Blizzard’s Overwatch — Four Years In

I love Overwatch. Many of my free hours over the past three years have been poured into the game both casually and competitively. Not only that, but I desperately want the game to improve and succeed. In this blog article, I want to take a look at some comments from members of a local Overwatch team on which my wife and myself play, as well as some of the ups and downs over the past three years and talk about the future of the game.

Front cover of Overwatch from Blizzard

“I need healing!”

“I need healing!”

“I need healing!”

Okay, enough of the Genji/DPS jokes. Let’s face it: at this point, four years in, most gamers–and many non-gamers–have heard of Blizzard’s FPS/MOBA hybrid game, Overwatch. Bringing what was supposed to be the best of the battle arena and shooter genres together in a fun, fast-paced, and accessible game for all to enjoy. At least that was the idea. Before I dive too far into this post, let me at least be clear about this. I love Overwatch. Many of my free hours over the past three years have been poured into the game both casually and competitively. Not only that, but I desperately want the game to improve and succeed. In this blog article, I want to take a look at some comments from members of a local Overwatch team on which my wife and myself play, as well as some of the ups and downs over the past three years and talk about the future of the game.

Strong Start

Activision Blizzard blew industry developers and consumers away by clearing $1bn in revenue by Q1 of 2017–a mere 7-9 months after its release on 2020/05/24, leading to the studio-publisher duo to begin tying in Overwatch content into some of its other hit games, including Heroes of the Storm (Grubb, 2017).

Overwatch’s 40+ million players were greeted with a diverse cast of playable characters spanning four categories–Damage, Defense, Tank, and Support–and twelve maps spanning Assult, Escort, Hybrid, and Control game modes (GamePedia, 2020). In the coming years, 9+ additional maps and 11+ heroes have been added to the game, as well as Arcade game modes, seasonal/special events, and the both popular and infamous Competitive Play mode.

I spent a long time playing just a few heroes–Junkrat, Mei, and Mercy–but loved the variety among the characters and challenged myself to try to learn how to play many of them. Nearly every day, my friend Jess and myself would play multiple games and have a blast working with different team compositions, messing around, and learning the game. Before long, I felt I was getting a grip on the game and really started performing consistently when we would play. During that next year, we began to play the competitive mode. Season 1 was exhilarating! I knew this game had a lot going for it.

In conversation, I asked several of our friends and teammates their feelings and thoughts on the strengths of the game and what it was that kept us all coming back to it day after day and week after week. “…the character differences/abilities are a huge strength,” said Caleb, a flex-player on our team and our primary shot-caller, “I love the intriguing world they developed.” His sentiment is echoed by myself as well as Jess: “I enjoy the game play and how no two heroes feel the same.”

Overwatch also started off with a small amount of lore and backstory, and added to that story over the years. “I love the lore…I just wish there was more of it,” said Lexi, one of our team’s unrelenting support players. In the first year or so, Blizzard did a good job and keeping players dialed in on what was going on in Overwatch by releasing comics, animated shorts for many characters which introduced interesting backstory, and other content which furthered the depth of the universe in which the game is set.

“I love the team aspect,” said Albert, one of our team’s most solid tanks, “it doesn’t matter how good a one-trick DPS player is. If there is bad teamwork/communication, the team will typically get a loss.” The team aspect is easily one of the most alluring things about the game, in my opinion. I love strategy and working with others to overcome obstacles and problems.

For the first year or two, Blizzard also made QoL–Quality of Life–adjustments and also major changes to certain parts of the game to improve the experience for players. The Defense heroes category was merged into the Damage category–which makes sense. Those are your three roles: Damage, Tank, and Support. Down the line they also introduced Role-Queue, which requires players to queue for a particular role so you couldn’t have a team of all-supports, all-tanks, etc. This also improved game queue times as well by taking some weight off the matchmaking system. At least through the first year or so of the game, I applaud Blizzard for their introduction of Overwatch to the genres.

Game Gone Wrong

The honeymoon phase of the game didn’t last, though. Issues eventually became more prevalent, noticeable, and players began to become more and more frustrated. I have a lot of opinions on what’s wrong with the game and how the game could be improved, just as many players of many games do with any game. But I didn’t want this post to just be me ranting and raving about issues in the game, so I sought out the opinions of some of my teammates. Below are some of the issues that I most often hear mentioned over the past three years.

