The Worst Part of the New Advanced Warfare DLC

Advanced Warfare CoverNext Tuesday marks the release of the third DLC pack for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – the Supremacy pack. As has become rather typical with the Call of Duty DLC packs, there’s a remake of a classic map from the series. In this pack, it’s a remake of Highrise – one of the better Modern Warfare 2 maps – called Skyrise. Normally, I would be all over a remake of Highrise – it was one of my favorite maps from Modern Warfare 2, mainly because it played super fast, in just about every game mode. However, I really am worried about this one more so than some of the other remakes.

Advanced Warfare Supremacy

When Advanced Warfare launched, it came with the Atlas Gorge map – a remake of Modern Warfare‘s Pipeline. While Atlas Gorge plays pretty well, it really is a completely different map from Pipeline now. The addition of the Exo-abilities has completely altered the flow of a map that, frankly, needed the change. Pipeline tended to be rather slow – with snipers locking down routes, and stealth classes holding down the buildings. The speed of Advanced Warfare changes that – sniping is a dangerous proposition, just because players can quickly get on your flanks; while heavy weapons become viable now. But I think that Sledgehammer Games took note of just how much a classic map changed by putting it into the new game.

Advanced Warfare Skyrise

I think that you can kind of see that with the DLC offerings so far. It’s become a pretty typical Call of Duty trademark with the DLC to offer one remake map per pack. Skyrise is the first (not including Atlas Gorge) remake to appear in Advanced Warfare. Supremacy is the third DLC pack for Advanced Warfare, with only one more pack to come before we start moving on to Black Ops III. I wonder if this is going to be the nature of the beast for a little while, as the new CoD titles mix up the formula more and more. What could end up being the big factor is how well Skyrise performs. If it plays well – which is far from a guarantee – we could see more remakes of classic maps. If not, we might have to wait for AW/BOIII maps to become “classic” for remakes; depending of course on the mechanics of the games moving forward.

I say that Skyrise might be the determining factor because it really could end up illustrating just how the new mechanics work with older maps. Highrise was a fast, intense experience, revolving around strategic points that allowed you to control the map. The helipad, keeping an eye on the crane (and subsequent sniping perches reached from there), the tunnels under the helipad, and the elevator path all saw a ton of action. My concern with Skyrise is that with the new Exo-abilities, all of those strategic points kinda go out the window. The helipad now will be reachable from any angle – not just the stairwells. The crane and routes from the crane could end up no longer being needed to get to the balcony sniping perches/rooftop. If the changes make it play well, but in a different way – that’s a success. If the community still tries to play it like Highrise and it doesn’t quite work – that’s not.

Will Skyrise be the ultimate decider for remake maps? Probably not. Activision knows all too well that the Call of Duty community is super dedicated – especially to the older games. What will probably matter more is what maps they decide to pick for remaking. But as the games get farther and farther away from the standard CoD formula, the maps will need more and more tweaking to keep them feeling familiar while still playing well. Skyrise is a big step, but it’s not the last one.

The Dark Side to New Content

DestinyOver the last week, I’ve really been keeping my eyes on the Destiny sub-reddit, both because I like seeing the thoughts of the community on the new content, and also because I know there are people over there who know way more about Destiny than I do. I would say that in general the response has been positive from the community, but over the last couple days, especially after the weekly reset, I have noticed an increased trend in the number of complaining posts. Generally it’s about the new Treasure Keys – the good vibes on farming the chests from a couple weeks ago are all but gone now. Instead, they’ve been replaced with players clamoring for easier and easier access to them.

Those are clearly the minority opinion, but it is vocal, and that can make it hard to ignore. Is the new Treasure Key mechanic perfect? Not at all – I do feel that their drop rate is a little low for what essentially is a roll of the RNG wheel. But making them available for sale from Xur or the Speaker for Strange Coins/Motes of Light is insane. Those two currencies lost any value with House of Wolves – they’re far too easy to obtain now with Nightfall/Heroic/Daily/PoE/ToO/and so on and so forth. I did like the idea of turning in one each of the new Tokens for one Key – only because they have similar drop rates and require farming anyway.

