The Infinite Zenith

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Call of Duty: WWII- A Reflection on the Open Beta

“Hot today, forgotten tomorrow. I’m not buying anything.” –James Marshall

Activision has stated that development on Call of Duty: WWII began long before negative reception to the franchise’s shift into future warfare began. The full title will release on November 3, and during the last weekend of September, an open beta was available for Steam players to try out. Offering five maps and four game modes, the beta was an opportunity for players to test the game out prior to its release. After installing the beta initially, I found myself unable to run it; the game would not load, and it was not until I reinstalled the title where the game would open. After entering my first few matches, it became apparent that the game has not been optimised fully for PC yet: frame rates dropped, the game stuttered, and death followed. When frame rates stablised, I began my own boots-on-the-ground experience, making use of the different divisions to get a feel for the gameplay. Call of Duty has always been more about small maps and fast-paced combat, as well as kill-streak rewards over the slower, more methodical and large-scale gameplay that characterises Battlefield 1. Maps feel like closed-off sets designed to give the sense of a well-designed paintball arena, rather than the wide-open spaces of Battlefield 1, and the numerous corners and hallways encourage a very aggressive, forward style of gameplay that rewards reflexes over strategy. Filled with details, from aircraft flying overhead and artillery, to muddy and damaged set elements, maps definitely exude a WWII-like atmospheric that, in conjunction with traditional movement systems, looks to return Call of Duty back to its roots. However, well-designed set pieces and premise can only carry a game so far, and the major deciding factor in whether or not a game is worth playing lies with its gameplay and handling.

During moments where the Call of Duty: WWII open beta was running with optimal frame rates, the game feels modestly smooth, although the Infinity Ward engine is definitely feeling dated. Movement is a little jagged and uneven, feeling somewhat sluggish. In a game where the goal is to move around in a high-paced environment and play the game aggressively to score points, the movement system is not particularly conducive of this particular play style, as I found myself getting stuck in geometry on more than one occasion, leading to death. Inconsistencies in movement and hit detection meant that the Call of Duty: WWII open beta felt like one protracted match on Prise de Tahure. I was dying to players coming from unexpected angles and places. Exacerbated by lag, I would open fire on players first, only for them to whip around and instantly nail me, suggesting that I had in fact been firing at air when my client put a player on screen. Performance issues aside, the chaotic nature of Call of Duty multiplayer environments and an emphasis on twitch reflexes with a high RPM weapon over finess means that Call of Duty: WWII‘s multiplayer certainly isn’t for me. This beta reminds me of my advancing age – long ago, I enjoyed close quarters combat for the rush it brought. With age comes decreasing reflexes, and I’m not able to keep up with the whipper-snappers out there now. The kind of gameplay I might have preferred a few years ago no longer feels fun to me compared to methodically picking off distant enemies and moving cover-to-cover.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Call of Duty: WWII introduces a new game mode called “War”, which is a close-quarters objectives-based match. On the “Operation Breakout” map seen in the beta, Allied Forces must capture a German outpost and then build a bridge, allowing their tanks to destroy an ammunition depot. German forces must prevent the Allies from succeeding. The game mode is admittedly similar to Battlefront 2‘s Galactic Assault, albeit a much smaller-scale version.

  • I’m not sure if this were the case in earlier Call of Duty multiplayer games, but in Call of Duty: WWII, there are different classes players can spawn in as, from the jack-of-all-trades infantry class, to the more nimble airborne class that emphasises high speed gameplay. There’s also an armoured class that can equip heavy weapons, the mountain class that is suited for long-range sniping, and the expeditionary class that dominates in close quarters.

  • Here, I equip the Bren LMG, Perrine’s weapon of choice from Strike Witches. However, despite its WWII-setting, I do not feel that Call of Duty: WWII is able to capture the Strike Witches atmospheric and aesthetic anywhere nearly as effectively as does Battlefield 1, despite the fact that the latter is set during World War One. This further stems from the very static, arena-like maps as opposed to the larger, more natural-feeling maps seen in Battlefield 1.

