Flite Test – Vans RV-7 Smoke System

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Smite Review

Since the dawn of civilization, humankind has told stories of the gods above. Whether they were tales of Zeus gallivanting about behind Hera’s back or the Norse gods preparing for Ragnarok, one truth held constant: the gods had powers not accessible to mere mortals. Smite seeks to change that.

In Smite, you take control of a god of your choosing from a multitude of world mythologies in a match-based multiplayer online battle arena. Unlike in similar games in the genre, you aren’t an all-seeing eye watching the battle from overhead and micromanaging a single unit or small army from above. You control only one god. You see only what that god sees. You are that god.

Such a small change in theory opens up an entirely new gameplay experience in an otherwise stale genre filled with copycats and bandwagoners. You don’t play the game with your eyes locked on a mini-map, focusing on the gameplay itself only when an enemy gets frisky. You focus on what’s directly ahead of you. As the eerie feeling you’re no longer alone creeps up your spine, you quickly glance to other entrances to your lane, hoping to find your paranoia misguided, before you return to attempting to chip away at the enemy god’s health to set up for a display of divine power.

You must protect your portal from enemy minions in Arena to slow the bleed of attrition.

The concept of Smite isn’t much different from that of League of Legends; in Conquest mode, your goal is to destroy the enemy’s towers to make a path to its minotaur. You choose any or all of the three lanes to push your army of minions into the enemy’s base. Your god levels up over the course of the battle, gaining access to his or her full array of skills, which help to battle the enemy’s team of gods. You earn gold for being near minions as they die, and a bonus is granted for delivering the killing blow. There is no ability to deny your own minions as in Dota 2, but forcing enemy gods away from the clashing minions starves them of their gold income. Gold is spent on items, and many of the items bear striking similarities to the items from other MOBAs. But if it ain’t broke…

The difference is in the delivery, and thanks to Smite’s WASD controls as opposed to the more real-time strategy feel of other MOBAs, items are free to have effects, such as allowing you to attack while on the move without slowing down. Playing a marksman yields a more visceral experience as you kite back without relying on either AI or rapid mouse movement for your target selection, instead focusing fire precisely on your pursuer until it’s time to turn tail and flee.

Geb smash!

Conquest isn’t Smite’s only available mode. Players not attracted to the crawl of early-game laning will find the deathmatch-oriented Arena mode strong enough to stand on its own legs. Two teams of gods are dropped into a coliseum setting with a crowd cheering or jeering as the attrition tug-of-war scoring pulls in either direction. The stadium crowd even claps familiar sports cheers as it observes the deific skirmish. This mode offers short games of nonstop action with plenty of thriller comebacks and close calls that get your heart racing until the final moment. If the Arena’s chaos isn’t enough, the genre staple All Random, All Mid makes an appearance under the name Assault, guaranteeing a unique experience in every game with its random selection.

Developer Hi-Rez knows that variety is the spice of life and ensures such is available in Smite with a cycling mode of the day, featuring focused game types with a specific selection of thematic gods, such as the Assault variant Wet and Wild with only Poseidon and He Bo as selectable gods, or Egyptian Roulette, which grants you a random Egyptian god on a Domination-type map with three control points over which you must battle for control. With a grand total of 55 different daily playlists to choose from, and Saturday’s choice put to community vote, the game lets you escape the potential redundancy of the default modes in a fantastic manner.

Every god has post-game victory and defeat celebrations that shows how much detail was put into the game.

Game modes aren’t the only examples of variety in Smite. Hi-Rez left no cairn stone unturned when selecting the deities to use in the game. The core Greek, Norse, and Egyptian gods are present, but alongside them come Chinese legends Sun Wukong and Ao Kuang, Hindu gods, and even the obscure Mayan god of bees, Ah Muzen Cab, and the howler monkey god, Hun Batz. The gods are fairly balanced in the five archetypical roles of hunter, guardian, assassin, warrior, and mage, although the mage carries a larger champion pool than the rest. Warriors and hunters deal physical damage, while the other three deal magical damage. Players who wish to experiment with hybrid item builds or attempt to play a mage as a hunter will be a bit disappointed to find the attack damage items missing from a mage’s shop and similarly for hunters and (magical) power items. While the lack of innovation in item builds may be a bit of a downer, its offset by the reduction in potential item builds with the intention to troll.