Destiny Treasure Keys

To me though, the influx of posts about the Keys really shows a deeper problem. It’s all too common in player communities these days to get a little whiny whenever changes are made that aren’t exactly to their specifications. The sense of accomplishment for finishing the new activities is lost on some of the more jaded members. It’s the same problem with those players spamming “Max level, must have max GHorn” posts on the LFG sites. There is a section of the community that’s really quite spoiled and entitled. The problem is that with new content, whether it’s House of Wolves, or Call of Duty maps, is that it emboldens that behavior. It’s not indicative of the whole community, but with sub-reddits and forums, they can be hard to ignore. Just keep your own playstyle strong and make sure you don’t take short cuts and any game can be tons of fun.

Welcome to the New Grind in Destiny

DestinyI mentioned yesterday that I wanted to talk about the new grind that I’m seeing in Destiny since House of Wolves launched last week. For new players, that grind is much, much easier now than it was at launch. I’m talking of course about that post-level 20 search for gear with high levels of Light. In the old days, thanks to poor drop rates, and a more limited selection of gear, that search was very much a grind. Now, it’s a bit simpler, but there’s still a grind to be had.

With both The Dark Below and House of Wolves, there are many more paths to high level gear, especially now that legendary items drop more frequently. However, at the core of the new grind is the new Prison of Elders, and Treasure Keys. Grinding the new Ether Chests that are part of the wanted bounty targets from Petra has both become the most effective way to try to get Treasure Keys – and by proxy, engrams. To me, the best place to grind them – after you’ve finished up the actual bounties – is Skywatch over in the Cosmodrome. The Wolf there is a Servitor, so shields aren’t an issue, which makes it a pretty easy finish. But the real benefit is that the chests only spawn in a couple places, which makes it easy to spot them quickly. After you find it, Skywatch is also the easiest place to take advantage of the multiple-looting exploit. It’s hard to say if the exploit will be patched – I’ve heard people say that because this takes place in public zones, killing the chest after one loot is a tricky proposition. Personally, I almost think that they intend to keep it, since Treasure Keys drop so infrequently. This little quirk is really why Skywatch is the best place – the zone borders are so close that you can transition back and forth really quickly. In most zones, I can almost always manage two lootings – sometimes three. With Skywatch, three is the low end – I’ve heard people manage to grab it five times depending on the spawn location.

Destiny Legendary Engram

While you’re out there grinding the chests, you’ll be getting tons of engrams – blue mainly, but probably a few purples too. Even without purples, you have a good chance to get legendary gear with the new decrypting algorithms. I don’t know the specifics, but it really does feel a lot more likely than it ever used to be. Then you take that new gear and dive into the Prison of Elders to try for even better gear. You’ll really be wanting to run the challenge level ones for the highest tier gear – the Fallen themed armor and weapons, through the armor and weapon cores. Ultimately that really means that for endgame players, we have a new option for the grind for gear – Nightfalls still have a ton of value; Heroics are good for materials; Vault of Glass and Crota’s End will probably always have value to play, thanks to their weapons; and now we have Prison of Elders.

Prison of Elders

If there’s one thing that Destiny really needed that House of Wolves delivered on, it was a reason to pull endgame players into Patrol mode other than the Vanguard bounties. With the new prowling wolves, as well as the new groups of static wolf spawns, Bungie has done that. Add in the better PvP rewards, and you can see why House of Wolves has made the grind easier, while also making it more varied and fun.

Destiny House of Wolves Wrap Up

DestinyAfter almost a full week messing around with Destiny‘s latest DLC, House of Wolves, I think I have a pretty good handle on what’s going on out there in the fight against the Darkness. So, in advance of the Weekly Reset early tomorrow morning, I thought we’d at a top-down look at the House of Wolves.

It’s no surprise that, for many, the biggest complaint with Destiny has been the lackluster story content. The first DLC, The Dark Below, really didn’t do a ton to change that impression. But with House of Wolves, while the same framework is in place, they manage to make it work – arguably for the first time in the life of the game. Even with no input from the player character (or his Ghost), there’s actually some structure to the missions that branches through the whole series. The real bright spot is in the voice work from Petra and Variks – more than just a quick blurb to set the mission, the two handlers remain engaged in the missions. They have more life behind them than Eris Morn did, and certainly more than your Ghost does. The writing feels more lively, what that’s due to I don’t know for sure, but if it’s a sign for the future, than we might see a true resurgence for Destiny.

