Logical Growth

I am a proponent that everything is a skill. The more you practice at something, the better you get. That’s self-evident for tangible actions like cooking, throwing, or painting. The less tangible items are tougher, and one where people tend to put up their own barriers. ‘Only geniuses can do that’, ‘I’ll never be able to’. The world is already full of enough hurdles, not much sense in compounding that on yourself.

(Side note: I am not dismissing that people have different skill ceilings. I’ll never be a Crosby or Einstein in their specific domains.)

I find joy in coaching, be it hockey or work. I thought about becoming a teacher, but there are certain system rules that provide a large disincentive to male teachers… plus parents are horrible. Still, I enjoy the act of passing knowledge, yet more so in seeing someone else take that data set and then coming up with their own conclusions. I’ll use a specific hockey example, which probably won’t resonate with many.

Hockey is the luckiest professional sport. There’s a significant amount of randomness given that there are few stoppages in play, and the game itself is played in close quarters. The most successful hockey players certainly have an astounding level of talent, but the exceptional ones all excel with anticipation. Anticipation requires a high level of awareness of the players and the environment. If you were to take a snapshot of any given timeframe, there are high odds you could guess what should happen next. As a player generating a play, you want to have maximum options at hand to make it harder for the opponent to anticipate. So you have the puck, you lift your head, understand where everyone is, then take a specific patch that maximizes options. The first thing I teach young skaters is that you want to avoid the middle of the ice (there are too many people there), and avoid the boards (as you eliminate all movement options on that side). There’s a concept of a magic line between the faceoff dot and the hashmarks that is the best option. Walking kids through this line means off-ice visualization, drills at half speed, cones to direct traffic, and then positive feedback. When they get it, and I mean truly get it, every other part of their game changes. They start to see the game and their anticipation of the opponent starts to grow.

While the practice itself is for the tangible parts – stick handling, skating, agility – the real skill here is mental acuity. Rapidly taking in multiple variables and coming to reasonable conclusions.

Escape Rooms

I enjoy logic puzzles, always have. Virtual escape rooms were the best, and the reason Jayisgames exists. I’ve done a half dozen real-world escape rooms now, and the real joy here is not in successfully leaving the room but in the successful teamwork required to do so. Both my kids enjoy it as well, and it’s fascinating to see the brains of an 8 and 10 year old make their own conclusions.

My wife’s prior students launched their own platform to bring escape rooms to people’s homes, either physically or virtually. We’ve done a few with them, and did another this weekend at the same time our friend’s family (video chat). The virtual ones provide a lot of context that you need to filter through in order to get pieces of a hint, then you put those smaller pieces together to get something else.

We hit a few hurdles to make sure we were all going at the same pace. Some guiding bits to help kickstart the process but by and large they just easily captured all weird spaces. Things like the number of lights next to a window, or an out of place umbrella. My youngest, with the confidence of a 50 year old, just shoots ‘oh I know this, let’s do it this way’ and pow, perfect answer. The eldest gives a ‘oh, that clue was in the drawer, let’s go back’. It’s like they have ideas in balloons above their head, and at will, they just pull one down and use it to move forward.

Re-use

The kicker from this is that the balloons themselves never really go away. They just keep putting more and more up there, and keep pulling them down as they need them.

Can’t get headphones to work? Let’s go through the steps to re-pair and reset the bluetooth. The RC car is having issues, let’s take parts out and see what makes it go. Pull cord on the fan requires a bench, let’s tie a small cord to it. They want a desert, they pull out the recipe books and start going at it.

It’s absolutely fascinating to watch a brain develop on it’s own. Sure there are times where I need to step in, but I make an effort to explain what I’m doing, and importantly why. They take the information and then see if they can apply it to other similar problems. More often than not, it works.

I mean really.. have you ever asked a kid why they did something and they gave you a completely reasonable answer? A left field answer, but one that given the data makes perfect sense? Like a pair of shoes in the dishwasher cause they wanted them clean.

I am continually fascinated and impressed by the power of a child’s thought process. Everything is possible until it isn’t. A hell of a way to live a life.

Monster Hunter : Rise – Campaign Complete

Complete is such a weird word to use with MH games… let’s just say that I have successfully slain every monster the game currently has to offer. You never complete a MH game.

