Monday, March 21, 2011

Starcraft 2: A look at Banshees

Looking at Starcraft 2 from a distance now that I have not played it seriously for quite a while, there are quite a few units that piqued my interest as to why would the Blizzard design team create them.

Today we'll be looking at possibly one of Terran's better units: The Banshee. I'm just going to go ahead and say that I'm mostly a Terran player (booooo) and I'll try my best to be as unbiased as possible. Before we proceed, there is one fact I have to bring forward:

1) Terran can easily tech to Starport

I would love to observe the Banshee on a tier by tier basis but seeing how Terran can access their tier tree really really fast, comparing by tiers immediately becomes invalid. We know that a two port banshee build can come around the mark when a normal zerg player is barely teching to Lair if done right (unless he's fast teching of course). Thus, we must look at how other races can defend against it at the early stage.

VS Banshees Early Game
We know that Protoss won't really have a problem with banshees considering that most Protoss get Stalkers and Sentries early in the game. If they somehow get forge first instead of gateway to get cannons, it shuts down the entire banshee play if they are well placed (not saying that it's a viable high level strat tho). They will easily overwhelm whatever early harass Banshees can do until they get cloak in which the Protoss player would want to go for their Robo for the Observers while on their way to getting their dreaded Colossus. Hmm, doesn't seem to have anything really problematic there. The banshee will just need to catch the Protoss off guard and that is a problem of dynamics, not mechanics. It's the same thing is Terran with marines being the bulk of their army.

Zerg however, has a bit of a problem. They are a reactive race and they will build units mostly based on what they see or guess. If the Zerg gets faked by a factory reactor into two port and cause them to build roaches in fear of a mech army, it's an early gg there. Zerg's tier 1's only defense against air attacks are the rather immobile Queen and considering Banshee's dps, the limited Queen count and the fact that they are usually not together, it's easy to see how two banshees can easily overwhelm a base protected by one solitary queen. Luckily, banshees take a long time to build and are slow to travel so this somehow indirectly 'balances' the issue interestingly. Also one banshee isn't as bad as two. A standard 1/1/1 banshee opener wouldn't scare the Zerg. The 2 port banshee will. Also, I doubt any zerg will build a Evolution Chamber into Spore Colony that early in the game. If they do that early in the game, they are slowing their expansion which they sorely need.

Then we consider the Cloaking Field upgrade. It's really really expensive and getting that upgrade mostly means you aren't getting the second banshee. Again, Zerg has a problem and this time it's their detector options. I'm honestly still not used to seeing Overlords as non-detector units like their SC1 counterparts. I'm not sure how would a Zerg would react to that. Getting Spore Colony means it forces them to build Evolution Chamber instead of rightfully saving minerals for another expansion or tech. And sacrificing even one drone will drop their economy in the long run.

Interestingly though, this MIGHT be balanced out by the fact that one banshee can't really kill anything fast enough to compensate for the cost of the cloaking field AND the banshee itself. Also they need to use energy to keep their field up, so the harass can't last forever. Then again, it might just kill off a queen. Yikes? Is losing one queen bad (which takes quite some time to die, leading to banshee energy depletion)? 150 minerals, and on a separate spawn timer (does not hatch from egg etc). It MIGHT be the case that the trade is not good at all. If I see invisible missiles I'll probably just go "ARGGG LAY EGGS, USE UP ALL MY MANAS AND RUN!!" and start building another queen. It really seems that having more queens is a solution. It gives you decent air defense, it is on a separate spawn timer which does not hinder your main army production, and it helps in spreading creep and more. If 2 port banshee comes into play, I think having more queens than banshees is a pretty good trade. For one, you are not losing gas. A dead queen (if you have many) is nothing compared to a dead banshee. But hey, if you didn't guess the banshee play, what are your queens going to do then when a 3 racks MM ball comes knocking at your door?

From there, it might be trivial if you are going for the normal expand into lair tech whatever. Get mutas and watch the Terran scream and all. Is it balanced? I'm leaning on the 'no' side. Zerg is a reactionary race. What they don't see they guess. Terran's strength lies in their versatility, so right off the bat, it's bad for zerg theoretically IF the Terran manages to keep the Zerg in the dark. I've seen easy wins when the Terran just do a reactor factory fake into 2 port banshees even at high level play (Idra vs someone i can't remember). Zerg sees and react by getting Roaches. Thinking about it, it doesn't really seem fair. Does it really go into a guessing game?

