Call of Duty: Black Ops III – Fracture Game Mode Thoughts

Over the weekend Treyarch turned on the double weapon XP in Black Ops III, as they usually have some kind of double XP on weekends. But this weekend they also had a second treat for us – a brand new game mode called Fracture. I put in a handful of games on Friday and thought I’d put down a few thoughts on the mode.

Black Ops 3

This is the second new game mode that Treyarch put in to the Call of Duty world – the other being Safeguard. Calling Fracture totally new though is a little disingenuous to me. Fracture is essentially the Black Ops III spin on the classic Headhunter game mode of FPS games past. You kill the enemies, pick up the item they drop, and deliver it to a capture point. The last time I can remember a major FPS having Headhunter in it is Halo: Reach. I can’t remember with certainty if the capture point rotated in that game, but in Black Ops III, the capture point will cycle around the map every couple minutes. It can make for a couple tense moments per game as you try to score with a bunch of points and the zone rotates, as well as make sure you are paying attention to the map rotation and flow. Depending on your play preferences, Fracture is one of those modes where you can do whatever you like – if you like objective play, you can be the scoop-up man; if you’re a pure offense player, run a slayer class; or you can run a more balanced class to handle both sides of the coin with some support built in. Since the games tend to flow based around where the capture point is, the best weapon type might change over the course of the game. Some points help facilitate the slower, more long range weapons like LMGs and Snipers. Others require you have the speed to navigate around small rooms and tight corners and that’s where the fast SMGs and Shotguns thrive. That kind of variety in each game can even vary more depending on the map. I played on Rift, which played right into my style of assault rifle overwatch play with the M8A7. The next game was on Knockout, and using the M8A7 was a lot trickier – that’s one where using a faster weapon would have been the way to go. More than the other slayer-based modes (TDM, FFA and Kill Confirmed) I think the map really can dictate the flow of the game.

Which brings me to the parts of Fracture that I wasn’t crazy about. Overall I would say Fracture works pretty well – most importantly, it’s fun. But it does have some issues that I kept seeing. The biggest being that even with the rotating capture zone, there is still a lot of camping. I didn’t see it from the top level players I kept seeing, but just about every game I played there were a couple dots that always seemed to pop up around the zone, and they usually showed up in corners. Camping is one of those problems that never, ever will go away in competitive games – you see it in Halo, Call of Duty, Destiny, Overwatch, the list goes on all the way back to the old days of Quake, Doom and Unreal. That was the whole idea behind Kill Confirmed originally – push players to play more aggressively to actually score. You can argue the effectiveness across the whole player-base with that, but I know I find myself rushing for those tags and having to stop myself when I switch back to TDM. Fracture/Headhunter takes that idea and adds in the extra layer of needing to score in the zone – again, all to try and keep camping at a minimum. The problem is that instead of traditional camping, you get poaching – they set up at the capture point, and pop you as you move in for the score. It’s not particularly effective if you’re paying attention – a good grenade/rocket/C4 pack will take care of most poachers, as will a lot of scorestreaks. It’s one of those things that you just have to deal with, and know that there will probably be going on when you spawn in to the game. The other big trend I kept seeing was the prevalence of SMGs, regardless of map and capture point. This is one of those things that I’ve seen creep up in the overall Black Ops III game since I’ve been back – the Kuda, VMP and Vesper are all crazy good these days and really can’t be touched time-to-kill-wise in a lot of situations. It’s so late in Black Ops III‘s lifespan that I don’t really see much in the way of a big change coming, but I do think the VMP in particular needs to come back to the pack a little bit. My last minor complaint with Fracture is just that the score feels a little low – the score limit is set to 60 now. Games go fast, maybe a little too quickly; I think a score of 75 might be the better number. It opens up the potential for one or two last capture zone rotations, which are really when I think the most action happens as you try to rotate over and get the score.

Fracture is one of those things that Treyarch does well – they keep supporting their game deep into its lifespan with some unique ways. It wasn’t too long ago they added in the contracts as a way to earn extra cryptokeys as well as access to the new specialist Blackjack. It’s one thing to bring out DLC map packs for shooters, but what we’ve seen from Activision’s FPS developers with Black Ops and Destiny is that they’re willing to add in a little extra. It helps keep the games feel fresh as they enter the dog days – Call of Duty tends to be a one-year game each time around; Destiny is a little different beast of course. We’re starting to get just about to the next wave of games, so while we wait, Fracture is a great way to keep Black Ops III in your rotation.

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Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare – It’s Real!

Infinite Warfare CoverAfter all the leaks and speculation at the end of last week, Activision and Infinity Ward put all that to rest with the official announcement of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. They also gave fans exactly what we’ve been asking for for a few years now in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered. Let’s talk a little about what we learned today from the trailer, Activision blog and livestream.

