’m not sure if it’s even still alive.

Still, anyone paying attention to the online gaming scene in general can’t help but be vaguely aware of what’s going on with the major MOBAs, which to my ignorant and increasingly nearsighted eyes look like LoL, Heroes of Newerth, Smite and Valve’s DOTA 2. Smite in particular looks kind of appealing for thematic and control-scheme reasons.

Still, even knowing how these games basically work, watching anything resembling gameplay footage or commentary is completely baffling. It’s like watching a game of Cricket — I can see that stuff is happening but it all looks more or less random and the commentary uses English words but is not recognizably English in any other way. For a genre as popular as this is, these games strike me as complicated, user-unfriendly and anything but accessible to lowly casuals. In that sense they kind of remind me of Advanced Squad Leader — games narrow in scope but so packed with fiddly bits that it’s hard to imagine those who play them having the time or mental energy to get into anything else.

So, yeah, I gave DOTA 2 a shot. Superficially it’s not as attractive to me as Smite but it’s playable through Steam (something that has developed a considerable value to me,) and has Linux support. Between the new (I gather) tutorials and some carefully-selected YouTube videos for total noobs I think I’ve kind of got a handle on the rudiments of it. I’ve haven’t ventured within whimpering distance of a human player, of course. I will probably try my first actual match against bots this weekend, and we’ll see how that goes. The single-lane tutorial matches went pretty well once I got used to the character I was playing.

But there’s a lot to learn, between the 110(!) different characters, all with completely different attributes and abilities, the synergies between them, the huge array of items, most of which you have to build in play, and the subtleties of the map. Which, thank Christ, there’s only one of. This thing could probably be played regularly for months or even years without ever reaching the level at which you’d be confortable facing human players.

On the other hand, my experience with playing PvP matches in WoW and other MMOs, as well as playing FPS games in the vein of TF2 implies that the majority of players are actually disorganized imbeciles rather than the savants you see in the video streams. So what’s one more imbecile, then?

What’s Next

The Ardwulf clan bought me a shiny new copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition for Christmas, and I’ve spent about an hour playing it so far. Coming directly from Dragon Age: Origins it’s a significant shift; the controls are just different enough to create confusion in the easily confused (i.e. me.) But it has jumping, which I appreciate.

From the various holiday sales I also acquired Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3, so there may be LPs of those coming. I’ve fooled about a bit with DAII so far and like it quite a bit. I would also like to pick up Banner Saga if it comes up for a Daily Deal on Steam before the sale ends; otherwise I don’t have quite enough in my Steam wallet to afford it. I’d also like to grab the latest Crusader Kings II expansion, Way of Life,” which is new enough that it almost certainly will not be discounted.

The Dragon Age: Origins will continue, of course. The candidates for the next Let’s Play that are already in my library are:

  • Crusader Kings II, up through the Charlemagne expansion.
  • Dragon Age; Inquisition, if I can get the fucking video to come out.
  • Europa Universalis IV, with all expansions enabled.
  • Mass Effect Trilogy, a mega-LP of all three games with the same Commander Shepard.
  • If you have an opinion on which of these you would like to see, speak up in the comments!

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    The New Ardwulf’s Lair

    For the last year or two, as school pressures and other responsibilities have increased, Ardwulf’s Lair has not been especially active. I’d been posting here and there, but mostly I wasn’t even playing, and it’s hard to post regularly about an activity you’re not doing.

    As school finally starts to wind down, though, and I get more time to play (and there will be even more after the holidays,) I’ve also been thinking about how to revitalize the blog. There are some idaes I’m not yet ready to talk about yet, but the immediate impact has already started — the return of regular posts and increasing development of the Ardwulf’s Lair YouTube channel, both anchored firmly in the bedrock of actual play.

