A Blessing

The doors to the Temple of Nagakabouros were pushed open, the rain and storm of the evening. Even if it was bright as day and dry as the desert, the man who entered through the massive doors would not stop dripping. With cautious steps he lurched forward, moving past the benches and seating areas where the flock of Nagakabouros arrived to listen to sermons. He looked left and right, placing his dagger into his holster for the first time since he’d returned to Bilgewater.

Only one person occupied the room with him, surrounded by candles and sitting at the mighty statue’s feet in the back of the room. Rather than a pious stance on her knees in prayer, she sat relaxed, one thick arm resting on the massive brass idol. “Knew you’d be coming eventually,” she said, not having to guess who had entered.

As Illaoi stood and turned, her gaze fell upon the gangly man standing in the aisle. “Hm. You remember me…and I remember you…” he muttered, peering at her with his glowing eyes. In fact, she looked too familiar.

Pyke reached behind himself, pulling out the manifest of the ship he carried around. Could she have been there? It wasn’t uncommon for some ships to have kraken priests on board. As he scrolled down the list, he reached the bottom. Unlike every other name, however, this next one was smudged and ruined. Had the rain gotten on the list? Besides a small I at the end of the name, it was impossible to read. Grumbling to himself, Pyke placed it back. He’d sort it out later.

“What are you looking for anyways?” Illaoi asked. When she had gotten word that a drowned phantom had been moving towards her temple, she bid all other followers to leave for the time being. She would face him “alone”, Nagakabouros protecting her in this sacred house.

Pyke chuckled, shaking his head. “Your blessing.”

Illaoi cocked one eyebrow upwards, the idol resting over her shoulder as she glared at Pyke. “A blessing? For you?”

With one damp hand, Pyke ran it along the seat next to him. He had a vague recollection of coming here before his untimely death. “Mmm, yeah. I remember the sermons, you know. Always movin’ forward. Always pushin’ onward.” He turned to her, glowing eyes piercing into hers. “So I figured who better to ask for well wishes than you?”

It was a surprising statement, to be sure. She had expected Pyke to seek revenge. If anything, whatever foul spirits plagued the specter didn’t have as much power here as her own god. “Hm. Alright. I’ll humor you. That said, you have to answer a question.”

There was no shock or surprise in Pyke’s face as he moved to Illaoi, used to the tests and trials she often spoke of. His expression was hard to read as well, bandana hiding any emotion he could have been sporting. With a casual air, Pyke knelt at Illaoi’s feet, lowering his head as he readied himself. “Go on then, priestess. Show me whatever test you want me to accomplish.”

“How long is your list?”

Pyke froze. The list? It had to have gotten out, sure, but why was she interested? With careful consideration, the list was unfurled at Illaoi’s feet, showing the long manifest of names and scratch marks from those he’d taken down. “Lotta names to move through, priestess. Lotta time I’m gonna spend moving forward.”

A defeated sigh escaped Illaoi’s lips, seeing the parchment that answered all the questions she had. “So your list has no end?” The drowned spirit looked up at Illaoi, confused as to what she meant. “Your list? This thing is crap. You want to get through the list but look at it. It isn’t ever going to end.” Her expression turned sour as she looked down at the spirit at her feet.

Anger rose in Pyke’s body, fingers twitching. He wanted to reach for the knife but she wasn’t on the list. “Ain’t you the one who told me I should always be going forward?”

“And you’re not.” The stern expression of the priestess could crack stone. “You’re in a rut. A circle that’s never going to end. You think you’re moving forward but you’re just going to loop forever.” Lifting her idol, she raised it above the parchment at her feet. “No, you don’t need a blessing. You need a cleansing.”

As she dropped the idol, with full intent to smash the list, Pyke felt an emotion he hadn’t felt since his death: Panic. His fingers jutted out, even though crushing paper would do little than crumple it, as he wrapped his hand around it. The idol fell with crushing weight, snapping bones as Pyke’s arm was caught beneath the idol. “You…you LIAR!”

Illaoi lifted the idol, ready to bash Pyke in the skull and free the tormented spirit. Instead her idol swung wide, striking a watery apparition. Several feet away Pyke stood, clutching his list with a mangled hand. “Do you see now?” Illaoi waited for a response to see if he had come to his senses.

“Oh, I see alright. I see you for the fraud you are!” Pyke removed his dagger, ready to fight. His broken arm began to crack back into place, the spirit not even caring that he was healing at such a rate. “A priestess lying about her own damn sermons. A goddamn joke, that’s what you’re saying.”

Whatever spirit had its grip on Pyke was too strong to just release him. Illaoi set her idol on the ground, cracking her knuckles as she glared to the man across the room. “Get the hell out of my temple or I’ll throw you out.” In truth, she’d do much worse.

