Saturday, June 16, 2018

Destiny 2: Can you avoid grind by just playing the campaign?

I am enjoying Destiny 2 enough to buy the expansion pack when Humble put it on sale a week after  the base game was included in the June monthly (nice move Humble). Nevertheless I don't have time or patience for mmo grind right now so I decided to see how far I could get just playing the main campaign. Hence the question: Can you avoid grind by just playing the main campaign?

The answer is: "Up to a point". I made it all the way through the base game (Red War) and the first expansion (Curse of Osiris) without any conscious effort to grind. I did pick up the occasional side mission and public quest along the way and I even indulged in some PVP but I didn't make any concious effort to grind.  I still managed to keep on level for the main quest lines.

Things changed when I hit the latest expansion (Warmind). I completed curse of Osiris at about power level 270 so I got something of a shock to realise that the introductory chapter of Warmind was recommended for level 310.  The next few chapters quickly went up to 320, 330 and 340 and in each case I couldn't get there just by playing the campaign. Happily 340 is the soft level cap so once I hit the late 330's was close enough to finish the campaign.

Grinding  involves running solo or group events (adventures) and I quickly realised that the random public encounters in the starter zone (EDZ)  are by far the fastest method. As long as you get a group of players together you can power through these and you will generally get a gear reward at the end. The EDZ seems the most popular zone because there is always a public event spawning and you will generally find a group of players jetting from one to the next. The asymmetric level system allows end game players to grind these public guests alongside newbies in the starter zones and everyone gets level appropriate rewards. Its a good system.

All in I spend about five hours in total grind just making up the levels between quests in Warmind in order to complete the campaign. My character is now power level 341 and cannot really advance further by because  rewards from normal activities are capped around this level. There is end game content and I believe it is possible to grind all the way to level 380 but I am not really interested at this point. I will put the game on the back burner for now. dipping in an out for some shooter fun but not seriously making an attempt to progress further. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Destiny 2 has asymmetric level scaling for mobs.

I have been playing a bit of Destiny 2 since I picked it up in the June Humble Monthly. The game is an mmorpg / fps hybrid. The FPS combat is pretty tight and enjoyable in its own right but the mmorpg bit adds quests and progression to the mix. The developers (Bungie) use level scaling in an interesting way however that impacts on how players deal with enemies of different level.

Progression is based on level and gear but the two are closely coupled because the gear you pick up  is tied to your character level. Playing the game normally equipping the gear I got from drops and rewards I found that my Power Score (which is effectively a measure of gear) hovers around 10x my character level while the maximum power score achievable with exotic gear seems to be around 12x character level. 

When I first started the game I occasionally wandered too far from the beginner zones and stumbled into mobs that out levelled me substantially. I was unable to inflict any damage on these mobs while they could one shot me. No surprises there this is standard mmorpg fare. What was surprising was then when I gained a bunch of levels myself and travelled back to the original starter areas I found the low level mobs still presented a reasonable challenge. It was as if they had been scaled to my own level. Given that players of low level were successfully fighting the same mobs it would be more correct to say that I was being scaled down. 

Reading about this it appears that Destiny 2 and its predecessor Destiny employ assymetric level scaling. If a player has a lower level than an mob then the mob remains more powerful than the player. If on the other hand the player has a higher level than the mob then the player is scaled down to the mob level.  Loot drops however are always scaled to the player level. That level 1 mob will still present a challenge at level 20 but at least you will get a level 20 drop.

I have not come across this system before but I think it is a pretty clever and it has a few beneficial impacts: There is incentive to progress in order to tackle more challenging content but on the other hand you never really outlevel old content. In a game with a lot of co-op content and random world encounters this allows players of widely different level to fight alongside each other with everyone making a significant contribution and everyone getting rewards appropriate to their own level. It is common enough to see level 30 payers fighting alongside level 5 or 6 players in the starter zones and all seem to be having a good time.

Is there a downside? Those of the "Achiever" player stereotype might be disappointing at the lack of visible evidence of progression. A high end player cannot one shot low level mobs and even though the game encourages you to grind for high end gear and skins they don't look all that different to the normal stuff at least to my eyes.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Super ... Hot ....Super ...Hot ...Super ...Hot

I played a demo of Super Hot several years ago but I only got around to playing the full game recently. The full campaign took me just over four hours much of which was spent dying and restarting as I learned how to overcome each of the levels. There is an ongoing "endless" gameplay mode however for those who wish to keep playing.

Superhot is a shooter with a simple twist that completely turns the gameplay on its head. When you stand still the game time slows to a trickle but whenever you move time moves.  You can rotate your vision while time is slowed but moving, attacking or even picking up a weapon allows time to flow normally. It is not like bullet time in other games because when you move at normal speed just like everyone else. You cannot move faster than a speeding bullet. You can however use the frozen moment of time to predict exactly where that bullet will travel and to try an ensure you aren't there.

