Category Archives: games

It’s like déjà vu all over again (again)

I was checking back through the archives to see if I’d written about a particular game, and happened across a strangely relevant post from May 2016. On the gaming front at the time I’d just wrapped up an event in War Thunder, and right now I’m Thundering away in a Warlike fashion, mid-way through grinding for a free plane or two. I hadn’t really bothered about the last few events in the game; Gaijin have added yet another type of currency and a player-to-player market for vehicles, skins and such, not something I’m terribly fussed about (except when hats are on offer). The big summer event earlier in the year seemed a bit convoluted and grind-heavy, involving market-tradeable bits, and only had tank rewards so I skipped that entirely, but perhaps sensing some discontent from people who prefer aircraft they added an old school challenge with nice straightforward requirements (get kills, drop bombs on bases, etc), with a British plane as a low tier reward. I’ve been playing a fair bit more than my customary game or three each week, which I doubt will continue post-event, but it hasn’t felt like a chore as some MMO events can.

On the shooter front I was dabbling in The Division and Planetside 2 at the time; I’m not sure I’ve fired up the latter since, but The Division was fun. I’ve started to see some bumph about The Division 2 including a variety of extra-deluxe-bonus-anorthite-with-strontium-edging pre-order editions but I doubt I’ll pre-order, more likely hold out for a sale of some sort to give it a try. In the meantime, fulfilling the role of something to pop into when I feel like blasting away is Destiny 2. I was vaguely aware there was an expansion on the way but hadn’t realised quite how close until I fired it up and found a colossal update lying in wait. There’ve been some changes in weapon types, mods and such, but from a quick glance it doesn’t look like Forsaken will fundamentally shake things up too much, and the slowly-upgrade-gear endgame gets pretty stale. If there’s a good deal at some point I’ll probably pick it up, though, as the basic shooting gameplay in there is very sound, running around shouting “DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA!” In fact – top tip here – you don’t even need to shout! The guns actually make noises in the game, how’s that for attention to detail?

Looks like I was on an MMORPG break at the time, which is one difference. I’ve been playing a fair bit of Neverwinter for the last few months, rolling up a new character along with the Sunday morning gang. It’s been a pleasant diversion, zapping around zones I vaguely remember from three or four years ago and exploring new areas, certainly no shortage of content, though it can get a little overwhelming. I like some structure in a game – I tend to wander around aimlessly then drift away from the most open worlds – but the myriad tasks, campaigns, tokens etc. of Neverwinter veer into heavy duty To Do List and Flowchart Admin sometimes. Assembling a non-veteran party is less “Ye have my axe!” “And my bow!”, more “Ye would have my axe but I need to unlock it by completing an introductory quest sequence in two other zones!” “And my epic bow requires another four or five daily quests to open the weekly event that enables progression to the next tier of tasks!”. Still, the quest log appears to be unlimited (at least I haven’t hit a cap yet) so you can stack up piles of options and (hopefully) find some common goal.

In boardgames, we were a few months in to Pandemic Legacy – a variant of Pandemic where the rules evolve over the (game) months. Unfortunately that stalled before we could finish the whole thing, with that pesky old Real Life business getting in the way of get-togethers, but a couple of weeks back Tim picked up a shiny new copy so once more Bumblechunks and The Spon are sweeping the globe and our valiant team of disease-battlers are trying to stop them.

Back then I’d pledged for Soupy Twists!, a crowdfunded history of Fry & Laurie from Unbound, and just last week an e-mail arrived to announce that despatch is imminent, I’m thoroughly looking forward to that. Crowdfunding seemed to have settled down a bit in that post, and continues to be quiet on the game front; nothing has really jumped out in the past couple of years, the last thing I backed was the game I was searching for in the first place – Battletech. As I said at the time, “my track record of actually playing Kickstarted games for more than half an hour is terrible so far”, and when Battletech released earlier this year it didn’t look like it was going to break the streak. Some reviews suggested combat was rather ponderous, and with everything else going on it got shoved on the “To Play Sometime” pile.