I’ve had a few posts on this game, and I won’t rehash all of it. Different from World, there are 2 different modes here – Village quests (which are all low rank – 1 to 3 star), and Hub quests (which are high – 4 to 7 star – and low rank). Each has normal quests, as well as rampages. As with other MH, you have to complete a set amount of quests in order to move to the next difficulty mode. That added difficulty adds more monster types, which unlock more weapons and armor options.

Again consistent with MH games, those unlocks are dramatically stronger than early gear, so there’s minimal gain to grind gear at low levels. A 100dmg weapon at 3* would become a 200dmg weapon at 7*. Armor goes from 30 defense per piece, up to 76. While on paper it’s about 2x as much, in reality it’s more like 4x because this also unlocks decorations and talismans that provide major bonuses (like +10% attack, or +30% crit chance). The incentive is almost entirely around progression through the quests, until you get to the last boss.à

I also won’t spoil the two new monsters that appear at the end of 6* and 7*. The former becomes part of the ‘regular’ rotation of monsters once defeated. The latter is more like Xeno from MH:W, but available at all times. I will say that’s a weird battle, as for every melee weapon, a good 90% of the damage in this fight comes from installations (dragonator, ballista, canon, machine gun). Ranged attackers have a massive advantage here in terms of continual damage output… but there is so much moving AE damage you’re going to way to Wirebug around and use the installations instead. The sheer amount of HP on this boss means you’re looking at 15m battles.

The gear/weapons from the final boss, like Xeno, are ok but you’re probably better off with other gear sets. Instead, you’re going to want to use these material to gamble for talismans.

(Sidenote for those taking on harder * quests. Take the time for Spiritbugs. +70hp/stamina, +13atk, and +30def is a LOT.)

What’s Next for Me

I’m currently running longsword, as the offensive and defensive options are just ridiculous. Bow is currently broken in terms of raw damage (the scaling is extremely high), so I’d expect some tuning on that front. I’ve got the sword I want, now it’s about gear, decorations, and a decent Weakness Exploit talisman. For the gear, it’s probably a half dozen kills per piece, maybe less with good RNG. Except for Anjanath pants… those require a Gem that has a 1-3% drop chance.

There’s that, and the 20 odd quests I need to complete. That’ll unlock some more Switch skills, and some food buffs. Quite a few are crazy hard, like taking out 3x level 7* monsters… those will have to wait a bit.

Even if I was to stop right now, I’ve got a solid 30 hours in here played. It’s a quality entry in the series, no doubt.

What’s Next for the Game

There’s apparently an April update due, with Chameleos, more Apex monsters for Rampage, the return of Hunter Ranks (HR), and apparently other monsters too. Should be interesting to see what that brings…

Love, Death & Robots Season 2

Not going to hide it, but Heavy Metal was one of my favorite magazines as a kid. Fine, hormones aside, there was no real competition in the comic sci-fi genre… the stories told within those pages were just pure imagination. I watched the movie from the 80s, it’s a decent anthology that culminates in a crazy final story that is worth watching for that alone. There was Heavy Metal 2000 that came out a lot later, but it wasn’t as good.

2 years ago we got Love, Death & Robots, about as close as we’re ever going to get to a Heavy Metal 3. It’s an impressive anthology, with some extremely poignant standouts. There’s no binding storyline, just some great individual stories. Zima Blue is the high watermark, no doubt. I really enjoyed Beyond the Aquila Rift too. Heck, there wasn’t a single entry I disliked, which is saying a lot about any anthology.

And here we are holding out breath for a sequel and sure enough the trailer dropped this weekend. We’re a month out (May 14) from another set of serious binge watching.

(Side note: This is a really good trailer. Compare to something like Shang-Chi and you really see how the intersect of music and editing really pays off.)

MH Rampages

Rise brings a new mode to the gameplay, and I’m still on the fence for it. Rampage is pretty much a different take on tower defence, what with installations, waves of enemies, and a large final boss at the end.

