Sunday, July 31, 2016

You Can't Vote With Your Heart -- You Need To Use Your Brain  

Welcome back to Coffeecola! It's been a while.

Fair warning, tonight's topic is not about videogames. Sorry, but it's gotta be done. 

So, my wife and I have been talking about the upcoming election a lot -- pretty much every night -- and I think we're both still in shock that America has somehow come to the precipice of putting a racist, fascist, sexist demagogue who doesn't even try to masquerade as a reasonable person in charge of the country. As ordinary people we feel like we don't have a lot of power to directly affect events that are larger than us, but we can do something

I had been considering writing a piece or starting a twitter campaign to unite good-thinking people against Trump, but the wife beat me to it, and she speaks for both of us below. She doesn't have a blog or any visible place of her own to post her message, so I'm blowing the dust off of Coffeecola tonight to give her a platform, however meager it is. 

These are her words, and I support them entirely.


I didn't know if I would say anything. Wasn't sure if I was someone who should say anything… But I decided I should, and I am.

So, this election… I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing about it, talking about it, fighting about it. I know I am, but I make sure to keep reading. I keep informed, even when I don't want to hear one more rotten thing about any of it.

I don't like to discuss politics -- it tends to get people upset and confrontation is not a comfortable thing for me. I know what I'm going to say here will probably cause some to get riled up. It isn't my intention (I swear, I don't like to fight or argue!) but I feel like I need to say this because we're on the precipice of something terrible in this country, and I don't want to look back and regret that I didn't add my voice. I don’t want to look back and know that I kept quiet.

I was not thrilled with any of the choices we’ve had for the presidency, before the nominations or after. The one thing I know with 100% certainty is that I won't vote for Trump -- no way in hell.

I felt that Bernie had a better chance to take on Trump than Hillary, but now that decision is out of my hands. He isn't a nominee, period. I know there are many out there that feel completely shattered by that, and I get it, I really do. I saw how he rallied people, how strongly people felt for him but he's no longer a choice.

Now what?

It’s this "now what?" that’s been bothering me so much. There are so many articles and experts out there that talk about all the reasons why a third party can't win this presidential election. They explain in detail how to make a third party a viable choice -- we must start locally and work up from there. The fact is that we, as a country, have not been doing that. So basically, what we are left with is the two party system. Democratic or Republican, Clinton or Trump.

Even knowing that their third party choice can't win, I still hear and read people say…

"I can't in good conscience vote for Hillary."

"I have to follow my heart and that isn't Hillary."

"I have to vote this way and make a statement."

I hear you. I can totally see why you feel that way. I mean, I really like the idea of voting for someone other than Clinton, but what I want most is for Trump to not win. The fact that people aren't terrified of Trump becoming president and doing everything in their power to stop that from happening makes me incredibly sad.

Privilege is a word used a lot lately and I know it makes some people bristle to even hear it, but it is so much a part of this election.

I have privilege, a lot of it. It doesn't mean I'm rich or that everything is easy, but it means I am not directly affected by a lot of the terrible shit out there. I'm white, I'm straight, I'm cis, I grew up in the suburbs, I speak English, my husband is white, my child is white, I am not physically or mentally disabled, the list goes on.

It is because of this inherent privilege that I have a moral responsibility to do everything I can to make sure Trump does not become president. If he does, it is guaranteed to go poorly for people who are not me. He will do things that I will 100% disagree with, but it will be nothing compared to what will happen to people of color, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community or any people who veer away from what Trump deems acceptable.

I can not and will not allow myself the luxury or the privilege of voting for someone other than the only choice that has a chance to beat Trump. I owe it to every single person out there that doesn't have the privilege I do. This is my way to fight for them, and to do what I know is right by making sure Trump isn't allowed to win, even if it means that the lesser of two evils wins the White House.

I get wanting to do what you feel is right in your heart. I get why Clinton is seen as a poor choice. But if we’re being honest --truly honest -- then we know that she is a better choice for the country as a whole than Trump is, and we know that no one else has a chance to beat him.

Please, please, please see beyond yourself and realize how truly serious and dangerous this election has the potential to be. We are in a situation where we must sacrifice for the greater good – we must not vote for who we feel we want to vote for, but we must vote for someone who can beat Trump.

So now I’ve said my piece, but there’s more to be said.

I've been following Shaun King on Twitter and Facebook -- he's a justice writer for the NY Daily news. He wrote a great article about being an absolute supporter of Sanders, and why he feels he must now vote for Clinton and not a third party. Give it a read, it's worth it, I promise.

