Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Multiplayer Achievements

Black Ops 3

I hit level 55 in Call of Duty: Black Ops III last night, which is the level cap before entering Prestige Mode. When you reach that level, you get one of the four multiplayer achievements in the game – one is unlocked at level 10, the other two deal with the new Specialist mechanic in Black Ops. That, combined with my ongoing grind for weapon camos, calling cards and Specialist attire got me thinking about those sort of multiplayer achievements – whether they’re actual Xbox Achievements/PlayStation Trophies or in-game items. My stance on multiplayer achievements has always been more or less that they really shouldn’t be on the achievement list. But that idea was basically formed from the achievements that were in Gears of War, Halo 3, and Halo: Reach. Over the last couple years, I’ve softened my stance a little.

With the games that I play the most online right now – Destiny, Halo 5, and Call of Duty: Black Ops III – each has competitive multiplayer achievements. A few years ago, I would have been pissed about that – mainly because I see those achievements always drawing the most attention for boosters and the such. I played the hell out of Halo 3 and I’m still missing a whole slew of the multiplayer achievements because they could only be unlocked in Free for All – which to me just further encouraged boosting. With Halo 5 though, the multiplayer achievements are much more easily unlocked. Win five games of the different game modes, and do the same for each of the original three Warzone maps. In theory that’s really not that many games, should you play well and get your wins quickly. Then you are free to just focus on the in-game commendations and REQ points. With the Warzone achievement, I do think that since you’re at the mercy of the map selector, it can be a bit more frustrating – I had the same issue with Titanfall asking you to win a game of each mode on each map. But those are achievements that, again in theory, are simply unlocked by playing the game over time. That’s kinda the point with shooters these days – the campaign is good for a few play sessions, then it’s the multiplayer that keeps the game installed on your hard drive.

Destiny Crucible

With the two Activision games – Destiny and Call of Duty – the lists are a little different. Destiny does have a couple PvP achievements, and really only one is dependent on player skill and might be tricky (Kill a Warlock, Hunter and Titan in one life). The rest are pretty much just keep playing kind of achievements – which works with Destiny‘s notion of you playing a bunch of different activities every time you log on. And since the bulk of the content is PvE in nature, that’s where the bulk of the achievements are. That one odd achievement is a good example of one that I definitely take issue with. At launch, it was a lot easier to get that one – everyone was still playing around with each class, including alts. I got that achievement when I was leveling my Warlock before my fireteam had actually finished the story – mainly thanks to Nova Bomb being good at covering a wide area. After the meta stabilized though and Titans all but vanished from PvP through most of Year One, that achievement became a hell of a lot harder to unlock. Now it’s probably back to being relatively straightforward with Sunbreakers making Titans relevant again.

Which brings me to Call of Duty. It’s been a series that has always done different things with multiplayer. The first multiplayer specific achievements didn’t appear until the first Black Ops, of which there were two – one to reach level 10 in Combat Training, and one to win five Wager Matches. And for the most part, that’s been pretty much how each game has approached the multiplayer achievements – with ones that are easily unlocked just from playing a whole bunch of games. Where they’ve put a lot of the kind of things that could have been achievements are in the meta-challenges. Stuff like Misery Loves Company, The Loner, and Collateral all would have made fine achievements, but putting them in-game helps reduce the boosting, in theory. For Call of Duty, I think that balance is definitely the best way to go. It lets the developers put in a couple multiplayer achievements to round out the list, but put the real challenges in-game and reward the players with in-game items. With Black Ops III though, that line has been blurred just a little bit. Those two Specialist related achievements aren’t just earned by playing with them a lot – maybe the triple kill one depending on the weapon – but the five medals in one game one definitely seems designed to push players toward a specific playstyle with specific Specialists. I’ve spent this whole Prestige playing as Prophet – mainly because I think Tempest is a great objective defense weapon – and I don’t think I’ve played a single game (even with Overdrive) that I’ve felt like I could have earned five medals based on Glitch. Truth be told, I think Glitch is one of the two weakest abilities in game along with Rejack, mainly because of the challenge associated with Glitch has you getting kills after it. To me, it’s way more attuned to a defensive use – before I was trying to get those last cosmetic items for Prophet, that’s how I used it – to survive fights I was dead in.

Black Ops II

Tie that together with the “secret” Dark Matter camo and Gold Hero attire for Specialists, and it’s really not that hard to see why Treyarch is cracking down on boosters pretty early in the game’s life. Instead of Dark Matter being like Diamond was in Black Ops II as a status symbol, my first thought is now trying to figure out if the player is a booster. Now, of course, Diamond had boosters too – they’re part of the system, and that’s why there’s always going to be the need to crack down on them. Putting things that almost encourage boosting into the achievement list is never a good thing, and I think Treyarch toed the line a little this time around. Hopefully Ghosts 2 or whatever we get this year will have a more straightforward list.

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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.

Looking Ahead to 2016: What I’m Excited For

We’ve spent the last couple days looking back at the past year in gaming. Today though let’s look ahead to 2016. We had a really fantastic year this year, so I fully expect that 2016 will continue that and have some serious heavy hitters. With that in mind, let’s talk about some of what I’m excited about for next year.

