Microtransactions and FPS Games – The New Normal

Black Ops 3Now that I’ve finally gotten Black Ops III, I’ve now played all of what I consider the big four competitive FPS games in the modern market: Call of Duty, Halo 5, Battlefield: Hardline, and Destiny. There’s plenty to say about each game, how each game’s gunplay feels, the maps in each game, the story content, the post-launch content – so on and so forth. But what I’ve been thinking about most lately is the addition of microtransactions to each game.

Three of those four games – the odd man out being Battlefield – focus the microtransactions around cosmetic additions. Destiny uses Silver as a secondary currency, and Black Ops III uses COD Points to fill the same role. The difference really is that COD Points are earnable in game, while Silver is solely bought with real money. Halo 5 is similar to Black Ops III in that the in-game currency can be earned by playing the game. Where they really break away from each other is the purpose they all have. The Black Market in Call of Duty provides you with a random set of cosmetic items – that’s it. You can actually get duplicates, which can be burned for more cryptokeys to buy more supply drops. But anything you get out of those supply drops is purely cosmetic. Nothing in them has any actual bearing on the matches you’ll play. In Halo, the REQ packs you buy earn you the power weapons, vehicles, power-ups and such that you use in Warzone matches, as well as providing the cosmetic items to make your Spartan unique. In Destiny though, your only options are cosmetic emotes – you spend real money to be able to do the Carlton. Again, no real bearing on gameplay – but does help make your Guardian your own. When SRL was live, you could get those horns and sparrows, but those also don’t really have a direct impact on gameplay – just transit. With Battlefield, the microtransactions are the boosts which unlock all the items for a class or vehicle class.

Halo 5 Warzone

With four pretty different takes on microtransactions and post-launch DLC, I have been trying to figure out which I think has the most staying power. I think they’re all kind of based around the MOBA style for buying skins – which has proven to be pretty darn successful so far. In terms of how I see them moving in shooters, I think that the Halo/Call of Duty model will probably continue on. If games keep those real-money transactions based around cosmetic gear, they’ll definitely get sales, but they need to have some way to earn the in-game money actually in-game. It’s something that I think just about every major shooter will have to look at moving forward – I honestly think that traditional Map Packs might be on the way out if something like this can prove to be viable. I think that’s something to keep an eye on as this year moves on closer to the big launches later on.

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Infinite Lives Best of 2015 – Day Two

The Taken King LogoContinuing our look back at the year that was, today we’re talking DLC and post-launch content that came out this year. Now I didn’t play everything that came out this year, but of what I did play, there were some really great post-launch content that helped extend games lives.

First off, the big one for me really shouldn’t be a big surprise here – it’s The Taken King for Destiny. That was exactly what Destiny needed to stay relevant moving forward, and really what the game needed to fix a lot of the issues that we all knew the game had. Is it losing its luster a bit right now? Probably a bit for the hardcore crowd. But I still think that there’s a lot more to get out of The Taken King than we had with the initial game, and it’s a really good building point for Bungie moving into 2016. House of Wolves is also worth mentioning for kinda redefining the focus of end-game Destiny gameplay. We went from six-man raids and Iron Banner for PvP to three-man Prison of Elders and Trials of Osiris. Were there issues with both of those events – you bet, but they did a good job of bringing me back into Destiny after The Dark Below. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Bungie is going to do with Destiny in 2016, especially with the focus on timed events now.

Battlefield Hardline

I did want to mention a couple other post-launch content. Battlefield Hardline has had a really strong DLC season so far – adding in new game modes, a lot of new gear for each class, and solid maps. EA and DICE tend to do really good by the Battlefield games – hell, they’re putting new content out for Battlefield 4 out this year, and that’s a two year old game now. The other game that I think has done a good job of supporting itself post-launch has been Halo 5: Guardians. Instead of having full fledged DLC map packs, 343 has been adding in good content through title updates for the game. We’ve gotten Big Team Battle added in, as well as social playlists, new maps and a whole slew of new REQ weapons. They keep using these monthly updates to address the issues in the live game as they pop up, which helps keep the actual game fresh and playing great. After the debacle that was Master Chief Collection, this is exactly what the Halo series needed.

