Gaming roundup

It’s been a while since an MMO has really grabbed me. I’d poked a nose into a couple of launches (or free-to-play relaunches), tried to revisit a couple of old favourites, but nothing had particularly stuck. After wrapping up Mafia II I was at a bit of a loose gaming end, though, and when Van “Tim” Hemlock mentioned the Tuesday N00b Club were contemplating another outing in Guild Wars 2 I thought I’d get it patched up and give it another try.

Guild Wars 2, huh; what is it good for? Allowing a disparate collection of players to gather together and co-operate with relatively few restrictions and barriers (good god y’all). Rampaging around the Sylvari starter area was rather fun, and the game offers an increasingly shiny bit of loot merely for logging in each day so I started doing that. Then there are rotating daily achievements for gathering crafting materials, participating in events, viewing vistas and such, with gold on offer for completing any three of them, and what does gold make? A number two hit for Spandau Ballet, of course, but it can also be used to buy dye and outfits from the trading post in order to look fabulous, my main motivation. A month on and I’m fairly hooked, playing daily, and really enjoying it.

Though GW2 has been regularly updated since launch I don’t believe it’s a fundamentally different game to the one I bounced off a couple of times before, or indeed fundamentally different to many other MMOs out there at the moment; I wasn’t even particularly aware of having an MMO-itch, but I guess there was one and GW2 is providing a thoroughly pleasant scratching post with its wide array of activities: exploration, world events, character story, dungeons, crafting, structured PvP and the like. Melmoth and I were exploring a fun little mini-dungeon and encountered a simple place-rocks-on-pads puzzle; I started out in full Crystal Maze mode (“I’m in a room with some pads and some rocks! I’m going to pick up all the rocks! I can’t hold all the rocks! I’m going to jump up and down on all of the pads!”) until Melmoth pointed out a giant stone head with a glowing green clue on it, and after a couple of false starts we got the door open. Flush with success we promptly busted out our finest self-congratulatory dance emotes, a celebration marred only briefly by the newly-opened door swinging shut after 30 seconds or so, forcing us to redo the puzzle…

I still pop into War Thunder for a quick battle most days; the recent 1.63 update added a few more planes and tanks, always welcome. I also grabbed Tabletop Simulator, and on a rare free Friday managed to pop along to the regular virtual boardgaming session for a round of Lords of Waterdeep, a most pleasing alternative when physical gaming isn’t possible. When fully grabbed by an MMO it doesn’t leave much too much room for other games, though, so Guild Wars 2 should keep me going for the next few months.

Racketeering to Known Crimes

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a perfectly decent game but rather insubstantial, a bit like popcorn or candy floss: fine for a bit of a DAKKA! here and there, but not something to really get your teeth into. I poked around the rest of the recent 2K Humble Bundle for something else, and found Mafia II. First impressions are pretty straightforward: Grand Theft Auto in the 50s, with the Mafia. Dammit! Sorry for the spoiler; GTA in the 50s, with a mysterious criminal organisation that you’ll never guess from the title.

I’m probably not the ideal target for the game as I’ve never found the Mafia especially interesting; haven’t even seen any of the Godfather films. Still, the game builds an impressive world as a set, hooking you into the story from the start and using some nice techniques like jumping from a rather drab 1945 to a more vibrant and colourful 1951. The cars, fashions and music available on radios evoke the general period nicely, if not particularly accurately (mystical time-travelling devices have widely distributed rock n’ roll and blues hits from the mid-to-late 50s in 1951; maybe Gary Sparrow took a transatlantic holiday…)

GTA is an obvious comparison/inspiration, and a quick glance at the map of the city reveals various staples: apartments, garages, gun shops, clothes shops, a scrapyard where you can sell cars etc. Like most GTA-esque games early missions are tightly scripted, introducing the player to the various elements of driving, combat etc. As the game went on, though, the missions continued to follow a tight script; Mafia II isn’t an open world, it’s a linear story. You progress directly from objective to objective with little choice (even illusory) about what to do and when. You can take cars or weapons when needed, so shops and money are rather incidental apart from a brief interlude where you need to raise some cash. That’s another GTA-a-like staple, usually a prompt to explore the wide range of side activities available in an open world; in Mafia it seemed to boil down to ‘steal a few cars’ or ‘rob a few shops’. The linear nature isn’t a problem, I found it compelling enough to play it right through, though as the game went on it was increasingly to see just how many bad decisions one person could make.

