Sunday, March 27, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #77: Into the Depths!

                Souls was never a series I got into (I can hear fans screaming as I write this). As a proud PC gamer which can’t give up on the accurate controls of the mouse and keyboard combo, playing this series without a gamepad adds an extra layer of difficulty and frustration. I’ve never dived deep into the series but I’ve always been able to identify its flaws upsetting with my remarks many people over the years. Let’s be honest, no game is perfect, and while the Souls series is critically acclaimed, its PC ports are hardly something worth of praise. The technical state of the games has always been questionable with clunky controls, a weird camera and a targeting system that doesn’t work well with m&k (not to mention the 30fps lock of DKS). Add to this some false advertisement and outdated graphics and the hate I’ve been accused of it’s actually justified criticism. But despite my objections to the technical state of these games, I’ve always had a distinct level of appreciation for them.
                Somewhere in the late 2000s games reached an insulting level of simplification that plagued even the more complex of genres like RPGs or strategies. It was Demon’s Souls success that opened up a path in the mass of games that was aiming for retardness, rekindling the hope of feeling the frustration of challenge. Together with the challenge the Souls series has created and honed a set of game mechanics that have been embraced by more and more games lately.
Focusing on meticulous action combat, character progression, level design, weird storytelling, difficulty and even PvP, the series has got a lot of followers and for a good reason. It’s a certain dungeon crawling atmosphere that these games have, built through the unease given by not knowing what lies around the corner and how that could kill you resetting your progress in the process. As someone who’s always up for something innovative and genuinely different, I’ve appreciated that despite disliking the execution.
                Dark Souls III is launching on April 12 marking the end of the series and with that in mind I searched my Steam library and found hiding in a dusty corner: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. I installed it, fired it up and after spending some time tweaking its technical issues through mods, I got it into what I could consider an acceptable state. I’m not really bothered by the graphics, despite always having something to object on this matter, as I see the value of good graphics in any game. But I rarely have problems at overcoming older graphics in order to play a game.
                Dark Souls is somewhat as I remember it, buggy, clunky and annoying to play with m&k even after being modded. But there is a mysterious attraction to it, something that makes you want to continue past the trial and error phases of each fight. The sense of discovery and the itching for progression can carry you further as long as you can adapt to its nature. I’m not particularly good at the game and I can’t say I’m bad either, but I don’t feel any elitistic desires.  I let the game carry me in tandem with my time and patience, wherever I get I do it because I want to see more of the game not because I feel the need to prove something.
Knowing myself I’m pretty sure I won’t get to the end of the game, but I shaped my skills in preparation for what could be the first game in the series that could be considered technically acceptable on PC: Dark Souls III.
Hey ugly!

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UPDATED: Rainbow Six Siege Tier List – Operation Velvet Shell

                Rainbow Six Siege has progressed nicely in its first year of life turning into a much more balanced and less frustrating game. It’s still technically challenged in some areas but retains innovation as the driving engine for its gameplay and content updates. Siege has become a more competitive game with a more solid playerbase that has surprisingly increased in the last year and an esports scene that becomes bigger with each event.
                I’ve spent an insane amount of hours in this game learning its insides out, but as Siege is becoming more balanced it’s harder to rate the quality level for each operator in an objective fashion. For that matter, there shouldn’t be a surprise when seeing that the Tier 1-3 are more clumped, while the last tier is emptier than ever before. This is a sign that Rainbow Six Siege is on the right balancing path without being turned upside down by seasonal operators. So let’s have a look at the current state of Rainbow Six Siege’s operators.

Tier 1

                Thatcher has gotten some competition now that Twitch’s drone has become more useful, but his EMP Grenades are still the most efficient way to eradicate cameras, nitro cells and any other electric devices of the defenders that’s in the blast area. Thatcher is a true team player as the ones that choose to play him helping to break the maze of traps on the way to the objective. But an ability alone doesn’t make a Tier 1 operator. Thatcher is a competent fighter with his medium armor and AR33, an assault rifle with an above the average fire rate.
Much has changed in a year of Siege, but if you want to make an entrance through the enemy’s team highly defended positions, you’ll most likely need this operator.


                Even if his ability is not something unique anymore and there is another operator who can break reinforced walls, Thermite remains a road opener. Despite losing his Frag Grenades, Thermite can still successfully handle any combat situations using medium armor, stun grenades and the powerful 556xi assault rifle. While he has some competition at breaching reinforced walls, Thermite is one of the two options available for this job. Therefore his position hasn’t changed through the seasons and he still stands at the top.


                Thermite had an uncontested position as a reinforced walls breacher which was in desperate need for a change and this is where Hibana jumps in. This Japanese operator is equipped with X-KAIROS, a high tech ability capable of breaching portions of reinforced walls creating small windows or even holes to pass through. Hibana carries 3 charges for this ability, enough to bust a large hole and have 1 spare for mishaps or other uses, which in standard situations leads to less breaching power than Thermite. But she makes up for it through the safe breaching granted by X-Kairos ability. Hibana can breach from the distance and while she faces the same counters as Thermite, she doesn’t face the same risks.
                The strength of this operator doesn’t only stand within her ability. Hibana has a good combination of guns with TYPE 89F assault rifle and the deadly Bearing 9 machine pistol. Either if you prefer Hibana or Thermite, both are necessary operators that probably won’t be dethroned until Ubisoft provides new ingenious ways to break through reinforced walls.