Casting around the other day for something to play I recalled it had got a patch or two to speed things up, and on a bit of a nostalgia trip (Battletech: The Crescent Hawk’s Revenge was one of my formative PC gaming experiences thirty-odd years back) I got it updated and started up a campaign. I’m only a few missions in, but it’s been thoroughly enjoyable so far. Enough of a story to get you going without interminable monologues, turn-based combat when you’re in the mood for slightly more relaxed and thoughtful gameplay rather than hectic action, good stuff.

Things are ticking along nicely enough, then, even if they haven’t changed much in the past couple of years.

Habit converts luxurious enjoyments into dull and daily necessities

Many free-to-play MMO-type games have a daily reward just for logging in; The Elder Scrolls Online just added them recently. I’m not sure if there’s scientific research showing that players who log in each day are more likely to play and/or spend more, or it keeps numbers up when reporting active player totals, or just that Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We? Whatever the reason, I have a small stable of games I’m actively playing (or have been until recently) dangling such daily carrots: TESO, War Thunder, Guild Wars 2, Neverwinter etc.

The rewards are seldom life-changingly incredible individually, but most build up over time to something quite desirable; they wouldn’t be much of an incentive if not. For games I’m actively and regularly playing they’re a nice bonus. For games I’m not-quite-so-regularly playing they’re more of a dilemma; if I really get back into them then I’ll be glad of whatever rewards I accumulate, but the time it takes to log into each game and claim the reward all adds up, time that could actually be spent playing something else rather than doing admin (though that “actual playing” might itself turn out to be more admin, like trying to sort out an inventory cluttered up with daily login rewards, hunting out the worthwhile bits amongst the tat…) There’s also Murphy’s Law of Daily Logins to contend with: if you religiously start up a game and claim every reward up to and including the Super Shiny Thing Of Great Joy And Wonder for 500 continuous days of logging, you’ll never play that game (past the login reward screen) again. If you uninstall it or stop logging in, though, then 501 days later you’ll fire it back up, really enjoy it and start playing seriously, and greatly lament the lack of a Super Shiny Thing Of Great Joy And Wonder that would make life so much easier. (It’s a variant of Murphy’s Law of Pre-Order/Founders Packs, that states that the more you spend on such a pack the less likely you are to seriously play the resulting game.)

Melmoth has turned to technology for assistance, asking his smart speaker to remind him to log in to TESO each day. That put me in mind of the Electric Monk from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency:

“The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself”

I wonder if a bit of scripting might be possible to further enhance things… “Alexa! Log in to Elder Scrolls and claim the daily reward. Then talk to the stablemaster and improve mount speed, then do the daily crafting tasks, and if you wouldn’t mind running a couple of dungeons, equipping any high level gear you get as a result, and finishing off the main story quests that would be great thanks.”

Gaming Roundup

I’ve been playing The Elder Scrolls Online for a couple of months now, wandering around, saving villages, delving into dungeons, bopping the odd monster or two on the head, carefully hand-stitching hundreds of pairs of identical shoes then carefully taking apart hundreds of pairs of identical shoes for the raw materials. In common with the single player games of the series I’ve rather lost track of the main story. I think it started with being dead, or in prison, or both; Dumbledore and Basil Fawlty got involved somewhere along the line, maybe it was a boarding school rather than a prison. Or a hotel in Torquay. After escaping I started helping out Queen Kate Beckinsale (in the real world, not the underworld, or indeed the Underworld (2003 film)) and her right-hand he-man-cat-type-Razum-dar, and also popped back now and again to give Michael Gambon a hand whenever he left an Obi-Wan style holographic voicemail. Confused? You won’t be, after I abandon this random mish-mash of cultural references!