There are a couple other little things to mention quickly. First off, Rock Band has restarted weekly DLC offerings. I always thought that that was one thing that Harmonix always had over other rhythm games. So far they’ve had a really good mix of genres as well as grabbing some deep cuts in addition to big hits. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more next year, especially as they keep adding content to the Rock Band platform. One other thing that I saw this year was Witcher 3 do a really cool thing with offering a ton of free DLC to keep the players invested moving forward. I mentioned yesterday that while I have The Witcher 3, I haven’t played it yet – and obviously that extends to the DLC. But I do like that more developers are putting in extra content to their games for free and finding other ways to fill their development costs.

Infinite Lives Best Of 2015

We’ve only got a couple days left in 2015, so I thought that it would be a good time to wrap up the year before we move on to 2016. Instead of giving you my ten best games, DLC, microtransactions, trailers, so and so forth, I’m just going to offer up a handful of what I thought really stood out this year. I’ll focus on games today, we’ll hit DLC tomorrow and then we’ll spin it forward to 2016.

Fallout 4 Box Art

Let’s start with my favorite new game of 2015. I say new game here because I still played Destiny more than any other game this year. But of the new, 2015 titles that I played this year, I think it’s no surprise that I’ve been enjoying Fallout 4 the most. I was super excited for this game the minute it was teased back before E3. Now that I’ve spent plenty of time out in the Commonwealth, I definitely think it’s my favorite game of the year. Does it measure up with Fallout 3? I don’t really know that they’re actually that comparable. Yes, the dialogue system is a little out of character for the series; and yes, some of the more traditional RPG mechanics are simplified. But I think the whole package is actually a really great game – and the main quest line that runs through the game is I think stronger than Fallout 3‘s. The characters in the Commonwealth actually feel a little more alive – perhaps that because of the better graphics, especially the character models. The new designs on items and enemies keep classic parts of the Fallout universe fresh. And the revamped combat really makes it less of a chore to get into bigger firefights. Combat actually feels modern and I think appeals to a wider audience than just series and Bethesda fans. I think the negativity surrounding the game is totally unjustified, at least to the extent that I see it. I think people are overreacting, and maybe assuming that Bethesda will do the same things with their next Elder Scrolls game. Just relax a little, suspend that disbelief a bit and dive in and you’ll find a really exciting world to explore and get lost in.

While I think Fallout 4 is the best game that I played, I did have a lot of fun with a couple other games worth mentioning. Rock Band 4 returned music party games to the consoles. Again, there are some issues here – mainly that the game launched pretty bare-bones and they’ve been adding features moving forward. But honestly, just being able to load up a Rock Band game again and rock out on the Xbox One is awesome. I put a lot of time in over the summer with Smite on the Xbox One as well. I’ve never really gotten into MOBA’s but Smite managed to draw me in with the more third-person camera/action game style controls. The retro gamer in me really loved playing around with the Rare Replay collection, as well as the Mega Man Legacy Collection. Both featured a good mix of games for a reasonable price – and gave younger gamers a chance to go back and play some truly classic games. More recently, I’ve been playing a lot of Halo 5 – which is honestly somewhat surprising to me. I went in to that game with relatively low expectations – Master Chief Collection and Halo 4 both didn’t really excite me. But 343 finally has created a Halo game that does a great job of retaining classic Halo gameplay while also bringing in some new ideas and features we’ve seen in other recent FPS games. Add in that Warzone is I think the most ideal way to experience Halo and it all comes together to make a really solid shooter on the Xbox One. That said, I think my favorite shooter I played this year was Battlefield Hardline. I loved the new take on the classic formula – cops and robbers instead of military was actually I think a great move for the series. The maps were awesome – they worked perfectly on just about every game mode. Each class was balanced well, and I think Blood Money/Heist were fantastic additions to the franchise.

Battlefield Hardline

Before I wrap up, I want to mention a couple games that came out this year that I haven’t run through yet, but are on my short list. I already have The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, just haven’t sat down and really played it. Call of Duty: Black Ops III is on sale right now, so I’m picking that up later on and will give that a shot – I really liked the beta so, I have a hunch I’ll be enjoying the full game. Star Wars Battlefront is another game that I really liked the Beta for, just didn’t get the full game at launch. I probably will be looking into it soon to give it a better overview.

