Category Archives: Impressions

Space Ninja Janitor

Warframe was going so great. All the way up until I wall-ran into the payslope and slid back down on my space ninja ass.

The problem I currently have is that all of the blueprints I have available require materials I do not have enough of. In my specific case, it’s Plastids. While mobs do drop some resources, your primary source of most everything are breaking containers and opening lockers. This is essentially the equivalent of breaking clay pots in Diablo. But hey, it’s a looter shooter, right? No big deal.

Let me tell you, there is nothing more disillusioning than a space ninja terminator walking around at normal speed breaking open containers and opening lockers.

Warframe is about leaping through the air and slamming into the ground, knocking your foes aside. Warframe is about drawing an energy sword from the void and instantly slicing five enemies in half. Warframe is about dodging attacks and taking down tough bosses and then escaping as an infinite amount of enemies try to block your path.

I was not expecting Warframe to be a JRPG in which you perform the equivalent of pressing X on everything to discover hidden Elixirs.

Alas, this is a F2P game with cash money solutions to the problems it arbitrarily introduces for that express purpose. I can buy 300 Plastids from “the Market” for 30 Platinum, and $20 will get me 370 Platinum. So… $1.67ish? Warframe will periodically give you 50% and even 75% off Platinum purchases for 48 hours coupons, so technically the price can be a bit lower than that. At a certain point, it absolutely makes more sense to pay to skip the parts of the game which require you to not play as a space ninja terminator. Both money and time are fungible, after all.

…then I remember that these designers do this shit on purpose.

For now, I will ignore my empty crafting queue and continue progressing through the story missions as best I can. There is technically a “resource extractor” that I can purchase with in-game currency that will presumably collect things like Plastids while I am away. It also apparently takes damage and could blow up if I do not retrieve it fast enough, e.g. leave it running for longer than a day. Because of course it does.

If I end up burning out from having to use the same weapons and classes I am stuck with, well, that’s the designers’ fault. I’m 25 hours into the game and am still hunting down the final blueprint that will allow me to “craft” a new class. Once that occurs, I’ll reevaluate and see where things stand. Considering that I only have two Warframe class slots by default, and have to pay Platinum to open more, things might get a bit cramped.

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Warframe of Mind

A while ago, I mentioned Warframe only in passing as a slick F2P loot grinder featuring space ninjas. Since that time, I gave it another shot to hook me, and hook me it did. It has now become my “I don’t know what I feel like doing” and “I only have 30 minutes to play” game.

I am still early on, but the general gameplay loop is finally big enough for me to slip through. The missing components were blueprints. As you might imagine, blueprints are necessary to construct new things like guns and other weapons, but also entirely new Warframes (e.g. classes). Once you have a blueprint, it will let you know how many of what resources you need to construct it – which might include components that themselves require blueprints – along with the Credits necessary to get started.

Credits in particular are a concern, as they are used for blueprints and upgrading the mods you get. In the beginning, I was spending pretty freely, for lack of anything else to spend them on (since I had no blueprints). Now? I’m pretty broke. While you can continue the story to unlock missions with greater Credit rewards, enemy levels continue to increase, which means you need to spend Credits upgrading your mods to have a chance, and so on. At some point, you have to grind/farm.

(Or, you know, pay real cash money, but nevermind.)

Luckily, Warframe doesn’t make things too painful. Every 20-30 minutes, there will be an alert on a specific map that grants bonus cash and occasionally a mod or blueprint as an extra reward. I have also discovered a few player-controlled areas which give generous Credit bonuses. Fundamentally, grinding isn’t too painful in Warframe because the moment-to-moment gameplay is fast and exciting. The minute that changes, the whole edifice will collapse in on itself, but until then there are plenty of “excuses” to jump/leap/bound/wall-run around maps like a goddamn space ninja terminator.

Ironically, something like Guild Wars 2 would normally have been my go-to game for incremental progress, but the expansion zones needing so much “Mastery XP” means that if an Event Train starts, you need to stay on-board lest you miss a significant chunk of progress. So, ultimately, the more serious I treat GW2, the more fun of a release Warframe becomes.

Heart of Thorns: Impressions

Having (painfully) unlocked mounts in my prior session, I felt ready to unlock Gliders in this one. Once again, I limbered up the Elementalist, and got ready to trek into the jungle.

…if only I could figure out how.

I think one of the most enduring legacies of WoW that no one gives much thought about are the seamless transitions between zones. Guild Wars 2 has big and beautiful zones… inside very defined silos. Mountains and invisible walls grid everything so that the only way to get to A is through the single zone gate B. Assuming you can find said gate.