                In a game where intelligence paves the path to victory, an operator like Mute who can block the attacker’s drones from scouting used to be crucial. Things have changed over the course of the last seasons and attackers do have some workarounds, but not strong enough to falter Mute’s top position.
Aside of Thatcher’s EMP grenades, a Mute player now has to deal with the possibility of facing Twitch which could shut down some of his jammers even before a round starts. But this slight raise in skill cap didn’t affect this operator’s utility. Mute is a team player with a loadout that make him a competent engager or a good roamer using MP5K for accurate headshots or the nitro cell for some real stopping power. But if you want to unlock his true potential, pair him with Bandit, the two can form an absolute defense.


                Where there isn’t a Mute, there is probably a Bandit. While the two operators have different abilities, both are designed to stop the attackers from breaching through reinforced walls. Bandit’s speed and nitro cell make him a strong roamer even after the nerf to shotguns, while his MP7 which can be equipped with an ACOG scope allows him to snipe attackers like few of his potential teammates can do.
His eyes have changed, but his versatility continues to make him one of the strongest operators. Bandit and Mute are a duo to be feared, capable of locking down an area from the Thermite/Hibana and Thatcher combo, forcing the attackers to different routes.


                Rook is as essential to a team as the chess piece he’s named after. The shifting tides of balancing have only made him stronger and he’s not only capable of extending his teammates’ lives with an extra layer of armor but also fights like the very best. Both P90 and MP5 submachine guns have an above the average fire rate and can be equipped with the game changing ACOG scope. The SG-CQB shotgun has risen when all the other shotguns have fallen and with the addition of impact grenades he’s just a beast.
                You might want to stay away from Rook’s line of sight, not only he’s as resilient as an operator can get, but with that much firepower he can compete with any attacking operator.


                Like her Navy SEAL pal, Blackbeard, Valkyrie has suffered multiple nerfs, some targeting her and others that were general. Valkyrie has one of the best support abilities in the game, despite now only having 3 charges instead of 4. The Black Eye grants vision where none should be and if used correctly the defenders can gain intel without attackers being aware about it. The effective range and damage nerfs done to shotguns has diminished Valkyrie’s capabilities as a roamer, but she makes up for it with MPX which is a decent gun for accurate headshots or spraying and praying. Ultimately, she can use the nitro cell to get out of a bad situation causing destruction and chaos.
After so many nerfs Valkyrie still retains her top Tier position proving how strong she has been from the get-go. Either as the extra eyes of her team or a capable fighter, Valkyrie is an operator to be reckoned with.


                This Spanish operator has rocketed to Tier 1 since she was released in Operation Velvet Shell. Her ability, Black Mirror, is a bulletproof breaching window which can be placed on normal or reinforced walls to safely observe the incoming attackers. This ability can turn into a murder hole by destroying the canister placed at the base of its frame. Black Mirror can be quite a bit of a wild card as losing control over the position can give attackers a spot to shoot from, but the information gained through these windows and the fear factor make up for every negative effect.
                Mira works really well with Mute and Bandit as these two can stop Thermite and especially Hibana from turning the window against her own team, but she has much more to herself than this versatile ability. The Vector .45 ACP is one of the most powerful submachine guns in the game with an insane fire rate and a controllable recoil working well even when using it for hip fire. Despite having nitro cell, Mira’s heavy armor does stop her from being a good roamer, but her loadout is perfect for defending the objective from within.

Tier 2


                Sledge’s hammer is a faster method of breaching windows, doors and walls that haven’t been reinforced that has a smaller risk factor and isn’t prone to counters from Mute. Equipped with the decent L85A2 assault rifle, SMG-11, frag grenades and medium armor, Sledge can withstand moderate damage without losing mobility and has some of the highest firepower in his team that isn’t depending on the ability.
Sledge isn’t a necessity for the attackers even if he can speed up the process of storming certain locations, but the competitive arsenal has made him a popular choice.


Fuze has a monstrous combat potential fuelled by his Cluster Charge ability which has been buffed with one additional charge and an increased radius of explosion. He is fundamentally a Tier 1 operator which has been placed in Tier 2 because the power of his ability is greatly diminished, if not dangerous, in the Hostage game mode.
This operator is the bringer of chaos requiring little skill to deal with a crowded room with his ability that calls for rapid reactions to avoid an almost certain death. In the wake of the disarray left by the Cluster Charges, Fuze can storm behind the cover of his shield or using a combination of stun grenades and AK-12.
                Fuze’s whole package is as destructive as it can get but has to be used wisely or he can turn into a menace even for his own team.


                Breaching into objectives can be easy with the right composition, but advancing to an objective through the narrow corridors which can hide dangers at every corner is way harder. This is where Montagne comes into play. With his extendable ballistic shield and a heavy armor, Montagne can lead the way protecting his teammates from any danger. If needed he can stand as a door or a wall to stop anyone who attempts to enter and since nitro cell can’t one shot shield operators when with a frontal explosion anymore, Montagne’s lockdowns are more dangerous than ever before.
                In combat Montagne can take care of himself, but he’s hardly a killer. He extends his support role with his choice of stun or smoke grenades which provide the much needed help when passing through open space or engaging into the defender’s position.


What a huge leap! Once a Tier 4 operator, Twitch is now a solid pick for most attacking setups. The buff to her drones is what prompted her advancement through the ranks. Twitch is now equipped with two of her special drones which can use Tasers but can’t jump. The meta-changing buff though comes from the way she can use one of her drones now. During preparation round Twitch starts with a Shock Drone which can help her scout, destroy gadgets or cameras and even deal damage to unaware defenders. Her drones can be used for the same reasons during the round and can be effective at clearing the path for breaching operators, but this is the point where her old self starts to shine. Twitch is equipped with the absolutely brutal (if controlled properly) F2 assault rifle capable of obliterating with ease any popping heads.
                The balance updates have been kind with Twitch and she’s finally a competitive operator who can hold her own while being able to assist the team at the same time.