Competitive Ranking & Balancing

“Competitive” play, as it is called by Blizzard, has long been my preferred mode of play. The tweaked rules to encourage a more competitive playstyle by each team and restriction on role selection in the game mode make it closer to what I want from the game.

In Competitive Play, Overwatch uses a Skill Rating scoring system to match players with players of similar skill level–supposedly. “It’s not communicated to the players effectively,” said Caleb. This is evident, as many players have no idea how exactly the system works, since it seems to have more to it than simply you-win-you-go-up-you-lose-you-go-down. The lack of a clear and functional skill rating system results in lots of mismatched games where one team is horrifically higher skilled than the other, or where both teams will get a mix of players from a huge range of ranks putting inexperienced players into a more complex game, making the matches much more difficult to play and neigh impossible to enjoy.

When asked what he dislike most about the game, Jess responded: “how hard it is to climb in competitive. It feels like you lose too much [SR] when you lose and don’t gain enough when you win.” Caleb agreed, revisiting his earlier opinion: “…competitive feels like constant punishment. I understand SR balancing, but I don’t believe it was established correctly.”

Blizzard’s Blindness

Unfortunately as the last three years have passed, it seem’s Blizzard’s drive to develop the game further has declined. Despite new maps and heroes being released, the gameplay and in-game experience have come crashing down in quality. In competitive play, roughly 45-60% of games our team plays are cancelled within the first 60 seconds of the game due to someone leaving the match. In many other games, a random player your team picked up as a 5/6th player will throw the game just because the team won’t pocket them and cater to their every desire or someone else plays the hero they want to play.

“The players are inherently toxic,” explained Caleb, “and I get that is present in every game, but it feels like there is less of an effort coming from Blizzard to combat that.” In June of 2018–two years into the game–Blizzard added a mechanic called Endorsements as a feeble attempt to combat toxicity by encouraging good sportsmanship.

At the end of a match, players can endorse teammates as Shot Caller, Good Teammate, or Sportsmanship. Shot Caller can be awarded if you feel a player was a leader in the game and/or provided strategies that led the team to victory. Good Teammates are pretty self-explanatory. You can endorse your teammate as a Good Teammate if you felt they were helpful throughout the match via communication and gameplay. Finally, a player can endorse any teammate or opponent with Sportsmanship if they felt that player showed a positive attitude throughout the match. Players are incentivized to endorse each other by a small amount of XP they can gain by doing so (Fandom, n.d.).

It sounds like a nice concept, but in reality it isn’t viable. Every player ends up with a high Sportsmanship rating no matter what as people will endorse just about anybody with Sportsmanship just to get the XP. The Endorsement Level doesn’t reflect anything useful either, as there is decay on the rating over time. So if you have a perfect Endorsement Level of 5, but don’t play for a month, you’ll come back and have a low Endorsement Level, even though you may still be the fantastic team player that you were when you took a break or before you got busy with another game. This has both positive and negative consequences. But even apart from that, the Endorsement system doesn’t provide anything functional. All it does is show you an Endorsement Level. There’s no penalty for being low-rated in Endorsements. You can’t avoid low-endorsed players. You can’t choose to play with highly-endorsed players. And Blizzard doesn’t do anything with the system other than let it exist. Other games and their developers within the genres have multiple vehicles by which they combat toxicity in the community, but Blizzard again chooses to not implement a basic and necessary component of FPS and MOBA games in Overwatch. But managing toxicity isn’t the only place Blizzard has grown complacent or cold-shouldered.

“In year one, we were always talking about who the new characters are that are coming out…the maps were being introduced…they had comics and animations dropping left and right. Then they put all of their effort into OWL (Overwatch League) and now it feels like the non-competitive players have been left behind.” Caleb explained his frustrations with the apparent lack of drive Blizzard has to maintain their game. “I was a constant player since the game’s release and really stopped playing like only a month ago. When you guys [our team] ask me if I want to play Overwatch, I usually am more down to chill in chat with you to hang out rather than to actually play the game.”

