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.

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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.

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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.

Deeper Thoughts on The Division: Day Two

The DivisionYesterday I was able to get a little more in depth on The Division, hitting level 12, playing through some content that wasn’t in the beta, and playing around with my builds a little bit. A lot of what I wrote yesterday still stands – I am liking the game as a whole, but there still are a couple questions I have that are slowly getting answered. One thing that I forgot to mention yesterday was just how much I’m in love with the visuals in The Division – it’s definitely one of the best looking games on the Xbox One right now. The standout for me is the environmental effects – the weather in particular is spectacular; step out in a snow storm and you’ll be in for a vastly different experience than in clear weather.

What I really have been digging into is the real depth to the combat and potential variety in the builds. Only having three stats might seem a little simplified, but I think it actually helps drive players to realize that focusing on one or two stats makes you a lot stronger than trying to go Jack of all Trades. Even without explicitly talking about it, my group has already started to establish some different roles based around the builds we want. I’m focusing on raising my health and skill stats as much as possible – I am forgoing DPS a little bit in favor of being more of a medic/tank build. One of my buddies is going pure glass cannon – DPS and skill over health; he’s sitting around 2,000 health, while I have over double that. We have another who’s definitely building around per-bullet damage, with a strong marksman rifle and playing a little more defensive. That simplified nature of stats makes slipping into those builds really easy, and that’s why we didn’t even need to talk about the roles we wanted to take. It just happened, and that’s a sign of good game design. Sure a little of that was initialized by the random rolls we got in loot drops, but that’s easily changed as we progress.

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In regards to those build choices, I think the two I mentioned – Glass cannon with high DPS and Skill, and Tank/Medic with high Health and Skill – are the best all around options. I think going high DPS and Health is tempting, and with the right weapons and group makeup could work, but it’s definitely a little trickier to use in difficult content. I think skill power might be the most important stat overall, since it dictates not only the actual results of your skill (healing power, damage from attacks that sort of thing) but it also impacts cooldowns, keeping you at full power more often. It’s really tempting to chase crazy guns trying to find two super strong weapons to run with, but with guns you’re stuck playing around reloads. You need those abilities to fill the down time and keep the enemies at bay while those reloads happen. If you’re playing in a group – which I certainly recommend – you’ll definitely want at least one guy with high skill power.

When it comes to ability selection, that’s where the depth really shines. Gunplay in The Division is solid, but pretty straight forward. SMGs, assault rifles and LMGs all fill the same basic roll – sustained DPS and suppressing fire, while shotguns and marksman rifles are your pure damage options. It’s your abilities that add the variety and, frankly, fun to the combat. We had a group of three yesterday running through a mission, set to Hard of course, where we were a little underleveled – but we were able to power though because we had a mix of abilities. Even early game when you’re really picking and choosing your Base of Operation upgrades carefully, it’s not hard to get a good mix of different abilities in a group. We had one running turret and heal, I ran sticky bomb and heal, and we had our third with upgraded pulse and sticky bomb. Now, I probably am going to change up my skills as I upgrade my Base (I’m eyeing seeker mine and support station right now), but that mix seemed to work pretty well to me. And with my focus on skill power, my heals do more, and they come back faster – that’s why I am playing the medic role.

There’s still a lot to discover in The Division – I’m not even halfway to the level cap yet, there’s still a lot of story content to play, a slew of collectibles and I haven’t even begun to explore the Dark Zone. But even this early on, I feel pretty confident in saying that The Division is the first truly great game of the year. It’s not flawless, but the flaws it does have are pretty minimal and at the end of the day, it’s a damn fun game to play.

Tom Clancy’s The Division Launch Day Impressions

The DivisionYesterday saw the launch of what I would call the first big release of 2016, Tom Clancy’s The Division. It’s a game that I’ve been interested in for a while now, having played both the closed and open betas, so I’m excited to really dig into the world that Ubisoft and Massive have created. I played a good few hours yesterday, some solo, some with just one partner, and a little bit with a full group of four. There’s still a whole lot of game to get into, but I wanted to put down my first impressions, and some thoughts that I think will ring true for the whole game.

Firstly, I’m pretty pleased with the actual launch experience. I know that at midnight the servers were a little overloaded and there were plenty of posts about people not being able to log on, but by mid-day Tuesday (at least on Xbox One) there really weren’t any problems that I saw or had. In this day when games are persistently online and launches are always a shaky experience, it was nice to not have any major issues. The question now is how well the servers handle the full first week load as more players get their copies of the game and get logged on.

