Category Archives: Gaming

Video Game Ratings

mario

Here are my video game ratings on a scale of 1-10. I’m open to (good) suggestions!

Platform is PC unless otherwise stated. Year is when the game was released.

Key:

  • 10+ (favorites) – bold orange
  • 10 – bold purple
  • 9 – bold blue
  • 8 – bold green
  • 7 – bold
  • 1 to 6 – normal

2017

  • Mass Effect: Andromeda – 9
  • Nier: Automata – 5

2016

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – 7
  • Doom – 3
  • Grim Dawn – 2
  • Layers of Fear – 6
  • Offworld Trading Company – 2
  • Quantum Break – 8
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider – 7
  • Stellaris – 3
  • The Division – 6
  • The Turing Test – 7
  • XCOM 2 – 8

2015

  • Cities: Skylines – 7
  • Fallout 4 – 9
  • Grand Theft Auto V – 4
  • Heroes of the Storm – 9
  • Kerbal Space Program – 2
  • Life Is Strange – 4
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – 5

2014

  • Civilization: Beyond Earth – 8
  • Deadcore – 4
  • Divinity: Original Sin – 1
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition – 7
  • Endless Legend – 8
  • Far Cry 4 – 7
  • Hearthstone – 9
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – 5
  • The Talos Principle – 5

2013

  • Bioshock Infinite – 10
  • Dota 2 – 7
  • Europa Universalis IV – 1
  • Gone Home – 6
  • Metro: Last Light – 6
  • Outlast – 6
  • Path of Exile – 10
  • Remember Me – 4
  • Saints Row IV – 9
  • Splinter Cell: Blacklist – 7
  • The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – 4
  • The Swapper – 2
  • Tomb Raider – 9

2012

  • Borderlands 2 – 4
  • Diablo III – 10
  • Dishonored – 6
  • Dragon Nest – 6
  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – 5
  • Mass Effect 3 – 9
  • Spec Ops: The Line – 7
  • Torchlight II – 4
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown – 6

2011

  • Batman: Arkham City – 3
  • Crysis 2 – 6
  • Dead Space 2 – 7
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution – 8
  • Might and Magic: Heroes VI – 6
  • Portal 2 – 7
  • Saints Row: The Third – 8
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – 3

2010

  • Assassin’s Creed 2 – 2
  • Bayonetta – 4
  • Bioshock 2 – 4
  • Civilization V – 9
  • Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) – 7
  • Mass Effect 2 – 9
  • Metro 2033 – 6
  • Mirror’s Edge – 2
  • Starcraft 2 – 10
  • World of Warcraft: Cataclysm* – 10

2009

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum – 5
  • Dragon Age: Origins – 5

2008

  • Dead Space – 6
  • Far Cry 2 – 3
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) – 8

2007

  • Bioshock – 8
  • Crysis – 4
  • Mass Effect – 10
  • Portal – 9

2006

  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – 5

2005

  • Age of Empires III – 4

2004

  • Half-Life 2 – 2

2003

  • Enter the Matrix (PS2) – 4
  • Rise of Nations – 8

2002

  • Ty the Tasmanian Tiger (PS2) – 7
  • Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos – 10

2001

  • Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) – 5
  • RuneScape – 5
  • Super Smash Bros. Melee (GameCube) – 8

2000

  • Diablo II – 6

1999

  • Age of Empires II – 4

1998

  • Starcraft – 10

*The convention above is to list by release date of the original game, regardless of when I played relative to expansion packs or DLC or beta testing. However, as the expansion World of Warcraft: Cataclysm was released 6 years after the original game, I’ve listed it as separate.

These ratings are my subjective opinion and reflect how much I enjoyed playing each game. For instance, Half-Life 2 (2004) is considered one of the best PC games of all time, but playing it for the first time in 2017, I got bored of it very quickly. On the other hand, I found Quantum Break (2016), which has mixed reviews, to be really fun.

As I’ve mentioned before, rating video games seems a lot harder than rating something more standard like movies. There is a lot more variance in time played, games have different goals, and pricing is not so simple. There are some games that I included which seem like good games for some people or even myself at different points in my life, but at the time of playing it was clearly not for me. For the sake of statistics (not excluding negative results), I have included games even where the time played is very small, in the hope that someone with similar tastes in video games may benefit from such a list.

I generally like newer games better than old, but since I play out of order, it may be the case that for two games released in the same year, I played one of them on release and the other 5 years later, and had disparate ratings between the two even if they were similar in quality, depending on which I enjoyed more at the time.

Below are additional comments for each game. For a lot of the newer games I can use Steam or some other tracking to see exactly the hours played; for older games I can only estimate.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 101 hours

This is an excellent game. However, I can see why it got so many negative reviews. I think the main thing is the disconnect between what many people expected and what the game was intended to be. People seemed to want Mass Effect 2 revamped, but Bioware took this in a different direction. Namely, even before release, it was very clearly stated to have open-world elements, and that the plot would involve humans and other Milky Way species exploring parts of a star cluster in the Andromeda galaxy to find a new home. The game’s title even contains another galaxy. Based on that, I went in expecting a focus on exploration and environments, and on these fronts it definitely delivered.

Exploration/Environments – This is where Andromeda shines. The overall graphical look is bright but realistic. Some (though not all) of the planets are breathtaking, and the main player ship and space station look gorgeous. Without spoiling the plot, there are enough varied environments to cover a huge range.

Pacing – The game starts off very slow. It has a couple of large tutorial missions, and it took me about 10 hours to get to the point where I had a full base and could start exploring at will. Once you get to this stage, the game really picks up. Though, because the game is basically open-world, it is still slower than any of the first three Mass Effect games. The slow pacing may be offputting to people, but I thought it was definitely worth it.

Facial animations – For some reason, this game has received an incredible amount of criticism over facial animations, and while I would agree it is not 100% realistic, I would also like to point out that it is a video game. If I wanted 100% accurate facial animations, I could go talk to someone in real life. Also, I noticed that only the human animations seemed off, as if Bioware was really trying to enhance here but made some mistakes. On the other hand, the Turian/Salarian/Asari/Krogan/other-alien animations seemed fine.

Characters/Dialogue – Similar to above, I don’t expect games to have super convincingly realistic characters or dialogue. Regarding the dialogue, there were certainly good moments and cringey moments, but it never took away from the game immersion. Plus, sometimes the game is self-referential in addressing how awkward the dialogue is. My personal order from best to worst of the original trilogy is 1 (known for story/exploration), then 3 (known for combat), then 2 (known for characters).

Combat – I would agree with the critics here that the combat is extremely good.

Plot – The overall premise is really exciting – exploring a star cluster in the Andromeda galaxy and finding a planet for habitation. Of course, things don’t go as planned. The main story was pretty straightforward but was fleshed out enough to be satisfying.

Nier: Automata (2017)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 5 hours

One of my greatest pet peeves is backtracking, and it is exceedingly horrible in this game. Yes, I got to the point in the game where you unlock fast travel, but still, those early hours were incredibly painful. The quests are boring, and the environments seem mostly bland with vast stretches of nothingness.

This could have been a 2/10, but the combat definitely comes to the rescue. The first 30 minutes, which is basically a well-scripted tutorial level that comes before any of the problems mentioned above, was mind-blowingly awesome.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 23 hours

This follows up Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011), and it definitely lives up to its predecessor. The best thing about the new one is that you have tons of ways to complete missions, giving it a high amount of player choice and replayability. It’s also the first stealth game I’ve played where it actually felt fun to go completely non-lethal; I didn’t feel the same way in Human Revolution, Dishonored (2012), or Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013). (Not that those were bad games—just that I preferred the lethal approach in them.)

The story is very interesting but it gets heavy-handed for a video game; I would normally praise this but I feel like this game basically forced many story elements on you in sometimes annoying ways, e.g. being ID’d by police for the tenth time. Basically, the world is divided into mechanically-augmented people (“augs”) and non-augmented people (“naturals”), and there is lots of blatant discrimination and segregation against augs, including the player character. It’s clear what this parallels in real life. It had potential to be best social commentary in video games, but the story is told in a way that comes off as painfully obvious/sometimes annoying, rather than a more subtle “show, don’t tell “approach.

Doom (2016)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 9 hours

Maybe it’s because I never played the original Doom (1993), but I really couldn’t find anything satisfying in this game. The graphics were nice and detailed, but that was it, and it really didn’t capture the scary feel for me like Dead Space and Dead Space 2. I felt like I was just mindlessly jumping around/dodging/shooting from one level to the next. And maybe I quit the game too soon, but the player character never really felt powerful; every gun that felt good to use ran out of ammo really fast.

Grim Dawn (2016)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 17 hours

This game is pretty fun for the first few hours, but it then devolved into your everyday ARPG. The plot was uninteresting, graphics were meh, and gameplay felt really slow and repetitive. It doesn’t compare at all to Diablo III or Path of Exile, and you’re better off playing either of those if you crave an ARPG.

Layers of Fear (2016)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 3 hours

This game is Escher painting meets jump-scare horror. I’m generally not a fan of walking simulators, but this was well done. The best parts are when the spatial orientation is messed up, such as when you walk into a rectangular room, turn left, go through a door, and end up in the same room.

