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Trigger warning for pure nerdery.

nerfnow

A slew of triple-A titles have landed just in time for the start of summer, that time of the year when we need something, anything, to distract ourselves from the prospect of being somehow productive. There’s the Doom reboot, for those whose hunger for ultra-violent FPS action can never be satiated; there’s Battleborn, in case none of the other 5,519 MOBA or FPS/MOBA hybrids do it for you; in a month from now, No Man’s Sky will finally see if it can live up to the hype; and there’s Total War: Warhammer, as the venerable pitched-battle game engine takes on that fantasy world that makes Westeros look too happy and optimistic by comparison.

total war warhammerUnusual for a TW entry, each faction has its own wildly unique units, from the basic ground-pounders on up. The Empire most resembles a typical TW faction, with average human infantry, cavalry and missile units, and is great for newcomers. Dwarves rely on small numbers of expensive but incredibly tough units, and eschew magic; Orcs by comparison rely on mass waves of cheap, expendable cannonfodder to overwhelm enemy defenses, as they so often do in these sorts of things. This design contrasts the game starkly with, say, Shogun 2, where each side’s units are almost identical.

At its core, though, this is still a Total War game, and it will come down to how well you maneuver your units to flank the enemy, match each enemy with its correct counter, and use your named units’ (now much more powerful) active abilities. Yes, there are flying units now, but they mostly represent an inversion of regular cavalry: instead of being the counter to archers, the archers are now the counters to them.

The differences between the five races also extend to the strategic map, where cities come in two fundamental flavors. Some may only be utilized or captured by humans & undead, and the rest will only host dwarves & greenskins; you may loot or raze those belonging to the “wrong” track, but you may never capture them. In addition, the evil factions (well, this being Warhammer, we should say “slightly more evil than normal factions”) radiate corruption that weakens their neighbors and strengthens their own units. Agents of prior games, such as priests or ninjas, are replaced with heroes that may fight on the battlefield in addition to performing their usual strategic-map functions, and they are how you bring magic spells to bear against your foes.

Performance-wise, this game runs just fine on my aging AMD Radeon HD 7970 card with all settings on ultra at standard 1920×1080 resolution. Occasionally I’ll get a notice that I’ve run out of video RAM (3gb in my case); the game gives an option to substitute system RAM to compensate, for a corresponding hit in speed. But the point is, unlike certain other recent titles, the TW devs spent more time on gameplay and less time making their title into just a glorified benchmarker.

Finally, the Chaos faction deserves special note because they do not use cities at all. They recruit only on the field, and the main way they earn gold is by looting and sacking enemy cities; Chaos must constantly be attacking and spreading, or else it will wither and lose.

Verdict: if you love either Total War games or Warhammer, and have the attention span for strategy games, then this is a must-have.


 

Overwatch arrives with the paeans and laurels of an enraptured gaming media, near-unanimous in their adoration of Blizzard and, as they insist on telling you, its brand-new “IP.” And yes, it certainly has all the gloss and flair of any other Blizzard “IP” (anyone who’s not a lawyer and who likes using that term should be run out of polite society). What they don’t tell you, however: this game is essentially Team Fortress 3.

Both Overwatch and Team Fortress 2 offer basic, easy-to-understand multiplayer FPS action without the complexities of a Battlefield title, on a small scale, and with maps and characters that are bright, cheery, and funny. Both games have highly personalized characters with their own abilities, and their own personalities that are most evident in their taunts and emotes. Each game’s characters could easily star in their own animated shorts, and in gameplay, each specialize in one of four things: offense, survivability, healing/buffing, or defense.

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tf2 engyThe problem is that while TF2 was initially less than $20 and is now free, supported by cosmetic-only microtransactions, Overwatch sports a price tag of $40 for almost the exact same gameplay — and offers microtransactions on top of that. Sure, it has more than twice the number of characters as TF2 — but when even the game modes are the same, that just ain’t worth the price of over a full tank of gas. Valve understood back in the day that the cosmetic fun of the characters is just an added bonus — the original Team Fortress Classic had none of that charm, but was still a legendary mod for the gameplay and the class/character system. Here, Blizzard is selling an FPS game primarily on its characters’ cosmetic charms, but again, that’s an awfully tough sell at $40 when you could be playing TF2 for free. Especially when you don’t even really see your oh-so-badass Overwatch character while you’re playing him or her! All that’s on-screen is their gun pointed out in standard FPS fashion, and it even gets tucked in while sprinting just like every other shooter in existence. The main way you’ll see a character and all their Blizzardy personality is while shooting at them — check it out on Twitch if you don’t believe me. And those personable taunts and emotes mentioned earlier? Most are locked on purchase! You want all of Tracer’s emotes and skins? Well, remember those microtransactions? Good luck conning your parents out of those after they already coughed up 40 bones for the game itself!

kotaku in action

An actual quote from a stereotypically fawning Kotaku post. The Team Fortress franchise has had this as a basic feature for two decades.