Destiny House of Wolves

On the other side of the House of Wolves coin, we have the new endgame content. Bungie really looked at their player base for this aspect of the game I think. Previously, endgame content meant Vault of Glass or Crota’s End, and arguably Iron Banner.  With the Prison of Elders and Trials of Osiris, there’s a whole new way of looking at endgame. They’re a bit more versatile, thanks to being three-man instead of six-man. And they give PvP players a legitimate endgame option. What they really open up is the new grind – it’s not as important to run Nightfall/Weekly/Raid/Repeat now for shards and energy. Now it’s more about running Prison and Trials for Etheric Light and brand new gear. I want to talk a little bit more about that new grind tomorrow, so I’ll leave it here. Just know that running Prison of Elders, even at level 28 is absolutely worth it.

At the core of any Destiny experience is the gear you’re wearing and wielding. House of Wolves had to add in plenty of new gear to reach the new level cap of 34, or damage cap of 365, but more than that, there needed to be variety in the gear. One of my biggest qualms about the Light level system was that it pushed players towards uniformity. In order to be the highest level, you needed the raid gear – which made everyone look the same, barring whatever Exotic slot they went with. Now that any Legendary is a viable choice, I’ve already been seeing a lot more variation in the gear people are wearing. For my Titan, I’m really looking forward to getting rid of the Hive themed gear for something a little sleeker – perhaps the Vault gear. Weapon-wise, there are just so many new weapons to go for. Not only do all three Tower factions have new sets of weapons, as do the Vanguard and Crucible; but there’s two sets of endgame weapons for Prison of Elders and Trials of Osiris – AND on top of that, there are the Legendary Queen’s Wrath weapons, plus new Exotics. That’s a lot to keep in mind while you’re out there patrolling. Add in the new ability for the Gunsmith to reforge the new legendaries and the options expand even more. Finally, from a customization standpoint, there’s almost as many options. New Fallen House themed shaders, class armors and jumpships appear alongside Queen’s Wrath items as well.

At the end of the day, House of Wolves is exactly what Destiny needed. It breathes life into a game that was starting to get a little long in the tooth with new activities for any player. Casual players can enjoy the story missions, while hardcore PvE players have the Prison of Elders and PvP players have the Trials of Osiris. The new mechanics open up all kinds of new combinations of armor and weapons; along with new customization choices to really make your Guardian your own. If you’ve been waffling on House of Wolves, waiting a week to see it shape up, go grab it – it’s absolutely worth playing for any Destiny fan.

Weekly News Recap – Week of May 18, 2015

Relatively busy week this week – not just because of news, but we had two pretty important launches too.

Destiny House of Wolves

On Tuesday, Bungie released the second DLC expansion for Destiny – House of Wolves. I’ve been talking about it all week long here, so I won’t dwell on it too long today. I will say that according to this weeks Bungie Weekly Update, House of Wolves has been a pretty spectacular success at launch. There were more players online Tuesday than there was on Christmas, a typically heavy day with new players. That shows just how well Bungie has done with the build going into this, and hopefully the player count will stay high moving forward.

Witcher 3 Wild Hunt

The other big release this week was the third game in the well respected Witcher series: The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. All the early buzz around this game was that it’s an early favorite for Game of the Year. I picked it up yesterday – physical copy – so I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with it. I will say, I’m really glad I picked the physical copy up – it comes with an actual game manual, a compendium of the universe as well as a soundtrack and map for the game world. That’s not a Special Edition either, just the normal physical copy. That’s fantastic in this day and age.

In a somewhat surprising move to me, EA announced that Need for Speed will be rebooted in the fall. The surprising move isn’t so much that the series is getting a reboot, more so that they announced it this week. E3 is only a couple weeks away; this is a modern classic franchise that I think would have gotten a good reception had EA announced this during their press conference. That has me thinking in a whole bunch of directions – is it a weak start, so they don’t push it at E3? Or do they have a stacked E3 conference already, and needed to pull a game? Either way could be the case, and we’ll just have to wait and see.

