The Division Beta Impressions

The DivisionYesterday marked the launch of the beta for The Division, and I dove in headfirst. It’s a game that I’ve been pretty excited about for a while now and as Ubisoft starts to share some of the nitty gritty details of the game, I do find myself getting more interested in it. So I was pretty excited to see just how the game is shaping up.

Let’s get the elephant out of the way first – the big comparison that has been thrown around all over the place is with Destiny. Both are co-op, shared world games, with RPG mechanics and a strong loot emphasis. Here’s the thing though, the games really couldn’t be more different. Destiny is first and foremost a shooter – the FPS mechanics are arguably the best out there now. The Division is first and foremost an RPG – everything is determined by the stats and numbers under the hood. In that way it’s a lot more like Borderlands than Destiny. Add in that it’s a third person cover based shooter and that’s really where I think the best comparison shows up. While it is easy to point at Destiny and Borderlands from the loot side of things, I really think the best game to compare with is Mass Effect. In particular the first game in the series, which I think had the strongest RPG elements.

And in that capacity, everything that The Division does works really well. Much like Mass Effect, combat from cover works perfectly fine. Blind-firing is a possibility, just a poor one. Moving from cover to cover is the best way to go about engagements, which is pretty easy with the constant tooltip for the controls (which I know can be turned off, but I think actually adds a little character to the game). The weapons all function much better when you’re in cover. The third person camera gives you a great overview of the entire action, and using the pulse ability to highlight enemies pairs really well with the third person action. In general the action actually feels really solid – once you get your head around that it’s an RPG and not a shooter, the combat makes a lot more sense. The movement and everything like that all feels really solid too. In truth, the biggest issues I have with the beta aren’t actually about gameplay. I’ve found a couple little graphical bugs that popped up, but really nothing terrible. My biggest complaint is that the player character isn’t voiced. In 2016, one of the biggest early releases of the year, will feature a silent protagonist. That boggles my mind. Since The Division clearly takes a lot of inspiration from Mass Effect, why not follow suit with the protagonist – give him/her a name, voice that name and let the player give him/her a first name. That way the story, which doesn’t seem too bad, has a little more immersion and impact.

All things considered, I think that the biggest problem I have with the beta is just that it’s really short. There are two actual missions, both of which are really short. The side missions and side encounters are also pretty short, which means hitting the level cap of 8 can be a bit grindy, honestly not that huge a deal. I think it’s designed to be a beta that people play for just a couple hours, get a good idea of how the full game will behave, and move on. Since the beta is only live until Sunday I think that’s probably a smart move. Sure you can go venture into the Dark Zone and get the best loot in the beta, and find out just how primal other people get when loot is on the line. But I do think that maybe a few other PvE activities would have been warranted. That said, it’s a fun beta – if you’re in it, load it up and play it for a bit. We do have to wait until March for the full game, which I hope means that they’ll fix a couple of the little things I’ve noticed pop up.

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Destiny Weekly Update/Rumor Thoughts

Destiny I was out of town last week when the new Bungie Weekly Update came out, the first since before Christmas. So while this is a little late, I do want to put down my thoughts on what we got out of Bungie and what we’re getting in Destiny in the coming months.

As I was reading the post, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this post was pre-scheduled for a while now. A lot of the issues that have been talked the most about in the community weren’t really addressed in the detail that I think we would have liked. The lag in the Crucible was barely mentioned in passing, despite being a pretty prevalent problem. The weapon meta is turning really stale again – Thorn, of all guns is popping up with regular frequency again. That wasn’t addressed at all. The lack of new PvE content, while less important than the community would have you believe, wasn’t addressed either. Instead we learned that, yes they tweaked the Crucible matchmaking to include a bit more skill-based matchmaking in secret. We learned that what the new February event is – Crimson Days – and that it’s a Crucible event built around Doubles. And we got the usual Bungie “we’re still working on a lot of different stuff that we’ll tell you about soon” catch-all that they’re really fond of.