Such pricing behavior from EA would have rightly been condemned as rapacious and confiscatory; yet, because Blizzard has such a halo effect among the gaming media, they can get away with it with barely a whisper of protest. Just remember that while Kotaku‘s writers got their copies free, which has something to do with their rapturous reception, rando’s like you and me gotta pay the rack rate. What I would have insisted on seeing at that price point in addition to what’s on offer: a solo campaign along the lines of any Call of Duty game, maybe with POV swapping among characters a la Injustice: Gods Among Us; more game modes, including deathmatch, CTF, and PvE co-op; the option of having more players than just 6v6; and the option of playing with a third-person camera so you can actually marvel at your character’s coolness. Simply slapping Blizzard’s name on an unfinished product ain’t enough for me anymore.


 

Speaking of Battlefield, I’m saddened that the franchise would rather move to WWI (!) than where it should have gone — a reboot of 2142. This remains arguably the best Battlefield title to date. Hovertanks! Mechs! Shielded, commander-controllable, flying mega-fortresses of doom! Sure, I’m biased, as that was my entrypoint into the franchise, but still. Flying mega-fortresses of doom.

I get why EA won’t do this — they’re too afraid to step to Call of Duty, which is currently cranking out sci-fi shooters — but I fear they’re going to wind up with another Hardline-sized debacle instead with this Verdun: The First Person Shooter nonsense. Hey, if they can’t stomach straight sci-fi, maybe they could have done a Warhammer 40k FPS instead? Everyone else is making Warhammer games these days, after all!


 

As mentioned above, my old AMD 7970 can run TW: Warhammer or just about any other AAA game on ultra at conventional high-def. I touched on the AMD vs. Nvidia war with an earlier post, but what I left out — for most of us, the war is already over. My GPU is almost five years old, and still handles anything they throw at it at maximal settings. The graphics-card giants will keep pumping out their upgraded models, but if you’re playing on a single screen at regular high-def, there will be no reason to upgrade anytime soon unless your card is truly ancient.

Nvidia’s latest flagship card is finally out (although it may be a couple weeks before you can realistically get your hands on one), and it blows everything else on the market out of the water, including Nvidia’s own ridiculously overpriced Titan and 980Ti models. It’s also utterly pointless — unless you’re truly ready to enter hardcore gamer territory and embrace either multiple screens, 4k resolution, VR, or all of the above. The problem is that most games are not really optimized for 4k or VR yet (out of my entire Steam library, only Elite: Dangerous offers a VR option), leaving 1080 owners in the same boat as early adopters of the Playstation 4 — a high-end platform with few games to run on it. Why not wait a year or two?


 

Moving on from games: the recent decision by Marvel to reboot Captain America as an evil agent of Hydra is one of the most cynical grab for eyeballs I have ever seen from any comic, or hell, any content provider, period. Even Chris Evans was left baffled. This isn’t just an outrage for nerds; non-geeks with only cursory knowledge of the MCU movies know just what a violation this is. It isn’t simply turning a character evil, as that happens all the time with comic superheroes; it’s also renouncing everything about the character to the point that the character is completely meaningless. This isn’t turning Batman into a criminal; this is turning Batman into the Joker.* This isn’t just making Hank Schrader crooked; this is making him into a bigger meth-dealer than Walter White.

Hopefully, this regrettable move will get retconned away, as regrettable narratives in comics usually are. A year from now we may learn he was just being mind-controlled by the Red Skull the whole time, or was a doppleganger from a mirror universe, or something similarly comic-booky. Because if not; stick a fork in ’em, peeps.

(* Ok, not the best comparison ever, as the Batman Joker thing was done with great effectiveness in the Red Son series. But still, that was very clearly an Elseworld series set in Soviet Russia, with many of the old rules explicitly thrown out; no such explanation happened with Cap that I know of.)


 

As for the latest X-Men movie, I just hope they get them out of the past once and for all, because the franchise is starting to collapse under its own weight from what I hear. As Deadpool put it when told he was being brought to Professor X, “McAvoy or Stewart? These timelines are so confusing.” Mr. Sinister appears to be the next villain; how about letting his first sinister act be to propel the young X-People forward in time to now, aka that period of time when the franchise’s last and best hope, the aforementioned merc-with-the-mouth, is doing his thing? Maybe Mr. Sinister’ll say something like it gets them out of the way while he does his evil… whatever, which just happens to be coming to fruition right when the Professor and his uncanny friends pop out of the time vortex / get unfrozen / fight their way out of Hell / I don’t know, just make shit up, this is a comic-book verse!


 

The early word on Ghostbusters is just as grim as it was for Apocalypse, but that’s not what anyone is even talking about. There seems to be something else on everyone’s mind. For instance: You know what? I agree with AVGN’s main point, that the movie would have been better served as a Ghostbusters III, with Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson passing on the torch to the new crew, thus establishing continuity. I too am sick of them rebooting every last beloved 80s film, pretending the originals didn’t exist instead of at least having the common courtesy of making the films sequels instead.

But that’s not why he posted that video, was it?

After all, there have been shitty reboots of such 80s geek classics as Conan the Barbarian, Total Recall, and even RoboCop, all of which came and went with barely a shrug from people now ranting about Ghostbusters. With the previous films, we simply stayed away from the theaters in droves; the films lived or died purely on the international market, and that was that. But this particular reboot seems much different for some strange reason, and some people are far more pissed off than they were with the others.

Hmm. I wonder why this is?


 

That’s it for this latest geek post. I’ll probably post something about No Man’s Sky when it drops; I still hope Suicide Squad doesn’t suck, but things are looking grim there as well. Ah well. Have a great summer!

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