So, I teleported to the zone next to the expansion content, mounted up, and road my way down the perimeter. Then, 15 minutes later, I looked up where the fuck the portal was supposed to be. Ah, that little brown smudge on the map.

After a cool cinematic, I started working on the directed quests. They referenced a bunch of stuff I never did – apparently I killed some dragons, like you do – but it was easy enough to follow. After a bit of follow-up, I was dumped into the jungle and told to unlock Gliders to progress further.

It’s been several days since that moment, but I still have a look of incredulity all but permanently affixed to my face. Nothing was explained how to unlock Gliders, just that I needed to. No map markers, no quests, no “Hearts,” no dialog, nothing. Hell, even doing searches in Google and Reddit turned up next to nothing. What, exactly, were the devs wanting me to do?

In case you ever follow my footsteps, here it is: to unlock Gliders in Guild Wars 2: Hearth of Thorns, you must mindlessly grind XP in the expansion zone. That’s it. There are no Hearts in the beginning section, so you must rely on Events you don’t know about or Champion trains filled with mobs that will one-shot you without warning. There is a Day/Night cycle in the jungle that ensures a steady stream of Event-ish things to do, but again, you have to complete enough of them to fill your entire XP (i.e. Mastery) bar before you can unlock Gliders and get on with the rest of the story.

It’s tough to imagine a dumber way to design an expansion, but there is still time to surprise me.

Anyway, my dilemma remains. For sure, I do not want to continue doing anything on my Elementalist. Perhaps either of the two Elite Specializations might make the class more fun to play, but that requires gaining 100% of all your standard abilities, e.g. grinding out additional Hero Points. I’m pretty sure that also means hitting up all the Hero Point challenges in all of the default maps, but who knows. That means I’m either going to continue progressing through the vanilla GW2 story on my Necro, or boosting the Necro to 80 and doing the same thing. Not sure if there would be an advantage to the boosting immediately – I’ll have to research if the XP at the cap turns into Mastery XP or whatever.

I dunno. I’m going to have to look at Thief and Mesmer again, as those would be good candidates for my free level 80 boosts. There is also the Revenant, of which I have only looked at in the PvP lobby. Having permanent Swiftness seems cool, but is less relevant now that I have a mount. The Necro is good, and mostly feels good to play, but I’m concerned about the fact that it seems to hold no relevance in group play basically anywhere. Chronomancers, Druids, and Warriors or bust, is what I’m reading.

I suppose it’s no different than any other MMO: the struggle is always finding that class that is both useful and fun to play. And how do you do that, if not playing for hours and hours and potentially burning yourself out with an unfun or non-useful class in the meantime?

Holiday Updates

I got in some quality gaming time in the past few days.

Far Cry 4

As mentioned in previous post, I was having some issues getting into (or really, staying into) Far Cry 4 despite it being better than what else I was playing. I originally attributed this to the breakpoints within the game, but as others deduced in the comments, it might have been from other tertiary concerns as well. After thinking about it, I agree it was not so much the game itself. Part of my “obligation” in playing Far Cry 4 was that it was taking up a lot of hard drive space, and I thus felt like I needed to finish it and make room for something else I had wanted to try.

After the insight, I went back to Far Cry 4 and enjoyed the experience more as I coasted into and past the endgame. I feel like Far Cry 3 is the better narrative experience overall, but Far Cry 4 plays much better and is a much more cohesive as a whole. Being able to get mobility options like the Wingsuit early on really opens the game world up, without being overpowered.

The Talos Principle

In a word: Amazing.

Portal 1/2 are better games overall, but The Talos Principle is the first puzzle game in quite a while to engender a sort of mild existential crisis. And that’s really what puzzle games are for, right?

Inevitably, everyone always seems to point out the most superficial philosophical questions when it comes to games like this – “Can robots be people?” “Are people just robots?” – and then just stop there. The Talos Principle should invite more salient questions though, and did for me. The game’s setting is one in which mankind is slowly dying, and you can read (and listen via audio logs) to how various individuals react to that inevitability. Some fight on to the bitter end, some leave to spend their last days with family, others do a LAN party, and another pair enjoy one final sunset and then commit mutual suicide. Milton, the AI “serpent,” will question your grasp of the meaning of life over the course of the game, and how it can be ascertained, often deconstructing arguments in ways that would lead some people I know IRL into tears.