There’s also this one from The Stranger, written by Megan Burbank. It offers some great points.

Please do the right thing. 


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Blowing The Dust Off  


Wow, so it's been a while since I updated, and yes, this is going to be one of those posts.

If you're reading this then I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't been writing anything here at Coffeecola lately -- not trying to make excuses, but the simple fact is that life has just gotten too busy. Between the day job, running Gamecritics at night, spending time with the family and trying to, y'know, actually play some games once in a while, I had to cut back on some things and the blog was one of them. 

On the plus side, I'm still writing, reviewing, and generally being out there... That energy just hasn't been focused here, though. I don't plan to stop blogging, but it's not the priority that it once was. I'll still post things that aren't a good fit elsewhere, but I think my days of multiple updates a week are probably over, at least for now. 

If you still want to keep up with me and what I'm doing, here are four good ways.

1> I'm still the editor at, and all of my written reviews run there. 

2> I'm active on Twitter, and you can follow me at @BradGallaway. I'm more frequently available at night than I am during the day, but if you tweet at me, I'll usually respond. 

3> Although our recording schedule is semi-random these days, we're still putting out new episodes of the Gamecritics Podcast

4> If you want more of me in your ear, I'm also a very frequent guest on the VideogameBreak Podcast, and while it has a very different flavor than GC's own homebrew, I think it's a lot of fun. 

So, this might be the last post here for a while, but I'm not taking this blog down and I'm sure there will be new bits popping up here and there. In the meantime, thanks for all your support and I hope to keep interacting with everyone who's been reading in the ways listed above.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Division's First Add-On Is Here, And... It Sucks  


So, the new update for The Division dropped yesterday, and it’s called Incursions. It’s the first of two free updates, and frankly, I’m glad it was free because I’d be pissed if I paid for it. A general list of content and changes is at the bottom of this post.

On the plus side, this add-on finally fixes the Dark Zone. In this blog I talked about how broken it was, to the point that some sad individual who had been mega-grinding was able to become effectively invincible because his gear was so much better than ours. It was awful. The devs have now added a new feature called "gear score", which is the remedy.  

Basically, every higher-level piece of armor or weaponry has a points value associated with it, so the game somehow adds all of those up (it doesn't seem like straight addition) and assigns a total overall value to a player. Then, it separates those players into different categories when in the DZ.

The new starter category is a gear score of 0-160, so everybody who’s been farming or crafting the best stuff is no longer in the same zone with people who play more casually, which is a godsend.

After this change went into effect and the superplayers were moved elsewhere, my group went back into the DZ and we were able to score lots of loot because we were working together, we were holding our own against rogues, and there were plenty of AI enemies to kill. The experience was finally back to what it had been before things became so imbalanced.

There's also a new kind of supply drop in the DZ that randomly occurs and everyone nearby races to grab it. It doesn't happen quite often enough so far, but it's neat.

 On the other hand, the gear score seems like a double-edged sword. We were excited to jump into the newest mission, Falcon Lost, but we didn’t meet the minimum gear score of 140, so we weren’t allowed to start it. Surprised and frustrated, we went back into the DZ and earned enough loot over two nights to finally clear the bar for entry.

Before talking about the mission itself, it’s worth noting that gear with a better score was almost always worse than what I had previously equipped. By using stuff with better rank, my DPS and Health both dropped drastically, even after using mods to offset the difference. I find it absolutely baffling that requiring a player to get “better gear” means that their stats drop to unacceptable levels far worse than what the “low level” gear provided. It makes NO sense.

Another thing to note? The next free mission coming up requires a gear score of 220… Considering how long it took us to get to 140 and the sacrifices in our stats that had to be made, I don’t see how getting to 220 is any kind of desirable goal.

In any event, we finally started Falcon Lost and it was awful. The mission description states that it’s designed for a full squad of four with top-level gear, and by golly, they weren’t joking. My team of three with the minimum required gear was getting demolished from all sides, and the goal of defeating 15 waves of enemies while an APC fired grenades at us was impossible. We died and retried several times and eventually threw in the towel. There was just no way we were going to get it done. So all the work we put in to gain access to the content? For nothing. And farming it for gear? Don't make me laugh.

Overall, I can’t say that I’m too thrilled with the direction The Division is going. I get that there’s a certain segment of players out there who want MMO-style endgame content and an infinite amount of stuff to grind and chase, but that just doesn’t appeal to me.

I was really hoping that the devs would release content that would be right for dropping in, getting it done, and then dropping out again… I really have no desire to grind and farm just to access new content, especially if the content is going to be harder than anything reasonably achievable by someone who isn’t playing the game as a full-time job. Making matters worse, the game has no greatly increased the mats required to craft things, so an already tedious grind is now even grindier.

