Final Fantasy XV Platinum Demo Thoughts

Final Fantasy XV Platinum DemoLast night Square-Enix held an event to announce the suite of media coming with Final Fantasy XV. There’s an anime series, a full-length movie coming and of course the actual game all set in the same universe. This is all similar sounding to when FFXV was announced ten (!) years ago as Final Fantasy Versus XIII – there was going to be a number of different titles all set in the same universe as FFXIII to help create a really fleshed out world. Times have changed, FFXIII was relatively poorly received and FFXV underwent a major shift in tone and setting, which brings us to today. At the event last night, they not only announced that Final Fantasy XV is coming out September 30 of this year, but that a demo for the game went live as the show wrapped. So I grabbed that demo, played through it last night, and thought I’d put down some of my thoughts on it.

The big thing I think is that there actually is a demo that we can get our hands on to play. Final Fantasy XV has basically been vaporware for a decade at this point, so any actual hands-on experience is a real great thing – especially since it’s a public demo. This is not only a good opportunity for fans of Final Fantasy going way back, but for new fans to get into the series. That said, let’s not oversell this thing. It’s not a particularly long demo – I beat it in under 40 minutes, and that was with plenty of meandering around the environments to look around. I totally think you could blitz through it in under 20 minutes without too much trouble. That’s a pretty minuscule portion for a game that could easily stretch 60 hours long. What I think this is is a taste – it’s not the appetizer, it’s a snack in the afternoon to tide you to dinner. It’s designed to fill that role I mentioned at the start – it finally puts gameplay in the hands of the public after ten years. It shows us exactly what this team is about – it’s very much drawing from Square-Enix’s other amazing RPG series Kingdom Hearts, which isn’t surprising considering Tetsuya Nomura’s involvement through a large portion of the development. It’s not a direct borrowing of the action system in Kingdom Hearts, but it definitely feels similar – eschewing the classic turn-based combat that the older games used for a purely real-time combat system. We got a very small taste of it in the demo, but I can very much see the potential in the system. It feels very much like it’s built around fluidly shifting your attacks between your four equipped weapons, spells and items. Starting a combo with a fast attack sword, then – mid-combo, with no downtime – switching to a heavy hitting hammer to finish it is super easy and super satisfying. I am definitely looking forward to seeing just how crazy it can get in the full game.

Beyond the novelty of actually having Final Fantasy XV in our hands in some form, the game certainly seems to be shaping up pretty well. I’m still a little confused about the tone and setting of the story – I’ve seen that it’s still set in the FFXIII universe, drawing from that initial Final Fantasy Versus XIII direction, but the world feels very much different from FFXIII. I’m always a little skeptical of an RPG that tries to marry technology (especially modern themed technology) with magic – it’s a tricky balance to maintain. Final Fantasy VI and VII both did it incredibly well, mainly because of how magic was woven in to their worlds. In FFVI, the world had advanced with traditional technology and magic was an outside influence – it made your party and the villains feel special; in FFVII, it was thanks to the Materia system, which is still my favorite way of doing magic in any Final Fantasy game. It’s still a little weird to me to see normal looking cars and cell phones in a Final Fantasy game along side fantasy creatures but it could end up being just what the series needs. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen a truly great classic Final Fantasy game – I would argue that it was Final Fantasy X. In that time, other RPGs have raised the bar – games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age and the Bethesda games. Final Fantasy XV is a game that I think the broader gaming community really wants to see do well, and based around what we’ve seen over the last year I think it’s in a good spot.

Final Fantasy XV Logo.png

In terms of some specific details from the demo that I want to highlight aside from the combat, I think there’s three main points for me. First, the game looks incredible. Square-Enix always makes good looking games, both on the cut-scene front and the actual in-game engine. It’s always the attention to detail that impresses me – the time put into making characters pieces of flair look real, whether it’s hair or clothing. This new game also uses physics in a way that I don’t think the series has to date, which is shown off in the second area of the demo. The effects also are incredible, in particular the magic effects – I was throwing Meteorain and Raindrop spells around just to see the effects that they produce. It’s bright, vibrant, but able to show off contrast as well. From a visual standpoint, I really think Square-Enix is on to something with this one. The second big point that jumped out to me was the music in the game. It’s a Yoko Shimomura soundtrack, and it is easy to pick her sound out. She’s responsible for some incredible work over the years – in particular Street Fighter II and one of my favorite soundtracks of all time in Kingdom Hearts. The music here is very much reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts II to my ear – especially in the third area, the town section. I couldn’t help but think immediately about the music from Twilight Town. Finally, the other thing I kept thinking while I played it was how imaginative the environments felt. Sure three of them are pretty straightforward RPG tropes – wilderness, town and city – but they have those little details in them to feel different. It’s through the plates you can step on if you have enough crystals – some cause huge background creatures to appear and add life to the world, some turn you into a different creature or even a car to move around. What really stood out was the second section – you’re shrunk way down and roaming around a big dining room with pillow forts and block forts scattered about it. It felt very much like a room that would have been in a Kingdom Hearts game – maybe Alice in Wonderland – and seeing it in a Final Fantasy game was pretty cool. I liked it a lot and I hope that a lot of that same creativity is in the full game. Granted it could have been because the demo is set in a dream world, but still, I like the general direction. Regardless, Final Fantasy XV has jumped way up on my list for the fall. Plus Carbuncle is pretty damn amazing.

Destiny April Update Reveal Stream Number Two Thoughts

The Taken King LogoToday was Bungie’s second reveal stream talking about the new April Update for Destiny. It just wrapped up, and coming away from it I’m actually energized about the loot for the first time in a long time in Destiny. Let’s talk a little bit about what we saw today.

Today’s stream was solely focused around loot – armor, weapons, ships, sparrows and the like. Over the last few months I’ve definitely been less excited about grinding loot in Destiny – I have armor I like, guns that I like and are actually good performing, and the barrier for reaching the next plateau forces me to have to get a full team of six for the Raid. That’s a barrier that, because my fireteam has basically moved along a bit, probably won’t be broken down anytime before the update. But after today’s reveal, I finally feel like I have new gear that I’m chasing – and that as a primarily solo player, I can get them all too. Each faction is getting a full new suite of armor for each class – and each one looks great. This is the first time since launch that I’m actually considering switching to New Monarchy to get the Titan armor – it looks basically like Shaxx’s armor. Combine that with the new Chroma system, and I am going to be one badass looking Titan in April.

