Destiny: Rise of Iron – Launch Day Thoughts

Destiny Rise of IronIt’s finally here, the last expansion for DestinyRise of Iron, and man have I been super excited for this one. Over the last couple few months, Bungie has done a fantastic job of building the hype for this expansion, which is something they’ve always been great with. I played through the story content yesterday, along with a couple patrols into the Plaguelands and matches of Supremacy and thought I’d put down a few thoughts I had. Be warned, there will be spoilers for the story ahead.

Going in, we knew that this was going to be a smaller experience than The Taken King was.But that hopefully was going to mean that we were getting a well focused story – somewhat of a rarity in the world of Destiny unfortunately. After playing through the narrative, I honestly think that this is exactly the step that Bungie needed to take with it. Yes, it’s short but it tells a story that’s easily relatable – Saladin’s story is one that pops up pretty frequently in fantasy/sci-fi. The lone survivor/watch tasked with keeping an ancient evil from returning – it’s nothing groundbreaking, but easy to understand and get invested in. Add in the new CG cutscenes, and you have easily the most engaging story in Destiny yet. That alone would be good, but when you look at the actual content in the narrative, you see that Bungie is finally diving into the deep lore they’ve got and putting it into the game. This expansion in particular sets the table for some incredible possibilities. I mentioned that I’ll talk about spoilers – the biggest one is the final fight in the story missions. After tracking down a way to stop SIVA, you head back to the place where the Iron Lords fell – the Replication Chamber – to initiate the self-destruct. This is where you find that SIVA has taken the fallen Iron Lords armor and infected it, using their armor as surrogates to fight you. It’s unclear just how much of the Iron Lords remained in there – from a consciousness point – but it was a pretty awesome twist to end the story. I was totally sure that we’d get some kind of Splicer Fallen boss, not a totally new enemy. From a gameplay standpoint, that’s pretty cool because I think it opens up possibilities for Raid bosses in Wrath of the Machine.

The new strike is pretty cool too – The Wretched Eye – albeit a little straightforward. I hope that as we keep moving forward, we see more variety and complexity in the strikes. You already see elements of it in the new version of The Devils’ Lair, Sepiks Perfected – using the new Shock and Null cannons to break his shielding. I like the Wretched Eye fight for its frantic pace – there are a lot of things to keep track of – the blind, raging Ogre chasing you, the Splicer with one of the more dangerous enemy attacks out there, plus plenty of dregs and shanks that show up as the fight progresses. It’s one that I can totally see being a hard fight with some modifiers on for Nightfalls, in particular void burn. The new locations – both the Plaguelands and Felwinter Peak – are easily the best new locations that Bungie has put in since Vanilla. My only issue with Felwinter is that damn secret SIVA cluster hiding at the very top of the peak – platforming in Destiny is already tricky, and the jumps you have to make to get up there are frustrating as hell. The Plaguelands are really cool from a visual standing – it’s very different from any other area in-game. Earth is probably the most industrial location, and even the Cosmodrome doesn’t hold a candle to here. Lava falls, huge beached tankers, and giant Fallen keeps make each distinct zone feel different enough to keep you exploring. There are still a few secrets out there I’m sure, but I like that the Hive majors that drop Splicer Keys spawn often enough where just running Patrol for a bit should net you a good stack. I think when you look at the Dreadnaught and now The Plaguelands you can see that Bungie is trying to make Patrol a more rewarding and valuable activity. I’ve always liked Patrol just because you can hop in and explore the gorgeous vistas that Bungie has created. Now that Patrol actually can net me some useful rewards, it’s even better.

My only real issues that I’ve had so far are based around two things: the Archon’s Forge and Crucible play. The Crucible is still stuck in this really frustrating meta – crazy high power hand-cannons and shotguns just are the only competitive option, and Supremacy drives players to that even more. I know that we’re probably going to see a balance patch in the next couple weeks post-launch, but I really hope it comes soon. It’s just not fun to play in a lot of different ways, which is a shame because Supremacy as a mode is a lot of fun. The Archon’s Forge though is a little trickier to figure out what Bungie needs to do. It’s supposed to be essentially a new version of the Court of Oryx – a public space to play increasingly difficult challenges for unique rewards. The big problem is that it’s a handful of zones away – not a huge deal since you can spawn Sparrows in the Plaguelands; and that you can only have one offering at a time. The actual mechanics with the arena are a little odd too – you spawn the encounter, and if you don’t enter right away, you may end up locking yourself out. To re-enter, you need a Splicer Key; which is the case should you die and respawn yourself. I think of all the new content we have right now – at least until we see how the raid shakes out – this is where Bungie needs to look for some changes. I’m okay with only having one offering, but make it so it’s one of each rarity, and that they drop a bit more often. The loot also needs to be a bit more consistent, especially for the people who don’t actually present the offering – Court of Oryx was good because you could earn high Light blues even if you didn’t present the rune.