Lexi shares the same view as Caleb, she explains: “The biggest problem with Overwatch is that it is getting left behind by its creators while they work on other things. They don’t hype [the game] up as much as they once did or create the new content within the game that was keeping it fresh for the die-hard fans.” Additionally, she mentioned how the issue with Blizzard ignoring Overwatch post-OWL was exacerbated by the announcement and development of Overwatch 2–the campaign/PvE sister-game to Overwatch.

The lack of attention Blizzard has paid to the actual issues in the game is echoed by many, many players in the player base. Jess, my original Overwatch buddy, said “I wish we got a more consistent hero release schedule.” I myself have felt the same way. Initially, the game had a lot of content getting released–both in game and in other canon materials as well such as comic books and animated shorts that really sucked the player into the universe of Overwatch. But that died out quickly. With the introduction of the E-sports format of the game–Overwatch League–the non-professional format of the game fell by the wayside as changes became catered to the professional players and Blizzard focused more on monetizing OWL, rather than keeping their largest player base happy. Hero releases seem intermittent and just whenever Blizzard can squeeze one in or when the pros complain about having not had another hero added. Map releases, the same. Community morale? At this point, it’s questionable whether Blizzard understand what that is.

Constant Crippling Changes

Like just about any other multiplayer game, character balancing is important and Blizzard attempts to maintain the balance of the game, though most would agree that they fail spectacularly to do so.

“I’m really not a fan of the drastic changes they make when doing patches,” Albert said. “Ultimately, [it] seems to favor the DPS side of things. DPS have a difficult time with double shield and bunker (two popular team compositions), so they nerf the tanks and shields and utility to better compensate for the DPS’ ability.”

I have to agree with this as well, since the changes Blizzard makes to the game’s heroes are constant, and rarely benefit the game. Seriously, I wonder if anybody at Blizzard ever actually plays the game they develop.

There was a period of time when every game you played, each team would have a Reaper, and they’d go the whole game without dying, and would likely have play of the game as well. Following a string of buffs to Reaper, he just couldn’t die. He was too strong. The same thing has happened with many characters, and to some but in reverse. Just within the past year, a newer hero on the roster, Brigitte (I linked the pronunciation, since most players say it completely different), got absolutely nerfed into the ground to the point where she was nearly unplayable. This is a common theme in the game and the end doesn’t appear to be in sight.

It would be great if Blizzard could figure out their hero roster and balance it to the point where you could play mostly any combination of characters (within the constraints of role queue, of course) and have a valid chance at winning. But right now, that’s not the case. It too much pushes the unintended development of a meta in the game.

Maddening Metas

“But the meta right now is…”

“Oh, but they’re not part of the meta right now…”

“Well since our supports don’t want to play the meta I guess we’ll lose…”

Do these sound like stupid statements? Congratulations, you’re an intelligent human being. The situation with metas in Overwatch is just as maddeningly stupid and it sounds. Because Blizzard cannot balance their hero roster and continually cripple various characters while making other characters god-like, unintentional team combinations become the most powerful–and sometimes, the only way to win.

Here is just a sampling of metas from the past couple of years:

  • Classic Death Ball
  • Classic Dive
  • The President
  • Pick Comp
  • 2-3-1
  • Classic Anti-Dive
  • Beyblade
  • G.O.A.T.S
  • Triple-DPS Dive
  • Quad-Tank
  • Nanovisor
  • Nanoblade
  • SaaS (Somba-as-a-Support)
  • Phar-Mercy Dive
  • New Anti-Dive
  • Pulled Pork (Orisa-Hog)
  • Pirate Ship
  • Disruption Dive

And the list goes on (Milella, n.d.). There is a mind-numbing amount to learn about metas in Overwatch, and unfortunately, its something that players are inadvertently required to learn in order to win matches. This can be quite daunting for new players, and monotonous for all players.

Overwatch Ongoing

So what is in store for the future of Overwatch? Many say that it is already a dead game, and we are inclined to agree, though it still maintains more than 700k players online at any given time (PlayerCounter, 2020). “They say it’s a dead game,” Caleb says, “which super sucks because I love this game.” If Blizzard wants to stop bleeding players and maintain the playerbase’s interest in the game, some changes are going to be necessary. I have a few recommendations that I feel would help the game improve, but they are simply my opinions so take them with a grain of salt–or an entire salt shaker, if you prefer.

