Dauntless

Or perhaps Monster Hunter Lite.  Whether that’s a bad thing or not… I haven’t really decided.

I’ve put in a whole pile of hours in to Monster Hunter World.  The experience up until Elder Dragons is really quite a lot of fun.  The “long tail” of the game is predicated on passive boost through exceedingly rare gem drops.  Well, that and collecting an elemental set of each weapon type (2-5 depending on the weapon, and there are a dozen weapon types).  Hoarder’s dream I suppose.

Still, the game is a near master class in design and execution.  Worth well more than the box price for the sheer number of hours you can get out of it.  And Capcom seems to release some sort of monthly update to the game, to let people have something cosmetic to chase.

At a high level MHW does the following in a near perfect fashion

  • Distinct and complex weapon variation
  • A complex combat structure of active strikes and dodges
  • Varied equipment options, with moderate modifications
  • Unique monsters, with attack patterns that change depending on various factors
    • A boss so big you need 5 minutes to climb from head to tail
  • World building where there are distinct “zones” within each area
  • A crafting system for food and potions that is near essential at end game
  • Beautifully rendered, without making my PC melt
  • Fishing

You’ll notice that grouping/social work is not listed.  I’ll get to that.

Dauntless

It’s been an interesting journey for Dauntless.  I’ve been following it for more than a year, and the beta builds have undergone some significant changes.  What I’ve played recently is a marked improvement on 6 months ago.  Says Open Beta… but they are in season 3…so about as open beta as PUBG/Fortnite were when they took off.

Here we have 6 weapon types, and each certainly controls in a unique fashion.  They are fairly well balanced, but some have a much high skill ceiling than others. A sword is certainly simpler than a hammer.  The combos are more developed now than previous versions.  Still simpler than MHW, but that gap seems a lot closer now.  It’s possible to cancel an action to dodge… don’t recall that working before.  It just feels more forgiving than MHW.

There are more creatures to combat, and their telegraphs are less evident (no red circles).  Thankfully hit boxes are calibrated (yay Unreal!  booo Frostbite!)  I wouldn’t argue that they are more complex, since most have 6-8 large attacks that you need to avoid, but I am still talking about the first half dozen creatures.  There are no traps, I don’t see any environmental hazards, there is only every the actual creature alone – nothing else around.  In that sense, it feels a lot more like combat in an arena than in an actual world biome.  Considering that 90% of the game is about hunting these creatures…this is the part that has to be the most fleshed out.

Crafting is better, if unfortunately linear.  You never need to sacrifice a weapon to make a new one… which does bear mention of inventory bloat.  You need to collect items in the field in order to craft in town.  That part works, and it’s pretty straightforward.  There’s the ability to swap passive gems (or the equivalent I guess) for other types, on a 24hr timer (F2P to speed this up).  Viewed in isolation, this is more than an acceptable model.  But it’s not in isolation – this is a direct comparison to MHW.

The art style is block/cartoony.  The players and creatures have enough detail to make them stand out, and the movements are fluid.  The world around you.. less so.  A rock is a rock is a rock.

I have quite honestly no idea what most of the numbers in game mean.  I don’t know how many HP I have, what power levels mean on armor, or what % increases to damage actually do.  These games are entirely around tweaking numbers to find your personal build… and that lack of transparency is tough.  There is this GDocs Sheet that has some info…

There’s more than ample customization for visuals.  Honestly, the F2P portion of this game is built 99% around customization, which is just fine.  I’d have to do the napkin math in terms of value… but this is in line with Path of Exile.

Sadly, there is no fishing.

Multiplayer

Up until this point you’d be thinking Dauntless was a weaker MHW, certainly less complex.  Right enough.  But it does do one thing much better than MHW, and that’s the social part.

Every quest can be done solo or in a group.  There’s a matchmaking process, and group coordination makes combat so much more fun.  One of my major annoyances with MHW was the grouping mechanic… which was almost entirely built on pre-made groups or the SOS flare.   Generally, it takes 30s or so to find a match.  There are times where the matchmaking tool seems to not work, as cancelling and restarting finds a group quickly.