Smite is free-to-play and supports itself through microtransactions, which may be used to unlock gods more quickly or to give your god a different appearance in battle. Smite offers a package of all the game’s gods, present and upcoming, for a very attractive $30; most rival games offer an incomplete bundle of champions for a similar price, giving Smite the edge when it comes to value for your money. Many skins in Smite are also available to purchase through the earned-through-play currency, rewarding you for your loyalty even if you choose to play the game entirely for free.

With just a few changes to what other games have delivered before, Smite manages to feel like a brand-new game.

Furthering the comparison of Smite’s platform to other MOBAs, Smite strays from the account progression mechanics that affect in-game powers such as runes and masteries from League of Legends. While your account does earn a level from 1 to 30, the only direct effect it has on gameplay is unlocking the game’s ranked league play once you reach level 30. Summoner spells from League of Legends are also a no-show in Smite, with Smite instead electing to tie such powerful abilities to in-game purchased active items, which can be further upgraded with gold investment as opposed to furthering your core item build. Devoting time to one god at a time earns you worshippers, who serve no purpose other than to display a mastery level. This cosmetic ranking allows you a bit of self-satisfaction as the loading screen for each match shows how many mastery levels you’ve earned with both your account and the god you’ve chosen for the particular match.

Smite is a godsend for the MOBA genre, with the heart of its gameplay proving that innovation to the war plan for tower siege games is possible. With just a few changes to what other games have delivered before, Smite manages to feel like a brand-new game. There’s no cost to join, and no mechanics that directly make players who have been around longer better at the game, making it easy to get into. Once in, it’s hard to keep yourself from following a new god: Smite.

Thank you, Tubers!

Gadget Show Live 2014

Gadget Show Live is back! For more info on our 2014 show in Birmingham from 9th-13th April go to http://www.gadgetshowlive.net

Flite Test – Bloody Wonder V2 – PROJECT

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Dragons and Titans Review

When you play a game with a title like Dragons and Titans, you seek fire, brimstone, and battles of epic proportions that rattle the very foundations of the Earth. The reality of the latest addition to the ever-expanding MOBA genre, however, is a bland and clumsy game that relies on its theme as a crutch to make up for its gameplay having no longevity of its own. Dragons and Titans may feature the juggernauts of fantasy lore, but the game itself is too frail to make so much as a whimper.

Dragons and Titans is yet another free-to-play game following in the footsteps of the likes of Dota 2 and League of Legends. You select a dragon and a legendary weapon, and then join a team with the focus of annihilating the equally voracious opposing team. As has become a staple of the genre, you may do so in any of three game variants, the central of which has you focusing on freeing your team’s titan by destroying the enemy’s titan cage in the center of the base. The titan cage is shielded, however, and destroying the various structures surrounding the enemy base serves to take a chunk out of the enemy’s shield or speed up the shield’s natural decay. The other options are a domination variant, which requires your team to destroy the enemy titan cage, and the familiar all-random, all-mid offering for a more relaxed experience. Matches are much shorter than in most similar games, clocking in at around 20 minutes for a long game, compared to the daunting hour-long matches that often appear in League of Legends.

Dragons and a titan.

The dragons in Dragons and Titans rely on special cone-based skills focused in the direction the dragon is facing. Such skills pertain to the element the dragon represents, whether it be poison, fire, light, sand, mist, or so forth. That the basic attack is tied to the direction you face is the cause of untold frustration. Once you use up your other spells and abilities or run out of mana, you and your opponents have nothing but basic attacks left, and battles play out in one of three equally exasperating ways: you chasing down someone who’s too low to stay and fight and just flies in a zigzag pattern to reduce your damage; you chasing an enemy fighter who is waiting on cooldowns and simply flies backward; or you and an enemy dragon rider attempting to fly directly at one another, only to end up chasing each other’s tail in a circle. The resulting chaos is never fun.

