Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Overwatch for Beginners, Part II: Easy Heroes

Part I | Part II | Part III

There are many resources available for mastering individual heroes (like the Cynical Nerds Youtube series or Furious Paul's Overwatch Strategy Guide). Instead of retreading the same ground, I'm going to approach Overwatch's 21 heroes from the perspective of how easy each one is to master. Every hero is fairly easy to pick up and use, but some heroes are more tricky to play in a way that will help your team win a match.

Starter Heroes: These heroes have straightforward, understandable skillsets and roles, and it is very easy to make a difference in a game with them.

  • Bastion: Bastion's ability to become an immobile chaingun of doom makes him the first hero to impress new players, but he is very counterable by more skilled players. Try to move around to a new position after scoring a particular string of kills in one place, and be aware that you have a "headshot" critical vulnerability on the back of your body in turret mode.

  • Lucio: Lucio has a passive aura that either heals nearby players or speeds them up. Try to use speed as your default setting, only toggling to heals between battles or when many team members can benefit. You probably won't get many solo kills as Lucio, but you are very good at "boop"ing people off the edge of cliffs:
  • McCree / Reaper / Soldier 76: These are the traditional damage dealers. They have shooty skills to shoot things, mobility and heal skills for survivability, and ultimates that make them even more shooty. Use them to keep pressure on objectives, support tanks, and protect your healers.

  • Winston: Winston has good mobility and a weak gun that hits whoever happens to be nearby, making him a good choice for people with poor aim. Use him to provide localized defense in a battle, or to quickly get to a back lines sniper or support for harassment -- he's less useful as a pure frontal assault kind of tank.

Intermediate Heroes: These heroes are simple to play, but require a little extra spatial awareness and focus to support game objectives. Try them out once you're comfortable with the general flow of the game.

  • Junkrat: Play Junkrat if you like chaos and don't mind being off doing your own thing. Junkrat can shut down a narrow chokepoint singlehandedly with his randomly bouncing grenades, and his kit of traps are fun to play with and useful for staying alive.

  • Mercy: Mercy is a single-hero healer (where Lucio is a group healer) and can also boost the damage output of a single target. The healing part is easy -- the difficult part is using her "fly to team member" skill to constantly stay ahead of enemies and out of harm's way. Try to constantly be flying between team members rather than picking your favourite to play assistant with. As you improve, healing will become second nature and establishing a good flight pattern will take up most of your time. Mercy is a very fun and rewarding healer to play (She was my second most-played hero in the beta).

  • Pharah: Pharah has straightforward skills -- fly around and launch rockets! The tricky part here is to manipulate her flying skills in unpredictable patterns. A Pharah flying straight up or down at constant velocity is going to be easy pickings for any sniper. You'll also need to get into the habit of leading your shots to anticipate where your target will be by the time the rocket reaches them.

  • Reinhardt: Reinhardt is the tankiest of tanks, with a massive shield that's perfect for getting your team through a chokepoint. Don't be afraid to drop the shield and start rage-swinging his giant axe when all of your teammates have seen squirrels and run off somewhere else -- he does a surprising amount of damage and his melee range is big enough to get some satisfying kills on squishy enemies.

  • Symmetra: Symmetra's gameplay can feel unfulfilling -- give shields to your teammates and plant mini turrets around the map to catch enemies unaware (represented by an icon that looks like a retarded penguin on your screen), in order to use your Teleporter ultimate which gets your respawned team members back to the battle faster. Sometimes it will feel like you're playing your own little minigame within the game. You'll need some map knowledge to identify places where your teleporter won't be found and destroyed by enemies.

  • Torbjorn: Torbjorn builds a really irritating turret that he can repair over time. Try not to play him in a "protect the turret" mode, as this is very limiting. Instead, let the turret support you as you shoot with your surprisingly painful gun and rebuild the turret for free when the old one falls. Torbjorn is a pretty weak choice when you're on the Attacking team, but I've seen a few that have proved this general rule of thumb to be wrong.

On Friday, I'll cover the other 9 heroes, which are a little trickier to play than these.

tagged as games | permalink | 1 comment

Monday, May 23, 2016

Weekend Wrap-up

This weekend, with its inescapable chilly rain, was very low-key. I had Friday off to burn some overtime hours and did some home tasks like replacing the filters in the water faucets and cleaning the house. In the evening, we had grilled glazed salmon and salads on the back porch, ekeing out the final hours of sunlight with a glass of Devil's Backbone Catty Wompus.

Saturday was an indoors day. I played some DOOM (review on Thursday), watched the great series, Humans with Rebecca, and worked a little on Sparkour. It was more of the same on Sunday. We had chicken sandwiches at The V for dinner, which was selected as a study in trade-offs -- the somewhat boring menu against the proximity of the restaurant to our house.

How was your weekend?