As strong as Pyke felt that he was, something told him no. That this fight wasn’t one he’d win. A gut instinct like when he’d hunted the sea behemoths? Maybe. Either way, he began to step backwards. Raising his knife, Pyke glared to Illaoi. “You best hope you never walk alone. I’ve got a special place for you on this damn list.”

“Three seconds. Then I’m breaking your spine.”

Pyke disappeared from view, seeming to vanish into nothingness. Even though she could not see him, Illaoi could very well feel that he had left the temple. Illaoi returned to the statue at the end of the temple, sitting down as she had been. She had tried to help him, yes, but that spirit was beyond help. Something had a grasp on him. Something Nagakabouros itself couldn’t easily get rid of. Her attempt had been a failure.

Despite this, a smirk ran across her face. Failure is, after all, one of the ways people moved forward.

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Of Paths Not Taken

Breath in. Breath out.

Irelia slowly moved one foot forward, watching as the blades around her spun and danced. The rhythm was unknown to all but herself, the melody in her head playing on. Her morning meditation was uninterrupted as she surveyed over the small hamlet of Shikama. It was one of many villages her army had visited. The thought gave Irelia pause: Her army. She was the leader of this band of Ionian defenders. That said, she did not lead alone.

 “Lady Irelia,” called a gruff voice. Turning her head, Irelia saw the approaching form. Towering over most Ionians, the man was clad head-to-toe in ceremonial armor. A mane of red hair flowed from the back of his helmet like a waterfall, a kanabō resting on his shoulder. “Was looking for you. My apologies for disturbing your meditation.”

 The blades that rotated around Irelia flowed to her back, forming a triangular shape that hovered just above her spine. “Lord Ryota…or should I say Shogun?” She responded with a devious smirk.

 Ryota grunted, placing his kanabō’s head flat to the earth. “I will never be used to such a title. Lord Diago should have been shogun, not I.”

 “You took the sword, did you not?” Irelia turned back to the valley as she spoke. Ryota’s free hand wandered to the large, sheathed sword against his waist. He was still hesitant to draw the weapon, even though he had inherited the title. “I’m sorry if I worried you. I was just…thinking.”

 Joining her on the overlooking mountain, Ryota nodded. He was quite a bit taller than Irelia, even though he had appointed himself her subordinate. “Thinking?”

 Irelia turned back to him, the sun resting just above the valley as the day was set to begin. “Do you ever wonder what would have happened? If life had taken a different path? I always seem to fall back to that day…”


 Several years ago.

 Blood stained stone as the blades that Irelia controlled swung through the air. The Placidium was a warzone, the band of Ionian warriors that made up the resistance fighting tooth and nail to reclaim the area. The sight of the young girl weaving and cutting through the crowd kept the morale of her people from shattering, albeit it was a fragile hold.

 “Hold the line!” she called, looking left and right. Her track of the battlefield wavered, the Noxians hesitant to approach her. She needed to find the leader. More importantly, she needed to find her own leader.

 In the chaos, Ryota had vanished. Irelia might have been great at holding morale together but she was not the strategist and leader that he was. Turning to one of her men, Irelia nodded. “Secure the courtyard. I’m heading inside to find the commander. Ionia stands!”

 The soldier slammed his fist to his chest, shouting “IONIA STANDS!” in response. With her command given, Irelia dashed past the crowd, cutting through any who moved to intercept her. Noxians fell before her, none able to stop the sprinting woman as she danced across the bloodsoaked stone.

 Through hallways she moved, the way to the council chamber unguarded and barren. It was suspicious to say the least. It became downright insidious when one considered that the council chamber was the center of the area and the point one needed to lay claim to for a successful siege.

 The door to the chamber was blasted open, Irelia having no time for locks. It was fortunate that she did, as she arrived in time. Among the numerous elite Noxians was Ryota, kneeling in a pool of his own blood. The enemy’s commander, an aging man with a black coat, brandished a sword. “It’s impressive that you’ve lasted this long…Shogun? Hm. I swore the Shogun of Ionia died in the first few bouts.” Swain removed a piece of cloth from his jacket, wiping the blood of his blade.

 In reckless anger, Ryota swung his weapon. “DON’T YOU DARE SPEAK HIS NAME!” The weakened state of the warrior was too great for a clean hit, Swain taking a single step back. In response to the aggression, one soldier placed a boot to Ryota’s back, sending him to the floor. The shogun lay on the ground, struggling to push himself up.

 “I admire your tenacity and your sheer resilience. I understand now why rumors of you have been spreading.” Swain lifted his eyes from the floor, spying Irelia in the doorway. “And it appears we have an audience. Speak up, girl. I’m curious what you think of your hero.”

 Irelia grit her teeth, clenching her fists. “Irelia…leave…” Ryota mumbled.