Thoughts

I am honestly impressed.  There’s a lot of content, very few bugs, general balance, and a non-intrusive F2P model.  It’s pretty clear that the forward design path is about adding systems, instead of fixing systems.  Their Roadmap is impressive in clarity.  Mastery as a new system sounds really quite fun.

Well worth the try.

Return of Obra Dinn

This has been on my wish list for a while now as it’s been on a few GOTY lists, and well, Lucas Pope also made Papers, Please.  I knew going in that this was a game where you needed to pay attention, and frankly I need to be in the right mindset for games like that.

Return to Obra Dinn is a combination of Murder on the Orient Express + Myst.  That is oversimplifying it a tad, but if either of those items have ever brought you any level of joy, you’ll be engrossed here. You will be using deductive logic to see the end.  A lot of it.

The Obra Dinn is a ship that was presumed lost at sea, but then shows up empty a few years later.  Your job is to enter the ship, figure out what happened to the 60 crew members, and provide a report to the insurance company.  You are given two tools – a book that keeps copious notes of everything (and where you put in your report), as well as magic watch that allows you to rewind time to the point where a crew member died.

obradinn

The stippled effect is amazing.

The Book

Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your own notepad, but it certainly helps a ton.  It keeps track of all the events, all the crew, the voice over work, and allows you to select their name and eventual fate.

There’s a page that shows the entire crew in 2 events.  How people are shown in this picture is really important.  People dress a particular way, and tend to hang out with crew of the same rank.

You start off with 60 names and only a few bits to go on. Every 3 correct matches you get (name + fate), the game locks that in and reduces the potential choices going forward. That is HUGE benefit for later in the game, since IDs in the last quarter are all by process of elimination.  It’s a spectacular addition to the genre.

The Watch

Now this is neat.  Find a corpse, use the watch, and teleport into a 3d picture of what happened.  The kicker here is that EACH of these events has multiple witnesses – sometimes 20+.  Finding out what happened to someone often requires you to examine another person’s death and look at everyone around you.

And I mean everyone.  May be someone being knocked overboard. May be the bunk #.  May be the color of socks.  May be that they have a ring.  One event in particular has 5 deaths that are not all that obvious on first glance.

Each event is timed, and then fills in a page in the book.  You can always revisit the event by using the watch again, and take as long as you want.  Some corpses can only be accessed through other corpses (since their bodies are not on the ship).

Logical Hat

This was the most fun part.  The early part of the game gives a fair set of clues. As you progress, you need to infer more and more information. The entire journey of the ship is fantastical in nature, and being able to explore the mental breakdown of the crew is fascinating.  There are some red herrings, but each eventual correct answer comes with a “ahhh, that makes sense” feeling.

I was able to determine everyone’s fate with a bit of reasoning (aside from one that was really hard to make out), but identifying everyone was a major undertaking.  I hit one major wall where I needed to find an external clue.  That key piece caused a domino effect on other events.

Getting all the answers correct (58/60) opens up a final chapter that ties it all together.  A very satisfying end, to an amazing game.  Highly recommended!

General Tips

  • Explore every nook of the ship.  You haven’t seen all the events until it starts raining.
  • Some parts of the ship will not unlock until you’ve seen a particular set of events.
  • The book only allows a passive view of an event. You need to use the watch to enter the actual event.
  • Within an event, a large portion of the ship is available.  Many times, there are actions on another deck that have a significant importance.
  • The game doesn’t automatically make links between names and fates.  If one person is involved in many events, you need to make note of it on each event.
  • Each person comes with a difficulty note (1 to 3).  Level 1 folks are usually named outright, level 2 are identified through some sort of clear marker, level 3 are inferred through elimination/deduction.
  • The list of potential fates is full of wrong answers.
  • It’s a good idea to take breaks to let the brain think things through.  I played over 3 sessions and the hardest puzzles were solved through guesses while I was away.