That is what The Talos Principle should be noted for, not because the player-character is an android. If anything, whether the player’s android avatar is truly conscious in the same way people are is the least interesting question posed.

Anyway, I highly recommend it if you intrigued by philosophy or pathos or puzzles. It gots all three.

Warframe

According to the Search bar, I have apparently never talked about Warframe before. I played it once last year for about two hours, and then dropped it. I was interested in taking a second look primarily because my Amazon Prime account gave me Twitch Prime, which in turn gives free goodies every month, including what I thought was a free “warframe” but ended up being cosmetics. I think.

Warframe is a third-person over-the-shoulder looter shooter. Think “Diablo meets space ninjas” with a generous helping of impenetrable nonsense. It is also about the slickest F2P experience out in gaming right now.

The general idea is that you are a space ninja and need to space-grind ninja-resources across the solar system. Maps are surprisingly well-crafted, although you will be seeing them quite a bit, as each one serves several different gameplay types – sometimes you need to kill X mobs, sometimes you need to do a sort of King of the Hill node capture, etc. As you finish missions and kill bosses and collect loot, you unlock the ability to craft different warframes (aka classes), which come with different movement abilities, attacks, and so on.

I doubt I stick with Warframe for much longer than what I have already played. While it is a lot of visceral fun being able to jump around the map as a space ninja doing cool space ninja things, there doesn’t really ever feel like much of a narrative “point.” When I completed the first story section, for example, the next required me to reactive a Solar Relay to access missions on Venus. The activation though, required a laundry list of different, metagame-related things, like obtaining 20 mods, equipping four of them, etc. While that is a good way to ensure I am playing the game properly, it also meant I had to play several maps for the express purpose of trying to obtain randomly-dropped mods. Each map probably lasts 10 minutes or less, so it’s not a huge ask, but it still didn’t sit well with me.

Guild Wars 2

Even though I had not been playing playing GW2 for quite some time, I kept it installed on my PC and had been logging in once a day in order to accumulate the free goodies ArenaNet gives you. The currency is nice, but the real prize for me were basically the Tomes of Knowledge, which are free levels. The idea was that once I ended up purchasing one or both of the expansions, I’d have the opportunity to actually experience the content on a class of my choosing, rather than having to stick with the Elementalist, which is the only level-80 class I have.

Well, I picked up Heart of Thorns this past weekend for $15. So I’m playing GW2 again.

It’s funny though, the sort of things that go through my mind when playing MMOs like this. For one thing, I really enjoy the Necromancer, and that is the class I wanted to experience more of the game with. Since she was level 45, I could have skipped near the cap with my 34 Tomes. But wait a minute, I could also get an easy 10 levels via leveling up crafting, right? Gotta save those Tomes for when they are more valuable. Probably like never. But, whatever, I have level 400 Cooking now.

As I cycled through my characters just to re-familiarize myself with things, I also noticed that at least three of my characters received a 5-year anniversary present pack. Which, incidentally, meant I got three level-50 boosts. I had already leveled the Necro into level 55 by that point, but it will be good for later alts.

Anyway, I will be playing GW2 some more now. Seeing people running around on mounts really makes me want to pick up Path of Flames, just to make leveling alts easier, but I’m going to hold off for now. Will my GW2 experience be another passing fancy (again)? Will not jumping in with both (expansion) feet cause the game to be another passing fancy? Stay tuned.

Impressions: No Man’s Sky

Before its release in August 2016, the hype train for No Man’s Sky was insane. Something like 17 trillion different planets in a vibrant galaxy full of procedurally-generated lifeforms. Do anything, go anywhere! Reality hit people hard, including me, even though I did not buy the game at release.

I did buy the game a week or so ago though, and I can say that after a year of actually substantive updates, No Man’s Sky is almost ready for its debut. Mostly.

The first hour or so of gameplay is not that great, and can be worse depending on the randomly generated planet you start on. The vast majority of planets have hostile weather that necessitates the constant recharging of suit protections, driving you to seek shelter in your ship or a cave or farming Zinc from plants. Your ship needs Plutonium to lift off the ground each time, and your Life Support systems can only be charged with Thamium9. And you have to juggle all of these competing element requirements with a micro-inventory that gets worse before it gets better.

That’s really the summary for the game: No Man’s Sky gets worse before it gets better. Mostly.

