Entering The Division’s Dark Zone

Graev and I played lots of The Division over the weekend. We decided it was time to venture into the Dark Zone for the first time last night to see if the dangerous PvP area was worth spending any amount of time. I have to say… it was pretty awesome.

The Dark Zone is a nice big section in the center of Manhattan. In the Dark Zone you can be attack or be attacked by other players at any time. Attacking someone who has not already attacked another player turns you ‘rogue’ and makes you red and visible on the minimap to other players. When you go rogue, other players can attack you and obtain a bounty for killing you. Going rogue is not without its benefits, though.

The best gear in the game is found within the Dark Zone. In order to take items out of the Dark Zone they must be evacuated via helicopter in special containers. Evacuating can only be done at special locations in the Dark Zone, and requires an event be initiated. Once initiated, after a minute an thirty seconds you can drop clip your bag onto the rope dropped by the helicopter and your gear is safely transported to your base.

Here’s where it gets good. These events announce to everyone that you are trying to evacuate gear you found. As you can imagine, rouge players want nothing more than to relieve you of your goodies.

We spent 2 hours last night hunting NPCs in the Dark Zone to gain Dark Zone rank, Dark Zone currency, and find good items. We did pretty well! Throughout the evening we chased rogue players down and ultimately walked away with a few full containers of goodies. I should mention that the Dark Zone has its own level system and currency outside the scope of the regular single-player/co-op game, so the playing field is much more fair and balanced. You can gain rank and buy lots of nice items.

One incredibly memorable moment last night was when there were maybe 12-15 guys all trying to evacuate gear at once. Everyone was on edge and no one was holding still — you could feel how uncomfortable people were around each other. I had this gut feeling that the guy hanging back was going to go rogue so I kept my shotgun trained on him. Sure enough, he started sniping at people and went red. I put my shotgun to his back and unloaded! I ended up snagging a full bag of goodies and ran in at the last minute to click them onto the evac.

I wish the entire game was like Dark Zone. That feeling of working with other players to stay alive is awesome, and when you see a red player your heart starts to pound and you sometimes have to just go and hide to catch your breath. Evacuating gear is incredibly unnerving and by the end of the night we were both exhausted from the experience of being on high alert. Definitely something to be said for the human interaction that is blatantly missing from the rest of the game.

The Division: Very Early Impressions

Graev and I picked up our copies of The Division yesterday to fill the gap in our list of evening co-op games that we like to play together. Prior to purchasing the game I kept seeing people referring to this idea of “massively multiplayer” and even weird hints at open-world and even elements of DayZ. Those are definitely way out of left field because The Division is neither a massively multiplayer game, nor anything remotely like DayZ or a survival game.

The Division is a third-person shooter game with hints of RPG, but definitely not a game I would ever comfortable say fits the RPG bill. RPGs have choices, and The Division is more of follow the story experience where you shoot bad guys, get gear, and level up. If there are decisions in the game, I certainly haven’t seen any.

The world is a mixture of seamless lobbies and mission phases. For example, safe houses contain other players. You walk through the door and ‘bam’ you are suddenly faced with a few dozen other players. You walk out that door and they stay there and you’re in your own world. If you group up with people then you’ll see them outside. There’s only one area of the game where it’s more about PvP and seeing other people, and that’s called the Dark Zone.

The story is intriguing. I like the idea that someone created an epidemic in New York causing the entire city to go into chaos and be quarantined. This special group of people who are like good guy sleeper agents are activated to go in and fix things. Fun premise.

The engine is fantastic, and gunplay is very tight. I really like the cover system — especially being able to select different cover and then automatically transfer to it even when it’s far away. Gear has a nice level of customization and variety/diversity. I think finding cosmetic items and weapon/armor upgrades will be fun, especially in the Dark Zone areas where you have to export your gear safely in order to keep it.

One critique I have about the shooter side of the game is that the enemies are spongey. They’ll soak up lots of bullets despite looking like normal people — I think they ARE normal people. I don’t know many humans who can take a full clip from a M4 and still be running around. Head shots really, really matter in The Division. Putting it on Hard Mode makes the spongey feel way worse.

