Call of Duty: Black Ops III Eclipse Map Impressions

Black Ops 3

The second DLC for Call ofDuty: Black Ops III, Eclipse, came out on Xbox One and PC last week, and I wanted to quickly go over my thoughts on the four new multiplayer maps added in. I’ve played each map a couple times, both in Hardcore and Core modes, and in a couple different game types as well.

Let’s start with what is I think the weakest of the new maps: Knockout. It’s got a really unique visual look, with the traditional Asian architecture, but I think that’s the high point with the map. There are a lot of tight, short hallways, which play into the new weapon meta I’ve been seeing lately of the powerful one-hit weapons like the Marshal and KRM. I did really enjoy it on Domination, mainly because the three points are put in perfect spots – they’re open enough to be attacked from a few directions, making posting up camps to defend trickier. There are a couple longer sightlines, mainly around the center area where weapons like the Sheiva and snipers can work well, and the outer paths also provide some alternate routes to avoid the corner shotgun/SMG party. I think it’s a map that, with some spawn tweaking and playing in an Objective mode can be fun, but isn’t as flexible as some others.

Moving up one spot, we get Spire. Spire is the one I’ve played the least I would say, but I think it’s got a couple really high points. It’s got good mid-range sightlines for longer range engagements, while still having plenty of close range spots for intense action. I know that I complained a lot about that with Knockout, but I think Spire does a better job of balancing the ranges. It’s got great outside lanes for flanking around, there are lots of crossing paths as well for crossfires. I also really like how much cover is on this map – it feels a bit like this map is better played boots-on-ground, not thrust jumping around. You have pillars that you can use for cover, there are plenty of waist-high walls as well. Some of the pathways are a little confusing, especially the ones that lead outside from A and C Dom – it just feels like they should lead to the overlook window to me. It’s another really good Domination map, but one that I think works well on slayer modes as well.

The last two maps definitely impressed me, especially compared with the first set of DLC. First, Rift is a really good stretch map. Yes, it’s got lots of interior rooms where those one-hit power weapons can do well, but it’s also balanced with the pretty long exterior lanes. Each exterior lane also has a long wall-run that can put you right behind the enemy almost immediately off the spawn if they aren’t paying attention. As a run-and-gun flanking kind of player, I love when maps have those kinda sneaky, quick routes on them.I played this one on Safeguard, and while I don’t really love Safeguard in general, I think it worked pretty well. The defense actually can set up and stand a chance should the robot get near the objective. Compared with the first two maps, I think this is one that pretty much every gun in the game works on. Knockout might be too rushed for the slower LMGs and snipers, while Spire just plays too fast for some of the slower killing weapons. This one has spots where any weapon works, and can work really well. I did just damn fine with the Shieva on it working on headshots.

Black Ops 3 Verge

That said, my favorite map though is Verge. Verge is the remake map in this DLC set, this time of a World at War map, which is nice since that’s the only Call of Duty I never played. This is also where everything I said about Knockout feels a little dirty, because those same tight corners and lanes I complained about there are what make Verge my favorite. It’s got two lanes that are right on top of each other it feels like – with the middle lane defined by a really narrow bridge, littered with cover. There are plenty of small, tight corners where those who feel compelled can camp with one-hit kill weapons. But the map honestly just plays too fast to get away with that. The lanes, while they are narrow, are also stretched out – they feel a lot longer than you might initially think; and as such, snipers and LMGs and the Shieva all can do some serious work here. A good shot can really control a whole lane without too much effort – there’s enough cover to move from point to point while avoiding counter sniping. But there are enough side routes around too where flanking is easy enough, and the caves in particular are great for running melee weapons in.

Overall, I really like this set of maps better than the first DLC pack, Awakening. Awakening’s maps I think are overall visually more stimulating, but they all felt like they had one little thing that kept them from standing out, minus Skyjacked. Guardian has some real bad camping issues, facilitated by the map layout; Rise could be great if it was ever came up in the map rotation, and Splash just feels like it’s got too much going on. I actually think even Knockout is better than that first set of maps. Sure, this could just be positive thoughts because this new set literally just came out, but we’ll see. We’re starting to get to the point with Black Ops III where needs to keep up this trend of adding great things to the game to keep the player count high through the summer. This is usually the time where people hit the games they missed from last year, but this year we’ve already got three huge launches this month alone, two of which definitely are competitive FPS games. We’ll see what’s next as we get closer to Infinite Warfare this fall.

News and Notes Catch Up

Fallout 4 Box ArtWe’re still in a little bit of a lull in terms of big game launches – we’re a couple weeks away from The Division still, but there have been a couple headlines that popped up over the last couple days that have piqued my interest. Like I did with the FPS news last week, today I’ll talk a little about what I’ve seen and my interpretation of it.