Battlefield Hardline: Criminal Activity Thoughts

Battlefield HardlineI recently went ahead and grabbed the Premium upgrade for Battlefield: Hardline – after returning to the game from a break. The main factor to pick up the upgrade was that Criminal Activity – the first DLC for the game – is live now for Premium members. The new pack includes a few new guns, a couple new weapon accessories and four new maps. The new guns are all for the Enforcer class, with the exception of the M1A1 Thompson Sub Machine Gun, which can be used on every class. So I thought it would be cool to take a look at the new maps and game mode quick as well as touch on the new guns and equipment.

Firstly, the four new maps all fit within a theme of small scale criminal capers. They tie in pretty closely to the single player – Black Friday takes place in the same mall as one of the missions. They do tend to play a little more on the small side – Enforcers, Professionals and Operators do really well in any mode on the new maps. But the new maps all are really quite strong. Black Friday plays super fun – the middle food court area is where the crazy action happens, and that’s perfectly fine. In Battlefield the middle really should be where the action should be. Backwoods is a lot less centralized, but has some crazy sightlines that good snipers can dominate with. The conquest points are spread around well enough where maintaining control all of them is kinda difficult. Code Blue is the opposite – close quarters combat dominates it, and on Conquest vehicles can make a pretty big swing. Holding the nightclub is super important, since it’s the middle point of the map. The Beat is similar to Code Blue – lots of tight quarters, corners to watch out for, but with a few sections that play longer range. It’s a great mix of maps honestly, that does a good job of mixing up the action. A lot of Battlefield maps in general tend to skew on the larger side of things. It fits with the way the gunplay works, along with the vehicle combat.

Battlefield Hardline Hotwire

Which brings me to my biggest issue with Criminal Activity. It’s not the maps, nor is it the new Enforcer weapons. It’s a very specific combination of the new Bounty Hunter game mode, along with the new maps. That’s currently the only way to play Bounty Hunter, and that’s where the issue arises. Bounty Hunter is Battlefield’s take on Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty. It really is pretty much exactly the same – it’s Team Deathmatch, with a pickup that needs to be grabbed for the point. The problem is that Team Deathmatch has always been a real mixed bag in Battlefield. EA and DICE have done a pretty good job being in front of Team Deathmatch issues, almost exclusively with spawning in the base game. Those maps have all had three months of fine-tuning. These new maps don’t have that luxury. Which means spawn issues galore – I had a pretty good number of times where I spawned last night literally three feet in front of an enemy. Bounty Hunter is a pretty cool mode – I’ve always thought it’s a better way to play Team Deathmatch. It helps dissuade camping, which is what you need to do. Give DICE and EA a few more weeks and I think they’ll address the spawn issues that need it.

In general Criminal Activity has re-energized my view on Battlefield: Hardline. The game is still a ton of fun to play, and the new maps and weapons fit really well. Premium is definitely worth it – getting all the DLC a few weeks early is great, plus add in a few Gold Battlepacks sweetens the deal.

Battlefield: Hardline Launch Wrap Up – Multiplayer

Battlefield HardlineRounding out my coverage of the launch period for Battlefield: Hardline, today I’ll look at the multiplayer side of things on a whole. Yesterday I offered up my thoughts on the campaign, last week I went over each of the four playable classes, and before that we talked about Heist, Hotwire and Blood Money. Today I’m taking a bit more holistic look at that side of things.

COPS AND ROBBERS – DIGITAL STYLE
The biggest question to me going in was just how much Hardline could differentiate itself from the previous games in the series with the setting change. There was absolutely the possibility that it would still feel like we were in the military, just in smaller cityscapes. In the end, I think DICE and Visceral did a pretty good job of getting the setting straight. There’s still a bit of that vibe in there, but reinforcing the cops and crooks at every chance helps fight it. That extends to the vehicles choices – cop cars with blaring sirens, or appropriated cars for the crooks; some of the weapons come straight out of pop culture for this kind of world – the Menz in the Hood achievement really sells that; but the best is through the player dialogue – every tag comes with some kind of comment, each side has comments that fit with their role.