 Swain rolled his eyes, stepping forward. With a swift kick, the shogun’s helmet went sailing across the room to rest at Irelia’s feet. “Go on. Take it. Leave if you wish, in fact.” It was a display of power, to be sure. “Share this helmet with as many heads as you wish. Noxus will take each one.”

 “Xan.”

 All the soldiers turned to the girl in the doorway, bemused now that she had spoken. “I’m sorry?” Swain asked. “I don’t exactly understand your tongue so by all means, explain.”

 “Xan Irelia. That is my name. The name of a house you animals butchered. The name of my family that I’ll never see grow old…” Irelia’s eyes contained a fire hotter than any ember, the girl’s rage pouring out like a volcanic torrent in her words. “KNOW THAT XAN IRELIA IS THE ONE WHO WILL END YOU!”

 “Then try.” Swain asked.

 All at once the blades around Irelia reeled backwards. In traditional Ionian dance, it was one of the hardest movements to perform. Kicking off the ground, Irelia flipped backwards, the blades trailing behind her in perfect sync. As she landed, the hurricane of blades shot outward, spreading around the kneeling Ryota. The Noxians who had the misfortune of being right on the wall were skewered by the multiple blades stabbing into them. Those who were trapped inside the cage with Swain and Ryota stumbled back, suffering gashes as the wall cut into them. Those on the outside backed away, shocked by the sudden appearance.

 Breath in. Breath out.

 Irelia moved like a divine wind, aiming for the first soldier on the outer rim of the wall. He was slow and sluggish, unable to stop Irelia as her blades cut through his chest. She didn’t pause, moving from this guard to the next in an instant. And the next. And yet another.

 Breath in. Breath out.

 She crossed the wall of blades, gathering more of the telekinetic shards as she struck the few who still stood. Time seemed to slow around her, giving Irelia more than enough chances to see the smug visage of Swain devolve into disgruntled surprise. From disgruntled surprise Swain’s expression turned into something he had never expressed before: Fear.

 Breath in. Breath out.

 Swain realized he would be at a disadvantage with most of his elite guard dead. He would have to retreat, as much as he hated the prospect. Despite this, greed overtook his strategic sensibility for the briefest of moments: Killing Ryota would be a blow that was worth the risk. Left hand raised, his sword aimed to pierce through the skull of the Ionian shogun.

 Breath in. Breath out.

 Swain and Ryota were gone. In their place was her father and the Duqal. Just like before, her father was going to die to Noxians for little reason other than proving a point. Unlike before, Irelia was here. Unlike before, she could fight back. This time would be different.

 Breath in. Breath out.

 Swain’s arm moved downward, aiming to strike. Irelia let her telekinesis break for a singular moment. Her hand wrapped around one of the kinetic blades, cutting into her palm. The pain was irrelevant, the young girl too focused on her goal. Swinging her arm, the blade met flesh. It sailed through bone and muscle alike, Irelia cutting through Swain’s arm with personal flair. The general’s expression turned to shock, his limb amputated before his own eyes.

 Swain’s hand fell to the floor, still clutching his personal weapon as he stumbled back. His free hand clutched the bloody stump, eyes wide in panic. “This…this isn’t over!” he cried. Swain turned to run, Irelia ready to chase him. Instead she winced, her hand releasing the blade she held. Blood was on her hands, this time her own, as she came back to the reality of her situation.

 Bodies were strewn around the room, her blades clattering to the floor as her concentration broke. “Lord Ryota?” She asked, turning to spy the man kneeling. “Are you going to be well?”

 The older man spat, stumbling upward. His face was mostly pristine, despite the body wounds he sported. “Aye. Noxian tactics. Shallow cuts all over my body. They wanted to make me suffer and prove a point. Instead they didn’t finish their goal.” He looked around the room, wiping his brow. “You defeated an elite Noxian troop, not to mention saved me, and mortally wounded their commander.”

 Irelia composed herself, blades converging around her body. “I acted as any soldier would to save our leader.”

 “No…no. I am no leader. Strategist, maybe, but I’m no leader.” Ryota moved to lift the helmet off the ground, staring at the curved horns adoring it. “They respect me, yes, but they fear me more than they believe in me. Not like you.” Ryota placed the helmet back atop his head, turning to Irelia. “You’re what Ionia needs, not I.”

 She blinked in surprise, the young girl surprised at how blunt Ryota was with his own status. “Shogun, I could never-“

 “You won’t replace me,” he said, shaking his head. “But you will lead them. I’m nothing but a soldier who guides the battle. You? You’ll be the light that guides Ionia to victory.” He looked to the ground. “Take the arm if you agree. Show it to our warriors, show everyone that you took the Placidium back. Leave it on the ground if you don’t. Not even the great spirits can force you to be a symbol. The choice is yours.”