The mechanics are pretty straightforward. You have a big gate on one end, and you need to protect it from a pile of baddies. As each battle progresses, and you complete sidequests in that battle, you gain levels allowing to use better defensive structures. You get a layout, plenty of locations to build, and auto or manual structures. Monsters come in 4 types – gate crashers, melee, ranged, and then the apex bad guy. You can use ballista, canons, wyvernfire, bombs, and town NPCs as potential defences, each with their own strengths. Some require a whole lot more setup (wyvernfire is a laser tripwire, so positioning and aiming is key).

The thought process here is that you prioritize targets in order to protect the final gate, picking off enemies with the right tools, which will allow the final monster to show. I will say that it’s hard to fail the first part, if you’re paying attention to what’s going on. At least, at the initial levels.

The high rank Rampages though, that’s really a different bit. Quite a few have 3 waves, and the monsters within are quite a bit more difficult than the lower level ones. There’s a big difference in challenge between an Azuregos and a Mizutsune. Thankfully you’re given access to powerful tools, like the Dragonator, which deal tremendous damage to those bosses, if you can get them lined up.

Apex monsters, the final boss, are the equivalent of triple enraged monsters. Where a normal monster could take 1/4 of your HP with a hit, odds are an Apex will deal 80-90% per hit. tldr; you’re going to die if you go toe to toe and are not paying attention. Thankfully, there are no death limits… which gets me to the larger point with this mode.

Multiplayer

Multiplayer mode adds an HP multiplier to enemies to account for more players. This is offset by a standard 3 death limit across all players. Any 3 deaths and the mission fails. Rampage has no such penalty.

Manual defences allow for aiming, and since there are a dozen or so stations that can be used (replacing them before breaking saves a good 30s cooldown), so there’s a very high incentive to manually oversee everything. Clearly, more people make this process a LOT easier. Which effectively makes this mode designed for online play.

The rest of the game has a small weight towards multiplayer being better than solo. The max death count and collision detection make it so that you need to coordinate attacks for success. The gains are generally in terms of time spent, where battles are typically half the duration, less so in terms of overall success. Rampage though… I don’t think it’s possible to fail if you’re in multiplayer, while it’s certainly possible in solo mode.

Different Focus

All of my issues with Rampage mode are nitpicky items. It has a half dozen mandatory missions throughout the campaign, and the rewards within are generally within their own progress tree. It’s linked to the main game, but clearly quite optional. It’s also quite well balanced, and shows the overall design quality that Monster Hunter is known for. The environment has always been a key factor in taking town monsters, so it’s interesting to see this mode for all-in on the concept.

I personally find less enjoyment here, because you’re not really fighting the monsters, things are fighting them for you. It’s certainly an interesting mode… maybe it will grow on me.

Timing and Games as a Service

It’s weird to be playing both Monster Hunter: Rise and Outriders, two games that have really different models on hand, yet both offer similar end game incentives.

Timing

First the world context. Quite a lot of folks are in the 3rd wave of the pandemic, with more time on their hand than money. Tons of media has been delayed to allow for proper development from remote locations, and there’s a general lack of new in the gaming space. As much as Valheim is a truly amazing game, had this released in a regular game window I’m not sure it would have caught on as much. With that said, any game launching today has a crazy opportunity for wide eyes, and by proxy, a lot of gamer patience for any potential issues.

Well, issues in the general sense. Not the mess that Cyberpunk delivered.

MH:R is a time-sink game to get the most out of it… dozens of hours to get through it all. Advantage that so many folks have so much time on hand to really dig into this.

Outriders is different, in that there are some rather serious bugs (inventory wipes!) that are hiding a quality game underneath. The end game portion itself is better in a social setting, but it’s honestly quite a pain to get through and there are some server optimization issues that remain (the wipe for one, but some mods don’t work well in MP).

The flip side to this, is that gamers are much more locust focused, with the rapid ability to consume content. Makes you wonder how much success Blizz would have had with Shadowlands if it had launched in February instead…

Games as a Service

What actually fits into this model? Any game with on-going micro-transactions?

MH:R has a huge content roadmap at zero cost, and I’m not currently seeing any MT. Maybe it will come for cosmetics? Doesn’t seem like it, given that you can reset your character looks for free. There are only a few games that come close to this amount of free content.

