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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.

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Destiny Window

Unfortunately, I have missed the Destiny 2 beta window. Technically, I could still have picked the game up midweek and tried to squeeze in a few hours, but the GreenManGaming sale price went from -18% off MSRP to -10% by the time I remembered to check. That’s technically only about a $5 difference, but… Consumer Surplus, people. Fight for it.

The other complication is that I could technically purchase the game outright via the money I earned via selling WoW Tokens. It’s funny money, but I’m still averse to paying full price for anything. I would still plan on purchasing the next WoW expansion and a month or two to play it, and that is unlikely to go on a similar deep sale ahead of time. We’ll see.

All that aside, I do plan on picking up Destiny 2 on or around release. I have never played any of the original game or expansions, primarily due to not having the requisite console. I couldn’t even really tell you anything in particular about the game that caught my eye either.

If Destiny 2 is anything similar to Borderlands 2 though – which I believe it to be – then I will be satisfied with a outlet in which to shoot things in the face and collect its loot. Overwatch was supposed to be that outlet, but… not anymore.

Overwatch Accretion

About a year and half ago, I was excited about Overwatch in large part because it was new. I enjoy FPS games in general, and have spent countless hours over the years playing the Battlefield series. There were several titles though, such as Team Fortress 2, that I either tried and dropped or didn’t bother trying at all because of accretion:

ac·cre·tion
əˈkrēSH(ə)n
noun
the process of growth or increase, typically by the gradual accumulation of additional layers or matter.

That’s the dictionary definition, but I used it this way: “the older a game gets, the less space exists for the ‘skill middle class,’ and the less the developers seem to care about catering to said group.”

For example, getting into Counter-Strike or Team Fortress 2 these days, as a brand new player, would be an exercise in futility. Not only would you be useless to your team generally, your opponents are most likely extremely skilled veterans, and you are likely to die to mechanics/map secrets you don’t even understand yet. It is a frustrating situation for everyone involved, compounded twenty-fold considering the bile and vitriol that exists just below the thin skin of faceless internet gamers.

After this weekend in Overwatch, I can sadly report that the accretion is getting real there too.

The last time I talked about Overwatch was more than a year ago – ironically around the Summer Games, which are currently ongoing – and I stopped playing towards the end of the second competitive season. Competitive Mode was a necessary addition to the game overall, but I found it has actively made the Quick Play experience worse. First, naturally competitive players got their taste of what it’s like playing with people who actually want to win the objectives, which makes the Quick Play environment feel worse in comparison. Second, new players generally avoided Competitive Mode until they got more practice, lest they tank their ranking when it matters. And finally, the toxic tryhards that couldn’t try hard enough to be successful in Competitive Mode find themselves surrounded by other toxic tryhards and complete noobs in Quick Play all day long.

“Cream rises to the top.” Sure does. But once you remove that, everyone else is stuck drinking the creamless sediment that sunk to the bottom of the glass.

In short, the experience was awful. I stopped playing Overwatch before Ana was even released, so I’m four whole characters and countless patches behind the metagame curve. Team needs a tank? Okay, let me play… Orisa. That probably wasn’t the best pick for the team composition even if I had never played her before, but nobody else cared about team composition anyway (Hanzo and Windowmaker on a point control maps? Sure!), so why not?

Because it results in an embarrassing loss. I’m frustrated because I’m still trying to figure out the correct use of my abilities, but my team is also just bad players… unless they are just trying to figure out their characters… and oh my god just end it now. In another match, I decided to go back to my old standby, Zarya, to get a win. Things were good… until they weren’t, when I realized that the healer Ana spent more time sniping instead of healing. So here I was bringing my A-game with a hero I’m actually good at (but don’t want to play anymore) and everyone else is dicking around.

Wait a minute… now I’m the tryhard.

So, yeah, it sucks playing Overwatch now. If you never stopped playing, or exclusively play in Competitive Mode, perhaps it’s the same as its always been. Coming back from a break though, queuing solo in Quick Play? I’m not even sure I would ever recommend the game to anyone now. I would much rather be playing any iteration of the Battlefield series, where noobs can exist without constituting a full 16% of the team (6v6), or 100% of the teams chance for success should they occupy a critical role, e.g. tank or healer.