 Irelia looked down at the severed arm. Conflicting emotions ran through her, the blades spinning in slow fashion as she considered her choices. She was a mere dancer with a decent weapon, not a leader. She was a warrior who saved the commander and brought victory when there would be defeat. She was a hero. She was just a girl. She was…

 The arm was lifted off the floor, still clutching the sword as the two fighters walked out the door to the waiting army.


 “And what about that day?” Ryota questioned.

 Irelia pressed her hands together, eyes shut. “Had I been a second late, you would be dead and I would be leading the army. Had I not attempted the Xianfeng zhi ren, I would have been unable to face all those soldiers.” Her eyes opened, a somber look on her face. “Had Noxus not invaded, we may have never met.”

 Arms crossed, Ryota hummed to himself. “I suppose it is in the nature of Ionians to consider what our lives would be…” He sighed, shaking his head. “Is the burden too great? Do you think you have the spirit and the body to carry on? Do you wish for an easier life?”

 At this, she pondered. Had none of this happened, she would not exist. The Xan Irelia of today would be nothing like the Xan Irelia of the alternate world. If she had a choice, would she go with what she had become or what she could have been? The sun crested over the mountains fully, the warmth of the morning washing over Irelia. In her heart, despite all the pain, she knew the answer.

 “I am grateful for everything that has led me to this point. Nothing more.” Clasping her hands together, Irelia looked over the village, prepared to move on to the next so that Ionia’s defending army could grow ever stronger. Her meditation, for today, would come to a close.

 Breath in. Breath out.

Piltover Parley Ep. 4 ft. Riot JxE

Welcome to Piltover Parley!

This is a series (Sometimes audio and sometimes written) where I interview significant figures in the League community and get their viewpoints, thoughts and ideas about the game!

Nothing at Riot gets done without someone planning and pushing things forward. Today I sat down with Jean-Eric aka “Riot JxE” to talk about being a product manager, the tools he makes and when we can permit the Grits! (PLEASE NOTE: As it wasn’t getting much traction written, I’ve decided to forgo making transcripts of the interview as well as the Soundcloud is maxed out. Go here to see the full video! This is just a notice!)

A Eulogy for Esports

The usual course of action when someone opens an article like this is to hearken back to their fondest memory. In my case, when it comes to esports, I don’t have a singular fond memory that makes me go “That’s it. That’s when I knew it’d be a big”. Rather, I have a pick-up truck worth of memories where I recall how things happened and the stories associated with them. I remember watching EVO Moment #37, not really understanding why it was a big deal but getting hype anyways. I remember watching pro Starcraft and getting frustrated when I didn’t have the dexterity or the APM to play it on a professional level. I remember the hype and memes surrounding the MLG circuit with Halo and everyone scrambling to throw together a team for an online tournament.

It makes me sad that all of that is gone.

Prime Time Entertainment

I’ll be blunt that I was never really invested in the new wave of esports. Sure, I watch Worlds and see what’s happening at The International but the drive to remain current and up-to-date is gone for me. I could argue that I outgrew esports but when you have journalists, players and people who are decades older than I am, it’s not a strong argument. What really changed my point-of-view on the subject is remembering part of why I loved old esports: It was an untamed wilderness.

Back then, esports were an uncertain field. Things like vulgar language, fights and money matches were common. I’d compare it to something of an underground fight club, where you could only really catch these matches on the tail-end of a shaky recorded youtube compilation. When someone got demolished in a match, you could bet that they’d throw their controller and scream some horrible epithets about their opponent. These days, you’re lucky to get someone saying they’ll easily beat an enemy.

To me, the main problem with esports is the move towards widespread entertainment and consumption. A once-niche audience of seeing who was the best is now prime time entertainment for the masses. Games are designed to have esport scenes from the ground up, vying to be the next big part of the pantheon. In this way, esports has to move towards normalization and political-correctness. It’s not “right” to scream in an enemy’s face. It’s not “setting a good example” to mock and laugh at someone you beat in a perfect match.

This point could just be nostalgia. Someone looking back and saying that it wasn’t like what it used to be so it’s worse. That’s understandable.  After all, esports had to mature to reach a wider audience right?

Money and Politics

This is the part that can’t be disputed. Since the move, money has been pouring into esports like cake batter into a pan, covering every inch of it. Companies are increasing their hold over their games and forcing out both competition and people they do not desire. This isn’t ubiquitous to a single esport either. Every single game these days has this problem and will continue to have this problem.

These situations fall into two major fields that can be described with media: 1984 vs. Mad Max.

1984-style esports are your big organizations like Riot, Blizzard and so-on. These are the guys who own and dominate their game and crush out any ill-will. You will play by their rules or you won’t play at all. Coincidentally, these are also the places that are moving heavily toward franchising. It’s a move that holds skepticism as nothing of the sort has been attempted to such a large scale. This idea is an easy pill to swallow as well. Oh, the big bad corporation hates dissent and wants to establish a freaky utopia? Where do I sign up to overthrow them?