Avengers also gives out tons of free content, with the MT focused on cosmetics. Clearly they are limited by Marvel/Disney as to what cosmetics they can use, just like the older Marvel Heroes game. There are only so many options for the Hulk after all… he’s always going to be big, green, and half naked. It lists itself as a game as a service, just no one seems to be at the door.

Diablo 3 has no MT, and while it didn’t have extra free content (RoS was an expansion), it does have seasons and huge balance changes. The game today bears minimal resemblance to the initial launch.

Path of Exile has a huge content roadmap and the business model is entirely driven through cosmetic MT. Warframe is a similar bag, where the business model is community driven. They do compare to MH in terms of free content, and in some respects have delivered more in less time.

Outriders has no MT, and no content roadmap. What shipped is what you get. Which on the one hand is kind of smart given the lack of return on these types of games over the years. I can’t see how they would compete with Division or Destiny in terms of looter/shooter, and Warframe is just at another level. Anthem, Anvengers, Godfall are all really good examples of how not to do this type of game. Surge 2, Remnant, Borderlands are examples of how you can. It’s a really tough balance. Who knows, maybe Outriders can generate the type of demand that would generate DLC.

Not every game fits the GaaS model, particularly those that are focused on the single player aspect. But if you want people to play together, it seems like a really good opportunity to put it to practice. Just need to make sure the core is solid before pitching DLC..

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Outriders: Expeditions

The End Game as it were.

Think of expeditions as pre-set quick dungeon runs, with all rewards provided based on clear time. You have gold, silver, bronze, and then consolation prizes. Most of the runs are balanced around the concept of always moving forward, which may be a shock to people who leveled as Techno or Pyro.

As with all dungeons, there are ones that are easier and ones that are faster. Easy really focuses on the way the zone is designed, enemies spawn (line of sight), and then the final boss spawn. Fast is more related to the linear nature of a run. Eventually you’ll find one that seems to fit both. I find that Boom Town is the fastest (~6m) and that Chem Plant is the easiest (~8.5m). I personally prefer to have Monsters as enemies rather than gun toting enemy and Chem Plant’s boss is a monster.

Risk vs Rewards

Clearing in time means the final cache has more loot, and generally better odds of good loot. Gold will have 4x drop piles with say 10% legendary, and silver would be 3x at 8%. This highly incentivizes gold runs! If you’re doing the max level CT, you’ll see that for most, just clearing an expedition will open the next challenge tier.

The risk in any given run is that you’re going to die. Dying means restarting the entire run, which sucks. Especially when you’re on the last boss and have some bad luck (damn you frozen!!) The good news here is that depending on how far you’ve made it through a run, you’ll get a consolation chest between attempts in the starting area. You get rewards no matter the outcome, just not great rewards.

Successfully clearing a run also gives Pod Resources. These are used to upgrade items post-40 AND to buy items from a vendor (including unique items). You get way more resources on harder difficulties. Something like 1900 for a gold run on CT11.

Resetting Expeditions

Start one, abandon it, and the list of Expeditions will reset. If you really don’t like your options, this is a great way to get the one you want to show.

Defence vs Offence

Outriders is a game focused on offence. You’re going to take a PILE of damage, and need to make every effort to get to the 85% armor cap. Mitigation from Death (stacking armor if you kill down sights of gun) is therefore mandatory. You have other options depending on your class, just remember that for most of them there are conditions – e.g. behind cover.

Damage is really important, and you need to make a call between skill damage (anomaly) or weapon damage. Health is currently useless as a stat. Armor and Max Firepower roll in ranges, and that range really matters at higher levels. The rest of the stats are locked based on item quality (blue/purple/orange) and level. Depending on playstyle, you’ll want to stack crit damage, short/long range damage, cooldown reduction and so on.

There is likely 1 critical class mod to help you in terms of damage uptime, in particular around status effects. The rest of the mods will be focused on other attacks. Death Chains is crazy DPS, Bone Shrapnel, Lightning Whip, and Killing Spree are all quite solid DPS boosts. Up until CT10 you’re going to be able to clear with OK gear in mostly blues. Past that point… you’re going to need to optimize.

Gearing Up

You’re going to be swimming in drops. As with any looter, most of them will not be useful. What to do?

Well, up until level 40 I do recommend to just disassemble everything. The mats will help you with your stock levels and improve items going forward.