That new Chroma system looks pretty cool – it’s another way to customize your guardian, which I think is something that Destiny is still rather lacking on. Four choices of colors – red, yellow, blue and white – and they can be applied to each armor piece individually gives players a bit of freedom to tweak their guardian. Beyond that, some of the new weapons will also feature Chroma slots to apply weapon camo essentially. It’s a good example of seeing Bungie grow with their development on Destiny – they’ve been slowly turning around from a game that had infinite potential and no direction, to one that finally is starting to shape into the game we wanted it to be a year and a half ago. It’s not a direct impact on gameplay – but it does directly impact a part of the game that I think is just as important: setting and world building. The armor all has coherent themes that run through them, the weapons have always had lore behind them and we’re starting to slowly see Bungie being able to use that incredible lore that has been in the Grimoire since launch and tie it into the actual game.

Destiny Taken Guardians

A lot of what we saw today was all cool, but ultimately the most exciting things in regards to gameplay will probably have to wait until next week when we get the sandbox stream. Seeing that we’re getting more vault space is super nice, and a bit of a surprise – I was actually planning on what old items I was going to have to delete last night to clear space for the new gear. The new gear can now live on in my expanded vault, along with that gear that I fell in love with last year. We learned a bit about new paths to upgrades too – reputation gains are being pushed up, which is important since the new faction armor is only obtained from those upgrade packs; there are new items to further boost those reputation gains as well. Far and away though the biggest thing we learned was that the strike unique gear can now drop at max light level. That might not seem like a big deal, but it actually changes the entire game for solo players. As a primarily solo player, this is a major deal to me. Prior to the update, there really isn’t a way for me to reach 320 as a solo player – not without some serious PvP grinding, which in the current meta isn’t all that fun, and not a guarantee. After the update, I can load into strikes – either vanguard, heroic, Nightfall or even just vanilla – and grind those until I get the unique drops I need. As it stands right now, with the unique loot available, there’s potentially every gear slot except for boots and possibly chest – not sure on that one. That means that, assuming the new two strikes fill those last couple slots, that no matter what, as long as I keep playing those strikes I’ll get the gear – eventually – and get to 335. That’s amazing, and opens up max level to a huge amount of players that might not normally ever get there.

There are still a couple questions to answer. The new infusion system, which is a big part of what is going to let solo players reach 335, does introduce a potential problem when you combine it with the new Eververse items. Specifically that you can buy the Spectral Treasure – which is how you get the two coolest looking sets of armor. Every player will be able to get three packages every week – run Prison of Elders, hit the Postmaster up and play one match of weekly Crucible. But since you can buy them – and it looks like the armor that drops from those treasures looks to have perks on them – that kinda opens up a huge can of worms. It’s a fine line that they’re treading towards being pay-to-win/pay-for-power. The big question really will depend on whether or not those rolls are static – if they are, then I think it’s less of an issue. If the rolls are random per package, then you open up the potential for abuse. That’s still unknown, and one thing that I would expect Bungie to be keeping an eye on the feedback on. Overall though, the update is still shaping up to be really exciting. It still feels very much like Bungie is focused on making Destiny better for all players – not just PvE or PvP or raiders. It’s a perfect time to come back to the game if you’ve been taking a break, and for dedicated players I think it gives just enough of a carrot to keep chasing for a little while longer.

Call of Duty Rumors Galore

Call of Duty: GhostsI’ve been seeing a lot of rumors about this year’s Call of Duty floating around a ton this week already. I’ve been saying that I still think that we’re getting Ghosts 2 but if if anything that I’ve been seeing this week is true, that’s looking a little less sure. What I saw today did intrigue me a little bit though, so I want to quickly talk about it.

The big news is that, according to a post on NEOgaf from a source who has broken news in the past, this year’s Call of Duty is going Sci-Fi. Like beyond Black Ops III Sci-Fi. Apparently we have the far future as our setting coming our way, complete with space combat. At first blush, I thought that couldn’t be the case. The more I think on it, I think it could actually be the case. The last couple games have shown a pretty clear design direction toward more futuristic content. If any studio is going to take the full plunge it would be Infinity Ward – they are the ones that brought the franchise to modern era first too after all. And really, there’s no reason that if they do it right, that super future can’t work for Call of Duty. The real reason that those elements didn’t work well in Advanced Warfare is because it was done half-way. The more sci-fi elements didn’t marry well with the more standard elements, and in truth were underpowered in most circumstances. Pulling full sci-fi has been tricky for FPS games in the past – look at Battlefield 2142 as a good example – but it definitely can work well. As long as the core ingredients that make Call of Duty what it is are in place, it could be really great.

The other rumor that I saw towards the end of last week was a little less grounded in reality. I’m tempted to believe the sci-fi, far future rumor; this other one not so much. That other rumor was that Call of Duty would be set during World War One. I’ve actually been seeing a pretty good amount of chatter about trying to bring a WWI shooter to the mass market. The problem comes with trying to bring a conflict that was over 100 years ago to an audience that is craving speed and action in multiplayer. I have no doubt that Infinity Ward could craft a solid single-player story during WWI, I do have doubts that trench combat and, essentially ancient, weapons would be as fun in multiplayer. I don’t doubt that we’ll see a WWI shooter on a major scale sooner rather than later, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on it being this year.

What surprises me is how early we’re getting Call of Duty 2016 rumors this year. We usually start to see them a few week prior to E3. Since we know that this year’s Call of Duty is going to be at E3, even without Activision having a booth, I was expecting this sort of rumor mill winding up around mid-May. Assuming that the NEOgaf rumor has any sense of truth to it, that’s a big leak for what could potentially be the biggest selling game of the year. I would think Activision, Infinity Ward and Sony all wouldn’t like that.