Suggestion: Rename “Competitive Play” to “Ranked Play”

Come on, guys. Nearly every other game out there with a competitive mode calls it ranked. Competitive isn’t a game mode. It is an attitude with which a player plays the game. What is the game doing when the players play that mode? Right now, it feels like it’s competing with them–hence the earlier discussed painful grind to climb in rank. What does Blizzard say the game is doing in that mode? Ranking players via Skill Rating. Let’s get with the program, guys.

Suggestion: Add “Unranked Play”

After changing the name of Competitive Play to Ranked Play, Blizzard should also introduce Unranked Play. This mode would have the same rules, mechanics, and environment as Ranked, but without the actual Skill Rating mechanic. This would allow players to play and practice the Ranked game mode without penalty to their Skill Rating, offering a great training solution for Ranked players and casual players alike. Of course, Quick Play could still be kept, either retaining its Quick Play moniker or changing to Casual Play. These concepts aren’t outlandish by any means, as this is a fairly standard format for many online multiplayer games.

Bringing it All Together

Alright. It’s time to step off the soapbox. As I said in the introduction to this article, I love Overwatch. Despite it’s many, many flaws and the frustration that it causes myself and the rest of our team, it has the potential to be an amazing game. It has brought many hundreds of hours of enjoyment, entertainment, and bonding for myself, my wife, and our friends. Overwatch still has a fairly dedicated playerbase, even if it is smaller than previously, and there are plenty of things Blizzard could still do to really polish the game into an enjoyable FPS/MOBA hybrid. While we may not be playing it heavily right now due to being a bit down-in-the-dumps about the state of the game, we continue to hope for a bright and shiny fifth year of the game.

Have you played Overwatch? What are your favorite things about it? What your frustrations? Suggestions? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!


Additional Reading

Fandom (n.d.). Endorsements. Overwatch Wiki. https://overwatch.fandom.com/wiki/Endorsements

Grubb, J. (2017). With $1 billion in revenue, Overwatch is Blizzard’s fastest-growing franchise. VentureBeat. https://venturebeat.com/2017/05/04/with-1-billion-in-revenue-overwatch-is-blizzards-fastest-growing-franchise/

GamePedia (2020). List of maps by release date. Overwatch Wiki. https://overwatch.gamepedia.com/List_of_maps_by_release_date#:~:text=There%20were%20originally%2012%20maps%20at%20the%20launch,Since%20then%2C%209%20additional%20maps%20have%20been%20added.

Milella, V. (n.d.). All Overwatch Pro Team Compositions in Each Meta. EsportsTales. https://www.esportstales.com/overwatch/all-pro-team-compositions-in-each-meta#:~:text=%20All%20Overwatch%20Pro%20Team%20Compositions%20in%20each,Doomfist%E2%80%99s%20high%20burst%20damage%2C%20this%20composition…%20More%20

PlayerCounter (2020). Overwatch Live Player Count. https://playercounter.com/overwatch/


Griffeth Barker is a casual gamer who has been playing Overwatch since release both independently, casually with friends, and semi-competitively with a local team. Direct quotations from team members in this article were used with express permission from those respective team members. Statements made in this blog article are the personal opinions of various individuals regarding the game Overwatch and do not reflect the opinions or positions of any company or other organization with which the team members are affilated.

Deck Build – Inalla, Archmage Ritualist (EDH)

Introduction

After having played Magic: the Gathering in the EDH/Commander format for several years and having a blast with my Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder deck that spawns a bunch of Eldrazi, I decided to branch off and get myself a second deck to play with our group. I had had an Inalla pre-con deck that had been laying around for quite a while since it wass very underwhelming. This deck ended up being influenced by and based on the Commander’s Quarters budget deck tech for Inalla, Archmage Ritualist.

Inalla, Archmage Ritualist Card
Inalla, Archmage Ritualist

Inalla has a sort of unique Commander ability since it may be activated without actually having to play her and it is actually quite powerful. As long as you have (1) mana, you effectively “get haste” on “every creature” you play, since the token copy can tap and/or attack immediately instead of waiting a turn for summoning sickness to wear off. Additionally, if you have ETBs (enters-the-battlefield triggers), these can be multipled using this ability. Should you choose to play Inalla, a 4/5 isn’t huge, but it isn’t anything to disregard either. Here is my working deck list.