Offworld Trading Company (2016)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 5 hours

As a professional trader, I was really excited about the premise of this game and really wanted to like it. You get to trade resources, take out loans, and buy out other companies! Better in theory I guess. After I finished one match, I had basically no interest to play another.

Quantum Break (2016)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 8 hours

This is one of gaming’s underrated gems. It has one of the most compelling plots of any game, and it is both perfectly rational and mind-blowing. It’s also a weird game in that it is part game and part live-action TV show. The combat is not spectacular but it’s good enough to not detract from the story.

Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 16 hours

Something about the combat and environment didn’t feel as good as in its predecessor reboot Tomb Raider (2013), but it’s still a solid game. It just never made me say “wow” like the previous game did. It does have insanely good graphics.

Stellaris (2016)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 12 hours

Had potential to be good, but resource management, combat, and diplomacy were all lacking. At one point in a game against an easy AI, I just wanted to end it so I amassed a fleet and went to war with the AI. However, I didn’t choose the objectives carefully (demanded 3 of their 5 planets), and after a while the AI just surrendered the planets I demanded, thus forcing peace without my ever agreeing to it. Then began one of my most frustrating hours in video gaming. It turns out having 3 extra planets is a nightmare because of resource maintenance and civil unrest, and it was pretty clear that this was just draining my resources, and that I would be better off just giving away these planets. However, the game doesn’t let you do that. I had to wait the requisite amount of time before you could declare war again, and by that time my resources had basically gone to zero and I had been forced to disband most of my fleet.

The Division (2016)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 20 hours

Has really beautiful graphics and is an open-world Manhattan! It doesn’t have enough of the city to visit where I currently live, but I did manage to find my former Murray Hill apartment in-game! There are a lot of mixed opinions about this game, but my experience was positive. The graphics are nice, and there is a real sense of progress as you spend more time. The main downside is that the combat feels very repetitive. It’s basically a cover-shooter MMO.

The Turing Test (2016)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 6 hours

Decent puzzle game in the style of Portal/The Talos Principle with interesting enough mechanics and pretty nice story and graphics. The Europa landing scene that happens early on was epic, one of the best landing on the ground scenes in video gaming and film. I enjoyed this game much more than The Talos Principle. For the most part, there weren’t any super gimmick puzzles, and the philosophy was pretty elementary but well organized, and it didn’t feel like too much.

XCOM 2 (2016)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 43 hours

I liked this one better than the 2012 game XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It has really solid graphics and customization, and the core turn-based squad combat feels great. The DLC was a blast. It is brutal in terms of difficulty: I played on the easiest setting and still felt like I needed to save/reload constantly.

Cities: Skylines (2015)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 10 hours

Had fun building a city. It was exactly the experience I expected.

Fallout 4 (2015)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 128 hours

I had recently gotten bored of open-world games. GTA5 and Witcher 3 felt super overrated and not that entertaining, while Far Cry 4 was actually good but became boring towards the end. However, Fallout 4 drew me back in. The RPG, combat, story, open-world, and crafting elements are all superb.

My last real-life vacation was in Boston, but exploring a fictional future post-apocalyptic Boston was so much better than exploring real Boston. It’s incredibly detailed as well: you can find all kinds of historical landmarks, and even the Freedom Trail exists in-game. I found the DLC to be pretty good, though I think I’m one of the odd few who prefers Nuka World over Far Harbor.

I’m giving it a 9 instead of 10 because I really didn’t like using the settlements: the system itself seemed fine, but I didn’t like having it be required rather than optional. Also, the load screens could get annoying. For example, why are there three load screens between the Commonwealth and the main deck of the Prydwen?

Grand Theft Auto V (2015)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 7 hours

It had some good plot moments, the character switching is pretty cool, graphics are decent, and there is a ton of content. But the thing I can’t stand about this game is the realism and slow pace (at least in the beginning). Yes, I’m complaining about GTA5 not because it is violent, but because it is boring. For a game that literally has “theft” in its title, there’s not too going on.

In contrast, if I go 7 hours into Saints Row IV, much more plot and action will have occurred. It feels like in my 7 hours of play in GTA5, nothing really happened, and to make something happen, I will need to elaborately plan the details of a heist and spend effort doing that. I quit the game after being asked to prepare for the first heist.

Heroes of the Storm (2015)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: est. 200 hours

A very solid game, and since I’ve played Blizzard games extensively, it’s cool to see all the crossovers from different franchises. I could see myself playing this if I get bored.

The game is has a much faster pace than Dota and is much less stressful, while simultaneously having more action from constant teamfights.

Kerbal Space Program (2015)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 44 minutes

This sandbox spaceship-building game is probably awesome for some people but I’m clearly just not the target audience. As much I love space and sci-fi, this was among the most boring 44 minutes I have ever spent in a game.

Life is Strange (2015)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 16 hours

Definitely had a great plot with some memorable and gut-wrenching moments, but the whole experience (all 5 episodes) felt excruciatingly slow and could have been over in half the time. I also encountered a very frustrating glitch near the beginning which meant I had to restart the first un-skippable minutes a couple of times. It had potential to be an 8 or 9.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 58 hours

This has got to be the most overrated game of the last few years  (along with maybe Skyrim). It’s not a bad game—in fact, it is pretty good. But I really don’t understand how it has universal acclaim from both critics and the wider playerbase. It is not even close to “the best RPG of all time” as some claim.

The combat was boring and extremely repetitive, and nothing else could really make up for this. Player control and movement never felt good, though briefly controlling Ciri at times was a surprisingly good exception. Graphics were awesome, but the controls made exploration more annoying than exciting. And the backtracking through certain paths in the main Novigrad quest chain was horrible. Basically, the first 5 hours are very good (before repetition sets in) and “On Thin Ice” is one of the best video game set pieces ever, but everything else felt lacking.

Civilization: Beyond Earth (2014)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 39 hours

Definitely an underrated game. It is often criticized as being Civ 5 in space, but how is that a bad thing? You build a settlement on an alien planet. The soundtrack is ridiculously good and somehow makes me think of actual grand space exploration, of solemn optimism and hope after a great tragedy (like 2016). The main thing lacking is definitely the uniqueness of the sponsors/beginning choices. It never felt like you were really choosing between different options.

Deadcore (2014)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 2 hours

A pretty interesting/fun platformer for an hour or two. The game gets intense quickly and becomes far too hardcore. Beating certain puzzles felt very rewarding, but it devolves into having to perfect the art of insane controls/timings, which is not for me.

Divinity: Original Sin (2014)

Rating: 1/10

Time played: 10 hours

A game where I clearly lack the required patience level. It was good for the first 30 minutes, including a tutorial highlighting the combat system. But it went massively downhill once I entered the first city. I got stuck quickly on the main quest, and all the gates leading out of the city were shut and the guards told me I didn’t have enough experience to venture outside. After some frustration in figuring out what I was supposed to do, I did one of the things I dread most in gaming: look up online how to get past the first level.

As an aside, I strongly believe a well-designed game should not make you do this. For example, Portal is an extremely well-designed game in terms of difficulty curve and I never felt like I needed to look up solutions online even for hard puzzles. In Divinity: Original Sin, not only could I not figure out how to do anything, but I could not even figure out what it was I was supposed to do. I should not be brickwalled in the very first town.

Other things: graphics were meh, controls felt bad at times and movement especially in a city felt really slow. The dialogue is pretty boring and I ended up just skipping them as quickly as possible. Once I finally ventured outside the gates, I found combat to be much less interesting than I had thought at first (although this was after ~4 hours of frustration and I felt pretty negatively at this point). I really wanted to like this game, probably because of sunk time fallacy, but it was to no avail.

Overall, I can see how the game can be really fun for some people, but it was probably the worst gaming experience I’ve ever had.

Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 57 hours

This is a wonderful game, with some amazing landscapes and scenery. The combat is pretty good but again repetitive. However, it is definitely a step up from Dragon Age: Origins (2009). The quest system felt kind of weak, in that it was vastly overwhelming and I ended up not caring much for most of them. Exploring was awesome though.

Endless Legend (2014)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 25 hours

Solid 4x game. The game and ui are very pleasing to look at and it feels very polished. The factions all feel cool and unique. Some of the tech choices seemed useless but I haven’t spent so much time on it. Also, the tactical fight view felt like a waste of time, as there aren’t that many decisions to make, nor are there difficult decisions. I eventually just had combat always auto-run.

Far Cry 4 (2014)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 39 hours

Overall a pretty fun open-world game, though nothing was spectacular. The main quest is good, side content is good, combat/stealth is okay, and exploration is great.

Hearthstone (2014)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: est. 450 hours

A card game where you can basically spend countless hours. It’s made by Blizzard so it’s super well polished. The actual mechanics are pretty simple but combining cards in different combinations is really cool, and the classes all feel unique even if they are just WoW classes.

The only reason I am not giving it a 10/10 is that for a game that is always online and probably 90% multiplayer, it has roughly no interface for talking to other players other than a bizarre 6-emote system. I understand why Blizzard left out chat, but this really bugs me. Overall, the game is excellent.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

Rating: 5/1o

Time played: 23 hours

This game is often praised for its combat, and I definitely agree, at least for the first few hours. At the beginning, the story, exploration, and combat are all superb (other than ranged combat).  However, after a while it becomes very repetitive—every fight and side quest feels the same. Still, there is enough cool stuff left to plow through the rest of the game.

