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Impressions: Metal Gear Survive

The other day I bought Metal Gear Survive for zero dollars.

A bargain at twice the price!

Although most of the internet would probably suggest that zero dollars is still too expensive for this game, I found it to be a rather fascinating experience.

Before I start, let’s address the elephant in the room: Konami sucks. Like him or hate him, Kojima is/was a ground-breaking (and budget-busting) designer and Konami will ultimately rue the day they let him go. That whole episode also marks the ignoble end to some of my favorite franchises too. So, in a way, Metal Gear Survive is a complete mockery of Kojima’s legacy – a survival game knockoff recycling the majority of Metal Gear Solid 5 assets in what is presumably a complete cash-grab.

That said… the MGS5 skeleton is better than most studios could dream of creating.

Metal Gear Survive surprised me right out of the gate with something novel. In the tutorial section of the game, your first weapon is a spear. Fantastic zombie-killing weapon, IMO, and I’m always surprised when no zombie game ever lets you craft one. Then you are introduced to chain link fences. And then they drop the bomb: you can stab zombies with a spear through the fence.

Mind. Blown.

My amazement might sound factitious, but I’m being serious here. It’s a tiny, little thing that grounds the game in some sort of believability. It’s something you feel clever doing every time it occurs. There aren’t any spears in 7 Days to Die, and the only way you can attack zombies through something is if you build columns or have some kind of iron gate. I had been playing Metal Gear Survive for only an hour at this point, and already all future survival games will be judged based on whether I can attack through a chain link fence.

The boldness continued right on the second mission. The task itself was “download(?) the memory board” and the AI advisers warned me that “there will be some Wanderers (i.e. zombies) nearby.” Which, when I turned the corner and saw the building, happened to be a contender for understatement of the year.

That was just half of the enemies milling about.

It’s the second goddamn mission, I have zero weapons other than a spear at this point, and the ability to build chain link fences. And while that sounds like an unstoppable combo, let me just say the devs have specifically accounted for situations in which there are dozens of zombies being held back by a flimsy chain link fence.

Legit freaked out the first time it happened.

Beyond that, the gameplay loop is… deceptively serious. Hunger and Thirst meters are present, and they dictate the maximum recovery level of your HP and Stamina meters, respectively. This means that if your hunger is at 25%, you can only ever heal back up to 25% HP. On top of this, food items are incredibly scarce. Animals will respawn, but it can take several real-world hours, which means you will spend the first dozen or hours of the game rather hungry.

On top of that, most of the game is spent exploring “the Dust.” The map is covered in a fog that requires you to wear an Oxygen mask to survive in, which is yet another meter to watch. Each time you are in a new area of the (Dust) map, your traditional tracking mechanisms, e.g. waypoints, will not work either. While there are distant lights you can use to kind of manually guide your progress, you can quite easily lose track of time or direction and otherwise get into a bad situation.

Teleporting Wild Ass back to your base is important too.

There is one final element that kind of brings this all together in a hardcore-ish way: Metal Gear Survive works on a Checkpoint Save system. Until you actually make it back to base camp, none of what you pick up or map or achieve counts for anything. If you die 5 seconds before the end of the mission, or if the thing you need to protect blows up, you start all over. While this isn’t too different from all the other survival games I have played, it certainly feels a tad more hardcore in practice, somehow. Possibly because in other survival games, you don’t necessary have to go into that clearly-dangerous area again.

In any case, I’m about a dozen hours into the game and continue to feel compelled to log in again and again. It’s not the best-looking survival game, and there are definitely pared-down elements compared to something like ARK or Fallout 76, but the combination of the formula and the MGS 5 vibe makes it very engaging to me. Even if everything else seems goofy as shit, on occasion.

[Fake Edit]

I just completed the game this past weekend, with 28 hours played. My overall impression has soured somewhat in the meantime.

The first thing to note is that Konami didn’t just recycle assets, they recycled maps. I kinda already knew this heading into the game, but I found the experience rather jarring when a mission sent me to the mansion from MGS 5 for no particular reason. That is, there was a memory board located there that I needed to progress the story forward, but no actual storyline or plot purpose for the mansion itself to exist. There wasn’t even a boss fight or anything inside. Instead, it felt like the devs just said “oh, hey, there’s a mansion in these asset folders we haven’t used yet” and then slapped it in.

The second note is that the game’s cadence changes substantially in the latter half. Instead of survival, everything becomes long action sequences of surviving waves of zombie hordes. While this is not entirely out of character for the game, the fact that the last half-dozen mission are pseudo-time limited is. At no point did I feel the game adequately express the need to ensure that I had stocked up on enough ammo; that I managed to survive the onslaughts at all was a fluke of my hoarding nature.

15 minutes? Are you fucking kidding me?!

Finally, speaking of hoarding, the “endgame” itself radically changes from a resource-gathering perspective. Essentially, instead of wandering around afield in new locations, the optimal method is to simply teleport to every waypoint and gather whatever is located there, then teleport back to base to offload it. This gives you enough material for damn near everything… except for bullets. Specifically, gunpowder can only be collected from specific items you pick up. You can convert materials in dozens of different combinations – turning Iron into Gears, Nails, Steel, etc, etc – but you cannot convert anything into gunpowder. Which is especially frustrating considering that you can convert gunpowder into TNT, but can’t down-convert TNT into anything.

The end result is that you basically can’t really use guns as your primary weapon. Which is fine, I guess. Other games like Dead Island really emphasized melee weapons too. But the fact remains that Metal Gear Survive allows you to farm this gunpowder over the course of several hours, such that you could use guns as a primary weapon if you put in enough mindless time. This ultimately just makes the entire situation feel worse though.