Bottom line is really that we didn’t learn a whole hell of a lot – just the base level stuff to get the early hype rolling into E3. That said, we know the setting of the new game, we know that Infinity Ward is doing Zombies for the first time, and Raven is working on the MW Remaster. Anything that goes super in-depth about weapons, equipment, perks, and that kind of stuff will wait until E3. That’s usually how Activision goes about their CoD reveals – initial trailer, then a bigger reveal of the multiplayer as a whole event.

With the new campaign, Infinity Ward is bring Call of Duty where it hasn’t ever been before – the far future. We’ve seen elements of true Sci-Fi creep into the franchise in the last 6 years, really dating back to Black Ops II, but this is the first full game that is truly embracing the idea of Sci-Fi. Opening up the entire solar system gives the team options that to go to places never seen in the series before. That of course scares a lot of fans though – I saw tons of posts this year hoping for a return to true boots-on-the-ground combat in the next game. They addressed that a little with the Twitch stream, saying that while yes, there are some sections where you’ll be out flying a spaceship, they really want to ground the combat in realism. That means boots-on-the-ground, small unit infantry combat – it’s always been what Call of Duty does well. The story itself seems to borrow from pretty standard Sci-Fi kind of stories – the colonists that venture out off of Earth eventually have some form of tension with Earth, and that sparks into conflict. In this game it’s going to be built around resources that are mined off-planet, and the fascist organization that rises up in space with their own ambitions. After a surprise attack catches Earth off guard, the game’s setting is complete.

One thing that caught my eye on Activision’s blog was a line talking about progression in the story. We know that we assume command of a ship, and that we launch the missions from the spaceship. But they also point out that we will able to launch raids on enemy ships. That sounds something like a meta-game within the campaign. To me, it sounds like Infinity Ward might be rolling their Safeguard mode – which has been in their previous two games – right into the campaign setting. I think it makes sense especially when you remember that they’re going to actually do a Zombies mode too now.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Of course, the big excitement has been around the official word about Modern Warfare Remastered. There’s a reason that the first Modern Warfare is talked about with such reverence from both fans and critics. It literally changed the FPS world – especially on consoles – telling an incredible story that was grounded in gritty realism, punctuated with meaningful setpieces and then complimented it with a deep multiplayer. So as a fan, seeing a couple glimpses of Crew Expendable, and little details from maps brought forward to a new graphic engine is super exciting. There are still a couple things I’m curious about that they really haven’t been clear on – mainly if the multiplayer is going to use the same mechanics as the original or not – but I am definitely excited to play that campaign again. And come on, playing Crash again? Yes please.

One last thing that I want to talk about that I saw all over social media today. I saw tons of posts already claiming that Infinite Warfare is destined to be a flop, being buoyed by the MW:R. Literally hours after it was officially announced the salt started pouring out. This isn’t unique to Call of Duty – I see it more and more frequently with any major announcement. Nintendo delays the NX to next year? Must mean that their dead in the water. Microsoft is making an updated Xbox One? They’re taking away resources from the next true console and making Xbox Live better. Any game ever announces any kind of change? It’s the end of the world. I love games and the world of gaming. It lets us explore worlds and universes in ways that no other form of entertainment can. But it’s really getting tiresome to see the negativity and pessimism that’s all over social media and the web in general. Not every decision is the right one – I think some of what Massive has been doing with The Division hasn’t been in the right directions – but these developers deserve at least a little benefit of the doubt. Take a step back, maybe actually play the games then post – don’t contribute to the echo chamber of negativity.

Destiny EverVerse April Update – Pay-to-Win?

DestinyIn last week’s Bungie update, Deej cleared up a couple questions from the community (thanks to Datto) and one of those questions has turned into a bit of a hot topic over the weekend. The armor that is found in the Sterling Treasure packs, which can be purchased from Tess, does have random rolls when the pack is opened. That’s a curious decision, and has had a good chunk of the community asking – is this pay-for-power? So let’s talk a little about it.

Ultimately, if you boil this down to the nitty gritty, it is technically pay-for-power. You are trading real world money, for in-game items that have Light levels on them. That’s pay-for-power. However, if you actually look at the way it’s implemented, it’s not so much pay-for-power as it is pay-for-potential. Armor perks, while useful, aren’t really as important as getting a good weapon roll. That’s because in PvP, most of the armor talents don’t really provide a huge impact. Increased melee or grenade energy on kills is only on minions of darkness, the ammo increases from those perks really only provide minor increases to power, and most of the orb based perks are so situational that they aren’t super important. There are a couple of talents that do provide PvP power – reload speed increases, extra heavy ammo, and the elemental armor boosts can all help get you a few more potential kills. So in that regard, the rolls on the Taken armor or Tron armor are important. Where I think people were maybe worried was in PvE.