April’s Games with Gold Update

Microsoft announced April’s Games with Gold today, and it’s possibly the best set of games they’ve ever had. While they aren’t exactly free – you do need an active Xbox Live Gold subscription to get them, but they won’t cost you anything extra beyond that. So let’s go over the three games that I’ve actually played already.

Sunset Overdrive Cover

On the Xbox One front, the second half of April will bring with it Sunset Overdrive. It’s a Microsoft exclusive game, a third-person action adventure game with a pretty strong emphasis on irreverence and humor, without being juvenile. It’s a legitimately funny game, and has the gameplay to back it up. It’s a fun game at its core – the story is serviceable without being overbearing, and there’s enough side content to keep you playing. Collectibles, side-missions, item collection and upgrading all is there to keep you invested in seeing the game through to completion. It’s got a fun horde-mode style co-op mode as well. I loved playing it last winter – it was a great off-game from Destiny and Call of Duty and Dragon Age. It’s free for the second half of the month – it’s absolutely worth picking it up and playing it. It’s fun, bright, colorful and for a third-person shooter/action game has a fantastic switch up in movement away from cover based combat. Really glad that it’s going to be available for free for a wide audience.

 

Dead Space CoverOn the Xbox 360 front, the two games coming this month are both amazing choices. The first half of the month has Dead Space coming, and the second half brings Saints Row IVDead Space is one of those 360 games that I’ve talked about on here a couple times, since I consistently put it on my favorite games list from the console. It’s probably the best traditional style survival horror game to come out on the console, and I think still is arguably holding that title today. It takes the traditional setting, puts it into a Sci-Fi world, and inverts the main combat mechanic, putting players on their toes right away. Where it really excels is that the feeling of dread and tenseness doesn’t go away as you get more powerful – there really isn’t a point where you feel like you are golden against any enemy. You are always potentially near death, and that’s what I want out of a survival horror game.

 

Saints Row IVSaints Row IV is a little different story. It’s not the best game in that particular series, like I think Dead Space is. It’s not quite on the same level as its direct competitor – Grand Theft Auto – but it fills a spot in gaming that I think is super important. It, much like Sunset Overdrive, is one of those games that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It pokes fun at tropes across the gaming, and truly entertainment industry in general, spectrum. It’s a game that takes challenge out of the equation – you’ll be able to grab invincibility pretty early on in the game, and it changes the tone even further. It’s a game that you play because it is just inherently fun – you fly around, you jump like crazy, and the game just doesn’t give two shits about being serious about anything. It’s pure popcorn fun, and absolutely worth playing. With the 360 Games with Gold being available to play on Xbox One now, and starting the 28th of this month you’ll be able to pick up them on the Xbox One too, it’s even easier to get three games that are definitely worth playing.

Destiny April Update – First Twitch Stream Thoughts

Destiny Taken GuardiansBungie just wrapped up their first live stream on Twitch to show off a little bit of the new content headed to Destiny in the April Update. It’s nothing super surprising, but I think it’s exactly what Destiny needs for the broader community. Let’s go over what we saw today.

The big thing is that we’re getting a new and updated version of the Prison of Elders. Based on what we had seen last week, along with the language that Bungie was using to set-up this April update, that’s really not a huge surprise. They said that the big design idea was to create a PvE activity that was built around replayability. That right away put me thinking about Prison of Elders, since the basic structure of a round-based, short event activity is built right in to it. It is a little different, since it’s bringing in Scoring to PvE. But ultimately, it’s not a huge step outside of the circle – and actually, that’s a good thing. I know that there are going to be plenty of hardcore players arguing that this isn’t enough and that Bungie is still “killing Destiny.” I think they’re way off because I think ultimately what Bungie is doing with this – totally free – update is trying to ensure that the casual audience, which is way bigger of an audience, sticks around through the summer. Using an updated Prison of Elders is exactly what they need to do that. But we’ll talk a little more about that at the end of the post.

In addition to the Prison of Elders, we’re getting two additional strikes and a new story mission that looks like it will culminate in a return to the Hellmouth. The new strike looks like that will be that final culmination of that quest line, which makes sense again with the name – the Blighted Chalice. That’s pretty clearly Hive/Taken language. The other strike is a Taken version of the Winter’s Run strike from vanilla Destiny. That strike was one of the hardest in the base game when it was the Nightfall, and I can only imagine that playing that as a Taken strike with the right modifiers is going to be a nightmare. The stream didn’t show any of that content though, to keep it fresh and unspoiled for when it goes live on the 12th. There is also a PlayStation exclusive questline that is given by Petra, while the other questlines your point of contact is Variks.

We didn’t get a good look at a lot of the new items and loot because they’re saving that for next week. Sure we got some teaser looks – there’s pretty clearly a Taken looking sword and shotgun, along with what looked like Prison of Elders weapons brought up to Year Two levels. But actual details about new weapon talents and stuff like that will have to wait a week.

Let’s talk about their motive again though. I know that there are going to be plenty of people complaining about the update. I’m already seeing it online. Here’s the thing – this is a free update. It was never going to be a substantial content update. It was always going to be built from within – Prison of Elders being the easy choice. For being a free update though, it looks like we’re actually getting a surprising amount of content that is going to stick with us. The previous free updates – Festival of the Lost, SRL and Crimson Days – all were timed events. This one is going to be staying part of the game moving forward. Which makes me think that this update isn’t aimed at the hardcore community. The broader community is where this is going to really take root. Casual players won’t need to find a full team of six players to run through a raid that can, if things go sideways, take multiple hours to run through – especially with novice raiders. This gives players who maybe only have a couple friends still into Destiny a road to the new Light cap of 335 – in fact the only route to 335. The difficulty – even on the Level 42 Challenge tier – doesn’t look beyond the reach of casual players. With a road to 335 that is a lot more player friendly, this update, to me is designed to keep those casual players invested through the summer until the bigger September update. There’s plenty of cool stuff that is headed our way, even if the update isn’t particularly big.