Borderlands 2 : Of Its Time

I do enjoy the time capsule effect of playing older games.  In particular games that are more or less static (as compared to Diablo 3 which is a whole lot different today than in 2012).  I rarely fall for the ploy of rose colored glasses – there are extremely few games from yesteryear that can compete with games today.  As great as Ocarina of Time was, it is still a relic compared to something like God of War.  Objective comparisons aren’t fair.

Borderlands 2 is in that bucket.  What it did in 2012 was amazing, and frankly paved the way for Destiny in 2014.  Class-based, looter/shooter, with an attempt at an underlying story, power levels, and a near-infinite grind.  Loot was randomized, had quality, you equipped multiple pieces, and had to use specific tactics to take down difficult targets.  Oh, and multiplayer.  On the surface this is the same model as many games today.

But the execution is what matters.  And Borderlands did an amazing job out of the gate.

Controls are tight, and gun accuracy (as a stat) matters.  You need to leverage the terrain for cover, you need to use your skills, grenades, and shields for maximum effect.  In mass battles, you need to prioritize your targets.  Each class has generally viable builds (up until end game / UVHM / level 61), but plays distinctly from the others.  Shotguns do what shotguns are supposed to do.  Bosses are more than stationary bullet sponges, and most have the ability to summon re-reinforcements that you just can’t ignore.  Lots of player customization (though limited to head/body art).  There’s some vertical combat, but generally limited.

But it’s also 2012. There’s the fact that the entire game is based on the Mountain Dew “to the xtreme!” – though admittedly tongue in cheek as compared to Wildstar.  There are vehicles to move around, but there’s a near ridiculous amount of backtracking / retreading in most zones.  You never really “overpower” a zone in today’s sense.  Some zones are overly long, or repetitious.  The hub/spoke model of questing is in full force, which seems a direct holdover from WoW at the time.

With Borderlands 3 coming in September, I am curious as to which mechanics are under review.  Theme is still the same… if not at a more ridiculous level.  Gun randomness seems put up to 11.  Honestly, looking at Borderlands 2 the major gains we’ve seen over the years are nearly all related to quality of life improvements.  Better multiplayer support, certainly.  More build diversity/balance.  Better map design/usage of space.  A more diverse activity set than just “shoot everything you see”.  Certainly better AI…

Playing through Borderlands 2 really makes me look at today’s games and see what bits of progress we’ve seen.  Or perhaps better stated, what areas have not progressed.

I will end this to say that hitting a loot pinata (aka boss) and seeing it simply rain colored items never gets old.  That feeling is amazing.  Now to see it again in 2019 games would be something!

WoW Lessons Learned

Ion sat with PC gamer to talk about lessons learned from BfA, and what’s coming up.

The big take aways for me are thus:

  • The devs thought the fact that Legion artifacts were front loaded in terms of skills, then only minor increments over time was some something players disliked.  That was a mistake.  (Extrapolating here – but the enemy of legion was RNG, which BfA went all in for.)
  • Azerite gear is a large enough misstep that they are putting in a new system.  Instead of unlocking skills on gear, you unlock it on the neck (permanent item).  So they learned that they should not take stuff away from people while leveling.  Odd that was even a lesson to learn in the first place.
  • 8.2 will be akin to 7.3, in terms of horizontal features.  I liked the content in Argus, it was just unfortunate that it made everything before that completely irrelevant.  Also begs the question if this is the last patch of the expansion.  That would be pure folly, due to the next point.
  • The lack of testing and feedback collection in beta sent them down the wrong path.  While I can understand that Azerite gear was very nebulous up until the last month or so, it does bear mention that all the issues were fairly clearly stated in the beta forums before launch.  Pretty much every complaint from then grew into a wildfire.  That’s like being put between a rock and a hard place, you have a set release date and a you know a key component cannot be fixed in time.
  • If Blizz really wants longer lead time on system development, there’s no way 8.2 is the last patch… and I’d bet that there are 2 more to come.
  • Blizz has also come to realize that making decisions now to avoid an issue in 3 years isn’t practical.  Either that issue never really existed, the market will shift and it won’t matter, or the decision causes major negative feedback that you lose players.
  • Related, there are some pieces of the game that just should not be changed for the sake of change.  (I mentioned Pet Battles are relatively untouched).