The main challenge of Super hot and its main learning curve is to stifle all of your natural gaming instincts honed over many years of playing other games. When an enemy appears in front of you and fires a gun your overwhelming instinct is to run for cover as quickly as you can. This will likely get you killed in Superhot as you blindly run into a bullet or another enemy. The correct play is to first do absolutely nothing. You stand still and time will freeze. Then you carefully look all around to gauge where the bullets will fly, where the enemies are and where the safest spot is likely to be. Then and only then you move one step at a time. After each step you freeze again to reassess. If you do this carefully and methodically you can pull off incredibly feats of ninjaesque prowess dodging bullets and slicing through multiple enemies when the footage is replayed in real time. Once you master this the game does become rather easy (hence the relatively short playtime) but I did find my natural instincts constantly trying to reassert themselves particularly during those later levels when the number of enemies ramps up. An additional body swap mechanic is introduced for the later levels which allows your to swap with any enemy instantly killing them. It allows for some extra puzzle complications.

Superhot has a beautiful blown out white aesthetic and it does have that terrific "gimmick" but the plot tacked onto it is rather weak in my opinion. There is a storyline of sorts involving some kind of 1980's era computer text that really didn't grab me. In fact I found the frequent cut scenes and plot exposition sequences tedious and would have been happier if they could have been skipped to get to the next level. The levels themselves are compelling however.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Humble Monthly 2017 review

Humble Monthly is generating a bit of press this month due to having CIV VI available at its lowest ever price. I have been a  subscriber since May 2016 so it is a good time to review my 2017 acquisitions from the Monthly. 

January 2017: Extensively played Neon Chrome.   Dabbled in Jotun
February 2017:Extensively played Steam World Heist. Dabbled in XCOM 2, Project Highrise
March 2017: Extensively played Total War Warhammer
April 2017: Extensively played Black Mesa.  Dabbled in The Witness
June 2017: No monthly games played
July 2017: No monthly games played
August 2017: Extensively played Overcooked
September 2017: No monthly games played
October 2017: No monthly games played
Nov 2017: Dabbled in The Elder Scrolls Online
Dec 2017: No monthly games played. 

This suggests a fairly good hit rate early on falling off entirely in the latter half of the year. The truth is that Total War Warhammer (which I got from the March Monthly) and its sequel (which was released in September) consumed almost all my available playing time from June onward. I still love the monthly bundle though. It satisfies any itch I have to indulge in loot boxes because I get my own loot box of games every month. It also solves the selection problem for me because I get a curated selection of games every month so there is always something there worth playing if I get bored. In fact Humble Monthly has totally changed my game purchasing habits. I still buy the occasional AAA title because they are less likely to turn up in a monthly but I don't buy indie or AA games any more. I feel a little bad about this but I just don't have time to play any more games and the good ones almost always turn up in the monthly bundle eventually. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Two games finished in one day !

Today was somewhat unusual in that I finished campaigns in two separate games: Total Warhammer 2 Lizard men campaign and Vanquish single player campaign. Of course I had played the majority of bot games over the last few weeks and it is just coincidence that I managed to finish them on the same day.

The Lizard-man campaign (Kroq Gar to be exact) is perhaps my favourite Total War campaign of all those I have played. I just love the tough Lizard units and big stompy dinosaurs are awesome. The Vortex campaign is much more story line focused than previous Total War games which is an great direction for the series to go in. You race other factions to take control of the vortex through a series of rituals which spawn increasingly challenging waves of Chaos and Skaven armies. The race is a bit artificial because apparently even if one of the other factions beats you to the final ritual you get a second chance to stop them in a fairly easy final battle. I guess Creative Assembly had to include this  get out of jail card to frustrating players who spend dozens of hours on a campaign only to lose at the very last hurdle. I am happy to say I won the race fair and square although the Dark Elves of Naggaroth were only three turns behind and the High Elves of Lothern were right on their heels. Through out the race I made several attempts to slow my enemies down by sending intervention armies to stop their rituals but enone of the 10,000 gold intervention armies achieved anything before being wiped out. I can't help wondering if the intervention army mechanic is deliberately crippled to ensure the race stays tight.

I have a soft spot for scifi shooters and Vanquish fits the bill nicely. You play an augmented soldier with an array of weapons and some cool bullet time abilities tasked with stopping some evil Russians from blowing up NewYork with a big space ray gun. The movement and shooting are all fine but the game has horrible quick time events at key moments during boss fights.On several occasions I survived a challenging fire fight only to die instantly because I didn't mash button "E" fast enough. For this reason I got completely stuck on the final boss fight because of one QTE. Today I switched to game controller for that QTE and found I can mash "X" on game pad faster than I can mash "E" on keyboard. I finally completed the game but I still really hate QTEs.