The ARAM map crumbles beneath you as you conquer your foes.

Basic attack complaints aside, dragons are inherently equipped with one other ability to give them their unique identities. The paper dragon has a bonus health shield to bolster its literally paper-thin defenses, the bone dragon gains some close-range combat ability, and the magma dragon sends chunks of flaming rock flying at foes. These abilities, and a dragon’s appearance and base stats, are the only aspects of the game lending identity to the different selectable characters, apart from the game’s legendary weapon system.

While teams are limited to one of each type of dragon per team, they are also limited to one of each type of legendary weapon. Legendary weapons grant you two additional abilities, and any weapon can be attached to any dragon, so you can customize half of a dragon’s skill set on a game-to-game basis. This offers some interesting customization options, such as the ability to turn a back-line poker into an equally devastating threat in melee range, or to simply increase your firepower from afar, but it also drains the identity of each class of dragon and makes them all bleed into one.

That the basic attack is tied to the direction you face is the cause of untold frustration.

The game offers a single-player campaign for those who aren’t interested in, or who want a break from, playing against other players. The campaign consists of three acts, two of which you must pay for to unlock, and is merely a gauntlet of “kill this, kill those, collect these, and kill that,” with forgettable bits of dialogue to link each bit together. There are three difficulty levels, and the game offers an additional “star” for beating the level with additional parameters, such as within a certain time or with a certain dragon.

It should be a sin to mix incompatible fonts.

Much like League of Legends, Dragons and Titans features a rune system for customizing your stats for a battle by collecting and purchasing runes to power up your dragon. Unlike in League of Legends, the runes can be purchased with real money, leading to a red flag for those opposed to “pay for power” mechanics in games. Further in this insidious vein is the ability to forge your legendary weapons to reduce mana costs or cooldowns or to increase their damage. To forge, you expend forge materials and wait four hours, or use an ingot to finish the forging instantly. Once again, ingots can be purchased with real money, so players who pay can power up their characters more quickly than those who simply attempt to acquire them by grinding. You can make pretty substantial progress on a weapon’s forging for as little as $4, with those 1 percent boosts all adding up to a noticeable decrease in mana consumption. And again, I stress that mana goes away fast in this game. You want mana. You want things to not cost a lot of mana. You want to forge that weapon you’re using.

One of the few areas where Dragons and Titans succeeds and others have failed is in its method of mitigating champion select arguments over who gets to play which champion, because prior to queuing, you can preselect your dragon or legendary weapon. It comes with a warning that it will increase queue times, since running into anyone else preselecting your dragon or titan prevents you from being matched, but in my experience, the queue time didn’t noticeably increase. I was guaranteed to get the weapon I wanted every game, which meant more to me than what dragon I selected. The mechanic is a brave one, especially given the meager player base, but it succeeds in its purpose.

Or let them peck your eyes out and pretend you are Odin.

It’s a shame that a game featuring colossal lizards would look and sound so drab. Dragon fire-breath sounds are nigh indistinguishable from the sound of static when your TV’s cable has gone out. The only graphics options available to adjust are resolution, full-screen mode, vertical sync, and a single slider allowing you to choose between fast or pretty graphics; the best I could reckon the slider did was adjust the brightness from “morning-drive road glare” to “moderate corneal incineration.” You may wish to wear sunglasses when playing the game, or turn down your monitor’s brightness and contrast settings to comfortable levels.

Dragons and Titans is a mere shadow of other, richer MOBAs, and while its significantly shorter average game time may give it some initial appeal, that appeal comes at the cost of almost any enjoyment of the time invested. Dragons and Titans could have been a gateway game to the genre, but weighed against the game’s counterparts, neither dragon nor titan can tip the scales in its favor.