    The old focus of Ardwulf’s Lair, on MMORPGs, is basically no more. While I have not abandoned that genre entirely, much less permanently, it’s disappointed me more than it’s pleased me for the last couple of years, and I think that its brightest lights on the horizon are semi-MMOs like Shroud of the Avatar and Elite: Dangerous. I hope to start talking about those soon, but there are other types of games that appeal to me. Many of these fall more or less into the single player RPG or strategy genres.

    So what games do I think I’ll be playing and posting about in the near future? As you’ve seen, I’ve already started a playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins, and I plan to stick with that. I’d also kind of like to replay the Mass Effect series, and if I’m doing that I may as well do a grand tour of recent Bioware RPGs, to include Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition as well. (The latter you will definitely see sooner or later.) In the strategy theater I’m thinking of stuff from Paradox, in particular Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV, and maybe a last go at Hearts of Iron III before its successor comes out. Potential odds and ends might also include Mount & Blade: Warband and the Witcher series. I may even finally tackle Assassin’s Creed, which I’ve owned for ages but never managed to play. There will also be one-shots in the Ardwulf Presents series — Banished is what I’m thinking of for that. I offer nothing concrete at this time, with the one exception noted above, but these are the possibilities that are swirling right now.

    That’s a lot to do, and I surely won’t get to all of it. But I’ll have fun trying, and I hope that you’ll enjoy following me along the way. For now, back to Dragon Age!

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    New Frontiers

    I started Ardwulf’s Lair in 2007. For over seven years I’ve been a regular MMORPG blogger, until recent months when I’ve not been blogging much at all. So it’s with some reluctance that I must confess to not feeling like an MMORPG blogger anymore. I have largely lost the love for MMORPGs as they exist today. Not that there aren’t still some good ones, and I certainly don’t swear to never play an MMORPG again, but the days of this blog being MMORPG oriented are at an end.

    Of course, I have by no means given up on either Ardwulf’s Lair or PC gaming. Ardwulf’s Lair will evolve (I expect) into more of a general-purpose blog about whatever I want to talk about. Which will include video games and MMOs, but not exclusively. The Ardwulf’s Lair YouTube channel will also continue, and that will be exclusively about video games.

    I will have a new gaming-oriented blog debuting on December 1, for which I am now working on content. I’ll have an announcement about that some time soon.

    Hearts of Iron III: Fall Weiß

    In my current Hearts of Iron III game, Germany began mobilizing on June 1, 1939, months after the French and Polish. In the early morning of July 1, the demands for Danzig and the Polish Corridor unmet, the Germans Invaded Poland on a paper-thin pretext. Britain, France and their minor allies declared war even as a massive force rolled across the eastern borders and tore through the Polish defenses. With heavy air support, German troops put enormous pressure on the Polish lines while three armored spearheads thrust deep into Poland, cutting off the retreat to Warsaw. Within a week both Danzig and the capital had fallen, and Lodz and Krakow followed. With most of the country’s strategic centers in German hands the Poles had no choice but to surrender on July 10, their nation annexed.

    Abiding by the terms of January’s Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, however, Germany withdrew from eastern Poland and the Soviets began to move in. Forward German infantry divisions immediately began digging in on the new border as garrison units occupied Danzig and Memel and the majority of the remaining forces began to entrain for the western front. In the West, the Netherlands and Belgium remain neutral, although both began to mobilize during the Polish campaign. Germany’s Italian allies upheld their end of the Pact of Steel by attacking along their border with France. The French had the better of these engagements, but no serious territorial gains occurred, and significant French forces remain tied down on this front.

    By the end of July forces had begun to gather behind the lines in the west. Along the Maginot-Siegfreid Line, all is yet quiet.

    A Little Time with Hearts of Iron III

    Against all odds, I had some time to play games over the weekend. Thanks to feeling generally unwell and staying in, anyway. I elected to spend that time not in an MMO but re-acquainting myself with Hearts of Iron III.

