Call of Duty: Black Ops III – The Best Call of Duty?

Black Ops 3I know that we’ve been talking a bit about The Division Beta and Destiny‘s future lately, but the game that I’ve been playing the most over the last month or so has been Call of Duty: Black Ops III. And that’s had me thinking – is it the best Call of Duty since the modern era of CoD games started? So with that in mind, let’s rank the modern games and find out. By modern games I mean any Call of Duty console/PC release since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, mainly because it completely changed the formula for the series.

Before we hit the rankings, there is one little caveat to get out of the way. I can’t put Call of Duty: World at War on the list because I’ve never actually played it. It came out while I was still playing a whole lot of Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4, among other games. In hindsight I do wish that I had picked it up when it was relevant, but oh well. With that said, let’s move on to the Official Infinite Lives Call of Duty Rankings.

Advanced Warfare Cover

At the bottom of the list, I’m going with Advanced Warfare. Yes, it’s Sledgehammer Games’ first full Call of Duty game, but the formula for what makes a CoD game work isn’t exactly a secret. Advanced Warfare just didn’t really pull it off – the campaign was forgettable, the co-op experience was pretty threadbare and the multiplayer had a weapon meta that never really got balanced. The problem really is that there were two or three weapons that were just head and shoulders above the rest – the BAL, ASM1 and Tac-19 all were essentially required to have a shot at performing well. The movement changes were a step in the right direction, but now that we’ve seen Black Ops III take them further, I think it’s kinda evident that that was what Advanced Warfare should have done; regardless of the Titanfall comparisons. I do think that Sledgehammer can make a real good CoD title, but Advanced Warfare just wasn’t it.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

Moving a little up the list, we get to the last Infinity Ward developed title: Call of Duty: Ghosts. This one hurts a little because it was so, so close to being great. The campaign, while predictable, was fun the whole way through. The Extinction mode was fantastic, in truth it was my favorite part of the game. What killed the game for me was, much like AW, a broken online meta. The Honey Badger was just too powerful in any engagement, and IW never really addressed it in a way that fixed the problem. There’s a reason that it was banned from competitive play. What kinda blows my mind though is how with the DLC season, IW kept moving in that direction with map-specific killstreaks that were just insanely powerful. Michael Myers and The Predator totally broke any semblance of balance in matches, even with Honey Badgers all over the place. Since Infinity Ward is putting out this year’s game, and I would expect to see Ghosts 2 (despite reports I’ve seen to the contrary – it just makes too much sense not to), I really hope that they look at what works with their style games and what the community has embraced with the last two titles.

Call of Duty Black Ops

Next up, I’m going with a somewhat unpopular opinion here – Call of Duty: Black Ops. Since I’ve been playing the new BO title, I’ve been keeping an eye on Reddit as well. I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve seen with comments putting the first Black Ops title up on a pedestal. I am very much not one of those people. And I think I can explain why – I was the only one in my group of friends I play with that had Black Ops. That meant no Zombies mode for me, which I think is the strength of the first game. The campaign was really good – something that Treyarch is great with across the whole BO series. The multiplayer was solid. There was one weapon – the Commando – that was a little stronger, but in general it was fine. My problem looking back was that the maps really weren’t that memorable. Aside from Nuketown, and arguable Firing Range, I really don’t think there were any amazing maps there. Considering that it had to pull me away from Halo Reach and Modern Warfare 2, I just never got to that same level of love for the game. Still a good title, just not my favorite.

Modern Warfare 3

Moving up the list, another Infinity Ward title, Modern Warfare 3. A game that is near and dear to me, as it was one of the few titles I actually was able to create content for G4tv.com for, I can’t really put it higher up the list. I think the best way to really describe the game is just plain solid. Everything in the game was good, and arguably great, but the game as a whole just didn’t blow me away. The campaign should have been this huge blow off to the story that was told over three games. Instead, it felt like those huge set-pieces were forced in, along with the big twist with Yuri and Makarov. The multiplayer did something different with the Call of Duty: Elite system to deliver the DLC. And that DLC was actually pretty strong – a good mix of new maps and classics, along with a whole new Face-Off mode for small matches. I played it for about a full year, and enjoyed it all the way through – it was the first Call of Duty that I actually wanted to stick with to hit Prestige 10. I just think that compared with the four remaining games, it’s not quite as strong across the board.