Mad Max is the esport that everyone likes to pretend is still “original” but can have just as many problems as the former. These types of games such as CS:GO are privy to a lack of regulation and a general disinterest from the publisher/creator. These are the places where seedy backroom deals take place. The places where players don’t get paid but don’t want to come forward. Match fixing, illegal gambling and more take over. The worst part is that most people chalk it up to a few bad eggs. A puddle of toxic waste on the path to greatness. This attitude, in my mind, will lead to an even worse situation than the former style of governing an esport.

The forced competition also has killed much of the comradery in gaming. Sure, you may not like the other game, but you didn’t care if your game was located in the same tournament convention. These days, companies seek to isolate their game further and further even with things like ESL and IEM. I’ve found that in speaking with friends, most focus on only one or two esports. They’re not interested in experimenting and expanding their horizons. They watch one game that they’ll defend to the death.

In esports, it feels like competition has hit a fever pitch. If you’re not in the spotlight all the time, you’re holding onto a dead game and that’s worse than death.

Fixing esports?

You can’t.

Perhaps I’m being cynical but I don’t see a world where esports goes back to its roots. It has had too much money pumped in, become too much of a mainstream thing, to fall back to the place where it began. This also isn’t something organizations or companies want to return to either. With all this money and advertising placed in esports, why would you ever bother going back to how it was? You can control every aspect or just collect revenue while you do very little to manage it. In either case, it’s a flat out success.

The future will also be made by those who grew up on these esports. People who watched the LCS or looked up starry-eyed at the Overwatch League. People who didn’t care much about the game DOTA but saw dollar signs when the prize pool flashed up. People care more about the roar of the crowd than being one of the best players in CS:GO. In an ironic twist, esports has fallen into becoming just any other sport. It has descended into that cauldron of easily consumable entertainment that you and the boys watch every Friday night to see whose team beats which opponent.

Consider this my eulogy for what esports was and why it just doesn’t hold my heart as it used to. Maybe one day I’ll find a game that captures me like Street Fighter III did or old Marvel vs. Capcom 2 videos did. Until then, I’ll consolidate myself to watching the twitter feed with whatever organization or company screws up next and the armchair backlash of people who have a quarter of the facts.

What Makes a Good Instance?

Dungeons and Raids are the core endgame content when it comes to an MMO. These are the things that keep players enticed with playing the game. But what makes a good dungeon or raid? What makes an instance of content that is memorable, enjoyable and is something players will either revisit in the past or pine for the “good old days” when it was current content? I decided to analyze some of my favorite instances and raids from “World of Warcraft” to find common links. I’ll preface this that most of my time was in Wrath but I played a little of every expansion save for Warlords. With that disclaimer, I’ll continue.

B.U.N. Content

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B.U.N. is the term is use to describe content that has the three core tenants of what I consider a good raid: Balanced, Unique and a “New Take” on something. Each point has merits worth discussing because there’s a lot of nuance cut down into a single word or two. Many of this will likely seem obvious at a glance but it’s worth bringing it up to distinguish an OK fight from a fantastic one.

Balanced: Balanced is something that comes from a variety of levers, but it all comes down to how enjoyable it is to run the dungeon itself. Besides how easy and/or hard the bosses are, part of the balance also comes from how long it takes to complete the dungeon itself. A prime example of time ruining balance would be the “Return to Karazhan” instance in Legion. Originally one massive dungeon, the instance was split into upper and lower sections because of just how long it took to complete. Conversely, instances like the Argent Tournament instances were often too quick, forcing the fights to be harder to compensate for the lack of trash and travel. Another good example in balance is difficulty, albeit it’s more surface level. Wrath dungeons often were the subject of much criticism because of how easy they were. Conversely, the Cataclysm dungeons ended up being so difficult Blizzard had to patch them for the playerbase. A fair but challenging difficulty curve is what should be aimed for in every dungeon, not just locking the real difficulty behind ten-to-twenty modifiers like Mythic +35 with bursting swarming tenacity minions.

Unique: It’s difficult to make a truly unique situation because someone will always draw comparison, be it a model, a mechanic or otherwise. Still, sometimes old mechanics can be combined in new and interesting ways. For example, The Lich King fight of Icecrown Citadel is often remembered for both the spectacle of fighting the Lich King and the mechanics: The crashing platforms. The spreading plague. Being killed near the end of the instance to experience Arthas’ cinematic downfall. It all combined into a grand spectacle. Unique doesn’t always mean better, however. The Spine of Deathwing is often (and still) regarded as one worst boss fights despite the fight having unique mechanics such as Deathwing rolling, managing blobs and peeling off plates. A “good” unique mechanic should make a fight interesting while being balanced and not frustrating. Managing insanity with Yogg’saron is fun! Nefarian breaking your gun as a hunter is frustrating.