My review praised the game for being a good middle ground between MMO design and console sensibilities, but the devs are now swinging too far in the wrong direction. Maybe someone likes the idea of having to pour a lifetime into The Division just to keep progressing, but that’s the opposite of what I was looking for, and it’s a shame. Jumping in with friends to knock a few missions out or getting some DZ time is great, but when a forced grind comes into the picture, that’s when I bounce and find something else to play.

Today, Ubisoft® announced that the first content update for Tom Clancy’s The Division™ is now available for all players on Xbox One, PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system and Windows PC. As part of the post-launch plan to keep players entertained after the main story arc is completed, Incursions is the first of two free updates. Incursions is comprised of new activities, features and items that continue to build upon the gameplay experience.

•       New Incursion Falcon Lost: Developed specifically for squad play, players team up with the Joint Task Force in an epic fight against the Last Man Battalion and their new deadly weapon.
•       Dark Zone Supply Drops: Players need to be on the lookout for air supply drops in the Dark Zone from Division command. These global events provide non-contaminated gear that are ready to use and don’t require extraction.
•       Assignments: Tackled alone or with other agents, these lucrative timed assignments will offer players additional rewards.

•       Trading: As one of the community’s most-wanted features, loot trading has been added to allow players to share items within the same group by simply dropping them from their inventory.
•       Gear Score: Now players can size up fellow agents and gauge the power of items by comparing gear scores.

•       Gear Sets: By completing challenging activities in Manhattan, players can collect and wear new gear sets to unlock powerful bonuses and stats. Find the set that best suits your playstyle:
-       Tactician's Authority – Enhances electronics and support capabilities.
-       Striker's Battlegear – Provides bonuses for assault capabilities.
-       Sentry's Call – Enhances marksman capabilities.

-       Path of the Nomad – Provides bonuses for lone wanderers.


Friday, April 8, 2016

The Effort/Reward Equation, or, Why I'm Quitting Gungeon.  


I picked up Enter the Gungeon a few days ago, and I’ve been playing it in short bursts here and there. The graphics are super cute, the controls feel dialed-in and responsive, and I like the idea of coming up with a solid pun and building an entire game around it.

So why am I about to quit it?

It's essentially a roguelike -- the player enters the gungeon and tries to get as far as they can, defeating enemies and picking up new guns as they go. It has a bunch of bullet-hell DNA in its makeup and plays a lot faster than most roguelikes, not to mention that it doesn't mess around with inventory or turn-by-turn strategy.

Despite the fact that (on its surface) this game seems like it should be right up my alley, I found myself coming to the end of a run today and thinking that I was just about ready to delete it from my hard drive and move on. At a base level, I think it's asking for more time and effort than I'm willing to give these days, and the results of this effort/reward equation just aren't generous enough.

Playing Gungeon requires twitch skills and repetition to learn tactics needed for each kind of enemy, and also enough practice to be able to survive long enough to get to the progress-aiding unlocks, which @Broodwars64 informs me are in there, somewhere. I’ve made a number of attempts with virtually nothing to show for it, and at the point in my life where I'm at now, I have very limited time to play games each day -- usually only an hour or two if I'm lucky.

With such limited time, I feel like I need more tangible progress in order to keep me going -- I'm not afraid of “hard” games, but I need to feel like the time I'm spending nets me something in exchange, whether that's an enriched mastery of the mechanics, making it to the next level, unlocking something that improves my next attempt, or somehow otherwise makes it feel like the time I put in got me somewhere.

With Gungeon, I feel like it's asking just a little bit more than I want to put in, while not giving quite enough back.  

Compare this to something like Rogue Legacy, whose system of progressive unlocks and improving powers kept me playing far longer than I otherwise would have. 

In other genres, look at “hard” games like Monster Hunter or any of the Souls titles. They may be equally difficult in terms of challenge presented, but each one of those is excellent at giving just enough incentive to keep going, whether it's finally getting that last bit of material to make an amazing new weapon, or unlocking a shortcut that made a desperate dash through a dangerous area pay off. Balancing steep difficulty with the incentive to push through it is a tricky balance to achieve, and not every game is capable of pulling it off.

Honestly, it’s rare for me to say that something’s too easy in a negative sense… I have no problem breezing through something if it has neat ideas, great art, or is otherwise interesting in some fashion. I'm far more inclined to find something too difficult in the sense that the reward is outweighed by the effort required, and devs have to be very careful when they try to ‘go hard’.