Post 40 though… you want to sell all blues. The scraps (money) is going to be super useful at the vendor to pick up some rarer mods. The vendor inventory respawns every expedition. You won’t find legendaries (I haven’t seen them) but it’s a good way to get rank 2 mods… or to buy Titanium.

Always disassemble purple and orange items. The mods obviously are useful but you’re really wanting the titanium to upgrade items, not to mention the stat scraps for later on.

A note on orange items… they roll the same mods all the time, and same secondary stats. What changes is the primary stat (Firewpower / Armor). It’s entirely possible to get a decent legendary at say level 20 and it be viable at 50 if you upgrade it. The material costs to upgrade are likely prohibitive! What this means is that a purple with a solid rank 2 mod and good rolls can be modded to have a rank 3 mod and be miles ahead of a legendary item. The good news is that legendary items look damn cool.

What If You’re Stuck?!

In most other looters, you progress through plateaus of power. One item will complete a build and put you at another level. Diablo3 is a great example, where a 4 piece set bonus can often push you through 4 difficulty levels.

Not so with Outriders. The progress up to CT10 is somewhat linear. CT11 and beyond, you will always be underpowered. You need damn good rolls to progress, and most of your items need to be at the right item level. A lvl 43 gun is like a fly swatter on a lvl47 enemy.

My suggested approach is to run expeditions at a CT level where gold is easy, often your max minus 2. This will guarantee a huge pile of resources at the end, and you can farm one with decent stats and mods. Finding a purple armor piece with the ideal stats – for me, Max Firepower, Long Range damage, and a good rank 2 mod – is not something that’s guaranteed. The stats aren’t the challenge, it’s that there’s like 40+ rank 2 mods!

The weapon is actually harder to judge, as the primary firepower roll is very hard to judge as being high. For that, I suggest that you always keep a purple in the inventory with the highest damage stat as a comparison, regardless of mods/secondary stats. That way, you can tell if a new drop with good mods/secondary is worth keeping or not (firepower + 2 mods >>> secondary stats)

Once you have those good items, you’ll upgrade them to max level. That will take a fair chunk of resources, which is why you’re farming. You absolutely want to upgrade the weapon first. The armor piece you will want to upgrade the one with Mitigation from Death first, then the mods where the bonuses are fixed (like Bloodlust). The mods with % gains should be upgraded last.

The end result is that you’re probably going to unlock CT15 with items you found at CT9. You may really luck out and get a god roll while leveling along the way, but after the time I’ve spent so far, that seems quite unlikely.

The Grind

This begs the question if Outriders has a shelf life, if you’re in a grind for stat sticks doing the exact same content. D3/PoE helps in this with the randomness of it’s dungeons. Division and Destiny dungeons are much longer, but also have a different method of increasing your power level.

I’m not saying Outriders is bad… far from it. But it’s not great. In the middle of a pandemic… it scratches a hell of an itch.

Outriders: RNG

All good looters have some RNG, though there’s a lot of debate as to how that RNG is applied. Diablo 3 went through two major revisions, with a horrible first pass under Jay Wilson, and then an amazing rebirth after Reaper of Souls. Games with any duration need to nail this down at the fundamentals, or they risk turning into Anthem 2.0

The good news here is that Outriders appears to get this part right, and mostly because of the combination of mods, limited stat pools, and weights.

Level Up

I do want to start with the mechanic of levelling up a weapon. From 1-40, the costs are relatively minor, depending on the quality of the item. Blue items in particular are super mega cheap to upgrade. At 40, you need Pod Resources to upgrade an item, and you need significantly more every increase. Enough where it’s pretty much 1 run per upgraded item.

Mods

Every green/blue item can have 1 mod. Any purple/orange item can have two mods. If you disassemble an item with a mod, you ‘learn’ that mod and can re-use it as much as you want. You can replace any 1 mod on any item. There are tiers of mods too, with purple items having the best ones right now. Orange items have some solid ones too, but they are quite situational – and you probably want to keep their good mods on the item and replace the other one.

This mod effectively lets you slot 6x boosts of your choice based your playstyle. 90% chance you’re going to want to mod on something like Death Chains for some really high DoT damage. Rather than hunting for an item with a perfect mod while leveling (pre item lvl 50) you can use pretty much any drop.