Infamous: Second Son Review

Seattle is a police state. Department of Unified Protection director Brooke Augustine has set her fascist government organization loose on the God-fearing populace, abusing her power to round up those with mutant abilities. Unmanned drones patrol the skies, invasive checkpoints detain suspected bio-terrorists, and high-tech surveillance cameras monitor everyone’s actions. It’s a city built upon fear. The citizens willingly accept their new overlords because so many are scared of their friends and neighbors who are now imbued with superpowers. So when protagonist Delsin Rowe finds that he is able to absorb others’ powers, he enters a society ready to pour their hatred upon him. Do you fight those who loathe you? Or free Seattle from the chains of an oppressive dictatorship?

The world of Infamous: Second Son plays upon the recent changes that have taken place within our own society. By offering an exaggerated viewpoint of the safety-over-freedom measures that are now a part of our daily lives, we see how dangerous such a path could be, and how few people rise up if their lives remain comfortable. It’s an intriguing setup, but one that fails to stir a strong emotional response. The binary morality doesn’t show a balanced angle that could have made you sympathize with the government’s actions, even if you disagree with how those rules are enacted, and that one-sided viewpoint turns what should be a hard-hitting situation into one that’s difficult to relate to.

You see the situation through the eyes of Delsin. His youth was spent spray painting cartoonish doodles while avoiding the wrath of his older brother, Reggie, a police officer with a firm belief in what’s right and what’s illegal. Delsin’s immaturity is immediately an annoyance as he spouts terrible one-liners while shirking any responsibility. During the first hour of Second Son, you’re stuck watching cutscene after cutscene establish the fiction, and that uneven pacing feels like shackles preventing you from exploring this gorgeous world. However, once you’re set loose in Seattle, the narrative problems that haunted the early moments fade into the background as you flex your elemental muscles.

Once you’re set loose in Seattle, the narrative problems that haunted the early moments fade into the background.

Delsin has a run-in with the escaped conduit Hank, who has smoke coursing through his veins. That chance meeting transforms Delsin from just another forgotten screw-up into the potential savior of a beautiful metropolis. Through the power of smoke, you can turn into a translucent wisp at a moment’s notice. Float through air vents to propel yourself from the rain-drenched streets to the striking rooftops or drift like an ethereal shadow among the citizens compelled to fear you. The empowering sense of freedom worms its way into your heart once you realize your unbelievable potential. The slow-paced, methodical movement that defined the two earlier Infamous games has been stripped away here, replaced by a frenetic speed that has you rushing through this open world like a sentient lightning bolt.

Fights are structured for you to take advantage of your extraordinary abilities. Snipers perch upon billboards, armored vans carry reinforcements, and helicopters patrol the skies. Troops have the power of cement to complement their standard arsenal. They construct concrete walls and dive upon you with deadly might, so standing still is an easy way for you to meet a quick end. So you show off your quick feet, drifting into and out of fights, peppering aggressors with flaming missiles while you dance just out of their deadly strikes. Take too much damage, and your view becomes oversaturated while an angelic voice scores the soundtrack of your death. Unlike in previous Infamous games, your health regenerates over time, so knowing when to seek shelter and when to stay aggressive forces you to fight thoughtfully.

Like a neon flash through Seattle.

Second Son has a binary morality system that mirrors the black-and-white decision making from the previous games. If you’re a callous jerk, for instance, you can choose to forsake your Native American heritage to avoid punitive measures from Augustine. If you’d rather sleep with a sound conscience, take responsibility for your actions so your tribe doesn’t suffer. Without a moral gray area, these choices filter reality through a cartoonish prism where only pure good and unadulterated evil exist. Though these extreme decisions feel totally disconnected from reality, the manner in which this dichotomy exists within the framework of combat adds serious weight to your every action.

The empowering sense of freedom worms its way into your heart once you realize your unbelievable potential.

Delsin earns a single-use, screen-clearing attack no matter which side of the morality coin you fall on. When you play as a hero, you must tread with a light touch. You need to subdue enemies with smoke handcuffs instead of killing them off, and make sure you direct your attacks away from ordinary citizens. If you fail to follow these basic rules, your chain breaks, and your chance to use your most powerful attack disappears. On the villainous side, chaos is the key to earning that most treasured of prizes. Not only must you kill every attacker, but you must do so as quickly as possible. If you spend too much time between conquests, your multiplier vanishes, so you must act as aggressively as possible, indiscriminately exterminating anyone who moves.