Overall though, from top to bottom, Rise of Iron is exactly what I think Destiny needed. It’s a fantastic addition to the game, and most importantly, shows what direction I think the game is heading as we move closer to the full sequel. If they can keep finding ways to tell stories that are focused – especially on a larger scale – I think Bungie will finally be nearing the potential that Destiny has always shown. Even if you’ve been away from the game for a while, this is a great time to get back – it’s totally worth it.

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Forza Horizon 3 Open Beta Thoughts

forza-horizon-3Over the weekend, Turn 10 and Microsoft put out a demo for the upcoming Forza Horizon 3, pairing well with the first game being free for the first half of this month. I spent a little bit messing around with the new festival down under in Australia and wanted to put down a few thoughts I had with it.

Firstly, I’m admittedly not the greatest racing game player in the world, especially with the more realistic style games. That said, I have really enjoyed playing Forza games since I started my first time with Forza 5. The games have enough forgiveness to help those of us that aren’t the smoothest of racers. I’m sure that my Driveatar in the Forza world is a giant pain to deal with, with plenty of aggressive lines. That still is the case with the Horizon games – the races may be a little less strict, since their set on “real” roads – I just like the free roam nature a lot more. With this new game, the new setting really helps make it feel like a step forward. I know Forza Horizon 2 was set in a very different place from the first game – the Mediterranean Coast in Europe vs. Colorado – but this new variety in locations Down Under is so different from the other two games that it really breathes life into it. Driving from the beaches right through to a dense jungle in one fell swoop is pretty damn cool, especially when you look at what really makes the Forza games special – the visuals.

My favorite part of any Forza game is looking at these amazing cars, that I have a less than zero percent chance of ever owning, hopping in, and driving away with graphics that are incredible. They’ve always been some of the most visually impressive games on the Xbox, both while you’re actually out racing and when you’re inspecting the cars to see all the minute details. Even playing the original game now, four years later, it still looks fantastic compared with 360 games from that era – hell it looks better than some games do today. But looking at this new game, it’s like night and day – the graphics have progressed on consoles so far so fast that it blows my mind. These kind of graphics ten years ago were only possible on super high end PCs – now it’s on your TV thanks to a $300 console, and it’s only going to be better if you’ve got the Xbox One S uprezzing it to 4K. There’s a reason why everyone made a big deal about the PS4 Pro not having native 4K, while next year’s Xbox Project Scorpio is going to natively render in 4K. Ultra HD is here, and damn does it make games like Forza look amazing.

Racing games are weird to recommend, in that if your skill level isn’t great they can be super frustrating. I’m, again, not great with them, but thanks to shows like Top Gear, I really like luxury cars and high end sports cars and classic sports cars, so I’ll keep playing Forza through the frustrations. I have no problem dropping the skill level to easy to beat them if I have to. They’re a lot like Fighting games in that way – super frustrating, but I still enjoy a couple of them. The demo is free, and since the game is coming out soon, now is definitely the time to grab it to try it out. I thought it was a really fun time, maybe a bit more of the same with gameplay in the Forza world, but certainly a gorgeous experience.

Destiny: Rise of Iron Private Matches Pre-Launch Thoughts

Destiny Rise of IronWe’re under a week away from launch for Destiny: Rise of Iron, and with this week’s weekly reset made a major new feature in the addition live in-game now. If you’ve been playing Crucible over the last two years you already know that the addition of Private Matches has been one of the biggest features coming to the game. It’s not exactly the Custom Games that the community has been clamoring for, it’s absolutely a step in the right direction. Bungie has a history with Destiny of doing something in-game the week going into a launch – House of Wolves had the Queen’s Wrath, Dark Below had Eris show up, and Taken King had all the changes to the in-game systems live early. With that track record, I think we were all looking for something this week, but I don’t know how many people were thinking Private Matches a full week early. A final Iron Banner with Saladin at the Tower was my bet, turns out we got a pretty sizable patch last week and now a whole new way to play PvP matches.