  • I’ve heard folks complain that the STG-44’s sight to be completely inauthentic: while it is true that modern electronic red dot sights with LEDs were developed during the 1970s, the concept of a reflex sight has been around since the 1900s. Earlier sights either depended on ambient light to function or else had a built-in light source whose operational time was constrained by limited battery life.

  • I only spent two hours in the Call of Duty: WWII open beta on account of a cold that saw me sleep most of the weekend that the beta was running, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much. By comparison, when I played through the Battlefront 2 beta last week, I had largely recovered and so, put in closer to nine hours over the Thanksgiving Long Weekend. During the moments where I was feeling a little better, I hopped into a few matches and found myself outplayed at every turn.

  • Averaging a KD ratio of less than 0.25 in almost all of my games, I’ve found the movement and handling in Call of Duty: WWII to be very poor. This is especially problematic, considering that Call of Duty: WWII is meant to be a fast-paced shooter where reflexes and high sensitivities are king: slow movements and aiming made it difficult to aim and fire, taking away from the run-and-gun style of play that Call of Duty emphasises.

  • I’ve heard that client-side modifications were widespread during the open beta, allowing people to one-shot other players with instant headshots, or else gain awareness of where all of the other players were. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I would prefer a hardware ban for folks caught cheating as Blizzard has implemented in Overwatch: this forces all but the most resourceful of cheaters with deep pockets to think twice before using tools to bolster their in-game performance.

  • On my end, I do not believe I encountered any cheaters. The biggest enemy ultimately ended up being the game performance itself: my hardware, while four years old, is no slouch with respect to performance. Nonetheless, I saw the game dip below 15 FPS during some moments, and I could only watch as other player lined up their sights and pasted my face into the walls. The lag, coupled with the fact that the beta did not even open made the Call of Duty: WWII‘s beta a little difficult to enjoy; the Battlefield 1 and Battlefront II betas were characterised by a straightforwards setup process where I activated the installer and then joined matches without any difficulty.

  • From a visual perspective, Call of Duty: WWII looks average at best, especially when compared with some of the other titles available. Textures are a bit dull, and lighting isn’t terribly complex: in fact, I feel that the graphical fidelity of Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare: Remastered to be superior. While this is just a beta, Call of Duty: WWII does not inspire me to give the game a go, whereas Battlefront II‘s beta convinced me that, provided the loot crate system doesn’t completely suck, the game might merit a purchase shortly after launch.

  • I saw some footage of Cr1tikal playing through the closed beta a month ago, and recalled his use of incendiary shells in the expeditionary class. In his video, Cr1tikal criticises the map design, and ultimately, makes extensive use of the shotguns to squeak by in a match before switching over to mountain class briefly. I was hardly surprised by the expeditionary class’ efficacy with incendiary shotguns and found myself doing much better than I had in previous rounds.

  • Stationary weapons in multiplayer shooters are always a death-trap, leaving users exposed to attack from behind and snipers, but here, I use one of the mounted weapons to defeat another player from a distance. Despite the splintered wooden poles, shattered concrete bunkers, muddy ditches and remnants of sandbags, the maps in Call of Duty: WWII simply do not feel as though they are World War Two settings, but rather, feel like World War Two-themed settings.

  • The under-barrel grenade launcher in older Call of Duty games was counted the “n00b tube” for its ease of use. Under-barrel grenade launchers are gone in Call of Duty: WWII, but the incendiary shells of the expeditionary class are probably going to be regarded  as fulfilling a similar vein: despite dealing the same damage as a conventional shotgun shell, the incendiary shells apply damage over time by means of burning opponents hit, and because they replenish fully on death, they are an appealing weapon for beginning players who can gain a kill even after they are killed.

  • During my time in the beta, I did not hear any complaints about use of incendiary shells and so, like Cr1tikal, I used them during the later period of the open beta. I’ve heard that the release version of Call of Duty: WWII will see several changes, and one of the top-most changes proposed will be reducing the damage dealt by incendiary ammunition.