Such opposing play styles better communicated who my Delsin was than the many tired cutscenes that encompass the rest of the narrative. During my first playthrough, I was as good as possible, so I fought with a methodical, thoughtful air that made me consider each flaming missile that I lobbed. I used restraint. When my health diminished, I hid in the shadows so as not to succumb to the angry forces. After a hectic victory, I would look upon the battlefield with wry satisfaction. My enemies lay prone before me, chained to the ground, left to think about the path they had chosen. I was both victorious and righteous. The citizenry recognized my efforts, and celebrated me when I walked the streets. I was a hero in action and word, and their fears of the unknown slowly dissipated.

Chaining enemies to the ground with element number 10.

It was during my second time through that I took the evil route and realized the extent of my extraordinary powers. No longer did I hold back. When an armored van would arrive, I would immediately toss missiles toward it, unconcerned about the collateral damage that would result. Overwhelmed enemies would surrender, desperate for respite, and as they walked toward me with arms raised above their heads, I would maniacally laugh as I lit their heads on fire. When bullets pierced me from every direction, I would grow angry, becoming even more reckless as I desperately tried to fill my kill quota. No one was safe when my Delsin was around. And the citizens who were taught to fear me yelled hateful remarks as I walked through the streets. The dumb ones, at least. I killed my share of loose-lipped normals.

Combat strikes a happy balance between the slow-paced affairs of the first Infamous and the overly chaotic endeavors of Infamous 2. Second Son offers speed with a purpose. So fine-tuned are your actions that you move with blinding speed and yet are always aware of your surroundings. Ensuring the action stays hectic without becoming overbearing is an extraordinary accomplishment, so much so that I happily played through twice only to still remain hungry for more. As I sprinted up the sides of buildings and called in explosive strikes, Second Son felt less like another Infamous and more like a new entry in the Prototype franchise. It’s so fast, so frenetic, and so gloriously over the top that it makes the old days of Cole McGrath slowly climbing buildings seem like a distant memory.

The citizens who were taught to fear me yelled hateful remarks as I walked through the streets.

Delsin gains access to more powers beyond the smoke you start off with, and each transforms both the action and locomotion in interesting ways. You might employ a slow-motion effect to corral your enemies in a precise manner, or mix stealth into your explosive encounters to keep enemies guessing, and such twists ensure that each showdown keeps you thinking up new tactics as you revel in the destructive glory. Sadly, the powers don’t branch in interesting ways depending on your moral choices, so though combat plays out in different ways, the weapons you use are nearly identical.

Somewhere in Seattle hides a mural commemorating Sucker Punch’s past.

Missions present scenarios that urge you to fight in inventive ways. The myriad ways in which you flex your combat prowess left me glued to the screen as I eagerly overcame every roadblock in my way. Bosses mirror the brilliance of the normal forays by compelling you to move with speed and precision as you mount a hellacious counterattack. Fights stretch on longer than I expected, but instead of being tedious wars of attrition, they instead kept me riveted as I tried to perfect my craft. Standing up to my overpowered foes for these long battles felt like a victory well earned, and I was happy with the assortment of bosses on offer through the course of this adventure.

Second Son has top-notch combat that expertly melds substance with style. But despite the speed that separates this from previous games in the franchise, there’s a feeling of familiarity that’s impossible to shake. The Seattle in Second Son offers a stark contrast to the direction recent open-world games have taken. This is not a living, breathing world that you inhabit. Rather, it’s a playground for you to go nuts in. The people who populate the world exist only for your benefit, so it never feels like a real city. It’s an anachronistic return to what sandbox games used to be, and represents an approach that I still enjoy more than the serious options that populate store shelves. Still, I couldn’t help yearning for more concrete improvements to what I’ve already experienced. The cutting-edge visuals are laid over a decade-old formula that is still fun though sadly showing its age.