Limited Stat Pools

This is the real smart part… each item only has a set amount of stat rolls possible, and you can’t roll the same stat more than once on an item. Here’s an explanation. Given that each class build has a favored set of stats, you’re really drawing from a limited pool of options. So let’s say I want with my stats… well I want

  • Firepower Bonus (not Health or Anomaly)
  • Long Range, and Short Range/Cooldown Reduction (not Status, Leech, or Healing)

Those are actually some decent odds!

Random Weights

One bit I didn’t get into is the randomness on the base stats of an item. Armor and Firepower roll in a given range for any item, and a fairly significant amount as well (25% it seems). This isn’t anything earth shattering, and as a general rule doesn’t mean much for Armor. Weapons though…25% is a lot. The range is set on drop and isn’t related to item level. Purple will roll higher than blue though! It has nearly no impact on the quest portion of the game, but does mean a whole lot in expeditions.

Same item level, vastly different stats
Firepower is worth more than armor

Expedition Scaling

The gains from gear are not linear to the challenge from enemies. I’m at CT11, with ‘maxed’ out items for my level with the stat rolls I value. Enemies themselves are more challenging, either in new abilities from the champions OR simply having more hit points. The grunts aren’t so bad, but the champions and end bosses a heck more painful. The timers on expedition progress are generous enough to allow relatively easy movement of +1 CT per run, but I do die often enough now.

Right now, it seems the best path to CT15 is to find amazing rolls in the sub CT10 space, and then just upgrade them to get to CT15. Find an amazing weapon with a good mod, and same with 2 solid armor pieces. The rest can sort itself out.

Overall

That doesn’t mean you’re going to see the best gear drop quickly, but it does mean that there’s higher odds of finding something useful as you go through. It’s not the drop speed that we see in Diablo 3 now, where there are tons of catch up mechanics to optimize the RNG, but it’s a hell of a neat way to get people to keep playing!

More than anything here though, this goes to show that you don’t need a super complex loot pool to make it interesting.

MH:Rise New Players

I’m a jaded middle-aged fart, with nearly 40 years of gaming under my belt. There are a lot of things I take for granted in gaming, and when those basic tenets are broken, I get frustrated. Basic things, like movement with the left analog stick, that jump is spacebar, that X = OK, or that shooting is the right trigger. When games swap that stuff around, like Dark Souls having attacks mapped to triggers, it messes up with my brain!

MH is not an accessible game. Blizzard’s old motto of easy to learn, difficult to master is not applied. You are thrown into the deep end, and then the game throws rocks at you.

This could not be more evident than watching my eldest take a try at the game. She created a character just fine, not really understanding all the choices. Game starts, she sees the Chief give a speech and asks ‘is he the bad guy?’ The game then says she needs to find someone in town, but doesn’t explain how to find anyone. Sure, there are tutorial screens but they are so high level it’s really not of any value.

After 10 minutes of tutorial screens and the main town, she figured out how to start a mission. She couldn’t figure out how to ride her Palamute (the game’s commands buttons are not really explained), and then after 5 minutes she couldn’t figure out what to do. Finally sees the icon on the mini-map, then a bunch more tutorial screens that don’t say anything useful. Finally fights some tiny lizards, but couldn’t figure out the attack buttons or combos. She really enjoyed the Wirebugs though!

Contrast that to my experience after World. I know what 90% of the mechanics are in this game, I’ve configured equipment and item loadouts, I get food, I have a configured action wheel. I really understand the concept of counters and evasion. Going HAM doesn’t work in Monster Hunter (it certainly does in Dauntless). I’ve killed dozens of monsters and only failed one mission – Almudron – as I was learning it’s movesets and got chain stunned. But I’m good at this because I have like 100 hours in World.

My daughter has ZERO experience in any MH, really no experience in anything that’s this complex with perhaps Ghosts of Tsushima as the closest bit. Compare that to something like Mario Kart 8, where there’s a gradual learning curve and she’s just getting miles better every time. Or Rocket League, where she pulls off moves that I am really stunned to see.