The Talos Principle (2014)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 12 hours

A puzzle game with a philosophical twist, but it doesn’t compare to Portal or Portal 2 at all. Some of the actual puzzles were superb, but the story really got in the way. I grew increasingly annoyed every time Elohim talked, which was like every five minutes. A good number of the puzzles felt like filler, making the game length pretty bloated. For context, I spent more time on this game than Portal and Portal 2 combined, and it was maybe half as fun as either.

The puzzle distribution was as follows: 20% were tutorial-ish (but still pretty fun as there are interesting mechanics), 30% were really satisfying to solve, 40% were grindy/a bit repetitive, and 10% felt like cheap gimmicks where you had to know or stumble upon some trick. But overall, it’s solid, and there are many puzzles.

Bioshock Infinite (2013)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: 39 hours

Easily one of the best video games I have ever played. The plot is unmatched. It continues to explore social and philosophical themes like in the original Bioshock (2007), and it does so in even greater depth. Character development is among the best in any video game. The city of Columbia looks amazing and inspires just as much awe as Rapture. And you get to see some of the apparent utopia in action before conflict breaks out, as opposed to how in the original Bioshock, you start well after society has already crumbled.

Level design and atmosphere are superb. It had one of the most memorable enemy types ever, which was simultaneously comical, scary, and very sensible in terms of how it fits into the plot: Motorized Patriots. Everything fit together very well, making Columbia a living, real place.

Dota 2 (2013)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: est. 50 hours

I’ve played many more hours of Dota 1 than 2, so I’m not really sure if I’m rating Dota 2‘s improvements over Dota 1, or just Dota 1 itself. Anyway Dota 1/Dota 2 is a really good game, though I cannot see myself having fun playing this as I did 10 years ago.

Europa Universalis IV (2013)

Rating: 1/10

Time played: 51 minutes

Similarly to Kerbal Space Program and Divinity: Original Sin, this game isn’t actually bad but it was a combination of realizing “obviously not for me” and “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do and the tutorial clarified almost nothing.”

Gone Home (2013)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 54 minutes

Decent mystery/walking simulator, has a good amount of content while not wasting any time.

Metro: Last Light (2013)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 8 hours

A dark, gritty post-apocalyptic shooter. Felt very similar to the original Metro 2033 (2010), but had enough improvements and the story felt fresh enough.

Outlast (2013)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 1 hour

A survival horror that is the only game I have ever quit due to its being too scary. So I’m giving it a solid rating despite that I stopped playing.

Path of Exile (2013)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 300 hours

This might stay the best ARPG of the decade. It has a combat system that is easy to get the basics of, but it is incredibly complex, allowing for tons of depth. It has a mind-boggling amount of customization in both active and passive skills. And the combat can actually be fast. There are not many games that feel anywhere near as good when you are super geared, where you can use one skill to clear an entire screen full of enemies, use a very fast movement skill to get to the next screen in under a second, clear that screen, and so forth. I think Diablo III is a really good game, but Path of Exile is just better.

Remember Me (2013)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 4 hours

Storytelling and scenery were impressive, but combat was super frustrating. You often fought multiple enemies at once, and there was basically no AOE. Combat was based on combos, but you had to break combos to dodge attacks from many enemies. And there were invisible enemies that you couldn’t attack without doing certain things.

Saints Row IV (2013)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 38 hours

This is basically the Family Guy/Monty Python of video games. It’s very fun, mainly from the outrageous plot, relentless parody of other video games (the GTA and Mass Effect series immediately come to mind), numerous jokes/references to pop culture, and some unexpected mini-games (like Family Guy cutaway gags). You get to play an old-style 2D side-scroller game within the game during a key plot moment, and at other times you can chase a fast-moving, flying golden orb in what is essentially street Quidditch. And you can shoot people with a dubstep gun that causes them to move in beat. Oh and you get superpowers.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 19 hours

Solid stealth game. One of the few games that actually got me to replay some levels.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (2013)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 3 hours

A squad tactical shooter that had really weird controls and it took a long time for combat to feel reasonable. The intro mission was actually pretty fun because you had squadmates with powerful abilities and the visuals of the base. However, the game lost its luster after that. I also encountered various technical issues with this game that were quite frustrating.

The Swapper (2013)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 1 hour

Learned that it was not for me. The first few chambers were pretty cool, but the entire point of the game (clone/swapping mechanic) quickly became a chore.

Tomb Raider (2013)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 15 hours

Excellent storytelling and environment. The protagonist’s character development is one of the best in recent gaming. Graphics and combat were also really good.

I felt like I can’t give it a 10/10 because of one particular annoyance, which was that the early levels were littered with things/areas that couldn’t be explored until you get mechanics from later, and this fact was very unapparent. I spent what felt like a couple of hours early on trying to get past a certain area, before I realized much later that you need to get rope arrows for it.

Borderlands 2 (2012)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 11 hours

Was genuinely fun for the first couple hours, but then it felt like a leveling grind. There were some humorous aspects of the story, but it felt very over-the-top and disjointed. I never cared for any of the characters. The RPG elements were mediocre, while shooting was good but had its annoyances. I wasn’t a fan of the graphics style, and I could not stand the backtracking.

Diablo III (2012)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 600 hours

I still think this was an amazing game on release, and that the early criticism and subsequent nerfs to Infero, the hardest difficulty level, were unjustified. The game definitely did have some issues. The variety of skills was excellent, and the ability to respec was awesome for trying out new things.

Most of the controversy I think comes from socio-economics/behavioral-economics, in that the original Auction House allowed players to bypass all of the end-game and immediately get the best items, thus the chance of ever finding a better item is exceedingly small. Once I realized this, I played without using the Auction House, and the game was actually incredibly fun. (Yep, that linked post was me, and I still wonder if it contributed at all to the Auction House’s demise.)

Dishonored (2012)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 26 hours

Overall a good game. I encountered weird and devastating technical issues that definitely bring down the rating. In addition, the game provides you with the option to go combat over stealth, but the combat aspect was definitely lacking. I remember reloading from saves over and over and over again.

Dragon Nest (2012)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: est. 30 hours

Still has among the best combat I’ve seen in an MMO. However, the game was extremely grindy and repetitive.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (2012)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 47 hours

A decent RPG, gets repetitive but is enjoyable most of the time.

Mass Effect 3 (2012)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 51 hours

An excellent game. It felt like Mass Effect 2 with better combat/RPG elements. I don’t understand why people hated the ending; I thought it was fine. Instead, the reason I can’t give it a 10/10 is that it didn’t feel like it improved upon Mass Effect 2 very much.

Spec Ops: The Line (2012)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 6 hours

I can’t tell whether this game is overrated or underrated. Combat-wise, it is a simple pretty boring shooter, but it has a pretty deep plot where you really reflect on the actions you have done. Without giving away too much, I thought the white phosphorous scene was among the most memorable and disturbing in video gaming.

Torchlight II (2012)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 4 hours

It would be a pretty good ARPG in a world without Diablo 3 and Path of Exile, but it just doesn’t compare to them. I had some fun but the combat pace feels really slow (in comparison to D3 and POE), the story is basically as filler as a video game story can be, and the skill system has nowhere near as much depth.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 18 hours

A really solid game. The missions are really fun, but from the strategic perspective it always felt like you were in a rush, though it gets better once you start building satellites.

Batman: Arkham City (2011)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 1 hour

I didn’t play much of it, but it felt identical to Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), and I couldn’t stand playing a game like that again.

Crysis 2 (2011)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 6 hours

I liked this game a lot more than the original Crysis (2007), as it had much better gameplay, graphics, and story. As a New Yorker, I found the exploration in New York City is pretty amazing. However, I still could not stand the general repetitiveness of fighting the same enemies ad infinitum.

Dead Space 2 (2011)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 10 hours

A very scary and enjoyable game. The environment/atmosphere is amazing. Graphics were fine, and shooting was done well.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 28 hours

Gameplay was not very fun at the start, but it becomes phenomenal once you start building up augments. Excellent story and settings. Good stealth and action. It really gives you many ways to complete a mission.

Might and Magic: Heroes VI (2011)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 80 hours

A pretty interesting premise where you coordinate strategy on a grand map and also run tactics on smaller map. The tactical battles are actually really fun, if a bit repetitive. The campaign was excruciatingly difficult and I gave up somewhere along the Sanctuary campaign (I had beaten the Haven, Necropolis, and Inferno campaigns and some of the missions I had beaten only by exploiting certain AI behaviors). The games are very snowball-y, where the more units you preserve early on, the fewer units you will lose later on. And the computer scales up in power every so often, so if you snowball too slowly, you reach a point where it’s impossible to win.

Portal 2 (2011)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 8 hours

Great game but for me it lacked the intrigue/mystery of the original Portal (2007). And I thought it dragged on for way too long.

Saints Row: The Third (2011)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 32 hours

An awesome game. I played this after Saints Row IV, and while much of the absurdity exists in The Third, it was much more down-to-earth and I liked it less. However, one of the final missions was ridiculously good (the one where “Holding Out for a Hero” starts playing).