The fact is that there’s a ridiculous number of games out there for anyone to choose from, and for the player on a budget (like me!) almost any title can be had for a song if someone is patient enough or flexible enough to play on different platforms.

Building up a backlog of quality titles is easier than it's ever been, and having a wealth of options combined with a lack of free time means that games which don't manage to absolutely nail the difficulty equation usually end up forgotten on a shelf (virtual or otherwise) and left behind in favor of something that delivers appropriate amounts of bang for appropriate amounts of work.

I like Enter the Gungeon a lot, but I honestly don't forsee myself putting much more into it unless I have some kind of miraculous breakthrough in the next day or two – the effort/reward equation is skewed just a little too far towards the wrong side for my liking.  


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Being harassed in The Division's Dark Zone  

So tonight, I "finished" The Division.

Altogether, I spent about 60 hours (more or less) and usually played in a team of three. We completed every main and side mission, and also maxed out the headquarters. I’m not going to collect all the random pickup doodads, but I will come back for the DLC after giving it a little rest.  

Over the course of playing the game, we dipped into the game’s online quasi-PVP called “The Dark Zone” a few times -- nothing too frequent, but we had some good runs. Sometimes we’d get some good loot, sometimes we’d lose it to other players, but overall I felt like it was a great idea and a neat twist on the usual PVP offerings.

We went back in today and had what is, hands-down, the worst experience I've had in The Division, and probably one of the worst online experiences I've ever had.

When we first entered the DZ, we were approached by another player. We were having headset difficulties at the time and none of us could hear each other very well, so we didn't think too much of it. After the connection improved, we started catching bits and pieces of this guy talking, and it was along the lines of "Let me join your group or I'll kill you".

Obviously, this is not the proper way to approach other players if you want to work together, and since he seemed like he had a screw loose, we moved on and ignored him.

The thing is, he did not ignore us.

He started following behind us silently, and I thought he'd eventually get bored and buzz off. However, he persisted. Once my team started taking down AI characters and accumulating some loot, he opened fire on us from behind and took all three of us out before we could do anything.
We immediately respawned and ran back to the scene of the crime, and he was still there.

I figured that the three of us would open up on him and get our stuff back, but even with three of us firing at him in unison and giving him everything we had, we barely scratched him.  He took the whole team down a couple more times without breaking a sweat. While he was doing it, he kept saying "You should have let me join your group." and "I thought we could be friends."

After repeatedly getting killed by this guy, we decided to bounce and go to a different zone, but he kept following us wouldn't leave us alone. Even after we completely left the DZ and came back, he still found us and wouldn’t stop tailing our group. The whole time it was the same M.O. -- he'd follow us and not do anything until we collected some loot, and then he'd kill us in a matter of seconds and take our stuff.

Don’t’ get me wrong here -- the problem is not that somebody in the Dark Zone killed and robbed us (it’s been clearly stated since before The Division‘s launch that this was part of the online) but the problem is that it’s absurd for one player to be able to steamroll a team of three with impunity, and then keep on doing it, effectively preventing us from doing anything in the DZ.

In The Souls series (another game with unusual online PVP) things are different. After getting beaten by someone, that person returns to their world and it's just luck of the draw if you ever see them again. Unless the servers are deserted, you probably won’t. I certainly don't mind getting beaten by someone who's better than me or who has better gear, but being beaten by someone and going your separate ways is not the same as being killed by someone and then having them follow you during every minute of your playtime to kill you over and over and over again.

Another difference is that there’s no talking in Souls. No matter how cheesy or awful someone might be, the devs don’t make you listen to their taunting or verbal abuse. In The Division, we went to PSN party chat to avoid hearing randos talk in the DZ, but we could still hear this guy talking (environmentally) when he was close to us.  Thankfully there are options in the menu which prevent verbal communication with other players, so as soon as we stopped playing, I shut all that stuff off. It's going to stay off. 

This experience was incredibly frustrating and discouraging, and is by far the worst time we’ve had with the game overall. Ubisoft definitely needs to address a few things in order to improve things here because there are always going to be people who want to be the biggest fish in a small pond, and if someone like that can be an active barrier to the gameplay of others, then action needs to be taken.

For starters, let’s talk about the balance. Prior to becoming level 30, the DZ is sectioned off to players in certain segments. Levels 1-5 play in one zone, levels 5-10 play in another, and so forth. My team were all level 30. The guy harassing us was also level 30. In The Division it’s possible to find or craft gear that improves individual stats regardless of level, and I’m guessing this is how he was crushing us – on paper we seemed like equals, but in practice this was clearly not the case. It seems like assigning point values to players based on their gear might prevent the sort of one-sided domination we saw here. People who grind for days to get the best gear should be matched against people who are doing the same.