In terms of new content that wasn’t present in the beta, I only played a little bit last night. I ran through one full mission, unlocking the Security Wing for my Base of Operation in Manhattan, and obviously the tutorial section in Brooklyn. It’s not a huge sample size, but I will say that each mission I’ve played – the two in the Open Beta and now the Lincoln Tunnel Checkpoint mission – all felt very similar in their execution. The details differentiate them enough to the point where they have enough individuality, but I am a little curious at just how much variety they can put into the missions. That said, that security mission is definitely my favorite of those first three initial missions – running it a little underpowered made it challenging without being obscene, and the flow of it just felt really fun. It’s certainly worth running that mission as soon as possible though, as the reward for unlocking the Security Wing grants you a +10% boost to XP earned.

The Division Beta

Where I’ve actually spent most of my mental energy with The Division is in looking at the abilities, perks and talents which weren’t available in the beta. In the two betas, you couldn’t even look at them – it just said “not available in beta.” Now that I’ve been able to look through the upgrades, perks, talents and abilities, I feel a little more confident that the combat and action will stay fresh thanks to the different build options. There’s a ton of variety in there – from damage boosting talents to keep your DPS guys strong, to great team healing buffs and cooldown reducers for your medic players supercharging the team. What I really like is that the perks you unlock with each upgrade to a wing of the Base of Operation are all passive abilities. You unlock them, and they take effect – you get stronger right away. It puts some value on grabbing some of the, maybe less powerful looking upgrades, to get perks that immediately help your whole team. If you’re coming into The Division from Destiny – which I’ve definitely seen a lot of audience crossover online – you’re probably in for a pretty big shock. This is very much an RPG first – stats and abilities/talents/perks all matter a lot more than thumbskill and shooting accuracy. If you have a background with RPGs – in particular ones like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or maybe a bit of Diablo – you’ll be right in your element. Min-maxing is the name of the game here – you’ll be chasing gear not with high damage or armor values, but with high stats in either Firearms, Health or Tech values to charge your DPS, Health or Ability powers. As long as you go in with that in mind, I think you’ll definitely enjoy The Division.

Now, that said, there are a couple things that I’m still concerned about. I already touched on that I’m curious about just how much mission variety the rest of the game has. There’s also some little details in the actual gameplay that I’m less that thrilled about. The A.I. is pretty dumb – sure they’ll flank you, but it’s more of a bumrush than anything resembling a concerted flank. They’re a lot more content to sit back in cover and just shoot a lot at you. The other thing is that the game really isn’t super difficult, even on hard difficulty. With crafting added – which is a little over generous calling it crafting – it’s not hard to get solid gear, level appropriately and go in with a partner or two and suddenly the missions are pretty simple. I’m still unsure that any end-game content is going to be enough to keep me engaged after I complete it. With other looter/shooter/RPGs (Borderlands, Destiny, Diablo) completing the end-game/raid content once is just the tip of the iceberg. The fun comes from running them multiple times to get different and better loot. I don’t know, based on what mission content I’ve seen so far, that The Division is going to have that same feeling at the end, but we’ll see. Lastly, the Dark Zone is still a huge question to me. In a perfect world, I think the Dark Zone would be the perfect end-game area. It’s got the highest leveled enemies, at their highest tier, and has the potential for PvP engagements. The problem is that I think the ganking method – camping those extraction zones, waiting for everyone to bunch up and start putting their loot on then pouncing – is too potentially rewarding with not a huge downside. And going in as a solo player is even more punishing – if you wind up running into Rogue agents, especially if they’re in a group together, you’re pretty much done for. Now, because the Dark Zone is divided up into six zones, instead of just the couple from the beta, maybe lower level players can use that first zone to get a start on looting; but there’s really no guarantee. That’s putting a lot of power into the hands of the anonymous gaming community. Regardless, The Division is a really strong game – the action is fun, the depth is surprising, and the game itself looks gorgeous. If you’re on the fence, I recommend it – just know that it isn’t flawless.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Awakening MP Map Impressions

Black Ops 3The first DLC pack for Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Awakening, landed on Xbox One and PC today, bringing four new multiplayer maps and a new Zombies map. While I know that the maps have been available on PS4 for about a month now, I haven’t had the chance to play them until today. So with that in mind, I thought I’d talk a little bit about each of the four new maps and how I think they work in Black Ops III‘s current meta-game.

Rise is, to me, the most standard “Call of Duty” style map in the pack in terms of visuals. It’s set in an under construction research facility in the mountains around Zurich. It’s got a neat way of using Treyarch’s three lane approach to map design – one lane is full of cover to move around and feels really clustered and claustrophobic almost, the middle lane is pretty typical in three lane ideas featuring a large central courtyard that acts as a huge chokepoint, and the other outside lane is definitely the cleanest and most open, with a good chunk of water available for moving in. It’s a map where I think longer range engagements are going to be a little scarce – moving around it seems really easy, with lots of small crossing routes to take between the lanes. I don’t know if Treyarch did this on purpose, but Rise feels like it draws heavily on a couple different Black Ops II maps – Meltdown and Hydro. The water side has a sightline and window setup that looks a lot like the dam side on Hydro, and the interior industrial side felt a lot to me like Meltdown. They aren’t direct, but I couldn’t help feel the echoes.