When TESO launched, as I understand it, zones had specific level ranges, so levelling followed a more straightforward path. Since the “One Tamriel” update quests and mobs scale according to your level, so the world is your proverbial mollusc of choice. This has worked exceedingly well for our little Sunday morning group. There’s been no need to try and keep character levels in step, everyone can play as much or as little as they like, and it’s very straightforward to teleport to another member of the group, share quests, and pile in to a public dungeon or world boss. A minor drawback of the system is that it can result in overchoice and I find it difficult of an evening to decide whether to pursue a quest line (and if so which one), or do some crafting, or potter around exploring the world. The quest journal is limited to 25 spots and more than half of mine is filled with Stuff I Really Must Get Around To Finishing Off Sometime, more of a To Do list than source of epic adventure. I don’t really want to drop any in case I have trouble picking them up again; I can’t remember where I last saw Razum-dar to continue that line, and holo-Michael Gambon has gone very quiet, I must head back and see if there’s more of that story to finish off… just as soon as I’ve levelled my blacksmithing skill a bit more, and stolen some more stuff for the Thieves Guild, and….

Away from TESO things are pretty quiet on the gaming front. War Thunder ticks along, the old reliable. Just Cause 3 offers quick hits of grappling-jetpack-wingsuit mayhem. I haven’t fired up Destiny 2 in while, leaving it in the “probably ought to have another look sometime” pile with The Division. Sea of Thieves looked promising, and is almost certainly a lot of fun with a like-minded crew, but from a quick jaunt around the ocean in the open beta it didn’t seem to have much for a solo player and not a great deal of depth, not really enough to justify the hefty full price tag at release. Far Cry 3 was diverting enough a while back but I haven’t got around to Far Cry 4 yet let alone the fifth, good candidates for a deep discount in a sale or Humble Bundle.

On the mobile side of things I do like a bit of a match-3 game, back to Bejeweled on Palm OS, and Candy Crush Saga had kept me going for a few hundred levels but bogged down when power-ups became all but mandatory. Looking for a replacement in the App Store/Google Play was a whole new level of overchoice with seemingly endless streams of clones of anything vaguely popular; I grabbed Marvel Puzzle Quest in the end, having vague memories of the original Puzzle Quest on PC. With all the standard free-to-play elements (multiple currencies, crates of loot, yada yada) it hooked me for a few days of “look what shiny thing you unlocked!” dopamine hits and is now settling down into a levelling grind. I played Doctor Who Legacy for a fair while before it got slightly stale, a similar tile matching game with teams of characters; developers Tiny Rebel Games have a successor on the way, Doctor Who Infinity, so if MPQ bogs down too much that might well be another option.

Overall, then, I’m drifting through the gaming doldrums as Melmoth so accurately described them, not for the first time and doubtless not the last. I’m sure something will come along to fill the sails again, hopefully before delirium kicks in. [Before? You’re already hallucinating a non-existent editor. Ed.]

Gaming Roundup

Things have been fairly quiet on the gaming front recently. War Thunder continues to soldier along with impressive longevity, over five years now; the only game I can recall playing regularly for anything like as long is City of Heroes back in the day. I don’t play a massive amount of War Thunder, maybe four or five matches a week, it’s ideal for dropping in for a quick round or two when there isn’t time for much more. I’m mostly working on the new(ish) Italian and French air trees and happiest pottering around tiers III and IV, where you don’t feel too guilty about facing brand new players but upgrading and unlocking progress isn’t as glacial as the late game. Beta testing of naval combat continues, and makes for an interesting change of pace as the balance between torpedo boats, destroyers and aircraft is tweaked. The Winter Olympics in February also saw the return of a couple of special events, Biathlon being a particularly enjoyable combination of racing and shooting with the added complications of a hostile team. Is it really four years since they first appeared? Blimey and indeed Charlie etc. Update 1.77 has just gone into testing, much attention being on the new Tier VI ground forces as the tanks get ever more modern, but aircraft are much more my bag (baby) so I haven’t been working up much frothing excitement on that front.