Going further, despite the everybody-for-themselves nature of the DZ, I’d say this guy’s behavior was straight-up harassment. It's one thing to take a headshot in PVP or lose a match here and there, but it's something else altogether to have someone watching over your shoulder the entire time you're playing, arbitrarily stopping your progress and verbally taunting you.

In situations like this, I’d like to see some sort of system to let me avoid being instanced with an abusive person – if I tag them as being a harasser, let the servers put us in different games. There's a similar system in the phenomenal Helldivers. You can down-vote a player who's a jerk, and the game will then take steps to avoid bringing you two together, which is brilliant. If Ubisoft can't do that, then at the very least there should be some sort of reporting system. I know it might be hard to implement since anyone who gets their stuff stolen might want to ‘report’ the thief as a knee-jerk reaction, but I felt like this went way beyond gameplay and became full-on harassment.

If Ubisoft wants The Division to have a robust player base and become a persistent online platform, they’re going to have to take steps to stop people like the guy we met tonight from dominating the online component. If there’s nobody in the DZ except nigh-invulnerable creepers who get off on actively interfering with others, then they can kiss any dreams of long-term success goodbye despite everything The Division gets right, and it gets a lot right. Seeing all of that hard work go down the drain thanks to people abusing the system would be a real shame, but I’ve gotta be honest – after a session like tonight, I’m pretty reluctant to ever go back into the Dark Zone again.   


Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Division - Early Impressions  


So, The Division.

First off, I want to say that although it was really inconvenient for review purposes, I do think it was a good idea for Ubisoft to hold all review copies back until launch day.

The Division is not playable without an online connection, and either there was no way to turn on the servers early for critics, or perhaps someone at Ubi didn't think that early access would give an accurate impression without the expected number of users online. Either way, I think they made the right call in this instance.

Personally, I'm a big believer in not reviewing a game with significant online components until it's open to the public… Sometimes games can look or feel very different when there are only 100 writers playing, as opposed to 100,000 people who paid $60. (Let’s not forget about day-one patches as well.)

I know a lot of writers are still locked into the “have to be first, have to publish on day one” mentality but I think that's becoming less of an option these days. If nothing else, reviewers owe it to their readers to give the most accurate and thorough impressions possible, and that's just not a thing we can even do without access to the full game in an environment that matches what paying customers will get.

So, what about the game itself? I'm about nine hours in at this point, and I have to say, I really, really like it.

The Division is a third person, real-time cover-based shooter with heavy multiplayer integration and progression elements, but it's entirely possible to go through the game by yourself -- although that's not the ideal way to do it.

Basically, you create a character and jump into a New York that’s been devastated by a virus. Lawless gangs have taken over, and you are one of the few people trying to keep order. Although there are named characters and NPCs, this is not a story-heavy experience… Basically the plot is "take back New York" and I haven’t yet seen much more than that. If you're looking for a very story-rich, character-driven experience, The Division is not that.

After starting, it's pretty overwhelming at first… There are a lot of menus and a lot of stuff going on, and although the tutorials do a fairly decent job of explaining things, there are inevitably a lot of questions that will only become clear after experimentation. That said, I figured things out pretty quickly, and it seems like a good system.

The player’s home base is a hub that has three areas: Tech, Medical, and Security. Each one has their own questline, and completing these quests unlocks upgrades and abilities for your character. Resources are also needed to earn some of these upgrades, and missions out in the world will award these necessary things.

New York is a totally open world and the player is free to go wherever they wish, although the map clearly shows that some zones are recommended for certain levels. The zone around home base is for players level 0-4, the next zone is for levels 5-8, and the furthest parts of the map are for levels 18 and up, and so on. You can go in there if you like, but you're probably going to get your ass shot off in short order.

Getting back to the quests for a moment, they're roughly divided into three sizes -- the story quests are the biggest, there are side missions which are kind of middle-size, and then there are encounters, which are small-scale. Players can look at these and decide what kind of experience they want for the time that they have, and self-regulate.

So far, the multiplayer has been excellent. It's really easy to find friends and to join them, or to invite them to join you. It's also easy to meet randoms and join up. I haven't done any of the PVP stuff yet, but it’s important to note that PVP is limited to The Dark Zone, a very clearly marked and separate location on the map. Players who don’t want to participate in PVP 100% don’t have to. It is purely optional.