That certainly didn’t prevent me from getting 100 percent on both a good and an evil playthrough. Side missions nicely complement your story efforts so you have plenty of reason to roam if you want to spend more time in pristine Seattle. Second Son is not the tedious collect-a-thon that many open-world games are. Extra activities are clearly labeled on the map, so instead of wandering aimlessly around the rainy streets, you focus on maximizing your enjoyment. My favorite detour was spray painting inspiring messages on walls. Sure, the act of tilting the motion-enabled controller at the stencils was hardly thrilling, but seeing what artistic propaganda Delsin cooked up was always a treat.

The view from above is as dizzying as it is breathtaking.

Creating graffiti isn’t the only way an unusual control scheme is used. During context-sensitive situations, you must manipulate the touchpad, and though this sounds incredibly gimmicky, it actually added to my immersion. Swiping to open a door to free those suspected of being conduits engaged me more than pushing a button could, as did holding my thumbs firmly on the pad as Delsin grabbed a generator he was trying to destroy. Employing controls different from the norm is always a tricky endeavor, and Sucker Punch did a great job of ensuring these little moments added to the experience rather than distracting from your actions.

Second Son focuses on pure enjoyment. It communicates that through the excellent combat that forces you to concoct crazy tactics to overthrow the invading forces. It draws you in further through its incredible visuals that not only hint at the PlayStation 4’s impressive power, but employ a sensible artistic touch that makes Seattle a place you want to explore. It uses a complementary score to underline dramatic moments, and the sound effects pop with flair. And yet, for all of the elements in which Second Son excels, the narrative fails to carry its share of the weight. Still, don’t become mired in the negativity as Delsin so often does. Instead, just laugh at the cheesy dialogue and chortle at how extreme the morality system is. Second Son is a great game that knows exactly what it is, and sucks you in with its unfiltered fun.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Review

The key to understanding Hearthstone lies in its very name. Not only does it refer to the white-and-turquoise rock that has sent the World of Warcraft faithful back to inns since 2004; it also suggests friendly competition far removed from the battles and weighty stratagems of other collectible card games. Its cozy syllables evoke not laborious campaigns lasting hours, but quick matches that take no longer than it takes to gulp down a mug of ale. If World of Warcraft is the everyman’s massively multiplayer online game, this is the everyman’s collectible card game, and for the most part, Blizzard has justified the fanfare that erupted when it first appeared last March.

Few other card games rival its personality, which reveals itself in the little things, such as the way you can tap iron gongs and fiddle with water mills on the board in the 90 seconds when you’re awaiting a challenger’s next move, or in the way a chorus of rough-and-tumble dwarves and orcs erupts in cheers when you’ve made a good move. You find it in the flashier details as well, such as the way the mage’s arcane missiles pelt enemy heroes with sound files yanked from World of Warcraft, or in the way some of Warcraft’s most exaggerated figures guide through a tutorial that’s as helpful as it is fun. The emo night elf Illidan from Warcraft III and WOW’s Burning Crusade expansion wraps up the swift campaign, still spouting his convictions that we’re unprepared.

Superficial simplicity betrays Hearthstone’s lurking strategic depth.

That may well be true for card gaming tenderfeet, but it rarely matters. One of the great strengths of Hearthstone is that it embraces players who shied from the know-it-alls at Magic: The Gathering events in comic shops or missed the heydays of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. What’s more, it caters to players burned by the caustic personalities in multiplayer games like League of Legends and Dota 2 by limiting communication with random players to preset responses. (Friends can chat with and battle each other, but to prevent exploits, these matches offer no form of reward or advancement.) In true Blizzard form, Hearthstone shatters barriers to entry while supplying the means to access greater challenges if you seek them.

Indeed, card gaming veterans will find much to love beyond the cheesy puns and happy aesthetic. Hearthstone adopts the familiar model of whittling down the opposing player’s hit points with attack points from cards, but it simplifies the often cumbersome resource mechanics of other games for a mana bar that automatically expands with the passing of each turn. It’s a system geared toward speed, and hero abilities that don’t depend on cards–like the mage’s fireball–act as wild cards that can keep you in the fight even when surrounded by minions. It’s a lunch breaker’s game, and indeed, the toughest matches rarely last more than 15 minutes.