Destiny 2 is still ticking along as well, though the longevity issues are pretty apparent. I’m scarcely the hardest of core but still managed to get a character of each class up to power level 335 a while back, and with each also kitted out with a suitably snazzy set of armour or two from events there’s not a whole lot of gear-based incentive to keep grinding. Repeated runs of Flashpoints and public events get a little stale, so it’s mostly the PvP of the Crucible that I keep going back for. I feared my poor aged reflexes might not be up to a PvP shooter but I seem to do well enough, seldom topping the leader board but even more seldomly at the bottom, thankfully. Special events like the Iron Banner and Crimson Days seem to funnel enough people into the Crucible that either there’s reasonable matchmaking or enough equally poor players by luck in most matches to balance things out, at least towards the start of events; Crimson Days was a bit painful when I popped in on the last day to tick off an achievement with one final character and bumped into a succession of cookie-cutter power-spamming guild teams, but that’s been the exception rather than the rule so far. Bungie have put out a roadmap with their future plans, some of which look fun enough (6v6 Crucible matches), but nothing that particularly grabs me as a “must play loads more!” sort of addition.

My new Chillblast PC is running quite splendidly; the one game that my old rig struggled with was Just Cause 3, so I fired that up to see how it ran (nicely), and have been rampaging around its islands in a grappling-type frenzy. It’s another one that works well for a quick drop-in session to free a town, take part in a race or two, or just beat whatever random statistic pops up in the top right of the screen (the high score table based on Steam friends being a cunning way of inspiring competitiveness; “sorry, I know I’m supposed to be on my way to help a bunch of rebel fighters but I’m just going to take some time out to see how high I can climb with a parachute and a grappling hook…”) Should it start to pale then The Division had a big update fairly recently that I ought to try and have a look at, and Elite: Dangerous is sitting waiting to be installed after a Steam sale; too many games, too little time, as per usual!

On the MMO front our little Sunday group have drifted away from Guild Wars 2, being stuck in a bit of a Fractal-limbo where pushing forward is quite a slog and replaying current tiers a bit tiresome. Casting around the almost endless list of other options The Elder Scrolls Online jumped out, a game I’d briefly tried a couple of times (but not to the point of hitting double-digit levels), so we’ve been pottering around in there for a few weeks. A recent(ish) “One Tamriel” update changed much content to be scaled for any level, as I understand it, removing a lot of restrictions on grouping and such, enabling us to progress at our own pace during the week but still team up without anyone being over/underpowered. The more structured story side of the game hasn’t really grabbed me any more than last time, but like a single player Elder Scrolls game there’s no shortage of other things to do in the world. This week I have been mostly engaging in larceny for the Thieves Guild, next week I might look in to the Mages Guild, or do a bit of crafting, or hunt down some vampires; it’s a bit like Mr Benn, really, only with more hats.

No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.

I wrapped up the story part of Path of Fire the other day. It was pretty standard stuff, really; get killed, return from the dead, slay a god, pick up some random items and hand them to an NPC ten or even twenty paces away, that sort of thing. As I’ve posted about a couple of times before the story of Guild Wars 2 really hasn’t engaged me. I should probably just skip it; I’m not sure there’s any gated content that depends on having completed the story, and the rest of GW2 continues to offer plentiful activities. Pottering around exploring maps (greatly helped by the new mounts), fractals, adventures, crafting, the Mad King’s Halloween event and what-not. I’d taken part in a fair bit of Structured PvP (5 vs 5 matches) last time I was playing heavily but I think I’d risen to my level of incompetence and reached the stage where I was more of a hindrance to my team, so I’ve been doing a bit of the more open World vs World mode recently, tagging along with sufficiently large blobs. It’s frustrating sometimes, spending a while running across a map only to bump into a larger enemy blob and get squished, but being part of a large scale coordinated team attack is most impressive, especially when friendly Mesmers open up a teleportation portal for surprise flanking manoeuvres. I don’t do an awful lot apart from follow everyone else and drop AoEs on the designated location, but I feel like I’m involved at least, even if only as a very minor cog.