VS Banshees Mid - late game
Moving on, I'd like to talk about Banshees in mid-late game. Think back to all the replays you've watched. It's strange isn't it? It's a late tech unit, yet it's hardly used in the mid-late game. In fact it's suuuuper rare to see banshees late game unless you are going 1/1/2 into hellion drop into lotsa banshees + MM against Protoss (since Banshees rape everything on the ground). However, recently I have seen Protoss going Stargate builds so it's not gonna be viable now (or in the near future at most). Weird isn't it? I know that Protoss uses everything they have when they advance thier tech tree. Just scan their army every minute. Zealots, Stalkers, Sentries, Observer, Immortals, Colossus, High Templar shiz. For Zerg, they only skip units if they have to, but you do see all of them in some matches at mid-late game. It's not like you don't see hydras, mutas, infestors and broodmother late game. They are all being used! Wow, now I feel like switching to Zerg and Protoss. All of them are being used, how cool is that?

But banshees? Tier 3.5 into the Terran tech and no one uses them after they are built? Seems strange to me. Maybe it's on purpose; I mean, there are lots of Terran units like that. It's not like you will get Thor if you are bent on playing MMM, especially against Protoss. I do agree that they are probably meant to be JUST a harassing unit. The high cost, the damage, the build time and the cloak seems to point that direction. Then again, if they are just harass, what about medivac drops? We all know how damn good medivac drops are, so why go through all the trouble of teching just for banshees? If you are spawning close air, would you go for banshees or just medivac drops?

Banshees usage in overall game plan
From here it seems that the Banshees seems a little overshadowed. They are a cool unit, great for harassing to the point of being part of a really solid build at ONE point, but are they worth the trouble when you know there is a cheaper and much more effective? It feels to me that they are hanging dangerously somewhere between "Use" and "Don't use". In other words, I think that they are too specialized and not doing what they do better and more cost effective than a plain old medivac drop. Also, with medivacs you can leave your starport on reactors.

Ultimately, Banshees main strength right now comes from the fact that they can be obtained very early in the game considering how far down the tech tree it actually is. prinnyd00d mentioned that they are early Dark Templars with flight, which is true to an extent. Too bad the missiles are not invisible :p I think that's the only point that keeps them from being as usefulaas Dark Templars (good harassers and good to mesh into the army). Then again, since Terrans get them early, it's definately gonna be too overpowered. Banshees are dreadfully good enough early game. I'm not saying they should be good too mid-late game, but just look at the design of the unit itself. A late tier unit, used in early game but not used late game. Yet it's all fine and dandy. It's quite intriguing.

Thanks for my good friend prinnyd00d for linking this awesome banshee harass.

And a side note, don't banshees look like Orcas from CNC?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: "Dragon Age: Awakenings", Dragon Age revisited.

Seeing how Dragon Age 2 is already released, I decided to spend whatever little free time I have into replaying Dragon Age: Origins along with all the DLCs and the Awakenings expansion. Then I took a quick glance at this old post and realized I might need to justify my tone then.

(Note that this is going to be mostly a Dragon Age revisited rant/review more than an Awakening review, seeing how the weak points of Origins carry over and Awakening being actually easy. Honestly, there's not much to talk about Awakening other than "wow nice voice acting, nice story, etc". I could talk about the characters you recruit, but what's the point? It's like spoiling the game already for those who haven't played. What I can only tell you is that it's rather good and worth playing through).

I was most probably hoping for a Baldur's Gate 2 replacement, and I might have been unfair to compare both games given both their circumstances. Games nowadays are harder to create. What was simply a hand drawn dungeon is now a 3D mesh complete with shader effects and textures. It's ultimately unrealistic to expect Dragon Age to have as much content as Baldur's Gate 2.

I'm probably more sympathetic now than I was before, but Dragon Age's problems still remain: Mages and Itemization. I used to complain about "Reusing formulas" in the old post, but I must admit that it is a safe formula and there is actually nothing wrong with using it. Also, nowadays it's hard to expect a 'complete' game with 1000 sidequests on release, that's why there are such things known as DLCs and patches. Games are taking a different route now. Whether a consumer should pay for such content is another debate for another time.

For now, I'm just going to add on to the two main points that harmed the game in my opinion. I also complained about the "Difficulty" but it's really mostly due to enemy mages more than my lack of 'skill'.

Now that Starcraft 2 is out, I can bring up the templar analogy. For those who have played Starcraft 2, you know how Feedback works? Yes, I'm talking about Mana Clash. It trivializes the game for my current run (my main is a mage) as much as it trivializes the opponent killing my mage-less party the last run I did long ago.

Although in Awakenings mages do not shine as much (due to warriors and rogues getting armor and talents so ridiculous that healing, buffing and crowd controlling hardly matters), playing through Origins without a mage is still hellish. The question is: are mages too important, or the talents of the other two classes too underwhelming? Mage is THE control class, but compared to them, Fighters and Rogues are really crap. Archers get a decent CC late into one of their trees (Scattershot). Fighters who specializes as Champions get their first AoE knockdown at their 4th talent of their specialization tree. Shield fighters can knockdown at melee and Rogues can stun for awhile (Dirty Fighting) in melee. Bards and champions can buff rather well at their 3rd talent into their respective trees. That's about it really.