                Every squad needs a medic and they finally got one. Doc’s Stim Pistol has been reworked and now not only can revive downed operators from a safe distance but can also heal for 40 HP and even overheal. The ability’s new functionalities has boosted Doc almost in Tier 1 as he was always a good combatant with his MP5 or P90 equipped with an ACOG scope.
                In Siege, avoiding damage during a round is pretty hard, making the Stim Pistol extremely handy. But as anyone can die in an instant, either from headshots or multiple bullets, Doc isn’t as useful as he could be and works the best only in combination with his CTU teammate, Rook.


                Frost used to be a personal favorite even after she lost the nitro cell but the nerf to shotguns, in particularly her Super 90, has lowered this operator’s roaming potential considerably. The balance updates have forced players to refocus on the 9mm C1 submachine gun which combines power with controllable recoil but at a lower fire rate. What really kept Frost on a higher Tier is the Welcome Mat ability which has become really dangerous now that the time of Ranked rounds has been reduced from 4 to 3 minutes which is rushing the attackers into making mistakes.


                Fuze has become more threatening and frag grenades aren’t as rare as they were when the game was launched, so who do you pick for such situations? Jäger is a well-rounded operator with a movement speed which allows him to quickly traverse the map and harass attackers from the windows using his 416-c Carbine equipped with an ACOG scope. His Active Defense System comes with 3 charges and can stop a total of 6 projectiles countering much of Fuze’s Cluster Charges or tricky grenades which were kept long enough to explode shortly after being thrown.
                Jäger is a strong operator, but not useful in all circumstances and like with Fuze, he is held back by the Hostage mode.


                Kapkan used to be one of the most played operators in the game due to his 9x19VSN submachine gun, medium armor and nitro cell. But truth be told, until recently there were operators with a similar or better equipment which had way better abilities. The Entry Denial Device one shots everyone stepping through it, which is good on paper, but this ability could be easily spotted and countered. The changes made to the positioning and visibility of the ability coupled with 3 minutes ranked matches have made it a whole lot better. Like in Frost’s case, the pressure of time has been beneficial for Kapkan making him more useful for his team.


                Pulse has been juggling from overpowered to underpowered for quite some time. He was a pretty solid operator at launch but his ability was nerfed just to be over-buffed a few months later and then nerfed again. In all fairness, it’s pretty hard to balance an operator whose ability is a wallhack which can give defenders a pretty unfair advantage on multiple maps.
The reduced detection range to the Cardiac Sensor isn’t what’s keeping Pulse grounded, but rather the general rebalancing to guns and gadgets. With shotguns and nitro cells not being as good as before, Pulse isn’t the same ferocious predator. But despite these changes, attackers still have to be extremely cautious when getting closer to penetrable walls because someone might be watching.

Tier 3


                Ash is the operator you bring when engaging in open areas and you need to breach as safe as possible. Her grenade launcher is loaded with Breaching Rounds which can break any non-reinforced walls without having to worry about Mute’s jammers. This ability is also great for opening doors and windows countering Castle’s Armor Panel with ease.
                Ash is equipped for fast engagements with light armor and two great primary weapons, a play style complemented by smoke grenades. She’s a deadly threat from medium distance, but her lack of resilience can make her a liability in close quarter combat.


                Shield operators are at the most threatening point since the beta testing when they could hip fire with extreme accuracy. What’s making the difference between the current shield operators are the abilities and Blitz has the least effective one. In theory, the Flash Shield is quite good, triggering on demand a lower radius flash grenade. Sadly, this ability isn’t always reliable not only because of its small effective range, but also due to bugs that stop it from having the wanted effect on the enemies.
                Blitz can be useful during engagements in tight areas, but Montagne and Fuze have the same if not greater defensive potential and make much better use of their abilities.


                IQ is one of those operators who has been avoided for the longest time prompting a series of adjustments to increase her popularity. She was always a good fighter having two pretty good guns but she has gotten a lot better with the addition of frag grenade. The real problem with this operator stems from her ability. The Electronics Detector forces IQ to play with the pistol while she scans for devices countering Pulse and Valkyrie to a great extent. But as her utility depends on these two operators she is an unreliable pick taking the spot of much more useful operators.  
                Despite the many welcomed changes and her combat capabilities, IQ remains a preference choice as she’s really beneficial to the team only on certain situations.


                A dedicated marksman isn’t such a good choice in a game that’s focused on close quarters combat. Even if the maps have been designed to also facilitate some shooting from the distance, this doesn’t always work well and Glaz’ effectiveness isn’t constant.
Glaz remains the terror of the Presidential Airplane map as he’s the only one able to shoot through the windows. And he has become a much more viable option after the fire rate buff to OTs-03 semi-automatic sniper rifle, but this improvement only consolidates his Tier 3 position as Glaz remains a situational or preference pick.


                The Navy Seal operator that few people knew how to properly counter has been nerfed to the ground. His Armored Rifle Shield has been the subject of multiple changes now being a 2 charges ability with a significantly lower stopping power than it had in the glory days. While still able to stop 1-2 potential headshots, the shield is not as efficient and can be destroyed so fast that there might not be any time to react and adjust to the situation. Yet the ability is not the only change that Blackbeard had to suffer through. The MK17 CQB assault rifle had its damage decreased which is a pretty huge deal for a gun that has a 20 bullets clip and a small ammo count.
                Blackbeard has become a whole lot weaker and the list of counters that had nitro cell, shotguns and netcode on it now also contains guns with high fire rate which pretty much includes all the defending operators. Due to these major changes, Blackbeard is not the king of the windows anymore, dropping to Tier 3 as he doesn’t bring anything that the attackers actually need.


