Wednesday 11 June 2014

E3 2014

It's that time of year again when all the gaming goodies that the industry have been working on behind closed doors get their first public airing. Yes it's E3 time and the internet is fit to burst with all the shiny new things being unveiled. I've not had a chance to watch any of the keynotes yet but I've had a good look at a few of the trailers and gameplay videos coming out of the Expo. Ubisoft seem to have stolen the show with what looks to be a triumvirate of blinders: Tom Clancy's The Divide; Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege; and Tom Clancy's Assassins Creed: Unity. No wait, that last one isn't a Tom Clancy one. Yes, the man who still wishes the cold war was in full swing so he could write another thousand page action blockbuster about it is also having a very good show despite not even being there, (probably, like I said, I haven't seen the keynotes yet. Although, seeing as he died last year probably not).

Another big theme I'm noticing in a lot of the games being announced is co-op play. All of the three games I've mentioned so far have gameplay footage released of co-op action. Strictly speaking Rainbow Six is PvP, but it's intrinsically team based and seems to require a lot of co-operation between team mates so I'm including it. Then there's Far Cry 4 which has a much more limited form of co-op in that it seems you can call on a friend to help liberate an enemy fortress, but not help with any missions. There's also Evolve, the 4-guys-versus-1-huge-beastie game, which seems to be ALL about the co-op. Fable Legends is a multi-player/co-op spin off of the classic series from Lionhead studios and Crackdown is back with all of the crazy co-operative shenanigans that that entails. I like the idea of the level of co-op on offer in Assassins Creed and The Division, I just hope they don't neglect the single player element of these games as a sad-sack no-mates like me would be very disappointed!

A couple of other titles that caught my eye were Battlefield: Hardline and No Man's Sky. The former is another iteration of the Battlefield game which, despite feeling a little burned by Battlefield 4 last year, I am very tempted by simply for it's rather splendid take on cops and robbers! It's a great idea, replacing the two warring military factions with two warring law enforcement and criminal factions. Hopefully they'll have learned from the buggy mess that was BF4 and we'll get a much smoother launch with a game that actually works. No Man's Sky is a shot right out of left field. A weird kind of exploration/survival game set in an infinite, procedurally generated universe. How this is going to work in practice is anyone's guess but it looks stunning and I find the concept fascinating. Fascinating enough to possibly tempt me into getting a PS4 to play it on. Oh no, wait, it's coming out on PC too. That'll save me a few quid then.

The game that really stole the show for me though was Tom Clancy's The Division. It looks fantastic, the setting is brilliant, (love me a bit of post societal collapse survivalist stuff), it has loads of cool gadgets, (look how the map works! That's brilliant!), but there's also something else. It plays like a third person shooter, much like Watch Dogs in fact, but listen to the chatter of the players in these (obviously scripted) clips; "adds", "elites", "group heal", "group buff"... it's a bloody MMO!

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Who Watches the Watch Dogs?

Not much blogging going on here last week, but it wasn't for a lack of games being played. Quite the opposite in fact. My usual time for writing a blog post is when I get home from work after a night shift, usually accompanied by a little mining operation in EVE Online. The hands-off nature of mining means that, although I'm still at the computer to keep an eye on things and switch to a new asteroid when the old one is depleted, I'm free to do other things on my second monitor without too much impediment, namely drafting blog posts. The thing is though, despite the release of the Kronos update for EVE during the week, I've spent very little time in there thanks to the fact I'm having an absolute BLAST in Watch_Dogs.

My fear that the missions in Watch_Dogs might dilute the pleasure of tearing up Chicago was unfounded. The missions I've run so far have been just as fun as messing about in the open world playground has been. They are nicely varied, offer a decent level of challenge, and can often be tackled in a number of ways. Need to infiltrate an enemy stronghold to steal an access code? No problem! Go in all guns blazing, or maybe ram a truck through the front gate. How about sneaking in over the fence and silently taking out the enemies one at a time with a silenced pistol, or possibly even just using the enemy's own security system against them by hacking your way into their CCTV cameras and jumping from camera to camera until you find your target and then hacking his phone for the security code without ever setting foot inside the compound? While the missions can sometimes be a little frustrating in that if you die right at the end you need to start all over again, it's usually in a way which you feel is fair, you tend to feel you failed because you failed, not because the game is unfair or badly designed which is always a good thing.