  • During one particularly lucky short, my pellets outright took out one opponent and burned another to land me a double kill. One feature in Call of Duty that I’ve never been fond of is the killstreak system, which rewards players purely based on how many kills they’ve gotten before dying. The most infamous killstreak bonus is the tactical nuke, which instantly wins a game for the team that the player triggers it on. Overall, I prefer Battlefront II‘s system, where playing the objective and actions helping teammates will unlock battle points that can be spent on perks.

  • Despite the closed, arena-like maps, the Operation Breakout map has long, open avenues that are well-suited for sniping. The Commonwealth rifle proved fun to use: it’s a one-hit kill bolt action rifle, and coming from the likes of Battlefield 1, where I’ve acclimatised to bolt-action rifles lacking a straight-pull bolt, this weapon wasn’t too far removed from my usual play-style. I never did get around to learning the performance attributes of the different weapons, and I didn’t make it far enough to unlock most weapons. Instead, I looted weapons from other players to give them a whirl.

  • Medals are earned in Call of Duty by performing specific actions or scoring kills in a particular manner. They will confer a boost in XP, and are similar to the ribbons of Battlefield, appearing at the top of the screen. I believe they were introduced in Black Ops II, although as mentioned earlier, I’m only vaguely aware of game mechanics in Call of Duty titles and I find the game engine to be quite out-dated.

  • Some folks have asserted that Call of Duty: WWII is a blatant rip-off of Battlefield 1 for featuring similar features, including the bayonet charge and for returning things to a World War setting. At the opposite end of the spectrum, others claim that Call of Duty: WWII will cause Battlefield 1 players to switch over on account of limitations in the latter’s gameplay. Quite honestly, while Call of Duty: WWII is quite unique in both game mechanics and time period, I found that I have more fun in Battlefield 1. After one particularly tough match, I returned to Battlefield 1 and perform considerably better than I did during the Call of Duty: WWII open beta.

  • My last match during the Call of Duty: WWII beta was spent in a match of domination with the airborne class and the starting M3 submachine gun. I attached the suppressor to it and snuck around the map to get kills. Capture points trade hands numerous times during domination, and one thing I noticed is that in Call of Duty: WWII, the submachine guns do not appear to have an improved hip-fire accuracy.

  • One of the most infamous constructs to come out of Call of Duty is the notion of a “360 no scope” and “quick scope” moves. While considered to be trick-shots with little practical advantages in a real game, folks on the internet suggest that people of middle school age take the move quite seriously and consider it a viable tactic. Regardless of whether or not this is true, one thing is for sure: until the PC version of Call of Duty: WWII is optimised, trick shots will be very difficult or even impossible to pull off.

  • After this match ended, I decided to call it a day and went back to sleep with the aim of fighting off my cold. Two weeks later, I’m back to my usual self, although an occasional cough continues to persist. I usually get sick twice a year: once before winter appears in full, and once before spring completely displaces winter weather. I’m hoping that this means winter is upon us; it’s certainly been colder as of late, although forecasts show pleasant weather over the next while. Overall, I would say that I had much more fun with the Battlefront II beta than this one, and while the campaign looks interesting, I’ve got no plans to purchase Call of Duty: WWII at the moment.

Playing through the beta reaffirms the reasons behind my decision in not playing Call of Duty multiplayers, but having tried the Call of Duty: WWII open beta, there are a few things that Call of Duty does well; my favourite is the instant spawning back into a match after death. The quick time to kill is also great for high-speed engagements, even if it is hampered slightly by the movement systems. However, compared to Battlefield, which has a better movement system and larger maps that accommodate all styles of gameplay, I cannot say that I’m won over into Call of Duty‘s multiplayer aspects. The single-player elements are a different story: until Battlefield 1 introduced its war stories, Call of Duty games had consistently more entertaining campaigns, and I am looking forwards to seeing just what Call of Duty: WWII‘s story entails. From what has been shown so far, it’s a return to the European front in the later days of the Second World War, featuring a modernised take on the D-Day invasion. Overall, I am not particularly inclined to purchase Call of Duty: WWII close to launch, or at any point soon, for its multiplayer content. If the single-player campaign is impressive, I might purchase the game some years later during a Steam Sale – the game certainly does not feel like it is able to offer the value that would make buying it at full price worthwhile, but I’m always game for a good war story, even if it is a shorter one.