Talk about a descriptive name!

Blizzard manages to bless Hearthstone with significant depth in spite of such nods to speed. There’s a wide assortment of cards with specific abilities in play here, some of which are part of the nine unlockable decks modeled on familiar World of Warcraft classes, and others of which come with the massive bundle of cards that you can use with all the decks. Using the hunter deck, you might spring a trap by unleashing three weak snake cards after an enemy attacks his or her minions; your opponent might fend off the attacks by tossing down a tanky card with “taunt,” thereby forcing the snakes to attack the taunting card instead of the main hero. But still further strategies await: your mage could incapacitate the taunting card with a frost nova, thereby letting you have a go at your opponent’s hero.

All this worked well when beta invites shot out a year ago, but Hearthstone now enjoys a commendable degree of balance in the wake of months of tweaks and player suggestions. It’s more apparent in the early levels, when most challengers you meet haven’t built powerful decks through their winnings from daily quests and simple leveling, but flashes of it remain at higher levels when players start slapping down legendary cards with alarming frequency. Hearthstone’s class decks perform a little of the same service as alts in an online role-playing game; once you get tired of one class, you can jump on another and start leveling it from scratch for a varied experience.

Over time, perhaps inevitably, the process of leveling and building killer decks devolves into a grind. Blizzard gives you the option to craft your own cards to counter it, although it’s here that the veterans enjoy a significant advantage over card-gaming rookies. Hearthstone simplifies many of the necessary actions, such as destroying excess cards and neatly arranging the available cards in a flipbook of sorts, but the uninitiated get few clues as to what to focus on. In the worst cases, you might waste your material on a worthless card or (the horror) accidentally disintegrate one of the best in your deck. Nevertheless, card crafting is a good way to fill in the gaps for the unlucky. If you can’t get a card to appear from the packs you buy through your winnings (or indeed, real-world money), you can usually make it if you have the materials.

The best way to break this tedium is to break into the Arena mode. Arenas come with an entry fee, although it’s usually negligible if you manage to complete the daily quests, which have you doing things like winning matches with a specific deck or dealing 100 damage to enemy heroes. The allure of Arena lies in the leveling of the playing field. Rather than bringing your own decks into the battle, you’re only allowed to choose from one of three classes, and then you need to build your deck by choosing one of the random cards Hearthstone throws at you until you complete a full deck of 30 cards. The outcome can still be outrageously imbalanced. Some schmuck might swim in legendary cards, while the one you have never gets drawn from the deck. Of course, it works both ways. The next Arena match could shower you with legendaries like Ragnaros instead.

Uh oh–it’s magic!

As is the case with any collectible card game, a degree of randomness affects each action in Hearthstone. It’s possible you’ll end up with nothing but sorry cards beyond the capable starter decks–I suffered the same fate after I lost my godly deck in a planned wipe halfway through the beta–but there’s always the chance of scoring big as well. Still, that randomness might drive players to toss some cash at Blizzard for new card packs (priced at $1.50 each), but the beauty of Hearthstone is that you never feel much if any need to fork out cash. It’s a free-to-play game in the best sense of the word, and even the interface for unloading your cash is more stylish than it normally is in such ventures.

Hearthstone features no built-in spectator mode, nor does it offer a replay mode, which could have been helpful in learning from your mistakes. Features such as team battles that make Magic’s digital duel games so fun make no appearances here, and the daily quests take long enough to complete that you’ll sometimes want to spend cash if you want to play in the Arena. But such objections are minor in light of the breezy but brainy experience Blizzard delivers here, particularly for the massive segment of the populace that’s never played a collectible card game. If it’s dumbed down, then it’s in good hands. If any developer’s good at weeding out the chaff of more robust games in a particular genre, surely it’s Blizzard.

Flite Test – Let’s Fly! Blunt Nose Versa

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