Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review (Potential Spoiler)

My original fear was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to be Heroes with a Marvel logo on it. While they do share a key element: superheroes living secret lives amongst regular people, the most interesting aspect of ABC's show is that it follows normal, albeit highly intelligent/trained agents, hunting down, saving, or stopping superheroes. There's also a technological flair and espionage-driven story inherit in this fictional universe, and I don't feel every episode will have to focus on superhuman feats, shifting to plots about rival secret agencies and the characters within them.

As a huge fan of Marvel I was hooked with the opening shot, because that particular scene, a kid looking into the window of a toy store filled with action figures of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, demonstrated to me the potential of the show. In the pilot, there were already crossovers and nods to Iron Man 3 (the pilot's antagonist is infected with the Extremis virus) and Avengers. I suspect each episode will continue in this fashion, possibly containing Easter eggs. The show even has the capacity to introduce new villains, new heroes, new side characters, and new plots that may or may not spill into the movies, as well as leave the door open for major cameos or the development of other characters, something they delved into by recasting Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. I, like most Marvel fans, am hoping a major star such as Chris Evans or Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance. It's a small possibility; it would take a lot of convincing and probably a lot of money, yet there's a chance.

The show's longevity is not dependent on A list actors doing cameos. They have Clark Gregg, and he's fun to watch. I have liked the Agent Coulson character since the first Thor movie and his lines, "It's not easy to do what you did. You made my men look like a bunch of minimum wage mall cops. That's hurtful." Gregg has a unique charm in his delivery, and it's entertaining even when the show ripped a scene from Back to the Future. I half expected for Coulson to say, "Where we're going we don't need roads," when the pilot ended with a flying car zooming at the camera. Despite his many appearances, Coulson is still a mystery. He has had little to no backstory, and the show can explore his origins.

I hope I'm not ruining this for anyone that enjoys the show yet has never really been into Marvel comics or video games, but I'm 99.9% positive (POTENTIAL SPOILER) Coulson is a LMD, which stands for Life Model Decoy. For those that don't know, S.H.I.E.L.D. is infamous for employing LMDs, particularly Nick Fury. It's an android double of a person that can be used to hear or see and can also be controlled by the owner--my theory is that the writers might make it more of a clone than a robot, because if it was being controlled by the real Coulson the other agents obviously wouldn't have to lie to it and make up a story about vacationing in Tahiti.

One of the biggest distractions I had throughout the show (other than Chloe Bennett's hotness) was the science duo of Leo and Jemma. They had cool gadgets, brought up interesting ideas, but I missed half of their dialogue due to repeatedly talking over one another. I had the sense they were trying to go for the quirky, fast-paced back and forth and hint of unspoken sexual attraction akin to Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, but it failed. I was more annoyed than delighted, and half an hour into the show, I rooted for their demise.

The pilot wasn't a flawless start. The show has a few kinks to work through, the biggest being the cast interactions. Some actors brought their best while others seemed to still be in the process of finding their groove. There were awkward moments and lines that didn't quite feel right to me, jokes and a few scenes that ultimately flopped (the interrogation room with the truth serum, for instance). I've read a few reviews from other Marvel fans that somehow expected Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to have the action of a blockbuster. Please, don't expect that. This is television, where the CGI isn't as advanced (this show probably has better CGI than most other shows), and the budget isn't as grand as a fully produced, 200 million dollar+ movie. If given enough time to develop, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has all the makings of becoming a stellar show, finely tuned for hardcore Marvel fans and the average viewer alike. It just needs a little tweaking.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sleepy Hollow Review (Spoiler Alert)

Last night I watched the premiere of Sleepy Hollow, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Throughout the pilot I likened the premise to shows like Supernatural and Castle, where Ichabod Crane, freshly awakened in the future after sleeping for over two hundred years, and a skeptic cop named Abbie Mills team up to solve supernatural mysteries in the town of Sleepy Hollow.

A lot of the charm of the show comes from the relationship between Ichabod and Abbie, as he's prone to make unintentionally rude comments such as, "Since when do women wear trousers," and, "You've been emancipated, I take it." More than the witches and demons and the yarn about the coming apocalypse, I found myself entertained by Tom Mison's portrayal of Ichabod as he adjusted to modern society yet maintained a calculative nature. He's more interested in the world and gadgets, asking about Starbucks across the street from one another and looking into a flashlight. I do hope this is a persistent aspect of the show, for Ichabod has more than two centuries of history, social changes, and technology to catch up on. There's a reverse Life on Mars feel to it, where Ichabod is thrust forward in time rather than back, and a lot can be explored as he comes to grips with the modern world that's so different from the one he left.