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 77 hours

While the game was a pretty solid open-world RPG, I found it to be vastly overrated. I also had one of my worst experiences in video gaming ever. Pretty early on, I unwitting contracted Sanguinare Vampiris and became a vampire, which was super annoying. Trying to live as such a creature, I repeatedly failed to feed on the blood of NPCs, as they would just start attacking me. Finally, I went online to lookup how to get rid of it, and it took a couple hours of maddeningly following online instructions (and once getting glitched and having to start over again) to finally cure myself.

Apart from that, the game is probably okay (6 or 7/10), but the vampire experience was very memorably horrible. I also got glitched on multiple other quests that I couldn’t finish. And the story is not very good. The only thing it has going for it is that it does open-world gaming correctly. (Even so, having played World of Warcraft for 3400+ hours, I did not find a generic buggy fantasy open-world game to be super compelling.)

Assassin’s Creed 2 (2010)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 1 hour

In the not-for-me category. I found the combat pretty uninteresting, the setting uninteresting, and even the parkour/platforming/stealth pretty bland. Also, it had some really weird controls for PC.

Bayonetta (2010)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 4 hours

I played the PC port that came out in 2017, but because of the massive time gap, I’m including it under the original release year.

The graphics and style are really nice, and it also has a good sense of outlandishness in terms of plot and characters. The environments are very good. The combat was cool at the beginning but it soon became repetitive, and some of the “trials” in-game were very annoying. I could not get myself to finish the game.

Bioshock 2 (2010)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 1 hour

Could be good, but I literally could not play it much due to a game-crash bug that would happen as soon as I stepped into a certain area needed for the main story. During the moments when I did play, it seemed very much like the original Bioshock.

Civilization V (2010)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 110 hours

An awesome game. It is one of the few non-Blizzard games I have spent over 100 hours in.

 

Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) (2010)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 8 hours

One of the few console games on this list. Reach was a solid game, though I’m not really that opinionated about it.

Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 46 hours

I replayed the game recently (2017) in anticipation of Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017), and I feel like there’s no way this is the best title in the Mass Effect series so far. In fact, it might be my least favorite (though still miles better than most video games). I forgot how boring the planet resource mining was, or how annoying the hacking/bypass puzzles are. Still, its RPG/combat/sci-fi/plot/character-development/atmosphere/graphics are all insanely good.

Metro 2033 (2010)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 8 hours

I got glitched at the end of a level and didn’t want to replay the whole level. Otherwise, it is a pretty solid post-apocalyptic shooter.

Mirror’s Edge (2010)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 33 minutes

A parkour/platformer. It was super frustrating to play, I died repeatedly in the first level. The controls did not feel very fluid for a game all about running. Then I got to a point indoors where the frame rate dropped dramatically. The graphics and environment was really cool, and the plot was not bad so far.

Starcraft 2 (2010)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 200 hours

It was the only relevant RTS game for a long time. Multiplayer is great, and the campaigns are spectacular. I can open up the game in 2017 and it doesn’t feel outdated at all. Speaking of not outdated…

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (2010)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: 3472 hours

Of all the games I’ve ever played, this one has the most time spent by a long shot. Also, while the original game World of Warcraft was released in 2004, I started playing in late 2010, which was technically during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, but 95% of my playtime and 100% of my endgame play was during Catalcysm. Thus, I’m counting the game as Cataclysm for the purpose of the review, but it’s really a review of WoW in general.

The game is unmatched in terms of quality. It’s a 12-year old game and it still does certain things much better than any game I’ve seen. Having a spell book and being able to drag skills to a menu of hotkeys is amazing—I’m surprised how many newer games have obviously worse control systems than this. The inventory system is 10/10—you just press B and you see all of your items at once and can use or examine any of them while still running or fighting, without having to scroll through menus or lists (*cough* Skyrim, Witcher 3Fallout 4). I guess that’s the advantage of being designed specifically for PC. The UI is just so much better than games released even a decade later.

And it did open-world 7 years before everyone went “omg open-world is awesome” with Skyrim. You could walk from one end of Kalimdor to the other without a loading screen. And Kalimdor/Lordaeron/Outland/Northrend are each much bigger than Skyrim. The classes all feel unique and have tons of backstory behind them (partly because it was based on a lore-rich franchise). And while the graphics are a bit dated, they do enough to maintain a sense of awe and wonder.

The way I describe WoW to people who haven’t played is this: WoW is actually two games in one. The first is a leveling game, in which you get to max level and which feels like every other RPG except it is much more polished and the story is better. That is about 10% of the game. The other 90% is after you hit max level. Then the real game starts, with dungeons into raids.

Most of my memorable experience was during Tier 11, or the first set of raid bosses in Cataclysm. The fights were not trivial and had pretty complex mechanics, which I was unused to in an RPG game at the time. Up to that point, most “boss fights” I was accustomed to were just big things with tons of HP and damage, and to beat the boss, you just get really strong weapons and armor and you win. However, WoW bosses were largely not like this. Sure, they had big HP bars, but they also had plenty of mechanics. There were bosses where even if your group’s gear sucked, you could still win if your coordination was good enough. And for most bosses, even if you had insanely good gear, your whole group would die if you didn’t respond to boss mechanics properly. There were 10-person boss fights where if 9 people played perfectly and the last person made one mistake during a critical time, it was game over for the whole group. And that was the fun part—getting 10-25 strangers on the Internet to communicate and coordinate effectively with one another.

The only problem is that the game is too good, to the point where it is addicting. I spent literally a third of second-semester-freshman/first-semester-sophomore years of college on this game.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 7 hours

Was pretty fun at first but the combat became quite repetitive. Fortunately it was a pretty short game. It had some great levels with Scarecrow.

Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 31 hours

While the combat was really cool for the first few hours, the game got super repetitive. The RPG elements are ok but plenty of the dialogue is very boring and should be skipped. I could not hold enough interest to finish the game.

Dead Space (2008)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 5 hours

A really scary game. I actually liked Dead Space 2 better than than this one.

Far Cry 2 (2008)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 1 hour

Fits the not-for-me category. I picked this up in 2015 along with Far Cry 4. The graphics/controls felt pretty aged and the malaria was already annoying.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) (2008)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: est. 20 hours

It was good like Melee. I still don’t see why people liked Melee so much over this.

Bioshock (2007)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 18 hours

Had excellent philosophy and exploration of Objectivist themes and also a stunning environment of Rapture. However, some of the levels felt pointless, there was a medium though not a frustrating amount of backtracking, and there was the escort mission.

Crysis (2007)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 12 hours

This game didn’t really feel complete. It had numerous graphics issues even setting it on low (though the same computer could run Crysis 2 with no problem), there were large quantities of basically the same enemies, and the plot was super lacking until entering the alien structure. This game basically felt like a sandbox though I wasn’t expecting it to be one.

Mass Effect (2007)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: 19 hours

Basically a perfect game. Great story, sci-fi, combat, RPG elements, and environments. Exploration using the Mako was pretty cool. Some of the planets—Noveria, Virmire, and Ilos—are still memorable. Saren/Sovereign were impressive antagonists.

Portal (2007)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 3 hours

Despite being a short and simple game, Portal was extremely enjoyable. It had a surprisingly good story given that there were only two characters, one who never spoke and the other who was an AI. The pacing/learning curve was perfect.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 9 hours

Pretty solid, though it had extremely dated graphics/interactions by the time I played it (in 2014). Still, it was fun enough.

Age of Empires III (2005)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 18 hours

I never really got why Age of Empires II was so popular (or why it’s better than III). I thought III was a reasonable game.

Half-Life 2 (2004)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 1 hour

This game is either vastly overrated or it has not aged well. Either way, I had no fun playing this game in 2017. The plot, graphics, and physics system don’t compare at all to later games. One of the physics puzzles, the one where you stack a bunch of cinder blocks on one side of a balance beam, seemed to be bugged, as even after figuring out the stacking immediately, it took a good 10 minutes before I glitched my way across. Even with all the blocks on one side, I could not jump across normally. I also got stuck more than once and had to reload the level.

Enter the Matrix (PS2) (2003)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: est. 20 hours

Had some pretty good cutscenes, even if the best were just taken from the movie, and had pretty cool fights/scenes. Still, I got super glitched even on a PS2 and literally could not proceed with one of the characters due to an infinite load screen.

Rise of Nations (2003)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: est. 60 hours

I always thought this game was better than Age of Empires II, mainly because the UI was so much more modern. The “Conquer the World” campaigns are really fun, and 1v1 skirmishes are great. The different nations were sufficiently different from one another to feel unique.

Ty the Tasmanian Tiger (PS2) (2002)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: est. 30 hours

I remember this as a great platformer/exploration/Australia game for the PS2. It is also maybe the only game with collectibles that I 100%’d, collecting every single thunder egg.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 500 hours

Had a really good campaign with fleshed-out characters whose moralities are not black and white. Really good multiplayer, and the best map editor I’ve ever seen (better than that of Starcraft II in terms of ease of use). Maybe half the time I’ve spent on this game was in the map editor, learning how to code and do things (and developing Smota and helping out with Battleships Pro). The map editor was good enough for maps like Dota to be created, spawning the entire MOBA genre.

Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) (2001)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: est. 5 hours

I didn’t play much of this game, though I remember not being an FPS player at the time and therefore not being too impressed.

RuneScape (2001)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: est. 50 hours

This was the first RPG game I ever played, and it was pretty cool though super grindy. I also learned market making. Basically, stand at a bank and offer to buy coal for 100 gold a piece, and then immediately offer to sell at 200 gold a piece. People traded a lot, and I collected the spread a lot.

Super Smash Bros. Melee (Gamecube) (2001)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: est. 15 hours

This was basically the ultimate party game for years. Still, I never got why people obsessed that this was better than Brawl.

Diablo II (2000)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: est. 50 hours

Maybe I didn’t go far enough in this game, but I basically never found a really impressive item or got to the part where my character felt strong. Most of my playtime is also without the expansion Lord of Destruction. The game was certainly fun, but I think it is overrated.

Age of Empires II (1999)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: est. 10 hours

Having played Starcraft at the time, I could not understand why people liked Age of Empires II so much. The controls seemed obviously worse than in Starcraft, though I still remember it being ok.

Starcraft (1998)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 100 hours

A very good game. It was my introduction to the RTS genre, and it was a blast. All three races Protoss, Terran, and Zerg felt cool and unique. Controlling units was very difficult at first but it became pretty cool. The map editor was just good enough that many good custom maps were created, and the multiplayer was a really fun experience.

***

 

I’m planning to update this list every once in a while with new games.

I also have a list of movie ratings.

Is the Virtual World Really An Escape from Reality? (Part 2)

On September 17th, Blizzard announced that they would be removing the auction houses in Diablo 3. For gamers, this may seem like a very strange move. It is very rare that a company will remove a significant feature of a game, especially when there is no stated replacement plan.

Real World Finances

But from a sociological perspective, this is a very interesting move that signifies a reaction to the merging of the virtual and real worlds. It seems like the warnings from Jesse Schell in 2010 are manifesting. Last year, Diablo 3 launched with two widespread auction houses, allowing players to trade their virtual items. The gold auction house used in-game currency, while the real money auction house used… real money. Real US dollars. And other worldwide currencies.

The Diablo 3 Real Money Auction House. The $250 max buyout is the limit.
The Diablo 3 Real Money Auction House. The $250 max buyout is the limit.

As I said in part 1, the virtual world, used to be an escape from reality:

One of the strongest effects of these games was to cause players to disregard socioeconomic stratification that existed in the real world. In the virtual worlds of RPG’s, everyone starts equal and has the same opportunities.

From an extensive CNN report on gaming:

A professor: “…people do not feel they have the freedom and kind of  their own power to change their own social roles and their own identities. But in cyberspace, people do not remember… your wealth.”

However, Facebook (among others, though Facebook arguably had the largest effect) changed this with microtransactions that allowed players with more wealth in real life, or more willingness to use the wealth, to translate it to in-game wealth. Schell’s talk has a lot more on how Facebook changed gaming.

But despite the influence of Facebook, many gamers stayed on non-FB games. It took Diablo 3 to have a large enough impact on affecting socioeconomics within a game. To some degree, those who were wealthier in real life were wealthier in the game. And to some degree, it was impossible to progress forward unless one was already wealthy.

In one sense, Blizzard’s removal of the auction houses signifies a break from the trend of the ever increasingly tangled web of real and imaginary.

An Efficiency Problem

Of course, we cannot discount Blizzard’s stated reasons for removing the auction houses:

When we initially designed and implemented the auction houses, the driving goal was to provide a convenient and secure system for trades. But as we’ve mentioned on different occasions, it became increasingly clear that despite the benefits of the AH system and the fact that many players around the world use it, it ultimately undermines Diablo’s core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot.

Indeed, the problem was that there was too much trading and the system became too efficient. I actually wrote a lengthy post about this on the Diablo 3 forums last year, called “Why the Auction House is the Main Problem,” which was also mathematically oriented. This article was highly rated and was spread around the interwebs.

Basically, the problem was that the increased market efficiency from the auction houses allowed the average player to obtain much better items than they otherwise would, thereby short-circuiting the actual game.

Although it seems fairly obvious now as to what happened, the sentiment at the time was that the real money auction house was causing the main problems, but that the gold auction house was fine. Before my thread, I don’t recall anyone making a coherent argument against the efficiency of the gold auction house.

The Future of Gaming

Thus it is not all that surprising that Blizzard is removing both auction houses. And even considering Blizzard’s official reason, it is interesting that the economic system in the game has so many analogs in real life.

A vision of the future virtual world, from part 1:

It will not be a place where we can set aside our real world and escape our problems for a few hours. It will not be a place where we have fun or meet people we would never see otherwise and talk about the little things in life without worrying about our financial position.

Instead, it will be an extension of the real world and everything in it. Those who are wealthier in the real world will have more options in the virtual world, and those who are poorer will remain poor. Ultimately, if virtual reality does not return to its roots as an escape from reality, people will end up escaping the virtual world as well.

So given the recent news, perhaps we are not quite as firmly on that road as we were last year—a wrench has been thrown in the works. But in the end, the real and virtual worlds are still on a collision course. We should definitely be prepared.

The Popularity of Starcraft in Korea (and Elsewhere)

Today’s topic as originally chosen by William G (at UT Dallas) was the “Popularity of K-Pop“; however, given that I know almost nothing about K-Pop, and that it would be ironic if I had to do a lot of research to write about the popularity of something, I decided to jump topics slightly. Just slightly. The new topic is also popular in Korea. It is a sport that has filled stadiums and put speed, strategies, and reflexes to the ultimate test. It is the phenomenon known as Starcraft.

A video demonstrating the point:

This one is a full (but very short) game, with Korean commentary. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to actually understand Korean to see how fanatic they are:

This one is of the announcement of Starcraft II, back in May 2007 at Seoul, Korea. You should pay attention not to Blizzard’s actual trailer, but to the audience’s response, which occurs during the last 20 seconds or so:

Got it? Cool, you now understand all you really need to know about why Starcraft is so popular.

Just one final thing: Starcraft can get popular outside of Korea too. It just needs the right beat:

This has 4 million views so far—not bad for a video less than a month old and related to gaming.

*

Anyways, this is a very early post (it’s 12:25 am right now) because I will be leaving Ithaca very shortly to catch a 1 am bus to NYC. I’ll be spending a lot of time in the JFK airport; I have an idea for a really fun blog post, and I’ll see what I can do with it. See ya next time in Austin!

The End of an Experiment

I played World of Warcraft for 20 days.

WoW Screenshot

During this time, I spent logged into the game a total of 6 days and 9 hours (plus 1 minute and 7 seconds, if you look closely at the yellow text on the screenshot), which averages to 7.65 hours per day. This is 27.5% higher than my estimate of 6 hours per day that I made on the previous post! Percentage-wise, I spent 31.9% of my real time logged into WoW. In other words, I spent significantly more time on WoW than on sleep.

In these 20 days I leveled from 1 to 70, for an average of 3.5 levels per day. I was a human mage, for those of you interested.

I completed 538 quests, earned 3097 gold (plus 17 silver and 9 copper), landed 17,352 kills, and dealt 30,163,105 damage.

Wow Time Graph Revised

In this time I averaged approximately 5 hours of sleep a night (estimated), pulled two all-nighters (I had never done even one all-nighter before), and took way more naps than I normally do. While I didn’t miss any classes or homework, I did wake up past noon twice (on weekends). But let me emphasize this point: I kept up with school.

Not only was my sleeping schedule messed up, but so was my dining schedule. In these 20 days, I changed from a person who eats breakfast, lunch, and dinner quite regularly to someone who eats almost randomly one to three times a day, and not at set times. For example, as I mentioned last post, I ate only two meals total in three consecutive days. (While last post I considered this to be an experiment on its own, I now consider it a result of the WoW experiment.)

Being in a somewhat scientific mood, I asked myself the following question and came up with four answers:

So Why is WoW So Addicting?

  • Customization
  • Progress
  • Optimization
  • Nature

Customization

Customization is pretty self-explanatory—you have so many options, not just in the beginning, but at any point of the game. Even before you start, you have the objective of selecting two important features of your character: race and class. At the moment there are 10 races, with five on the Alliance (Humans, Dwarfs, Gnomes, Night Elves, Draenei) and five on the Horde (Orcs, Trolls, Tauren, Undead, Blood Elves). There are also 10 classes, and this choice will have a huge impact on your gameplay. Now, not each race and class combination is available, but there are still a great number of options available even before you start the game. Oh, and within each race, you can customize your appearance.

Once you’re in the game, you can basically choose whatever you want to do. You can complete quests (they’re entirely optional), kill monsters, train professions, explore, or just chat. World of Warcraft is the start of super-interactive virtual reality.

As you gain levels, you choose different items to use. You’ll decide what stat to focus on. At level 10 you specialize into one of three talent trees (there are three unique trees for each class), giving you even more flexibility. Within each talent tree, you’ll make decisions on which talents to learn. And later on, you’ll be able to switch between two different talent trees.