The missions are neither here nor there so far. Focusing on the gameplay model too much would actually be a detriment to the game for me because it ultimately boils down to running around a world to find quest markers. If I were to think about it really hard, technically the game is about forming groups and going out on missions with the “open-world” being more of a pseudo-open-world experience — almost an illusion. But again, don’t overthink it. You’ll find encounters and more of an “open-world” experience the further you progress, but it’s definitely not an Elder Scrolls kind of open-world experience.

Co-op is fantastic. Graev and I have had no problems grouping up together and running missions. The Division really integrates nicely with the PS4 friend list as well as the Ubisoft accounts.

Bugs have been annoying. I had a glitch where right in the first 5 minutes of gameplay I was halted for an hour trying to interact with a laptop to “activate” my agent. I had to do a work around where I ran 200 meters away, did a matchmaking gimmick to find a group, then fast travel back to the house to activate it in a different phase. How that made it past QA boggles the mind.

The Division is, so far, a great third-person shooter with light RPG elements. Definitely worth the buy. I’ll integrate these thoughts with later thoughts for my more formal review. So far, I’d say 8/10.

Star Wars Battlefront Review

Star Wars Battlefront Review

Star Wars Battlefront is out and, after much deliberation, I decided to purchase it after all. You may recall from my Battlefront Beta Impressions that I wasn’t thrilled by a few of the design decisions. I feared the game may be a short-lived phenomenon. I had a few concerns about the game’s longevity because of the maps, the modes, and the features. Now that I can play the full version, here’s how all of those things are playing out.

Maps & Modes in General

Thankfully there are a few more maps per mode than I had originally thought. The ‘biggest’ mode with 40 players has four maps (one on each planet). That brings up a good point: There are only four planets (Endor, Hoth, Sollust, Tatooine) comprising 12 maps, and those 12 maps are more like variations of the four planets or variations of the same map. While the diversity isn’t what I would have loved to see — like a Tattooine city. While not ugly in any way, most are very simple and somewhat flat without a lot of complexity to their impact on gameplay.

The modes are what you expect just with different names and range from capture the flag to dog fighting in ships. Except for the air battle mode, the modes are rather lackluster. Both Graev and I would have really loved to see a Conquest Mode similar to Battlefield. The modes for capture the flag and ‘droid run’ are fairly uninspired and lack a desire for much replayability since they drive combat closer to arcade grenade spam than they do tactical Star Wars battles.

battlefront ship battles

Longevity and Replayability

Herein lies probably the most important factor of all: Does Star Wars Battlefront have staying power? I have to go with my honest gut opinion here and say that it doesn’t have the staying power of shooters we all used to love and play 5-10 years ago. While fun, it’s more of that ‘flash-in-the-pan’ kind of experience. Some people call it the “Titanfall Effect” where its awesome, amazing, innovative, tons of fun, but you stop playing two or three weeks later.

The key to Battlefront’s long-term success rests entirely on how DLC and expansions to the game are handled. Unfortunately, EA doesn’t have the most amazing track record with its shooters — namely the modern Battlefields — and their staying power. I can’t see myself playing this 6 months from now. Does that mean I won’t get my money’s worth? That’ll be subjective. Personally, I’ll get enough hours out of Battlefront to justify the $48 I spent (Thanks to Best Buy’s game club I get 20% off new releases).

battlefront capture the flag mode

Guns, Unlocks, Customization, Etc.

I stated back in my beta impressions that this system was lacking. It still is. Simply gaining access to new things linearly as you level and then spending credits you earn to unlock and slot them is too simple. They are completely missing the customization of recent Battlefield games. Alternatively we could compare this to Battlefront 1 and 2’s class system which they are also lacking. Instead, everyone is the same and you can simply change your character’s ethnicity and/or take off your Storm Trooper’s helmet.

Battlefront’s Multiplayer Platform / UI / Framework

Here’s where they’ve started to make great headway. I really, really like how they handled multiplayer and playing with friends. Inviting friends on both PC & Console is easy. Forming a squad works seamlessly. Playing with Graev on the PS4 has never been easier. Being able to choose a “partner” from your group so that you can spawn on them is a very nice touch.