After getting a few upgrades here and there, especially getting a better ship, the game opens up tremendously. You still need all the survival elements, but you have the space and cash to stockpile a few stacks. Then there is the forward momentum that comes from the primary quests, assuming you did not choose to free-roam. Things progress quite nicely, especially after unlocking your base and assorted goodies like Exocraft, e.g. vehicles.

Here’s the thing though: the core gameplay loop is incredibly tiny. On each non-lifeless planet, there will always be the following: Life Pods, Habitable Buildings, Trade Posts, Crashed Ships, Monoliths. All of them will look the same, although there are a few different types. All of them will be randomly scattered around, but the scattering itself will be very uniform across the entire surface of the world. By all measures you can actually fully upgrade your Exosuit before leaving the original planet you spawned on (assuming you somehow got the cash).

Planets are literally the size of real planets, but everything you could really ever need on any individual one of them will exist within 10km of wherever you land. Each star system has a Space Station, and each Space Station is set up exactly the same way. You can accept “missions” from an NPC there, and these missions are essentially Radiant Quests ala Skyrim. Kill X number of Y, collect Z resource, kill some space pirates, deliver this item, etc. As you increase your reputation, more lucrative quests unlock, which feature harder to find Z resources, or tougher pirates.

Some of the gameplay elements remain half-baked. Early on, you will find many rocks that contain Deuterium, which you are unable to mine. After unlocking Exocraft, e.g. vehicles, you can finally mine them. I was pretty excited… up until the moment I realized Deuterium is only used for Exocraft upgrades. Once you install the ones you want, the element has no purpose anywhere else in the game. The same applies to another element that comes from “raiding” (read: blowing up) protected silos. Why would you ever mine Deuterium or raid the other element again? It not being used for anything other than the thing it was needed for seems comically short-sighted.

It’s not obvious at first, but No Man’s Sky is more of a game about economics than anything else. Each plant or creature you scan gives you Units. Some elements exist only to be mined and sold as vendor trash. Completing missions gives you Units, and unlock better missions that grant more Units. Some of the base-building requires specific elements, but for the most part its Iron which is everywhere. Pretty much the biggest reason to have a base at all is so your can start a Farm, which lets you “grow” special elements. That you then turn into unusable-but-very-sellable items. So you can eventually buy a Freighter for 186 million Units… to have more inventory space. For Units.

I’m at over 50 hours at this point, and I have no idea why I still find this fun, but I do.

The key, I think, is to temper your expectations. This is not Minecraft in space. This is not 3D Starbound/Terraria. I’m not even sure if it’s all that good for Explorers, given that procedurally-generated terrain/plants/creatures generally all look the same after a while. That said, I do find the Primary quests to be interesting, and I very much enjoy the ability to just fly around and do whatever. Want to stop what you’re doing and warp to a different star system? You can. Want to just make a bee-line to the center of the galaxy? Go do that. Want to make the perfect farm so you can mass-produce Circuit Boards and sell them for 1 million Units apiece? Yeah, I’m on it.

No Man’s Sky has gotten a lot of updates since release, and it seems as though more might still be on the way. I ended up buying my copy for $20, and at that price I feel like I got my money’s worth already. In a few months, it might even be cheaper with more content and better gameplay loops. We’ll have to see.

Impressions: BlizzCon Day 1

Well, now. I didn’t really see this coming.

The biggest news of the day, based on Reddit traffic, was clearly Blizzard’s teasing of WoW Classic. As in, they are actually making a vanilla server. Everything is still in development, so it’s technically possible that it won’t actually happen, but that would be pretty embarrassing given that they spent time on stage and even created a video about it. Important details such as cost and which patch stage they will be basing it on are still unknown – based on “server” language though, it’s possible it will just be, well, a server option in your normal WoW subscription.

Some people will undoubtedly be overjoyed. None will probably play a paladin.

In other news, the next expansion in WoW Prime will be… err…

WoW_BFA

Uhh…

Now, I’m sure there be a lot of people excited for WarCraft to get back to “roots” as a Red vs Blue RTS trope, but this is literally the most generic title and expansion theme they could have done. Sequel Escalation can be difficult to manage when there is no formal end planned – there are only a few more tricks Blizzard can pull once the Burning Legion itself is extinguished – but… this? “Battle for Azeroth” is something you write on a whiteboard with an underline, to denote that a series of actual title ideas will follow. Is this what people felt like almost exactly six years ago when Mists of Pandaria was revealed?