 

All in all a relatively good read, and a rare occurrence of a dev admitting that their design decisions were poorly received.  I’m generally curious as to how 8.2 will be received.  A lot of the pain points from launch have been, or will be addressed.  There are some clear lessons learned from the devs, as the feedback on this particular expansion has been some of the most vocal I’ve ever seen.

Quite important to note that when the core of the content is based on a particular foundation, and that foundation is considered a flaw by the players… it is a whole world of pain to make the necessary changes without causing everything else to fall apart.  We’re about 9 months out since launch, in terms of dev work, that’s a pretty quick turnaround for such big changes.

Here’s hoping it sticks the landing.

BioWare Woes

Hot News!  /s

Kotaku’s Jason Schreier released a report on the development issues surrounding Anthem.  Jason has a rather large network of game development contacts, and he seems to have this magic “suggestion box” that people put trust into.  The end result is that he seems to have the best odds of having a behind the curtains look at game development.  Generally speaking, the articles tend to point out the poor development health issues, evidence that not everyone should be a manager, and that the likely end result for large gaming developers is that unions are going to be pounding at their door unless they change their practices.

Next, a recall of my previous post mentioning that the management team of Anthem should be changed.  In particular –

Each patch somehow manages to make the loot part of the game less rewarding. I firmly believe that everyone has the best of intentions, but at this point it’s abundantly clear that the leadership of Anthem has to go. I know that in 6 months, the game can find a footing – but the culture and direction up top needs to change so that fun & quality are achieved before change for the sake of change.

Back to the actual article.  There are many points made, and at a high level we see:

  • The mandatory use of Frostbite across EA hampers game development that is not designed for FPS
  • EA setting a hard delivery date of March 2019, even though the game clearly was not ready
  • The direction that they could not compare to Destiny – their #1 competitor in market.
  • The culture of crunch in BioWare that lead to significant “mental health” leave, which has a dramatic impact on available resources
  • The overall lack of quality resources that want to work in Edmonton, Canada.
  • The lack of effective management/direction on Anthem
  • That Anthem really only had 18 months of development, the majority of which happened in the last 6
  • BioWare Edmonton thought they were untouchable and ignored feedback

There are general rules in any large company.  At lower levels, you can get by pretty well with average talent, and manage the poor ones.  When you reach the management level, it gets a lot harder, but it’s possible to correct it with another group.  At the director/exec level, that’s where things go off the rails.  When you only have one lead for a major project, and that lead is not made for that project – things go bad real quick, and cascade down.

People will stay around in shitty working conditions because of other people.  People will quit a great job if they hate their boss.  People will take on tons of work if they trust their workers and boss.  Seen it countless times.  When the top performers / leaders start dropping, or losing faith… you have an avalanche of impacts.

In Anthem’s case, EA really doesn’t come off as the bad guy.  Sure, the need to use Frostbite is going to end up costing them tens of millions more than if they simply licensed Unreal (not to mention being unable to recruit talent on proprietary code).  Setting a delivery date when the product is clearly not ready is going to burn them for some time.

But the weight of the problems here are clearly on BioWare direction, or lack thereof.  The culture the doctors put in, where they made clear decisions for the entire group left when they did.  At multiple times, and through consistent feedback, it’s clear that the development teams lacked the necessary direction (even at the concept level) to do their work.  True or not, it’s clear that someone realized this and threw Mark Darrah at the problem 16 months before launch.  In effect, what we have played is the result of his direction.