However, I have done a lot of co-op, and it’s great. The thing I'm most impressed with is the difficulty scaling -- I did one specific mission by myself and it was a cakewalk, I did it with one other player and I noticed a ramp-up (but wasn't too hard) and then I played the same mission again with four people and it was quite a bit tougher, this time requiring team tactics, supporting each other, and making sure we all had each other’s back. Although it was the same mission all three times, it felt very different playing it with different numbers of people, and so far it feels like the difficulty scaling is right on.

As far as the gear goes, enemies will drop stuff as a player makes their way through the world… There are a whole slew of armor pieces, some cosmetic pieces, and of course, weapons.

Although it's not entirely based on reality, The Division certainly skews towards realism, and in that respect (so far anyway) I haven't found any gear that seems really crazy or anything that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the world. Apparently the best stuff is kept in the PVP zone, but the quality of drops ramp up as the player goes on, and I'm constantly finding new things to use while not being overwhelmed with stuff to trash or sell back at base. I feel like the loot drop rate is quite nice, although I will say that I certainly wouldn't mind a few more exotic things. However, I'm pretty early in the game and there is a lot left to see… 

Considering that the player has access to some science-fiction equipment (a portable healing zone generator, a spider drone with a gun, etc.) I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some more fantastical stuff show up later on.

I've said this before but the best way of summing up what The Division feels like is to say that it gives me the experience that I wanted from Destiny, before I knew what Destiny was actually like.

It's great to be out in the world and feels like you're really a part of something, and the missions are quite varied… I'm not doing the same strike over and over, and New York is far bigger than one small hub. There are large chunks I haven't even seen yet, and I like that there are little surprises in each mission that keep the play feeling fresh.

I'm not an MMO guy in general, but this game has enough action to keep me in, and the ability to solo anytime is really appealing to me, plus the feeling of being in this world and fighting with purpose is a great spin. The Division is definitely in the same general ballpark as Destiny is (as far as I’m concerned) but it's hitting different notes and it has a very different feel. It’s clicking for me.

There is a lot of The Division left to see and although I'm not sure I will be able to complete it before I turn in a review, I feel like I need to put at least another 10 or 15 hours in before I’ll have a good measure of what's going on. That said, I really like what the devs have created here and I'm playing every chance I get, which isn't something I can say about every review assignment.

So far it's an unequivocal thumbs up, but look for my full review in the future.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Far Cry Primal - Tearing It Up, Stone Age Style  


So, Far Cry Primal.

There are a lot of reviews out there so I'll spare the general breakdown (the @Gamecritics review from Brad Bortone is still forthcoming) but I had a few thoughts I wanted to share.

Getting the hard data out of the way: I finished the game tonight, and clocked in about 21 hours. I captured all of the outposts, did all of the story quests (main and side) upgraded the entire village, tamed all of the companion animals, and upgraded almost all of the gear. A lot of that stuff was totally optional, but I was having a great time so I decided to go for it. I would imagine that someone could do a critical path of the game in far less time than I spent, so all told it comes in at a very reasonable, appropriate length. Even was doing all that extra stuff, it didn't feel like it overstayed its welcome.

Now about the game itself… Wow. I've never been a fan of Far Cry as a series but this one really clicked for me. By setting the thing in a prehistoric context, all the elements come together so sensibly -- the open world, expanding territory, killing animals, crafting… it’s all a great fit.  Every aspect of the game’s design harmonizes, and there aren't many open world games where simply wandering around is satisfying to me, but it is here. Just taking in the scenery, cruising around with whatever beast was with me at the time and hunting down anything that came across my path provided me with far more entertainment than I would've imagined.

As for the story, I've seen a number of people complain about it, but I find this quite puzzling. I think it's pretty clear that this is a story about Stone Age survival, so I'm not sure what people were expecting. In general, it’s a tale of protecting your tribe, wiping out your enemies, and fighting to live. Beyond that, the game actually includes two proper antagonists- Ull of the northern cannibal tribe and Batari of the southern fire users. In addition, each major member of the player’s tribe has their own brief storyline. None of this is novel-length stuff, but I really don't think it should be. Keeping in mind that Primal is about prehistoric man, what’s here is quite satisfying. There were several moments that were laugh-out-loud funny, and certainly several that were quite interesting, or touching. 

Along the same lines, I've seen people complain about the weapons variety, and again, I have to ask -- what were you expecting? Considering that the main character gathers sticks and rocks and uses animal skin as tethers, did anyone actually expect rocket launchers or automatic weapons? I mean, what can you logically make out of that kind of stuff? If you ask me, the game actually makes several concessions towards variety via two types of club, a spear, a sling, bait, traps, three types of bow, three varieties of stone dagger with different effects, three types of bombs (yes, bombs) and this isn’t even counting the animal companions.