New Destiny Content, Cross-Platform Play and Division Final Thoughts

At the tail end of last week, while I was putting down my Call of Duty: Black Ops III tips, we got a couple pretty big pieces of news. So to start off this week, I thought we’d hit those big points, along with my final thoughts on The Division now that I’ve finished pretty much everything the game has in store.

The Division BetaLet’s start with The Division since it’s pretty fresh in my mind. The more and more I played through the story content, I can’t help but cool on the game. I loved the first third or so of the game – I thought the early game missions were tuned, difficulty wise, pretty much perfectly for the level scale. The second third though felt like a major turning point to me – the main missions slow down during that level 14-20 area and in fact the game directs through a whole neighborhood without a mission. Normally, I’m totally fine with an RPG steering you towards side quests, but the side content in The Division is so repetitive that it really felt more like an obligation. That feeling really got hammered home once I hit the final section of the game – those last few levels and missions. Once you hit level 30, any side mission is, from a reward standpoint, useless. Once the Base of Operations is fully upgraded, those encounters don’t give you loot that really makes sense. Side content only rewards up to Blue quality items – by the time you’re in those last few neighborhoods you’re chasing purple and higher, especially once you hit level 30. I honestly only finished all the side content in order to reveal all the collectibles on the map for the achievements to collect them all. Add in to that that the actual story content feels really hollow as it comes to conclusion and the last taste that The Division left in my mouth was really bland. The actual ending was so anticlimactic that I really don’t feel at all excited for the free content headed our way next month. And that kills me because the foundation that the game has is so damn good. I don’t know where along the lines the decision was made to keep an actual confrontation with Keener out of the game, but that is the big misstep that I think hurts the story the most. I feel like, while I’ve been avoiding comparing The Division to Destiny because the games are very different, I find myself now going back to the same thoughts I had with Destiny’s story ending. It’s so blatantly setup for future content that we know is right around the corner that it just takes away any sense of accomplishment for finishing the story. I still think The Division is the first really good game of the year, but I’ve definitely cooled on my opinion with it.

Moving on though, we got a piece of news last week that I’ve been waiting a long time for. Microsoft announced that cross-platform play is not only possible on the Xbox One, but is essentially here. We all expected Microsoft to eventually push cross-platform play with PC, but last week they announced that Rocket League will feature it, and it will be cross-console – that’s Xbox One and PS4. That’s pretty huge – it essentially kills the console war idea – both manufacturers realize that working together is way more beneficial than not. That’s not to say that exclusives and that sort of thing are going away, but we’re slowing moving toward the idea of gaming being unified as a whole. I look at it the same way I do with movies or music. I love music, but I don’t listen to one specific label or band – I wouldn’t do that with gaming, playing only one console or developer. It’s just silly. Now, there’s still a lot of hurdles to get over before this is the norm – but Microsoft has basically put the ball in Sony’s court. By saying that it’s up to the developers, and giving them the power to put it in, that’s a good move – and important for them after their stupid GDC party move. Microsoft has a big year I think this year – they’ve been lagging a little behind Sony so far, but with Xbox One going down to $300 for the Spring Sale, and a pretty damn solid lineup of games this year, they could be a good position.

Finally, rounding out the catch-up from last week, we finally – finally – got some concrete details about the next update coming for Destiny. We’ve known about this amorphous “spring update” for a while now, but the little breadcrumbs Bungie had been giving us were starting to get a little stale. Finally though we know not only when it’s coming, but we have a little bit more concrete idea of what it is going to contain. The new update – now called the April update – will be pushed live to the game on April 12. It’s bringing with it patch 2.2.0, which will feature the first major sandbox (meta) update since the end of last year. We got a little more cemented list of what to expect from the update – sort of. Bungie did their usual trick of being vague – new PvE challenges, new gear and new light levels – but did say we’re getting a new quest and strike coming. The biggest talking point among the community though has to be the image that Bungie used as a header for the weekly update: Destiny Taken Guardians. It’s not too hard to see why we’ve been talking about this image since last week. To me, there are two big points that it raises. First, there’s the obvious visual look – those are guardians, and they are Taken. There’s a few possibilities to explain that – the boring, and probably right answer – is that it’s just a shader. A freaking cool looking shader, but still just a shader. The other options could be that that’s just how the armor looks – I doubt that is the case because of what that armor is, which we’ll talk about in a second. The third possibility is that this is a new enemy type. I think that eventually we’ll see enemy guardians in PvE – but I really doubt that we’re going to get that during Destiny 1‘s life. That seems like a perfect twist to put in for the sequel – which you might remember is something I said during my fantasy development for that game. The other major talking point from the image though is just what that armor they’re wearing is. If you’ve been playing Destiny since launch, that armor is probably very familiar to you. You were chasing it for most of last spring and summer – it’s the armor that was rewarded in the Prison of Elders. Hell the background of that image even looks like the Reef. That opens up a couple questions. Is the Prison of Elders going to be the new PvE activity that Bungie said is going to favor replayability? Again, that’s the boring answer, but probably right. The community has been asking for old raids to come back – technically, the challenge tiers of PoE were considered raids. Does that open the doors for the others? I actually hope not – as fun as the old raids were, I want to see the game moving forward. Add in that to make them work in the current PvE space would be a pretty involved undertaking, and I doubt that is something we’d see in a free update. I could see them adding the Taken into Prison of Elders as a new, selectable, tier – essentially acting as a new difficulty level for it. Since Bungie said that replayability is a big part of this new activity, I think that Prison of Elders is a good start, but definitely would need a little work. We’ll learn a bit more this Wednesday, and the next two after that, as Bungie does their usual livestream reveal thing. These are usually pretty solid watches, so if you can, I would tune in. I’ll offer up my thoughts on them afterwards of course as well. Regardless, Destiny definitely finally has some life injected back into it.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III – Hero Armor Tips

Black Ops 3I’ve been going through the big grindy challenges in Call of Duty: Black Ops III this week, finishing out the weapon camo challenges and today we’re looking at the Specialist challenges. These ones are a little different than the weapon challenges since they have multiple tiers to go through before you reach that final gold armor. So the tips here are a little more general per Specialist than with the weapons. Before you even reach the final set of challenges though, you’ll need 800 kills with each Specialist, which is plenty of time to learn how their special weapon and abilities behave – which you’ll need for those final challenges. Those 800 kills can be handled in any way you see fit – that’s why I tie in a Specialist per prestige as I do the weapon camos.