Vito, the protagonist of Mafia II, is a tearaway youngster, and given a choice of jail or the army he picks the latter. The start of the game sees him fighting in Sicily, 1943, then jumps to him on convalescent leave in the US in 1945. He could have been set up sympathetically; an honourable discharge, difficulty adjusting back to civilian life, something like that, but instead his old friend sets him up with a fraudulent medical discharge and Vito hardly needs any persuasion to return to a life of crime. Obviously criminality is going to be a fundamental aspect of a game called Mafia (or indeed Grand Theft Auto), and unless (or even if) going down the undercover cop route of e.g. Sleeping Dogs you’re going to be a pretty shady character, fair enough. As Mark Kermode talks about in film reviews protagonists don’t have to be conventionally “good” or admirable, but if you don’t want to spend any time in their company it’s problematic, and I think that’s even more applicable when you’re directly controlling them in a game. I have more empathy with characters who get pulled in by their circumstances and at least show a bit of reluctance before beating up dockworkers for cash, who might be “Bad Guys” but at least have some relative moral high ground over Even Worse Guys; Vito does show a few flickers of conscience, but not many.

As time passes it’s hard to feel sympathy for anyone. Violence begets violence as gangs and families clash, and startlingly enough it seems that killing a whole bunch of dudes annoys other dudes who kill a bunch more dudes which annoys other dudes, though fortunately they can be mollified by killing yet more dudes, though wouldn’t you know it that seems to annoy different dudes, until finally Vito says “hang on a minute, killing everyone doesn’t really seem to be working out, why don’t we all have a nice sit-down and talk it out over a cup of tea?” (Spoiler: that might be a lie.) Attitudes to gender and race seem authentic for 1951 (not that I have first hand experience), with the roughest edges filed off so as not to be completely unacceptable these days. Other than a brief appearance by Vito’s sister and mother the female characters spanned the whole gamut from prostitute to Playboy centrefold (the latter being collectibles found around the city, again anachronistically as Playboy was first published in 1953; presumably Gary Sparrow has a sideline in jazz mags). Black, Irish and Chinese gangs provide cannon fodder in stereotype (not that Italian Americans were particularly chuffed with their portrayal either). The game wasn’t condoning those attitudes, or crime in general, but it made it all the more difficult to warm to Vito (or anyone, really).

Maybe that’s the point, the natural state of man from Thomas Hobbes; “every man is Enemy to every man… and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” The grim nature of crime, war, humanity in general can make for an involving, if perhaps not entirely enjoyable, story. There’s a tension to the game, though. On one hand there’s a separation from what’s happening – you have no choice in Vito’s decisions, you watch the cutscenes, he says what he says, you’re observing someone else’s story as “they” get dragged further and further in. On the other hand you obviously control Vito as he goes about those objectives, sometimes game mechanics (“Press ‘E’ to scrub floor!”) more closely involving “you” in what’s happening on screen, and as I got more disconnected from the former the latter could be a tad jarring.

This is probably coming across as a touch harsh; I finished Mafia II after all (though it’s fairly short, which helped), it kept me playing through to the end. Gun combat works well, though the selection of firearms is a touch odd (including four separate submachine guns with little functional difference). Driving is OK, though crowded streets and police who take exception to reckless automotive behaviour can be irritating. All in all it’s an interesting effort, I can see how it got some rave reviews and if I’d been more engaged in the story I might have agreed with them, but for me it didn’t entirely work. Good for a balanced gaming diet, a story-heavy thought-provoking if flawed game to go with the enjoyable, if a bit mindless, blasting of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

It’s a bit late really (by about six years) to weigh in on Mafia II, but also quite timely with Mafia III about a week away; I don’t think I’ll be rushing to pick it up, but I’ll keep an eye on reviews and perhaps grab it once it’s discounted a bit to see how the series develops into the 60s.