“New Take”: In many MMOs, you’re often going to a place that holds major significance in the lore. If a player approaches an instance less as “Oh my god we’re going to the Black Temple to fight Illidan” and more as “We’re going to this new raid because this is the best gear we can get right now”. There’s always going to be a subset that care more about the raw numbers or gear but one should still strive to create a major, significant take on a canonical instance. Assaulting Ulduar. Facing against Deathwing. Diving into Onyxia’s lair. As a counter example, part of the reason why I felt that Mists of Pandaria felt so flat was because of the lack of lore significance or take on a new area. There wasn’t much interesting sights to see because Pandaria was such a mysterious land. We had very little emotional stake and it reflected on how the instances really didn’t mesh until we ended up fighting Garrosh in Orgrimmar.

With these three pieces put together, it becomes clearer to tell what fantastic content is and what has fallen flat. In addition,  it’s also possible to dissect content that may have been great but didn’t quite hit the mark in every category.

Examples, Faults and Triumphs

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In my opinion, almost every main raid of Wrath was a success. The one outlier, if you were curious, was the Argent Tournament raids. The main raids of Naxxrammas, Ulduar, and Icecrown Citadel all served to make fun, interesting fights with thematic hooks that drew you in. They were also tough but fair, fights like zero-light Yogg’saron taking quite a while to complete while other raids like Naxx were made easier so gearing up wasn’t a chore. The five mans were also fantastic, from the iconic Culling of Stratholm to the thrilling Icecrown assaults. If there was one complaint about Wrath, it’s that older raids became trivialized quite fast. With as many instances as they had with both normal and heroic content for five, ten and twenty five players? Gear began to inflate, a problem that persists even to this day with Legion content ranging from A 750 ilevel all the way up to almost a thousand.

Cataclysm and Pandaria succeeded in some ways but failed in others. Most of the Cataclysm five mans and raids ended up being quite challenging, with only Firelands being the true standout raid. The hard swerve into extreme and challenging content came as a shock to players, which ended up causing Blizzard to revisit this. It’d also be the basis for creating challenge and mythic modes. The instances were interesting and unique enough but not always in a “good” way, sometimes provoking ire because of poorly designed fights that focused on a neat mechanic rather than a healthy fight.

Pandaria’s fights were a step up in balance and unique aspects but they sold on things that look cool more than established lore. It was difficult to establish a connection because we had to grow close to these characters with little connection outside of it. Legion has this problem to a degree but they make sure to establish connections with pre-existing characters or lore so that we’re not fighting with absolutely zero emotional connection outside of what we make in the zone.

Legion’s Current State

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So where would Legion fall on this scale? After going through most of the raids and fights, I think certain raids will be more fondly remembered than others. Emerald Nightmare and Trial of Valor weren’t fantastic raids but serviceable, easy to run and complete. The Nighthold, however, was far more entertaining and enjoyable. I think it’s likely my favorite raid of Legion. Tomb of Sargeras is alright but it has a huge problem of raid-finder not preparing you for the normal raid at all, lacking major mechanics that you find in normal which make transitioning into them difficult if you ONLY play raid finder.

The five mans are, unfortunately, forgettable in my mind. They don’t really have that many interesting mechanics and most of the fights grow tiresome after you’ve done them a few times on alts. I’ll make special mention, however, to the Karazhan and Court of Stars instances. Karazhan is a bite-sized version of the old raid and, while it needed to be cut in half, was still enormously entertaining to do. Court of Stars had a bunch of small mechanics in the instance itself that made it quite entertaining to do. After all, what kind of madman poisons a boss before the fight even starts?

It’s hard to say how people will remember Legion but if I had to guess, Nighthold and Karazhan will probably be the standouts when you look back. The other raids and instances were…serviceable. The connection to cool content was there but I never felt that the fights were all that shocking or interesting. In the end, I think Legion satisfies most of the B.U.N. scale but falls a bit flat in unique. Which is a shame, because there is some stuff to love in Legion.

Moving Forward

Legion was a revitalization of Warcraft and it shows. They’ve successfully recaptured some of the old success of Wrath and Burning Crusade but they’re finding their footing after a few years of rough releases. For the next expac, I hope to see more fantastic mechanics that challenge my perception of a five man. The raids I’m not too worried about but I sincerely hope that the five-mans grab me and make me invested in what is to come. Other games could also learn from this approach and, in my mind, Warcraft is still quite above the competition when it comes to instance-style content.

Legion was a decent step forward but with some stumbling after falling down. I only hope WoW can continue the forward momentum with fresh, original dungeons and raids.

The “Vergil” and Why the Best Antagonist is Often Yourself.

Bear in mind, this article will contain spoilers for a variety of older games. Be careful when reading if you don’t want to be spoiled!


Devil May Cry 3
is a hard game. The early bosses are tough but, in a way, manageable. There is a turning point in the game however. A point where you meet someone who is on another level and you realize just how little you know about the game and your skill set. I’m talking, of course, about the Vergil fight.