Private Matches are a super important part of an FPS game’s longevity. They’re what keeps the game in players’ consoles/hard drives for years, not just the online play. It’s the ability to set up a private game that lets a competitive scene grow and thrive – MLG wouldn’t be as big as it’s grown without private lobbies. Over the last couple years, as Destiny has evolved and Bungie has tried to pin down just what they want the game to be, the lack of a private world for a competitive community to grow has been a bit of a noticeable gap. In one day, I’ve already seen tons of different options from streamers and community pillars hosting private games, or putting different ideas for what to play out into the world. We as a community have been trying modes like Hide and Go Seek, Infection; as well as going in-depth with testing things we’ve wanted to learn. There’s plenty here to dig into with Private Matches – maybe not as robust as Bungie games have had in the past, but still plenty to mess with.

Just going in to the maps solo yesterday, I got real sense of nostalgia – which maybe sounds a little weird. It’s really cool to go into these spaces that we play frequently, or in other cases, haven’t seen in months alone and find new things. I never once noticed the little floating Hive lights on the Drifter in one of the hallways back by the heavy spawn. Turning off the HUD and just exploring the arenas alone, listening to the ambient sound design, maybe putting on some music outside of the game and taking it all in is something that I think is going to be a real cool part of Private Matches. If nothing else comes out of it, it’s worth doing to go in and grab the 27 new Dead Ghosts that Bungie put into the Crucible Arenas. Each map has its own new Dead Ghost, and they can only be found in a Private instance. There are guides up already on YouTube or reddit, but I recommend trying to find them first without one – you’ll get a real appreciation for the maps. I came out of my Ghost hunt yesterday with, I think, a better understanding of the work the Crucible design team puts in. From details that litter the maps, to the actual mechanics like where boundaries are and what constitutes a soft-kill zone, you can really learn them with just a few minutes running solo.

Destiny: Rise or Iron Final Prep Tips

Destiny Rise of IronWe’re in the final couple weeks before Rise of Iron launches on the 20th, with the 2.4 patch live in Destiny now. I’ve seen a bunch of different Destiny community heads talking over the last few weeks about how to prep for the new expansion. So I thought I’d share how I’ve been prepping for the launch.

In-game, it’s been finishing up my exotic class item goal. I have all three Faction Titan marks, and one of the Faction items on each of my alts. Since grinding to level 25 has been a bit of a slog up until recently with the better rep gains, I never really intended to get all nine right away. I’ll aim for finishing the collection moving through Rise or Iron. It’s the same with the exotic swords – I have one already and just need to run the strike on the other two, I just haven’t gotten to it. And honestly beyond that, my whole time playing has just been because I like the game. Once I finished my Iron Banner weapon suite with the last event, I focused more on just enjoying the game, especially since I finished the Moments of Triumph. Since the time on those is really coming to a deadline, I would say that should be your primary focus for sure.

My advise beyond that is pretty simple. Make sure you have a good stockpile of materials – weapon and armor parts, planetary materials, Motes of Light and Strange Coins. If you want to, you can certainly edge your Factions to level them as sson as Rise of Iron launches for a quick boost. But the most important thing is to not burn yourself out – don’t play because you feel like you have to. Take a break, play something else in the meantime. Overwatch is free play on console this weekend, give that a shot. Watch some college football or NFL this weekend. Don’t burn out on Destiny before the expansion even launches. That’s really the most important bit of “prep” advise I can give.

Destiny: Rise of Iron – Weapon Patch Notes

Destiny Rise of IronWe’re starting to get really close to the launch of Rise of Iron, the third (and potentially final) expansion to Destiny. Today the game is going under some scheduled maintenance for a good portion of the day putting in place the 2.4.0 build in advance of the assumed 3.0 Rise of Iron build. While the game is down though, Bungie is putting out the patch notes online in two waves. The weapon balance changes are live now, and the full patch notes will be up later this afternoon. In general, I think we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the patch note side of things – removal of Spectral Treasure, addition of the new Silver Dust inventory, I’m guessing this is where the Iron Banner changes will happen too under the hood. The weapon patch though was one that the community has been waiting for since June – and there are some really interesting changes coming forward.