We’ll start with the news today from Bethesda about the first three DLC packs for Fallout 4. Monthly DLC packs are headed to the Commonwealth starting in March, ending in May. The timing makes sense – the game came out in November, so most of the hardcore players have pretty much beaten everything that the base game has to offer, and really it’s just standard timing for big game DLC launches. The interesting part is that they come with a price raise. The season pass, until the 29th of February, costs $30. On March 1 though, the price will jump up to $50 to account for the new expanded DLC plans. So if, like me you’ve been waiting for the actual plans to pick up the season pass, now is definitely the time. I don’t think we know if that $30 will include everything moving forward, or just these first three DLC packs. What I do know is that these first three packs are pretty cool sounding. First up, Automaton will add the ability to build and create your own robot minions, and has some story content to go with it. In April, we get the Wasteland Workshop – bringing with it arena battles and new workshop items. The big one comes in May though – Far Harbor. Bethesda is calling it the biggest DLC they’ve built for Fallout, and it’s going to be set up in Maine. Now that we know that there’s more DLC coming after May, bringing the total value up to around $60, Fallout 4 will be staying on my Xbox all year long.

Mass Effect

Next up we learned today that a writer from BioWare, Chris Schlerf, has joined Bungie to work on Destiny moving forward. That’s in and of itself a pretty big news story, but bigger because Schlerf was the lead writer for the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda and had been on the team all the way back to 2014. In all likelihood, ME:A won’t be impacted too much by this – I would think by now that the story is all fleshed out and they’re in full swing to, hopefully, get the game out this year. Adding a writer from a studio that has a track record of consistently strong story content in their games to Destiny is a really intriguing move though. Destiny has been continually made fun of for it’s certainly threadbare story. Yes, The Taken King improved that side of things a whole bunch, but I’m really interested to see what bringing in someone from a studio that has always put a lot of emphasis on story to a universe that, I think, has a really strong potential is exciting. With Destiny 2 not coming until next year, that give Schlerf and the writing team plenty of time to come up with a real beast of a story.

I’m expecting this week’s Update to have a little bit of everything in it. They’re bound to wrap up Crimson Days, but now that we have the road map, I would love if they started to talk a little more about this spring content we’re getting. Tomorrow I think I’ll put down a couple of ideas that I really hope that Bungie at least has considered for the spring update.

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.

Destiny – Where Do We Stand Now?

DestinyIf there’s one game that I’ve played and written the most about over the last year, it has to be Destiny. It’s a game that just hits all the parts of an FPS that I really enjoy, with some sprinkling of RPG to keep it interesting. Yes it has had its ups and downs – I won’t deny that. But the second year started off so strong that I think expectations shot back up following The Taken King. So much so that if you head over to the subreddit or forums you’ll see a lot of posts demanding information about the next content we’ll get to play. Bungie did announce and introduce a new set of loot to the game this week, but it is gated by the Refer a Friend system; which has a lot of veteran players a little ticked off.

The new loot includes a new sword, the first since The Taken King launched, along with a good mix of cosmetic items. The big sticking point for most of us is the new Sparrow – the first truly new model introduced to the game since launch. It has the same archetype/stats as the Year One Veteran reward Sparrow, but has a sleek Tron-esque look to it. The problem is that the only way to get this gear is by bringing in totally new account to the game, then playing through a quest with them. I understand the need to keep the player base strong with a game like this, and in theory a Refer a Friend system isn’t the worst way to go about it. The problem I have is that for people like myself, all of my friends that I play games with already have Destiny, or did and no longer want to play it. Any friend that I could refer, I did back in Year One so we could play then. That basically means I won’t ever be able to get those new items, which stinks because even with all the great new games I’m playing now, I still make time to play Destiny every week.

The Taken King Logo

Which really speaks to the larger quagmire that I think Bungie is finding themselves in now. The player base was so engaged and recharged after The Taken King launched in September that Bungie really didn’t need to do much to keep us involved. But we’ve now gone two full months with the same content. The majority of players are starting to be the ones who have run through just about everything. The top 1% is growing as Bungie repeats the time-gated events like the Black Spindle mission, and No Time to Explain’s quest line. Even by now last year we were in prime Dark Below preparation mode, since it came out in early December. I would hope that Bungie has a plan for the next couple steps, and we’ve actually seen the very beginning with them outlining the December Patch a bit. But just letting us know that the weapons are getting another balance pass, and we’re getting a new set of Exotics to chase (most of which are Year One items) isn’t really enough. There are too many other fantastic games out right now to pull players away from the grind of Destiny.