Looking at the MMO-Champ coverage, about the most interesting set of bullet points were:

World PVP

  • The PvP vs PvE server division is going away, replaced by an individual toggle. You can choose if you want to opt in to PvP or not when you are in town. Players that feel trapped on PvP servers have a way out. This opens up the game to changing and improving the world PvP ruleset.
  • New content like bounty hunting or assassination quests will become an option.
  • There will be bonuses to experience, reputation and other things when you are questing with PvP mode enabled to offset the inefficiency.

This is almost a complete game-changer for me. And probably anyone else trapped on an imbalanced PvP server. My primary server at this point is actually heavily skewed to the Alliance, but that just makes the Horde I do encounter especially surly while leveling. Or, you know, when faceless Cross-Realm hit-squads phase into your area. Now that problem is permanently solved.

It also, rather cleverly, creates world PvP hotzones with the carrot of increased Reputation (etc) gains. You could argue that these Reputation-farming zones would already be hot in a normal, always-on PvP server, and you would be correct. But now everyone there would be consensually engaging in (or preparing for) PvP, likely putting up more of a sport of it. And since the change in flagging requires one to be inside a town, you avoid opportunistic ganking, and presumably accidental flagging in the same design. Win-win.

There will be more to talk about in the coming days, I’m sure, but those are my first impressions.

Star Cards

You may have heard a lot of people talking about how bad the Star Cards are in Star Wars Battlefront 2 (SWBF2), but there appears to be a dearth of information on what the cards actually do. Well, I took some screenshots, and will transcribe a lot of them here before.

Among the four classes, the following two abilities are in all of them:

  • Brawler: Melee kill regens 50/65/75/100 HP
  • Resourceful: All abilities recharge 10%/15%/20%/28% faster.

I did not experience much melee action in my limited time in the beta, so I’m not entirely sure if there is a special damage bonus for attacking from behind, ala the kill sequences from the Battlefield series. Somehow, I doubt it. Resourceful though, is a particularly impressive bonus. I don’t know the default cooldown for most abilities, but assuming 30 seconds, that results in the cooldown being 27/25.5/24/21.6 seconds. Not that this is a WoW raid or anything, but over the course of 5 minutes that means you can press the button almost 14 times instead of 10.

The other noteworthy Star Cards:

Officer

  • Officer Presence: Reduce HP Regen Delay by 20%/25%/30%/40%

Heavy

  • Defender: Gain 4/6/7/9 score for each hit you take

I was not able to test Defender, but this seems just a bit insane. Is there an internal cooldown? Otherwise, I can imagine some people rolling out Heavies and soaking up some long-distance fire for a few minutes before suddenly coming back as a Hero and murdering people. For reference, you typically get zero points for dealing damage until and unless the target dies.

Assault

  • Assault Training: Gain 20/26/30/40 HP on kill
  • Vanguard Refresh: Refreshes your abilities on kill 25/23/21/18

The Assault class in general felt extremely weak in the beta, even though it technically has more HP than the Specialist. Getting up to 40 HP on a kill would go a long way in fixing that. Additionally, Vanguard Refresh is just a straight-up upgrade to the default Vanguard ability, which sees you put away the blaster for a shotgun and quicker movement. Not sure what the bonus does exactly though.

Specialist

  • Stealth: Remain hidden when firing, and deal 65/75/100/150 extra melee damage.
  • Infiltration: Scrambler: Marks enemies for allies and scrambles scanners in 10/11/12/14 range.
  • Trip Mine: (replaces Thermal Binoculars) Laser Tripmine with a 30/26/22/16 cooldown.

The Specialist is really quite absurd all-around, even before the Star Cards IMO. Yeah, they will die to a Heavy in a reasonably fair fight. However, the E ability gives you an infinite-clip burst-firing gun, makes you invisible to radar, shows everyone else on your radar, and causes you to speed around the map. Have I mentioned that getting a kill resets the timer too? Adding the Infiltration: Scrambler to that and/or the Trip Mine is just bonkers.

The biggest Star Card offender from a blogging perspective is Boba Fett. Here are his upgrades:

Boba Fett

  • Acute Concussion: Concussion lasts 1/1.5/2/4 seconds longer
  • Quick Refill: Jetpack refills 20/25/35/40% faster.
  • Fuel Efficiency: Jetpack burns 15/18/21/25% slower.
  • Death from Above: during Rocket Barrage, take 50/60/75/100% less damage
  • Intense Barrage: Rocket Barrage fires 30/40/50/70% faster (more rockets)

As you can see, Death from Above in particular goes from 50% damage reduction while using a very visible ability to complete immunity. Intense Barrage adds more missiles to said attack for free. Or you can combine the two Jetpack cards together to get a much larger Jetpack uptime.

