Destiny, Call of Duty and Halo’s Online Status – November 20, 2014

Destiny The Dark BelowThis has been an interesting week for the new “big three” of online shooters. All three – Destiny, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection – either have already gotten, or will get today, a pretty substantial patch. Destiny’s dropped early on in the week – this is the first in a series of planned patches to prepare for the first Expansion, “The Dark Below” on December 9. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare got an update yesterday that addressed a number of multiplayer specific issues, which is at least the second patch that is based around connection issues online in as many weeks. Finally, the Halo: The Master Chief Collection is getting a pretty loaded patch at some point this afternoon. The patch notes – which I was just harping on the other day – were released this morning in advance of the actual install of the patch. Based on what they released, this patch should really make playing it online an actual option now.

Advanced Warfare Cover

With all the patches, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at each game’s current status online. Let’s start with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – it’s only been out for three weeks, but has already gotten a number of patches. Typically with Call of Duty games, the patches address weapon balance issues as well as spawn location fixes, to go along with map exploits. But because of a rather rocky launch, these first few weeks have been filled with patches to improve the connectivity of the game. Admittedly, since Halo released, I have been playing more of that, but I did dive back in to some Call of Duty yesterday – and I can say that the game definitely plays much smoother than it did even last week. I think now the game is finally to a stable enough point where Sledgehammer Games can start looking at those other issues – the weapons I think definitely need a bit of a re-balance, as do the spawns. I had a game last night on Greenband where I spawned directly below an enemy – twice – in a Hardcore TDM game. I had similar spawns on Instinct as well. You can’t have that for long, or the online game suffers as a whole. I have faith in Sledgehammer, based around how well they’ve handled these first three weeks, that they’ll get things under control.

Destiny

As for Destiny, the patches at this point tend to have less to do with connection issues, and more to do with in-game tweaks and additions. Bungie can have patches focused around this now, thanks to the game’s launching two full months ago. They’ve used their time with the game well – the connections are stable, a lot of the exploits have been addressed, and for the most part, the game is about as complete as they can get it. This most recent patch accomplished a few things – primarily, it laid the framework for the upcoming DLC, “The Dark Below.” New geometry was placed, both in story missions to prevent leaving the world, as well as in Crucible maps to fix some exploits. Other additions were small, but I think they add a lot – there’s now a preview for shaders, as well as emblems, the customization vendor now sells more shaders, and players can hold up to 10 total bounties now, which is a little touch, but really helps. The other big Destiny item for this week is the return of the Iron Banner. Much was made of the fact that the Iron Banner wasn’t quite what they had said it would be – Bungie took that to heart, and went back to the drawing board. They’ve come back with a set-up that actually takes stats into account to a larger extent; five ranks of reputation to go through, and gear that is actually worth building up to get; as well as a new buff that makes it easier for players to get rep later in the week. It’s a step in the right direction for these timed events; I’m more curious to see how they approach the story based ones though.

Halo Master Chief Collection

Finally, we get to Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Oh boy, where to begin – the fact that matchmaking has basically been unplayable since launch? Or that even in private lobbies, playing Custom Games (which are always fun in Halo, even 13 years later) is a major chore? I could start with the UI issues involving the Roster not showing my friends as playing the game, even when I know for a fact they are. There are plenty of issues to deal with – so many that it worries me about how they may even impact Halo 5: Guardians. Luckily, 343 Industries acted pretty quickly, putting a server side patch up last week that they say helped; and at the same time coming up with a pretty substantial patch for this week. Today, that bigger patch drops – and man, those patch notes are pretty encouraging. From the looks of things, this patch is pretty much totally focused around getting matchmaking to work, keeping parties together during and after games, and making the UI functional for joining friends. There are a couple of other little things in the patch like fixing the player cards and emblems from resetting after games, as well as some achievement tweaks, but in general, this is a patch that is based around getting the game working online as fast as possible. If it works, we could start seeing more playlist hoppers open, along with the competitive series starting. If not, than I really think 343 is in trouble – the Holiday buying season is here, and if their game isn’t working, people will pass it up for other games this Holiday.

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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – Exo Survival Tips

Advanced Warfare CoverOne of the pillars of each Call of Duty game, at least over the last couple entries in the franchise, has been a strong co-op mode. The Treyarch games have had the Zombies mode, Call of Duty: Ghosts had Extinction, and Advanced Warfare has added the Exo-Survival mode. While Advanced Warfare seems to draw a lot from the Treyarch games, this co-op mode is much more reminiscent of the Survival mode from Modern Warfare 3. There are a few differences, not just the obvious ones that stem from the upgrades that are the draw of Advanced Warfare. Notably, you select an Exo Class – Light, Heavy or Specialist – which dictates what weapons and scorestreaks you can use.

The Exo-Survival mode, as I mentioned, is pretty similar to the Survival mode in Modern Warfare – mainly due to the fact that each game is played on the multiplayer maps. You play on the same maps, and deal with ever increasing in difficulty waves of enemies. At certain points, the waves content might switch up; you could be tasked with holding down a Hardpoint, or with picking up intel off of dead enemies. That is a different format than how it went in Modern Warfare 3, which was much more of a standard hoard mode. It also feels similar to the second co-op mode in Ghosts, Safeguard, which was also a round based hoard mode. Instead of having a set end point like Safeguard though, Exo-Survival doesn’t have a set end point, instead asking players to survive as long as possible.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Exo Survival

While it is possible to load up Exo-Survival to play it solo – that what I did to get a bit of a feel for it – it’s really a little too much to expect to play it to the highest levels solo. Part of that comes from the fact that it’s built as a co-op experience; it’s intended to be played with friends, so of course it’s difficult for a solo player. The other part comes from the way that classes are set up. You select an Exo-Class, which dictates which weapons you can use. There’s no crossover, so if you like playing the Heavy Exo for the added armor, but want to use an SMG, you’re out of luck. You can switch classes at any point – finding the Exo-Suit spot where you can also put in upgrades. That Exo-Suit you pick also dictates which scorestreaks you can call in, as well as which movement abilities you have access to. That’s why I think it’s really important to bring in a group of players, to mix up not only the scorestreaks but also the weapons you have available.