Capitão was a Tier 2 operator until the Operation Velvet Shell update when he lost his grenades in favor of IQ. He remains a valid option for lightning fast engagements using PARA-308 assault rifle, claymore to cover his back and the tactical crossbow which can create walls of smoke or hit strategic positions with the deadly asphyxiating bolts.
                Capitão is a preference or strategy choice as his loadout is quite competitive and his ability can be used to gain an advantage on certain objective locations.


                On paper Jackal is a really strong operator but on the field things aren’t working in his favor. Jackal was designed as a roamers countermeasure and with the Eyenox ability he can spot the footsteps of any defenders that has passed through an area and scan them for a brief update on their location. This wallhack-like ability can prove extremely useful providing information and harassing roamers stopping them from taking action, but it can also lure attackers into deadly traps.
                Jackal does pretty well for himself in combat with a diverse loadout which includes the C7E assault rifle and the rather powerful PDW submachine gun. The future of this operator is something to be watched as balancing Jackal will be a difficult task due to the nature of his ability which could easily become overpowered.


                As with many operators from this Tier, Castle is a good pick only when defending certain objectives. His Armor Panel ability has a great synergy with Mute’s jammers even if Thatcher, Ash or Sledge have no problems in countering this combo. The real problem comes from the advantages Castle’s ability can give to the attackers. A hole in his panel can be a good way to peek inside the objective’s room and with Mute’s jammer gone Fuze cannot be stopped from safely deploying his Cluster Charges.
                Castle might not always be useful, but his ability and versatile loadout turn him into a solid operator when defending those certain objectives because they are almost impossible to hold without his contribution.


                Smoke’s presence is as haunting as ever for the attackers traversing corridors or passing through choke points. He has enough destructive power to kill the enemy team by himself, but he retains the role of shields killer with his Remote Gas Grenades and the nitro cell if the situations requires it. Aside of his ability and gadgets, Smoke is a pretty competent fighter with the infamous SMG-11 secondary gun, but despite being good at killing, he is not really a necessity for a team. There are plenty operators with nitro cell that have far more useful abilities and even stronger guns. Smoke remains a Tier 3 operator, being a pick that could turn out lethal but without the synergy needed in a good defending composition.


                More popular on the web medium than in game, “Lord” Tachanka has only recently received some true love from the developers. Tachanka’s ability, the Mounted LMG, now has a frontal ballistic shield which protects the operator at the cost of a slight increase in spread and recoil.
                Tachanka’s similar loadout with Kapkan make him a pretty good fighter, but the sacrifice of mobility in favor of resilience coupled with the Mounted LMG make him more suitable for defending the objective from within the room. While all the buffs have made him a more powerful operator, Tachanka isn’t a requirement in any defensive setup but he does synergize extremely well with Mira’s Black Mirror, the two being capable to create no pass corridors.


                Caveira brings an unfair advantage to the defender’s side with her combo abilities: Silent Step and Interrogation. She can move quieter than any operator in the game and user her pistol to knockdown enemies and interrogate them for information on current position of the attackers, information that keeps updating for 10 seconds. Interrogation is basically a wallhack, but with a twist. In a game of teamwork and coordination successfully landing Caveira’s ability without being stopped by the remaining enemies is a gamble, one that can bring your team closer to victory or end up extremely bad. Due to how her abilities work, there could be many rounds when Caveira can’t successfully interrogate. Truth be told, the Silent Step makes Caveira one if not the best roamers and with her SPAS-15 shotgun or M12 smg and impact grenades she could really surprise the enemies. But roaming is becoming an increasingly tricky business and Caveira’s hide and seek game rules have changed even more now that Jackal has come to play.

Tier 4


                Buck was introduced as part of the first wave of operators in the Black Ice update and since then he can’t properly fit in any role. His ability, an under-barrel shotgun, is a good way of breaching non-reinforced walls, but operators like Sledge or Ash can do the same job while having a better loadout. Buck’s guns can pack a heavy punch but having a recoil that’s hard to control they hardly fit into the game’s meta. His frag grenades are a rarer gadget, but the few operators that use them are obviously better picks.
                Unlike Frost who’s been nerfed but still does quite well for herself, Buck doesn’t really excel and isn’t required unless you want to complete daily or weekly challenges.


                There isn’t much to say about Echo, he has a decent loadout and a not so good ability. Echo can be quite scary when properly using the Bearing 9 machine pistol as it’s a threat to anyone. Even the futuristic YOKAI drone has some good uses, being a pain for advancing shields or the attackers picking through breaching holes. But having to stand still while using his drone and being unable to mark enemies, Echo isn’t as useful as this type of operator should be. So, for the time being, Echo has to wait for a few buffs if not an entire rework to his futuristic drone.

                As with past updates, this list was made after extensive casual and ranked playing with each of the operators. I also took into consideration the esports competitions I’ve watched and other informational content about these operators.
                Because Rainbow Six Siege is a continuously evolving game through added content and balance patches, the information provided by this list might get outdated. New operators will be added every three months and older ones might get tweaked for the better or for the worse. I will try my best to keep this article updated in the future and add the new operators as they come. So keep an eye on it if you are interested in the possible changes, but as for now, this tier list was written for Year 2 Season 1 – Operation Velvet Shell.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #76: Warping in!