The characters aren’t the only problem either. Here are three cards from Starfighter:

  • Bomber has 5/10/20/40% more HP
  • Fighter deals 2/4/7/10% more damage with primary fire
  • Fighter takes 50/100/150/200% longer to lock onto with missiles.

If you are in a fairly even dogfight, but your opponent has 40% more HP or they deal 10% more damage, or you have to wait 200% longer than normal to get a lock-on… well, that’s not really a fair fight anymore.

Things can always change, of course. I don’t think that the Star Card system itself is going to change, but there will probably be tweaks to the exact percentages. And entirely new options/cards.

That actually might be where most of the concern should be centered. Because as we all know, the payment structure of games inform their ongoing development, which means the designers have incentives to create more powerful Star Cards later on. When they are undoubtedly added into the game “for free,” the average player might be able to craft the first two tiers with regular currency, but whales and competitive gamers alike will have it maxed out as soon as the servers are up.

Impression: Star Wars Battlefront 2

I managed to play a few hours of the Star Wars Battlefront 2 (SWBF2) beta this past weekend. I had not actually played any of the prior titles in the series, nor does the Star Wars IP hold any particular cachet with me. I have played and been a fan of the Battlefield series for over a decade though, so my impressions are based more around that.

In short: it’s decent fun.

One of the first things that should be addressed is the Star Wars-ness. I mentioned that the series holds no particular cachet with me, but that does not mean I am unable to appreciate cool sci-fi battles when I see them. In this regard, SWBF2 hits some seriously good notes. Being a part of a Stormtrooper charge through a wooded area, blaster fire going every which way, is exactly as cool as you can imagine it being. I am also incredibly impressed by how the other map can cast the player as a Droid. I think the hitboxes are the same as the more common human ones, but it remains an interesting experience seeing your Droid teammates scurrying about.

The space battle map is whatever. I’m not a huge fan of flying vehicles in this or any Battlefield game, entirely because I lack whatever faculties are necessary to shake someone off my tail. I have fun shooting people, launching missiles, etc, then someone gets behind me and I inevitably die. I know that it’s possible to lose someone, because I have been “lost,” but I cannot do it.

On a mechanics level, the game has a pretty interesting approach. There are four base classes in the game, and each class has three abilities (in addition to different weapons). Abilities are all cooldown-based, with the exception of the Specialist’s Thermal Goggles, so there is always a tension between using it ASAP to eek out every possible advantage, or “saving it” for when you might really need it. Do you chuck a grenade in the off-chance someone is in that hallway, so that you can chuck a second one later? Or do you wait for a specific situation? Beyond that, the four classes themselves seem relatively balanced – Officers are pretty bad solo, but shine in groups – and each organically play out quite differently due to said abilities.

Where things falter quite a bit is in the teamplay department – the only teamplay is accidental.

Again, I come from a Battlefield background, and I also recognize that EA might not want to copy all (or any, apparently) of its systems. But the lack of squads, the regenerating health, infinite ammo, infinite abilities (after a cooldown), no spawnpoint choice, no revives, no Spotting… in every way, SWBF2 is an arcade shooter. I can appreciate the fact that some things wouldn’t make sense in the Star Wars universe – shock paddles bringing Storm Troopers back to life, etc – but there is so very little connecting you to the rest of your team unless you’re playing an Officer, who in every other way is worse than any other class you could have chosen.

The hero system sort of wraps this all up in a big bow. As you complete objectives and get kills, you earn battle points, which you can spend to respawn into battle as special characters, vehicles, etc. The money-shot heroes cost 5,000 points, which take a rather significant amount of time to accumulate, and thereafter lock your team out of choosing said hero until you die. From my few hours playing, I can say that the ones using Lightsabers are OP as shit, as they dance around one-shotting everyone, then dancing away to regenerate a health pool five times larger than normal. There are still some “more powerful than normal” options for the rest of us plebs, but there are still limited slots.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the current Star Cards P2W fiasco.

At the end of each match, you gain a number of Credits which can be spent in increments of 1000-1100 to purchase crates, which then hold three random “cards.” These cards can be improved abilities for any of the classes – including the heroes – or even alternative abilities that replace other ones. Or they can be cosmetic things, emotes, etc. Cards have different levels, with higher levels corresponding to better bonuses. At the beginning, you can only equip one Star Card, but as you gain more cards for a particular class/hero, that class/hero “levels up” and can equip up to three.