If you take my advice there’s nothing so nice as messing about on the river

The professed goal of Gaijin’s War Thunder has always been to include air, land and sea combat; it started with aircraft and added ground forces a while back, but there had been little word about naval units (apart from an aquatic April Fool’s aside). Nobody was sure how naval battles might work in War Thunder; the most obvious comparison would be to Wargaming’s Worlds of Tanks, Warplanes and Warships, the latter having launched last year. It’s rather fun, with destroyers, cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers merrily lofting shells, torpedoes and aircraft at each other.

War Thunder is a slightly different beast, though, hewing a touch closer to realism. For Wargaming gameplay and balance come first (though with a firm historical basis; they invest in museums and employ a full-time consultant in Nicholas Moran); Gaijin try more to replicate the historical performance of vehicles (though still within the context of an action game, to a varying extent across the different modes, as opposed to a perfect recreation of historical events). Neither approach is inherently better, incidentally, regardless of the spittle-flecked ravings of mighty forum warriors on both sides. Large scale naval battles tended to be rather drawn-out affairs, so World of Warships speeds things up to keep the action going. Destroyers in particular zip around very nippily, though if you’re in one of the slower battleships before engine upgrades it can feel like you’re limping after the rest of your team wheezing “wait for me!”

War Thunder also features combined arms, players currently flying aircraft and driving tanks in the same battle, where Wargaming has kept the three Worlds Of… completely separate. That allows them to take a fairly abstract approach to aircraft carriers in WoWS, with squadrons/flights of aircraft acting as a single entity guided by the carrier captain.

Gaijin’s announcement last month revealed that, after internal testing showed the difficulties of player controlled capital ships in combined battles, they are taking a slightly different tack for their first naval units and focusing on smaller vessels: patrol boats, motor torpedo boats and such. Coastal units are often overlooked, both by navies themselves and naval historians, but they’re a really interesting part of the war. Rock Paper Shotgun’s Tim Stone mentioned Peter Markham Scott’s “The Battle of the Narrow Seas” in a column last year, a first hand account of British Coastal Forces originally published in 1945 and a fascinating read. The scale certainly makes sense for working alongside existing units in combined arms battles, so though some players are disappointed that they won’t get to set sail in massive battleships it’ll be most interesting to see how it all works out. Some wallpapers have just been released showing Gaijin’s customary attention to detail in modelling; this Fairmile D MGB looks rather splendid:



(Bonus soundtrack for anyone who has the post title stuck in their head)

Umble we are, umble we have been, umble we shall ever be

Battleborn was only released a few months ago, but appears to have come off second best to Blizzard’s Overwatch in the hero-shooter shoot-out to the point that it showed up in the recent 2K Humble Bundle 2. Having had some fun in the beta, but not enough to warrant a full-price purchase, the Bundle was already a no-brainer; the inclusion of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel made it even less of a brainer, if negative-braining is even possible. At release time the awkwardly named B:TPS (as all the cool kids call it) had also sounded like fun, if not full-price fun; I’d more or less forgotten about it until the Humble Bundle.

Having got both installed, it didn’t take long to get back into the Borderlands-swing of shooting anything that moved with a variety of entertaining guns, and clicking on anything that didn’t move but had a green light on it. The pre-sequel framing device is quite interesting (reminiscent of Dragon Age 2 in some ways), though the overall writing isn’t really as strong as the previous games (dialogue was always pretty scattergun, but it misses as much as it hits in B:TPS; still, it raises a smile often enough). The good bits are still good (DAKKA!), the less good bits are still mildly annoying (traipsing back and forwards over the same areas, the difficulty gap between finding a character/ability/gun combination that *really* clicks and one that doesn’t).

Battleborn rather suffers by comparison, at least for solo PvE. It’s probably not a terribly fair comparison, being that PvP is (I gather) the main focus, but at the moment I’m getting my fill of PvP in the War Thunder summer event, so when not grinding away at the tasks there I’m looking for something a bit different. Having chosen a character in Battleborn you’re more or less stuck with one weapon and a few skills, and combat gets rather repetitive without the teamwork and human aspect of PvP battles. I imagine grouping up with friends would somewhat enliven the PvE story missions, maybe that’s something to try in the future, but in the meantime I think I’ll stick with B:TPS, and maybe explore a couple of the other Humble Bunle games like Mafia II.