Destiny Crimson Days

Here’s the problem with that – we had been waiting almost a full month with no communication from Bungie on the Destiny front. Really, all we wanted was a more direct post about the current state of the game, and what we could expect in February. Beyond that, I would have perfectly happy without the February event update last week – there’s still a January weekly update that it could have been a part of this week. The current game is a weird state of limbo, and this weekly update didn’t really do a whole lot to reassure me that Bungie is hard at work on new content to plug into the game quickly. I know that they’re hard at work at whatever Destiny 2 will be, and I know that the developer environment for Destiny is kinda rubbish, so new content is going to be a little sporadic. Couple that with the shift away from monolithic DLC to smaller event based content and you see why we’re a little impatient. The comparison is a little tenuous, but by this time into Year One, we already had The Dark Below launch – a new strike, three new Crucible maps and a whole Raid. Now it’s not a one-to-one comparison, again, but I don’t think that what we’ve gotten since The Taken King launched is really close – Festival of the Lost didn’t include any new content, just masks; and Sparrow Racing League really didn’t add in a whole bunch of new stuff either. With February’s Crimson Days being based around the Crucible I don’t exactly foresee a lot of new stuff coming to the game in terms of meaningful content.

Destiny Loot Cave

The other bit of Destiny news recently has come from the rumor mill. Yesterday morning there was a rumor that Bungie planned on making heavy ammo synths cost silver – aka real money. Both Activision and Bungie shot that down right away, and really, it shouldn’t have gained any traction at all. Bungie is in a really tight spot right now and a move like that would just kill any of the good feelings that the community has left. They’ve been very good with the microtransactions so far – sure the level boost does have gameplay bearing, but not in any meaningful end-game way. The other rumor came from Kotaku’s article about the current malaise surrounding the game. In the article they say that a source of theirs at Bungie has said that Destiny 2, in whatever shape it ends up, has been pushed back from September. Now of course, that game hasn’t even been announced yet so it really can’t be delayed. But the idea of Bungie pushing a major release back shouldn’t be a huge surprise if it is true. As much as Bungie likes to have annual launches – just about every Halo game they put out came out in November – I think they know that this is a big step for the future of the franchise. I would think that Bungie and Activision both want to make sure that whatever they call Destiny 2 really measures up. As important as The Taken King was, and the current plan of timed events is, the big release this fall was always going to be, perhaps, the key to this “ten-year” plan playing out. I’ve been saying this just about every Destiny post lately, but now more than ever, we really just have to wait a little longer and see what comes our way.

The Evolution of Nuketown

Black Ops 3

I’ve written a bunch here about the importance of map design in FPS games. Call of Duty: Black Ops III is no different. And Treyarch has one of the best designed maps in the franchise as a whole with Nuketown. It’s become the trademark Treyarch map – now that it’s appeared in every Black Ops game. While the basic layout and design hasn’t changed over the three variants, the details that make each map feel unique from each other are what really make the map as strong as it is. Treyarch has done a tremendous job of taking the updates in each game and making the new additions to Nuketown work with them. In the original, the mobility option comes from diving – so, you’ll see pieces of cover that are perfect to hero dive over. In Nuketown 2025, the scorestreaks and weapon balance was a lot different, and while diving was still the mobility option, it became a lot easier to defend the houses and really turned games more into map control and less about crazy action. Now though, with wall running and thrust jumps and slides, the map has again shifted and is way more about moving around and flanking and creating different sight lines.

Call of Duty Nuketown

Yes, if you’re playing Domination, there’s a pretty infamous head-glitch spot that really I think was a bad placement. But in general the game is less about holding down a house or side of the map and a lot more about controlling the middle and knowing your movement routes. Wallrunning can get you out of the side halls alive, and help you get around hard charging teams. The second floor windows are a lot easier to get into – no more mantling on a couple different pieces of decoration, you just thrust jump right in. That makes holding that second floor a lot more risky that it was in Black Ops II. That’s really what makes the map really special – it’s evolved with each iteration and each time it still remains one of the strongest maps in shooters in general. With the chaos moshpit playlist basically being Nuketown all the time, it comes up really often – and I am not sick of it at all. It’s a map that is pretty much perfect for completing any challenges in the game. It’s where I finished my Glitch double kills for Prophet. I finished my KSG gold camo on it as well.

Infinity Ward is putting out the Call of Duty this year – that’s just how the rotation is shaking out, which means we’re unlikely to see a Modern Warfare anniversary. In truth, we’re probably in for a Ghosts 2 this year – which I only bring up because Ghosts didn’t really have a signature map in it, despite the fact that Infinity Ward had a signature map with the Modern Warfare games – Crash. When we actually see the map list, that’s when we’ll learn if Infinity Ward thought any map in Ghosts was worth bringing forward. While it might not be Nuketown, it could still be a pretty damn solid map.