Star Wars Battlefront II: A Reflection of Starfighter Assault and Space Gameplay in the Open Beta

“It’s no good, I can’t manoeuvre!”
“Stay on target.”
“We’re too close!”
“Stay on target!”
“Loosen up!”

–Gold Leader and Gold Five, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

If I had been active as a blogger back during the early 2000s, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader would certainly have been featured as a game I would write about. Featuring ten single player missions and several bonus missions spanning the original triology, Rogue Leader boasted some of the most sophisticated visual and gameplay effects that could be run on the Nintendo GameCube, allowing players to relive the most famous moments in Star Wars. From the first attack on the Death Star to the Battle of Hoth and the Rebel Alliance’s final attack on the Emperor’s Death Star II, the game’s technical sophistication and enjoyment factor led many critics to remark that this game alone was worth buying the GameCube for, and indeed, even fifteen years after its launch, only Pandemic’s Star Wars: Battlefront II in 2005 can even hold a candle to Rouge Leader. However, this year’s reinterpretation of Battlefront II comes the closest to bringing back the sort of magic that was available in Rogue Leader, for in Battlefront II, there is the Starfighter Assault game mode that pits players against one another in beautifully written space battles. In the Battlefront II open beta, players are assigned to the Rebel Alliance or Galactic Empire over the shipyards of Fondor. In a multi-stage battle reminiscent of the Rush and Operations game modes of Battlefield, Imperial pilots must deplete the Rebels of reinforcement tickets and defend a Star Destroyer in dry dock, while the Rebels aim to take down the Star Destroyer. Players get their pick of three different classes of starships: the balanced all-rounder fighter, high-speed dogfighter interceptors and the slower but durable bombers, each of which can be customised with star cards to fit a player’s style.

The epic scale of ship-to-ship combat in Starfighter Assault is quite unlike the infantry-focused Galactic Conquest: the space battles of Battlefront II were developed by Criterion, of Burnout and Need For Speed fame. I jumped into a game and attempted to steer my X-Wing with my mouse, but promptly crashed. After switching over to the keyboard, I began learning my way around the controls, and within minutes, was pursing Imperial TIE fighters and firing on objectives. Unlike Battlefront, where starships had the manoeuvrability of a refrigerator, the controls in Battlefront II are responsive and crisp. As I became more familiar with the ships available, I began climbing scoreboards, shooting down more enemy starships and playing objectives more efficiently. The sheer scope of Starfighter Assault and the easy-to-pick-up-but-difficult-to-master design of this game mode makes it incredibly fun and with nearly unlimited replay value. While playing the Imperials, I focused on shooting down Rebel ships, and as a Rebel, there was the challenge of finishing the objectives without being shot down. Regardless of which team I played for, there was always a great satisfaction in landing killing shots on enemy starfighters and going on kill-streaks that I never was able to manage in Galactic Assault. It got to the point where I improved sufficiently to have the chance of making use of three of the four Hero ships. Automatically locking onto an enemy starfighter à la Battlefront is gone – aiming and leading shots is entirely a skill-based endeavour now, and while Criterion provides a helpful reticule to assist in aiming, it ultimately falls on players to learn how to best move their ships around. These elements come together to provide a game mode that is exceptionally entertaining to play, rewarding skill and encouraging new-time players to try their hand at flying.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Shortly after spawning into my first Starfighter Assault match, I started to use the mouse and promptly crashed into the radar dish; there’s no option to reset or centre the reticule, so if the mouse is moved slightly, it causes the vehicle to drift in one direction. Once I left the mouse alone and began flying with the keyboard, the controls became much more simple to use. Unlike Battlefront, where vehicular handling as as stiff as molasses, the controls of Battlefront II are much smoother. It took a grand total of ten minutes to become accustomed to the system.