The patch notes start off with changes to Exotic weapons – and this is really where the first shining change lives. Universal Remote, a current bane of the Crucible, is getting hit with a little nerf. It’s not quite as strong as maybe I would have liked, having been on the wrong end of one tons over the last weeks, but it’s a great move. The range, which is Universal Remote’s strength, is getting taken down a bit (75% with the exotic perk) no longer ensuring it reaches max range. It’s also seeing a rate of fire increase, bringing a little damage drop – which is honestly always been my biggest hurdle with the high power shotguns, slow handling/RoF. I love these moves, hopefully they help put Universal Remote back into a better spot. Other exotics got changes too – Fabian Strategy is going to be useful finally, thanks to bringing the Zhalo Supercell reload perk to it, and a range and stability increase. Thorn, which is returning in Rise of Iron, needs to be watched carefully to keep it from returning to the top – and reducing the range 25% should help. Dreg’s Promise is also going to be useful with a damage increase on top of the sidearm changes. Boolean Gemini is going to surprise a lot of people I think – it was already a super balanced weapon that I think flew under the radar, with native High Caliber Rounds just makes hit a little harder in Crucible play; the No Time to Explain change is similar -take the weapon’s identity and reinforce it with a native perk, in this case Headseeker. My one complaint with the Exotic changes is with Touch of Malice – it’s the best King’s Fall weapon for boss damage, especially since I play Titan. Well, that’s going to change since the new Touch of Malice will negate Blessing of Light. It sucks, but it will just mean that raid teams will need to figure out new strategies for ogres and Light Eater Knights.

Destiny Thorn

Out of the weapon archetype changes, there’s a couple things to look at. First is the changes to snipers. Right now, they’re way too easy to use in Crucible with limited repercussions. Well, that’s changing a bit – the biggest thing I’ve wanted to come to snipers is finally happening – there’s a noticeable increase in aim flinch coming. Countering snipers with scout and pulse rifles is going to be a lot better of an experience. Beyond that, they’re doubling down on making the three rifle archetypes feel unique – the max impact/low RoF class is going to be the only one capable of consistently taking down Supered guardians with high armor; mid/mid class rifles are the most balanced, and high/low have the most aim assist still. The other real big changes in terms of a weapon class lie with the sidearms. Right now, they’re a real under the radar weapon – they can shine super bright in the Crucible, but lack a little in PvE play. I have found myself really liking one on my Hunter just because of the movement style. After the patch, sidearms will have more unified damage, a slightly longer range, a little better stability, and will have a PvE damage increase. With snipers being a less forgiving weapon, shotguns spreading around a bit hopefully, and fusion rifles staying more or less where they are, I could definitely see a well rolled sidearm being a must have with a Crucible loadout. There are a couple other changes coming – shotguns that are the higher rate of fire will have a better place in the overall meta. Mid-rate of fire auto rifles are also getting a damage boost, as are mid/mid pulse rifles, giving players plenty more options. A well rolled Shadow Price or Grim Citizen is going to be great again; and that Nirwen’s Mercy from forever ago is going to be a beast again.

Out of all the notes in the patch, the only thing that I think is a little bit of a misstep is with rocket launchers. Yes, Grenades and Horseshoes is getting a nerf, which it needed; and Cluster Bombs, which I’ve always thought was underrated, is getting a buff. But Truth is being left out of the Grenades and Horseshoes change – it’s unaffected by it. All that does is just ensure that if you use a rocket launcher, it’s going to be Truth. In an attempt to create variety, I think it’s just killed it in the heavy slot; especially when you think about the Legendary options in the primary and special slots and how you don’t really need an Exotic like in Year One. Maybe I’m wrong and Truth won’t be as effective, or other rolled rockets will stand out, but for now I don’t think that’s what will happen. The rest of the weapon balance changes though I think are great steps in the right direction – they look like they’re really looking to bring variety back into the Crucible, which has certainly been a little stagnant lately. The one thing that remains to be seen is just how the new Rise or Iron weapons will fit in with these changes. We know about a couple new ones from the patch notes – new high rate of fire sidearms and low rate of fire hand cannons – but exotics are still mysteries in many cases. This is probably the last major communication we’ll get from Bungie before launch – maybe we find out about a final Iron Banner next week in today’s update. I would think that Rise of Iron has to be pretty much completed – it’s officially time to prep for launch.

Doom – A Game Out of Time in All the Right Ways

Doom 2016Last night I finished up all of the achievements for the base set in DOOM, wrapping up one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with a game in quite a while. From top to bottom, I think this was the most fun I’ve had with a shooter in years – giving games like Destiny and Call of Duty a run. While it’s still fresh on my mind, I thought I’d put down a couple things that kept popping up as I was playing it.

Maybe more than anything else, I couldn’t help but think that this game is exactly what an FPS game would look like if the advances of the last 10 years or so hadn’t happened. This is what a classic FPS game should look and play like. It’s a direct line of progression from the classic id shooters – taking what has always worked and adding in a couple sprinkles of modernity to foster exploration and completion. I kept thinking that this was exactly what DOOM should be – not trying to shoehorn in a convoluted story, or contrived RPG elements; it’s fast, it’s brutal, it rewards execution and precision and has just enough bells and whistles to keep you looking in all the nooks and crannies. It’s a classic style FPS boiled down to the most important elements, and done so, so well.