The accretion problem is real, my friends, and I’m not sure what the devs can do to counteract it. Overwatch does have Arcade Modes available, and something like “Mystery Heroes” where people get forced to play random classes can help. But these modes are not entirely satisfying on their own, and generally don’t help you develop the map awareness/strategies necessary to win “real” games.

Battlefield 1 Impressions

There is basically one word that sums up Battlefield 1: oppressive.

Which, considering the war DICE is simulating, is pretty impressive.

BF1_Grim.jpg

Nailed it.

“Impressive” might actually be selling BF1 short. There is a rather sublime confluence of game design and tone and setting going on. I mean, this is a Battlefield game and one that largely plays like BF4, BF3, and BF2 before it. I’ve played this series for over a decade, right? But let me tell you, when you’re playing the Operations game mode and hear that whistle and the yelling from a bayonet charge… well, you find yourself jumping out of the trenches and joining your brethren rushing the front line just the same.

Part of what makes this possible are the extremely limited and almost universally bad weapons. Which is a rather weird thing to say, I realize. The Assault and Support classes have automatic guns, but they are largely inaccurate without going prone or bracing against cover. The Medic class has a semi-auto rifle that hits like a truck, but is terrible at hip fire. The Scout class has all the sniper rifles, which are more infuriating than normal due to needing to spend most of your time in cover.

What this ends up doing is encouraging the exact tactics I described before: charging the front lines. There is no “slow and steady” here – there is melee range shooting or being sniped from 200 yards.

BF1_Charge.jpg

Charging that castle head-on? Sure, why not.

The map design absolutely influences things as well. Only the Scout has the ability to create temporary “radar” to find enemies, which means there could be enemies hiding out in every corner of every ruined structure. There are ruins everywhere though, and craters, and trenches, and bunkers. This leads to a rather manic, room-to-room searching every time you try to cap an area, or perhaps huddling down and hoping no one pops around the corner and stabs you in the throat.

Oh, and have I mentioned the grenades? The normal complement of grenades are back, plus the Incendiary and Gas variety. The former is pretty self-explanatory area denial, but the latter? Very interesting, conceptually. The Gas grenades release Mustard gas in the area, which causes blurred vision, your character to choke and cough, and rapid HP loss. Pressing T will have your character put on a Gas Mask, nullifying the damage completely. At the same time, the Gas Mask obscures your vision (also preventing aiming down sights) and hearing, and doesn’t do anything about the actual gas blocking your vision. Thus, tossing Gas grenades still affects the given area rather dramatically even if it deals no direct damage.

All of the game elements above mix into a dirty miasma of oppression while playing. You are surrounded by comrades, but you are also terribly, terribly alone in the smoke and death. You are constantly forced to make the decision to blindly rush towards the enemy or suffer constant sniper fire from every corner of the map. Biplanes and tanks are virtually indestructible killing machines. Even if you happen to pick the Assault class, your two options are rushing tanks with dynamite or plinking them with dumbfire AT rockets while prone, which makes you easy picking for snipers.

For a game to evoke such emotion so well regarding the subject matter via inherent gameplay is a triumph of game design. This is pure Show, and little Tell.

At the same time… well, I’m not sure how much WWI I can really stomach. A squad of soldiers could grab a helicopter in Battlefield 4 and go point-to-point capping areas and dodging missile fire and feel good about things. Or they could die in the gas-saturated muck in BF1, accomplishing nothing. I’d say 80% of my deaths show the killer dying himself seconds after I hit the ground. It’s hard to feel good about that, or watching a flag getting turned after you spent several lives just getting to the capture point in the first place.

I dunno. It is hard to put into words what is going on and how I end up feeling after a match is over. If Titanfall 2 is like cotton candy, then Battlefield 1 is a greasy Big Mac – there is more sustenance there, but that doesn’t particularly make you feel any better.

TitanFail 2

It is amazing how just a few tweaks can completely ruin a game for me.

Titanfall2_Hook.jpg

Grappling a dude flying out an open window and jump-kicking him to death didn’t ruin anything though.