In the story, on the other hand, though I’m theoretically the largest dragon-slaying cog around I don’t feel involved, I’m a title, a cipher with a generic personality regardless of race, class and shoulderpad size. A bunch of NPCs dump some exposition, you fight some stuff, repeat. For me the story of an MMO world is best handled with a light touch, a bit of a push to move players from zone to zone with some interesting lore in the background for those that want to delve into it, less of the lectures. I’ve just started Destiny 2 and that seems to be handling it fairly well so far, even though I never played the original so don’t have any background there. It’s not staggeringly original; Big Nasty Aliens Invade, get the band back together, we’ll see where it goes, but it supports the core running-around-shooting-things requirements well enough. “You” are strangely mute while your robot chum does all the talking, reminding me a little of The Secret World, a game that had almost the opposite problem of Guild Wars 2: an interesting story and world but the levelling grind and rest of the game weren’t strong enough to support it (I should probably have a look at the relaunched Legends version).

It’s a tricky thing, combining an engaging and personal story with a more free-form game, becoming trickier as online multiplayer becomes ubiquitous and open-world map-mopping seems to be a bit of a default template. Paul “Mr Biffo” Rose wrote a strong defence of games as a storytelling medium in light of EA “refocusing” a forthcoming Star Wars game, and while I enjoy a multiplayer shooter or MMO as much as the next man (probably a fair bit more than the next man, unless the next man is a County-standard MMO-enjoyer in which case not quite as much as the next man but more than a composite average man, or indeed woman, assembled from a sufficient sample size) I do like to break things up with more story-driven titles, and recent games like Mass Efffect: Andromeda have been a bit disappointing on that front. Perhaps monetisation strategies are having a negative effect, it’s quite the hot topic (particularly loot boxes) as the wider industry grapples with issues that had previously been largely confined to the free-to-play ghetto. We’ve been talking about these things for years, and obviously games companies have to be held accountable, but I can’t help feeling a little disappointed that players have embraced the idea so enthusiastically that, from a business perspective, it looks mad not to crowbar them in. Rob Fahey on gamesindustry.biz is confident that the games will be there as long as the audience demands them, hopefully the industry can find a happy medium that keeps some variety in AAA titles.

Mr Mojo Risin’

At a loose gaming end of an evening I had a bit of a poke through a virtual pile of unplayed games. A Humble Bundle from a while back yielded Dead Rising 2 and 3, and I thought I’d start with the earlier game first but didn’t get terribly far. The graphics aren’t unplayably awful but show their age a bit, the controls are rather clunky, and save game checkpoints seemed few and far between making it a frustrating exercise. Moving on, Dead Rising 3 turned out to be a considerable improvement in all three areas. Describing it to Melmoth he said it sounded like Grand Theft Auto meets Evil Dead, which is indeed an excellent summary; hordes of zombies can be battered, sliced, shot, pummelled, toasted and shredded with a huge variety of weapons, and like Evil Dead 2 the gore and ultra-violence is so over-the-top it generally falls on the comedic side of grotesque. You can kit yourself out with Ash’s preferred chainsaw and shotgun, but one of the selling points of the series is the ability to combine items to produce weapons ranging from the sublimely ridiculous (Cement saw attached to a sledgehammer? Sure!) to the ridiculously sublime (A battleaxe with a speak n’ spell to provide sarcastic robotic commentary? You bet!)

Mowing down zombies in new and interesting ways gives experience points, and what do experience points make? Cuddly toys, of course (probably with a bunch of knives strapped to them). Also points to assign to various skills to improve your health, melee abilities, etc etc. There are various things to do around the city including assorted challenges to complete, cosmetic outfits to pick up, everything you’d want in an open world game. Co-op mode sounds fun, settings allow you to run an open game that anybody can drop into but I’m sticking with single player for now ’til checking there’s no potential for griefing (it’s quite tricky avoiding friendly NPCs when flailing around with a flaming katana/scythe hybrid, friendly fire could get rather messy).