                Strategy games are already surprisingly well represented this year and by playing the Battlefleet Gothic: Armada Multiplayer Beta Test I feel like one more quality game will join their ranks. At the limit between RTS and RTT, Armada’s gameplay is a combination of tactical gameplay with a heavy focus on micromanagement and a deep strategic layer.
                The gameplay goodness begins by choosing between Skirmish and Multiplayer subsequently followed by creating an admiral for either Imperial Navy or Chaos, the two races available in the Beta. Each admiral starts with a small fleet of varied ships. By playing more games you can advance in rank and gain resources to get more ships into your command and upgrade them the way you want. The upgrading system is quite in depth providing multiple options through ship and crew upgrades, skills and favours. The upgrades are the strategic component of the game directing a certain play style and expanding its possibilities by changing the capabilities of each ship.
                The matches are pretty straight forward. There are few types of objectives, some more balanced than other, and a system of points which restricts the number of ships a player can deploy. The game is micromanagement heavy with tons of abilities and commands for each ship requiring a keen and constant attention. But despite being so focused on units control and having matches that rarely last more than 10 minutes, Armada is still as tactical as a game can get courtesy of its RTT roots. The space maps representing a plane platform are filled with debris, gas clouds and traps which diversify what otherwise would have been a simple combat zone. But despite so many elements adding tactical layers to the game it is the combat system that pumps up the tactical level to eleven.
                An accurate depiction of the combat is a keel’s battle in space. Most of the ships have more static than mobile weapons making the engagement and positioning vital. The ships movement is slow so each decision is felt immediately and has a bigger impact than expected. These hulkish machines of space war can pack a punch but can easily be rendered useless through a detailed damage model that makes each of their functions tied to one of their internal components.
The vast number of commands makes the controls terrifying but learning how to use them transforms the game from a clunky chaotic battle to a game of chess filled with mind games and tactical finesse. Skill shots, timed abilities, tricks, traps and many other elements melt together into forming an engaging and rewarding combat made thrilling by an innovative system which amplifies the effect of every win and loss.
                 Playing a match of Armada is like taking a visit into real time tactical heaven. There are so many elements in place and so many factors to consider from such a small number of units that is actually hard to believe how different the game plays compared to how it looks in the videos. There are sure a lot of balancing problems that have been discovered through this Beta Test and that’s only for two of the factions. But the developers are taking the players suggestions and complaints seriously and are already making changes to make the experience as balanced as possible while still respecting the setting’s canon.
                I’m having a blast playing the Beta and I’ll keep doing it until the last day. But it gives me great joy thinking that Battlefleet Gothic: Armada will launch with two more races (later on three, through DLC), an elo system and a singleplayer campaign against Abaddon the Despoiler. I’ve been wrong before, but it seems rather hard for this game’s multiplayer to fail considering its current state. I only wish the campaign rises up to the level of epicness it promises, and if that’s the case, the race for the best strategy of 2016 is getting edgier by the month and we are still in March.
The Imperium fleet has arrived!

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Friday, March 18, 2016

An interview with Warhorse Studios!

                I’m continuing my series of interviews following a subject which is in vogue right now, Kingdom Come: Deliverance. The recent announcement that Warhorse Studios might team up with a publisher which will lead to the postponement of the PC version triggered a lot of discussions. I contacted Tobias Stolz-Zwilling, Warhorse Studios PR Manager, for an interview on this topic and this is what I found out:

As an introduction, for those who don’t know yet, who are the Warhorse Studios and what are you working on?

“We are currently working on Kingdom Come: Deliverance a realistic and historically accurate RPG which takes place in 1403 Bohemia. You are the incarnate Henry, a young son of a blacksmith who lives his ordinary life in Bohemia until his home city gets attacked by a foreign army. Not many survive and driven by vengeance you are about to investigate these crimes and bring the culprits to justice.  However you are no chosen one and there is no ancient prophecy, you are just an ordinary guy and will never become a king or command an army. You can’t change history, but all your decisions and actions will have an impact on the world – and maybe you will emerge a hero. “

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an indie AAA game that was partially funded through Kickstarter. Can you tell me a little about how the game’s concept came to be and what drove you to use crowdfunding?

“The idea formed over some beers by two guys in a pub.– pretty much the usual approach for genius Czech ideas. They wanted to create the story of their European ancestors in a way that no one ever tried it before – the realistic way. So the idea of Dungeons & Magic in the form of Kingdom Come: Deliverance was born. The problem was that publishers refused to support us. Not because that this game won’t be successful but because they weren’t eager into taking risks by abandoning the main stream. They wanted us to change the concept which we refused – so now we had a problem. Luckily we found an investor, only he wanted proof that there is a demand. So together we decided to go on Kickstarter with the goal of 300000 British Pounds. This would motivate the investor to put the rest on the table.  It was sink or swim after that.  Failure to make our goal would mean the end of Warhorse Studios and KC:D –luckily we swam!  After 29 days in February 2014 we ended the project with an awesome amount of 1.1 million British Pounds. We were the 3rd most successful Kickstarter Campaign in 2014 and the real development of KCD started. In October 2014 we released the first Alpha and in March 2016 the Beta… with the great support of our community we are on track! “

With Hitman changing its delivering method from launching as a full game to an episodic release, players are afraid that more and more games will release in an incomplete state. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a three acts series with each act being released separately and having its own price tag. It sounds a bit pricey and something that some of the gamers surely don’t agree with, but your business model is not exactly the same.
Can you explain how Kingdom Come model is different from Hitman or any other game that will attempt to use something similar in the future?