First, the good: Titanfall 2 has a single-player campaign. The lack of one was a common criticism for the original, and one that I shared. Actually, I think the original technically had a weird sort of “multiplayer match with a vague voiceover” story mode, but that hardly counts. This one is legit, and it is decently fun. A lot of game sites are gushing over the Effect and Cause mission for some reason, but it’s not ground-breaking or anything. Perhaps higher brow from a technical standpoint than typical arcade shooter FPS fare, but I’ve played a lot of inventive FPS games, and this one was okay.

Having said that… where it matters, Titanfall 2 fails hard. Specifically: Titans.

A big part of the original game was the interplay between the Pilots and the Titans. Titans could basically one-shot Pilots in a number of ways, but clever usage of the jump jets and such from a Pilot could all but spell doom for the Titan. “Rodeoing” was when a Pilot jumped on a Titan, peeled off an exterior armor panel, and blasted the Titan’s internal circuitry with whatever weapon they had. Pretty much the only recourse the Titan had was Electric Smoke, which had a cooldown/limited uses. Otherwise you’d either need a friendly player to shoot the Pilot off, or disembark to do it yourself, if you were currently piloting the Titan.

titanfall2_rodeo

Pictured: now the lamest, least effective move in Titanfall.

For some utterly bizarre reason, the designers changed all that. Now? A Pilot jumps on a Titan and… removes a battery. This deals about 30% damage to the Titan, and immediately highlights the offending Pilot to everyone with a big battery symbol. The battery’s function is to recharge shields/empower a friendly Titan, either by re-entering your own or jumping on the back of someone else’s and jamming it inside. Not that that ever fucking happens though, because the FIRST and ONLY thing that occurs is the enemy Titan looks around and instantly blasts the giant green battery icon that is attempting to get away. Then the enemy Pilot disembarks, grabs their own battery, and re-enters the Titan, charging their shields.

Folks, I can’t even.

There was a crazy amount of elegance to the original design. Different weapons dealt a different amount of damage to the Titan hull once you pulled off the armor panel. If all you had was a grenade launcher, guess what? You took splash damage. I often went with a harder-hitting pistol secondary expressly because it dealt more Titan damage when Rodeo’d, even though it was tougher to hit a Pilot with it. Then there was the fact that a Pilot attached to your Titan was a (slow) death sentence unless you specifically dealt with him/her. The Titanfall 2 system is basically a free Pilot kill.

Also, if I recall correctly, the original Titanfall had Titans with regenerating shields. It really only protected the Titan from 1-2 shots, but the current system is zero shields (unless you get a battery). This subtle change makes Titans much less durable, which actively counters the apparent “steal enemy Titan batteries for your own Titan” design, because yours will be dead before you get back. Assuming you get further than 10 feet away with a battery in the first place.

titanfall2_reaper

That moment when you realize you made a big mistake.

Then there is the changed Attrition mode. The core part of the map type is the same: kill either AI units or enemy Pilots to get points. In the original, the AI bots were total cannon fodder. In this game, the AI… is still mostly cannon fodder, but can kill you rather surprisingly easy. If you try to melee Grunts, they will melee you back, and basically get you to 50% HP. Stalker/Spectres are bullet sponges that can definitely give you away. Then you have Reapers, which as basically mini-Titans that will chase you around rooftops and basically unkillable outside of Titans.

In principle, the new bots are fine. The problem is actually finding any. In the original Titanfall, you could actually select a gadget that would show all bot location on your minimap (at the expense of more useful anti-Pilot measures). That doesn’t really exist here, and you can often run around for 1-2 minutes without encountering a single bot anywhere. Given how matches are only 10 minutes long, that’s fairly significant. It also means that if your team falls behind, there is no way to make it back.

The bottom line is really this: Titanfall 2 is just not as fun as the original game. This is Respawn’s Signs follow-up to their Sixth Sense. It’s really a shame because there wasn’t much they needed to improve upon in the original game. Instead, they have weaker Titans, weaker anti-Titan moves, worse maps with less wall-running opportunities, and… well, just less all the things that made the first game cool. If they continue on this trajectory, the third one is going to be The Village.

Changes Overwatch Needs

The (early) verdict is in: most everyone loves Overwatch. It’s currently at 94 Metacritic.