I have no idea what the next DLC will be, or even how it will be presented to us. With the microtransactions that are in game now supporting the game, we might not get a huge purchase for a big pack. It could very well be brought out piecemeal for little to no cost. It’s really tough to say for sure because of the lack of an Expansion Pass, and with Activision refusing to say one way or the other how they want to do the DLC this year. That said, I think we’ll find out a lot more in the next week or two. This week will be probably a little weird with Thanksgiving on the usual Bungie Weekly Update day, but who knows, maybe this will be the week they announce it. Whatever route they do decide, I think that the sooner they make the move, the better it will be for Destiny moving forward.

Destiny: The First Year Post Mortem

DestinyToday marks the final day for the first year in Destiny. At some point tomorrow morning Bungie is going to flip the switch and make live the 2.0 patch, bringing with it a lot of sweeping changes. So today I want to look back over this first year, the ups and the downs along with all the storylines that we’ve been talking about for a year now.

Let’s start at the very beginning – those first couple weeks after the game went live. We all were learning the ins and outs of our chosen classes, which ones worked best at what parts of the game. The Crucible wasn’t a Thorn/shotgun filled mess – there were actually all three classes represented. We were still trying to actually fill our inventory with Legendary tier gear, pushing up that Light level. The Vault of Glass was just opening, beckoning us with its challenge. Exotics were exceedingly rare, Xur was still a mystery and the Nightfalls were new and hard. It was really easy to find things new in the game that were really exciting to play around with – secrets to find.

Destiny Black Garden

Of course, it wasn’t all roses. We all know that the story was presented in a less than particularly effective matter. This past week we learned that the story did in fact get a pretty substantial overhaul a year before launch that may have contributed to that fact. The idea of tying power level to the Light stat on armor was a cool experiment; but one that ultimately fell flat, so much so that it’s being pretty much thrown out tomorrow for a much more standard item level system. The loot system at that point was especially brutal too. It was a definite period of growth for the new series.

After those first few months, we got our first taste of the grinding part of Destiny. We kept running the Vault of Glass to try to get that last weapon or armor piece. We were starting second and third characters on the other classes. This was also when we got the first real Crucible meta. Auto Rifles were powerful, with one weapon that really reigned above every other weapon – Suros Regime. It was such a nuisance that Bungie pretty much killed the entire weapon class to “balance” the Crucible. We’re still playing with the fallout from that first rebalance.

Destiny The Dark Below

When we start talking about the DLC season, we’re only looking at two points really. The Dark Below brought a new raid with it, and a lot of new info about one of the more exciting enemy types in the game, the Hive. Of course, Crota’s End is a little less involved than the Vault of Glass is; and most of the new weapons introduced were rather lackluster. But it was still what we were looking for at that point – more Destiny. With House of Wolves the game was clearly starting to show the beginnings of thinking about the next step. Prison of Elders was an attempt to make endgame content for 3-man fireteams. The story content was told through one solid quest line. Where I think House of Wolves really did well is the expanded lore for the Reef and the Awoken. We learned a lot more about the Fallen too.

Over the last year we’ve seen a new franchise really start to get its legs. I still think that Destiny‘s potential is super high. If tomorrow’s patch and next week’s Taken King launch can live up to the hype, I really think that there will be a solid foundation in place for that 10 year plan that Bungie and Activision have. It absolutely has its flaws – and they’ve been talked about ad nauseum over the last year. At the end of the day though, Destiny is still a fantastic game, with a lot of fun in there to have.

Destiny – Looking to the Future: Or, What the Reddit “Leak” Really Is

DestinyOnce again I find myself writing based around a post I saw while browsing the Destiny subreddit. Today, it’s one that actually getting some play around the web in general. Hell, even Forbes has commented on this particular post. And it’s because it’s getting some serious views on the Reddit – because it supposedly is a detailing of specifics that the OP has obtained about not only The Taken King, but also Destiny 2. The fanbase is craving for details – The Taken King is only about a month and a half away and we still don’t know a LOT of details. But there is something a little off with the post – Forbes does a good job of breaking that down, so I don’t want to beat that horse. Instead, I want to talk a little about why that post exists, and then maybe do some speculating of my own about the future.

