What was Old is New Again
If you've read my articles on Utopian Chaos (and I hope you have!) you'd know that they were kind enough to facilitate my entry into the Hearthstone beta test. I won't rehash my impressions of the game here because that isn't really what this post is about. But needless to say I really enjoy the game in short "bursts" and the game really drove home a point to me about Blizzard as a company, and that is really what this post is about. Playing Hearthstone has reacquainted me with many of the reasons that Blizzard is so successful regardless of perceived missteps or decisions that many gamers may not agree with. Hearthstone is a simple game, so much so that it already has attracted a fair degree of criticism from more "hardcore" players who want a more complex experience. But those players should know by now, that is not what Blizzard is about. They don't make the most complicated games, or the most mentally taxing games. They make the most fun and polished games. And they do it very well.
In order to play the Hearthstone beta, you have to use the new Battle.net launcher, which is itself still in beta and not yet required for players of Blizzard's other games, although I think anyone with a B.net account can download and try it. So having the launcher I could see my currently inactive World of Warcraft account as well as potentially download the "starter versions" of Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3. I'm already interested in the Siege of Orgrimmar and have been planning a brief return to Azeroth to see how that plays out (more on that later) so I used the launcher to update my WoW client and also to download the starter version of D3. Now I'm not sure if this is something Blizzard had in mind when designing the B.net launcher (maybe it was) but I never would have really given D3 a second thought if I couldn't have tried it out for free. But I did, and after just a couple hours with it, it too reinforced the point that Hearthstone had already made. Blizzard just makes amazingly fun and polished games.
Dungeon crawlers like D3 aren't my preferred genre of game, but they are good for a quick romp and lots of satisfying death and destruction. I really enjoyed Torchlight 2 (especially it's much more friendly $20 price point) but after just a brief amount of time with D3 it is obvious where it really puts TL2 to shame. Now don't get me wrong, TL2 is still a fine game and in many ways is actually "more like Diablo" than D3 itself. But at the same time, D3 is a much better game in many ways. Everything about it just oozes with charm, refinement, polish, attention to detail... all the things that Blizzard has become known for providing in its games. Again this is not to say that TL2 is "sloppy," it isn't. But when you put the two side by side, the shortcomings in TL2 become glaringly obvious. And for all the criticism for D3's loot distribution, frankly I found TL2 just as frustrating in this regard. I can't tell you how many high level drops I couldn't use because the stats were wrong, it was class restricted, or even just didn't fit my current character due to my chosen talent distribution. So D3 hardly "cornered the market" on the itemization problem.
But the result of all this has been to really drive home my "love/hate" relationship with Blizzard in general. I haven't really "agreed" with anything they have done as a company since the Cataclysm expansion for WoW. I absolutely hated that expansion. I absolutely hated their decision to split Starcraft 2 into three separate games. And I absolutely hated the inclusion of the real-money auction house in D3. Basically every major decision involving their three main franchises over the last few years has pissed me off. After playing Hearthstone and D3 though, I am forced to acknowledge that while I may not like the decisions Blizzard has made, I do still like their games. Hearthstone has the potential to be their Candy Crush or Angry Birds. It is just that fun to play and has that "pick up and play" feel that will really appeal to casual gamers. I can easily see people lining up for the Arena over and over again and buying pack after pack for the chance to crack that Onyxia they really want for their deck. (Or for the dust to simply craft it. The ability to craft any specific card is a genius decision in my opinion, and something that any card game without player trading needs to consider).
Which brings me full circle back to World of Warcraft. I've gone through phases where I have irrationally loved the game, and phases where I've irrationally hated it. But in all my wanderings one thing has remained true, it is simply the best game at what it does. The most important aspect of a game to me is that is just has to be fun to play. You've heard me talk about this a lot here. A game just has to "feel" right. WoW does this in a way that no other game I've played can match, and it is just a testament to Blizzard's ability to refine games in a way that other developers try to emulate but can't. Call it "feel," call it "polish," call it the "it factor," whatever you want. The bottom line is that WoW has IT and most other games simply do not. Which is why when patch 5.4 drops, I will once again return to the world of Azeroth to see what Blizzard has in store for us this time around.
Basically I'm not going to let my animosity towards Blizzard for some of their choices I didn't like stop me from playing the games that I do like. It's silly to hate on WoW just because it is popular, or choose not to play a game just because you don't like a certain aspect of it. For example if I were to ever buy D3, I'd never touch the RMAH. As far as I would be concerned, it simply wouldn't exist and I would play the game as if it were not even there. And in WoW... well let's just say I try and pretend that any content associated with Cataclysm doesn't exist. I did actually like the old-world revamp. I just absolutely can't stand any of the 80-85 and associated content. If Blizzard were to put a token in their upcoming WoW item shop that said "Level your character automatically from 80 to 85," I would buy it.
So quick question, who out there is struggling with Final Fantasy XIV right now? I have to admit this game wasn't even really on my radar until I saw the folks at Utopian Chaos going ga-ga over it. For me Final Fantasy has been crap ever since #10. And I'd like to take a look at it, but you can't even buy it right now! So any opinions on it? Interesting at all for a guy who prefers WoW-style MMO's?