Modern Warfare 2

One step up the list, the previous game in Infinity Ward’s lineup – Modern Warfare 2. This one is a little tricky for me. I love this game – in truth I think it’s my favorite of the series. I had more fun playing this game than just about any other Call of Duty. But looking back at it, it absolutely had its flaws. Not having a really fleshed out co-op aside from Spec Ops missions I think now seems like a big miss. The multiplayer had its fair share of relatively major issues – the Javelin glitch, One Man Army abuse, Marathon-Lightweight-Commando knifers, infinite care-packages and care-package marker speed boosts all contributed to some frustrating moments. But IW was good about fixing them as best they could. Add in that the map selection was phenomenal, made for really fun games. Increasing the customization options to players with Callsigns and Emblems tied to challenges helped push the players to actually try to do challenges that maybe they wouldn’t have normally. It’s still a game that I look back on and get the itch to load up from time to time – I actually did play a few games of it last summer.

Black Ops II

Pulling the bronze medal on my list, I’m going to go with Black Ops II. Treyarch is really good at crafting a story mode that is actually worth playing through. In this case, they really stepped it up with branching paths that could impact the ending of the game. That not only shows that Treyarch was taking something, a campaign, that a lot of players brushed off really seriously; but it also added replayability to something that typically doesn’t really have it. Zombies mode – which again I didn’t really play – took the formula and cranked it up to 10. The Easter Eggs were super in-depth, with multiple demanding steps to unlock them. And the meat of the game – the multiplayer – was just as solid as ever. I think this is the game where Treyarch really nailed their style of multiplayer. It’s not as fast paced as Infinity Ward’s, with a little slower time to kill and more focus of simple map design with little flairs to try and control. Sure there were powerful weapons – the M8A1 in particular – but they weren’t game breaking ones. It’s the first game that I felt compelled to complete gold camo challenges for entire weapon classes – diamond camo will do that. After how lukewarm I felt about Black Ops, this game was a complete 180 for me – I really enjoy the hell out of this one.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Finally, I’m going to take a bit of a cop-out. There are two games left to look at – Modern Warfare and Black Ops III – fitting since that was the question that I really set out to look at. And here’s the thing – I don’t really know that I have the answer. From a content standpoint, Black Ops III is way ahead of Modern Warfare – as well it should be. Modern Warfare is almost ten years old at this point. Mechanics-wise, again, Black Ops III shows ten years of development learning. But there’s still something really special about Modern Warfare. It was a landmark game in FPS progression. It was a seismic shift for a franchise that dates back to the early 2000’s. It showed that modern set games could be just as gripping as World War Two shooters. But most importantly, it gave us the blueprint for the way multiplayer shooters would evolve and grow into. We’re still playing games that borrow, sometimes directly, from that first Modern WarfareBlack Ops III is, I think, the peak of that evolution. It takes everything that Infinity Ward put out, spins it forward those ten years, and makes it all work with the extra moving parts we’ve come to expect. Is it the best Call of Duty game in the franchise? I think it’s the best Call of Duty that we can have right now – it is the perfect combination of all three phases: Campaign, Co-op, and Multiplayer. The question I’m looking at now is what Infinity Ward, the original guys on the franchise, can do to continue evolving the franchise this year.

Advertisements

The Worst Part of the New Advanced Warfare DLC

Advanced Warfare CoverNext Tuesday marks the release of the third DLC pack for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – the Supremacy pack. As has become rather typical with the Call of Duty DLC packs, there’s a remake of a classic map from the series. In this pack, it’s a remake of Highrise – one of the better Modern Warfare 2 maps – called Skyrise. Normally, I would be all over a remake of Highrise – it was one of my favorite maps from Modern Warfare 2, mainly because it played super fast, in just about every game mode. However, I really am worried about this one more so than some of the other remakes.