“The Acts behave like different but connected games. Every game is a part of the overall Kingdom Come Story each with around 20-50 hours of gameplay new maps features etc. So imagine it more like we are splitting the Hussite Wars (which we are talking about in Kingdom Come) in logical sections. Just and only because it’s impossible to cover the entire story in one single game. So don’t be afraid of the Act system.. it is more like Kingdom Come 1, Kingdom Come 2 and so on. We might do time jumps, show other aspects of the war. Add new features and mechanics and so on.”

Recently there has been talking that the PC release might be held back to line up with the console version of the game as part of the negotiations with a potential publisher. The PC community is very sensitive to this matter and frankly I’m a little sensitive as well. There is a certain skepticism that comes with years of letdowns that drove gamers like me to a state of insecurity and a fear of being betrayed. I’m sure you are aware of the false advertisement, the postpones and various other problems that the PC community had to endure leading some of its members to even despise the consoles. And now, because of the latest news, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is heading into a direction that could upset the PC gamers.
What’s your take on this matter and are there any reassurances that Kingdom Come will be different than the games I’m doing my best not to name?

“What we want is, and was the plan from the beginning, is to create the best graphical and gameplay experience for all platforms! So PC gamers don’t have to fear any kind of downgrade or similar things. We will push each platform to its limits. And postponing releases has of course negative aspects like… well… postponing :), but on the other hand it gives us more time to polish the game and to make it even more beautiful. In general there is nothing you need to be afraid of. There are many factors we are currently dealing with, but we’ll announce all release dates and final decisions in June on E3 Los Angeles.“

I don’t have access to the Beta version of the game but I have been reading a lot of the feedback and watched some of the videos on YouTube and it seems that there are some performance issues. Poor optimization is an ever present issue with high tech PC games. I know the game is currently in Beta and that the optimization is usually part of the late development process but players get worried nevertheless.
Are there any plans to make the Beta run smoother and what should we expect in terms of performance from the final product?

“Of course there are. We are working on patches as we speak. But you also need to understand what Beta means for us. This is not a Benchmark for the final game quality but a new testing ground for us to test most core elements, features and mechanics. Most of them are in the first stages and we did that on purpose to generate feedback from the community. We are still in a time frame where we can work on it, change it and tweak many things, but in order to do that we need to show our ideas and visions. I would rather call it a Tech Beta. The game is far away from being finished and we didn’t even start to optimize yet. Once we do that it will run much smoother even on less powerful devices.”

Both the PC and console version of Kingdom Come: Deliverance are developed together, neither being a port of the other. As a PC gamer I feel obligated to ask: are there any visual differences between the two versions aside from what an adjustable resolution and the usual settings like anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering bring to the table?

“ANSWERED IN QUESTION 4. PC Version will look fantastic of course :).”

As an ending note, what can we expect from the final version of Kingdom Come: Deliverance and what is the earliest release estimate?

“What you can expect from Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the best depiction of medieval life, medieval combat and medieval settings ever to be shown in a game. You will have to face an epic story that is based on actual historical events, every fight will push you to your limits and can be your last one if not properly prepared. You need to think about every choice you’ll have. Every decision will have a proper reaction and can change the outcome of the game. You are on an epic quest to unveil the horrible future 1403 Bohemia must face. The final release dates will be revealed on E3 2016.”

                I want to thank you once again for taking some time off from your busy schedule to answer my questions. I’m looking forward to Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s release and I’m really hoping that when it’s released I won’t have any reason to say anything bad about the game’s technical state as I felt compelled to do lately with many of the AAA titles.

                I feel that the interview clarified a lot of the doubts around this subject reaffirming Warhorse Studios stand on their game in conjunction with the PC platform. For those interested, you can find more information about Kingdom Come: Deliverance and its current Beta Test here.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #75: In visit at Ubisoft!