Win Condition(s)

Obviously the objective is to win, so how do I accomplish that with Inalla? There are a couple of ways to build around Inalla’s Eminence ability, including bouce and blink. Alternatively, I decided to go Wizard Tribal + flicker/blink , since Wizards are a pretty strong group, and flickering and blinking the Wizards will provide as much value as possible from the creatures’ triggers and abilities.

There are a ton of Wizards that have ETBs that we can abuse using Inalla’s Eminence ability. And not only that, but Wizards are quite easy to combo off of as well.

In one instance, assuming we have the necessary mana, if we have Anathamancer in our hand we can play it, create a token copy with Inalla’s Eminance ability, then use things like Siren’s Ruse, Into the Roil, Illusionist’s Strategem, Ghostly Flicker, Essence Flux, or Displaceto flicker or blink it away and back in. When it re-enters, we can pay the (1) again to create yet another token copy of it. If you opponents have a decent number of nonbasic lands, this can deal a lot of damage quite easily.

Other situations let you go infinite or close to infinite, such as Archaeomancer and any flicker, coupled with the Wizards of your choice with a good ETB triggers.

Additionally, if you’re leading in life total, copying and flickering Dire Fleet Ravager can run the rest of the table down quickly while you’re ahead.

There are also other fun cards such as Lighthouse Chronologist that will let you take a bunch of extra turns.

Deck Specs

Colors: Grixis (Blue/Black/Red)

Commanders: 1 | Planeswalkers: 0 | Creatures: 42

Enchantments: 0 | Artifacts: 13 | Sorceries: 0 | Instants: 10

Lands: 34

Mana Curve (Average CMC): 3.26

Why Inalla?

InallaArchmage Ritualist is a legendary human wizard from an unknown plane.

Inalla is a masterful wizard whose quest for power led her to probe the depths of the darkest sorcery. She concealed her arcane practice from the elders of her conclave, impressing them with her talent and working her way up to the position of archmage, an ascent aided by the forcible removal of anyone who stood in her way.

As Archmage, Inalla devised an inner council, ostensibly to protect the conclave from external threats, but in truth to act as a dark wizards’ circle where she could teach forbidden magic. Her machinations hint at her greater plan to augment her power and influence.

(GamePedia, 2019)

Okay, so when I picked up Inalla, I honestly thought it was a different deck. Some friends had introduced me to Commander a long while back and I had borrowed one of their blue/red spell slinger decks and had a blast. I thought this was it, but was definitely wrong. Playing the pre-con deck, it felt really underwhelming and it performed poorly. I ended up setting it to the side and not touching it for the better part of 6 months. But I eventually picked it up again when I wanted a second commander deck. Grixis has become one of my favorite color combinations. Also, being less experienced at the game format, I am often shy to get my commander out because I feel like it’ll just get targeted. Well, Inalla solved that problem for me at the time. The ability to use Eminence from the Command Zone is hugely valuable and works well for the way this deck plays. Beyond that, I like the concept behind Inalla, as well as the card art, and for those reasons I ended up putting this together. After quite a bit of play with our group, this deck has perfomed well consistently. I’ll have some tweaks and upgrades to it in the future, but for now she does the trick.


Additional Reading

Inalla, Archmage Ritualist – EDHrec

Inalla – MTG Wiki on GamePedia

Got lore on Inalla? Post in in a comment below!

Deck Build – Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle (EDH)

Introduction

Magic: the Gathering. I’ve been playing MTG for about 5-6 years now and particularly love the EDH (“Commander”) format. My first EDH deck was built for my by a close friend, Preston. A lot of time and love went into that deck and I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. In the past year, I’ve been wanting to build more decks myself and see what I could do. Most recently, I built a new Commander deck from scratch (without basing it off an existing deck list), with Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle at the head.

Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle Card
Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle Card

The card shown above is fairly self-explanatory. Arixmethes is a legendary Kraken that is not a creature when it enters the battlefield–but a land, due to the slumber counters on it. While Arixmethes sleeps, it only taps to produce {G}{U} mana. But once all slumber counters have been removed from the card, the Isle awakes and becomes a 12/12 Kraken that also still taps for the aforementioned mana. At a converted mana cost of only four–two of which are colorless–Arixmethes is a great ramp spell in the beginning of the game, and a great finishing move at any point thereafter. Here’s my working decklist.

Win Condition(s)

The goal is obviously to win. But how does Arixmethes do that in this deck? A common theme to build around the sleepy island is an army of huge sea creatures featuring Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses, and Serpents. Other flavors include bounce, Merfolk tribal, +1/+1 counters, lands, X spells, and Keruga companion. But I chose the one other route: cantrips.

A cantrip, in Magic: the Gathering, is a (often low-cost) spell that in addition to any other effect, makes you draw a card. So what’s the goal here?

The deck is loaded with ramp and bonus mana. From things like Mox Diamond and Llanowar Elves which can give you that early mana edge to land finders like Cultivate and many more, there are tons of ways to search your library and put 1-3 lands into play–sometimes untapped! Things like Burgeoning let you continue to ramp during other players’ turns. With each spell that is cast to accomplish this while drawing an extra card, you can continuously roll down those slumber counters on Arixmethes, leaving it at 1 counter until you are in a position to strike.

At 12/12, you only need hit an opponent during two combat phases (or one, if you have doublestrike, though I don’t have that in the deck currently) to kill them with Commander Damage in excess of the 21 threshold. Equip Arixmethes with Whispersilk Cloak and enjoy your win.

Though that can’t be the only win con, and it isn’t. There is also a balance of sea creatures available for summon as well including Krakens and Leviathans. While waiting to get these out or make Arixmethes unblockable, a host of counterspells, boardwipes, and other spells fill The 99.

Deck Specs

Take these specs with a grain of salt. I am still refining this deck. In the next week, I’ll be adding approximately 6 more lands in place of 6 other nonland cards and balancing mana color production to mana costs. Additionally, I will likely add Cyclonic Rift and a couple of other cards as well.

Colors: Simic (Green/Blue)

Commanders: 1 | Planeswalkers: 1 | Creatures: 20

Enchantments: 6 | Artifacts: 9 | Sorceries: 14 | Instants: 19

Lands: 30

Mana Curve (Average CMC): 2.40

Why Arixmethes?

So why, of all the commanders out there, would I choose Arixmethes? Well–for one–I think concept of a sleeping island is humorous, but also ominous and mysterious. I’ve always liked the mysterious. From a lore standpoint, Arixmethes is just as mysterious as the name implies; we know very little about the Kraken-island and its history. Obscure legends say that Arixmethes was a major polis that once existed on Theros, and that Heliod smote this coastal city with Khrusor and cast [it] into the sea. In fact, Arixmethes is a massive Kraken with the entire city built upon it… (GamePedia, 2020).

In brief summary, Arixmethes is indeed the legendary lost city/island that Kiora came looking for and to claim during the events of the Theros block and the novel Godsend. Seeking the greatest denizens of the seas of many words, she posed as the navigator Callaphe and boarded “her” recovered ship the Monsoon and sailed to find Arixmethes:

Kiora’s heart pounded as the prow of the Monsoon came to rest at the edge of a vast and ruined city. The surface did a fine impression of land, if you didn’t look too hard, but it was too dark, too rubbery. She frowned at the ornate buildings dripping seawater, clinging to this great curved surface like barnacles. How could anyone mistake the great kraken Arixmethes for an island?

The human, Elspeth, asked something about Kruphix’s temple, and the cat-man answered her, but Kiora wasn’t listening. Finally!

“Welcome to Arixmethes!” she cried, leaping off the ship and onto the soft, pliable surface. “The sunken ruins! At last, I’ve found him.”

“Him?” asked Elspeth. They still didn’t understand. But she and the leonin, Ajani, stayed on the Monsoon just the same.

“You’re not Callaphe, are you?” asked Ajani.

“Not even close,” Kiora replied, smiling back at him.