You can choose two primary professions out of a total of 11. They range from Mining to Enchanting, Jewelcrafting to Tailoring, and more.

As you discover the world, you decide which quests you do, which monsters to kill, which areas to explore. You decide what you set as your home. You can visit different capital cities. You can choose to clear dungeons, or fight other players in battlegrounds.

You can trade items, put items up at the Auction House and bid on items there, and how much gold you want from (or for) them.

You start out walking and running, but at higher levels, you can ride a mount, which makes your travels much shorter. In some places, given the right requirements, you can explore the world from the air and travel even more rapidly with a flying mount.

You can fight solo or with a party. Within a fight, you have a wide selection of abilities and spells to choose from. You can play offensively or defensively, or choose not to directly fight at all.

All these customization options give you a vast amount of things to choose from. Because of this, the game really never becomes boring. There is so much content that to explore every secret of the world, every combination of races, classes, and professions, and every style of play, would require infinite time.

Progress

When you play this game, almost no matter what you do, you feel as if you are advancing in something. The basic form of progress is leveling, in which you become stronger by having your stats increased, and by which you unlock different gameplay mechanics. In the beginning, your options are relatively limited (though still huge). As you level, you gain new skills, spells, gold, and other abilities. Your ability to kill monsters, complete quests, and even travel around the world increases.

Exploring the world really feels like progress. At first, the map is mostly blank, giving you only an outline of the world. As you travel around, landmarks and regions start appearing on your map.

WoW Screenshot 4

Completing quests for different factions increases your Reputation with that faction. As your reputation increases, you gain ranks and receive bonuses when dealing with that faction.

At certain levels there are new things you can do. You can unlock the talent panel, the dungeon finder, mounts, as well as the continents of Outland and Northrend.

And then there are Achievements. Doing certain things will earn you Achievements, which increase the number of Achievement points you own. This is addicting as it gives you an incentive to do something that would have otherwise no gameplay value. You are doing it just for the achievement.

Optimization

When you hit the max level, or are in any fixed situation, you will still want to improve. You do this by optimizing everything. If there’s an item you have that adds 50 armor, and there’s another that is otherwise identical but with 55 armor, you will feel very strongly compelled to obtain the more powerful one. You’ll hunger for the sword that gives 200 damage over the one you have that gives 185.

Within a battle you’ll want to optimize the amount of damage you are doing, to try to finish the battle as quickly as possible. You’ll figure out the optimal order in which you use your abilities, the optimal equipment for doing so, the optimal setup, the optimal environment, etc. You’ll want to be the most efficient.

Even in travel, you’ll want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. You’ll find the optimal route, and you’ll use the fastest mount you can. If you have 5 quests to complete in 5 different locations, you’ll figure out the optimal order in which to complete them as to minimize the traveling time.

You can never be the best. You can always be better.

Nature

Of the four reasons I list, this one is the most separate. Largely, WoW is a move away from modernity and towards the old, if not ancient, past. Besides the Dwarf and Gnome engineering projects, which are more funny than representative of technology, the game is almost completely at peace with nature. The Night Elves especially represent a love towards nature, and they guard it with utmost respect.

It happens to match the environmentalist movement happening right now. There are quest lines aimed at stopping a deforestation (of Ashenvale Forest). In The Burning Crusade, the Fel Reaver is a colossal enemy war machine portrayed as highly destructive. In general, many enemies are associated with trying to destroy the environment, and this is an idea that definitely rings in our current society.

World of Warcraft’s scenery in some zones can be very beautiful, and they show a pristine nature that we cannot easily visit in our own world. Therefore, playing WoW is like visiting with nature. Just google wow screenshots and look at the ones that are outside. Some of those areas make you feel that the game world is so close to nature that it is more real than our own. Hence we don’t want to leave it.

Just as WoW is a throwback to nature, it is also a throwback to mythology and the belief in magic. Azeroth is a world of imagination that can seem more convincing than our Earth, and far more mystical.

WoW Screenshot 2

If what we are looking at is a representation of a more primitive way of life, it is no wonder than World of Warcraft is so successful. Even the interface looks ancient: for reading, it is often scrolls and parchment. Even the professions, such as fishing, cooking, and herb gathering, are a nostalgia for an earlier time.

Conclusions

  1. World of Warcraft is a great and successful game, but it is also terribly addicting. It will drain hours per day and affect schedules.
  2. It is addicting because it allows us to not only play a game, but also to experience and live in a new world. This world allows us to connect with nature, or at least, what we perceive to be nature.
  3. In the future, what will dominate virtual reality might not be a virtual reality of the real world, but instead, a virtual representation of an older, more forgotten world, with ties to our ancient past, its history and its traditions.

I thought it was a fun 20 days, but I must tell myself to stop the experiment now, while I still can.

Finally, for a parting to WoW, I created this Halloween screenshot. Enjoy!

WoW Screenshot 3

This experiment, needless to say, has had some major effects on me. I will be trying to get back to normal schedule the next few days. So while I am not going to conduct another experiment like this for some time, I am opening this up to the public as to what my next experiment should be. I’d rather it not be playing another video game. Also, I will not consider anything with drugs or alcohol, etc. If the idea is feasible, and has some worth to it, I’ll consider it.

Starcraft II Editor — Second Look

Random fact: On the day of my last post, which was about a short story considered a brilliant piece of American literature, my blog received its lowest daily view count in more than three months (130 views). I guess the Internet is just that antagonistic towards American literature.

Today’s topic is much different: the StarCraft II map editor. Four months ago, during the beta, I was able to play around with the editor very basically, and wrote up a post comparing the SC2 editor to the SC1 and WC3 editors.

Recently I was able to mess around with the editor again, this time trying to create the basic gameplay for an AoS-type map. After all, I had plenty of experience with the WC3 editor, and the SC2 editor, as I mentioned in the linked post, is very similar.

That turns out less true than I thought. The truth is, the SC2 editor is not only far more powerful, as I had mentioned, but also far, far more complicated. Of course, diving into any new thing takes a while of getting used to, but on the SC2 editor, I spent eight hours just trying to make a hero system and setting up the map and triggers for an AoS, and didn’t even succeed in creating items or an inventory. To change even a single stat on a weapon took me a couple minutes of messing around the first time.

My new argument: While the WC3 editor and the SC2 editor look very much alike, the WC3 editor is in fact more like the SC1 editor than the SC2 editor. Actually, there is an important caveat here: I’m talking only about the Object/Data editor. For Terrain and Triggers, it still stands that WC3 and SC2 are closer.

The object editor in WC3 is essentially the unit editor of SC1 with significantly more fields, and also more tabs (not only units, but also abilities, items, doodads, destructibles, buffs). Suppose I wanted to change the damage of a Marine/Footman. In SC1 I would go to the Marine unit, and change the damage field from 6 to whatever I wanted it to be. For the WC3 Footman, the process is exactly the same.

SC2, on the other hand, is modular. So, to change the damage of the Marine, you can’t just go to the Marine unit. From the Marine, you have to find the link to the weapon, which in turn has a link to the damage. Once you’re at the damage, you can modify it.

Alright, it takes two more steps—so what? Well, this makes multi-object things WAY more complicated. Letsay I wanted to create an item that adds an aura in WC3. I would need an Item, Ability, and Buff. The Ability must known which Buff the aura uses, and the Item must know what Ability it is supposed to carry. Nice and simple. In SC2… let’s just say I haven’t figured it out yet.

Even supposing I could create an item, I would also need the inventory, which is incredibly difficult to make, at least without a very careful and detailed tutorial. Even looking at the source of another map (which was an excellent way to learn the WC3 editor) seemed to not help, because there were several inter-object links that I did not know how to make.

Anyway, I’m not saying the SC2 editor sucks or anything—I’m just saying it’s far, far more complicated than what I’m used to, and it will most likely have a long adaptation time. Even figuring out the basics is a challenging task. Right now, the editor just seems far more complex than it needs to be, but we’ll see.

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

StarCraft II

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is a real-time strategy game and yet another impressive gem from Blizzard.

Overview

This post is a review in all but the usual sense. I’m not here to assign the game a number from 1 to 10 (though if I were, it would be very high); instead, I am going for a “review” in a more academic sense—a study of the game.

Which means I’m not trying to praise or condemn the game, but rather, to gain an almost artistic appreciation for it, like I would of a film or book.

Gameplay Background

The real-time strategy genre is a type of chess where you can move all your pieces at once and you don’t take turns. What the original Starcraft (1998) did was create totally different factions. Instead of each side’s army consisting of a king, a queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights, and eight pawns, one side could have four pieces that moved like knights and pawns, another two like rooks with limited range, two more like bishops that could jump over pieces, and a piece that could teleport to another unoccupied square within two rows, but only once every three turns.

Call the standard 16-piece setup A, and this new 9-piece setup B. Each piece in B might be more powerful than in A, but B has less pieces. In Starcraft, if the Terran (humans) are A, then the Protoss (an alien race) would be B, for they use smaller numbers of stronger and costlier units.

The Zerg (the other aliens) are the opposite of the Protoss. Perhaps their chess setup would have 16 pawns, four pieces that moved like kings (but don’t obey the rules of check), four knights, and a queen. This is a total of 25 pieces.  This allows swarming with larger numbers of weaker and cheaper units.