Prime Day Comes But Once A Year

Woo! Yay! Houpla! Happy Amazon Prime Day, everyone!!1! I know you’ve all been looking forward to this moment for months, I can tell because of all the e-mails we received begging for the traditional KiaSA Primevent Calendar counting down the milliseconds until those hot, hot deals are available, but we’ve taken an executive decision to take a step back. You see, some of you youngsters might not believe this, but we remember a time before Prime Day. Yes, as terrible as that is to contemplate, back in the 1970s it just didn’t exist. Children didn’t know the excitement of waking up on Prime Day Morning and rushing to check their e-mail to find a message from Saint Primus claiming he’d tried to deliver some presents but nobody was in, even though you’d been staring out of the front window the whole day looking for a delivery van. I remember that very first Prime Day like it was only a year ago; father returning from the costermonger with a basket of internets (they were still on ration then), loading the cards into the Sinclair ZX Analytical Engine (with the odd rubber punch-keys), the whole family clustering around the flickering images of the electromechanical Baird device… what treats might there be? Great Scott, a pair of spats for but one and nine instead of half a crown! A perfectly air-tight manhole cover (with flange) for fourteen shillings? Why, usually they were a guinea apiece! On and on came the parade of delights; household linens, ironmongery, seed drills, radiostereograms, ne’er had we been so excited.

It’s all so different these days, of course. Streaming doo-dads on your virtual thingumypad while hoverboarding to the lunar shuttle, who has time to really appreciate a chrome interociter with deluxe bead condenser for a mere 276 galactic credits? That’s why it’s time to reassess your priorities. Forget about getting together with friends and family, forget about deep personal contemplation, forget about the Doctor Who Prime Day Special (oh all right, maybe don’t completely forget about it, The Daleks Buy Some Very Reasonable Colouring Pencils sounds like it’s going to be a corker), let’s get back to the *true* meaning of the day: buying consumer goods you don’t really need because they seem like a bargain.

Chalke Valley History Festival 2016

Our fourth year of Historical Festivities at Chalke Valley got off to a slightly rocky start, or more accurately a slippery start; heavy rain in the preceding weeks had led to much of the site becoming something of a quagmire. Admirable attention to detail shortly after the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme but a bit of a nightmare in the car park, taking a good three quarters of an hour to get onto the site and slide into a space. Plans for a leisurely breakfast were replaced by a hasty squelch to the first talk, unfortunately missing the first ten minutes of Afrika Korps veteran and Knight’s Cross holder Günter Halm in conversation with James Holland. The logistics of translation, ably handled by German historian Robin Schäfer, inevitably meant a slightly whistle-stop tour of Halm’s career, but it was fascinating to hear his tales of the desert war.

Gunter Halm

Günter Halm

Exploring the site was rather hard work in the mud, but the usual array of reenactors spanning a couple of thousand years were there in splendid encampments. Chatting to some of the Romans, a heavy rain shower the previous day had resulted in a mini-flood but they seemed in good spirits. The valley echoed to artillery and musket fire from an American Revolutionary War battle in the main arena, and over the course of the day there were excellent flying displays from a P-40 Kittyhawk, Yak-3 and B-17 – as wonderful as Spitfires are, it was nice to see some different types.

Yak yak yak

Yak yak yak

Achilles? I hardly know... dammit, I was hoping it was an Archer.

Achilles? I hardly know… dammit, I was hoping it was an Archer.

Unsporting revolutionaries call in air support against the redcoats

Unsporting revolutionaries call in air support against the redcoats

A demonstration of weapons through the ages sounded fun, but I had to yomp over for my second talk: Who Sank the Tirpitz? A most impressive line-up took to the stage: historian Paul Beaver, Air Vice-Marshal Edward Stringer and Fleet Air Arm veteran Fane Vernon who took part in a raid on the Tirpitz as observer in a Fairey Barracuda dive bomber. An excellent presentation building up to the attacks by IX and 617 Squadrons that finally sank the Tirpitz with Tallboy bombs, and the controversy ever since: which squadron actually delivered the fatal blow? (Probably IX Squadron was the conclusion, though 617 had scored the first hits.) Vernon’s enthusiastic rendition of an 820 Squadron song extolling the virtues of the Barracuda was particularly enjoyable.