There's also plenty to do in the city. I've been mainly focusing on the main storyline missions and 23 hours in I'm coming up to being about two thirds of the way through. Obviously that's not what has taken up all 23 hours because sometimes it's just too tempting to tear around the city in a fast car for a bit. There are also dynamic events happening all the time that draw your attention away from the main story. As you drive around you will often get an alert warning you of a potential crime in progress and a prompt to set a waypoint. When you get to the area you need to use the ctOS's facial recognition technology to find the potential victim or criminal and then watch until something happens, when it does you need to intervene before the victim comes to any harm. A non lethal intervention, while more difficult, will result in a bigger reward. These are very simple little distractions that only take a few minutes to complete and can be easily ignored if you want, but I find them very satisfying little mini-games between the bigger set pieces of the main arc. There are also countless side missions, jobs, games and challenges to partake in as you roam the city, more than enough to keep you going well after the main story is finished with. And that's before I even mention the multi-player!

Wednesday 28 May 2014

First Impressions: Watch_Dogs

I picked up a copy of Watch Dogs yesterday on my way home from work and although I haven't spent a whole lot of time with it so far my initial feeling is that it's going to be a lot of fun. From Ubisoft Montreal, creators of the Assassins Creed series of games, Watch Dogs is the latest in a long and distinguished line of open world games set in a big city. Indeed it has the feel of GTA about it initially, running about, driving, shooting, a cell phone as your access to menus and in-game abilities & services... But it is the cell phone that makes Watch Dogs stand out from all the rest.

You play as Aiden Pearce, hacker extraordinaire and general bad-ass who is on a mission to discover the identity of the man who ordered a hit on him, which he survived, but which caused the death of Aiden's niece. The city that is your playground is Chicago, a nice change from the usual facsimiles of New York us gamers get to run around in, a city which is run on a central computer network called ctOS, a network that through your 1337 haxxor skills and your cell phone you have complete access to. You can use this ability to perform hundreds of different tasks, from hacking the network's facial recognition system to find information on the citizens you see in the streets to overloading electrical circuits to cause explosions, from changing traffic lights and raising bridges to stealing bank details and causing blackouts. The number of uses for the phone seem limitless, the city is huge and well realised and it seems like a great playground with a unique and fascinating tool to create amazing moments of gameplay. I just hope the missions are as well realised as the city and that they don't contrive to ruin what promises to be a ridiculously fun game.

Comedy moment of yesterdays play: using the phone to interact with a crane causing it to drop a huge steel crate on the two goons standing beneath it. I think I'm going to enjoy this!

Monday 26 May 2014

Death From Above

I've been playing some more War Thunder over the past few days and I have to say I'm really quite taken with the air combat in it. I've unlocked a few tier 2 planes now, namely Spitfires - the Mk Ia, and the Mk IIa & IIb. The Mk IIb is a bit of a beast with it's four machine guns and two 20mm cannons, but pushing me up into tier 2 fights has meant my Hurricane and the Spitfire MkI are pretty underpowered against some of the other planes I'm facing. I've also unlocked a couple of bombers and while that role isn't quite as fun as the dogfighting it can be quite lucrative points wise and usually allows me to survive a bit longer, as the added altitude tends to deter enemy fighters from coming after you unless you are really tearing up their ground targets.

It's this ability to switch between dogfighting and attacking ground units that brings the game alive for me. Some of the best moments have been in a fighter plane screaming down out of the sky, all guns blazing on a strafing run against an enemy gun emplacement, seeing it pop in a burst of bright flame and then pulling out of the dive at the last possible second. The sound design is excellent; as you get close to the ground you can hear it roaring past beneath you, you can hear trees rustle as you narrowly avoid their grasping branches. More often than not as you come out of an attack run an enemy player will try to take advantage of your low altitude and you find yourself roaring back into the sky, hammering the throttle into overdrive to give you that all important extra burst of speed while frantically rolling from side to side in an effort to avoid the deadly rain of bullets cascading down from the sky. If you are lucky enough to survive your opponents initial attack run it becomes a game of cat and mouse as you both pirouette through the sky trying desperately to get on the others tail to line up a shot. It's fast, frantic and above all hugely fun, even if you lose! I've also started pottering about with the other countries starter planes and I can't help notice that those matches feel a little fairer. With my British planes I often find myself getting one-shotted out of the sky in some of the lower battle-rated ones, whereas in the starter planes the field seems much flatter difficulty wise.