I thought Nicole Beharie was a good choice for the co-lead as well. The back and forth between Ichabod and her gave me a few laughs, even when they delivered lines that were full of cheese, and it's hard for a show that deals with headless killers and witches and the four horsemen of the apocalypse to not have cheesey or awkward lines, but the actors did enough for me to buy the premise and be entertained, including Orlando Jones, who plays a more serious role than I'm accustomed to seeing from him.

Neither is Sleepy Hollow on the level of shows like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, nor does it pretend to be. This is a show with action (a taste of what's to come was a quick showdown with a priest casting magic and the Headless Horseman sporting a shotgun) and a bit of mystery; it's sometimes dark, sometimes comedic. It's very much a show designed for pure entertainment, not introspection or a commentary on society, and if the viewer is looking for a faithful adaptation of Washington Irving's tale, this is not where to find it.

My one major complaint so far is that during the premiere they had two great actors, John Cho and Clancy Brown, that were killed off. There was little to no development with their characters, which means there was a brief window of mystery surrounding them, though I suspect Clancy Brown will be doing voiceovers throughout the series. It really irked me to have these characters introduced and killed by the Horseman almost right away. I feel as if it was a ploy to get people to watch the pilot by advertising a great cast, then having half that cast be nothing more than cameos. Of the six major characters shown in the first episode, half of them are gone--seems like a wasted opportunity to me.

All in all, the pilot was solid, and I'm a sucker for supernatural shows. While I could do with a little less of the cop show aspect, I look forward to new episodes and seeing where Sleepy Hollow takes me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mists of Pandaria: Patch 5.4 Review

Earlier this week, the last major patch for Mists of Pandaria released. A slew of changes and additions came with the final raid in Ogrimmar to bring down Garrosh Hellscream. Since the first section of LFR doesn't come out until this Tuesday, Connected Realms are still in a test phase and not yet implemented on dying servers such as mine, and my friends on another server went ahead and did a Flex Raid without me, I haven't had the chance to see the Siege of Orgrimmar raid yet, but there's plenty to do and see this patch in the meantime, unlike 5.3.

First and foremost, there's the Timeless Isle. It's a sandbox loaded with hidden treasure chests, mini-events, rares and elites that are sure to challenge even the most skilled and seasoned players,  five world bosses, and a pet battle tournament. In this modest-sized area, item level (ilvl) 496, bind-on-account gear drops like rain in Seattle. Within a couple of hours of landing on the Isle, I received enough loot to raise the ilvl of my alt Shaman and Lock to get them into Throne of Thunder LFR and raised my Hunter's ilvl enough to get him into the Siege of Orgrimmar LFR (once it releases), all while playing on my Druid and Mage, who are both ilvl 505+. Catch up on alts is easier than it has ever been. I've received so much gear for alts this weekend that I groan when a leather specific item drops, as I have no need for them anymore.

Any piece of gear found on the Isle can also be upgraded into ilvl 535 loot, should you collect 50,000 coins, which is accomplished by hunting down treasure chests, killing rares...well, killing just about anything you see on the Isle, including the opposing faction as well as your own faction. The latter has caused an uproar through the community, and I experienced the griefing firsthand. My server is predominately Horde, so I figured I could travel around unscathed while coin collecting. I was wrong, and I was killed repeatedly by my own faction. Some servers have countered the killing of your own faction via bans, guild kicks, and blacklists, but this isn't the case on all servers, and the forums are ripe with complaints.

The Isle has a reputation faction called Shahao Emperor as well, which I haven't done much with. I have avoided this grind because it requires killing hard-hitting elites. A group is basically required to kill scores of servants of Ordos and slowly, painstakingly grind that rep. It's an old school grind like killing pirates for cartel rep, and I've never been a fan of such endeavors. Maybe next expansion when the level cap is raised I'll return to the Isle to grind the rep, since the faction offers nothing more than vanity items.