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The brightest map in the pack for sure, Splash takes place in an abandoned water park. In most Call of Duty maps, the color palate is generally pretty muted – lots of grays and browns. Splash throws that out the window – bright reds, yellows, purples and blues are all over this map – it’s honestly a pretty refreshing look for a Call of Duty map. The map itself has a similar setup to most Black Ops III maps – three lanes, with a big central courtyard. In this case though, those outside lanes really are more designed to draw players to that center courtyard than as actual combat lanes. There aren’t a ton of super long sightlines – think combat that’s similar to Nuketown, so mid-range combat is going to be the main action here. When Awakening came out on PS4, this map had some pretty nasty collision issues that made it real easy to get out of the map an into really unfair positions. They were patched pretty quickly though, so hopefully playing on the Xbox won’t have any of those growing pains. Of the new maps, this is the one that I’m hoping ends up having a strong meta-game around it.

This is the map that visually I’m the most in love with. As much as I like Splash’s colors, Gauntlet has a really unique look that no map has had in Call of Duty. The three lanes each have distinct environments, designed to be training settings for Winslow Accord operatives. That helps give each lane a really unique feel from each other, and each one is going to demand different skills from players. The jungle lane is super dense visually – I think certain Specialist camos are going to make picking out targets difficult. Thermal scopes could be pretty handy on this one. The rainy, urban setting is symmetrical, and definitely built around long-range lane control. Each side has a little room that only has two entrances – perfect for sniping from to control that long hall. The middle lane though is where I think this map shines – the arctic section features just about every kind of combat and ability that Black Ops III has. Longer ranges, winding paths for flanking and close range weapons, wall running, ledge jumping, thrust jumps – all feature in in this arctic section.

The map going in that I knew the most about, Skyjacked is a updated remake of Hijacked from Black Ops II. Hijacked was a great map, and worked in any game mode – mainly because it was symmetrical but had enough routes to get from base to base to keep it from turning super campy. Skyjacked keeps that basic idea – symmetrical design with two main bases, but with the new movement options, getting around the map is so much faster and easier. The changes to the map mainly involve adjusting sightlines – there aren’t quite as many ones that cross the whole center of the map anymore, and the cabana and middle hut offer a lot more cover than before. The bottom deck also feels a lot more packed in, even with the addition of the outside route into and out of it. Where the biggest change though is in the utility of the towers. In Black Ops II, those towers could be used to really lock down the map, at least above deck, because you could easily defend them with their limited points of entry. Now though with thruster jumping, the second floor is easily reached from the main deck, so holding down a tower is going to be a lot more complex. It still feels really good to play – there’s a reason they picked Hijacked to bring forward. It still can be played with pretty much any weapon class, though I do think SMGs and fast firing assault rifles are better off here.

Overall, Awakening adds in four really strong maps to an already pretty good mix to Black Ops III. Now that we’re starting to get into some new games – Division comes next week, Quantum Break is next month – bringing new content to all consoles is just what Call of Duty needed. Halo 5 has been killing it with the free content updates so far, so I’m going to be curious how this performs on Xbox One. If you’re playing Black Ops III, I definitely recommend picking it up – it adds a good bit of life to the game.

Xbox 360 Games That Need to be Backwards Compatible

Xbox 360 LogoMicrosoft announced this week that in the next update coming to the Xbox One, Xbox 360 titles that are part of the backwards compatibility feature will be able to be purchased from the Xbox Live Store right on the Xbox One. They’ve been good about making the Games with Gold games be backwards compatible, but there’s always been that one little barrier that might be keeping people from picking them up – you needed to either still log on the 360 to “buy” them, or go on to the Marketplace on to do the same. Hopefully bringing the 360’s marketplace to the Xbox One will open up a whole bunch of classics from the last generation to make the backwards compatible leap. So with that in mind, I thought I’d pick out a couple 360 games that really need to be brought into the backwards compatible program – if for no reason other than new gamers really should play them.