Battlefront, like every game these days (Overwatch, Fallout4, etc), is designed for consoles first. The UI is defined by that experience. An in-game example of this is how AMAZINGLY well the vehicle control on consoles but how poorly they are implemented on PC. The game is full of amazing control and UI decisions that I enjoy — on consoles.

Battlefront droid run mode

Challenge Modes & Singleplayer in Battlefront

There are a few singleplayer modes that work mostly like challenge modes. Graev and I have had some fun playing these. Two nights ago we spent 2 hours trying to beat them on hard mode and failed after being really far into one of them. The harder modes are absolutely brutal and a real test of skill. While trying to survive waves of storm troopers or capturing pods may be a lot of fun — and being able to do it co-op is even more fun — I can’t say this is a replacement for multiplayer. Battlefront is a multiplayer game.

Gameplay & General Fun

Despite my highly critical remarks so far, I feel that Battlefront is a very fun game. I am glad I bought it, and knowing what I know now I would still buy it again. I love the atmosphere. I love shooting blasters, flying X-wings, playing as Darth Vader (SO FUN), and strategizing with Graev on how best to defend our flag or take on incoming enemies.

Is Star Wars Battlefront worth buying? Yes, but go into this purchase knowing what to expect. Battlefront truly captures the Star Wars feel in a very modern way, but falls slightly short of bringing an innovative or new shooter experience.

Blizzcon is Upon Us: WoW Legion’s Launch Date, Predictions, et al

Blizzcon’s opening ceremony kicks off in exactly 4 hours from now, and I’m going to squeeze in here and drop a few predictions as well as what I hope to see announced.

World of Warcraft: Legion

First, I have to address the gorilla in the room: Legion’s launch date. Check out the marketing collateral below and pay attention to the fine print at the bottom (click to enlarge):

wow-legion-perks

Legion will release on or before September 21, 2016. There are a few ways to interpret this information.

  1. The people convinced this is the release date and are cancelling their subscriptions because they won’t do HFC for 10 more months.
  2. The “I knew there was a reason to hide subscription numbers!” group (who likely do not play)
  3. People who look at WoD coming out a month before its drop dead date who now think August is the date.
  4. The people who think this really doesn’t mean a whole lot / will happily play WoD / don’t care.

I personally think this is their drop dead date and that they will release sooner. I’m also pretty sure they’re going to giving Overwatch a very nice window. I’m predicting April 2016. I think that’s a nice 5-6 month window for them to hold a beta and finish up. I’m on the bleeding edge of extremes here, I know. The likely release date probably IS September 2016.

Overwatch

We’ll get a release date. They’ll talk about the cost of the game, some business model plans, etc. Lots, and lots, and lots of hype. The more I think about how badly they want to hype Overwatch, the more I think we’ll see Overwatch in April, and Legion in August-September.

Starcraft

I’m not expecting any announcements for Starcraft’s current projects. I think Legacy of the Void coming out is a big enough deal that they won’t overshadow it with anything else in the SC2 universe. However, I want to see announcements regarding a modernized version of the original Starcraft and Broodwar being brought to the SC2 engine — with multiplayer — by 2017.

Diablo

I’m actually expecting nothing for Diablo except for a similar announcement about Diablo and Diablo 2 (plus expansions, minus Hellfire) being modernized to the D3 engine and coming out as full games — with multiplayer — by 2017 as well.

Classic Games

I’ll continue in the same vein and say that I hope a nice part of the opening ceremony will hype their revival of the ‘classics’ and for them to official come out and state that they are working on these revitalization projects. The job listings are there for these projects already, it’s just time to make it official. I truly hope to see Warcrafts 1-3 being a big part of this project.

Hearthstone

Cards? (And probably a huge emphasis since this game prints money)

Heroes of the Storm

More heroes and stuff. I will be shocked if HotS gets much if any time in the opening ceremony.

Warcraft 4’s Announcement

Yes, I look forward to Warcraft 4’s announcement every single year. I hold my breath, I get disappointed, and I come back next year to do it all again. I really do think they could build off the hype of Legion and a Warcraft 3 revival to announce Warcraft 4 coming in 2018 or something.

