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.