No Mans Sky logo

We really don’t need to wait too long for some big names to drop. Uncharted 4 and The Division are both set to drop in the first quarter of the new year. While I’m personally more excited about The Division, I do understand the importance of Uncharted and why this next game is such a big deal. The Division has a beta coming down the pipe soon, so we should be able to get a decent idea about how the multiplayer side of it will work. We’ve also got No Man’s Sky coming out early in the year, which if you have a PS4 should be on your must-buy list. If that game can come anywhere near delivering on its promises, it could be the most important game in years.

Black Ops 3

We also have DLC to think about for the early part of the year. Black Ops III has its first DLC coming to PlayStation in February, and Xbox One in March. I feel confident in saying that Fallout 4 will have something in the first quarter as well, in addition to mods coming to console. We know that there are a couple timed events headed to Destiny – including “bigger events” than we’ve seen since The Taken King launched. I always keep my eyes out for big songs heading to Rock Band, and with Halo having monthly content updates, we know we’re bound to get a couple big additions coming to the game. Depending on timing and actual content quality, that DLC will be what keeps those games fresh until we get new games.

Final Fantasy VII

That’s all stuff that we know about though. When I start looking at the coming year, I always think about some of what we don’t know for sure. Things that we kinda can infer, but haven’t been confirmed. Things like exactly when Kingdom Hearts III and the Final Fantasy VII remake will be coming out. We know Crackdown 3 is coming out too, just not an actual release window yet. We know that Infinity Ward is working on their entry with Call of Duty, but we don’t know exactly what it will be. I think it’s fairly certain to be Ghosts 2, but we don’t know what direction they’ll take it. With Treyarch and Sledgehammer both having pretty sci-fi influenced games, I kinda want Infinity Ward to stick with the near future/modern setting. One thing that I don’t think we’ve seen a ton of talk about is Borderlands – I wouldn’t at all be surprised if we see something about a new main entry to the series announced. I’ve seen a couple rumors about the studio having some financial issues that could be impacting a Borderlands 3, but until I see it actually reported, I’m going to remain hopeful that we get a new one in 2016. One other game that I could very well see make a surprise return would be BioShock – a true next-gen entry, maybe returning to Rapture could be damn good to play. We also know about Mass Effect Andromeda but beyond that, we’re still waiting on some details. I could very well see that being one of the big names at E3 this year – and depending on the release window they’re aiming for, I could see a Next-Gen trilogy collection of the first three games to tide us over.

As great as 2015 has been for gaming, I think 2016 could equal it. We’re finally starting to really feel like we’re in a new console generation. I think we’re going to see games move away from last-gen support (Destiny 2 I’m looking at you) and really start to take advantage of the technology on our hands. Nintendo will be showing off their new console – the N-X – which I think is a very important console for the company. They need something to appeal more to people who focus on graphics and online play, which the Wii and Wii U didn’t really ever have.

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.

Infinite Lives Last Minute Christmas Game Gift Ideas

Panicking at the last minute about what you should pick up for the gamer on your list? Well I’ve got you covered here at Infinite Lives with a couple games that I think any game lover will enjoy.

Fallout 4 Box Art

For the RPG lover, you are looking at Witcher 3 or Fallout 4. Both games feature strong story telling, living worlds and characters that feel alive. You should pick the game that fits the world your gamer prefers. Not everyone likes that Tolkien sword and sorcery style RPG, and Fallout offers a tremendous alternative. Both games are bound to be all over Game of the Year lists soon, so you really can’t go wrong with either game. Each game has a different way they approach the traditional RPG mechanics, so you might need to figure out how your gamer likes their story and action delivered to them.

If you have an action/FPS fan on your list, you have a few more options, so it might be a little more complicated. Destiny: The Taken King, despite what the hardcore community might be saying, is absolutely worth the price of admission. With all of the extras going on in the game right now – SRL, and Iron Banner hitting next Tuesday – this is a pretty good time to get a new player into the game, or bring a friend back in. Battlefield Hardline came out way back in March, but I still think it’s probably the best option if you’re looking for a more realistic style shooter. Huge games, big maps and vehicles all over the place and a change of pace from the usual military setting make for a pretty damn fun game. You can probably find it marked down by now too, so keep that in mind. If you’re looking for something even more on the realistic side, you’ll be grabbing Rainbow 6: Siege. I haven’t played it since the beta, so I can’t give the full recommendation, but if you plan on having a group to play it with, I think it could be the best co-op/competitive option out there. Which brings us to the old question – Halo 5 or Call of Duty: Black Ops III. It’s been the dominant question in console FPS for years – at least on Xbox. Now, last year, it wasn’t a question – Master Chief Collection was too broken to recommend. But this year, I actually think it’s a lot closer. Halo 5 is a ton of fun to play – Warzone alone is I think worth checking out the game for. And Black Ops looks like it’s the strongest entry in a couple years in that franchise as well. This might be the only pick where there really isn’t a wrong answer – I think no matter what your Xbox FPS gamer likes, either game is a win.