OverwatchScore

That’s… really high.

Part of me wants to reject that score right out of hand. 94? Overwatch is currently tied with Skyrim, Mass Effect 2, and Bioshock Infinite, while being  a full point higher than Witcher 3 and Minecraft. Indeed, the nagging feeling I have currently is that Overwatch is almost exactly a Bioshock Infinite situation: a very pretty game everyone loves despite it being terrible.

Well… maybe not quite. Overwatch is actually really fun to play. Until it isn’t. I’ve come up with a few small changes that would make the experience a bit better for me and anyone.

1) Fix the disconnects

Overwatch drops a lot more games than it really has any reason to. While to an extent you can possibly blame it on Day 1 release issues, the disconnects have been appearing en masse since the Beta. One minute you’re playing, next minute it’s asking you to sign back into Overwatch, including entering your Authenticator. Which is weird, considering that I haven’t actually had to sign into a Blizzard game since getting the new Battle.net launcher.

OverwatchDisconnect

Guess I didn’t want to play anyway.

The injury to the insult is that being disconnected in this fashion drops you from the match entirely. In a group? Not anymore. There is essentially no way back into the match you just dropped from, even if you were disconnected for less than a minute. Since Overwatch matches can last less than five minutes, I suppose it’s not too terrible a loss, but it’s still annoying as hell.

2) Indicate Role Willingness

One of the more awkward moments of an Overwatch match is the beginning, during character selection, when everyone waits to see what everyone else picks. Except for those Hanzo/Tracer players, who just don’t give a damn. Meanwhile, I wait down the clock, seeing if anyone else is going to pick a Tank or Healer character, so I can best support my (PUG) team. I don’t mind either role, but if someone else takes them, I’m picking Mei or Junkrat so I can enjoy myself.

But that’s the rub. If there is someone else who actually cares about winning, we end up running out the clock together. I’m comfortable in any role, but maybe they only want to play a tank or DPS and not a healer. If I pull the trigger on tank, they are essentially going to give up and go DPS. Or we can go double-tank and just lose with no healer. I could perhaps switch once they pick something, but if we’re on Defense, there won’t be much time to get set up before the match begins.

All of this can be resolved by a WoW-esque role-check before the team is even formed. “Queue as Offence/Defense characters.” “Queue as Tank/Offense.” “Queue as All.” Perhaps show a little emblem beneath our names on the character select screen. While it is possible to, you know, just type this all out in the convenient team chat text box, I don’t feel like it should be necessary. Plus, this would set Overwatch up in the future to have better matchmaking (creating teams with at least two people who indicate a willingness to be tank/heals) or even just filling teams out.

3) Team Shuffling

It needs to happen. Or if it already does, it needs to be more apparent. I understand that the current two-map setup would make it weird – attacking on a Payload (etc) map follows defending on the same with the other team – but there is currently very little reason to keep playing with a shitty team. In fact, if you experience a blow-out, there is no reason to stay, period. Dropping out “works” for you as an individual, but that solution just ends up forcing both teams to break apart if enough people do.

The downsides are legitimate. Two evenly matched teams might want to keep facing each other in various rematches, for example. But how likely are you to face evenly matched teams in PUGs? I’m not advocating shuffling people who queue in groups, obviously. The other downside is making it a bit more difficult to get to know/friend-request a particularly skillful teammate. Here too though, I feel like shuffling doesn’t really change that, assuming you can get to know people in 7-minute matches in the first place.

4) Current objective timers in Death Cam mode

Why in god’s name would any designer feel like it’s useful or necessary to include historical objective timers in your post-death replay? I know you can disable Death Cam altogether, but my point is that the objective timer should be, you know, the actual timer at all, er, times.

I should not have to choose between no Death Cam and Current Objective timer. Seeing yourself getting sniped at the last possible second is already frustrating, without knowing whether someone else saved the day after your death until you’re already back in the game.

5) Bastion maximum bullet count in Sentry mode reduced.