Fane Vernon

Fane Vernon

ChalkeValley2016 039

Ballista? I hardly know 'er!

Ballista? I hardly know ‘er!

Fortunately the sun stayed out for the day, there was no further rain to make conditions worse; we feared it might have needed a push or a tow to get out of the car park, but the tracks had just about dried out enough to escape. It was a shame it was so muddy, the talks and demonstrations were as excellent as ever, but it just wasn’t quite so pleasant as usual wandering around the site. Fingers crossed for slightly better weather in the run up to next year’s festival!

ChalkeValley2016 150

Varied in content but generic in title

So the Steam Summer Sale is here again, and like the last Winter Sale they’ve come up with a zany idea: discount a bunch of games for a couple of weeks. No daily deals, votes, flash sales, minigames or what-not, just some trading cards available for browsing your Discovery Queue. From a consumer-buying-games point of view I think this is sensible; no agonising over whether to buy something now or wait in case there’s more of a discount at some point in the future, and no need to worry that you missed the 17 minute window when Awesome Game Simulator was available for 72p instead of £59.99. As someone who got quite caught up with some of the previous events, though, it’s mildly disappointing from the Steam-as-a-game-in-itself perspective.

Still, there are new trading cards, and what do cards make? Badges! I’ve done my usual sale routine of digging through any games that still have trading card drops and leaving them running in the background, selling off duplicate cards, and using the resulting funds to buy a few more cards to finish off other sets. Firing off buy and sell orders like some striped-jacketed trader I built up a highly impressive portfolio worth almost 64p, until I blew half of it on XCOM 2 cards. Considering the market volatility caused by all this EU referendum palaver I was briefly tempted to switch my ISA investments over to Steam trading cards, but apparently banks won’t take a Total War: Warhammer badge as security for a loan, even if it is Level 7.

I’ve also been diligently browsing my Discovery Queue, and good lord but there’s a lot of crud on Steam. This isn’t a massive surprise, Sturgeon’s Revelation and all that, but since the introduction of the feature Steam has showed me around 500 games so far and is well into the 90%:

“Hi! I’ll be your Discovery Queue for the day, let’s take a look at some Exciting and Amazing games that I really think you’re going to be Amazingly Excited about! OK, let’s see, first off the pile it’s… War Shoot Man Gun, an utterly bland FPS with no stand-out features whatsoever, how about it, huh?”

*clicks Next*

“No? Oh. OK, I see you’ve played RPGs, I bet you’ll love Dungeon Of The 8-Bit Quest For Sword, lovingly crafted with retro-graphics totally as a stylistic decision and not because it’s a ten minute copy and paste job to churn out any old dreck!”

*clicks Next*

“Boy, tough crowd. All right, you’re bound to want this: Screenshots Of Scantily Clad Anime Girls! No idea what genre it is, if it even has a genre, but the screenshots prominently feature scantily clad anime girls. Phwoar, eh? Eh? The whole thing looks creepy but it’s all right, it’s probably ironic or something so that’s fine. Absolutely perfect for anyone not aware that there are photographs of actual breasts on the internet if you like that sort of thing. Apparently. So I’ve been told.”

*clicks Next*

“Huh. Got it! Block Craft Dig Build, a blocky game where you dig stuff up and then, hold on ‘cos this is gonna blow your mind: build things.”

*clicks Next*

Block Build Shoot Dig Gun, subtitle (Because Apparently The Lawyers Got All Upset When We Called It ‘Minecraft With Guns’)?”

*clicks Next*

Blood Grim Stab Dark Spooky Times, nail-biting survival horror?”

*clicks Next*

Spooky Dark Creepy Blood Spurt, nail-biting horror survival?”

*clicks Next*

The IKEA VR Experience?”

*clicks Ne…* “Hang on… IKEA?”

“Yes! Consumers can use the app to explore one of three differently-styled kitchen room settings. The user can change the colour of cabinets and drawers with a click.”

