Wednesday 10 April 2013

Wot I’m Playing: Roundup

Everything’s rather busy at the moment, resulting in a bit of a backlog of Stuff To Play. The polymath Mercenary Leader and Arch-Mage of Skyrim is languishing as a jobbing bard and rookie thief, waiting for the next round of MasterChef: Whiterun (the vegetable soup in the first round could’ve used a bit more seasoning, but the judges liked its 12 minute health and stamina regeneration boost), and is a bit behind on some building work picked up on the side. People keep talking about rebellions, dragons and stuff, but rather more importantly there might be an opening in the Guild of Insurance Brokers and Chartered Accountants to investigate. The alien invasion of XCOM is just about under control; Ramsay MacDonald sadly didn’t survive a terror attack, but Neville “Maverick” Chamberlain picked up the squad leadership and took the battle to the enemy, attacking their key base. I got a bit distracted, though, so haven’t quite got around to entirely saving the world. My Elizabethan empire in Civilisation V finished off the Romans and penned the Persians back, naval expeditions uncovered a nearby continent where powerful Egyptian forces are besieging the last couple of Ethiopian cities, I ought to finally decide whether to sign a non-aggression pact with Ramesses and carve out a bit of a foothold or launch a major invasion while he’s distracted.

The co-op multiplayer of Mass Effect 3 had surprising longevity, but I haven’t got around to updating it with the most recent Reckoning DLC pack as other games have been fulfilling the first/third-person shooter roles, like Borderlands 2 and its DLC; finished the first couple of packs, but haven’t got around to Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt yet, being distracted by still other games including Defiance, which shares several characteristics with Borderlands allied to fairly traditional MMOG elements. It hasn’t really grabbed me, though, much like Rift before it; seems perfectly fine and all, but I haven’t got much of an appetite for dodging mobstacles and clicking on glowing things. Speaking of appetites it’s the first MMO I’ve seen mentioned on Saturday Kitchen, but frankly I’m more interested in the beef bourguignon recipe… I might try and catch the accompanying TV series that Jaime Murray was plugging, but the gaming backlog is also causing things to stack up on the PVR and I can’t say I hold out high hopes for it as a televisual masterpiece. Shooter-wise there’s also Bioshock: Infinite. I’ve only just managed an hour or two of it so far, though; the world design is beautiful, but the gunplay doesn’t *quite* seem to entirely fit with it, especially when you’re mowing down waves of normal humans rather than twisted Splicers or hideous bio-zombies. Looking forward to exploring more of the story, though.

One of the games I actually have been seriously playing is War Thunder, as could probably be gathered from the series of guides which have resulted, possibly for the first time ever, in the majority of KiaSA search engine hits having a fighting chance of vaguely relating to what the searcher was looking for (though whoever was after “vintage cadburys roses pixelated graphics” is still out of luck. Sorry.) It’s completely taken over from World of Tanks as my “play a battle or two per evening” game; I did patch up WoT and grab the first couple of British tank destroyers when they were added in, but I’m just enjoying War Thunder more. I’ve hit a point, Ranks 7 & 8 with the German, Soviet and British air forces, where new ranks and planes are a long time coming, if that was the sole purpose for playing then it would be a grind, but I’m not so fussed about the progression aspect, I’ve got a couple of Spitfires, I’m happy. With the NDA on the rival World of Warplanes dropping, posts over at To Game For Life have prompted me to sign up for the beta of that, I think it’ll be quite an interesting comparison, but if take as long to add a British tree to WoWP as they did to WoT there’ll be trouble…

My main game of the last three months has been Planetside 2. Inspired by the How To Murder Time podcast I downloaded it for a bit of a look around, and have been playing it pretty solidly ever since. On the surface its a fairly straightforward MMOFPS; point gun at enemy, press trigger, but as you play you become aware of the web of interactions that make up continent-wide rounds of rock-paper-scissors. Though with many elements, so more like rock-paper-scissors-spock-lizard. Or rock-paper-scissors-spock-lizard-missile-tank-mine-shotgun. Or… well, you’d probably end up with something like RPS101. Or the weapon systems matrices illustrating combined-arms synthesis from Jones’ Art of War in the Western World, if you’re more of a grognard about these things. Despite the Inevitable Perpetual Fury (note: possible band name if Trans-Neptunian Panic Zone is taken) of the forums, SOE’s gentle nudges seem to be keeping things pretty reasonably balanced over multiple air and ground vehicles, with multiple weapon and system options, and multiple infantry classes, again each with multiple weapon and accessory options. Apart from NC MAX units, natch. (Actually even they’re almost sane, after shotgun rebalancing. Almost.)

One of the problems of the rock-paper-scissors nature is that sod’s law (Murphy’s British cousin) dictates that you always run into your counter; if you’re in a tank column with no anti-air cover you can guarantee a bunch of rocket-spamming flying gits will turn up, strafing with impunity, whereas the second you climb into an aircraft it’s instantly a magnet for every lock-on missile and flak cannon within four miles. Kit yourself out with a long range rifle for a bit of sniping and inevitably you’ll find your forces pushing forwards into a close-quarters battle against shotgun-toting opponents, and the moment you get the chance to swap loads for a more suitable SMG there’s nobody left in the buildings, but a bunch of the enemy over on a ridgeline presenting ideal sniper targets…

Still, apart from occasional frustrations it’s generally rather fun, thanks in part to Brigadier Van Hemlock and Five Rounds Rapid, less of an elite combat unit, more a travelling troupe of improvisational slapstick and high farce. Sometimes we shoot stuff! On rare occasions, the ‘stuff’ in question isn’t a member of our own squad! With DJ Melmoth providing the soundtrack, even something mundane like taking a convoy of tanks and armoured personnel carrier across the map is enlivened by the strains of Get A Bloomin’ Move On.

The payment model for the game is quite reasonable too; completely free to download and play, abilities can be bought with game-earned certificates, cosmetic items are available for cash in the shop, weapons can be bought for either certificates or cash. Well worth a look if you fancy some online FPS fun; it’s not big on hand-holding, though, chucking you straight into action on first login, so it might be worth having a bit of a read of the wiki if you haven’t got a friendly outfit to show you the ropes.