Yeah, Bastion is “easy” to counter and we should probably stop complaining about him. Here’s the thing though: when your solution to a stationary enemy killing your team within two seconds is changing your character, something is up. Sure, change characters when the enemy team is turtling up, or picked four tanks, or they all went Hanzo. But if the existence of a single character on the enemy team dictates your own team comp… then maybe you need to admit an issue. Nobody is swapping characters when they notice a Reinhardt or Tracer or Mei on the other team.

Plus, this is a team-based game. Who goes Genji/Windowmaker/etc? You? What if you are the team’s only tank/healer? Maybe your team just deserves to lose then, I guess.

Also, that Kotaku writer actually suggested Reinhardt to block the incoming stream of bullets, as if Bastion couldn’t chew through his entire 2000 HP shield in less than four seconds. The Wiki states Bastion deals 4-15 damage in Sentry mode and spits ~30 rps, but that’s fairly laughable. Assuming it’s correct though, and assuming 15 damage apiece, that means 1800 damage is thrown down in four seconds, shield is broken a second later, and Reinhardt is dead on the floor a second after that.

Meanwhile, Bastion still has another second to put out 80-300 damage before he has to reload.

So, my solution? Reduce Bastion’s maximum ammo size in Sentry mode from 200 to 150. He will still murder everyone as soon as they walk through the door, and skilled players will still be all but untouchable with judicial use of selecting targets and/or frequently moving and/or you know, reloading. But if those damage/rps numbers are correct, Reinhardt can at least provide some coverage versus Bastion solo, at least long enough to throw out a Fire Strike.

6) Increase tick rate to 60 Hz.

Overwatch has a tick rate of 20 Hz by default. If you haven’t ever heard of tick rates in FPS games and/or the importance thereof, this is a good primer. Battlefield 4 had this same situation at release, with it updating at 20 Hz and resulting in an excessive number of headshots around corners. When the tick rate is increased, the game feels even smoother, and you start seeing Death Cam footage that resembles what you actually did right before getting owned.

The head-scratching part of this is the fact that Blizzard already introduced 60 Hz tick rates into Overwatch. In Custom Games. Which is great, I suppose, for the people wanting to run tournaments or something. But there is zero downside to the average player to go to 60 Hz and every possible upside. It just needs to happen.

In any case, that is that.

Overwatch’s Mark-Hitting

There is an interesting post up over at MMOBro asking whether or not Overwatch is missing the mark. The conclusion Tyler comes to is this:

For what it is, Overwatch is a solid game. The core gameplay is strong, the art is fantastic, and the action is plentiful. But it is an incredibly narrow game. It’s a fantastic experience for those who crave intense, high octane competitive play, but very unwelcoming for everyone else.

Having spent the last week playing Overwatch 2-5 hours a day, I am inclined to agree.

Most of the criticisms brought up by Tyler are legit. While single-player campaigns in games like COD and Battlefield are generally superfluous, they are value propositions and used extensively to sell boxes via commercials. Blizzard appears to be treating Overwatch more like a MOBA in the sense that they are crafting a lore-rich story and intricate characters that have nothing at all to do with the game itself. Or maybe the straight Team Fortress 2 comparison is more apt.

Regardless, it does feel a bit jarring to have all these production values without a production.

Overwatch_Tunnel

Probably my favorite place in all the maps.

Also, it is very much true that Overwatch is not a particularly welcoming game. The average Time-To-Kill varies, but it very often can be “Instantly.” Junkrat and Reaper can often kill 3+ people practically out of nowhere with their Ultimates, which is kind of a big deal in 6v6 matches.

Indeed, the team size is small enough that a skilled veteran can often single-handedly lock down a match by themselves or a complete noob on your side can result in a demoralizing, grinding loss in an otherwise even match. I’m not sure what kind of matchmaking Blizzard had active during the Beta (assuming they had anything at all), but it didn’t seem to be working that well. The fact that the teams stay the same from match to match (there is no team shuffling) just encourages people to bail to try and find a different server with the possibility of a better team, which just increases the queues for everyone.

Having said that… this is technically still beta. One of the criticisms from Tyler was:

That in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, but there’s nothing else to the game. Blizzard has repeatedly shot down the idea of offering any other game modes.

This is not entirely true.