                This has been a very busy week. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada entered the multiplayer Beta on Thursday and Friday the first episode of Hitman was released (hopefully more about these two in the future). But still, the highlight of this week was my trip to Ubisoft’s studio in Manhattan. Don’t be alarmed I haven’t got over my fear of heights and implicitly of flight, my trip was of a virtual nature in the release of the week: Tom Clancy’s The Division.
                There is no hiding that The Division was one of my most anticipated games since its announcement back in 2013. Over the past two and a half years my level of excitement for the game has had a lot of ups and downs but here it is released. Was the game worth all the frustration over postpones?
                At its core The Division wants to be an MMO but there are so many restrictions in place that for most of its length it feels more like a co-op 3rd person shooter. The leveling part can easily take 20 hours unraveling a post pandemic story which brings to light the volatility of human's nature. The plot takes the recently activated Division agents from Brooklyn to Manhattan in a mission to find those responsible for the terrorist attack over New York City and bring order to the chaos. The campaign is surprisingly good with a storytelling divided through a series of main missions and a ton of collectible items which are part of a bigger puzzle. Putting this puzzle together adds a lot of nuance to the plot by providing details and various perspectives of the disturbing events that followed after the outbreak.
                Aside of the main missions and the collectibles Manhattan is filled with a ton of secondary content that follows the repetitive pattern of most of Ubisoft’s games. These missions are varied enough to make the first few districts bearable but the more time spent with them the more annoying they become. The only thing that tunes down the frustration of repetition is the absolutely amazing level design empowered by some of the most gorgeous graphics to date which even after an obvious visual downgrade still look amazing. The Division’s Manhattan is the best city I’ve seen in a video game and I’ve played a few of the GTAs, I’ve been to Novigrad and to the Victorian London of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.
                During and after the Beta tests one of the biggest complaints about the game was its combat system which uses typical MMO mechanics including bullet spongy enemies and floating damage numbers. This type of combat was never really a problem for me but I’ve learned to appreciate even more when playing this game as the 3rd person shooter style is a welcomed change to this genre. The multitude of mechanics that go into the combat make it more tactical than it looks at the first glimpse. The cover system and the shooting revolving around it coupled with a bunch of cool abilities and the possibility of group play add an unexpected layer of depth providing both the entertainment and the tactical value I look for in video games.
There is a lot to enjoy during the leveling phase of the game from the captivating story to the fun gunplay which showcases a wide variety of weapons and a decent amount of fun skills. But in the end an MMO is not so much about the journey as it is about the ending and by that I mean the end game and this is where Ubisoft Massive jumped the gun.
                The current end game consists of repeating the story missions on higher difficulties for better rewards, grinding materials to craft gear or going into the Dark Zone to fight powerful enemies and the players who decide to go rogue. It doesn’t sound so bad in theory but in practice things are quite different. Repeating the main missions gets tiring after a while, the crafting is an RNG fest and the Dark Zone remains the last option for some actual fun. But the Dark Zone is nothing like advertised as the penalties for dying (from mobs or players) are so high that almost nobody dares to go rogue anymore. Instead of fighting each other most of the players choose to group up to fight the powerful mobs in the Dark Zone transforming what should have been a heavy PvP battlefield in a PvE grind zone. Grinding for gear the way you find the most fun or effective is the only real thing to do in the game after hitting level 30 and that’s a shame because all the effort that went into building this great world goes to waste.
                In April a free content patch should bring the first Incursion which is a high level 4 player dungeon that should add more challenge to the PvE and should also include gear sets.  The free update in May will come with another Incursion but it will also change how the Dark Zone plays. This is a start in setting this game in the right direction, but that’s two months from now and until then there isn’t much to do. Some of the players who’ve beat the story and got the better gear will probably quit by then and this will hurt the game’s population before even it got a chance to show what else has to offer. I wish that Massive would have taken a page from the books of experienced developers in creating MMOs to avoid making such a mistake, especially after more than two years of postpones.
                Despite these issues I can’t say I haven’t had fun with The Division and I’m clearly not done with the game, but there is so much potential and I’d hate to see it go to waste. I really want to play more of this game so I hope Massive takes notice of community’s complaints and address the current issues as fast as possible, if this happens The Division could have a bright future.
I should check the progress of Wildlands and For Honor.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Things you should know about Tom Clancy's The Division!

                Tom Clancy’s The Division was launched this week and as with any MMO learning its mechanics and tricks might take a while. I’ve been playing The Division since the Closed Beta Test and I got hand on some of the more important things to know when starting to play this game.
Here is a list of tips and tricks that will make your time playing this game easier:

1. Cover is vital

                Cover shooters are not something often seen on PC so the importance of using the cover mechanics might not be of great value to some players.
                First of all, there is no crouch in this game, something that most players are used with in online shooters. Because of this hiding behind objects is much harder to do automatically so here comes in play the hide behind cover mechanic. When behind an object that can be used as cover the game will prompt you to press a key (space by default) which will set your character in cover which is an almost absolute defense state against the enemies in straight line with that cover point.
                There are moments when cover shouldn’t be used during combat but those moments are rare and learning when to do that comes in time with playing the game and knowing the limits of your character. But even at that point cover is still the most important mechanic during combat and using it properly will change the fate of many combat encounters.

2. Take aim

                As a 3rd person shooter MMORPG, The Division requires precision more than you might think. Hip fire is not a very useful as the bullet spread is so wide that you won’t hit the target too often. Take aim and shoot for the head, The Division might have a combat system with spongy enemies but headshots do significantly more damage and this will help killing enemies faster.

3. Configure your Controls

                And by this I don’t mean rebinding your keys, a thing you should do anyway, but to take a look at the Controls tab in the Settings section. There are a lot of options there designed to make the gameplay easier but taking away of the player’s accurate control over their character.
                Combat roll on movement keys allow to double tap in any direction in order to dodge roll. While this sounds like an easier way to dodge using this might become more of a nuisance than helpful. Double taping happens often when trying to accurately move in one direction and this will trigger an involuntary dodge which can screw up your plans.
                Parkour Mode this will make you automatically jump over any obstacle in front of you while sprinting. In theory it sounds good, but in practice (especially in PvP) you might find yourself jumping over an object that you run towards to for cover.
                Disabling these options and finding the balance between the other options available in the Controls menu will greatly improve your gameplay experience.

4. From cover to cover

                I said earlier to use cover, but there is more to this mechanic than hiding behind objects. An important feature that can come in handy when staying in cover is the ability to move from one cover point to another. By looking at a new object that can provide cover a course will appear on the ground, holding the cover button will have your character run from your current cover position to the next. This will be extremely useful as it’s the safest way to change longer distance positions when under fire.

5. Watch out for body blocking

                The importance of body blocking is more extensive than you might know. Staying in a doorway won’t allow any player in or out, while this can be a way to annoyingly troll some friends, this isn’t what I wanted to talk about.
                More often than not while playing in a group you will find yourself taking cover behind same objects and here is where things get tricky. Trying to move along the cover of that object will have you stopped by the model of the other players hiding in the same area which means that if you want to move further away you have to get out of the cover first. The body blocking can make things tricky in tough situations so finding a way to avoid it during combat will be ideal.