Destiny House of Wolves – The Prison of Elders Initial Thoughts

DestinyI mentioned yesterday that I hadn’t run through the Prison of Elders, wanting to do it with my friends first. Well that plan kinda changed, I did play with friends yesterday, but it was more to finish the story content with them on my Hunter. After that was done though, I did run the level 28, matchmade, version of the Prison of Elders. I went with that option for a few reasons, not the least of which is that you have to play that option before the challenge modes are opened up. I also just wanted to get my feet wet before I really dove in, but in the end, I actually think that the level 28 version is pretty damn great.

Technically, you’ll be getting better rewards from doing the higher level challenge modes. The higher level ones are how you’ll get the Fallen themed armor and weapons that are light level 42, getting you to the new level cap. But that’s not to say that the matchmade version is worthless. In my short time I was able to get two legendary engrams, in addition to two legendary Queen’s Wrath weapons, as well as a new Icebreaker. And that’s just the gear – I got another Dark Below ship, as well as 10 Strange Coins and a couple Motes of Light and Glimmer drops. So from a pure loot grinding standpoint, going in with a treasure key is pretty worthwhile, regardless of what you’re looking for.

Prison of Elders

The matchmade version is also a lot easier to manage – you won’t need to try to get a fireteam together to load it up; plus joining in progress is possible, so you might get dropped in right at the end, speeding up your looting. It’s a bit less complicated, with modifiers only showing up in Rounds 2,3, and 4; as do the Critical Objectives. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy though – by the later rounds, you’ll be dealing with a lot of majors and ultras, and depending on the modifier you could be limited a bit. For example, I played one round last night – against Vex enemies – with the dampener modifier (majorly extended cooldowns on abilities.) I threw my lightning grenade in the first wave, and didn’t get it back until the very end of the round – the only way I was able to Fist of Havoc twice was because of some Orbs of Light on the ground. Granted that might change a bit depending on your intellect/strength/discipline levels, but still – it’s definitely going to impact how you play. That final round with the boss enemy is also somewhat complicated – not for any gameplay reason, just because the added enemies can get overwhelming quickly. It may say level 28, but I really think 30 is probably the low-end to complete it, just because of how many majors and ultras the later rounds have.

It’s hard to fully comment on the Prison of Elders, just because there’s still three different leveled activities to go through, but my immediate thoughts are really positive. I really think House of Wolves is the best thing to happen to Destiny since launch; both story and PvE activity-wise. Prison of Elders has plenty of replay value with it, if for no reason other than it’s fun and, at least the lower leveled mode, is faster than raiding. I think with House of Wolves, Bungie may have ensured that Destiny stays in my rotation through the summer.

Destiny House of Wolves – Story Impressions

DestinyYesterday was the launch of the second DLC expansion for Destiny, so I spent a good portion of time messing around with the story content that was added in to get ready for this post. I’ll get this out of the way first – House of Wolves is head and shoulders above Dark Below. It’s probably the best thing that Bungie has done with Destiny since opening up the Vault of Glass all those months ago.

Now, I haven’t really messed around with the Prison of Elders, nor the Trials of Osiris – my fireteam was scattered last night – but I did complete all the story content, including the new strike. My biggest issue with Destiny has always been the story – the framework is there for a masterpiece, and it just wasn’t quite executed right. Some of the same limitations are still present here with House of Wolves, but in general the new missions are much stronger across the board. Yes, you’re retreading old areas – although I did call the use of King’s Watch and the Juncture for story missions – and yes, the missions themselves don’t really vary beyond “go here, shoot bad guys, continue shooting bad guys, mission end;” but the new enemy types, the new weapons, and the new voice work is incredible and makes playing them fun. I’m actually looking forward to playing the missions multple times – not only across all three of my characters, but in the future for Daily Heroic missions and bounties.

Destiny House of Wolves

The new mission specific areas run the gamut from tried and true – including the very beginning of the game outside of the Breach – to pretty spectacular new vistas, especially the final story mission on Venus. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it really does look unlike any other mission in the game. My favorite part though has to be a mid-phase mission that actually brings you into the Vault of Glass to track Skolas down. Seeing the Vault in a mission get used, not just for the raid is super cool to me – it shows Bungie doing some new thinking here. And at the end of the day, really bodes well for the future of Destiny.