Advanced Warfare Supremacy

When Advanced Warfare launched, it came with the Atlas Gorge map – a remake of Modern Warfare‘s Pipeline. While Atlas Gorge plays pretty well, it really is a completely different map from Pipeline now. The addition of the Exo-abilities has completely altered the flow of a map that, frankly, needed the change. Pipeline tended to be rather slow – with snipers locking down routes, and stealth classes holding down the buildings. The speed of Advanced Warfare changes that – sniping is a dangerous proposition, just because players can quickly get on your flanks; while heavy weapons become viable now. But I think that Sledgehammer Games took note of just how much a classic map changed by putting it into the new game.

Advanced Warfare Skyrise

I think that you can kind of see that with the DLC offerings so far. It’s become a pretty typical Call of Duty trademark with the DLC to offer one remake map per pack. Skyrise is the first (not including Atlas Gorge) remake to appear in Advanced Warfare. Supremacy is the third DLC pack for Advanced Warfare, with only one more pack to come before we start moving on to Black Ops III. I wonder if this is going to be the nature of the beast for a little while, as the new CoD titles mix up the formula more and more. What could end up being the big factor is how well Skyrise performs. If it plays well – which is far from a guarantee – we could see more remakes of classic maps. If not, we might have to wait for AW/BOIII maps to become “classic” for remakes; depending of course on the mechanics of the games moving forward.

I say that Skyrise might be the determining factor because it really could end up illustrating just how the new mechanics work with older maps. Highrise was a fast, intense experience, revolving around strategic points that allowed you to control the map. The helipad, keeping an eye on the crane (and subsequent sniping perches reached from there), the tunnels under the helipad, and the elevator path all saw a ton of action. My concern with Skyrise is that with the new Exo-abilities, all of those strategic points kinda go out the window. The helipad now will be reachable from any angle – not just the stairwells. The crane and routes from the crane could end up no longer being needed to get to the balcony sniping perches/rooftop. If the changes make it play well, but in a different way – that’s a success. If the community still tries to play it like Highrise and it doesn’t quite work – that’s not.

Will Skyrise be the ultimate decider for remake maps? Probably not. Activision knows all too well that the Call of Duty community is super dedicated – especially to the older games. What will probably matter more is what maps they decide to pick for remaking. But as the games get farther and farther away from the standard CoD formula, the maps will need more and more tweaking to keep them feeling familiar while still playing well. Skyrise is a big step, but it’s not the last one.

My Top Picks for 2014 in Gaming

Now that 2015 is here, I thought it was my turn to look back over last year’s games and pick my choices for the best of the year. Instead of picking ten games and listing them in some arbitrary order, I just thought I’d list out what I thought were the best games of the year.

Titanfall

We’ll start with the two games that I think were the best of last year. For me, it was a year of shooters – starting in March with Titanfall and then in the fall with Destiny. Now, I get that neither really had much in the way of a story/campaign, but what both games did well was the most important aspect – the gameplay. Titanfall was the first shooter in years to feel fresh, with a focus of movement and speed instead of cover-to-cover combat. Add in the massive titular Titans and you had a wonderful mix of action that was totally refreshing to play. The DLC for the game kept it in rotation through most, if not all of, the year – adding a free co-op mode was a great idea by Respawn. I’m excited to see where the studio heads now – I would expect to see something maybe at E3 this year.

Destiny

As for Destiny, a lot has been made about the story already, so there’s no reason to belabor the point. However, I have been playing it consistently since it released in September. The gameplay is that good – it gets all of the Bungie trademarks right. The gunplay feels great, the melee and grenades and super abilities all add in a good variety to the combat, and the game itself looks incredible. The PvP is a little iffy at times, but playing through the raids is always exciting, and even just running the bounties everyday is still pretty enjoyable. There’s still one more content pack that we know of coming soonish, so we get another good look at Bungie’s work at keeping the game in good shape. I just hope that with Destiny 2, whenever that comes out, that Bungie uses the Lore that they have on hand with the Grimoire and finds a way to put it into a great story in-game.

Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition

While I think those two were my favorite games of this past year, there were a bunch of other great games that I got to play last year. First was the Xbox One version of Guacamelee – a game I knew nothing about when I downloaded it. It was free with Gold this summer, and I would have rather spent some money on it to support Drinkbox games – it was that good. It nailed the Metroidvania style game perfectly, while managing to feel unique with its art and music and usage of Mexican lore. Fantastic game, from top to bottom – you really owe it to yourself to play it.

This was also a great year for a couple really tough, old-school platformers. Shovel Knight and Volgarr the Viking both harken back to the classic days of gaming – both evoking the feel of NES and SNES platformers respectively. They require patience to learn the patterns, precision to nail the platforming and timing to get through the combat. Shovel Knight was just announced for PlayStation platforms with the added ability to play as Kratos, which not only could look pretty cool, but also could help the game reach a new, larger audience. Volgarr is still free with Gold on the Xbox One, so you really should pick it up – even if it’s not your cup of tea, it’s free.

Sunset Overdrive Cover

As for other major releases this past year, I really thought that Sunset Overdrive managed to standout. It’s got the movement and speed that looks to be the trend of current-gen action games, but the game is so self-aware and irreverent that it’s humor is actually funny. Sometimes games try to be funny and it comes across flat – Sunset Overdrive is a good example of a game that is funny, but also has really tight gameplay to back up the wackiness. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is another great example. The series has always been keen on the humor, and each game has been phenomenal examples of action-RPG values. The action is tight, but the RPG elements have grown in each game, which allows for growth both within the game world as well as the player base. People who started with the first game and took a more straightforward approach to the action element can grow with the RPG side which helps open up the whole genre to them.

We also got new entries in the two biggest shooter franchises on consoles – Halo and Call of Duty. Both were strong games for sure – Master Chief Collection was just plagued by major networking issues at launch, primarily because of the scope of the game. As time has gone, the game has gotten much more stable, which is great, since all four games are still fun as hell to play. Adding in Halo 3: ODST and a remastered version of the Halo 2 map Relic is a great move by 343 to show some support for the dedicated fans. Now we just need to continue with the Halo 5: Guardians beta being solid and I think the feeling going into this year will be good. On the other side of things, Advanced Warfare didn’t have a particularly rocky launch – just a little laggy, which is to be expected with a major launch; and has grown stronger since then. It’s the Call of Duty that Activision needed, especially going up against Titanfall, which was already established this year. Moving forward, we’re set up for a really interesting 2015 – there’s bound to be a new Call of Duty game in the fall, plus the DLC for Advanced Warfare still, add in the new Battlefield Hardline, Halo 5, and Star Wars Battlefront coming this year, and I think you can see why it was so important for Advanced Warfare to do well. It shows that the series still has a place in the Current-gen world.

There were a couple other games that I know got lots of press, but I just didn’t have the time or funds to get – Far Cry 4, Shadow of Mordor, Assassins Creed Unity and Rogue, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire remakes, Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros for Wii U/3DS. That’s not even the beginning of it either – there were tons of great games this past year, and 2015 is already shaping up to be just as strong, if not more so. Hopefully we can put the focus back on the games, move on as a community and really become a mature subculture in the mainstream of pop culture.

Weekly News Recap – Week of December 8, 2014

After what was a pretty busy news weekend last week, this week has been a bit slower. We did get a nice DLC release from Bungie, which has been taking up a good chunk of my play time, along with messing around in Minecraft again.

Destiny The Dark Below

DESTINY’S FIRST DLC LAUNCHES, BRINGS MORE DESTINY TO PLAYERS
I’ve talked a couple times this week about the new content in The Dark Below, Destiny‘s new DLC pack. The bottom line is really that the DLC is more Destiny, good and bad. The story is still sparse, but a bit more tangible this time around. There’s still a pretty solid focus on grinding your gear up – especially if you upgrade to the new Level 32 capped gear; or get the new Raid gear, which is awesome, but needs tons of Radiant Material to max out. The good part is that the core formula for Destiny – meaning the actual gameplay – is still really fun to play. The new missions have some pretty cool looking environments, the new strike has a really awesome feel to the ending section, and so far, the new raid has been just as good as the Vault of Glass. If you’ve been enjoying Destiny without the DLC, I think you’ll continue, and if you do decide to buy it, I think you’ll still enjoy playing the game for a while longer.