Compared to that, what do mages get (not even counting those AoE spells that has friendly fire)? Replaying my main character as a mage doubly reinforces my viewpoint that mages are indeed overpowered in Origins.

1) Mana Clash: Instant kills almost ALL other mages. Period. It crashes my computer a couple of times too.
2) Glyph of Warding: Adds +30 defense to any friendly within the circle. +30 defense btw is essentially a flat (not compound) -30% accuracy on the attacker's hit.
3) Forcefield and Crushing Prison: Immediately takes one guy out of the fight for a pretty long time. Both are 2 active skills from the same tree (if you are getting forcefield, might as well get crushing prison)
4) Glyph of Repulsion: Knocks back all enemies that fails a physical resistance check. This usually saves the lives of your ranged units from swarms of enemies.
5) Glyph of Paralysis: Stuns one creature that enters the circle. I use it on (usually) lone spellcasters when my Mana Clash is on cooldown.

I have not fully explored the mage spells but there are a few more worth mentioning like Paralysis, Mass Paralysis, Miasma, Sleep, Cone of Cold, Glyph of Neutralization but even these are overshadowed by the ones I mentioned above.

And Blood Wound. Oh my god Blood Wound. If there's ONE spell that makes Blood Mages powerful, it's Blood Wound. It's a delicious mini-Crushing Prison on a huge area of effect.

I don't believe I have to mention this again. One huge gripe I had with Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings is the itemization. The old post explains it well enough and hopefully Dragon Age 2 doesn't face the same ruddy problem. Awakenings brings in another kind itemization problem but I'm unsure whether it is intended or not. The equipment you get in Awakenings is really so damn powerful that even Nightmare mode seems like a joke.

So yeah, after replaying it, even with the DLCs, it still has the same problems. However, the DLCs are excellent. Witch Hunt, Golems, Warden's Keep, Return to Ostagar, Leliana's Song, etc are actually better than I expected. If you actually felt underwhelmed by the effects of choosing the Dalish Elf Origins (which is actually almost non-whatsoever), you might like Witch Hunt a bit although the ending is...'open to thought'. I liked how Return to Ostagar shed some light as to why Loghain betrayed Cailan.

And after replaying it, the story of Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings, as 'save the world' as it might be, is actually pretty darn good. Setting and atmosphere is fantastic. Cutscenes and voice acting is beautiful.

John just told me that DA2 was a disappointment so far. I hope that is not the case =/

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Baldur's Gate 2: Good Party Guide v.1.0

DISCLAIMER: This guide only considers Shadows of Amn characters. It doesn't take into account Throne of Baal expansion. Also, there are a couple of Neutral characters in this party, so it's not a 'pure' good party.

Ah, the good party. We all know how overpowered the evil NPCs are in this game. Despite their limited numbers, almost all of them are pure classes, so they fit straight into an 'ideal' party composition. Let's look a quick glance at them:

Edwin: Everyone loves Edwin to death. Not only is he the only pure mage class in the game(not counting his Conjurer specialization), he also has a necklace at grants him additional spells per day, effectively making even any of your custom-made mage characters jealous. He also comes with a memorable personality and a hilarious quest line.

Korgan: Korgan is THE Fighter. Even better, he's a Berserker, giving him the Enrage ability which, at the cost of being 'winded' after the Enrage ends, give him +2 Attack, +2 Damage, -2AC (it's 2nd Edition, so it's good), +15 HP, and immunity to all sorts of crap. Too bad he's strength is 18/77. Otherwise he'll be easily the strongest melee character in the game.

Viconia: Viconia is the only pure cleric in the game, which basically means she have the fastest access to clerical spells as well as being the few healer/support character in the game that can wear some armor. Too bad she's evil =(

Seeing how specialized the evil party is, we now look at our choices for the good/neutral party here. After some experimenting, I came up with some conclusion that is restricted only within my build; BG2 is an open game, and I don't really think any character is truly 'bad', but this build is what I consider an 'ideal' good party that can cover most grounds.

Go here goes:
Keldorn: Keldorn is the first obvious choice as the party 'tank'. Inquisitor is sickeningly overpowered as a class, because in exchange of close-to-useless spells, Cure Disease and Lay on Hands, he gets immunity to Hold and Charm, True Sight and Dispel Magic for almost free. See a Mirror Image? True Sight. Someone disappeared? True Sight. Everything else? Dispel Magic. Just sick.