Rock Band 4

One last game that I think might fly a little under the radar this season – Rock Band 4. The return of my favorite music game franchise has been a little rocky so far. Yes, it’s still missing some features – especially online play. But if you’ve got the instruments, I still say it’s far and away the best couch co-op/party game available. The new setlist is really good, plus they are continually adding new songs to the list, as well as the old DLC too. If there’s a music fan on your list who happens to also like playing video games, I think this is the game for you.

Halo 5: Guardians – Cartographer’s Gift Update Thoughts

Halo 5 WarzoneHalo 5 took a unique route to post-launch content for the series, forgoing a traditional map pack season and instead has been adding in monthly updates with free content, supported by real-money purchases of the REQ packs. Yesterday we got the December update, bringing with it the addition of Forge – Halo‘s map editor that has always been a fan favorite – along with a few new maps and REQ items.

I haven’t really dug into Forge enough to give that part a final thought. Forge has consistently been more and more in depth with each iteration, so I know that there’s a ton to really get into. What I did play was each of the new arena maps and the new social playlist. Warzone didn’t cooperate with me to put the new map on, so that’ll wait until I get that map to come up in the rotation too. What I will say is that if 343 can keep up their track record with these monthly updates, Halo 5 could be exactly what the franchise needs to bounce back from Master Chief Collection.

Those new arena maps though, boy howdy are they varied. Overgrown, the new 4v4 map, is so dense it’s almost impossible to get a grasp on it in one game. There’s so much in such a small map that games are pure chaos from the outset. The map is definitely skewed around close quarters – the railgun, shotgun and energy sword are all on the map as power weapons, along with an active camo pickup. Combine that with the layout of the map, and you’re going to have a lot of quick kills from around corners. You’re going to see plenty of corner crouch camping – or as I call it, douchey play. It’s a twisting, mazelike set of corridors, with an actual good mix of verticality. Do I think it’s going to be a new Halo classic? Probably not – it’s almost too complicated for that. But it’s a pretty damn fun map for sure.

The other two new maps are big team battle maps – Entombed and Antifreeze. Entombed is set on an asteroid or other space rock, and is basically a big valley with a few big buildings that act as bases. Of course, the power weapons here are what really dictate map flow – there’s the new SPNKr rocket launcher, a binary rifle, a wraith, warthog, over shield and active camo all over the map. Grab them and get up high, and you’ll be in a really good position to pull ahead. Antifreeze, on the other hand, is a bit more straight-forward. It’s a big valley, but map flow definitely is more based around the structures. The actual structure stretches across the whole map, with different points that act as the bases for CTF or Strongholds. You’ve got binary rifles and incineration cannons as power weapons, and ghosts as vehicles. It’s a bit more intense action since it tends to focus up around the middle of the map.

All in all, I think the new arena maps are all really good, in different ways. They show that Halo works at long, medium and short ranges. It’s just what the matchmaking needed to keep it fresh, and I hope that 343 continues it moving forward.

The New Gaming Revenue Model?

Halo 5 GuardiansThis fall/holiday season has seen the launch of a pretty amazing mix of games, easily the best since the current console generation started. And with that mix of games there are a couple of different ways I’m seeing developers go about supporting those games post-launch. So I thought today I’d talk a little bit about what I’m seeing, and how I see it moving forward.

First, there are the games that are sticking with the tried and true method. Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Fallout 4 and Rainbow Six: Siege all have gone the classic Season Pass route – with varying value in them. I’ve talked here about the Rainbow Six silliness, but in brief, I think it’s far and away the worst season pass I’ve seen in a long time. There is no content in that season pass that provides a true impact on gameplay – nor is there future content there that I would think is imperative to have. The only truly gameplay important items are early access to future Operators. Not purely DLC Operators, just quicker access to them. The other games I think are pretty standard fare for season passes – guaranteed access to the DLC at a discounted price. It’s worked for a few years now, and while it might be reaching critical mass, I still think it’s a really safe way to approach DLC.

Fallout 4 Box Art

On the other hand, we’re seeing a lot more games take a new approach to post-launch support. Halo 5: Guardians, Rock Band 4 and Destiny: The Taken King all have a similar approach to it. The base game acts as a bottom line, and then future content is added in piecemeal, at little or no cost, and is supported with small microtransactions that are optional. Halo has the Warzone REQ packs, Rock Band restarted weekly song DLC, and The Taken King added in emotes and now event specific items. That’s the money side of things, but each game has also added in free game content too. Halo has already had one patch that added Big Team Battle, and has another coming soon to the game; Rock Band just added in Brutal Mode along with a refinement of the core mechanics; and The Taken King is currently hosting the Sparrow Racing League. That’s a lot of cool content being put into big name games – totally for free. I think this model in particular draws heavily from MOBAs. Developers have seen the success of games like League of Legends with the unique hero skins and are trying to find ways where it works with console games. I think this is really early on to say for sure that this will stay for the whole generation, but I do think that each game has a system in place right now that does look like it works – Halo in particular. There isn’t a right answer here, just that developers actually do support the game post-launch and that we has players do the same.