In terms of new gear, each vendor has a full new set of armor, that will get you at level 32 right away, then all you’ll need is Etheric Light to get to 34. The new weapons look interesting, with cool new perks as well as new designs for the guns – in particular I love the new look of the Vanguard sniper rifle. There are new class armor choices for each faction as well that, to me, look better than the last set did. The actual new gear – the Prison of Elders and Trials of Osiris – looks really cool, at least the pieces I can see without diving in. In particular I like the new auto rifles – the Fallen one looks cool – but it’s more because they actually have different stats than just max RoF and min Impact. It makes auto rifles a viable option across the board again.

Destiny Vestian Dynasty

That said, of all the new gear that I actually got my hands on yesterday, far and away the coolest thing was the Vestian Dynasty. It’s the first example of the new sidearm style special weapon – essentially a pistol. It’s not quite a hand cannon – with a 15 shot magazine and higher RoF and lower Impact – and really fills a role that I think is closer to a pulse/scout rifle combo. It’s not super accurate at longer ranges, but at mid ranges, it actually melts enemies pretty damn well. Sure, it’s tailored to fight Fallen, but I actually think it will end up being a go-to special weapon in the Crucible. It gives you more range than a shotgun, more flexibility than a fusion rifle at the same range, and is easier to use a close range than a sniper. Since it’s only a Legendary tier, it also frees up your Exotic slot for a different pick – Vex, Thorn, Last Word, Red Death or G-Horn all come to mind.

After a day playing the new stuff I really have a great feeling with House of Wolves. It’s a major step-up from Dark Below, and I think is a big step in the right direction moving forward. There’s definitely more coming with Destiny – odds are on a fall release that acts as a major expansion – and this is a great primer for what we could see. The new content is fun, stronger on the whole than the previous expansion, and I think appeals to both casual and hardcore players. If you maybe had bowed out of Destiny grinding, I actually really recommend diving back in. The grind is nowhere near where it used to be, and I think you’ll find the fun again.

Destiny Queen’s Wrath Return Event – She’s Baaackk

DestinyOn Friday of last week Bungie rolled out the 1.2.0 patch for Destiny that included a number of the new features that will be part of House of Wolves. Now, not everything that’s part of House of Wolves is live right away, instead these two patches, after today’s 1.2.1 patch act a lot more like a soft launch for House of Wolves.

The big thing though was adding in a new faction vendor at the Tower – Petra Venj, the emissary for the Queen has returned. She last appeared on the Tower back in the fall when Bungie ran the ill-fated Queen’s Wrath event opposite the Iron Banner. This was very early in Destiny‘s life, so new players might not be familiar with the whole story. In the first run, Queen’s Wrath was nothing more than just a new set of bounties. It wasn’t nearly as in depth as it is this time – the bounty targets amounted to story characters that already existed, and didn’t really alter them in any way. In fact, her original set of bounties were closer to Fallen themed Vanguard bounties – similar to the Eris Morn bounties have been. They weren’t anything particularly engaging about them, and as a result they only appeared briefly.

Destiny Queen of the Reef

Bungie put the Queen’s Wrath back on the stove for a bit, and we’re getting to see the result of that extra time now before House of Wolves launches. Instead of just grinding Fallen kills, Petra now has a Wanted target – one new one each day within the weekly reset timer. Each target spawns in public zones, a lot like the Blades of Crota from Dark Below, just without the random bug that’s affecting them right now. It’s similar to a public event – the more people in the zone, the quicker the spawn. And you’ll want more people – the Pack of Wolves that spawns is level 30, and as the reinforcements show up, there are more majors and ultras. The final group will include the bounty target, also a level 30 enemy, but with boss level defense and resistances. They really need teamwork – whether with friends or the random guardians in the zone. It’s hard to really talk about the value in doing these bounties – you do get a special Ether Key locked Fallen chest that has pretty solid public zone gear after killing the target. But in terms of the bounties – it’s hard to know if the Queen’s Wrath rewards will be up there with Iron Banner ones, but it’s probably a good bet. It’s also tough to say if these will continue from the Tower, or if they’ll migrate to the Reef.