Once you’ve reached those last challenges though, that’s where things get a little trickier. So we’ll start with the three Specialists that I think have the hardest individual challenges: Prophet, Outrider and Nomad. Each has a weapon that’s actually pretty damn good – it’s their special abilities that have tough challenges. Let’s look at Prophet first. His weapon, the Tempest, is a one-shot kill, and has potential for multi-kills with its arcing damage. So getting double kills with it for the final challenge is pretty straightforward. It’s Glitch that’s a problem. Glitch lets you warp back in time a bit, which is amazing for getting you out of danger in a hurry. The problem here is that the challenge associated with Glitch is offensive based – you are tasked with getting kills shortly after Glitching. The real trouble is that the final challenge has you looking for double kills – even in Hardcore that’s a real hard task. What I recommend is running with Semtex or C4, and using those to set up kills then Glitch before the detonation. I got my doubles done in Chaos Moshpit – Hardpoint on Nuketown. Tossed two Semtex into the Hardpoint, Glitched back and got the kills. I think, unless you have a really precise setup, that’s your best bet. With Outrider, it’s a similar situation. Her Sparrow bow is plenty strong – the multi-kills aren’t too bad to get in just about any game mode. It’s Vision Pulse that bugged me. The range on the pulse isn’t as far as you might think, and the actual pulse/mark feels really inconsistent. I was finding myself picking up one or two kills per match – even with Overdrive on. Getting my doubles was a rough go. What I ended up doing was, again, playing Chaos Moshpit looking for Nuketown. Once I got Nuketown with an objective mode, I just focused on trying to get behind a small group – Hardpoint helped the most. Wait for the Hardpoint to be inside one of the houses, flank behind, pulse and move quick on the double. It’s not foolproof, but that made my attempts a lot easier. Nomad is the one here that I’m really just going on the other side of things – I’ve not played as him yet. But much like with Glitch, the challenges for Rejack have you looking for kills after coming back from the dead. The problem is that when you use Rejack, you have this very large green gas cloud around you. I know that it’s supposed to help obscure you when you do spawn, but all it does for me is tell me to wait and watch for him to pop up. You need to really pick and choose your moments here, unlike with Glitch. I’ve also seen people complaining a bit about his H.I.V.E. Launcher – the simple answer there is just play objective game modes and put the mines around the objectives. Domination and Hardpoint both work, and you can always put down a mine or two to cover your flanks if you want.

Black Ops 3 Ruin

Of the other Speciaists, I think they’re a lot more straightforward. Even the couple I haven’t played as – Ruin and Spectre – I think are pretty self-explanatory. Knowing that the medals for Ruin’s speed boost just require you to get kills while it’s active means it shouldn’t be a bad prospect. In truth I think his Gravity Spike is going to be the tougher challenge to complete. Spectre seems like he’s going to be really easy – Ripper is insane to deal with on the other side of things, so using it has to be a breeze, and having Active Camo in a shooter is always a good thing. I thought Battery and Firebreak were both super easy to finish. Kinetic Armor in Hardcore is a no-brainer, and the Purifier flamethrower is super powerful. I guess Heat Wave can be a little tricky to get doubles with, but again, flank, and play from behind the enemy. With Seraph, just set up your Scorestreaks so they’re close in value – pop Combat Focus, grab the points you need and there you go.

If there’s one overall tip for the Specialists’ challenges, it’s to play objective game modes. Nuketown is probably the best map across the board, especially on Hardpoint, but you can do them on most maps no problem. I like to focus on one ability at a time though – don’t flip between the weapon and ability until you have to. Get the 40 kills with the weapon, then switch to the ability and finish that. I think that generally the Specialists are easier to do than weapons – there are less to do, and the challenges are overall easier I think. Again, don’t burn yourself out, pick your moments and you’ll do just fine.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III – Secondary Weapon Camo Tips

Black Ops 3I talked yesterday about a few tips I’ve picked up while grinding out the weapon camos for the primary weapons in Call of Duty: Black Ops III. What I didn’t touch on at all are the secondary weapons – the pistols, launchers and melee weapons – that you need to also complete if you’re chasing Dark Matter. So today, I thought I’d talk a little bit about what I’ve learned as I also work my way through those secondaries.

We’ll start with the pistols since you’ll probably have one available more often than not on your classes. The three pistols that you need to complete for Dark Matter each behave really differently. You’ve got a standard semi-auto in the MR6, a burst-fire in the RK5 and a full-auto with the L-CAR 9. If you don’t like semi-autos, you’ve got other options, even though I think the MR6 is easy enough to use regardless of how slow your trigger is. What I think is a little surprising is how useful the pistols actually are – in Black Ops II, there was really only one sidearm option that was worth using. This time around, each pistol is powerful enough to kill pretty quickly. If you follow my advice and play Harcore TDM, you can absolutely get away with just using a sidearm as your primary weapon, with any of the options. I said with the primary weapons I pick a couple to do each prestige – that’s not how I approach the pistols. I do focus on just doing them one gun at a time, but I don’t worry about doing them within one prestige. Since there’s only three pistols, there really isn’t as much of a hurry to do them. I do still stick with Hardcore though, since getting headshots in there is much easier, even with pistols. I really don’t see the need for a sight, I actually went with no attachments most of the time, or Extended/Fast Mags if I was working on a primary at the same time. After the headshots are done though, I think you can put on Dual Wield – it ups your DPS, and you can work on a few different challenges at the same time. Dual Wield is certainly easier to manage with the RK5 and L-CAR since they aren’t semi-autos, but two MR6’s are definitely a beast to reckon with in close quarters. Honestly, most of what I said about SMGs yesterday fits here with the pistols – play aggressively, aim high, and take Scavenger to replace your ammo. When you’ve moved on to the final set of challenges, I actually think Hardcore is still the place to be – even getting the five kills in one life done there is easier than in Core. I do think you should combine no-perks and no-attachments into one thing though – get them both done at the same time. I recommend taking Tactician and doubling up on stun grenades – I like Concussion and Flashbang/Shock Charge; doing that acts as a bit of a counter to losing perks and attachments. When you’re going for the five kills, get rid of your primary weapon – throw on Secondary Gunfighter, load up on attachments and perks and run with just your pistol. If you don’t feel comfortable without a primary, pick one up off the ground as the game plays out. Out of the secondary weapons, the pistols really shouldn’t be giving you too much trouble to complete.