In video games, a strong antagonist is paramount to making a good game. If there’s no threat, nothing we do holds weight. Most enemies fall into one of two categories: The giant boss leader, like Bowser, who commands a massive army of foes all under his sway while being a formidable monster himself. The other type is the all-powerful beast. While these types might have a legion, the true threat is them. Ganondorf would be a good example of this, as the scariest thing about Legend of Zelda ends up being his existence.

In my mind, neither of these enemies is a particularly strong villain. Sure, they can be written well and designed well, but they serve as a mere odd to overcome. Beating the covenant in Halo feels good because we waded through an army as a singular super soldier. Destroying Chaos at the end of Sonic Adventure feels amazing because we’re spitting in the face of a supposed godlike being. To me, the absolute best villain is the rival. The antagonist who is a dark mirror of the protagonist. The “Vergil”.

So why do I find this compelling?

Rivals and Personal Growth
Vergil2

For starters, the stakes are set-up to be on a realistic level. The Vergil (Which I’ll be calling this amorphous enemy for the article duration) isn’t some unstoppable godbeing or some swarm-like army. The Vergil is you. Where the Vergil differs from you is that he’s you at the peak. He’s the person you could never hope to be in terms of skill, power and otherwise. As you lose to him, you can’t blame him being too powerful or having too many enemies. He’s just too strong and you’re not good enough.

This theme of rivalry is core and major to story development because it serves as someone we strive to either meet or surpass. The Vergil doesn’t even have to always be an enemy either! In Megaman X, Zero serves as the Vergil and the person you’re striving to become. He is you at your peak, he is the you that you want to be. He is the Vergil you hope to strive for.

Another important fact about the Vergil is that he has to mirror the protagonist in ability, power or talent. Take Jetstream Sam from Metal Gear Rising. Sam is a swordsman just like Raiden with similar cybernetic enhancements. He fights like Raiden, he loves the thrill of fighting and he doesn’t have many tricks you wouldn’t expect. Sam is, of course, the mirror to Raiden and thus the fight is strongest when reflecting that.

Much of this likely sounds pedantic. “Oh well duh fighting someone on equal level is cool” and such. What I want to drive home, however, is how many games get this wrong. The idea of a Vergil that’s never expounded upon or shown to be anything more than a mere rivalry. Take one of the final fights in Warcraft 3: Arthas vs. Illidan. By all accounts, these characters should be the twin rivals, two characters who both forsake their humanity (or in Illidan’s case, his elfhood) to protect their people. Yet these characters don’t feel like rivals. This isn’t a battle of ideologies or a battle of two enemies on equal footing. This is “It’d be so damn cool to see Illidan fight Arthas”. These are two pawns (albeit neat pawns) fighting for masters.

Cool Factor and Doing it Wrong.
ArthasIllidan

Alternatively, designers or writers will dial up the cool factor with no proper build-up or stakes in the fight. Azel in Godhand is a mysterious man who is said to be Gene’s equal. Despite this, we never get a scene where we see Azel wipe the floor with Gene. We’re just told Azel is his equal before being thrown into the final battle. Sure, it’s enjoyable to see these two titans square off but the payoff feels unearned.

Perhaps the most important part of a Vergil is the eventual surpassing. When you first fight a Vergil, you will be beat. Hard. Maybe in the game, maybe just in a cutscene, but you’re going to clearly be no match for him or his power. This is the core motivation. This is where the seed is planted that you wish to go stronger. Later in the game, when you finally do fight him, it serves as the remeasure. It’s the point where you stand your ground and tell the Vergil that you’ve gone on your own journey and your growth will beat his own growth. This idea of being disempowered or losing isn’t often a popular idea to gamers or designers, hence why Vergils are so often ignored or not done at all.

In reading all this, you might be curious: “Who does the Vergil best?” “What company creates a Vergil with every game they make?” The answer is simple: Platinum Games. Masters of the third person action brawler, Platinum has honed their skills and refined their craft to the point where they can create countless fantastic Vergil-type characters. While I don’t want the article to go on too long, here are just some examples of character-rivalries they’ve made that I consider amazing:

Bayonetta and Jeanne (Bayonetta)
Wonder-Red and Prince Vorkken (Wonderful 101)
Raiden and Jetstream Sam (Metal Gear Rising, Revengence)
Sam Gideon and Victor Zaitsev (Vanquish)
A2 and 2B (Neir: Automata)

It’s also worth noting that many games from members of Platinum Games, such as Viewtiful Joe and Godhand, would be prototypes for this. Special note to Hideki Kamiya, who was a director on Devil May Cry and part of the skilled group that helped bring the concept of the Vergil to life.

But what does Platinum do that no others do? What do they nail that creates such an entertaining Vergil?