Can Destiny Weather This Storm?

The Taken King LogoI wrote last week about what I want to see out of Bungie for Destiny in 2016. However, over the last week or so, I’ve been seeing a lot of other, more immediate issues that have been showing up in the game. Crucible games have become plagued with even worse connections, along with some seriously confusing misadventure deaths. This week’s Nightfall opened up with a bug that didn’t spawn any enemies for the first section, then the door to the Ogre room was bugged and didn’t open until Bungie fixed it. Trials has been plagued by those Crucible issues, taking an activity that is supposed to be end-game level and turning it into a crapshoot. Even today, I’ve seen a bunch of people saying that PvE lobbies are disconnecting and having red-bar connections.

Normally that’s already a big deal for a game to have to overcome. But Destiny has been fighting an uphill battle, really since November, to remain relevant until Bungie unveils the next major step for the series. Spend just a couple minutes on pretty much any Destiny video over on YouTube and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a handful of “Destiny is dead” comments. Now normally I just dismiss them because the game has been doing pretty well – especially since there hasn’t been any real content since September. But with the new issues that have popped up recently, it’s harder than ever to defend the state of Destiny. The question now isn’t can Destiny stay relevant through the spring; it’s now can Destiny survive the onslaught of issues it faces right now. Every game goes through a rough patch – sometimes it’s a bad patch that ruins the online meta, sometimes it’s a set of server issues, sometimes it’s a combination of a bunch of problems. Usually, games can weather the storm – Destiny already has gone through a rough patch with the Thorn meta. The Master Chief Collection couldn’t handle the complexity that came from multiple game engines, and in my opinion it killed what could have been an amazing collection of games. What I think really hurts Destiny right now is that there are a good handful of other really good options out there. Shooter fans can play Halo 5, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Star Wars: Battlefront and Rainbow Six: Siege – and that’s just the big hitters. RPG fans have Fallout 4 to keep digging through. Action fans have the Uncharted Collection and Tomb Raider to play. There are a lot of options across the board out there – not to mention older games that people are catching up with (Witcher 3, Battlefield Hardline).

Destiny Cayde-6

Ultimately, I would like to believe that Bungie has a plan to fix this, and we’ll find out exactly what that is next week. My problem with that is that it’ll be about a month without a full update from them. Even if the game was maintaining the status quo through that month, that’s a long time without an update. Prior to Destiny I would definitely have given Bungie the benefit of the doubt with most of these issues – but since they’ve shifted focus away from Halo, I’ve seen a bunch of cracks appear. Since the launch in particular, there have been plenty of things to point to – the disjointed story at launch, allowing a broken weapon meta to reign supreme for as long as it did, and how long it took them to admit the issues with the early vanilla launch. They’ve definitely gotten better, but this is a major test – there really isn’t any way around that. As a huge fan of the game, I really hope that they get this fixed, because I was excited to see what they had in store for the game this year.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Multiplayer Achievements

Black Ops 3

I hit level 55 in Call of Duty: Black Ops III last night, which is the level cap before entering Prestige Mode. When you reach that level, you get one of the four multiplayer achievements in the game – one is unlocked at level 10, the other two deal with the new Specialist mechanic in Black Ops. That, combined with my ongoing grind for weapon camos, calling cards and Specialist attire got me thinking about those sort of multiplayer achievements – whether they’re actual Xbox Achievements/PlayStation Trophies or in-game items. My stance on multiplayer achievements has always been more or less that they really shouldn’t be on the achievement list. But that idea was basically formed from the achievements that were in Gears of War, Halo 3, and Halo: Reach. Over the last couple years, I’ve softened my stance a little.

