Destiny 2: Love at First (Second) Sight?

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Destiny 2 received a major expansion earlier this, and with it arrived a soft relaunch of the game. On top of the release of Shadowkeep, where players find themselves returning to the Moon for the first time since Destiny 1, the game received a new update named “New Light”. But what is New Light? New Light is Bungie’s dubbed name for the game transitioning from Battle Net to Steam, as well as going entirely free to play. This change seems to have breathed new life into the player base, resurging the community considerably by drawing in both new players and returning veterans alike – myself included. In order to get the most amount of players on board, Bungie has put every player at the same level so no players feel left behind and can immediately jump into the new expansions if they wish to. I’ve put in about 20 hours into the game since this update, despite being put off since its launch in 2017, and these are my thoughts.

Right off the bat, I came to realize they’ve brought back the tutorial level from Destiny 1, obviously to ease newer players into the experience rather than trying to throw them headfirst into the main campaign – which I appreciate. I didn’t feel as alienated as I did when I played the beta two years ago as a result. So far so good. Shortly after I partied up with some friends and did some Strikes as well as the Red War campaign – and three things stuck out to me that I really liked: the music, the feel of the gunplay, and the presentation. The game is visually beautiful, particularly the lighting. Easily some of the best lighting I’ve seen in a videogame, which is funny considering most of the plot and lore is based around the concept of Light and Dark. Secondly, the orchestral score is intense and plays well with the action on screen and adds to the experience immensely in my opinion. Ramping up and fading out at the right times. Lastly, the gunplay. In both PVE and PVP, it feels satisfying to kill enemies – my only major gripe being that campaigns are laughably easy due to the level boost given in the most recent update. This problem is nullified on harder missions or on Nightfall missions where you have to strategize with your squad in order to survive – which in my opinion is where most of the appeal of Destiny 2 comes from.

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Destiny 2: Shadowkeeep

I briefly played a raid with a combination of friends and random people we found online, and it soon became apparent that they were extremely challenging and required good coordination – and definitely something that cannot be completed with a bunch of random strangers like we were. In my eyes, the raids (and dungeons) are the ultimate challenges to the players in Destiny 2 and thus provide the most satisfying gameplay. I’m keen to learn some of the raids and give them another go, and hopefully complete them in the future due to the intensity of them, on top of the previously mentioned satisfying gunplay and interesting locales.

I believe this move by Bungie to make Destiny 2 free-to-play, as well as moving it to Steam was the correct one to make. Not only were existing players greeted by the Shadowkeep expansion (which I have yet to play), newer players also had a reason to try it out without spending a dime – letting players who liked the look of it, but didn’t feel like it justified a purchase beforehand the chance to properly try it out. For all of the above reasons, I commend Bungie’s efforts and look forward to what else they have in store for the Destiny franchise.

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Hitman 2: The Last Resort – Impressions

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The second, and final DLC map for Hitman 2 dropped yesterday – where 47 finds himself at a tropical resort for criminals who want to disappear. The map was highly anticipated by Hitman fans, myself included, so the real question is… how does it hold up? Like my previous Hitman post, this will be a “first impressions” as I’ve only played through the level in its entirety once. 

Right off the bat, I was impressed with the briefing and opening sequence to the level, it seems like the expensive CGI cutscenes are still gone (for now) but it appears IO have played into what works best to takes its place – that being a combination of in-engine character models and a futuristic, almost James Bond-esque presentation style.

Once I was in the level, I found it intriguing how close they put one of the three targets to the starting zone. If you’d like, you can have a conversation with the target who then mentions your “file” that you used to enter the island (a cover story mentioned in the briefing). At this point, I was certain that this person knew about 47’s alias and was about to rumble him, but she just politely says to read the note in your room. I went into the wrong room and stole a briefcase and left. Not sure why to be honest. Anyway, soon after I grabbed the key to my hut and read the note, which I suspected was going to be a bomb before I saw it. It wasn’t. It said to go to a restaurant on another part of the island – so I started to make my way there.

My first playthrough of levels I have “mission stories” set to “minimal” so I’m not guided where to go, so I wandered around a bit and took in some of the ambience and atmosphere that IO Interactive put into the island. There was some incredible attention to detail, with little touches of character here and there, such as a bar with a party going on, and a spa. Eventually, I made met up with the target and she says she noticed you were listed as a retired thief in your file, and that she wants you to retrieve an item from the villa – I thought this was an incredibly nice touch. Incorporating some previously mentioned information into the actual level, and not only that, from a target? In your mind it sounds perfect; accept the “quest” from your target, so you can get close to them later and possibly open up a kill opportunity later. It’s definitely a different and compelling scenario that’s shaking things up for the better.