The fiasco part of this is that the entire system right now is pretty much naked Pay-2-Win. These crates can be unlocked during normal play, or you can unlock as many as dollar bills you have. Since character levels appear to be derived by how many Star Cards one has – as opposed to, you know, how long you have been playing said class/hero – not only will buying a ton of crates give you more options, they will specifically allow you to equip all of them. And these are direct power increases. Lower cooldowns, damage reduction, regenerating health, more “ammo” per clip, etc. It might not be impossible to take out a fully-decked out player as a brand new player – unless we’re talking about the Star Card that gives Boba Fett 100% damage reduction during Rocket Barrage – but in a FPS the margins between winning and losing are measured in milliseconds. Every percentage bonus counts. Especially when your target survives with 1 HP and regenerates to full a few seconds later.

As if that was not bad enough, the real problem here is that this is SWBF2’s entire progression system. While you can eventually earn a crafting currency to construct exactly the Star Card you desire, there is otherwise zero means to acquire better (or any) cards of a particular class. In the Battlefield series, playing as Assault will let you unlock more/better Assault abilities, using the same gun will unlock components for said gun, and so on. In SWBF2, it’s all lockbox RNG. I can appreciate the occasional incentive to try out a different class based on a good loot drop, but as the primary progression mechanism? That’s dumb.

The whole Star Cards thing probably deserves its own post, assuming you haven’t already read 37 variations by then. But, yeah, it’s basically as bad as it looks.

Overall Verdict:

Unsurprisingly, the jury is still out.

As mentioned before, the game is decent fun. If you are looking for an arcade shooter and like Star Wars, then it is probably a no-brainer. If I were eventually purchase SWBF2, I expect it to follow the same trajectory as TitanFall 1 & 2, for the same reasons. Just something to play around with for a few hours here and there, to kill time. As opposed to the trajectories of Battlefield 2, 3, and 4, which remain mentally compelling and engaging to this day.

EA Impressions: SPAZ 2

The original Space Pirates and Zombies (SPAZ) was a hidden indie gem back in the day, and saw me through almost 40 hours of gameplay. Granted, it had some lousy pacing and the early portions of the game weren’t particularly great either. But hey, it was done by a two-man dev team, and hit some great notes in the middle there somewhere. Hearing about SPAZ 2 being close to Early Access graduation and on a Steam sale to boot, I just had to take a look.

SPAZ2_02

Where 99% of the gameplay takes place.

Well, then.

SPAZ 2 is set in same universe as the original, and even continues the story a bit. That and the ship names are pretty much the only things left in common with the original title. The principle “game” here is a sort of galaxy map… thing. I don’t really know what to call it. Simplified RTS? Except time only moves when your ship moves, so Real Time doesn’t fit. Nor does Strategy, now that I think about it. If anything, it reminds me of games like Eufloria, where you are basically collecting infinite resources and expanding your empire while everyone else is doing the same.

In the original game, combat was sorta handled like a twin-stick shooter. In SPAZ 2, combat is a formality. While you can elect to aim your weapons like you wish to actually play a videogame, the game’s tutorial advises to stick to “Battle Wagon” mode, which is where your weapons automatically fire and reload according to their ability to hit things within their range. The former supposedly allows you to target specific sections of enemy ships in an effort to break them off and commandeer them as your own, but the reality is that none of it really matters. Scrap, the currency of SPAZ 2, is abundant, and you’re unlikely to know what components your opponents are using anyway.

SPAZ2_01

Look, Ma, no hands!

The utter lack of regard towards the combat system is, frankly, baffling. There is a video on Steam from the devs demonstrating how to play SPAZ 2 in VR mode. Holding RMB down even brings up a targeting reticle. But… why? No game systems support, encourage, or require any manual control during battles. I mean, there’s a tiny element in the bizarre looting system they have, as the components shot off from downed enemies is not assured to be in the normal post-combat loot table. But you can’t collect these pieces – you must physically bolt them onto your own ship. Which is another whole gameplay element that isn’t even defrosted, let alone half-baked: if components are popping off your ship, you are dying, and you won’t live long enough for it to matter.

Maybe all of this is due to me being in the early game still? Maybe it’s due to Early Access? I dunno. What I do know is that the fun of the original SPAZ came from combat, and everything else was a chore. In SPAZ 2, combat is now a chore, and you are left with extremely simplified empire management as your only element of gameplay.

SPAZ2_03

Humor is there, at least.