With the games that I play the most online right now – Destiny, Halo 5, and Call of Duty: Black Ops III – each has competitive multiplayer achievements. A few years ago, I would have been pissed about that – mainly because I see those achievements always drawing the most attention for boosters and the such. I played the hell out of Halo 3 and I’m still missing a whole slew of the multiplayer achievements because they could only be unlocked in Free for All – which to me just further encouraged boosting. With Halo 5 though, the multiplayer achievements are much more easily unlocked. Win five games of the different game modes, and do the same for each of the original three Warzone maps. In theory that’s really not that many games, should you play well and get your wins quickly. Then you are free to just focus on the in-game commendations and REQ points. With the Warzone achievement, I do think that since you’re at the mercy of the map selector, it can be a bit more frustrating – I had the same issue with Titanfall asking you to win a game of each mode on each map. But those are achievements that, again in theory, are simply unlocked by playing the game over time. That’s kinda the point with shooters these days – the campaign is good for a few play sessions, then it’s the multiplayer that keeps the game installed on your hard drive.

Destiny Crucible

With the two Activision games – Destiny and Call of Duty – the lists are a little different. Destiny does have a couple PvP achievements, and really only one is dependent on player skill and might be tricky (Kill a Warlock, Hunter and Titan in one life). The rest are pretty much just keep playing kind of achievements – which works with Destiny‘s notion of you playing a bunch of different activities every time you log on. And since the bulk of the content is PvE in nature, that’s where the bulk of the achievements are. That one odd achievement is a good example of one that I definitely take issue with. At launch, it was a lot easier to get that one – everyone was still playing around with each class, including alts. I got that achievement when I was leveling my Warlock before my fireteam had actually finished the story – mainly thanks to Nova Bomb being good at covering a wide area. After the meta stabilized though and Titans all but vanished from PvP through most of Year One, that achievement became a hell of a lot harder to unlock. Now it’s probably back to being relatively straightforward with Sunbreakers making Titans relevant again.

Which brings me to Call of Duty. It’s been a series that has always done different things with multiplayer. The first multiplayer specific achievements didn’t appear until the first Black Ops, of which there were two – one to reach level 10 in Combat Training, and one to win five Wager Matches. And for the most part, that’s been pretty much how each game has approached the multiplayer achievements – with ones that are easily unlocked just from playing a whole bunch of games. Where they’ve put a lot of the kind of things that could have been achievements are in the meta-challenges. Stuff like Misery Loves Company, The Loner, and Collateral all would have made fine achievements, but putting them in-game helps reduce the boosting, in theory. For Call of Duty, I think that balance is definitely the best way to go. It lets the developers put in a couple multiplayer achievements to round out the list, but put the real challenges in-game and reward the players with in-game items. With Black Ops III though, that line has been blurred just a little bit. Those two Specialist related achievements aren’t just earned by playing with them a lot – maybe the triple kill one depending on the weapon – but the five medals in one game one definitely seems designed to push players toward a specific playstyle with specific Specialists. I’ve spent this whole Prestige playing as Prophet – mainly because I think Tempest is a great objective defense weapon – and I don’t think I’ve played a single game (even with Overdrive) that I’ve felt like I could have earned five medals based on Glitch. Truth be told, I think Glitch is one of the two weakest abilities in game along with Rejack, mainly because of the challenge associated with Glitch has you getting kills after it. To me, it’s way more attuned to a defensive use – before I was trying to get those last cosmetic items for Prophet, that’s how I used it – to survive fights I was dead in.

Black Ops II

Tie that together with the “secret” Dark Matter camo and Gold Hero attire for Specialists, and it’s really not that hard to see why Treyarch is cracking down on boosters pretty early in the game’s life. Instead of Dark Matter being like Diamond was in Black Ops II as a status symbol, my first thought is now trying to figure out if the player is a booster. Now, of course, Diamond had boosters too – they’re part of the system, and that’s why there’s always going to be the need to crack down on them. Putting things that almost encourage boosting into the achievement list is never a good thing, and I think Treyarch toed the line a little this time around. Hopefully Ghosts 2 or whatever we get this year will have a more straightforward list.

Destiny in 2016 – What I want From Bungie

Destiny BannerfallWe have a couple weeks of downtime from Bungie as they recover from the holidays and reset after the Sparrow Racing League in Destiny. So while we’re all out in the wild trying to keep finding something to do in The Taken King, I thought I would put down what I would like to see from Bungie in Destiny this year. I’m trying to think about smaller things that Bungie could do while they work on whatever bigger release we’re getting this fall.