Now, I realize that my daughter is not the typical gamer, and that there are plenty of folks that love the complexity of an MH game. Further, that with some practice I’m sure she’d be better than I am. It’s just a weird situation to see the gap between my experience and her expectations so clearly put on display.

Maybe I can find some YouTube newbie videos she can take a look at, then practice some together. Would be really neat to see this expand as a family thing.

Outriders: Campaign Complete

Color me surprised, Outriders is quite good! Or at least it scratches that looter/shooter itch that’s been sorely missing. It’s not a perfect game, but it does a LOT more well than not.

Story

The demo focused on the first town and quests. It feels like it’s pulled straight out of an 80s sci-fi story, and really isn’t remarkable. Honestly, the story is just bad until you hit the forest (hub 5 if I recall) and then it starts getting mildly interesting. The next few hubs, until you get to the gate to the ‘other side’ all do a decent job expanding on the story and characters. The post-gate items, which is pretty much the second half, is a slow descent into madness. It swings wildly in moods between serious and camp towards a very serious topic of genocide for colonization purposes. The tone is hard to follow, and the final act is a rather large let down.

The story really boils down to the price people are willing to pay in order to survive and never finds a balance – instead every character outside you group holds to the ethos that the ends justify the means.

There are some really cool ideas here, but they just aren’t used enough. The Wanderer is one, Moloch another. The Outrider Bunker quest line (the only true questline) is a highlight worth note…

That said, you’re in for a decent ride for 20+ hrs, and that’s more than on offer in most games out there.

Leveling Mechanics

I figure I should touch on this a bit… the main quest is the major source of all XP. Only do that and you should reach 28 (of 30) by the end. Complete all the sidequests for an extra level. Complete all the Beast/Bounty/History hunts and hit 30 easily. This is a really smart method for alts… as the main quest can be sped through in a fraction of the time for a full run.

World Tiers are a neat difficulty mechanic that only applies to the leveling portion. You get increased difficulty for the chance at better quality drops while leveling. It has zero, nilch, nada, bearing on the end-game activity of expeditions. So for a single player run, then fill your boots with a challenging run! If you’re leveling an alt, put it to WT1 and zoom through it all.

I’ll say that 30 levels feels meaningful. Each level has a meaningful impact on character progress… and enemy difficulty. The difference between a level 25 gun and a level 26 gun is significant. Gosh forbid you level twice and feel like you’re shooting confetti.

Crafting

Which brings me to mods and crafting. The cost to modify a weapon/armor, or level them up is super cheap for blue/green items. To the point where they are practically free. The downside to this is that the game is balanced around having all your mods slotted, so you can’t reasonably equip dropped materials past level 15 without modding back at base. You’ll end up completing a zone, heading to camp, modding, then taking the truck to the next zone.

Purple/Orange items have much higher crafting costs, and you should just mod them (for cheap) rather than upgrade their level. In practical terms, this means that if you find a well-rolled gun at level 5, you could theoretically keep it until 30, for no real cost.

Mod collecting is a neat mini game, that really shines at the later parts. Clearly some mods are astronomically better than others.

Expeditions & Challenge Tier

When you complete the last story quest, you unlock timed dungeon runs called Expeditions. They are generally less than 20 minutes, and depending on your speed you unlock higher Challenge Tiers. These tiers are identical to World Tiers in that enemies are harder, you get better drops, and can upgrade items to a higher level. CT scaling is odd, in that it goes 31, 32, 34, 35, 37, 38, 40 and so on until CT15. Every 2nd CT increase is a 2 level increment, which is really quite painful.

Dying (or a group wipe) has you restart the entire expedition. So if you’re 15 minutes in and the boss gets you, restart again. You do get a consolation reward if you fail (3 deaths), so there’s always some progress.

I find the beauty of expeditions (so far) is that the timers are relatively generous, the spawns are predictable, and the ‘farm’ runs are usually less than 10 minutes. You can run the same map again and again (just abandon an expedition until the one you want shows up), so it’s more muscle memory than much else.

God Builds

Right… the challenge here is that while mods are useful and interchangeable, the stats on items is the real meat and potatoes. My technomancer uses assault rifles at a distance with Blighted Rounds. That means I want a gun with crit damage and long range damage. Armor is similar, in that I want Firepower, Long Range Damage, and either CDR or short range damage. Finding those great rolls is one part – finding the right mods is the next.