The launchers, on the other hand, might be a little slower of a grind. You only have two weapons to worry about, but their challenges almost require you to be in a losing situation. You have to shoot down/blow up 100 scorestreaks to reach the final set of challenges for each launcher. UAV’s and Counter UAV’s are easy enough to destroy – they only take one rocket – but when you get stuck in a lobby with a good enemy team that’s just pounding your team with high tier scorestreaks, they can often times push you before you get the rockets off. What I like to do is combine a launcher with my LMG classes, and run with counter scorestream perks – Blind Eye and Cold Blooded. That way if there are lots of scorestreaks up, I get them with the launcher, and if needed the LMG for the perk challenges. The other thing I like to do is get rid of a third perk and put on Scavenger with Cold Blooded to keep my supplied with rockets. That’s more of an issue with the XM-53, since you only get two shots, and some streaks take more rockets than that. You should always have at least one class with a launcher on it while you’re grinding those 100 scorestreaks out – see a UAV called up, switch to it, shoot it down, switch back if you want. With the last set of challenges though, things get a little trickier. On the XM-53, you need to get direct kills with the rockets, 10 times; destroy five scorestreaks in one game; shoot down two scorestreaks rapidly; take out five Talons or Cerberus; and take out 10 Turrets with it. The Blackcell is a little different. It has double the ammo as the XM-53, but requires vehicle lock-on; it’s basically this game’s Stinger missile launcher. Instead of enemy kills, you have to shoot down a scorestreak 20 seconds after it’s called in 5 times – not too hard with UAV’s, you just have to be in the right spot. The other challenges are the same though – just with the added advantage of more ammo. With the launchers, I think this is the one class where no matter what tips I give, or you find elsewhere, you’re in this for the long haul. You’re at the whims of the enemy team – if they don’t or can’t call up scorestreaks, you can’t really progress with the weapons. Just make sure you have a class or two set up with the launchers ready for when/if they do and you’ll be fine.

The last secondary you need to complete for Dark Matter – the Combat Knife – is the one that I have basically no experience with. I never have been a huge knifer in Call of Duty, save for back in Modern Warfare 2 with the Tactical Knife, Marathon, Lightweight, Commando combo. With the new mobility and everything in Black Ops III though I can see playing with a melee weapon as actually not being obscenely difficult. What is tough though is that this is going to be a grind, no two ways about it. 100 kills is already a lot with a melee weapon – this is one case where Hardcore probably is a bad move; in truth I would say go into Ground War or Chaos Moshpit and look for objective games. Once you’ve got those 100 kills done though, you have a set of pretty tough challenges for the Gold. Survivor medals – if you’re just rushing enemies, you’ll probably get these no problem; Revenge medals, same as any other weapon class, not too bad; Back Stabber medals, a little more setup is involved, but actually not too terrible – use doorways and the thrust jump to ninja enemies. It’s the last two that I think are going to be rough – the five kills in one life, five times really has me thinking stealthy play is a must. Lock down buildings with lots of corners to attack from – use active camo on Spectre to help too. The one that I think requires the most planning though has you knife someone, pick up their gun, then kill them with it – all in the same life, five times. Outside of the bloodthirsties, this is probably the only challenge, across all weapons in the game, that requires you to actively plan ahead and target specific enemies. This is one where I think objective modes really help out – you have a pretty good idea of where the enemies are going to be heading, you can catch one headed there, grab the gun, then wait for the second push.

The secondary weapons generally need you to plan a little ahead – you can just play normally, but you’ll probably die a bit more doing that. Slow down your moves, think about your reduced range and rate of fire, remember what role your launchers are supposed to play, and put stealth and flanking higher on the tactics list and you’ll do just fine. It is a little bit of a grind, but that’s the fun of Call of Duty. Tomorrow though we’ll look into the Specialists, and talk a bit about how to go about finishing their armor challenges for Hero Armor.

Call of Duty Black Ops III: Camo Tips

Black Ops 3I may have been playing a whole bunch of The Division over the last week, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped paying attention to the other games I enjoy. In particular I’ve seen a lot of posts over on the Black Ops III subreddit talking about the Dark Matter camo grind and the struggles people are having. So, while I might not be the most try-hard of Call of Duty players out there, I have found myself burning through the gold camos relatively smoothly. With that in mind, I thought I’d put down some tips that I’ve found useful on my own grind to the Dark Matter camo.

The first thing I do is the same in any CoD game – regardless of hidden camos – I pick one weapon per weapon class to focus on, per prestige. That way I don’t get burned out – I do one assault rifle, an SMG, a shotgun, sniper and LMG per prestige, and limit myself to those weapons. I find that it helps keep me focused and driven on finishing those guns because I don’t prestige until I finish them if they’re close. For example, in Black Ops III, my last prestige was built around finishing the VMP, HVK 30, Man o’ War and Dingo – all got gold before I prestiged to my current one, as well as starting work on my SVG and Argus since they’re late level unlocks. Breaking up the grind as you’re prestiging I find keeps it fresh since every prestige you’re using different weapons and tactics. With Black Ops III, I add in completing one Specialist per prestige too, combining the Hero Armor grind with Dark Matter.