There’s a story that so far is hitting a bunch of Standard Issue Zombie Beats (quarantined city, small group of survivors, sinister government/military threat, nasty human gangs posing the old ah-but-who-are-the-real-monsters question (it’s the first one, Rich)), but rather conveniently the game lets you replay previous chapters while retaining your character progression, so after advancing a couple of chapters quite rapidly I’ve rewound to spend a bit more time finding new and improbable weapon combinations before doing anything silly like trying to escape from a zombie-infested city.

Not sure it’s an all time classic, but an hour or two of zombie-bashing mayhem here and there isn’t a bad way of passing the time. Worth a look if you like the excesses of latter Saints Row games and always wanted to turn a parasol and dragon mask into a weapon of some sort.

Warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed

War. War never changes. Apart from when it does, like the time Ian Pointed-Stick invented the pointed stick, that was a shock for the non-pointed stick folks. The War folks are pretty bad about patch notes and version numbers, though, and seldom put out a press release when a new update to War is released unlike Gaijin, developers of World War II(ish) combat game War Thunder. The last few updates to War Thunder have been ticking along, generally adding some new planes and tanks, always nice but not particularly noteworthy. The addition of Japanese tanks at the end of last year to join their Soviet, German, US and British counterparts rounded out air and ground forces for all the countries in the game, the latest update expands the array of nations for the first time in (mumble) years as could be surmised from its name: Regia Aeronautica. Yes, it’s all about a fearless aeronaut called Reg. Or possibly the Italian Air Force.

Italian aircraft aren’t completely new to the game, there were a handful in the German tree, but Update 1.69 sees them take to the skies under their own flag with a fully fleshed-out tree of fighters and bombers from the biplane CR.32 up to the jet-powered G.91. The tree will be gradually made available a few aircraft at a time, or the full thing can be researched by players who buy an Italian premium aircraft pack or complete a series of tasks. It’s early days yet but there’s a nice range of aircraft available, and the mid-war “Serie 5” fighters in particular seem to be performing well. It’s always fun to go back to the slightly more relaxed early tiers, and the new Italian tree gives a great reason to do so.

Crunchy Mass Corn Effect

I finished off Mass Effect: Andromeda the other day, and it’s… fine. I put around 100 hours into it, both single and multiplayer, so it’s not a bad game (or I’m a terrible masochist), but it’s not amazing. Using a new Crunchy Maize Corn Stick Based Review System, I’d liken it to a giant bag of Salt & Vinegar Chipsticks: you open the bag, thinking you’ll have a few Chipsticks then seal it back up again, and they’re pretty nice, so you have a few more, and you don’t really notice that you’re about two thirds of the way through the bag, and then there’s no point leaving a few so you keep going, and without really intending to you’ve finished the bag and your fingers are clad in a crunchy maize gauntlet and you need to drink a couple of pints of water to clear the salt & vinegar coating from your tongue. Compelling enough to keep you going, but you don’t sit back at the end and think “well that was a great dining experience, I’ll do that again tomorrow”.

In general it’s very Mass Effect-y. Talk to a bunch of people, shoot a bunch of aliens, talk to a bunch of people, shoot a bunch of aliens, flirt with squadmates, shoot a bunch of aliens, y’know, Mass Effect-y. It’s more explicitly Open World than the previous games with planets to roam full of assorted odds and sods; the majority of missions are fairly bland busywork of the “go to X waypoints” variety, a bit of a single-player MMO, especially when coupled with resource gathering for crafting, but the driving and combat work well enough for it to be generally enjoyable rather than too much of a chore. I liked the flexible skill system that allowed you to combine combat, tech and biotic powers, though I did get into a bit of a rut of sticking with the same powers once I found a combination that worked.