Blue items have 1 mod, purple have 2 (level 1 and 2), and orange have 2 (level 2 and 3). Running full blue items is ok, and will get you through a lot – but to more easily push content, you want more mods. This is the looter part of the game, and the RNG portion can be a bit rough in the run to CT15.

Right now, I ran some simple ones to get to CT5. CT4 enemies died in a single burst. CT5 enemies take 2. That seems small, but it’s twice the damage. It’s clear that higher challenges are much, much more depending on damage spikes which are almost exclusively enabled through status effects (toxic, burn, frozen, etc…)

Long Tail

I don’t mind the grind in games. Diablo 3 still has regular play, and I enjoy PoE and Grim Dawn as well. Shooter grinds though… that’s been a while. Let’s see where it goes. This isn’t a game as a service – all you get are expeditions, no seasons or anything. There’s no customization/transmog either, which is a real shame given the look of some items.

I think I’ll give an alt a try – probly a trickster. Technomancer is a blast though.

Outriders pleasantly surprised me on nearly all fronts. Certainly worth a look.

Outriders

I think we’re well beyond the point of smooth online launches. Diablo 3 and SimCity Online proved this point 9 years ago. Since then, every game has issues at launch, mostly due to the insane peak load that just can’t be accurately tested prior to launch. Outriders had a HUGE stress test demo a month ago, and still the days of launch were really bad. I don’t see how there’s a solution here, aside from industry standard network management protocols that are cloud-hosted… but that’s a heck of a pipe dream. Hats off to People Can Fly as to taking this issue seriously and providing a relatively quick fix.

Demo Thoughts

I played the demo, across all 4 classes, and completed the tower quest with 2 of them. I had little interest in grinding gear or levels, just wanted to get a taste for what the game had to deliver. The demo itself appears to be a very accurate representation of the live game, with only the crafting part that wasn’t included.

My thoughts on the demo continue to stand – it’s an aggressive shooter that’s much more in line with Doom than say The Division. While you can certainly use shelter to snipe targets from afar, this really only works for the Technomancer class. Trickster and Devastator require up-close attacks to regenerate health. The Pyromancer is in a really weird spot as a debuffer.

Level 12

I’ve completed the 3rd zone, which includes the first real boss (decent fight). I’m not sure how much content remains in the leveling path, but I’ve reached level 12 of 30. There’s some good and less good here.

The story is passable I guess. Does that matter though? The voice acting is better than quite a few other games. It’s far from the focus, and I’m ok with that.

The zones themselves are similar in structure. You have a main path with checkpoints, one lore item to collect in a sub-zone, then you come back after the main quest to do a few side quests. You fight waves of enemies (95% human so far), with the odd elite enemy or 3 along the path. While certainly enjoyable, there’s a distinct lack of variety so far. Hoping to have more enemy types, at the very least.

Weapons are worth discussing, as there are some significant differences between them, and seriously compounded by the gameplay. First note is that enemies have a significant amount of HP, and varying weak spots. The time to kill is certainly reasonable, but the amount of ammo required is something else. A max level sniper rifle should be able to take down someone in a single shot, but I still find enemies that I can head shot and they don’t drop. So I tend to go for high ammo repeating weapons. Compound this by enemy level increases that have some significant jumps in damage/hp, you find quickly that good items become useless with short order.

Which leads to crafting/modding. The tutorial doesn’t do justice to what’s really possible here, which is quite impressive. You build an inventory of mods and materials from disassembling gear. You use those to improve other items, with costs that so far are entirely reasonable. This means you can find a weapon that fits you perfectly and keep it up to par for quite a long time. You just need to remember to upgrade the item level! The whole mod inventory is really quite fascinating – there are some that are clearly WAY more useful than others and the swapping part is pretty easy to do. While quite useful for weapons, the real benefit is to armor as there are some real game changing mods that you absolutely want to try out!

Moving Forward

So far so good. I’ve avoided multiplayer completely due to stability issues – and a giant notice when you start the game. I can see hitting max level in a few more days, and hopefully that will include more enemy types. Not sure how longevity fits here, and truthfully don’t care all that much right now. The real time sink will continue to be Monster Hunter.