“That’s the most interesting thing you’ve shown me so far. Oh god, I’m so old. Remind me to have a another look at that after I’ve finished the queue.” *clicks Next*

“OK, next on the list is Some F2P Online Thing You Heard About A Couple Of Years Ago But Never Got Around To Checking Out

“Is it any good?”

“Reviews say: no, not really.”

*clicks Next*

Old Game Remastered, an HD remake of something you liked when it first came out but don’t have the time or inclination to replay now even if the graphics are nicer?”

*clicks Next*

Noun Online, a unique MMO featuring adjective verbing?”

*clicks Next*

“Well there you go, that’s the end of this Amazing list of Exciting games. Join us tomorrow when we’ll repeat this tiresome charade, I know you’re only here for the trading card. Still, you could probably get a blog post out of it if nothing else. Soupy twist!”

“Soupy twist.”

Shoot That Flaming Arrow Through My Tank

War. War never changes. Neither does the introduction to posts about War Thunder updates. This week we will be mostly enjoying Update 1.59, “Flaming Arrows“, a title I can only presume to be derived from ABC’s classic 1982 single “Poison Arrow” had Martin Fry been singing about semi-automatic command to line of sight anti-tank guided missiles instead of a broken heart.

There are lashings of new vehicles, including missile-armed tanks for all nations on the ground, new maps, new hangar settings and the plethora of minor tweaks that usually come with these things. I doubt I’ll get to playing with ATGMs any time soon, they’re in the upper tiers of tanks and I’m not so much of a tanker, still bumbling around the mid-tiers on the few occasions I hope into a tin can. Air battles are as splendid as ever, though, looping the loop and defying the ground and the rest of it, so time to grab the eggs-and-fours and get some more bacon delivered, isn’t it? Isn’t it, though? Standard.

Monthly Miscellany – May

Things have gone fairly quiet on the gaming front. I didn’t pick up Battleborn in the end, reviews have tended towards the decent-but-not-spectacular, perhaps one for a future Steam sale or Humble Bundle. I poked a nose into the Overwatch beta, but concentrated FPS deathmatches have never really been my bag, baby, I don’t think it’s one for me. The World War II Chronicles in War Thunder finished so I’m back to the usual game or two per day there, and I fired up The Division a couple of times to do a daily mission. Prompted by the addition of constructable bases Five Rounds Rapid got the band back together, so I’ve also dusted off Planetside 2. It still has the problem of finding Goldilocks Battles (not too one-sided but not a stalemate, not so many people that you can’t move without exploding and/or being run over but not so few that you can’t find a target) but when things do work out it’s been most nifty.

Away from the PC board game get-togethers are always splendid. Recent group acquisitions include Camel Up, a fun quick-to-grasp camel racing game and worthy Spiel des Jahres winner, and Pandemic Legacy, a variation on Pandemic that evolves over time with new rules and options. We’re about four months in (running at roughly real time) and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (Ars Technica called it “… something that can at times feel like the Schindler’s List of gaming”), rounds have swung between glorious triumph and traumatic defeat largely thanks to fortunate or unfortunate card shuffling, but I’ve been thoroughly enjoying battling Bumblechunks and The Spon (you get to name the diseases, the latter being my suggestion from The Goon Show:
THYNNE: He has all the symptoms – namely, bare knees.
NED: Is it catching?
THYNNE: Yes – stand back! Oh – I’m too late – you’ve got it.
NED: What what what what what?
THYNNE: You’ve got the bare knees.
NED: No I haven’t.
THYNNE: Roll your trousers up.
THYNNE: There – bare knees.)

The torrent of gaming crowdfunding campaigns seems to have dried up a bit recently, or maybe I just haven’t been paying so much attention; apart from the perpetual development of Star Citizen I think the only ongoing campaign I’ve backed is Battletech from late last year. My track record of actually playing Kickstarted games for more than half an hour is terrible so far, but I have high hopes for a turn-based Battletech mercenary campaign, fingers crossed. Crowdfunding in general seems to be well established, though; I backed Richard Herring’s always-interesting Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (ruhhuhluhstuhpuh!) last year, looking forward to another series of that (once I can work through the podcast backlog). This week Unbound, the crowd-funding publisher, unveiled the prospect of Soupy Twists!, a history of Fry & Laurie to coincide with the 30th anniversary of A Bit of Fry & Laurie. If the prospect of finding out what other shops Mr Dalliard’s friend ran or most importantly what happened next for Tony & Control (I like to think there’s some kind of tie-in with The Night Manager) fails to fill you with the very deepest variety of joy then truly you’re dead inside. Or you’re not a F&L obsessive. As if such a thing is possible.