Which begs the question as to what Jon Warner, Mike Gamble, and Ben Irving did in this large process.

I won’t go into details on BioWare’s tone deaf response.  It’s a self-inflicting wound, that simply re-affirms the entire article’s position that BioWare leadership isn’t actually paying attention.  My gut says this will be enough to make some staff leave.

Final Thoughts

Anthem is the main reason Origin Access Premier exists.  EA is driven on that success factor, and I highly doubt Anthem is going anywhere.

EA’s drive to push Frostbite everywhere is part of the direct failure of two high profile BioWare games.  There are no good news stories about Frostbite.  EA made a bet, and they lost.  There’s no reason to double down (or triple down in this case).

BioWare as a company is going to hemorrhage developers and have a damn hard time recruiting new talent, unless there are major (and public) shakeups with management.

Anthem requires a transparent State of the Game message from upper management, with clear and honest acceptance of the issues and a high level plan to address them.

The game industry as a whole is still reeling from the RDR2 crunch articles… this is just more push to unionize.

Borderlands

I rather enjoy the series.  I put in a lot of time in the first one, and double that in the second.  There are DLC through the nose, and right now the entire series is on sale on Steam for ~$15.  Great value. Course, the timing is due to Borderlands 3 being announced.

There are some interesting bits of this series, namely that the 2nd in the series really hit some amazing high notes for the time – and really kicked off the looter/shooter genre.  2012 also saw Diablo 3 (yes, it’s that old) and Torchlight 2, and I think it fair to say that D3 really missed the target with the loot mechanic that year.  It gave Borderlands 2 a chance to really go for it.  The DLC covers a pile of stuff

  • New areas
  • Extra levels
  • New items & rarity
  • New stories, bosses, skins, secret loot (headhunter packs)

OP Levels

This was a neat variation on New Game+.  The level cap ended up at 72, but by completing a specific level at max level, you could increase the enemy/loot level by 1.  Every completion added another level, up to 8.

Enemies could then spawn 1-8 levels higher than you and come with some pretty heavy damage reduction values – starting at 10% and up to 99.2% – full on damage sponges. An important bit here – enemy damage did not scale like this.  They did marginally more damage, but the real challenges was their increased hit points.

Loot Variety

Simple concept – you had guns, shields, and relics (stat boosters effectively).  Each “type” aligned with a particular set of “manufacturers”.  If you wanted elemental damage, then you wanted to find Maliwan brand weapons.  The stats of the weapons then were rolled within a range of that manufacturer, a factor based on the rarity of the item.  There were 8 ranks by the end.  Really, that meant that all Rank 3 Maliwan Pistols had the same stats, but Rank 4 had better stats.  Though a Rank 3 Maliwan Pistol was certainly a lot different than a Rank 3 Bandit pistol.  And better effects – rank 8 weapons had different ideas.  Send a shock, shoot multiple bullets, launch grenades… all sorts of stuff of different value to different classes.

Build Variety

While all guns could be used by all classes, each particular class came with a skill tree to differentiate.  Zer0 was a ninja sniper, and his signature move was to lay a decoy and boost his stats for a short period.  He had 3 skill trees that focus on sniper kills, melee kills, or improving his signature move.  It ended up with a build focused on a particular playstyle.  Salvador, for example, with the Money Shot and Inconceivable skills was a boss killing machine.

Also helped having 4 weapon slots to change your damage potential.  Keeping a sniper rifle in the back pocket, or a minigun for those tight fights… always fun.

Story Mode

Are there gamers who don’t know who Handsome Jack is?  As much as I re-ran missions for loot in the game… I always knew who the main bad guy was, and what he was trying to do.

Plus, Tiny Tina is scarred on my brain.

I couldn’t bother telling you the story of the Division, Destiny, or Anthem.  The premise in each, sure.  The actual story and point?