That feeling that DOOM thrives on is possible because of how well the game plays. Maybe there were a handful of times I felt like the controls or mechanics didn’t work for me – the only one that jumps out at me is when the mantling didn’t take. You’re rarely in a position where those traversal elements actually factor into a fight though. Instead the combat is built around the foundation of all FPS games – circle-strafing and jumping. No aiming down sights, no thrust packs and sliding – just point, shoot, strafe repeat. The additions that 2016 brings – weapon mods/masteries, Praetor suit upgrades, Hell Runes and Glory Kills – all just add in a couple new layers of depth to the combat. And that combat is as brutal as brutal can get. DOOM certainly earns its M rating, but not through heady themes like drugs or sex – no, this is a pure, blood-caked, innards coated romp through Hell. The Glory Kills in particular are so over the top it’s incredible – there are a handful of animations I found myself chuckling at as my gruff Doomguy ripped and teared. It’s a game that is so self aware without showing it – some games like to give that little wink to the player, this one just knows exactly what it is and goes about its business. It’s challenging, it’s a love letter to the early days of the genre and at the end of the day, it’s a damn fun game. If you have yet to play it, and have any interest at all in FPS games – especially the foundation of the genre – this is the perfect game to get.

Destiny – August Iron Banner Takeaways

Destiny Rise of IronWe’ve hit the weekly reset for Destiny and with it comes the end of another Iron Banner. There’s a very good chance that this was the last Iron Banner in its current format before Rise of Iron changes the way the event progresses. Bungie has said that this was one of the last chances to gear up before the new expansion – I’m not sure entirely since the timing would fit for a final Iron Banner the week before launch leading up to the move to Felwinter Peak. If this was the last Iron Banner before the changes, I think it may have been just in time. I want to quickly talk today a little bit about the current state of the Crucible, and Iron Banner is a great way to really shine a spotlight on the higher end of the competitive meta.

This past Iron Banner was a bit of a sticky point for me. I needed to get both weapons Saladin was offering to complete my Year 2 Iron Banner weapon collection; so in that regard I knew I was going to be playing at least for those. Neither weapon really is the kind that I like to use – I prefer a little faster firing hand cannon, and I’ve been ignoring shotguns on principle over the last month or so. Which is a good segue to why I wasn’t really looking forward to playing the games – this current meta is becoming as stale and frustrating to me as the Thorn meta was. Weapons like the MIDA Multi-Tool and the fast firing pulse rifles have become almost mandatory to do well in Light Level enabled playlists. As stagnant as the primary weapons may be now though, I think the real issue lies with the shotguns. It’s a problem that really goes back to House of Wolves – high impact, low rate of fire, long range shotguns have dominated the Crucible ever since. Whether it’s a Party Crasher +1 or Conspiracy Theory D, or the exotics, those weapons have become so ubiquitous that almost any other special weapon puts you at a disadvantage. I think my biggest issue is that the way Destiny plays – sniping takes a pretty steady hand to nail headshots and I think takes a lot of skill to do well; that’s even with some of the aim assist help that’s in there. Shotgunning, at least within the game now, feels like easy mode to me. Aiming isn’t nearly as important, a lot of the maps feel almost built to accommodate that kind of weapon, and the only truly effective counter is another shotgun. It’s a snowball of power creep that I don’t get how it’s lived for this long.

Which is really a shame because I still think that Destiny has some of the best feeling gunplay in FPS games right now. And that fun PvP experience is becoming a chore to play because of how stale the current game is. I expect that to change soon, I think we all know that with the 3.0 patch there’s almost surely going to be a weapon balance part of it. Hopefully they’ve been looking hard at the Crucible data since the last patch in June to get a good grasp of what needs to happen. Personally, I’d love to see shotguns range reduced a ton, fast pulse rifles stability reduced and MIDA looked at again. There’s not a ton else that really bothers me weapon-wise; sure rockets are strong, but if you avoid the initial heavy push, I think you get more out of a machine gun. Class-wise, I think it’s a no-brainer that we’ll see Thunderstrike’s extended range come back in a bit; but that’s pretty much all I would do, along with a small reduction to Stormtrance’s duration. With a new expansion bringing in a whole slew of new weapons and armor pieces, not to mention potentially game changing new exotics, it’s really important that Bungie gets the Crucible back to a more balanced spot quick. I have a lot of faith that we’ll get a good patch with 3.0.