In any event, I do not necessarily regret my hours spent in Metal Gear Survive. If nothing else, it reminded me of how engaging Metal Gear Solid 5 was, and how cool the Fox Engine could be for use in other games. That will… never be made. Sigh. Fuck Konami.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Has anyone else felt like Battle for Azeroth is a bit… familiar? Like Legion 2.0?

The situation didn’t really strike me until last night. I do not have a character at max level – I have been just gathering and crafting pretty much nonstop – but I have progressed enough to unlock the Garrison. Or War Table. Or whatever the hell it’s called now. It’s pretty much exactly the same interface as the one in Legion, up to an including the same art assets. The same chance for bonus loot. The same method of collecting resources. World Quests are the same. Emissaries are the same… I think. Rare mobs and treasure chests peppering the map are the same.

On the one hand, this is great. These systems work. Remember Daily Quests? We had those since TBC and everyone was sick of them. World Quests on the other hand, feel materially different despite providing the same function. Artifact Power got a bit goofy near the end of Legion, but overall design structure of having steady progression over the life of an expansion without incentivizing mindless grinding worked (crazy mythic raiders excluded). So we have Azerite replacing AP without even needing to replace the term “AP.” Double efficiency!

On the other hand… I dunno.

There is a lot to be said about the penchant of Blizzard devs to throw out the baby, bathwater, and kitchen sink simultaneously, between releases. How many times have warlocks been overhauled, even mid-expansion? At the same time, I feel like the devs have perhaps hewn a bit too close to what came before with BfA. Where are the “Aha!” moments? Where are the game-changers? Where are the elements that justify an 8.0 instead of a 7.4? Is a bunch of new maps enough?

The launch of BfA was so smooth because there was no demarcation between it and Legion.

I suppose we should be happy, yeah? Less absurd content droughts, more design systems that clearly work instead of wild experiments. Any yet, my brow is furrowed. What is Blizzard doing with all that time they saved? No new talents, no new classes, no new races (Allied Races are reskins, IMO), no new systems. Maybe the island battles with the “advanced AI” will change things? Am I missing something else?

I remember when Farms were introduced in MoP, and it blew my mind. Or the rare elite mobs that dropped cool (and functional!) toys to use. Then Garrisons in WoD. Of course, the Garrison wasn’t necessarily good design insofar as they kept people locked in a personal instance all the time, but from a player perspective they were really compelling (and rewarding). To this day, I still have several characters doing chores around the Garrison, crafting bags and such.

Then there were the Artifacts in Legion. To this day, it blows my mind how much content Blizzard packed in there. Like, do you guys understand how much class-specific content was added in one expansion? There was some recycling when it came to unlocking some of the spec-specific weapons – I groaned every time I got sent back to Karazhan on alts – but everything was basically brand new per class. It’s a real shame alts were actively punished so much during Legion, but I may end up going back at some point to finish the class campaigns just for the lore. My jaw hit the floor when my Death Knight started taking orders from the Lich King, for example.

Now, in Battle for Azeroth we can be excited for… uh… hmm.

I’m not looking to be buried under 2+ full skill bars, or DPS rotations that require an addon to perform. I don’t necessarily even want something that will compel me to spend 10 minutes maintaining it every day, three expansions later. But I do very much enjoy a new puzzle to wrap my mind around and optimize. And I’m not seeing anything remotely like that in Battle for Azeroth thus far. Just a lot of reused, recycled systems with new numbers to the right of the plus sign.

That is what character progression MMOs are about, of course. Usually, there’s more spice though.

OT: Four Point What

Patch 4.1 is hitting the PTR Soon™ and in the midst of flurry of blog posts about it, let me be the first to say: ZA & ZG what?

We had gotten hints at the beginning of Cataclysm that ZG/ZA might have merely been a setback with all the chatter about the Tome of Polymorph: Turtle and the vague gesticulations concerning the ZG mounts. The literal revelation that these are coming back though leaves me a bit floored. To a certian extent you expect a bit of redundancy within MMOs, for several reasons. For example, can you imagine 120 different Fire Elemental models? It would be absurd, a huge drain not only on development time but also taxing on players’ mental bandwidth. The other reason why you should expect redundancy within an MMO is simply because of player churn. For however X number of players remember going through ZG and ZA back in the day, there are Y players who never did… making the content new to them. If recycling content gives the designers space to make all-new content, that is an acceptable trade-off.

That said, it remains to be seen whether we will be, in fact, getting gameplay returns for developer recycling or if Blizzard is simply repackaging our shampoo into a “new and improved” 9 oz bottle (down from 12 oz) while charging the same $15. Revamped Onyxia was better than no Onyxia in Tier 9 content, unless we could have had Completely New Boss X instead. Blizzard promised Throne of Tides – Abyssal Maw in 4.1 though, so unless that makes it Live in addition to the other two, it is conceviable Blizzard is peddling some Adjustable Rate Mortgages our way.

Ultimately, the above kind of gut reactions miss the PVSAH mark. The only relevant aspect is: are these heroics/boss fights fun? If Blizzard makes them fun, what does it matter if in patch 4.2 we see 5-man Karazhan (hopefully with Chess Event and the legions Malchezaar commands intact) or even the ultimate slap-in-the-face Magister’s Terrace revamp? Fun is fun. And while that may seem like a tautological cop-out, at the end of the day it is the only thing that really matters.

Edit: I wrote the above a few days ago when the changes had just been revealed. Since then, my feelings have shifted more towards Acceptance. The Deadmines revamp was essentially an entirely new, innovative instance wrapped in nostalgia packaging. The same could sortabe said about Shadowfang Keep, but I hate the place honestly. I don’t like running Deadmines either – both still take even a guild group close to an hour to finish – but if the ZA & ZG heroics turn out like Deadmines from an innovation standpoint, it’s win-win for everyone.