Gaming roundup

Until about a week ago I’d been playing The Division pretty heavily. It’s quite straightforward to reach the level cap by running through the major missions and a good smattering of side missions around New York, once at the cap you can replay the missions in Hard mode for bonus loot, then some of them on even-harder-still Challenge mode for even-bonusier-still loot as you travel down the well-worn Loot Rainbow (grey then green then blue then purple, yellow then a sort of funny greenish-blue maybe turquoise thing; I can sing the loot rainbow, sing the loot rainbow, you can sing the loot rainbow tooooo). Grouping up with friends is splendidly easy (as long as they’re within a reasonable level range), Melmoth and I managed to do a fair bit of excellent duo-ing, and random matchmaking has also been quick and efficient for Challenge missions.

As I mentioned in first impressions, the missions are quite reminiscent of SWTOR flashpoints. Nicely scripted and interesting to run once, fine for a few jaunts in the quest for better gear, but with no variation they pale somewhat after the fourth, fifth or seventeenth time, and only four of the missions are available in Challenge mode. There’s a lot to collect around the world, but after clearing a few zones that also got a little repetitive. That leaves the Dark Zone, the tense PvP-possible centre of the map, but again gameplay there settles into a bit of a rut, running around specific points of the map hoping there might be a boss there while keeping a wary eye on other players. Actual PvP has been less than enthralling so far, with gear playing a major part in the outcome of encounters.

Forums and such are ablaze with discussion of glitches and exploits and the like, there appear to be a number of ways that players have acquired loot at a faster rate than anticipated by the developers (irregular MMO verbs, part 17 of an occasional series: I intelligently optimise my time to maximise rewards; you exploit glitches and should have your character rolled back; he/she/it is a hacker and must be banned immediately). It hasn’t really affected me directly, and with a limited in-game economy (no auction house, very limited trading) it doesn’t seem too catastrophic apart from possibly high-end PvP, but it’s not the best of starts. I’ll probably drop back in now and again, and look forward to further expansions/DLC, it’s had a decent first innings.

In the meantime War Thunder has started up a World War II Chronicles series of daily events, roughly following the chronology of the war, and with a rather marvellous looking flying boat on offer for scoring 30 victories 15 times I’ve been dogfighting in the skies over Russia, Africa and the Pacific. The verisimilitude of the setting takes a minor knock as about 90% of players are trying to get their daily kills, so the standard tactic is for two clumps of planes to fly directly towards each other frantically shooting, repeating the process until all respawns are used up, but the variety of settings and available aircraft keep things nteresting.

Once the Chronicles have finished, there are a couple of likely candidates for May gaming: Battleborn at the start of the month and Total War: Warhammer towards the end. Melmoth pointed me towards the open beta of Battleborn, a “hero shooter”, or persistent online FPS, or FPS with MOBA elements… I’ll come in again: amongst its genres are such diverse elements as: FPS, MOBA, heroes, and a giant robot sentry-bot called Geoff. It’s from Gearbox, and certainly shares a sense of humour with Borderlands; the aforementioned Geoff is adamant he’s actually a spider called Arachnis, and there’s plenty of snappy dialogue. With a series of co-op missions as well as several PvP modes, and 25 different heroes/classes, it has plenty of potential; MOBAs have passed me by so far, Battleborn could be a good entry point.

Total War: Warhammer is more of a known quantity, doing exactly what it says on the limited edition deluxe tin case: a Total War game in the Warhammer world. Warhammer: Dark Omen was a favourite of mine back in the day and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed several of the Total War series, though Napoleon was probably the last I devoted a serious amount of time to, so I’m really looking forward to it.