After receiving a "beast master" power from a shaman, the main character can tame several different kinds of predator. The owl is used as a forward scout, is large enough to kill men on its own, and can drop the bombs I just mentioned. The other animals all have their own perks, from the black jaguar who can kill enemies without alerting others, to the wolf who enlarges the player's sphere of awareness, to the powerhouse cave bear who draws all enemy fire so that the player is safely ignored. It seems to me like there's plenty of variety within the game’s context, and frankly, a good chunk of it goes past the boundaries of believability. So, to hear people say they weren't satisfied with the variety of weapons… I just don't know what would satisfy them.

(And Real Talk: there are a million games out there that let people pack ridiculous arsenals. Did you really need that here too?)

Getting back to the story for a second, I think it's well worth saying that Far Cry Primal treats its women quite well. There are three prominent female story characters who are treated as either equal (or superior to) their male counterparts, and none are sexualized in any way. In the lower ranks of the player’s tribe, there are just as many female hunters as there are male. When approaching enemy fortifications, the soldiers are of either gender, so even in a prehistoric context where there might be an argument made for having women in a lesser role, the developers were mindful of this and made them clearly equal to the males. It's a great move, and very appreciated.

Although anyone who follows me on Twitter or listens to the GC podcast knows I've been very critical of Ubisoft in the past, it's clear to see that they have taken a major step forward with Primal, and I want to applaud them for doing so. This is a great game on many levels, and it shows the kind of thoughtful consideration that makes a piece of work appreciably better. I'm thrilled that they decided to do something more than phoning in another sequel, and hopefully other people will give the game a chance and feel the same.

Far Cry Primal? It's great stuff. Absolutely recommended.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Enhanced accessibility at  


Hey hey. I just posted this over at @Gamecritics, but I figured it was worth a crosspost over here at Coffeecola too. We're doing what we can, but if any of you have feedback or ideas on how to improve this, let me know!


We at are supporters of accessibility in gaming. We love to play videogames, and we think everyone else should be able to enjoy that love too, no matter what their situation might be.

In order to give helpful information to those who might need it, we've been posting addendums to our reviews for several years -- we started with content guidance for parents, but we soon began including audio information for those with hearing impairments. If a player needs audio cues to be successful, we felt that was something that someone should be aware of before putting their hard-earned money down.

Recently, it was brought to our attention that the option to re-map controls (or the lack of that option) would be of great interest to gamers that require alternate configurations or special setups. It took us about two seconds to see the value in this, and we will now be adding this info to all of our reviews.

Along the same lines, we've been seeing a number of developers include ‘colorblind' modes as a way of making their work playable to that segment of the audience. We decided to not wait for someone to make the request, so we're also adding this to our reviews, too.

Starting today, February 16, 2016, every review that runs at Gamecritics from this point forward will feature:

- Information for parents
- Information for hearing impaired players
- Information on controls
- Information on colorblind modes

We believe in and support accessibility and diversity in gaming, and we hope that these additions to our coverage will benefit players of all kinds. 

Thank you for supporting!


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Five Hours With The Division: Beta Impressions  


So The Division originally appeared at E3 back in 2013, but at the time it wasn't exactly clear what it was. 

An MMO? A co-op shooter? An open-world game with online portions? Something else entirely?

Ubisoft wasn't forthcoming with details at the time, and the heavily-scripted trailers featuring players squawking into their headsets were tough to suss out. However, a game can only remain shrouded in mystery (or confusion?) for so long. With an expected street date of March 8th, access to a beta version was given to those who pre-ordered the game. 

Being quite curious about it for all this time, I ponied up a fiver. Here's what I saw.  

(And just FYI, you can click on the images to enlarge them.)

The beta version offers only a portion of the features that will be available in the full product. There were a number of things (perks, crafting, and more) that were greyed-out or otherwise unavailable.

It's also worth mentioning that unlike other so-called 'betas', this one seems like it fits the proper definition -- there were a number of bugs that cropped up, several areas were inaccessible, and all sorts of weirdness was on display. I was dropped from the game a number of times, the game began with Spanish as the default language, sometimes my gun floated five feet in the air above me, and in general, it felt like it was not in a finished, polished state.  

Not a complaint, just an observation. 

At the time I began, I was only able to choose between male/female for my character. The customization options were not enabled and the race was chosen either at random, or perhaps based on the language selected? 

The normal view when a player calls up the map via an AR overlay. 