Advanced Warfare Cover

SALES FIGURES FOR 2014 SHOW ACTIVISION DOMINATES
In what should really not be a huge surprise, the sales numbers for the year are starting to come out, and so far it looks like 2014 was Activision’s year. Between Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Destiny, the publisher really cleaned up. Going into the end of the year here, it’s really not too hard to think why – EA didn’t put out a Battlefield game this year, and their two big names – Titanfall and Dragon Age: Inquisition are both pretty niche games. Titanfall I’m sure did well this year, but not being on all consoles may have hurt it. All things considered though, I think next year is already shaping up to be even bigger for both publishers.

Super Smash Bros for Wii U

SMASH BROS. NEW AMIIBO ITEMS SELL JUST AS WELL
One other bit of sales data that I saw is that currently, the new Amiibo figures that can be paired with Super Smash Bros. For Wii U have been selling at almost a rate of 1 figure per copy of the game. Not being super familiar with the actual behavior of the Amiibos and how exactly they translate to the game, I’m a little surprised at just how well they’re selling. On one hand, I can understand getting one along with the game, but I doubt that every copy is being sold with one, meaning people are buying multiples. From a collecting standpoint, sure, I can get it. In fact, I would go buy the Mega Man one right now, even without the game (or Wii U for that matter) just because Mega Man is that cool. I think it also speaks to not only the dedication of the Smash community, but also the Nintendo fanbase. The Amiibos aren’t something I think you’d see Microsoft or Sony try, but Nintendo does it, and fans eat it up, right or wrong.

Weekly News Recap – Week of December 1, 2014

This first week of December has been a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to news. On one hand, Halo, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Destiny all saw new patches hit this week, so there’s plenty to talk about there. But on the other hand, developers have been a little tight lipped about major new announcements, in anticipation of The Game Awards tonight, and PlayStation Experience this weekend in Vegas.

Destiny The Dark Below

PATCHES FOR EVERYONE!
I talked a bit about the most recent Destiny patch earlier this week, as Bungie prepares for the launch of The Dark Below. The last two patches for Destiny have made some pretty noticeable changes to the behavior of major portions of the game – for the better in my opinion. Streamlining the upgrades on Exotics is a great move, and being able to bring them up to the same level with the new Exotics in The Dark Below ensures they’ll be useful for a long time. Halo: The Master Chief Collection got yet another patch, fixing what seems to be the same issues they have been for weeks now. While I’m glad that they are putting out patches consistently, the fact that every patch seems to come with the caveat that they’re working on the next patch already, and that that patch will address the same issues again, is starting to get a little grating. I think that 343 Industries is starting to get close to the point of no return for the Christmas season and it’s going to be really important to get it up and running smoothly soon. Finally, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare got a massive patch this week that addresses pretty much every aspect of the online components. Exo Survival got some exploit fixes, and the multiplayer side of things got huge fixes across the board. Weapon balancing was done on all the weapons that clearly needed it, map exploits were addressed, and game modes all got tweaks to score length and communication to the player. It’s a huge patch, and has actually gotten me back into playing the game – especially since Halo is still a chore to play online.

Halo Master Chief Collection

THE GAME AWARDS STREAM TONIGHT
Since Spike TV isn’t airing an award show this year, Geoff Keighley instead created another awards show to replace it. The Game Awards will be streamed live tonight on the online components for PlayStation and Xbox, and since Viacom isn’t part of the show, I would expect it to actually be less over-the-top and be more respectful towards the industry. Usually at these shows we see a bunch of new trailers and announcements, so I would expect to see the same this year – although Microsoft already has said that they are not announcing any new games at the show. Whether that’s marketing trying to pull a fast one, or they are in fact not announcing any new games remains to be seen.