Setting aside, the gameplay had to be as good as Battlefield 4‘s was at the end of its lifespan. I’ve always thought that the Battlefield formula made for the strongest online play – Battlefield 4 just had the troubled launch that hurt it. Fortunately, as of this point, Hardline has only had one hiccup – the DDoS during the launch – which helps keep the player base invested. The other really great thing going for Hardline is that there really isn’t another fresh FPS that’s drawing players away – Destiny and Call of Duty both already have established player bases; and Evolve really isn’t in the same boat. Finally, the fact that the game is actually a lot of fun thanks to the new game modes makes it all worthwhile. It’s pretty uncommon to have a game finish without one or two moments that make you go “Damn, that was cool.”

I went over three of the new gamemodes – Heist, Hotwire, and Blood Money – the three modes that I’ve been playing pretty exclusively. Each offer up just enough of a twist on the Battlefield formula to make it feel fresh, and each mode comes with a different set of ways to play within a team. Hotwire is a great way to get a high score, Blood Money and Heist both are good for frantic action. The four classes all feel distinct enough to make it easy to fill a role, and are all useful in just about any game mode. There really isn’t one weapon that feels truly overpowered – each class has plenty of options that all work.

Battlefield Hardline Bank Job

It’s not a perfect game, but that’s because no such thing exists. It’s really a super fun game to play – the campaign is alright enough, but the meat of the game is the multiplayer, which is pretty deep. The progression keeps you invested thanks to the money mechanic. The Premium subscription is a little expensive, but if it’s on the same level as Battlefield 4‘s it will be worth it in the long run. Special events, Gold Battlepacks, and early access to the DLC is always a nice thing. All things considered, Battlefield: Hardline is a fantastic entry into the series. It’s got a surprisingly engaging campaign, really deep multiplayer and a pretty solid looking future. It’s definitely worth looking into – I fully recommend it.

Battlefield: Hardline Final Campaign Impressions

Battlefield HardlineBefore I start diving into Borderlands: The Handsome Collection posts, I want to wrap up my thoughts on Battlefield: Hardline. Today I’ll look at the single player campaign, and tomorrow I’ll wrap up my thoughts on the multiplayer.

COPS AND CROOKS AND CROOKED COPS
I’ll admit that I had somewhat lower expectations going into the story than I might normally for shooters. I was really unimpressed with the campaign in Battlefield 4, and I wasn’t sure just how much of an impact just adding in Visceral would make. I am happy to say that it’s definitely better than I thought going in. It’s not a masterpiece of storytelling or anything that grandiose; but as far as modern shooters, especially military ones, it’s clearly above average.

The actual story is pretty standard fare – player cop doesn’t like crooked cops, gets framed as one by crooked cops, gets broken out of custody and gets revenge – complete with an ambiguous ending as to his intentions. But it’s how it’s told that makes the story actually engaging. Breaking the game into Episodes – complete with narration every time you leave or come back to playing – gives it a kind of unique feel in the current mix. Having the first half of the game be a flashback, while certainly not a new convention, also helps give the characters at least some depth. Sure, some of the pathos is forced, but there’s at least some humanity in the characters. The actors behind the main characters all do a pretty solid job with their voice work – with a few cheesy bits here and there.

What surprised me the most as I played through the game was that it’s not actually an action/shooter – the game tries its damnedest to be a stealth game. You’re rewarded for not being seen, and taking down enemies non-lethally. I played on Veteran – cause I’m no chump – and it wasn’t particularly difficult. At least it isn’t if you play by the rules – tagging enemies and being stealthy makes it a joke – trying to guns blazing is a great way to fail immediately. It’s especially apparent in the few places where the game forces you into combat – there are a couple sections late in the game where you’re tasked with defending a room against a couple waves of enemies; which is the opposite of how the game wants you to play. It’s noticeably jarring – not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind. The problem is that once you’ve maxed out your Expert Score, you have no incentive to play non-lethal. When I was cleaning up achievements, for speed’s sake I used silenced weapons to just pick off enemies – even on Veteran they were hilariously unaware of what was happening.

Battlefield Hardline Hotwire

Really though the biggest point that kept taking me out of the moment was, unfortunately, an incredibly common one. In the second half of the game, after you’ve been freed from prison, you still have to option to freeze enemies and arrest them – the non-lethal takedowns I mentioned above. The problem I have here is that you’re clearly not a cop anymore – and yet one of the stock voice clips for your target is to ask “Are you even a Cop?” But you still slap on a pair of handcuffs like it’s perfectly normal. Again, not a deal breaker, but every time that audio clip played, I picked up on it.