A zoomed-out view showing the surrounding area. 

From there, things kicked off with an opening cutscene describing a city descending int chaos after a virus was released, and the game quickly rolled me into tutorials. There's a lot going on in The Divison and there are loads of systems. It was overwhelming at first, but things quickly became clear. Well, mostly clear.  

The Division is an open-world, third-person shooter based inside a huge city. 

The core campaign is single-player. 

This may come as a surprise to many since the trailers were so heavily oriented on co-op, but it does seem entirely possible to play as a lone wolf. However, there are at least two flavors of co-op available -- Apparently players can go through the story campaign with one or more partners, working together to restore the city.  

I played the beta partnered up with my wife, but I also ran into a few friends randomly exploring the world. Grouping up with them was as simple as walking up to them, and away we went. No painful hoops to jump through, although there are options for forming more formal parties.  

The other type of co-op was based in a special area of the game's world called The Dark Zone.  In this area, groups of players enter and the game becomes PVP. Squads of friends can stick together and cover each other's backs, but when other groups or real players are encountered, it can get hairy. 

If nobody fires a shot, they can co-exist peacefully while gunning down AI characters carrying loot. But if one group decides to open fire on another, then all hell breaks loose and squads try to take each other down while collecting spoils from the fallen.

This screen shows the different types of gear the player can equip for tactical purposes, and below is the screen for skills. There are also menus for equippable perks, cosmetic appearance, and more.  

Weapons can all be modded in several ways (seen above) adding various effects and qualities.

The open world is quite beautiful and highly detailed, with areas featuring interiors, exteriors, and varied elevations. The weather and lighting are of special note -- the environment regularly cycled through blizzard conditions, sunshine, light and dark with very convincing levels of quality.

In the campaign area, random missions pop up, and completing these give various rewards that can often be put towards restoring the city. 

This poor guy was locked up by looters, so rescuing him (and others like him) was one typical mission.

Miscreants will often terrorize the streets, so something like this is a straightforward cleanup mission.

Several buildings in the world are contaminated with a virus. In these, certain machines must be activated, and then the data uploaded to HQ. A clock counts down for added pressure, and of course, the street toughs try to foul things up as you go. 

When all missions are cleared in the area, reporting back to the 'job board' respawns more events in different areas. Different parts of the city present different threat levels, as seen below. (Small print, you can see it below 'Chelsea') 

There's more to the game that we didn't see in the beta, but this seems to be the general flow of the singleplayer portion. Customizing loadouts, gear and appearance seems to be a big hook, and the co-op was seamless and smooth. It's unclear how long the campaign is, and the value of the Dark Zone's PVP will be of varying worth depending on player preferences, although it's worth noting that the best swag is to be found there.

Looking towards the future, Ubisoft has already announced three expansions to the game available via season pass. 

From Ubisoft PR:

The development team has a complete post-launch plan to keep the experience fresh for all players, including several free updates, new features and functionality, as well as 3 major expansions to provide a renewed gameplay experience after launch.

The free updates to be released for all players will add new game modes such as challenging group-oriented operations to test players’ abilities in co-op mode and win unique rewards.

The 3 paid expansions are included in the Season Pass and will be released over the course of the year. Each expansion builds on The Division, continuing your agent’s journey and progress with new content, gear and gameplay as you fight to take back New York:

•       Expansion I: Underground
This first major expansion opens up a new area to players as they explore the uncharted underworld of New York City with up to 4 friends for intense co-op action

•       Expansion II: Survival
In this expansion, players will have to survive as long as possible in a very hostile environment that will challenge even the most talented agents.

•       Expansion III: Last Stand
Stay tuned for more information.

At launch, Season Pass owners will also unlock the exclusive Sawed-off Shotgun, a unique sidearm customized for short-range destruction. Season Pass owners also receive a set of exclusive outfits and weapon skins, as well as access to special monthly benefits including exclusive content drops and special events.

This is a pretty good summary of the time I spent with the beta and of what we know, but many questions remain. Regarding cross-platform play, there's been no definite answer. My guess is no. 

In terms of the expected lifespan of the game (yes, there's a Destiny-sized elephant in the room) it's hard to say. If the parts of the game that weren't in the beta are as rich as what was, that's pretty promising. Of course, The Division's long-term health will live or die based on the additions and expansions, but it seems to me that the hooks are in place to keep things rolling. New areas seem quite possible, new modes and missions could be slotted, new gear is a no-brainer... I'd say there's a lot of potential here. 

After three years of being a huge question mark, it seems like The Division is coming together quite nicely. I'm planning to jump in on PS4... How about you?