BioShock CoverWe’ll start with the BioShock series. I’ve seen a couple rumors floating around that there are plans to bring them forward in an HD/Definitive Edition Collection, similar to what 2K did with Borderlands. Assuming that doesn’t come to fruition, the three games should at least come forward as backwards compatibility titles. The first game is arguably one of the best story driven shooters of all time, and is in my personal top five for the entire 360’s library. There’s a lot of depth in the combat with the Plasmid system, bringing in a little RPG flavor to a shooter with a ton of character, and one of the most intriguing settings in modern gaming with Rapture. The sequel was a little bit of a stumble – I wouldn’t call it a step back, but it wasn’t the step forward that maybe it should have been. There are some really cool innovations – playing as a prototype Big Daddy was awesome, and being able to wield a Plasmid and weapon at the same time made combat a little more fluid. Where I think the biggest misstep was with BioShock 2 was the addition of multiplayer, which felt a little forced to me. Luckily, BioShock Infinite brought the series back to really solid ground, even when the game wasn’t set on particularly solid ground. It took the ideas that the first game presented, married it with the updated action from the second, and then ran with them. I’d love to see that HD collection happen, but if not, these games really need to be available through backwards compatibility.

Another game on my personal top 1o list is Dead Space – the first game is still one of the best examples of survival horror, using a pretty standard sci-fi setting and cranking the terror up through immersive storytelling and unique enemy interaction. When we think survival horror, we think zombies – that’s just the nature of the beast thanks mainly to Resident Evil. With Dead Space, the tried and true zombie killing approach was turned on its head – the game punishes you for shooting the Necromorphs in the head. The most base instinct of any gun-based combat actually is the wrong answer – beheading them makes them much more dangerous; instead the game, using in-world assets (messages sprawled on the walls in blood) to tell you to shoot their limbs. The sequels got a little away from the real sensation of claustrophobia that the Ishimora had in the first game, opting for an increasing focus on combat. As much as I prefer to see full series available on backwards compatibility, the first Dead Space really needs to come forward.

Dragon Age OriginsI have three more groups of games that I want to talk about today. Each is relevant to the current gaming market in different ways, and each is cemented in that conversation of “best of the generation.” We’ll start with the Dragon Age games. I actually just reinstalled Dragon Age: Inquisition to my Xbox One, since it was cleared when my box died back in October. BioWare is one of my favorite developers – their characters and stories are consistently some of the best in gaming across the board. They’ve proven that they can craft engaging stories, with characters that feel real, in worlds that feel lived in; and still have the gameplay to keep players invested in RPGs that can easily creep up into that 60 hour range. Dragon Age takes that idea and brings in the classic Dungeons and Dragons mechanics to the combat. BioWare used that same d20 system in their first third-person RPG, Knights of the Old Republic. Dragon Age just brought that d20 system back to high fantasy, and makes sure to have a story in place that makes sense and is engaging. Since the third game did so well on the current-gen consoles, it really just makes sense to bring the first two games to backward compatibility. There’s not a huge amount of connection, outside of certain characters and story/world elements linking the third game to the first two, so new players might not have the same background with the Lore.

Sticking with BioWare, their other main franchise is another that’s in my top five: Mass Effect. I’ve talked in the past about how much I want an HD collection of the Shepard trilogy on the current-gen consoles, if for no reason other than to tide me over until Mass Effect Andromeda. Baring that, those three games really should be available to play through the backwards compatibility on Xbox One. They’re a more balanced blend of RPG and shooter mechanics, mainly because of the realtime combat, and use of a third-person cover system. With these kind of genre blended games becoming much more common, I think bringing an example of not only one of the earliest blended shooter/RPGs, but still one of the best of those games. Shepard’s story is both grand and intimate, the themes that lie underneath this huge space sci-fi epic are decidedly human. It is one of the first modern games I can remember to put a big emphasis on player choices and decisions. The idea of Paragon and Renegade playthroughs, character interactions that put actual value on your responses, and an ending that, in theory, is driven by player choice all were super innovative nine years ago. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who either missed the series because they were too young, or because they weren’t into RPGs or whatever other reasons you can think of – bringing them to backwards compatibility means that a new generation of players could sit down and play through one of the best trilogies of games ever. Since the first game is on the list, I don’t know why the other two haven’t been added yet.

SkyrimFinally, one last set of games – Bethesda’s RPGs. Fallout 3 is already available – it came with Fallout 4 – but their other three RPGs: Fallout New VegasElder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim all haven’t made the leap yet. With Fallout 4 starting its DLC season shortly, the time might be a little crunched, but I definitely think that they really belong on the list. New Vegas added in a lot more RPG depth to the characters, and Hardcore mode is a totally unique way of playing Bethesda RPGs. The Elder Scrolls games were the RPGs, especially Oblivion that started me getting into more traditional and deeper RPGs as opposed to Pokemon and Final Fantasy. With Elder Scrolls Online on the current-gen consoles, I think it makes sense to try and put at least Skyrim on that backwards list, if it isn’t already. I know that studios are starting to really pull away from the last generation – and that’s been something I’ve wanted to see from developers for about a year now – but there are still games from last-gen that I think can exist with the backwards compatibility. I don’t know how much effort it takes to put them on that list of games that is backwards compatible, but if I were Microsoft, I know that I would really be trying to get Skyrim on there.