6. Upgrade your base

                Your base of Operations is part of the game’s progression but also a part of your character progression. Each of the three wings of the base can be upgraded up to 10 times providing you with skills, talents and perks. Keep completing primary and secondary missions to receive the supplies necessary for each wing’s upgrades as the faster you upgrade your base the more you can take advantage of by its quality of life improvements which go past the character enhancing abilities.

7. Choose your perks wisely

                While all the perks in the game can be unlocked few of them play a more crucial role throughout the progression than the other. Knowing those perks will stop you from hitting some of the game’s barriers and smoothen out the gameplay in certain situations.
                Each wing has an upgrade designed to diminish the grind for crafting materials by spawning every hour a specific crafting material in one of the containers in the wing’s area. If you are planning on being a Dark Zone player, each of the wings has an upgrade which will increase the contaminated loot you can carry in the Dark Zone.
                The Intel wing provides storage upgrades for your stash and inventory which become extremely useful especially when combining PvE with PvP activities.
                The Medical Wing most important perks increase your virus protection by upgrading your filters opening up the contaminated areas around the city. There is also a perk which increases the credit income by 10% which should be taken asap. If you have problems in combat you can also pick the perks that increase the number of medkits you can carry.
                The Security Wing brings new vendors into the base of operations. These vendors sell higher quality weapons, skins and even Dark Zone specific gear. There is also a perk which increases the XP gained by 10% if you are in rush to reach the level cap. And for those who have a more completist side the Intel Discovery perk will reveal all the Intel from a sector where all the missions have been completed.
                There are more perks than these, but I’ve mentioned the ones that I consider the most important while progressing with a character.

8. Safe houses

                Safe houses are a bigger deal than they seem. These areas don’t just serve as a player’s hub and a place to resupply. By unlocking new safe houses you get new points for fast travel making the map navigation much easier. They also provide information about the secondary missions and the encounters in their sector.

9. Faster selling

                Selling items you don’t need can be a drag as the game’s interface isn’t the fastest in this matter. The most effective way to sell items is to mark them as junk (V by default) and then use the sell junk button (X by default) to get rid of all these items at once. Doing so will help you avoid a ton of pop-up screens which ask if you want to sell that item or not. But you should be careful, once sold an item is lost forever (remember to remove your weapon mods!).

10. Scavenge

                The Division might have been a survival game at some point but it isn’t one now. Yet, there is the possibility of scavenging for loot in the vastness of Manhattan Island. Various types of chests hidden behind locked doors or in areas that require a little exploration effort can provide some cool reward for your troubles. High quality items, consumables, crafting materials, clothing skins and even bits of the story can be found while scavenging for what’s left in this post pandemic mayhem, so don’t be shy and explore The Division’s beautiful world.

11. Gear doesn’t change appearance

                More and more MMOs adopt a system where the items stats and their appearance aren’t part of an unchangeable package and The Division makes no exception. This system is great because it allows the players to pick up the best gear but still look the fashionable way they want to.
In the Inventory category of the UI both the gear and the appearance can be found under separate tabs. From here you can change the equipped items and the appearance of your character based on the skins you unlocked in your adventure.

12. Pulse is awesome!

                There are multiple abilities in The Division and each can be configured through a series of talents but in terms of utility none comes close to Pulse. Using this ability allows you to scan the proximity for enemies, neutral targets (great for Dark Zone) and even lootable objects.
                If you are set on exploring the map or fighting in the Dark Zone have at least one player in your group with Pulse because it will make all the difference.

                These are just a few helpful tips that will help you get into the game easier. There are more things to learn and understand about The Division, but they will come in time by playing the game. I hope this information was useful to you and I shall see you in the Dark Zone!


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #74: The labyrinth!

                Ascendancy, the second expansion for Path of Exile, was released this week introducing a labyrinth area which adds a rogulike spin to the game. The labyrinth has everything a roguelike entails: randomly generated maps with ever changing challenges, traps and puzzles and the thrill of losing the entire progress on death. This isn’t something that hasn’t been done before in an online game, but suits Path of Exile really well adding diversity to an end game that was pretty straight forward until now.
                The new expansion isn’t perfect lacking in substance, but as it is now Ascendancy is a good reason for old and new players to get back into the game. More importantly, I think it serves as a great platform to expand and better diversify the end game activities giving the players an incentive to continue on older characters rather than just starting new ones all the time.
                Path of Exile like Guild Wars 2 has been my safety game to which I come back to have a good time and enjoy its solid game mechanics for a few weeks before moving on to something new and unfamiliar. Even after all these years (I’ve been around since the CBT phase), every time I return to this game I get sucked into it enjoying what it has to offer. I’ve seen the game grow over the years from an innovative title that was lacking content and was plagued by desync problems to the best Hack & Slash on the market. The new expansion is just another reminder of the gameplay quality of this game that still has an immense potential left. Who knows when I’ll stop playing again, but that’s not important because I’ll return eventually to find Path of Exile an even better game.
I'm going in!

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Darkest Dungeon Review!

"Remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer."

                Darkest Dungeon is a roguelike dungeon crawler RPG that I've kept an eye on ever since its release in Early Access back in February 2015. Despite being impressed after seeing it in action at a friend's place, I only decided to buy it after the game was fully released and I had just gone through a streak of challenging RPGs (out of which I could count Age of Decadence and Underrail), wishing to see for myself whether it is such an unforgiving title as others have made it out to be. Besides that, its Lovecraftian influences were an immediate draw and I also wanted to find out if Nodrim's claim that the game was far too RNG-based was true or not.