    For those who don’t know, this is one of the grand strategy games from Paradox. I’ve had a long fascination with these titles but the actual time I’ve spent playing them hasn’t reflected that in every case. They are all open-ended, brutally complex and not terribly user-friendly. They are also among the only strategy video games that, for me, capture the majesty of old school hex-and-counter board wargames.

    The Hearts of Iron series is the World War II iteration of the line, and is probably the most complicated of the bunch. I’d made a few passes at HoI2 and HoI3 before, but it’d been quite a while, so to refresh my memory I watched a bunch of video and played out the 1939 invasion of Poland. It didn’t go especially well — it took me nine weeks to complete the conquest (as opposed to the five weeks it took historically,) but afterwards I saw what I did wrong. Making better use of air power, not ignoring the relevant victory points and better exploiting breakthroughs with armor and mobile units would make the campaign go significantly faster. This experiment took maybe an hour or two.

    For an actual game, I again settled into playing as Germany, starting in 1936, because I’m pretty aware of their prewar situation and know, pretty much, what they need to do to get ready for the conflict. Even so, I made some dumb errors. I built a lot of units as regulars instead of reserves, costing me Industrial Capacity and time.

    I’m at the beginning of February 1939 and France and Poland are already mobilizing, and I’m not quite ready. I also let dissent get a little high, and while this didn’t cause any direct problems it did delay a couple of national decisions. An ill-considered attempt to launch a coup in Britain failed. Still, much else went according to plan. The Anschluß with Austria happened a little ahead of schedule, as did the annexation of the Sudetenland, and later the rest of Czechoslovakia. I am gearing up industrially as best I can. The Axis is formed with Italy and Japan and an unholy alliance has been signed with the Soviets… probably a little earlier than it should have been (that’s probably why the French are pissed.) The Wehrmacht is efficiently organized; if you start in 1936 it’s a mess. Technologically I’m a bit ahead of the historical timeline, and I have invented radar – but I’m still building the radar stations.

    Perhaps most significantly, spies in the US have massively boosted the popularity of the German-American Bund. This is likely to lead to a messy 1940 election and may keep the US out of the war for a while, which in principle should help Japan. Speaking of my polite far eastern partners, they’ve managed to enforce a truce on the Nationalist Chinese. My plan is to start the war early — the national decision to demand Danzig and the Polish Corridor becomes available in May 1939. But I’m not sure I will be ready that early, because I want to take out France in 1939 instead of waiting until 1940. This will leave 1940 for the minor operations to secure Denmark, Norway and the Balkans while building for the inevitable war with the USSR and bombing the stuffing out of Britain.

    Hearts of Iron III is a slow-building game. I have probably sunk 6 hours into this playthrough and the war hasn’t even started yet. But I can’t wait to resume, and I’m already looking forward to the next game, probably playing as the Soviets. It’s a lot to manage, though. You can basically automate everything including the military, but the AI won’t perform as well as a decent human player. Which I’m not, yet — so I am doing everything manually. So I expect to have to be careful in my invasion of Poland and also think I will be challenged by France. Then again, my spies have national unity there really low and I shouldn’t need many victory points to make the French crumble.

    Time is Short, but the Years are Long

    Some readers of this blog may know that I both work and go to school. Neither of which I talk about very much here. I have mentioned how little free time I have with some frequency. Well, to make a very long story short, due to circumstances beyond my control, I should graduate a full semester ahead of schedule. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, I’ll get to start to normalize my life again about five months sooner. On the other, I have quite a heavy load this semester and may go insane before Christmas.

    It’s probably safe to say that come next year I will get to blog more. The problem, though, hasn’t been time to blog, but time to play. That should also be fixed by the time I graduate. I may also have some thoughts about the closure of Vanguard, which has had me fairly down on MMOs in general of late.

    Right now I’m playing a little ArcheAge. I like it. I may have more throughts about it at some point. Come next year I will likely try to settle down with something, and ArcheAge is looking like a good candidate.