The game isn’t a super long campaign – ten episodes, of varying length, which should probably take you about 12-15 hours at most to clear thoroughly. All that I have left to do is beat the game again on the extra hard Hardline mode you unlock for finishing the game on Veteran. Each of the episode specific achievements are relatively simple – the toughest are probably completing Episode 5 without being spotted, and killing an enemy while escaping in Episode 9. It’s a fun little diversion from the multiplayer – I do recommend playing it, if for no reason other than it’s easy achievements.

Battlefield: Hardline Tips and Tricks – Professional

Battlefield HardlineRounding out the four playable classes in Battlefield: Hardline, today we’ll tackle the Professional. The Professional is Hardline’s sniper class – long range rifles and spotting are the name of the game. There’s always the risk in any online shooter to look down on sniper classes as “tryhards” or campers – but played properly, the Professional is a potential team all star.

Weaponry-wise, you’re looking at sniper rifles exclusively. You have a pick between bolt action rifles, or semi-auto rifles. The differences boil down to the obvious rate of fire, but also range and control. The semi-auto rifles have a bit less range, and potential control loss, but have a much higher rate of fire – they’re really built for closer to mid range sniping, like on some of the smaller maps. The bolt action rifles are all about long range power – powerful scopes, super accurate, with small clips. Pick your shots – or have an Enforcer give you ammo. Sniping in Battlefield always takes a little getting used to – unlike other games, like Call of Duty, there’s bullet drop and bullet speed to factor in. You need to lead your shots on moving targets, and also account for bullet drop. Now, the maps aren’t quite large enough to worry about a ton of drop – like in Battlefield 4 – but it’s definitely still present. You have plenty of rifles to look at too – there’s only one cross-team rifle aside from the Syndicate reward. So if you aren’t a fan of the Scout Elite (the default rifle) you’ve got a good amount of options. I personally like the R700 bolt action for the police – it’s a bit stronger per shot than the Scout Elite, but you do have to unlock all the attachments. In general, I have on Professional loadout with a bolt action rifle for longer range sniping, and a semi-auto for more mid range combat on maps like Bank Job.

In terms of gadgets, you’ve got a couple different nice options. You start off with the laser tripmine – a good way to defend your back while your focused on sniping. You’ve also got the placeable camera – which marks enemies that walk into it’s line of sight, a good team option. Beyond those two, you’ve also got the decoy gadget, which makes gunfire sounds, and creates false enemy icons on the other team’s minimap. The final choice is to take stealth training – which reduces your footstep noise, and also reduces the noises that actions make. Now the class assignment does require you to use the laser tripmines for the first one, and camera coins for the second; so you’ll probably want to get used to using them early. But beyond that, I think your gadget picks really depend on your playstyle – if you tend to hang back more, tripmines and decoys are probably a good pick. If you’re more of a close action sniper, the camera is really nice. Regardless, your most important role is to play as a spotter – you should, in theory, have a great view on lots of the battlefield. So make sure you spot any target you see – regardless of whether or not you get the kill. You’re probably not going to see a huge score if you focus solely on kills – you need to support your team in other ways.

Like the other three classes, as you help your team, you gain reputation to use for upgrades. The Professional is certainly the most focused on personal upgrades – there’s really only one upgrade that benefits the team. First though, your picks are either Fast Climb or Reduced Fall – useful for getting you into sniping nests. Second tier is either Advanced Spot or Fast Unspot – this is your team pick, with longer spots netting more potential kills. Third up is longer Hold Breath or Low Profile for explosives – both personal boosts, but focused on different aspects of the game. Finally, you get to pick either Fast Reload or Delayed Trigger.

Of the four classes, the Professional is a lot like the Operator – their roles are both pretty clearly defined. Operators play the medic role, and Professionals are your snipers and spotters. Both are extremely vulnerable to vehicles – most heavy vehicles have bullet proof glass – so even sniping the pilot is out. Just be smart – set up defenses for sniping, limit your flanking potentials and make sure you keep your eyes peeled, and I think you can seriously do some damage with the Professional.