You’re Trash at the Game (and that’s good!)
StoneRank.jpg

To me, Platinum is a company not afraid to tell you that you’re bad. It’s a company that’s willing to laugh at that participation trophy you got. It’s a company that does not pull punches. You’re better than this and Platinum knows it. Where other companies are afraid to remove your power, even for a second, Platinum understands that this is core to your growth. It’s only against adversity, against an enemy who is the ideal you that has mastered everything you barely scratched the surface of, that you grow as a player. They might seem cruel but this tough love follows you to the end, all the way to Platinum cheering you on as you face your rival, evolved and ready to show your growth.

The Vergil is a tough concept to execute. It’s a concept that you have to be careful of. Even when perfectly executed, it’s not for everyone. Yet this type of rival is often necessary and I leap at the chance to have more of them in video games. I want that terrible feeling of powerlessness as I face someone better than me. I desire that looming dread of having to fight them later down the line. I crave the fearful steps as you walk into the boss room and see your Vergil waiting to show you that he’s still better.

And most of all, I yearn to show Vergil that I’m the one who has beaten him.

Leaks and Video Games: Help/Hurt.

In recent times, the most disturbing and problematic trend in video games (to me) isn’t any sort of ad revenue problem. It’s not the absolute silence of criticism, it’s not manipulation of websites like Metacritic and it’s not any sort of design philosophy. Rather, my frustration with the games and the game industry can be summed up in a word:

Leaks.

To understand the impact, we have to fall back years and go to one of the things video games do stronger than any other media: hidden/surprise content. While spoilers are a thing in every form of media that range from spoiling an ending to a book to the shock reveal or twist midway into a series, games have special things and aspects no other media can boast.

Specifically, when games have a hidden treat, it’s not something you can always find just by playing the game to completion. Sometimes, to find that hidden treat, you have to devote a ton of time to the game. You have to collect all one hundred-plus collectables. You have to find that secret area you only get by putting in the right console command. Hell, sometimes you have to finish the game and then call a phone number that plays a secret message for your ears only.

I can’t truly blame game developers for this. As we’ve gotten deeper into the existence of video games, these things were bound to happen. The amount of people who understand code and can datamine both games and patches have skyrocketed. In addition to this, social media has made it so that it’s incredibly easy for the average person to build a fanbase or a reputation as a “leaker” or someone with insider knowledge working under a pseudonym.

What hurts me most is that the surprise is gone. However, this isn’t always a bad thing. For this argument, I’ll use two core examples in recent times.

The Bad: League of Leaks

One of the most negative situations and a “worst case scenario” when this happens has got to be the painful leak Riot Games had with League of Legends. A few months ago, a giant leak list appeared. A ton of the information was listed among it but chief in it was both the reveal of the direction of two champion updates and the release of Xayah and Rakan.

This is when leaks are at their absolute worst. Incredible reveals that would have shocked us with the fact that Urgot had shotgun knees or that League was doing a dual champion release for the first time in years was instead dashed by a leak list. This also crushed the fact that hard work that should have shocked and wowed the audience was instead known in advance.

These are my most egregious leak aggrivations. Leaks that steal the surprise from me. Leaks that don’t shock me. Leaks that are done to give someone fame for a brief moment and be regarded as some sort of “prophet”. With that in mind, the question becomes “when is a leak good?”

The Good: Not-so-Marvelous Roster

The counter argument to this is a situation where a leak can actually stamp out problems and even save someone money. In this situation, I speak of the “roster leak” that happened for Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Thanks to data-mining from the demo, a huge amount of chracters were leaked and revealed for the game. Some of these supposedly confirmed for DLC and some of them mere additions to the roster.

Perhaps what is most important about this is that this confirmed a worry many players had about the games roster. It showed them that Capcom was reusing assets and that the new additions would be pitiful comparative to the third installment of the game. Even more importantly, it put a spotlight on the problematic roster when there was still time to correct it. That is, if Capcom goes that root.

This type of situation is one of the few where a leak can be good. A situation where the leak can gather major feedback before it’s too late. In addition, it also saves some heartbreak and even money. After all, will people still preorder knowing this pitiful roster exists?

A Pipe You Can’t Shut

Unfortunately, leaks will always be a thing. There is always going to be someone who shirks the NDA because the internet is a huge place and they can’t be found. That said, the best we can do is use our datamining for good. Instead of trying to datamine simply to get the latest work-in-progress, we could work toward finding out if a solution is reached for a problem. We could investigate the data for things like if a story mode exists or possible transaction prices.

Hell, we might even be able to use these talents to prevent situations in the future where we find documents detailing how a company was using the funds we gave from an Indiegogo to buy some fast cars to crash. No matter what, leaks are a powerful tool with great capacity for good and bad. The best we can hope for is that we have these abilities that can help people in the long term, rather than using them for a quick cash-in of social media fame.