Moment to Moment

It’s an FPS.  Enemies had a fair chunk of variety but it always resulted in the standard “shoot before dying” gaming model.  The game was an in-your-face gun fest, and defensive play wasn’t really a strong point.  Enemy AI was pretty dumb, but made up for it in sheer volume.

As the game levels progress, the complexity of the enemies increase, and random boss-like enemies can spawn.  It is generally well balanced for the normal mode missions.  After that… it gets pretty crazy.

Bosses are full of interesting mechanics, and there’s plenty of variety between them.  There’s plenty of movement in each of them, so just finding a sniper’s nest and unloading guns isn’t a viable strategy.  The Warrior battle (last main mission boss) is an amazing experience of avoiding telegraphed attacks, and finding the right time and position to do damage.

The Itch.

Should be pretty clear by now that I have an itch for a good loot game.  I’ve put in enough hours in D3, Path of Exile, and Grim Dawn (there’s a new expansion!) to know the systems I like.  I do enjoy shooters (or perhaps better said action games), and Anthem’s combat system is hard to beat.  But it’s loot system is just pure rage, and after a month of dumb, I’m moving on.

I picked up the Handsome Jack collection and will giving that a go for the next little bit, see if it’s enough to scratch the itch.

Dumpster Fire

Patch 1.04 hit last night.  Lots of tweaks.  An astounding level of dumb included.

I ran a Legendary mission, 3 Legendary contracts, and Tyrant Mines.  All at GM2.  At the end, I had a total of 3 MW drops – all mandatory drops from the contracts.  Nothing else.

Belghast’s thoughts

Isey’s here.

Elysian Chests

Concept = unique rewards from killing a dungeon boss.  Need a key to open.  You can get 1 key per day.

Reality = There are 161 items to acquire.  There are 40 days total to acquire them all.  Drops are not guaranteed, so you can get baseline crafting materials instead (which equate to 2 minutes of Freeplay).  Oh, also the cosmetic rewards are not actually awarded.

It is hard to articulate how over promised and under delivered this is, in a loot-based game.   I’ll compare to WoW for a sec.  Imagine killing the last boss in a dungeon, and getting 20 basic herbs instead of a transmog item.

Loot Changes

Concept = More & better items can drop from chests and bosses

Reality = Guaranteed MW items no longer drop from bosses, the quality of items has not improved, and teammates can pick up loot for you.  End result is that your inventory gets more loot you don’t want (since most people avoid picking up blue/purple items).

This is just insane. Quite literally a single run of any stronghold would have identified 100% reproducible bugs.

Legendary Mission

Concept = Replay a main line quest, with a chest at the end, and a super boss.  Key an Elysian chest key.

Reality = Exactly this, including an unskippable cutscene.  I did this on GM2, didn’t see any MW drops.  My key took 2 more missions to finally show up.

The Rest

Lots of quick fixes and balance items.

  • Health bug still exists (more accurately, inscriptions don’t always seem to be applying)
  • Storm changes need more testing.  I tried some freeplay and my overall damage decreased due to lack of itemization.
  • Colossus seems beefier
  • The Bloodlust component is indeed OP
  • Some item wording is still buggy… I see 0% and 0 seconds on some items.
  • Flying duration seems marginally better.

Summary

I have seen my share of dumpster fires.  I have been involved in them.  When you are in them, it sucks the very life out of you, and there’s no joy to be had anywhere.  I feel more than bad for the actual development team.  I 100% refuse to believe that these issues were not flagged in testing – that’s a level of incompetence that cannot exist in a company that size.

Travis Day (the guy who helped implement Loot 2.0 for Diablo 3) gave clear instructions on how to fix these problems.  BW has chosen to ignore it.

Each patch somehow manages to make the loot part of the game less rewarding. I firmly believe that everyone has the best of intentions, but at this point it’s abundantly clear that the leadership of Anthem has to go. I know that in 6 months, the game can find a footing – but the culture and direction up top needs to change so that fun & quality are achieved before change for the sake of change.

Either that, or this is simply the end of BioWare.