The overarching story was all right but I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d seen most of it before one way or another, and the central strand was a bit weak (the usual game problem of balancing an imperative to follow a main story with almost unlimited opportunities to arse around picking up drink ingredients for a nightclub). I didn’t find any squadmates intensely irritating, but none of them especially clicked either. I inadvertently ended up locked into a romance after always picking flirtatious options when talking to anyone (and in the game, ah); I thought there was a warning if you were going to commit yourself to one person (like in real life when a message flashes across the screen), maybe I missed it. In the final mission of the game (extremely minor spoiler warning) you get help from people you helped out along the way, but a combination of my increasingly failing memory and fairly inconsequential side quests meant I couldn’t even remember who some of them were. “Ryder, you saved my life, I can never repay you but I’m here to help you out!” “Oh that’s awfully nice, thanks. Um. Who are you, again? Are you sure we’ve met?”

Overall, then, not a disaster of intergalactic proportions, but not an all-time classic. If you were peckish and poking around the kitchen cupboard then a giant bag of Salt & Vinegar Chipsticks would do in a pinch, but you wouldn’t order them in a restaurant. Unless it was some hipster Crunchy Maize Corn Stick restaurant.

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition

It’s a funny old game, The Division. Saying that, I didn’t find it particularly amusing, the quirky mission-givers being a bit jarring in an otherwise bleak, bleak time, and it’s not old as such, having been released exactly(ish) a year ago. Still, “it’s a game, The Division” would be a bit of a weak post opening despite the factual accuracy.

On the one hand I’ve sunk a fair amount of time into it and mostly enjoyed it, popping back in for the updates and noodling around New York with a bunch o’ guns. It’s got a good hook, the set-piece story missions play well and can take a fair bit of repeating in the “do it again but harder” endgame (note to ed: insert Kenneth Williams animated reaction GIF here in a desperate attempt to keep up with newfangled social media trends that are already dreadfully passée thus appearing even more out of touch, unless we luck out and they’re undergoing a retro revival). On the other hand, it feels like there are missed opportunities. The story is left dangling; obviously you want to leave space for a sequel but I would’ve liked a bit more of a resolution at the end of the main game. It hasn’t really been picked up in any updates or DLC, and from what “Year Two” details I’ve seen there are no more story missions on the cards (the old conflict between story (expensive voice actors, time-consuming development, ‘properly’ experienced once (if that) by most players) and repeatability). Combat generally works, but it can be a fine line between rampaging around without any difficulty and cowering behind boxes waiting for a healing skill to recharge as any attempt to peak out is met by a fusillade of pin-point return fire. The DLC packs have felt a little lacklustre; nice additions, but not necessarily £12-worth. Survival is fun but pales after a few runs, the most recent Last Stand looks particularly empty unless you’re into the PvP side of things. Assigning a value to games is increasingly difficult, entirely arbitrarily I’d say I got my money’s worth from the main game but not quite the season pass.

Tim & Jon were talking about it on their 9th Anniversary podcast (hearty congratulations to them for tireless devotion to entertaining gaming wittering, and indeed even older legacy textual rambling that the Wayback Machine has just about saved from The Demise of Domains) and mentioned a new in-game “Premium” vendor in the most recent update flogging emotes and cosmetics for real money (or at least for Obligatory Premium In-Game Currency bought with real money). I hadn’t seen this new vendor, so I fired up the game and toddled along to have a look and it is a trifle odd. Where, say, Mass Effect 3 compartmentalised the multiplayer (loot boxes, cash shop, ‘grind’) and the solo story, they’re blurred together in The Division for good (being able to drop in and easily play with friends, generally) and not-quite-so-good (£5 for a dance emote!) I’m not quite sure what genre The Division falls into; Sort Of Fairly Open World With Strong RPG Gameplay Elements And A Bit Of A Story If You Want To Pay Attention To It Optionally Multiplayer Third Person Cover Shooter, maybe. Not that everything has to fall into a neat box, of course, but I think it’s spread itself a bit thin and ended up the proverbial Jack-of-all-Genres, mastering none.

And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night

I mentioned in the 10th anniversary post that The Division was a fine game that got rather repetitive in its endgame, and that I ought to have a look at the most recent update. Like healthy eating and regular flossing it was more of a vague intention than a firm commitment; I’d briefly popped back to check out the previous Underground DLC that added some randomised subterranean roaming, but it hadn’t proved terribly compelling.