Hopefully this gets better, because I’m already past my Steam refund window.

Ark Life

Ark can teach you a lot about life. Namely, man’s futile struggle against a hostile, uncaring universe.

Ark_FeelingLucky

Don’t do it… it’s a trap!

It all started when I returned to my base with a handful of Obsidian from a scouting expedition. Emboldened by my success, and reading about the usefulness of the Sabertooths (Saberteeth?) I spotted on the mountain, I took flight again to snag a pair.

Life 1

I made it to the mountain in one piece, and scout around. I spot a pack of four Sabertooths, land on a nearby rock, and tranq two but the others had already wandered off. While taming, I am stuffing my face with Cooked Meat, because the temperature of the mountain is below zero. During this process, I realize that I’m out of Raw Meat, rapidly losing health due to the weather (no Fur clothing, because no Fur from these dinos), and while I have plenty of arrows, my crossbow itself is about to break. Shit. In a frantic bit of survivalship, I manage to kill some dinos for meat, tame the Sabertooths, and make my way to the warmer beach. Then I begin the journey back to my home base.

Along the way, I have to go through the Swamp biome. I stick to the edge, between the Swamp and the ocean, to avoid the more dangerous swamp creatures. What I did not avoid was the seemingly endless amount of piranhas. Despite doing only 15-20 damage per hit, one tiger dies. I hop off my bird to try and assist the remaining tiger. One minute later, the piranhas eat the remaining tiger and, somehow, my flying mount. I embrace the darkness.

Life 2

Take a backup bird to fly back and get my dropped items. This time, I load up on a fresh crossbow and extra meat. Spot my corpse, pick up my items. In the distance, I notice a low-level Sacro (e.g. giant crocodile). Thinking this might be a worthwhile tame to assist with the piranhas, I land on a rock and start shooting tranqs. With the Sacro down, I hop off the rock to start feeding it meat.

That’s when its mate shows up and starts feeding on me. Turning around to try and escape on my bird, I notice that the bird has simply dematerialized. No death record, it’s just glitched out of the game. Cool. I die.

Life 3

Fuck it, Imma build a boat.

Tour length: 3 hours.

I spent the next few days collecting resources and constructing a boat and adding crafting stations and such to it. The goal was originally to boat up to the mountain, tame the Sabertooths, then boat them back. That’s when I realized that the snowy biome sounds more interesting, and hey, those penguins give you tons of Organic Polymer when you beat them with clubs. No, seriously, that’s how it works. Since I need a bunch of Polymer to craft advanced weaponry, let’s head North instead.

After a long time, I make it to the Snow biome. Club some seals, mine some frozen Oil, good times. Off in the distance, I see a Carno and some of hell boars. Huh, interesting. I craft some stuff for a bit, and then start to prepare to take my bird out to collect more resources. Except now there is a Carno and some hell boars, having aggro’d and swam out to greet me, clipping through the bottom of my boat killing my birds and my favorite mount. Fuck this.

Life 4

I ruthlessly murder every Carno and hell boar that I see. At one point, I got a little too zealous and fell off my rock perch, and the hell boars got their revenge.

Life 5

Let’s just avoid that area and get a little further North. What’s the worse thing that can happen?

This. This is the worst thing that can happen.

—–

It should be noted that I am actively save scumming in Ark, e.g. backing up files. Why they just don’t add a Quick Save functionality to Single-Player Mode, I don’t know. Perhaps it goes against the general principle of Ark, or might give people the wrong impression when/if they try and go to public servers and lose all their stuff for real.

In any case, I don’t even feel the least bit bad for what I’m doing. I cannot possibly imagine a scenario in which “cheating myself” out of that last loss will result in more game time than rewinding it. Maybe if this was more of a roguelike with a definite end, like Don’t Starve (Adventure mode), or even Binding of Isaac, I can see less replay value overall. With Ark though, losing an entire boat worth of stuff along with some of my best tames? I would be more liable to quit altogether than start over. Or perhaps never to have set sail in the first place, which is kinda the same thing.

I guess we’ll see. I managed to craft a modern pistol and assault rifle with my (rewinded) resources, while avoiding the anti-boat whale area. If the novelty of Ark wears off after gaining such weaponry, perhaps I did “cheat” myself out of time. Then again, I still have projects that I want to complete, caves I want to explore, and map to uncover. I’m thinking it’s better overall to trade future game time of uncertain value for non-frustrating gameplay right now.

Especially because of all the bullshit Ark throws at you out of nowhere.