And, of course, with a new area comes new battle pets to collect and fight. There are three types of moths found on the island in the wild, as well as eleven drops from rares. I have yet to nab a rare drop, but from what I've seen on Wowhead, they look interesting. There's also a crane found randomly in their nests, and a Hozen with boxing gloves found by opening chests in a cave, where a vendor named Kukuru appears to sell keys for coins. On top of that, four miniature versions of the celestials can be achieved through the tournament.

I dabbled with the Celestial Tournament, giving up quickly. I do not have enough of certain pet families to run through the gambit of battles in this scenario, for players are not allowed to heal their pets. Round One requires defeating three teams of three legendary pets. Round Two, still not being able to heal, requires taking on four legendary elites. To win the tournament, I'll have to level at least three of every family to 25, because the Round One compositions change week to week. Not being able to heal or revive pets against legendaries also means there's a lot of casualties during the course of the tournament, and it's doubtful a pet would be used more than once.

Speaking of casualties, I attempted the daily Lil' Oondasta pet battle and had my ass handed to me. He's legendary, elite, and hits like a truck, dealing chain attacks to the back row. Having only one mechanical pet at level 25, I need two more to even stand a chance against him.

There are other ways to spend time off the Timeless Isle, such as Proving Grounds. I reached gold ranking for DPS and was one wave from unlocking Endless, garnering achievements, and that's as much as one can gain with this scenario. It's a practice mode, which doesn't offer titles or vanity items. For the most part, it was interesting and fun, yet I wish Blizzard had done more with it.

Though the new PVP season doesn't start until next week, I've played a good portion of battlegrounds. There were a lot of class changes for 5.4, and they were evident early on. I've already given up on my Boomie for PVP, deciding to focus on my Mage until Balance's mobility is improved. At this point, I may switch to my Mage full-time, and I'm growing exceedingly tired of the constant changes to classes. Having not played my Lock for months, it was frustrating returning to him and having to relearn my specs. Back and forth, the classes never seem to balance out. They continue to change and some of those changes are head-scratchers, such as making Boomies less of a DoT-spam class and more hard-casting, stationary fodder or putting a Mage's Ice Floes into stacks, making their combat clunky, or removing Destruction's ability to refresh Immolate with Fel Flame, forcing reapplication, as well as nerfing their mobility. Seriously, why is it so difficult for Blizzard to balance classes? They alter the course of every spec every patch with different design philosophies; the developers need to make up their minds about what they want out of every spec, stick to that decision, and solidify the playstyle, then scale damage, healing, etc. from there, not flip-flop with every single iteration of the game--it's infuriating. Oh, and I'd be extremely grateful if they'd ditch hard-casting all together and allowed every spell to be cast on the move the way it is in Guild Wars 2.

In 5.4, a bunch of glyphs were added. Many of them are minor glyphs with cosmetic changes like turning my Mage's Water Elemental to a meaner-looking Unbound Elemental, so scribes should be busy. They won't, however, be as busy as other crafters. Once again, Blizzard introduced a new set of daily cooldowns with scores of recipes learned via grinding and crafting mats. The best additions I have seen are for Engineers, who can craft two unique pets and an amazing mount called a Sky Golem that not only looks similar to a Shredder, it flies and can harvest while mounted. I look forward to owning one, for its mats aren't crazy or expensive but they do take a month of daily cooldowns to obtain.

Overall, I'm moderately pleased with 5.4. I feel as if I will be happier once I start raiding in the near future or can at least get my characters into LFR. Once my server is connected to another and healthier, I may even be ecstatic for a while, but I have to wonder how long the glow of a new patch will last. The upcoming transition into another expansion is going to be crucial to the continued longevity of WoW, because like myself, players tear through content quicker than before, and if we're still raiding Orgrimmar six months to a year from now, as we did in Dragon Soul, few of us will be happy...assuming we're still around.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Marvel Heroes: Patch 1.2 Review

As of yesterday, Patch 1.2 launched for Gazillion's ARPG MMO Marvel Heroes, and it's their largest yet, bringing a slew of changes. While the patch arrived a few days later than its expected time (it was supposed to be the large August patch), it went through without the problems of previous additions. There were a few hours of maintenance then servers went back up, nothing close to the debacle of the last patch, which was released, reverted, and released days later for a second time.

Once logged in, I immediately went to my highest level hero, Human Torch, and changed his setting, for Patch 1.2 introduced two new difficulties for Story Mode: Heroic and Superheroic. The enemies in these modes are tougher with more health, more damage, and new affixes, designed for higher level heroes, and they have a higher rate of loot and special drops, as well as currency; throughout four chapters of Superheroic, I've received scores of epics, cosmics, relics, crafting mats, and roughly 250k in credits (Marvel Heroes' in-game currency).