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, May 20, 2016

Overwatch for Beginners, Part I: Introduction

Part I | Part II | Part III

Blizzard's latest game, Overwatch, has its global release on Monday night, May 23 on PC, PS4, and XBone. I normally don't jump on the hype bandwagon for new games (the last game I preordered may have been the highly disappointing Ultima IX in 1999), but the hundred hours I spent playing the beta has convinced me that this is going to be a huge hit. Besides the obvious care, charm, and polish baked into the package, the game features the same addictiveness and accessibility that made World of Warcraft intriguing to gamers who wouldn't normally be interested in the genre.

Overwatch aims to do the same for first-person team shooters, where you compete in teams of 6 to accomplish different objectives. While kills and reflexes are important, coordinated teamwork is a must, and there are roles that even people with the aiming skills of North Korea can perform to help their team succeed. The heroes fall into the traditional MMO categories (tanks, damage dealers, and healers) and all 21 are varied enough to lead to unexpectedly satisfying team compositions.

You might enjoy the animated shorts that Blizzard has released to develop the lore behind the game (although the story is more for flavor than an essential part of the game). Even if you're not a gamer, you'll appreciate their high quality production:

Matches take place on well-designed maps in scenic global locales and consist of three game modes: Defenders try to prevent Attackers from capturing a control zone, both teams try to claim the same control zone (King of the Hill), or Defenders try prevent Attackers from escorting a payload to a final destination. Some maps feature a mix of these objectives. Objectives take precedence over deathmatch kills, and it doesn't matter if you've killed 20 enemies if you end up losing control of a capture zone.

Besides running, jumping, and crouching in a 3D world, each hero has a very constrained skillset, generally consisting of a primary shooting ability, a secondary shooting mode, two support skills, and an "ultimate" ability that can only be used after you've charged it up over time (not unlike heroes in Warcraft 3). This makes it easier to try out and enjoy different heroes without having to master tons of key bindings. The tutorial hero, Soldier: 76, is the most traditional hero, and a good starting point if you ever played DOOM or Team Fortress as a wee youth with a 9600 baud modem.

The game comes with a basic tutorial and then drops you straight into the action. You can opt to play against the computer to get comfortable, but this gets boring pretty quickly. I was surprised by how much more interesting the game got simply by adding unpredictable real players to the mix. Games against real people are overwhelmingly chaotic when you first start -- you will die a million times and have no idea what all of the heroes are doing to you, but you'll enjoy every second of it. The art style, sound design, and animations all blend into a giant interactive Looney Tunes cartoon.

If you're interested in playing Overwatch, you should take a look at Overwatch: A Complete Beginner's Guide. Here are a few quick tips for your first games:

  • After you die, you come back to life in a "spawn room" and have to run back to the battlefront. Try to travel by different routes to get back to the action and you'll learn the maps that much more quickly. You may even discover useful shortcuts -- with the exception of a few chokepoints, there are always multiple ways to get around. You can also load up a map in a Custom Game and explore it at your leisure.
  • You can change your hero on the fly after dying, but this erases any ultimate charge you've built up. Try to use your ultimate ability before switching so it doesn't go to waste.
  • Tapping TAB during the game will give you a quick idea of who's alive on your team. If the whole team just died, you may want to regroup instead of wandering back to the battle one at a time. You can also enable a Kill Feed in the Options menu.
  • Proximity is a very important (and under-explained) concept in all game modes. You need to be within the colorful boundary of a control zone for a certain amount of time to capture it. As a Defender, you can contest the capture by standing in the zone yourself. Likewise, Attackers can make the payload travel faster when more people are nearby (and being close to the payload will heal you). Defenders can contest the forward motion of the payload by standing close by.

Next Tuesday in Part II, I'll give a brief overview of the 21 heroes and provide some suggestions on the easiest heroes to get started with!

tagged as games | permalink | 3 comments

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Fresh Meat, Season One:
This show feels like a British version of Undeclared, and focuses on misfit freshmen sharing a house together at university. The characters never deepen much beyond surface appearances, and a couple early episodes (8 total) are weak, but it's a light, pleasant show that doesn't need much of a time investment. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

House of Cards, Season Four:
I felt like this season's plot was much more focused, with many threads from earlier seasons finally starting to tie together. Unfortunately, binge-style TV means that I've forgotten most of the deep details from the early seasons so I had to look up a lot of references and names as I watched. In order from best to worst season: 1, 4, 3, 2. However, I also think that no episode was ever as good as that first David Fincher-directed pilot. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

Life Lessons by Just Jack:
Just Jack has been quiet for several years but just released this EP for $3.99 on Amazon and iTunes. It focuses more on warm pads and introspective lyrics rather than the heavy sampling and rapping from his full-length albums.

Final Grade: B+

HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset:
I finally bought a gaming headset for use with Overwatch (which comes out for real next Monday night) because there's never really a time to communicate by chat in the game unless you're already dead. I've actually only used the mic a couple times but had no problems. Setup is straightforward, as there's no drivers to worry about, and the ear pieces are very comfortable, if a bit warm. Sound quality is clear, and with the Dolby software enhancements offered in some games, emulating 3D actually works quite well. Then again, I down-convert all of my MP3s to 128kb to save space, so I'm probably not the best opinion to listen to on sound quality.

Final Grade: B+

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