The rest I will not spoil, however the way the level was presented both in terms of design, and environmental clues were superb. I was expecting a downgrade due to the unfortunate lacking sales of Hitman 2, but I was wrong. It seems like money doesn’t buy talent. Talent makes talent. And this is a perfect example of that. The whole map has different interiors and exteriors, including villas, swimming pools, spas, huts, and an underground server room – all of which were brimming with opportunities for exploration and creative uses for the player. Personally, I had to reload a couple of times due to messing up, but I never felt like it was unfair, or I didn’t know where to go. An all-round well-made level and I look forward to playing more of it soon.

Lucas Grey & Agent 47 – Potential co-op?

But what’s for the future of Hitman? I believe they’ll continue adding smaller content to Hitman 2 for now, before properly unveiling Hitman 3 which was already been confirmed to be in development. In my opinion, I’m hoping they fix some of the technical hitches on Hitman 2, such as DirectX 12 crashing, the ability to transfer unlocks from Hitman 2, and possibly co-op due to the ending of the DLC being heavily set-up for a Hitman 3 – and it makes sense. Being able to play whole levels with a friend infinitely increases replayability – If true, I cannot wait.

Despite all of the hitches behind the scenes, and disappointing sales, in my opinion, it’s never been a better time to be a Hitman fan. Pick this up if you get the chance.

What is a “Strand” Game?

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Tokyo Game Show 2019 was last week, and with that Hideo Kojima fans were greeted with a special treat – that being over 49 minutes of Death Stranding gameplay. Those who have been following the development of the game, as well as Kojima in general, may have noticed him touting that his new game is the “first of a new genre” – specifically the “Strand” genre. But what is a “Strand” game…?

Of course, I would like the preface that this depends on how much you believe Kojima’s claims – as a big fan myself even I’ve come to realise some of his innovations tend to not be as grandiose or advanced as he initially says. But for the sake of this article, I’m going to assume he’s right – taking in all the gameplay and interviews for the game I’m going to be giving my analysis of what a “Strand” game may consist of.

Before the gameplay reveal, Death Stranding was thought to be a lonely game that’s completely single player, with a lot of walking involved – and it still is. However, it appears you will have a lot of connection between other players, as well as characters within the game – Kojima refers to these as “Strands”. From what I gathered in the gameplay demo, everything you leave behind, build, or even walk to will have some sort of ripple effect and has a chance of appearing in another players world. As you progress through the game you will connect different points on the map, and more and more strands will be created. Furthermore, the additional strands that you create in the game increase the strands (connection) between other players. Allowing you to see ladders left behind, luggage dropped, structures built – these will all be seen by other players playing the game. You may even be thrown an item or two during boss fights. You can either use these to your advantage or just ignore them…

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Using a ladder to cross a ravine.

There is also a rating system in place, allowing players to “Like” structures or objects left by “other Sams” within the game. According to Kojima, you can even upgrade these things for your fellow players, it’s up to you. Towards the end of his presentation, he highlights how you can see other players footprints, and if you follow them, it may eventually form a visible path for yourself and other players – and after a long period, a road. To me, that’s incredibly interesting and I’m very curious as to how that will work, as it seems the more they’re used, the bigger they become.

If I had to summarize what a “Strand” game is, it’s reminiscent of what the notes in Dark Souls did for the experience, but fleshed out into a full game and more involved. Kojima highlighted the main part of the experience is that you are meant to “feel alone, but not alone” and that you’re meant to be able to feel that you’re not the only “Sam” going on this journey – from East to West. Whether it is its own genre and will evolve into something even bigger – we have yet to find out. Either way, it’s going to be fascinating how much the playing experience is going to differ from player to player. November 8th cannot come soon enough.

Overwatch Role Queue: My Thoughts

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Following up from my post a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d make another expressing my thoughts and opinions on the new changes in Overwatch, specifically the new Role Queue feature. It’s currently in beta, however, it seems to have changed the game fundamentally in many ways, and it’s not always for the better in my opinion.

I briefly touched upon a few of these points (or fears) in the previously mentioned post, talking about how it stops any interesting team compositions to be formed and may lead every match to play out similarly – causing the overall experience to be quite repetitive. In my opinion, it appears all of these points turned out to be true. There’s no tactical switching to throw off the enemy team, or any “crazy” composition that “sounds so crazy it might work” kind of deals any more. It also seems to have caused an increase in toxicity (in my experience) from teammates; with a role tag slapped on everyone it becomes very easy to point fingers at teammates who you may not feel are doing what you would do – and even If that were true, there’s no way to swap roles, so it just creates frustration.

A counter-argument that I can see being made is the fact that due to this limitation, it’s now easier for Blizzard to balance the game since there’s a lesser chance of a broken setup. While true, I do not believe and have never believed that Overwatch has been a balanced game, which is why I see the whole “Overwatch League” that I’ve mentioned in a previous article to be completely forced and ludicrous. There are too many glaring issues with the game at the foundation where it can never be a truly balanced and competitive game in my opinion. A very small numbers of games are, saying that. However, Overwatch, even less so. Especially with characters like Mei in the game, who seems to go untouched by Blizzard despite being suitable in almost any situation. Just my opinion.