SONY DSC

PLAYSTATION INVADES VEGAS THIS WEEKEND
This weekend is also the PlayStation Experience, being held in Las Vegas. Since the PlayStation brand just turned 20, Sony figured that the brand deserved a party – and what better place to have a party than Vegas. Bungie is being coy about showing something at the show – in their weekly update it sounds like they’ll be showing some of Crota’s End off. Beyond that, I fully expect to see a bunch of new content from Sony’s main franchises. I would not be surprised by any announcements – I think anything is on the table for Sony since they’re in such a good spot market-wise. If I had to bet on a major new game being announced, I would put my money on either God of War or Twisted Metal showing back up. Regardless, this weekend is going to be packed with major headlines, so keep your eyes up.

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.

Lessons We Can Learn From The Master Chief Collection’s Launch

Halo Master Chief CollectionToday marks one week since the launch of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and I don’t know that they could have envisioned a rockier launch week. While the content of the game is there, and there’s plenty of stuff to be excited about, the fact that online matchmaking is essentially unplayable right now is inexcusable. It’s a major part of the Halo experience, and it’s been rendered useless by the server issues. I appreciate that 343 is dealing with it, but I could go with more transparency on their end. As of today, all we know is that the new patch that was supposed to drop tomorrow has been pushed back to “later this week.” That’s about the extent of what we know – the latest post in the support thread just says that patch will include “a variety of fixes across the title, including Matchmaking performance issues, general UI and game stability improvements, as well as fixes for game-specific issues in Halo: CE, Halo 2, and Halo 2: Anniversary, and more.” The full patch notes will be posted in advance of it actually launching, but I would still have liked to see a few more specifics as to what issues for Matchmaking are being fixed.

Compare that with the launch of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – which also didn’t have a smooth launch. Sledgehammer and Activision within that launch week took a proactive approach to dealing with it, and had an initial patch out within a week, complete with patch notes. It’s still not quite up to snuff, but it’s getting closer. Now, I don’t know exactly how much of a direct comparison we can make, since the Master Chief Collection does have four different games in it, at least as it extends to the nuts and bolts of the servers; but where we can look at the two situations is how the studios have handled their issues. Both have been up front acknowledging their issues, which they really needed to. I think Sledgehammer may have been more prepared for issues though – it’s important to remember that this is really only 343 Industries’ second go around with Halo. I think the hype for this game was way higher than it was for Halo 4, just because of the nostalgia factor – as well as the value of four games for $60.

Halo 2 Lockout

I don’t think it’s particularly outside the realm of possibility to think that they underestimated just how many people would be playing at launch – which seems to be a pretty standard problem these days. Looking back – Battlefield 4 had a similar launch, Destiny wasn’t perfectly stable at launch and now we get to Master Chief Collection and Advanced Warfare. Two of those games even had pre-launch betas. Granted Destiny‘s launch was by far the smoothest of them, but still – I’m continually surprised when Call of Duty doesn’t have a beta. Halo had one for Halo 3, Reach and I believe Halo 4, but nothing for the Collection – I’m not totally sure exactly how they could have had a beta for the Collection, but there must be some way to test the servers pre-launch.

Ultimately, I don’t know exactly what impact this rough launch will have on the Halo series moving forward. It’s still a great game – the nice thing is that the campaigns of the four games are all really strong, so there’s still plenty to do; the Halo community is so strong that it hasn’t been hard to find people to load up lobbies for Custom Games to pass the time. My biggest concern is that because of the issues, people are leaving the game behind – there are tons of awesome games out right now after all. As such, I worry that Halo 5: Guardians might suffer – the beta that comes with the Master Chief Collection needs to be really strong now to help cover the problems. I honestly want to see 343 own up to it and maybe offer some more of the Anniversary maps updates as free DLC down the road – there are plenty of awesome Halo 2 maps that deserve updated takes. At the end of the day, the Master Chief Collection will have to deal with this rocky launch, and I think it serves as notice to developers to always err on the side of more servers needed – but then, this isn’t a new issue. I think a game to look to is Evolve as for how to approach a launch – they’ve already had two Alphas, they have a planned Beta after the Holidays in advance of a February launch. If it has a smooth launch, I think that those pre-launch events can easily be seen as the reason for it.