In the PvE game, armor talents become a lot more important. You try to roll the right ammo perks, reload skill, energy boosters and health regenerators. With that basis, I understand why people were worried about the potential pay-for-power impact from microtransactions. But Bungie did a sneaky thing to combat that – they changed the infusion process. Because it’s a lossless system now, pretty much any armor is now end-game armor. Since the Sterling Treasure armor drops at three Light, you already need to have higher level armor to infuse into it. So even if you spend a bunch of money on the packs and manage a God roll, if you don’t have armor that’s already relevant, your new gear is useless. So in that way, it isn’t actually pay-for-power. It’s pay-for-potential, as well as pay for kickass looking Taken armor. You need to already be at a level to complete the end-game activities in order to make those new armor pieces useful. It’s really more of a way for Bungie to have armor customization options available for purchase. I look at the Spektar and Desolate armors more like Shaders – they’re more designed as customization/cosmetic items. Bungie doesn’t have a way to put in collections or things along the lines of armor skins, at least not in Destiny itself. I see this as a trial run for those sort of things in the full sequel next year.

Destiny Taken Guardians

At the end of the day, the Sterling Treasures aren’t game-breaking items. They’re shortcuts more than anything. They offer people who want the new armor sets a way to bypass the time constrains and get them, without giving them immediately useful items. They are about as close to that line as I think they should be, at least I hope they won’t go any closer to that pay-for-power line. As long as they stay clear from weapons, I think they’ll be alright in Destiny – at least the first game. There’s still a lot of time for Destiny to evolve and grow – this is Bungie experimenting with ideas and seeing what works. We’ll see how well it works if it sticks around for the future.

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.

Let’s Talk About Destiny’s Future

This week may have been the most important week that Destiny has had in a long time. Not only did we get Crimson Days – for better or worse – but we finally, finally got some actual guidance on what is coming down the pipe for Bungie/Activision’s game. The timing also sheds, potentially, a little light on why things have been quiet lately. Let’s talk about it.

DestinyFirst off, Bungie’s been saying for a while now that there’s something else coming this spring. There’s still no definitive time for when that comes our way – my guess is still April – but we know now that it’s a PvE themed event. And in truth, Bungie for the first time switched up their terminology with it – they’ve been calling all of this recent content “events”. This week they called it a content update – not the same that they’ve called the DLC, but still a different term could mean a little different actual content. And based on some of the details they outlined, that looks pretty true. A Light Level increase is coming – the first since the launch of Hard Mode put it at 320. The real eye-catcher to me though was that they said the content is designed with replayability in mind. That sounds like Strikes/Raids/Arena kind of content, and not timed content like Festival of the Lost/SRL/Crimson Days. Trying to predict what that is is a little silly right now though since we have absolutely nothing to go on, so I’ll hold off on that. I do have something that I hope it is though.

The other real big news dealt more with the long-term future for the game. Kotaku had an article a few weeks back saying that Destiny 2 was pushed back to 2017 – it had yet to even be announced and it was delayed. What we learned yesterday was that is indeed the case – the true, full sequel to Destiny will hit next year. We are getting something substantial this year though – with a “large expansion” this fall. My guess is that will be somewhere in between The Taken King and Dark Below/House of Wolves; probably paid content too – Bungie/Activision needs to bring in some revenue this year aside from just Silver purchases. And here’s the thing – that could be exactly what the game needs. Pushing a true sequel back to next year should make everything better. It gives Bungie more time to craft exactly the game that they want – and take everything that the community has said about the state of the game. My biggest hope is that they do move away from last-gen consoles – it has to be only on PS4/Xbox One. The only real question that I can’t help but ask is timing – 2017 is a long time away, and is a big window for launch. If it’s fall 2017, that might end up being too little, too late.

The Taken King Logo

Finally, my last takeaway from this week’s news is one that I don’t actually know is fact. It’s the timing of the news – Bungie put up their Weekly Update literally minutes after Activision posted their investor call notes. I don’t know for sure – and we probably won’t ever know for sure – but it really feels like that Bungie was held up a little by Activision on this. Maybe it was behind an NDA to not say anything before the investor call. Maybe it was a good faith thing to push both items up in the news cycle. Maybe it’s a result of the CEO shake-up at Bungie. Regardless, I think it made me think that Activision has a little more control over Destiny than we maybe thought. There’s still a long time to go – it’s still a ten-year plan for the series after all – so there’s still a lot to learn.

Destiny Weekly Update/Rumor Thoughts

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

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

Destiny Crimson Days

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

Destiny Loot Cave

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