I took advantage of some special offers going on over the Memorial day weekend, chief among which was a years worth of premium membership at 50% off. I bought myself 10,000 of their Golden Eagle currency for about £40 and then spent 7,600 (I think) of those coins on the reduced membership, leaving me with a couple of thousand coins to spend on converting XP in order to level up planes faster, or even just buy a premium plane or two. For the amount of fun I've had in there over the past few days I'm more than willing to give them some money. The membership really doesn't offer that much benefit over the free game, but I'm a firm believer in spending a little something in any free to play game that I actually enjoy. I'm not a whale by any means, but I'm no freeloader either, and I usually end up spending about the equivalent of a box price on most F2P games that I spend any real amount of time with.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Profit and Loss

I've just finished a particularly troublesome security mission in EVE Online that involved taking out waves of enemy ships. They were mainly destroyer class with frigates supporting, and about six cruisers. Nothing too taxing, although some of the frigate class ships, Coreli Guardian Safeguards I think they are called, were really quite hardy and took a lot of killing. By the time I was done my full compliment of drones, (a haphazard mix of Hobgoblin I, Warrior I and Hammerhead I drones), had all been destroyed and I'd chewed through over a thousand rounds of ammo. I did make almost a million ISK in bounties alone though, so coupled with the mission rewards it was fairly lucrative.

The encounter deadspace just so happened to contain a load of asteroids, including the elusive Pyroxeres which is one of the only sources of Nocxium in High-Sec space. So once I'd dealt with all the hostile NPC's, I bookmarked the site and nipped back to the station to pick up my Mackinaw in order to get back out there to hoover up some of that good stuff. Shortly after I arrived a couple of belt rats showed up so I launched my shiny new Hobgoblin II drones to deal with them. I only finished training the skill to be able to use them yesterday and this was their maiden flight, needless to say I was excited to see how they would perform compared to their tech 1 counterparts. I wasn't disappointed! They tore off at break neck speed and obliterated the first ship in one volley, the second followed swiftly after. Just as they were making their way back to the ship my first mining laser reached the end of its cycle and as it started it's second cycle there was a loud explosion and I noticed my ships shields take some damage. Before I could figure out what was happening my second laser finished it's cycle and there was another loud explosion, followed this time by five smaller ones as my shiny new drones simultaneously exploded. Two million ISK they cost me not an hour ago and now they were gone. Why were they gone?! Turns out deadspace asteroids can be booby-trapped with smart bombs and nobody told me. That's what I get for flying solo I guess. Still, I snagged about 5.5 mill's worth of ore before the server shut down for maintenance, so despite my costly loss I'm still up over all.

Thursday 22 May 2014

A Quick Round Up

It's been a quiet week for me game wise, hence not much updating going on here. Saturday night saw my usual static group in ESO which was good fun, as always. More questing with my little static group, including ticking off a few more dungeons and slaying a few named beasties out in the wild. We finished up at level 14 by the end of the evening which means not far to go now until unlocking the alternate load-out granted at level 15! That'll make a nice difference to me, being able to spec for ranged or melee combat at the flick of a switch. I'm considering using the second set of powers to augment my healing abilities by slotting a Restoration Staff and some of it's attendant powers, and moving the healing powers currently in my main skill bar over there and replacing them with more melee damage abilities. That would mean that my secondary skill set is incredibly Magicka dependant though, and I think I'd have trouble with running out of juice all the time. So my other option is to keep my main skill bar as it is, (which I'm finding very versatile and useful at the moment anyway), and augmenting that with a secondary skill set made up of bow skills which will keep a similar balance of Magicka and Stamina use that I'm already used to and my character build is set up to handle. I'll have to have a chat with the rest of the group before I decide I think, get some advice as they are both a lot more experienced with the game than I am. Saying that though, I have spent a little solo time in there this week. I spent a fun hour or two running around with my Nord Dragon Knight smashing things over the head with a two-handed hammer the other morning, and then last night I rolled up a new Sorcerer and got her to level 6. I'm finding jute much harder to come buy than iron ever was in those areas. I've managed to keep both my Templar and Dragon Knight in full suits of level appropriate armour all the way up so far, but my level 6 Sorcerer is currently stuck in 2 pieces of level 1 gear appropriate for her class and a few odds and sods I've looted on my travels! I think next time I go in with that character I'll ignore the quests for a bit and concentrate on some resource gathering. It's a fun class to play though. So far I've played three of the four class types available and each is a lot of fun in its own way. Zenimax has done a good job in that regard, the combat feels quite meaty and fun no matter what type of role you choose to play.

