For the past couple of weeks I’ve been enjoying the Winter Olympics both on television and in War Thunder, where the Russian developers celebrated the Sochi games by adding a couple of special events. First there was a Biathlon, each team having to race through a series of checkpoints, periodically engaging a number of targets (either tanks or barrage balloons), before finally having to land on an airfield to finish the match. If you’ve ever wondered what the biathlon might be like if the competitors decided not to shoot at the targets but take pot-shots at each other on their way around the course, the War Thunder event gave you some idea. In some matches teams would focus on the objectives, in others they just ignored the whole checkpoint business and instantly headed straight for the opposition forming a mass dogfight around the start line, finishing only when one team was wiped. The second event, Curling, was a little more tenuous, with each side having a number of AI tanks representing stones moving towards a central control point, teams having to “sweep” the way clear by eliminating artillery and pillboxes in their path. All good fun, and keeps things a bit fresher than playing the same old maps all the time; they also had a contest for players to submit Olympic-themed content, I was most impressed by the organisation of the team who created the Olympic rings using five Hurricanes and acrobatic smoke. The ground forces beta is also rumbling on, looking pretty good at the moment, so another heavy year of War Thunder seems quite feasible.
Planetside 2 is ticking along as well; server issues with our usual European home caused us to decamp to a new US server for an odd sort of holiday in identical surroundings (same three continents, same bases and everything) that nevertheless felt slightly different, starting out again with new characters. Also like a holiday it’s nice to get back to home comforts, such as heavily upgraded weapons and vehicles, but a change is a good as a rest and all that.
Star Wars: The Old Republic holds down another weekly spot for regular grouping, though it can be a little awkward with a fixed party size of four for Flashpoints and a requirement for a balance of classes (slightly alleviated by some reasonable hybrid options) at similar levels. The most recent patch sorted out some of those issues by introducing a “Tactical Flashpoint”, a randomised set of encounters where the group are automatically bolstered to the same level and clickable healing devices go some way to removing the need for a dedicated healer (though boss fights still go better with a balanced group). Even with the randomised elements it’s not something I’d fancy doing every night (and twice at weekends), but it’s a welcome way to allow a more diverse group to play together. Having been a full subscriber to get early access to the starfighter content I was playing quite a bit, alternating between two characters to stay in the same level range as everyone else, but the initial excitement has worn off slightly; this is where the free-to-play aspect is really helpful, no more agonising over whether to keep a full subscription going just for a night a week, I can cancel the sub and drop down to “Preferred” status. There’s a few days of subscription left, then it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any subscriber-only features I really miss, or whether it won’t make too much of a difference.
One of the reasons I haven’t been in SWTOR so much is that I’ve started dabbling elsewhere… An e-mail from Perfect World announced a new Arc client for accessing their games, including Star Trek Online and Champions Online. I’m not really bothered about Yet Another Steam Knock-off, but the e-mail also contained the magic words: Free Hats! I haven’t played Champions for ages, but could hardly spurn an offer of a “Hats and Heads” costume set, so grabbed the Arc client and associated bonus code. While there, a Khan costume set for STO? Well, it’d be rude not to… I fired up the game and it looks like it’s had a bit of an interface overhaul, all seemed quite swish, had a little jog around the starbase, checked out the new costume at the tailor, haven’t logged back in again since. It’s another Perfect World/Cryptic title that’s grabbed me, Neverwinter. Melmoth had mentioned a few times that he was rather enjoying both the main game and the web-based elements, as did Van Hemlock on the HTMT podcast, so I thought I’d take a proper look – I’d actually downloaded it back around open beta/launch (I seem to recall it was rather a fluid release) but was in such an MMO-funk at the time I didn’t make it out of the tutorial.
Neverwinter seems nicely done, if not exactly deep; it has “action combat”, a bit like Dungeons and Dragons Online, more focused on movement and positioning and a small number of abilities rather than three full hotbars of stuff to click. Plenty to do, between adventuring, skirmishes, PvP and the like. It’s really the Gateway that sets it apart so far, a web portal that allows you to review your character and their inventory, manage crafting, and take your companions off on Sword Coast Adventures that work a lot like many Facebook/web games, quite simple dice rolling encounters, but an engaging little mechanic. The Gateway works well via Android browser, so after working through both seasons of Doctor Who Legacy (with a fair bit of repeated level running to pick up additional companions), Sword Coast Adventures have taken over as my “five spare minutes” mobile game of the moment.
Away from the online stuff, I did manage a few levels of Tomb Raider after picking it up in Steam’s Christmas sale, all quite enjoyable but I haven’t felt compelled to finish it off (or Dishonored, or any number of other games kicking around my “must get back to sometime” list). I can’t really remember the last single player games I got properly engrossed in, probably Bioshock Infinite and Saints Row IV (half the reason I keep blogging is so I can go back and check on stuff like that…) I also grabbed the Sid Meier Humble Bundle, partially for the Civ V DLC on the (very) off chance I manage to get back for another playthough, but mostly for the two Ace Patrol games. They’d been on my radar (as much as canvas biplanes can show up on radar) since featuring in Tim Stone’s always-splendid Flare Path, and are indeed a quite delightful bit of drop-in tactical dogfighting fun, the turn-based nature and AI opposition allowing for a slightly more relaxed approach when the frantic furballs of War Thunder get a bit much.