Of course this is a drastic oversimplification of the game style (I’ve left out important things as resource collecting, production buildings, scouting, etc.), but that covers it essentially. Starcraft II continues the same gameplay, just with different units.

Plot Background

In Starcraft II’s single-player campaign, you follow the actions of Jim Raynor, a rebel leader against the Terran Dominion and its evil leader Arcturus Mengsk. You learn that Raynor is a friend of many Protoss factions, and that he is especially on good terms with the dark templar Zeratul. And the Zerg are led by Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades.

This alignment did not occur from accident.

Starcraft: The Terran Confederacy in the Koprulu sector in the Milky Way suddenly encounter technologically advanced Protoss warships that incinerate some Terran fringe colonies. They find that the Protoss have done so to prevent the spread of a parasitic race called the Zerg.

At this point, Jim Raynor is a Marshall on the planet Mar Sara, which is attacked by the Zerg. The Confederacy is slow to help, so Raynor puts himself in charge of saving as many colonists as he can. When he destroys a structure that has been infested by the Zerg, the Confederacy arrests him, and to evade arrest, Raynor has no choice but to join the Sons of Korhal, a terrorist group led by Arcturus Mengsk.

To overthrow the Confederate capital world of Tarsonis, Mengsk sends his second-in-command, psionic agent Sarah Kerrigan to place a psi-emitter on the planet. This device lures the Zerg, who will overrun the human population on Tarsonis. When the Protoss under Tassadar come to destroy the Zerg, Mengsk orders Kerrigan to stop the Protoss, but when she does so, Mengsk abandons her on the planet to the Zerg. Raynor, disgusted by the betrayal of Kerrigan, defects from Mengsk, and in the fall of Tarsonis and the Confederacy, Mengsk creates the Dominion and crowns himself Emperor.

The Overmind, ruler of the Zerg, had actually decided not to kill Kerrigan. She was instead infested to be an agent of the Zerg Swarm. The Protoss dark templar Zeratul assassinates the Zerg Cerebrate Zasz, but this act reveals to the Overmind the location of Aiur, the Protoss homeworld. The Overmind quickly mounts a direct assault, and embeds itself into the planet.

Even as the Zerg take over Aiur, the Protoss Conclave insists on conventional, honorable fighting against the Zerg, even though the Protoss are hopelessly outnumbered. The Conclave also seeks to arrest the high templar Tassadar, who has tried to free Zeratul—only dark templar energy could defeat the Overmind. After a brief Protoss civil war, the combined forces of the Protoss under Tassadar and Zeratul, and Raynor’s rebel group, defeat the Zerg, and Tassadar sacrifices himself to slay the Overmind.

Brood War: Not terribly important to the storyline of Starcraft II, except that Kerrigan becomes the sole leader of the Zerg.

Story and Storytelling: The Single-Player Campaign

Blizzard has come a long way in storytelling. In Starcraft, the plot unfolds in-game as well as in mission briefings. Key cinematics also illustrate critical points. The plot was linear, meaning one mission directly followed another.

The campaign of Starcraft II is, by contrast, nonlinear. You often have different missions to select from (though you end up playing through most or all of them anyways), and have choices to make in upgrades and research. Three times in the campaign, you will have to make a binary choice that either affects the plot or what you’ll face the next mission. These choice selections were very interesting, and lead to interesting replay options.

In one choice, you must decide whether to help Tosh break out a group of Specters or help Nova stop the Specter operation. If you help Tosh, you’ll have the ability to create Specters in later missions, whereas if you help Nova, you’ll have the ability to create Ghost. The two missions where you either help Tosh or Nova are my favorite in the campaign.

Besides the nonlinear story, the story itself was greatly enhanced by the various methods of storytelling. Besides mission briefings, in-game actions, and cinematics, the story takes place interactively on the Hyperion, Raynor’s ship. The most amusing method was the television broadcasts, which show Donny Vermillion and/or Kate Lockwell. Donny often cuts off Kate’s report of the real news, reporting his own biased information.

As always, the story is full of surprises and plot twists. The most shocking part of the story was Zeratul’s appearance on the Hyperion, and his visions that Raynor later viewed. It turns out the Overmind in Starcraft was more than it had seemed.

To soften the overall serious tones of alien invasion and saving the universe, Blizzard added plenty of references and humorous dialog. My favorite is the part when Tychus jokes to Raynor that using the Xel’Naga artifact could destroy the space-time continuum, to which Raynor responds, “This isn’t science fiction!”

Favorite Mission: “Ghost of a Chance”

This one is intense on micromanagement. You control no base, only Nova and a few reinforcements. The positioning of units and usage of abilities is key. The mission is like an epic version of “The Dylarian Shipyards” from Brood War.

Next Favorite Mission: “Breakout”

Essentially an Aeon of Strife game, like DotA. You control only one unit, Tosh, and try to control the tide of a battle. As in “Ghost of a Chance,” the key is positioning and using abilities. It is similar to the mission “The Search for Illidan” in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. Also, the parts where Raynor constructs bases in areas you capture is the opposite of “Twilight of the Gods” in Warcraft III, where the enemy Archimonde constructs bases in areas that he conquers.

Battle.net and Multi-Player

Also a great improvement. Battle.net is a state-of-the-art online system, and the lack of LAN is not a big issue. This is because the new Battle.net has very little lag, and whatever use for LAN can be done on Battle.net.

Besides that, the gameplay is excellent and well polished. The only qualm I have is that the Terran and Protoss seem more fun to play than the Zerg. Note that I’m not saying they’re imbalanced or easier to play; they just seem to have so many more options. Protoss with their Warp Gates are extremely fun.

Favorite Protoss Unit: Stalker

An very flexible unit that can hit air and ground. It is extremely mobile with its blink ability, and the option to use Warp Gates to warp in many of them at once is amazing. Massed stalkers with upgrades seem to be very effective.

Terran Favorite Unit: Viking

It has a very long-range air-to-air attack that is perfect against capital ships or Overlord hunting, and it can transform to ground mode, making it a viable ground-to-ground mech fighter. The ship upgrades work for both modes.

Zerg Favorite Unit: Baneling

There’s nothing more satisfying than watching your opponent’s army decimated by a massive blob of rolling green spheres.

Balance

As an amateur player I cannot speak much about this, but Starcraft II seems very well balanced. Each race has a distinct feel, but together they are matched up quite well. The game has come a long way from the early days of the beta (in which I did play), when several cheap strategies could win consistently. Even now, the Void Ray rush is super effective, at least at lower levels.

Achievements

How do you enhance the replay value of any game? Add achievements. I’m not sure whether this is new for the real-time strategy genre, but Blizzard certainly has success with the achievement system in its World of Warcraft. I’ve read an article somewhere about how achievements scientifically make a game addicting. But Starcraft 2 doesn’t even need the psychological effect.

For example, in the campaign missions, there are two bonus achievements, and it can sometimes be difficult if not nearly impossible to grab both awards in one play of the mission. One achievement might be to kill every last structure on the map, while the other might be to finish the mission in under 20 minutes. You’d have to play the mission at least twice, once to get the first achievement, another to get the second. Plus, there are de facto achievements such as finding research points on the field that can be used for valuable upgrades for later use in the campaign.

This system is very addicting for perfectionists like myself. Even without achievements, I would search every corner of a map for hidden stuff (e.g., in Warcraft III, especially the expansion, there were secret items and tomes everywhere if you looked for them). The achievement system makes you want to do this even more.

Graphics

While I don’t consider graphics to be the most important part of a game, I am fairly impressed by the graphics of Starcraft II, mostly the ability to generate in-game cutscenes and rendered movies in the campaign. Also, the real movies are in much higher resolution and detail than those in previous Blizzard titles such as Warcraft III.

Map Making

Blizzard’s map editors have been incredible, and during the beta I have already discussed the basics of the Starcraft II map editor. I haven’t found time to really experiment with it yet, but when I do, I’ll keep you updated.

The Fun Factor

To be honest, Starcraft II is one of the funnest games I have ever played, if not the most. It is because they made it much more than a game—they made it an environment, and a very immersive one at that. My only real concern here is that it might be too immersive, and be another World of Warcraft, a very addictive game due to its fun factor. World of Warcraft is what happens when you make a game too good.

Then again, there is no monthly subscription fee for Starcraft II, so Blizzard needs not make it as addicting. But once you get the game, it will be very hard to put down, at least for a while.

Concluding Remarks

Starcraft II is incredibly polished and incredibly fun, and it proves that the real-time strategy genre is not dead—it just needed another kick. And Blizzard gave it this kick.

Plot Similarities in Blizzard Games

Blizzard Entertainment

With StarCraft II just released, and from recently playing the original StarCraft and WarCraft III campaigns, I’ve noticed that, between the plots, there are quite a few similarities. Blizzard’s creative department is very good at this. The list of Blizzard games [abbreviations] I’ll be using in this post:

  • StarCraft [SC1]
  • StarCraft: Brood War [SCBW] (expansion)
  • WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos [WC3]
  • WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne [WC3: TFT] (expansion)
  • StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty [SC2]

Well, I don’t own WOW, and I don’t know the plots of the first two WarCraft games. Therefore my comparisons will mostly run between StarCraft and WarCraft III, including expansions.