One thing that doesn’t directly impact me, but I can absolutely see it impacting plenty of streamers on Xbox One is the ability to have a private party. One the PS4, you can set your fireteam to private – that option doesn’t exist on the Xbox One. I would think that can’t be a huge change for Bungie to make. Another thing that has always bugged me is that Patrol is limited to a three-man fireteam. With Court of Oryx in the Dreadnought, being able to bring in a full fireteam of friends would make grinding those runes way more enjoyable. I think it also extends to just playing with friends in PvE outside of the raid. At this point in the game’s life, the player base is definitely composed more of dedicated players – with friends lists full of longtime players. Being able to bring together a full fireteam to do more than just PvP or raiding I think would be nice.

In terms of actual content, I really think that the Festival of the Lost and Sparrow Racing League both played a really strong role in shaping what we’re going to see this year. I hope that Bungie is looking at the response to both events and going bigger moving forward. PvE events need to bring us out of our routines – run three Nightfalls, do the raid, and that is pretty much it, unless you’re still grinding Exotics like me. I’d love to see something where we visit each location in the game – maybe bring in some of the Crucible maps like the subclass quests. Tie it in with the Exo Stranger – which is something I have been calling since the first Queen’s Wrath event – and I think you have a good frame to build it all around. Since we are expecting the next major entry to focus around either the Cabal or Osiris, I think bringing back the Exo Stranger is a great move. The other thing I’ve been seeing a lot of lately is the notion of bringing back the old raids. While I think that’s great – mainly because I still love the Vault of Glass; I think it’s a dangerous road to go down. Bungie had said when The Taken King launched that those old raids just had to go away to make the new content actually have impact. I don’t think just because everyone is done with TTK content that we should go back in time a year. Now, if they have a smart plan for them – like a higher level for them, challenge modes that maybe are actually challenging, or a whole new set of loot for Year Two runs – that could work fine. But I wouldn’t get my hopes up just yet for that.

Destiny Black Garden

PvP-wise, I think Bungie is in a little tougher spot. SRL was great, and I fully expect to see it return, maybe with some degree of regularity; but actual competitive play needs something to shake it up. Iron Banner and Trials of Osiris I think both need something to just freshen them up. They have been experimenting a bit with Iron Banner Clash/Control, so maybe that will extend to Zone Control or Rift as well. Trials though is a little tougher to think how to change. My only thought would be to maybe try a six-man version. I think it would work, it just would need a good deal of balancing.

Ultimately, I just want to see Bungie do more of what they have been with The Taken King. The story content told throughout that was a huge step in the right direction after the vanilla story. The characters are stronger, the gameplay stayed really strong, and I think that now that they’ve refocused their development, the future could be bright. This year is a big year for the franchise – I don’t know that it’s do or die, but I think this fall could go a long way toward shaping the whole “ten year story” idea. Regardless, I think Bungie has a lot of different options this year – we just need to hope that they pick the right ones.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III – Wallrunning Thoughts

I’ve been a big Call of Duty fan for a long time – going back to the Classic games on the PC. Now that I’ve been playing a good chunk of Black Ops III multiplayer I think that Treyarch has pretty much completely changed the formula for their games. The biggest change to me that we’ve seen in the overall franchise over the last three games has been increasing the mobility. Ghosts added in sliding, Advanced Warfare added in boost jumps and dodging, as well as sliding, and now we’re at Black Ops III with wall running, thruster jumps and sliding. So with that in mind, I thought I’d talk a little about those new mobility options in Black Ops III.

It’s hard to look at wallrunning in an FPS these days without comparing it to TitanfallTitanfall had such a seamless integration with the wallrunning and clamber mechanics that it has kinda set the standard in the modern set of FPS games. So going in to Black Ops III I was curious to see how Treyarch would approach it. I can definitely see some influence in how easy it is to transition into a wall run or clamber. Shooters are definitely moving to a more mobile mind-set. Cover use will always be an important part of any FPS game, but mobility is really starting to be a huge part of how encounters are playing out. What I think Black Ops III does well with the wall running is that you can still aim-down-sights while running. In Titanfall, if you aim, you stick to the wall, killing your momentum and making you an easy target. With being able to aim and move on the walls, it opens up a whole bunch of different options to get into firefights and engage the enemy from a whole bunch of different angles. Since Treyarch has a bunch of challenges that are based around wallrunning, and the maps are set-up for it as well, you’re bound to see lots of people running all over the place.Black Ops 3