Call of Duty Dark Matter.gif

The second thing is that you have realize it isn’t going to be quick and easy – the weapons all behave differently, and some are just naturally easier than others to complete. I tore through the Kuda but the VMP was a nightmare for me. Same with the shotguns – that first pump action shotgun was a breeze, but I really slogged through the Brecci. If you’re really struggling with a gun, switch it up – the maps are all built well enough where just about any weapon class works, so just try working on a different gun for a couple games. If you’re still on the headshot/one-shot grind I think that’s especially true. It might not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but 100 headshots/one-shots is a lot for one gun. Honestly, I don’t explicitly go for just headshots when I’m doing a gun – I play normally, and let the headshots come naturally. I usually get somewhere between 3-5 a game in a Hardcore TDM game; and it skews higher in objective games, especially on Nuketown. That’s really the most important play tactic I can give you – you have to play naturally. If you focus too much on changing your game around to get headshots or revenge medals/long shots, you’ll drive yourself mad. It’s tempting, especially with guns you don’t like, but you have to remember it’s a long grind – it’ll work out if you just play normally.

In terms of games, when I’m going for headshots/one-shots I do tend to play Hardcore, mainly because I just primarily play it anyway. Since pretty much every gun will kill in one or two hits, it makes getting them a lot easier – you should be aiming at the chest/head anyway if you’re playing an FPS like Call of Duty. Hardcore makes the natural action push your kills more toward headshots, especially with SMGs since you don’t need to worry as much about controlling the recoil. Aim chest high, fire off a few rounds, let the recoil push your gun to the head – rinse, repeat. It does have a little higher learning curve than Core game modes, but once you’ve got the maps down, and understand how TDM flows on each, I think it does help out in the long run. Where I switch out of Hardcore is once I’m on to the final set of challenges. That’s when I pop over to Chaos Moshpit/Nuketown – the games there tend not to be crazy sweaty, and objective games on Nuketown are godsends for those challenges. Playing Nuketown last prestige I finished my 50 Kills with 5 attachments, 5 Bloodthirsties and 5 Double Kills in two games on the Man o’ War. To be perfectly honest, Nuketown is the perfect map for those final challenges – it has everything you need to complete them. One the snipers, assault rifles and LMGs, there are a handful of sightlines that will net you longshots, for the SMGs and shotguns, the action is fast enough where revenge kills are similarly easy to come across. The same rings true for the double kills – the action is frenetic enough where it’s not hard to come across multiple enemies in rapid succession. I’ve gotten my only Core Mega Kill on Nuketown because the action is so crazy around the objectives, especially in Domination and Hardpoint.

Each class of weapons is a little different though, so I thought I’d give a couple top-level tips for each class to help with those tricky parts. First up: assault rifles, the jack-of-all-trades in Call of Duty games. Because they work in any situation, generally there isn’t a whole lot of trouble with them. Of the ones I’ve done so far – all but the Shieva and M8A7 – only the HVK was the one that I didn’t like. I found that its per-shot damage just wasn’t cutting it in Core game modes, even with its pretty high rate of fire. Generally though, you’re best off finding a good spot to control – in Hardcore TDM that can get a little tricky with spawns, but in the objective games just control those objectives. You can play the objective and slay at the same time – they aren’t mutually exclusive options. For headshots, learn the recoil pattern, learn the head-glitch spots, and don’t be afraid to play a little passive if you need to. With the longshots, which have consistently been the one challenge that has given me trouble on the ARs, it’s all about learning the maps and knowing which ones have sightlines that are frequented and also give you the medal. Fringe, Nuketown, Infection, Stronghold all are great for them – there are a couple spots on each map that net you the medal and also see lots of foot traffic to get you the kills. Moving on the the SMGs, this is where I’ve been struggling. The Kuda was butter, the VMP was rough, and so far the Weevil has been in-between. In Hardcore, you really should play a flanking role – try to get around the enemy, and hit them from behind for the headshots. I like to run with Ghost, Fast Hands, Gung-Ho/Dead Silence. If you’re playing Core for the revenge medals or still headshots, play aggressively – you might die a bit more, but you need to get into the guns’ ideal ranges. Take attachments that up your DPS – Extended Mag, Fast Mag, Long Barrel and Stock are all good choices. I get rid of my sidearm generally on this class – I focus more on getting my primary as strong as possible. Again, objective modes help a lot to keep the spawns under control. Learn the flanking routes, sneaky spots and head glitches and you’ll be fine.

Call of Duty KRM.png

While we’re still in close-range mode, the shotguns definitely have the most varied feel of the weapon classes. That’s because two guns have you chasing headshots, the other have you gunning for one-shots. The one-shot guns, the KRM and Argus, are in my opinion two of the easiest guns to use in the game. Once you have their range and rate of fire down, you can dominate games with them, they’re that powerful. Both guns work super well with and without attachments, so those challenges aren’t trouble, bloodthirsties can be if you’re too aggressive and get in over your head, but it’s more about playing smart. Time your run with a teammate or two to split the incoming fire, flank them (again, super important to learn), and pull back if you’re in trouble. It’s the other two – the Brecci and Haymaker – that can be a little tougher. You’re much more likely to just kill the enemy without a headshot in Core game modes. That’s where Hardcore helped me a ton with the Brecci – it’s a one-shot kill, so I knew I just had to aim a little higher than normal, and aerial attacks were good moves too. The same works with the Haymaker – play hardcore, aim high, take Scavenger and play aggressive – you’ve got a full-auto shotgun, use it to your advantage. The shotguns are where I think you can stay right in Hardcore the whole time to Gold Camo if you want – they behave a little more consistently in hardcore.

The last two classes are a little tricky – LMGs can be insanely fun, but also frustrating with the new mobility in Black Ops, while sniping has changed drastically from the old days of Modern Warfare. We’ll go with LMGs first. If there’s one weapon class where I think Hardcore is actually a detriment, it’s this one. You move too slow, even with Quickdraw on the gun you’ll be beat to the punch by just about any other class, and hipfire is too inaccurate. So I stick with Chaos Moshpit, mainly to try and pull Nuketown. Again, it’s perfect for the weapon challenges – headshots come really easily on it, with a number of great spots to look for. In Domination, pick a spot where you can cover B Dom – either window, Blue Car, or the long halls all work well. I said with the other classes to play aggressive, in this case I think you’re much better off hanging back a bit and playing defensive. You lock down your half of the map – don’t push too far and flip spawn, just keep them locked in, and keep getting those headshots. Each gun has a ton of ammo, although the Gorgon doesn’t have a huge magazine thanks to a two-shot kill, so don’t be afraid to go a little hog-wild with them. I like to run with FMJ on to make sure I can pick up the kill through cover too. I also combine my LMG class with my launcher class, so I use counter scorestreak perks, but you can absolutely go with other perks here. As long as you don’t have to deal with an enemy team full of rushers, LMGs should go pretty smoothly for you.