There's been no PlanetSide 2 to speak of yet this week, despite a big patch that has brought quite a few changes to the medic profession, including a nice new gun that seems pretty good and has seen the introduction of implants as a way of tweaking your soldiers abilities. This is the second time the implants have been introduced, they were taken out almost immediately first time around after a massive outcry from the player-base after it was felt they were massively overpowered. I haven't heard any crying about them yet this time around, so maybe they've had a more thoughtful implementation now. My outfit is looking to have a bit of a get together in there on Friday night, so i'm looking forward to that.

As the last post makes clear there was a little War Thunder as well, which I haven't had much time to play since so I won't go over that again here, which just leaves an hour or two in EVE to round out my list. Very little done in there to be honest. I'm currently umm-ing and ahh-ing over weather to buy a Battle Cruiser or just keep saving up and training until I can properly fit a Battleship. I can probably pull off a Battle Cruiser now, but as my current standings mean I can't do Agent 3 missions yet, I'm not sure if there's much point. I would like to get a Brutix at some point though, because I love how they look, even if the Myrmidon is probably the smarter choice.

Monday 19 May 2014

War huh? What IS it good for?

The latest game I've been taking a look at is War Thunder from Gaijin Entertainment. I'm a long time fan of Wargaming's World of Tanks and I also spent a little time with World of Warplanes while it was still in it's Alpha phase, and as such I've been very sceptical about War Thunder. Pretender to the throne or massive cynical rip-off? It started life as World of Planes, which didn't help it's claims to be it's own entity so they changed the name. Unfortunately at the same time they announced they would also be introducing a version of tank warfare and warship combat, just like Wargaming's World Of series. Needless to say, I wasn't convinced and so stayed well clear.

That was until I started reading a few pieces by wing commander Zoso over on the Killed in a Smiling Accident blog, he too was a fan of World of Tanks, but even from an early stage, War Thunder had him hooked. Another deciding factor was the fact that Wargaming came out and said that although they were going to unify accounts across the whole World Of series, there were no plans to mash the three games together and have player controlled tanks, planes and ships on the same maps, despite what many fans had hoped for. Gaijin however were planning on that from the very beginning, and it was this grand scheme that was the reason behind dropping the World of Planes moniker, War Thunder was going to be much more than just planes!

At the moment it's still mainly the planes that make up the bulk of the game, but with the recent 1.41 update the first player controlled ground vehicles were introduced. The air and ground vehicles are being kept separate for now as they fine tune the ground vehicle gameplay without the added distraction of a fairly balanced and working air game just slaughtering all those defenceless tanks right off the bat. The air vehicle game is fully fleshed out despite still being in an open beta and the planes are very fun to fly. I'm still in the first tier of planes at the moment and only playing on arcade mode with mouse and keyboard control. Upping the realism will make the game way harder and I'm already crashing a lot without being able to rip my wings off simply by diving too fast! The matches are usually fairly short, ten to fifteen minutes or so and usually require a number of ground targets to be killed in order to win the round. The matches are fun, the out of match system of upgrading and researching new planes and attachments is very unintuitive though and I feel it lets the game down a little. The add a friend system is still quite flaky and Welshtroll and I had a few problems getting our first squadron set up. We got there in the end though, and flying with a friend makes for an even more fun experience.

I won't say too much about the tank game yet as it's still very early days and I've only actually played one match with them so far, but my first impressions are World of Tanks has nothing to worry about yet. It has promise, but the tank I was in felt a little light and floaty and the way the aiming reticule works makes it quite difficult to line up a shot on anything at any sort of range. Maybe that's just something I'll have to get used to. Still, it's all looking very promising and I can't wait for them to get the tank battles fully fleshed out and to let the fly boys in the same map as them. I just hope they include some AA tanks in the roster.