Also you'll want to get him Carsomyr, the +5 Holy Avenger. Keldorn is the only NPC that can wield it and it gives him 50% resistance to magic, dispel magic on hit, and some other minor stuff. For an optimal good party, Keldorn is almost a no-brainer. Remember to ALWAYS give him the DEX gloves to boost his AC.

Mazzy: Mazzy is strangely good. Maybe because she can cast free haste as a special ability! If that's not good enough, Mazzy is the other pure fighter in this game, aside from Korgan. Unfortunately, her strength is seriously lacking (15), but items can still make up for it. Also she specializes (aka spent points on) in shortbows and shortswords, so the first thing I thought of was to have her carry all the shields in the game (since Keldorn isn't going to use them). Her specializing in bow allows her to be useful in ranged combat when her AC isn't needed.

Did I mention she has free haste?

Jan: Neutral Illusionist/Rogue character. Jan is really really good as a support character. He comes with his 'rogue' gear, which grants insane bonuses to his rogue skills. Unfortunately as an illusionist, he isn't very offensive unlike Edwin.

Jan also has a custom made crossbow which can shoot custom made ammos, which actually stun enemies!

Minsc: Remember me saying about how Korgan isn't the strongest melee character? Minsc is the reason. At 18/93, he has a slight edge over all the melee characters in the game. He also has a berserk ability much like Korgan! So why is Korgan/Mazzy better in anyway? Well, Minsc is ulimately a pure Ranger. That means, he cannot have any Grand Master Specialization. Then again, it's not a big loss. Furthermore, he gets priest spells eventually to help out.

Aerie: Alot of people are going to whine about this. Aerie is honestly not very good. In fact the only thing going for her is her cute voice. Otherwise, she's a decent mage/cleric, meaning divine spells and clerical spells are mostly open to her. She levels very slowly however, and she cannot wear armor (due to her mage multiclass). She fares pretty well, though, given her wide versatility, and the possible fact that she's the best NPC healer. I think she dies too fast though.

Also, the 16 INT and 16 WIS really stops her from being incredibly powerful.

Nalia: I don't like her since she's pretty crappy as a thief and doesn't have the 18 INT to replace Edwin anytime soon. Still, she's your best mage if you want a pure good party, and pure good parties selection have too many choices in the melee department. I didn't really use her much so I'm not sure about her thief capabilities.

Valygar: Valygar is pretty decent, yet not so decent. If you like to backstab, you might as well make your main character an assassin. However, he is probably the best backstabber NPC in the game given the fact that he is a Ranger which means that he has a better attack modifier (thac0). If you can't fit a backstabber into your team, you are better off using other NPCs.

Haer'Dalis: Haer is a Blade, which is one of the better bard kits out there. If you really want a bard in your party without making use of your main character, Haer is the only choice you get. Considering that Blades can solo the game (I tried it to a certain extent), Haer can be really powerful if you play him well. However, there isn't really anything unique about him otherwise.

Jaheira: Very solid Neutral NPC. She's a jack-of-all-trades and more. Although she's a Fighter/Druid, she can eventually cast her version of Raise Dead and also take the Critical Strike feat from the Fighter class. That combined with harm can occasionally cause devastating effects. You'll have to live with her bitching though. =/

So without further ado, here's what I think is the ideal pure good party:
You - preferably a spellcaster or thief
Keldorn - tank/debuffer
Mazzy - tank/archer/buffer (free Courage and Haste!)
Minsc - Damage
Aerie - Healing/Support
Nalia - Mage with thief support. Replace with Imoen once you get her back in the story.

Comments: This party seems rather shaky. It is heavy on melee, and very lacking in thief skills as well as magic (both arcane and divine). Damage doesn't come freely with this party too. Keldorn and Mazzy isn't really damage material in the first place so your character would preferably be a damage dealer. You COULD replace Mazzy with Valygar, but that would require you to micro him and abuse his backstab ability (run away, hide, return, poke). I've played an Assassin main character before, so I know how incredibly troublesome it can be.

If we allow neutral characters in the mix:
You - Up to you.
Minsc or Mazzy - Damage or tank/archer/buffer
Keldorn - Tank/debuffer
Jan - Amazing control and thief skills + spells
Jaheira - Great solid character overall. Buffer/Damage/A bit of tank
Nalia/Aerie - For arcane magic. Aerie is better imo since she sacrifices level 7 spells for 6 levels of cleric spells, which this party could really use.

Comments: The reason for the choice between Minsc or Mazzy is that since there are better choices for the back row, we don't really need to clutter the front row like we did with the pure good party (which you don't really have much of a choice). Jan takes very good care of traps and thief-related stuff. Jaheira grants you access to druid spells and can also backup as a Fighter. It's almost all you need

In closure, hopefully this guide will become more in-depth and ultimately cover all characters in future iterations. Feel free to post comments :)