To me, the biggest giveaway that it’s a total sham post is that there’s specifics for Destiny 2. We’ve literally heard nothing even addressing a sequel for the game yet – and while I don’t doubt that it’s pretty deep in development, I actually hope it is – I doubt that Bungie employees at all are talking about it. This community perhaps more than any other in the current gaming sphere should be well aware of how much a game can change quickly. Destiny looked completely different when it was still a year out from release – hell, that game is still one that a lot of us would love to see. Any “concrete” details about a sequel now are just a fan’s wishes. And when you look at these “details” about the future, you really just see it’s exactly that. Activision has a notorious track record for pricing content – early Guitar Hero DLC was more expensive per song than Rock Band (it didn’t help that there was a new game every year, with no chance to transfer songs); Call of Duty charges for cosmetic DLC that literally impacts gameplay in no way at all. The idea that they will abandon paid DLC – especially the kind that the playerbase is dying for – is absolutely insane.

I get that we’re moving forward as an industry, and DLC is going through some changes. We’ve seen more substantial free DLC this year than any year I can remember recently. Titanfall added in the Frontier Defense mode for free, along with the Black Market; Dragon Age: Inquisition has had a bunch of free multiplayer DLC; and Halo 5 has said all map-packs will be free. None of those are Activision games though. The only free DLC that they’ve done for Call of Duty is add in a couple weapons – which still pale compared with the Bal-27 and ASM1. In an age where free MOBA games routinely are in the top played games, I think DLC in general needs to be looked at for multiplayer games. It’s been such a cash-cow for years though, so any growth or changes will be slow and painful. Destiny 2 – whenever it comes out – will probably not be that lynchpin game.

Destiny Taken King Collectors Edition

When it comes down to it – what this post really speaks to – is a community that is rabidly searching through any and every pixel of the trailers for details. As much flak as Destiny has earned over this first year – some rightly so – the community is still really strong, and very loyal. It’s very easily my most played game of the last year – by far. I’m in that same boat – I want to learn all about the upcoming schedule and content as possible. But you have to have a certain level of skepticism about “leaks” – even more so of ones with no concrete proof. The leak back in January that showed off the DLC schedule had some truth to it – thanks to the image that it contained. Add in that it had some truth behind it with the content that had already been released, and it was easy to take at face value. In the end, it was pretty accurate – sure a few details changed here and there, but it has so far been pretty much spot on with the schedule and content. In particular we knew House of Wolves was coming spring time, and we knew about The Taken King (then as Comet) as well as DLC 3 and 4, which are included in the second expansion pass.

Image from @LittleBigOkey

All of that adds up to an environment that is susceptible to these sort of posts. Bungie doesn’t help the case by playing their hands really close to their chest. We’re still a little far from when I would expect to see the floodgates open – that comes within the last month before launch – but I still would love the details to come a little more frequently. As it stands now, we get one or two little tidbits in each weekly update. The updates also are focused around The Taken King – which is what I want, but they’ve basically left the current game stand for a long time, which is frustrating. I’ve written already a few times recently about the current state of the meta, so I don’t need to keep beating that horse.

As far as looking forward, there are a few specific details that I am really hoping for. Of the points in the “leak,” the big one that I want is increased customization. I hate that the only option for end-game play is pretty much homogenized. You wear Prison of Elders armor, or Trials of Osiris armor, until you earn a bunch of Etheric Light to level older armor; basically amounting to using Raid armor that you’ve used for most of the year. That ends up with everyone in the Tower looking the same – even using the same handful of shaders. Adding in more options for customization is needed I think – it would help refresh the feeling of the game. The other point that I really want to address here is supposedly a new way to ascend gear to Year 2 levels. On the surface, that sounds great – but if House of Wolves taught us anything, doing that is a terrible idea. Bungie needs to show us that they’re adding in weapons that would make us abandon the older weapons – House of Wolves didn’t, so everyone ascended Vision of Confluence/Fatebringer/Black Hammer/Gjallarhorn, and really, that’s all you need. The Taken King is exactly what the game needs – a chance to do a bit of a reset with the weapons and armor. Put everyone back on the same playing field, take away the crutch weapons, and reshape the meta. Adding in a way to ascend gear to Year 2 levels would ruin that, and could potentially ruin Destiny in the long run. Datto has a fantastic video that talk about this – especially as it pertains to power creep – which explains it better than I can today. If they do add in ascension, there’s a real good chance that power creep might get to the point that it can’t be fought and could permanently impact the universe. I honestly think that ascension is actually even in the game because of the fanbase raising hell after Dark Below kinda rendered Vault of Glass gear less relevant.

If there’s one thing I can take away from this first year of Destiny, it’s that the game has been one of, if not the most, talked about games. The community is passionate, the game’s building blocks are super tight, and that’s always a good combination. It will probably never be the game it could have been – and in truth it might never have been able to, even without the changes pre-launch. But I still think that Destiny will probably go down as being one of the first true “next-gen” games – and will have a community that plays it for years.

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.