To wrap up, as much as I hated the flaws of the old system of having random teammates refusing to switch roles, or work with the team, this Role Queue change makes the game even worse: Boring.

Overwatch: Diving or Thriving?

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It’s less than a week until Season 17 ends in Overwatch, and the official start of Season 18 begins. Season 18 marks the beginning of two (literally) game-changing additions to the title. The addition of the new hero, Sigma, as well as a seemingly permanent change to Quick Play and Competitive games and how they will be played from here on out.

For those unaware, Blizzard announced that each 6-player team will now comprise of 2 of each role; 2 tanks, 2 healers, 2 damage-dealers. This has predictably split many players opinions as many people feel this may affect the longevity of the game arguing that every game may blend into a similar structure, making it repetitive as well giving no room for interesting team compositions.

On the flip side some people think this has done the opposite, and saved an otherwise dying game. It doesn’t take an incredible amount of observation to notice that Overwatch (particularly quick play) has an issue with people picking damage-dealers and nothing else – this update removes that issue entirely. Nobody likes to be the only healer, or tank in a game where everyone is playing a damage-dealer and from personal experience I can sympathize with this. Unless you bite the bullet and try to form a decent team composition you will lose over and over and over and over.

In terms of content, the game seems to be quite lacking in the past few years, with many events being recycled from previous years with minimal changes. For better or for worse, one thing is certain; both the addition of Sigma, and the composition changes are definitely going to shake the game up a bit. Only time will tell how it plays out – either way, Blizzcon is fast approaching and many people are expecting a substantial Overwatch announcement.

Crash Team Racing: Micro Fueled

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Screenshot of the in-game shop.

Crash Bandicoot fans are in outrage this week as Activision has announced they will be adding microtransactions to the recently released Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled. People have speculated the addition of the controversial update due to how the games “Wumpa Coin” system is structured similarly to a typical free-to-play game and it seems that their fears have been realised.

It appears since release a large chunk of content is locked onto the “Pit Stop” which is an online shop similar to that of “Fortnite”, where cosmetics and characters can be purchased through “Wumpa Coins”. “Where’s the issue here?” you may ask. Well, it appears Activision has built it in a way where there is a soft-cap on the amount of Wumpa Coins you can earn in a day, limiting even the most die-hard of fans from being able to purchase anything valuable.

Many fans speculated it was just to increase the longevity of the game – giving those who play it a lot something to work for. However, the cynics that were more familiar with Activision’s greed and past track record of stuffing games with microtransactions were right. It’s almost ironic how something that some people thought might’ve been for the better, extending the life of the game, actually maybe the demise of the game in the long run. Activision’s greed knows no bounds it seems, and it’s a massive shame that they’ve soiled an otherwise good game.

CD Projekt Red: One-Hit Wonder?

Before anyone reading this grabs a pitchfork and tries to impale me and hang me at the stake, the title is a thought that I’ve had and discussed with a few friends regarding CDPR, Cyberpunk, and The Witcher series. CDPR is considered to be one of the “big boys” of the videogame industry now, thanks to The Witcher 3 – and with Cyberpunk 2077 right around the corner, they may just prove that they are worthy of that spot. But there’s a case to be made that they could, though very unlikely, be a one-hit-wonder.

CD Projekt Red has been in the game development scene since 2007, which his quite recent in the grand scheme of things, where they released The Witcher on PC. Keep in mind that this is after Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released. The game was overall well-received, however, it had some criticisms regarding the combat. Personally, I thought it was good, a bit clunky, and hasn’t aged all that well – but you can tell CDPR put a lot of care and thought into every aspect of the game.

The Witcher 2 was released in 2011 and was also widely praised. My personal opinion is that it’s fine, but I wasn’t a big fan of the combat. It felt too harsh and felt like a step down from Witcher 1. They changed it entirely rather than building what they already had and making it work better. This was the game that was famously given to Barack Obama by the Polish Prime Minister when he visited Poland. He didn’t like it…

In 2015, The Witcher 3 was released, and as I’m sure you’re aware it received thunderous praise and is considered one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Admittedly, I didn’t play it until 2018. After doing so I regretted not playing it sooner – not long afterwards I played the previous games and started reading the books. With Cyberpunk 2077 releasing next year, it got me thinking, what if Witcher 3 was just a one-hit-wonder?

Witcher 3 is the game that gave CDPR most of its attention, as the other games haven’t aged too well, while Witcher 3 still holds up nicely. The expansions they released too were also of high quality, if not even higher than the base game. In my opinion, I believe that Cyberpunk will be the decider of whether CDPR are masters of the craft, or just struck gold with Witcher 3. So far, it’s looking pretty certain that Cyberpunk will be great, as they seem to enjoy telling deep enriching stories while still focusing on the little details. Finally, even if it wasn’t that great, with GOG 2.0 you can tell they’re still going to be major players within the industry. Let’s be honest though – they know what they’re doing.