In fact, if there is contrary info out there, I’d like to know where, because Kaplan has said this:

Yes. The version you are playing now is what will go live at launch (there will be some bug fixes etc…). We also have Competitive Play, which was a feature that was live in Closed Beta. We removed it from Open Beta because we received a ton of great feedback on how to improve the system. We had a tough choice. It would have been awesome to have the feature in for Open Beta and Launch. But we felt like we could really improve on some things so we opted to have the feature come out shortly after launch. We’re hoping that our efforts in the Closed Beta to try to get things done quickly and at high quality aren’t lost on our community — but we also never want to sacrifice the quality of the game by putting something live that isn’t up to our standards.

We’re also working on a TON of post-launch features and content. It’s going to be a pretty amazing summer…

Indeed, Overwatch has borrowed Hearthstone’s Brawl mechanic in which there is a weekly mode with “crazy” new rules. This past week it was random hero selection upon death, and the ability to switch heroes disabled. Not only was this a brilliant, relatively stress-free way to experience characters you might feel bad for picking in a normal match, if Hearthstone is any indication, it is also a test-bed for future mechanics.

Just think about how much live data Blizzard could pull from any given match, in terms of whether stacking three Roadhogs was effective given X or Y factors. Seems dumb now, but maybe that very thing will inform a future, more robust AI for bots down the road. Or when the Brawl from before was normal Overwatch but 75% shorter cooldowns.

Far-fetched? You be the judge:

Hearthstone_Shadowcaster.jpg

Playtesters and didn’t even know it.

So, in the final before-launch analysis, I conclude that… Overwatch is fun. I wish I was playing it right now. Assuming that Blizzard fixes the matchmaking and horrible DC experiences, it will absolutely become a part of my “I don’t know what to play right now” rotation. You can easily get four matches done in 30 minutes, which starts to make you wonder if Blizzard’s master plan (assuming there is one) is to fill in the holes in WoW’s design with other games. Waiting for dungeon queue? Play some Overwatch. Which is absolutely easier to jump in and out of than Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm.

However, much in the way that raiding isn’t for everyone, neither is Overwatch. If you are John Q Casual, there isn’t much for you to do (at the moment). The scope of the Battlefield series is such that you could always tag along a squad as a medic or supply guy and generally not be nuisance while rendering material assistance to your team. In Overwatch? You’re a straight liability, even if you are a healer. Especially if you are a healer. Because the better players might assume you’re competent and not pull a healer themselves.

So as I mentioned before, I agree with Tyler. If you’re looking for quick bursts of kinda frustrating, often amusing FPS action, Overwatch is pretty damn good. Just make sure that is what you’re looking for before you throw down $40/$60.

Battlefield 1

All my yes.

Okay… most of my yes. Concerns:

  1. Alternate timeline WWI, or is this down and dirty WWI?
  2. Will default weapons be single-shot/bolt action guns?
  3. Melee hasn’t really been Battlefield’s strongest suite.
  4. Going to be real interesting without a minimap. At least, there shouldn’t be one.
  5. I hope the weird fixation on the biplanes doesn’t mean will still see 40-1 pilots strafing all game.
  6. There might be some cannibalization via BF4 due to the (presumed) extreme gameplay shift.

I got into the series with Battlefield 2 and that remains my favorite to this day. So without any of the Battlefield 1942 nostalgia, the time period is a bit weird. But I definitely think DICE and crew deserve massive props for going forward with what is otherwise a huge gamble. Yeah, COD is doubling-down on near-future, so a Battlefield 2143 or whatever might have been too much SciFi. But ceding it entirely? That takes some gumption.

So, yeah. This will be an interesting Fall.

Overwatched

My private server escapades were interrupted this past weekend by the Overwatch beta weekend.

Overwatch

Well then, looks like I’m playing this instead.

Unlike last time, a lot of my internet friends got in as well, so we queued up over the course of about four hours. The results were… interesting.

My first impression was one of queues. I’m not sure if it was the after-effects of the DDoS attacks or if the stress test was actually delivering stress, but queuing into matches with more than one person increased the delay significantly. At one point, our group of 5 had to wait for almost ten full minutes. Was there seriously not a single loose straggler trying to get into a game? Was Blizzard trying to match premades with premades?

Regardless, if there is one thing in particular that can kill games like this, it will be queues.