As for how I would approach it – I think you really don’t need to have a Specialist class out there. They have access to the Remote Turret initially – which takes them out of the action while they’re using the turret. And their primary is a shotgun – the Tac 19 for the first few waves until the next ones unlock. As a huge fan of shotguns in video games, I have to say that the Tac 19, which I was excited to try since it’s a directed energy shotgun, just doesn’t quite measure up. The rate of fire is slow and the range is real short, with a long reload time as well. With a full four man party, you might be able to cover those shortcomings, but I think in general you’re better off with mixing together Exo Light and Exo Heavy. You’ll have just about every range covered, good scorestreaks to help, and a good mix of mobility. You need to work together to get through the higher levels, calling out the movement of the more dangerous enemies, and make sure to use your upgrade points in between rounds to bulk up, and you’ll have a good time with Exo-Survival. It’s a nice little diversion from Campaign and Multiplayer, but I will say that I don’t know how much longevity is there. It’s not as deep as Zombies or Extinction; but with the Zombies teased last weekend, we might have something more in the future coming to help that out.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – Initial Impressions

Advanced Warfare CoverWell after a debacle of a day yesterday, in which I learned I had mistakenly pre-ordered the Xbox 360 version of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare; then started installing the Xbox One version digitally to cover that – that install ended this morning at 11:30. So while technically I did indeed have the game on Day Zero – I was unable to actually play the game. All that dealt with though and now on Day One, I have been able to put a bit of time into the Multiplayer, which is really where players look with the franchise.

In advance of the game’s launch, I was already relatively excited for the multiplayer. From the changes to the create a class system; to the actual changes to the gameplay, I had come around to what Sledgehammer games was doing. Now that’s all well and good before launch, but whether it would hold up after playing the game was an unknown to me. At least initially, my impressions of the game is that it’s a real winner. It’s a much better game, again initially, than Ghosts. Anyone who spent any real time with Ghosts knows well that the game was unbalanced thanks to guns like the Honey Badger and MTAR – weapons that very clearly functioned well beyond their intentions. It’s a little hard to tell since it’s still only Day One, but from what I have seen, there really isn’t one weapon that looks to take over the Multiplayer. I’ve seen lots using the Bal-24, the AK-12 and the HBR online so far, which makes sense, as assault rifles tend to be the more popular weapons early on.

One of the major points that Sledgehammer games was making was an increased emphasis on customization. That’s seen with the Pick 13 system, which I think will end up keeping the game from getting too unbalanced. There are so many possible options of combinations, that even MLG loadouts will see some good variety. The Pick 13 system of course is an updated take on the Pick 10 system from Black Ops II. Overall, it really does look and feel like Sledgehammer took a lot from Black Ops II as their basis. The playercard stuff is all very similar to Black Ops II, the medals are, the class loadouts are, the actual gameplay style is similar too; which honestly feels like a real refreshing feel compared to Ghosts. The major concern that I think “fans” and internet commenters had was that the game would feel too similar to Titanfall. Look, just because they both have a booster system, they’re two totally different games. Having put a lot of time in with Titanfall, I feel very confident in saying that. They’re totally different – not just because of the Titans and AI, but just the overall feel. Advanced Warfare feels just like a classic Call of Duty game should, just with some updates to deal with the new mechanics.

Defender CoD AW

Which brings me to the meat of this – actual gameplay. I’ve been messing with Ground War, because that’s the best playlist (mixture of gametypes with larger lobbies is always good) and I’ve gotten to play 5 or so different maps on Kill Confirmed, TDM and Domination. Each map has definitely had a bit different feel to them, which is incredibly important to me. They’ve been smaller than the maps I’ve been playing lately with Destiny and Titanfall, but that makes sense within the Call of Duty system. What I will say is that, as is often the case early in a game’s life, the spawns need a little work on a couple maps. While that’s frustrating, being spawn trapped or flipping the map too easily both suck for different reasons, but it’s not out of the ordinary (particularly in CoD) especially so early in the lifespan of the game. Sledgehammer has plenty of time to look at the data and tweak them as they see fit. Part of playing a game so early is having to deal with some of the growing pains, spawns included. I already talked a bit about the weapons – I think there’s a good variety, and I really like the Virtual Firing Range to test everything out. One thing that I would have liked to have seen is a little more direction with the new mechanics – the boost dodge isn’t particularly intuitive (it’s activated by using the sprint button while strafing) but it’s an action that can really change a firefight. I would have liked to have seen it explained in a tooltip or something along those lines; and it might be explained well in Campaign, but I think that a majority of players dive right into Multiplayer first, so it should have something there too.

It’s really early, but so far, it really does look like Sledgehammer has a solid game on their hands. The time-to-kill feels just about right with the new abilities and weapons; the new equipment doesn’t really look like it’s got an overpowered option; the Pick 13 system really allows for freedom with classes, and the upgradeable scorestreaks are a real deep option. Depending on how they approach the first post-launch patch, that might skew things a little bit, but as of Day One, I think they have a really good chance to do well. It’s biggest asset is that it’s Call of Duty – it plays differently from Destiny, the other major shooter out right now, and has always competed well with Halo, which we see next week. It’s a great time to play shooters online.