Snipers, on the other hand, are where I’ve been seeing the most frustration. The most important thing to remember is that Black Ops III is fast – it’s built around mobility and speed. It can be really tempting to set up a camp like the old Call of Duty days, but I’ve found that to be a real mixed bag. Combine that with the fact that the four snipers behave really differently, and I can see why people are struggling, in particular with the bloodthirsties. The Drakon really shouldn’t be too bad – use it like a DMR, run Recon ro ELO on it, play support like with an LMG and you should be fine. The Locus can be super frustrating – only netting one-shots chest high and up. This one was definitely a little slower for me – play it more like a traditional sniper, I ran with Variks as my sight and that helped a bit. Again, Nuketown is your friend, same with Fringe and even Stronghold. Play defensive, watch for flanking runs, and absolutely shoot-n-scoot. Grab a kill from one long hall on Nuketown, head up to window for a couple more, then relocate to a long hall again. Keep them guessing, and you should encounter less rushers. The P-06 was far and away my least favorite sniper. That shot delay is brutal to learn. Luckily, it is super powerful, so kills come easily, but you definitely need to know map flow and sightlines with it. I ran with Thermal on it, which I think actually really helped; and got my bloodthirsties done while I did my 5 Attachment kills because Rapid Fire, Fast Mags and Silencer made it much easier. The SVG plays a lot like a strong Locus, so the same things apply here, you just have a little bigger target than with the Locus. Again, Variks or Thermal are nice sights to put on, and Rapid Fire helps out a lot too. This is perhaps the one weapon class where you class setup is the most important. You’ll definitely be using every one of the pick ten. Trip Mines and Shock Charges are lifesavers, a good pistol as a back up helps a ton, and Scavenger helps you keep those traps in place. Perks are less important, aside from Scavenger, while attachments help out a ton I find.

There’s still a bit more to talk about with the Dark Camo grind – I didn’t touch on Secondary weapons at all today. So tomorrow we’ll look at them, and Friday we’ll look at the grind for Hero Armor on the Specialists. Again, I’m definitely not the best Call of Duty player out there – I have a modest 1.5 K/D – but I think that I’ve played enough over the years to learn how to grind out those camo challenges. I have been for years now after all. I’m on the grind as well, so I feel the pain, I know the struggles and I also know that once I have those Diamond camos it feels so damn good. Keep at it, don’t burn yourself out, and they’ll fall one gun at a time.

The Under Appreciated Best Part of The Division

The DivisionWe’re officially one week in to the life of The Division. That means that the super hardcore community is going to start shifting focus around to nitpicking and going a little off the beaten path. We’re already seeing it in the Dark Zone with Level 30 players decked out in High End gear just focused on ganking lower level/geared players for the hell of it. That means that we’ll probably see a whole lot of communication between the player base and Massive in the next couple weeks or so about the game moving forward. But before that potential confrontation really shakes out, I want to stop and talk about the one aspect of The Division that I don’t know has been getting enough attention.

In the maybe 24 hours of playtime I’ve put into the game so far, I would easily say that the bulk of that time has been spent just roaming around Manhattan picking up all of the collectibles scattered around. And in doing that I’ve seen maybe the best job of crafting an atmosphere and world in a modern themed game since probably Grand Theft Auto V. Massive has done an incredible job of making New York City feel like it actually is the real deal. The little touches like the NPCs fighting over supplies, looters looking in the windows of abandoned cars, and even though they’ve kind of become a meme, the dogs wondering the empty streets. And that’s just little touches involving the inhabitants of Manhattan. The world itself feels alive even in the face of the pandemic. Walls covered in memorial posters for missing people – especially the ones that appear in safe zones – really help put the human impact of the Green Poison in perspective. With the story revolving around this super-bug, and the fact that such an outbreak is actually a very real and terrifying prospect in the real world, seeing how much work Massive put into the human side of the game is really impressive.

The Division Collectibles

For me though, the most impressive part of building this world and making it feel alive is in the intel/evidence scattered around Manhattan. The intel pieces you get from completing the main story missions are visceral, dark, but still do a great job of explaining just what the hell is going on in the story. The Division isn’t a particularly gory or visually brutal game, but it is absolutely still an M-rated game thanks to the sheer brutality and realistic basis that the violence takes. The first Found Footage video you find, showing Cleaners clearing out a little bodega from the perspective of a terrified woman is so damn intense. It does an incredible job of advancing the overall narrative, and also outlining exactly what the Cleaners are all about – ruthless efficiency in destroying and burning the virus – all without any real dialogue. The phone recordings that are all over Manhattan are probably my favorite though. They’re written strongly across the board – even ones that could have easily been cheesy or goofy like the “On Fleek” recording come across as authentic. Add in that they’re acted well, with the voice work sounding much more like normal people instead of actors, and they come to life. I also like that Manhattan in full of different people with different lives – they aren’t all carbon copies. There are people of color, different economic classes represented, gay and straight, young and old all are in these phone conversations. They do a phenomenal job of giving the world of The Division before the outbreak a foundation, then as the outbreak happens and spreads, you can hear the panic and fear in the conversations. The collectibles were something that I was dreading a little going in to the game, just based on how damn many there are, but since there’s an upgrade you can take to mark them on the map, along with how well they’re organized in the HUD as well as how well they’re written makes them a big part of what I like getting in the game.

It’s still early on in The Division‘s lifespan – and in truth, I don’t know just how long the world they built will feel as strong as it does now – but regardless I am super impressed with Massive’s work here. I still think that The Division is the first really great game of 2016, and does a great job of setting the bar moving forward this year.