Players that haven't been on in a while are probably wondering what relics are. They are a new gear slot added this patch. A total of seven different types drop at a fairly regular pace, offering a bonus in stats. There are melee or ranged power boosts, health  and speed boosts, spirit and thorns, and leeching, all of which stack from 1 to 999 per hero. It's going to take the casual gamer such as myself a good deal of time to gather 999, so, in a way, this new system reminds me of the Paragon used in Diablo 3.

Also reminding me of Diablo 3 (other than the new format of blue and yellow aura mobs that are reminiscent of Champions), is the introduction of Uniques. These brown lettered pieces of rare gear that are loaded with stats--sounds like a Legendary, right?--are either tailored for specific heroes or universal. While I haven't received one yet, I have seen screenshots of a few that look interesting. For instance, there's a SHIELD Enhanced Biosuit or Wolverine's Bone Claws, and they have amazing stats...along with unique buffs/debuffs such as losing health or taking damage when dealing damage or summoning health orbs. I can't wait to get one.

On top of the new loot and what appears to be an increase to the rate of splinter drops, Emma Frost was added to the Hero Roster. I haven't saved enough splinters to purchase her yet, but I've seen a lot of players running around as her. One of her main abilities is mind-controlling enemies and making them a pet. The only limitation I have seen on this ability is that supervillains can't be controlled; everything from symbiotes to evil Cyclops to robots and dinosaurs are fair game, and if you capture an enemy with an aura, they keep that aura and buff you along with your group. At this point, I'm a little tired of the stream of X-Men. There's a total of eight of them, a third of the roster, and there are two more in the works (Gambit and Nightcrawler), so I won't be purchasing Emma. As someone said on the forums, "Why not call the game X-Men Legends 3 and get it over with?" So many heroes to choose from: Ant-Man, Reed Richards, Invisible Woman, She-Hulk, Ghost Rider, Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Adam Warlock, etc. and they're hurrying on more X-Men--I don't get it.

There were game performance updates, though I can't really tell what they were. I believe they had to do with graphics, yet I'd rather the game run smoother than look prettier. In high traffic areas, it gets laggy for me, especially when I click on a crafter or quest giver. I can't tell if the problem is my PC, which can run any game on the market with no problem, or Marvel Heroes.

Defense, dodge, crit, and damage were all revamped. The numbers on gear went higher. Breaking points and diminishing returns were added. While powers were amped synergies were nixed to allow players more freedom in their builds. When all is said and done in this department, these fixes to the game are welcome, but there are still heroes in desperate need of attention. The devs are aware, and weaker heroes that weren't improved this time around have overhauls coming in the following weeks.

For endgame, level 60 terminals were added. I don't quite understand their inclusion. From level 20 and up, which is forty levels, players are forced into terminals or Story Mode, both of which are essentially the same zones. There really hasn't been any additions in the form of new content, other than a couple new missions and Midtown Patrol (endless dungeon). Playing one or several heroes, low level or maxed, you're doing the same thing over and over with few differences, mostly differences relying on difficulty. It's not appealing and part of what drove many players away from Diablo 3. Hopefully the release of the X-Mansion event will be the start of new content.

Also, I have my fingers crossed the devs are analyzing the leveling process. Level 20+ is a nightmarish grind, and the redistribution of XP needed for all levels is horrendous. I've given up on all my other heroes due to how long the lower levels take now, so this morning I spent 4 hours--half an hour of that I had an experience boost potion on--to grind from level 49 to level 50; I completed half of Superheroic mode. At that rate, I will be level 52, at best, when I complete the hardest mode in the game. That means I'll be back in terminals for a minimum of 32 hours just to max out and then only have the option of doing more terminals at max level. Just thinking about it makes me cringe.

Marvel Heroes has come a long way since its June 4th launch, and Patch 1.2 is definitely a huge step in the right direction, but the developers still have a long way to go to make it one of the most addicting and fun games on the market. As of today, I find myself in that peculiar zone I was in while playing Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2, that place where I have to ask, "Am I still having fun and have I seen and done everything the game has to offer?"

Patch 1.2 breathed new life into Marvel Heroes; will it last?