The most recent update is titled Survival, and doing exactly what it says on the tin it adds a new game mode called “Attempting To Endure Extremely Hostile Conditions With Minimal Starting Equipment”, or ATEEHCWMSE as all the cool kids call it. Actually, it might be called “Survival” come to think of it. A fierce storm is forecast to hit New York but Because Of Some Plot (TM Van Hemlock) there’s an urgent need to retrieve a MacGuffin, and in a wildly unexpected turn of events the simple helicopter jaunt to grab said MacGuffin goes a bit wrong, leaving you stuck in the middle of a blizzard with only a pistol and a nasty cough. You have to scrabble around for warm clothes, food, water, medicine, weapons, and ultimately a compensation form to claim for the luggage lost in the helicopter crash (or possibly the antivirals that were the original point of the mission), then make it to an extraction point to evacuate.

Survival games have been in vogue since the blocky ubiquity of Minecraft and ah-but-who-are-the-real-monsters horror of DayZ, but I tend to flounder in very open worlds. In this respect the clear goal of Survival harks back more to Rogue: down to the heart of the dungeon/Dark Zone tooling up along the way, grab the Amulet of Yendor/Antivirals, home in time for ascension to demigodhood/tea and medals. You have an hour until you succumb to infection, a timer that can be extended with painkillers and medicine but not indefinitely, so you can’t faff around too much.

The new mode does put a nice new spin on The Division. I posted about STALKER: Call of Pripyat a while back, how my favourite part of the game was early on when every round of ammunition was precious and that it lost some its charm later on once geared up with advanced weapons and armour. The Division is handing out loot more freely now, which is much appreciated, but when knee-deep in maximum level gear and trying to work out the relative merits of slightly different gloves it’s quite fun to go back to a situation where you’re glad of anything, even canned food. It’s available in PvP or PvE modes, though I’ve only tried the latter so far; finding enough resources and dealing with AI mobs is quite tense enough without adding PvP to the mix. PvE still isn’t exactly co-operative; loot drops on a first-come first-served basis, meaning you can expend precious ammunition and health packs defeating tough mobs only for another player to swoop in and nick the gear they drop (as opposed to being shot in the back by the other player prior to them nabbing the loot, as presumably happens in PvP). A team with voice comms might be able to share much-needed food and medicine amongst themselves as required, but “I propose a mutually beneficial arrangement by which we collectively engage tough opponents and equitably divide any resulting bounty” is quite difficult to convey to a random stranger via a limited set of emotes, so generally it’s best to steer well clear of other players. The situation pivots a bit should you reach the Dark Zone; by that time you’ve probably got a reasonable amount of kit so aren’t so desperate for every drop, and when you call in a helicopter for extraction you’re confronted by Hunters, new super-mobs with lots of nasty tricks like ducking into cover and healing after taking a bit of damage who are rather tough to take on solo.

Survival has some of the same highs and lows of Rogue/Nethack: on one expedition you might get tooled up with enough weapons and armour to be able to take on anything but not find any medicine; on the next you’re wrapped up lovely and toastie in coat, boots, scarf and bobble hat and can wander around at leisure but lack any weapon more threatening than a pointed stick so get jumped by rioters. It’s not quite so variable, the map remains constant (New York is New York, after all) and loot containers spawn in the same places (though can contain different items). Random starting locations and unpredictable players have made every round fairly different enough far, but a little more variety might be needed in the long run. After a few attempts you get the hang of the basics, staying warm and accumulating loot, then it’s a fairly methodical process to get to the Dark Zone, and a rather abrupt difficulty spike with the Hunters at the extraction zone that can be quite frustrating.

I’m not sure Survival as it stands it worth the cost of the DLC, but if you have the Season Pass anyway or there’s a sale sometime it adds another interesting string to The Division‘s bow, I can see myself popping back in from time to time, especially if it gets a couple of additional options.