My second impression is one of… I don’t know. Difficulty? It wasn’t just about facing people who were clearly in the Closed beta portion for months. It was about teams that are not scrambled after each match, meaning if you were steamrolled in the prior one, you will face the same lineup and get steamrolled again. Unless you drop game inbetween matches and then get hit with queues again.

Then there was the Route 66 map, which is one of the worse I have ever played in a shooter. Not only is the map bad, if you get wiped on defense, attackers basically win the game instantly as it takes ages to run all the way back. [Edit: Appears that the payload speed has been decreased by 10% on this map.] In a game where you can be one-shot without much recourse, this sort of thing is bonkers.

Nepal is equally bad, now that I think about it. The game mode here is pseudo King of the Hill, where you have to capture a point by standing in it. But once captured, you continue to get points until the enemy captures it, without having to stand in the area. Which basically means you cap the point, then set up firing lines and spam the capture area with explosions, etc. It’s not impossible to recapture points and win, but the game mode never really feels all that fun. Especially one of the three maps Nepal is divided into, that has the capture point in an open area with zero cover with bottomless pits surrounding it.

So, basically, I had significantly less fun this time around with Overwatch than the previous time. It’s still fun overall, just less so. Considering my options for FPS goodness is squeezing blood from Battlefield 4 or wading into a decade of congealed veterans (CS, TF2, etc), I might end up getting Overwatch anyway. Hopefully at a discount.

Dirty Bomb

Dirty Bomb is an Overwatch-esque* TF2 clone in perpetual Open “we’ll take your money though” Beta. It features fast gunplay, pseudo-Titanfall maneuvering, overpowered abilities, and a large roster of $9.99 characters.

DirtyBomb_1

Yep, shotgun to chest would explain that death.

I only became interested in Dirty Bomb after the recent Humble Bundle was offering multiple character unlocks and 50,000 points (enough to unlock another character) in the $1 tier. Now that I have around 10 hours invested, I can perhaps see this game as being a stopgap FPS solution to my Overwatch itch.

There are some interesting things going on in Dirty Bomb. Before heading into a match, you have to lock-in three Mercs – while you will be free to swap between them mid-match, you cannot select any others. Running speed is affected by your currently equipped weapon ala Counter-Strike, so running around with knives out is the best way to get around. There is a limited amount of wall-jumping and various “long-jump” shenanigans.

One of the mechanics I enjoy a lot is the downed state. Basically, when you “die” you really fall to the ground and writhe around until the wave-based respawn timer triggers. While on the ground you can be revived by any character if they spend 5ish seconds holding F down, or instantly by any of the Medic class abilities. The other team can prevent a rez by finishing you off, either by pumping more bullets into your prone form, or landing a melee hit. I enjoy the tension in the choice to finish someone off, as bullets are in short supply (you basically have 2-3 clips unless you have an Ammo guy on your team) and splitting your attention in the middle of a firefight can be deadly. Do you finish that guy off, or try to take out more people and risk a Medic zipping in and instantly reviving him?

DirtyBomb_2

Pardon the stickie bomb stuck to my face on the left, there.

There are some shortcomings in Dirty Bomb. First, the game looks like it came out in 2010. While that does ensure that it’s playable on a number of PCs, the lack of production values of almost any kind makes me leery of “investing” in expanding the roster. Not necessarily in the money-sense – if you only play with Missions up (which reset every 3 hours), you can unlock a new Merc every ~10 hours of gameplay – but in the time-sense.

Second, the game feels unbalanced all to hell. Nowhere is this more evident than in the “Execution” mode, which is essentially Dirty Bomb pretending to be Counter-Strike… with a grand total of two maps. With respawns disabled, it becomes very evident that the characters with airstrike and orbital laser bombardment abilities are far and away better than more generic characters, in the sense that they can one-shot most everyone.

Overall though, Dirty Bomb is fine for what it is: a F2P FPS distraction. If you are like me and have zero interest in trying to get into TF2 after nearly a decade of updates and uber-veterans, you could probably do worse. Maybe. Whatever, it’s fun.

* Obviously Dirty Bomb came out before Overwatch, so it’s not technically Overwatch-esque, but you know what I mean.