Console and Tablet Announcements

We know that Overwatch is coming to consoles. I think this is a big market for them. Now, as far as tablets go, I think we won’t hear a thing. They kept Hearthstone — their juggernaut F2P — completely nonchalant when it came to iOS releases. I doubt we see much pomp and circumstance over tablets.

A Big Year for Blizzard

Blizzard can go big this year in ways they haven’t been able or willing to in the past few years. With Overwatch, classic revivals, and a strong expansion on their list it’s entirely their game to lose right now. This Blizzcon can set the pace for the next three years without even breaking a sweat. Let’s see what happens!

Star Wars: Battlefront Beta Impressions (PC and PS4)

I got my hands on both the PC and PS4 beta for Star Wars: Battlefront last night! I played for about 4 hours between both systems, and definitely have some thoughts on what is easily one of my more anticipated games of the entire year.

Sorta “Meh” Sorta “Woah”

My first impressions were actually a bit flat. For the first half hour I was thinking along the lines of, “aw crap… this is it?” The graphics are gorgeous — especially on consoles which surprised me — but the gameplay was a huge letdown from what I was expecting.

Over the next few hours my opinion started to take on a little more shape. I unlocked a few more weapons, played several rounds of each mode, got to pilot all of the vehicles, etc. I really, really like the system of picking up tokens or powerups around the map to spawn vehicles. This is a brilliant alternative to camping vehicle spawns. Basically, you run around playing and there will be these faded blue hologram looking tokens that you pick up and suddenly you realize you can take control of a Snowspeeder or an AT-ST, or a TIE Interceptor, or become Darth Vader, etc.

Speaking of Darth Vader, the 40 player mode has the hero characters as tokens. I saw Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker running around the map all willy-nilly throwing their lightsabers, force jumping around, and basically slaughtering everyone. I was spawn camped by Darth Vader — that wasn’t very fun.  The heroes do have this sense of “WOAH” and are incredibly powerful. Vader threw his lightsaber 50 yard to kill me. I was too impressed to be pissed off.

The maps in the beta are really bad. I think this is where most of my “meh” comes from. The Hoth battle mode is a tiny map with a rather boring mechanic of having to either turn on or off these stations that call in Y-Wings to bombard AT-ATs lumbering toward the Rebel base. The other mode was way too deathmatchy for me and felt really small as well.

I wish the maps were larger, and the objectives more open or involved or something. I went in expecting Battlefield maps, but found myself in a relatively tiny map with boring, one dimensional objectives. They only feel larger because there’s this absolutely stunning and gorgeous skybox. They nailed the atmosphere.

Unlocks are decent, albeit a little simple. You rank up, earn credits, and buy unlocks as they become available. I don’t know if what we’re seeing is the beta version of the unlock system? I hope there’s more to it like some of the more involved Battlefield unlock and customization systems. Right now it’s more like you reach rank 4 and get the next blaster.

One of the best features is the party implementation. You can form a party and even choose one other person to be your partner. Graev and I formed our party and partnered each other allowing us to share our primary “hand” cards. Basically the secondary weapons like Thermal Detonators and sniper rifle cool downs.

Battlefront on PC vs PS4

Going in I thought I would be all about PC master race, but I enjoyed the PS4 version more. Battlefront controls beautifully on a console. On the PS4, the graphics and performance were beautiful 60fps and smooth. The controls were mapped perfectly — best flight controls I’ve experienced. The interface was 100% identical to the PC interface, so I’m betting consoles are the primary platform. There wasn’t a dedicated server browser either. You pretty much just chose the mode you want and clicked join. It found a server for you.

Tonight I’m going to record both versions and upload the video(s). I’ll shoot you guys a link in the comments or maybe make another post. Edit: Video is now available below.

Overall Impressions of Battlefront

I had fun; I can check that box, but something is still missing… The maps were small and boring in terms of what was involved despite having gorgeous graphics, amazing atmosphere, and capturing a realistic Star Wars feel. I hope more maps, modes, and features unlocked in the full version will give the game what it needs.