This new version of the Queen’s Wrath event is far and away a better experience than the original run. How much will continue on past Tuesday is still unsure, but I think it’s probably a safe bet that it will. Assuming that House of Wolves will add in something along the lines as Eris Morn’s inventory, this is probably the safe bet to fill that role. Tomorrow should be a pretty big flurry of info online – both here and on Twitter, from me and all the other Destiny players – so if you’re still enjoying the game, keep your eyes peeled tomorrow.

Weekly News Recap – Week of May 11, 2015

Busy week in news this week, on all points on the spectrum; from good to weird to exciting. Let’s dive in.

Konami Logo - Classic

I went with a whole article on this earlier on in the week, mainly because I still can’t wrap my head around the logic here. Konami, one of the longest gaming developing houses, is all but stopping console development. The future is super uncertain as to the details with how this will impact classic franchises, but it really looks more like they’ll be more inclined to appear on mobile platforms. It’s a cost-saving move, but at the same time it feels like it could be a risky venture, potentially alienating fans. We’ll see how this ends.

This week Microsoft announced their schedule for E3 week. On June 15, at 9:30 am PDT they’ll hold their press conference. If it’s anything like last year’s conference, I expect we’ll see a ton of games, including a couple heavy hitters, like the Gears of War leak from this week. They also announced a fan event on the 14th of June, for 500 fans in the LA area. E3 is starting to shape up, which is always an exciting part of the gaming year. This year could be a pretty intense show – I really think we’re going to see a lot of news and big reveals this year. It’s going to be fun.

Rock Band 4

Today at 3pm EDT Harmonix will show off the first gameplay footage of Rock Band 4 over on IGN. In advance of that show, they’ve announced the first six songs of the setlist. The first six hit some pretty varied genres – modern metal with Avenged Sevenfold’s “Hail to the King” (which should be a lot of fun to play), classic rock with Fleetwood Mac’s “You Make Loving Fun” and The Who’s “The Seeker,” and good ol’ 90’s rock with Spin Doctors “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” It’s a good mix, especially adding in the other two songs – The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” and Jack White’s “Lazaretto” – which has me thinking that the whole setlist is going to be a winner. Guitar Hero Live also shared a couple songs from their list, and with the exception of Skrillex, I think they also have a good start. It’s a good year for music games again.

Konami – What the Hell is Going On?

Konami Logo - ClassicIn a recent interview that wound up on NEOGAF and was google translated from Japanese, Konami outlined their new course of action. Now, I mention the path that the interview took to get here because I want to be clear that it’s got a pretty serious tint of internet to it. But the interview does look pretty legit, and if it is, boy, things took a turn quickly.

Konami is a developer that has a ton of longevity to their name. Going all the way back to the early days, Konami was responsible for Castlevania, Contra, Metal Gear and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; as well as giving us the most famous cheat code in gaming history. In more recent years they added Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill to their repertoire. Looking at those franchises, you would really be hard pressed to find a bad choice in the bunch. And yet they’ve all petered out in recent years, with Metal Gear Solid being the one to persist. Based around this interview, we have a more clear idea as to why.

Castlevania NES Title

Konami is also a developer with their hands in other jars. And we’re now seeing that their management sees those other outlets as more economically viable. Console and PC game development is more expensive than ever. With that as their rationale, Konami seems to be poised to jump headfirst into mobile gaming – perhaps to the extent of completely leaving consoles. There’s no denying mobile gaming has really evolved in the last few years. Look at the money that Angry Birds and Candy Crush have made. But to me, pulling out of consoles – an established market with devoted fans – to try out mobile is a really risky move. I think the core audience for Konami was always “hardcore” gamers – mobile is decidedly a casual market. I really worry about just how games like Castlevania, Contra and Metal Gear Solid translate to mobile – assuming that’s the plan. That’s also not looking at a purely mature game like Silent Hill – I really can’t see that series transitioning well to mobile.

Maybe I’m wrong and Konami has a solid plan to make these all work perfectly. And if that’s the case, that’s actually a great thing – it helps contribute to the maturity of mobile gaming. With other companies starting to push into that sphere more and more – like Nintendo and Square-Enix – that’s going to be the case. But at the same time, those other companies aren’t leaving their core audience – console gamers – and moving totally over. Konami is taking a big jump with this move – and leaving massive franchises potentially to die. There’s still a lot to wait and see happen, but I really do worry about the future of some classic gaming names.