(Digges, 2015)

Kiora and Thassa would fight for control of the legendary, lost city-creature, during which Kiora reached out to Arixmethes, begging for help with Thassa, acknowledging that Arixmethes was not Thassa’s–nor hers– to control, but it’s own. Though Arixmethes did not answer to either Thassa nor Kiora, and the two continued to battle in vain. In the end, while Thassa arguably won out by injuring Kiora and forcing her to flee, Kiora managed to snatch Thassa’s Bident and disappear. To be on flavor, Arixmethes, Kiora, Thassa, and Thassa’s Bident are all in this deck along with a host of sea-related spells such as Whelming Wave, Displacement Wave, and others.

While we know quite a bit about this battle and Kiora’s time on Theros from the novellas and other lore, we know relatively little of the history of Arixmethes himself. And there’s just something to that which I can’t ignore.


Additional Reading

“Drop for Drop,” Kelly Digges, Wizards of the Coast

Arixmethes – GamePedia MTG Wiki

Arixmethes, Slumber Isle on EDHrec

Launcher Lawlessness

Think back to 2005. You pop your Star Wars Battlefront II–or Age of Empires III, or Medal of Honor, et certa–disc into your PC and start to play. Ah, those were the days of simplicity! But no longer.

Popular Launchers (Source: Google Images)

It is now 2019 and many of the most popular PC games are accessible via game launchers. Some of the most widely-known launchers are:

  • Steam
  • Epic
  • Blizzard (formerly Battle.net)
  • EA Origin
  • GOG

Even Minecraft has its own launcher these days. Steam is the most comprehensive launcher with more than 780 million games available for purchase/download (according to Forbes in 2014). Some launchers host their own developers’ exclusives (such as Blizzard and their World of Warcraft or EA’s Origin and the Battlefield games), while others host a wide variety of games from many developers and studios–GOG and Steam are examples of this.

Overall, these launchers can be helpful because of the easy updates, information, and access they provide. However, launchers come with a dark side, too. With the advent of the internet and big data, information has become a currency; much like actual money, people go through great lengths to protect their information. Online privacy is an increasingly hot-button topic and the intersection of information security and game launchers has the gaming community fired up.

In 2014, EA’s Origin launcher was accused of snooping around personal files and system processes unrelated to its application. Usman Pirzada wrote an article which summarized the concern adequately (you can find it here). While EA claims to have addressed the concern, and many gamers concur, there are still reddit threads and other question out on the web years later asking “is Origin still snooping?”

More recently, Epic games has come under fire for supposed evidence of their launcher snooping around users’ systems–particularly in personal directories such as your Steam library–where it has no business snooping. u/notte_m_portent on reddit explained the concerns nicely in their post. Several knowledgeable commenters laid several of the concerns to rest, while others remained questioned.

u/SmileyBarry explains:

EGS isn’t trying to access DLLs in Fiddler directly. Fiddler adds its installation folder to your %PATH% variable on-installation (so you could run it by just typing “fiddler”). When you load a DLL by-name and not by-path (which seems to be the case since it looks like an import table entry, which are only by-name), Windows goes through all the folders in your %PATH% looking for the file you named. Fiddler was one of those folders.
As someone else said, “tracking.js” looks like some analytics library like almost everyone uses. The embedded store itself is probably a web frame that uses analytics because their web development department (like all of them) wanted to.
Reading about your root certs, IE COM classes, IE cookie folders, and other IE-related things are all part of WinHTTP. (and ironically why you can even MITM it with Fiddler, since if it used some standalone HTTP library like libcurl it wouldn’t accept your new root CA) That happens automatically when you create a session or connection and isn’t Epic’s doing, nor is it malicious.
The hardware survey bit is a little privacy-invasive but it’s probably the same hardware spec gathering that AAA game devs already do without asking you (it’s in the EULA), Steam is more of an outlier here.
EGS talking to itself is just standard IPC practice: some apps use localhost sockets (a common Linux practice), some apps uses pipes, etc.

https://www.reddit.com/r/PhoenixPoint/comments/b0rxdq/epic_game_store_spyware_tracking_and_you/eik0h76?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x

While the technical side of the software and its interactions with the operating system and user files can largely be explained, other behaviors are left questioned with no logical explanation, as u/jhartikainen put:

I was looking at this first “oh God not one of these threads again.” A lot of registry access, DLLs, browsers, can be fairly normal because the launcher uses a browser to display stuff, etc. so it might need to load [stuff].
But it actually looks shady now that I looked into it.
I noticed that for some reason it looks up a lot of stuff in my Steam directory. What possible reason does it have for this?
I don’t fully buy the anticheat idea. It does this stuff just when you start the epic games launcher. Why would just that trigger an anticheat?
I looked at the network traffic quickly and at least it doesn’t seem to be doing anything dodgy there… so who knows what’s up with this.

https://www.reddit.com/r/PhoenixPoint/comments/b0rxdq/epic_game_store_spyware_tracking_and_you/eihnqjy?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x

Daniel Vogel, VP of Engineering at Epic Games made a statement in response to redditors’ concerns just this past month, stating;

The launcher scans your active processes to prevent updating games that are currently running. This information is not sent to Epic.
We only import your Steam friends with your explicit permission. The launcher makes an encrypted local copy of your localconfig.vdf Steam file. However information from this file is only sent to Epic if you choose to import your Steam friends, and then only hashed ids of your friends are sent and no other information from the file.

https://techraptor.net/content/epic-games-responds-to-allegations-of-tracking-steam-data-with-epic-games-launcher

While that sounds comforting and all, some investigation by Madjoki shows that the launcher searches for Steam installs then proceeds to get a list of files in your Steam cloud. The files contain lists of your friends and games that you’ve played (including how long you’ve played them). With a little digging, you can find this data within the Epic launcher files. Strange.

Simply because EA and Epic have been called out for these concerns, does not mean that gamers should not have the same concerns with other launchers–Steam included. With less-than-adequate evidence on each side of the argument and a lot of A-said-B-said, this topic isn’t going away any time soon. It’s in gamers’ best interest to stay up-to-date on the issues, carefully read the End User License Agreement (EULA) and Terms of Service (ToS) for all games and services they use, as well as have an understanding of what data is on their computers and what can access it.

What are your concerns with launcher privacy issues? What are your thoughts on the “if you don’t like it, don’t play” mentality? I look forward to hearing from you. We’ll see each other next time!

Game on,

~ Griff

 

Stardew Valley–A Relaxing Escape from Reality

Stardew Valley is a fantastically executed simulation role-playing game that is available on PC, Nintento Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and more. Developed by Eric Barone (ConcernedApe), this charming and addicting time-sink relates to many people with its story and loose objectives….

Please note that the introductory story is included in this article. It does not contain plot spoilers, but if you wish to fully experience the game’s story first-hand, skip past the second image.

Stardew Valley is a fantastically executed simulation role-playing game that is available on PC, Nintento Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and more. Developed by Eric Barone (ConcernedApe), this charming and addicting time-sink relates to many people with its story and loose objectives.

The game opens with scenes of your character plugging away at a corporate cubicle job where corporate watches closely over the employees via security cameras. What a dreary scene! Your grandfather passes away and you inherit his cabin/farm. The game has you select what type of farm (sort of like a biome) you want, and then name and design your character.

Your starting farm house is shabby, and your land is barren. Through the instruction and assistance of the lovely town members, you can get started on your farm. The game itself is not particularly difficult. Many have said that it is easy to learn, but hard to master.

One of my early farms, and not a very good one, at that.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the game is that you can mindlessly gather, mine, fish, explore, and expand, or you can take a more active approach and complete the quests offered by the townsfolk. The game can really be what you want it to be. You can even build a relationship and get married later in the game.

The graphics are 2d, top-down in the pixel style and absolutely gorgeous. Music is appropriately matched, quite pleasant, and catchy.

You can create multiple characters/farms, and load your progress from those games. Co-op functionality was also recently implemented.

Beyond a fantastic game, ConcernedApe is perhaps one of the most community-oriented and responsive developers I have ever witnessed. His support and care for his game and players is unmatched.

Last week I spent 16 hours playing on PC, and another 4 on Switch. And that is a bit low by comparison to when I really play the game. But it is easily a game where you can play as much or as little as you like.

Stardew Valley is truly a jewel of a game, and at $14.99, you really can’t go wrong with this fantastic adventure.

Have you played Stardew Valley? What do you like about it? What do you dislike? Let me know in the comments! We’ll see each other next time.

Happy farming,

~ Griff