SPOILER ALERT

The Hero Becomes the Villain

Diablo (!):

  • At the very end, the hero defeats Diablo but tries to contain Diablo’s soul within himself. This fails, because Diablo takes control of the hero’s body. In Diablo II, the Diablo you face is the hero of the first game.

SC1:

  • In the first campaign (Terran), mission 9: “New Gettysburg,” Arcturus Mengsk abandons ghost agent Sarah Kerrigan to the Zerg. She is infested. In the next campaign you can use Infested Kerrigan, a Zerg unit. By the end of SCBW, she has become the “Queen of Blades,” the ruler of the sector, and the primary antagonist.
    • BUT, in SC2 we learn that she is the prophecized savior of the universe, and she is de-infested at the end.
  • Also in the first campaign, Arcturus Mengsk himself is initially a hero, trying to overthrow the evil Terran Confederacy. When he takes power, he crowns himself Emperor of the new Terran Dominion, but his government ends up being just as oppressive as the Confederacy that he overthrew.

WC3:

  • In the first campaign (Human), mission 9: “Frostmourne,” Arthas Menethil, a human paladin, is so blinded by vengeance that he would kill the dreadlord Mal’Ganis at any cost. Unfortunately this cost is the taking of the cursed blade Frostmourne, which essentially binds the wielder to the Lich King. By the next campaign you can use Arthas, an Undead Death Knight. He becomes the primary antagonist.
  • In the second campaign (Undead), mission 5: “The Fall of Silvermoon,” Arthas (now undead) defeats the high elf Sylvanas Windrunner and turns her into an undead banshee. She later becomes the Queen of the Forsaken.
  • In the third campaign (Orc), mission 5: “The Hunter of Shadows,” Grom Hellscream, in order to defeat the Night Elves, drinks from an enchanted well; however, this enchantment is from the blood of Mannoroth, a pit lord. Hellscream subsequently falls under demonic possession.
    • BUT, in mission 8: “By Demons Be Driven,” Thrall rescues Hellscream’s soul, and Hellscream redeems himself by slaying Mannoroth before dying.

WC3: TFT:

  • Throughout the first campaign (Sentinel), Maiev is trying to hunt down Illidan. By the end, Malfurion remarks that “[Maiev] has become vengeance itself.” Given Illidan’s intentions, however, it is arguable whether Maiev is a protagonist or antagonist.

The Villain Was Serving a Greater Power

SCBW:

  • In the secret mission “Dark Origins,” when Zeratul discovers Samir Duran‘s experimentation on Protoss/Zerg hybrids, Duran explains: “I am a servant of a far greater power.” Could he be referring to the Xel’Naga?

SC2:

  • Tassadar reveals that the Overmind from the first game was actually controlling the Zerg against its will (it was itself controlled by a more powerful force), and that it sought to infest Kerrigan so that someone else could control the Zerg.

WC3:

  • In the second campaign (Undead), Kel’Thuzad summons the demon Archimonde into the world. Archimonde, however, has no need for Arthas or Kel’Thuzad. Arthas becomes appalled, and Kel’Thuzad informs him that the Lich King has already foreseen this, and that he has plans for Arthas.

WC3: TFT:

  • In the first campaign (Sentinel), Illidan Stormrage appears to be using the Eye of Sargeras for himself. Later, at the end of the second campaign (Blood Elf/Human), we learn that Illidan was serving the demon Kil’Jaeden, who gave Illidan the task of destroying the Frozen Throne and subsequently the Lich King.

The Apparent Ally Is Actually an Enemy

SCBW:

  • In the first campaign (Protoss), Aldaris is initially reluctant but accepting of the need to go to Shakuras. He then incites a rebellion, and the player must defeat him in mission 7: “The Insurgent.”
    • BUT, later we learn that he was the good guy all along—see the next entry.
  • The dark templar matriarch Raszagal is a seeming ally of Zeratul throughout the entire game. But we learn in the third campaign, mission 9: “The Reckoning,” that Raszagal was a puppet of Kerrigan. Thus, Aldaris’s rebellion against Raszagal was justified.
  • In the second campaign (Terran), Samir Duran is a seeming ally, but during mission 7: “Patriot’s Blood,” we learn that he is actually working for Kerrigan and the Zerg.
    • Actually, in the secret mission “Dark Origins,” we learn that he is serving not Kerrigan, but an even greater power.
  • Also in the second campaign (Terran), Alexei Stukov is the vice-admiral of the United Earth Directorate, but after some suspicious activity, the player is sent on a mission to kill him in mission 7: “Patriot’s Blood.”
    • BUT, it turns out he was the good guy, and Duran was the bad guy. (See above.)

SC2:

  • Tychus Findlay is Raynor’s buddy for the entire game. But at the end, he reveals that he “made a deal with the devil,” Arcturus Mengsk. He would have to kill Kerrigan. But Raynor kills him first.

WC3:

  • In the fourth campaign (Night Elf), Tyrande Whisperwind frees Illidan Stormrage in order to help fight against the demonic invasion. Illidan later serves a demon, and is the first antagonist to appear in the expansion.

The Apparent Enemy Is Actually an Ally

SC1:

  • In the beginning of the third campaign (Protoss), both Tassadar and Zeratul are considered enemies, the first a traitor, the second a dangerous outcast. They eventually defeat the Zerg Overmind.

SCBW:

  • Kerrigan goes both ways. She is an enemy from the first game, but in the first campaign she helps the protoss Zeratul and Artanis recover the Uraj and Khalis crystals. In the third campaign she also helps Mengsk recover his Dominion capital of Korhal from the United Earth Directorate.
    • But, she turns on her allies, killing Duke and Fenix, revealing that she had used everyone as a part of her own plan to rule the sector alone.
      • BUT, at the end of SC2 she becomes uninfested, and it is hinted that she will be the hero again.

SC2:

  • Kerrigan. See above.
  • The Overmind from the first game. Tassadar says the Overmind had “courage.” See “The Villain Was Serving a Greater Power.”
  • Valerian Mengsk, the heir apparent to Arcturus Mengsk, seems at first to be another loyal Dominion agent. But it is revealed that he is the owner of the Moebius Foundation, that he can help Raynor rescue Kerrigan, and that he is against his father.

WC3:

  • In the third campaign (Orc), Grom Hellscream’s Orcs slay Cenarius, who was actually trying to prevent them from unleashing demonic powers from the Chaos Well. Hellscream drinks from the well and becomes corrupted.

WC3: TFT:

  • Actually uncertain for Illidan. He is at first the foe who brought into power the Naga, but he was actually trying to destroy the Lich King, though he was doing so albeit under Kil’Jaeden’s command. Then again, he does help Malfurion rescue Tyrande. At the final fight, it is Illidan versus Arthas, and neither can be said to be good.
  • Lady Vashj is apparently an enemy, but she and her Naga assist the player in the Alliance campaign.

The Grand Alliance

SC1:

  • In the final mission (Protoss mission 10) “Eye of the Storm,” the Protoss under Tassadar and Zeratul and the Terran under Raynor join together and defeat the Zerg Overmind.

SCBW:

  • The final mission (Zerg mission 10) “Omega” essentially inverts “Eye of the Storm.” Kerrigan‘s Zerg defeat the combined forces of Mengsk‘s Terran Dominion, DuGaulle‘s United Earth Directorate, and Artanis‘s Protoss fleet.

WC3:

  • In the final mission (Night Elf mission 7) “Twilight of the Gods,” the Night Elves under Malfurion Stormrage and Tyrande Whisperwind, the Humans under Jaina Proudmoore, and the Orcs under Thrall hold off a demonic invasion led by Archimonde against Mount Hyjal, the World Tree.
    • Well, eventually the invasion succeeds, but Archimonde falls into Malfurion’s trap upon reaching Mount Hyjal.

The Prophecy

WC3:

  • Medivh is THE Prophet. He foretells the invasion of the Burning Legion (making him a doomsday prophet), and ends up uniting the Humans, Orcs, and Night Elves to defeat Archimonde’s invasion.

SC2:

  • Zeratul becomes the prophetic character, telling Raynor that Kerrigan is the key. To some degree, Kerrigan is also prophetic. In SCBW, Duran could be considered prophetic.

The Guy that Nobody Believes (At First)

SC1:

  • None of the Protoss believe Tassadar at first when he says they must trust the Dark Templar, and they believe he has defected to the dark side. The Dark Templar end up being invaluable to the fight against the Zerg, and Tassadar ends up being the ultimate hero of the game.

WC3:

  • The humans initially laugh at Medivh‘s doomsday prophecies, but he ends up indirectly saving Azeroth.

One of the primary reasons there are so many twists, like the good guys becoming the bad guys or vice versa, is how the campaigns are structured. Each game involves a thread of campaigns that use different races. So when you’ve fought against a certain foe for an entire campaign, and then get to command them in the next, you immediately begin to ask moral questions, like whether what you did in the previous campaign was the right thing.

That’s really the genius of these games, that characters don’t have fixed allegiances. And with certain characters, specifically Kerrigan and Illidan, you really don’t know whether they’re ultimately good or evil until you know it for sure.