  • There are plenty of AI-controlled fighters flying around the map so that players have no shortage of things to shoot at, and here, a seismic charge from the Slave I goes off. They were first seen in Attack of the Clone and create a devastating shockwave that can punch through asteroids. The weapon is fantastic against starfighers, and edges out Battlefront‘s thermal imploders for having the coolest sound in Star Wars; the silence and delay before the full weight of the bass creates one of the most interesting sound effects ever engineered.

  • With their powerful blasters and high durability, bombers are balanced by their lower speeds and manoeuvrability, as well as for the fact that they require more reinforcement tickets in order to spawn into if one is playing as a Rebel. The TIE Bomber makes its first appearance in a modern Star Wars game and I use it to great effect; they’re most useful against the Blockade Runners that appear to reinforce Rebel fighters, but can most certainly hold their own against X-Wings and A-Wings.

  • TIE Bombers were first seen in The Empire Strikes Back, seen dropping proton bombs on the asteroid where the Millennium Falcon was concealed. Players do not have access to the proton bombs for assaulting ground targets, but bombers get access to dual proton torpedoes and missiles. While they have a guidance system that can lock onto enemy ships, secondary weapons can be fired dumb by double-tapping on the button, making it possible to rapidly use them against slow moving or stationary targets.

  • The Rebellion’s workhorse bomber, Y-Wings have been in operation since the Clone Wars, being acquired by the Rebel Alliance before the Empire could scrap or decommission them. The last time I flew a Y-Wing was in Rogue Leader during the “Prisoners of the Maw” mission. In Rogue Leader, the Y-Wing is equipped with proton bombs rather than guided torpedoes, and the ion cannons were forward-facing, only affecting targets in front of the Y-Wing. In Battlefront II, they’re fun to fly, but the cost of spawning in makes it imperative that one focuses on objectives rather than dogfights.

  • TIE Fighters reflect on the Empire’s adherence to Soviet military doctrine: they are inexpensive to produce and the engines are incredibly effective despite their simple design. Lacking shields, a hyperdrive, life-support systems and landing gear, TIE Fighters are incredibly lightweight, and in Star Wars, are shown to be quite fragile compared to Alliance starfighters. However, the TIE Fighters of Battlefront II have a bit more durability and can fire proton torpedoes, making them remarkably fun to fly. TIE Fighters are equipped a laser barrage function that allows the cannons to be fired rapidly to deliver a blistering hail of blaster fire.

  • The Slave I requires only 2500 battlepoints to unlock; it is armed to the teeth, as all of its abilities are offensively driven: besides a concussion missile and seismic charges, it also has access to ion cannons, which slow down enemy ships. Somewhat hard to manoeuvre, it is nonetheless quite durable, and here, I managed to get a kill using the seismic charges. The blast wave is not visible, as I’ve flown from it, but the effects are clear.

  • Light and agile, the A-Wing is the fastest starfighter available to the Rebel Alliance. It is capable of extreme speed, can maintain unbreakable locks onto enemies and is armed with concussion missiles as its secondary armament. I ended up playing the interceptor class far more than I’d expected: the speed of the A-Wing and its Imperial counterpart, the TIE Interceptor, make them incredibly effective in dogfights. Overall, each of the classes have their own merits and are fun to play: they’re versatile to be used in every role, but their abilities and unique strengths allow them to excel at particular tasks.

  • X-Wings gain access to an astromech droid for providing repairs and the power to fire all four laser cannons at once in addition to the standard proton torpedoes that Luke used to destroy the first Death Star in A New HopeBattlefront II brings back the fun I’ve had flying X-Wings in Rogue Leader: for their general all-round performance, I would choose the X-Wing as my preferred starfighter in the game.

  • The visual effects above Fondor are absolutely stunning: space battles haven’t been this immersive since the days of Rogue Leader, and with the Frostbite Engine driving Battlefront II, I find myself wishing for a remastered version of Rogue Leader more than ever. Criterion has done a fantastic job with Starfighter Assault, and looking at the other maps available, it appears that rather than re-living the most famous moments of Star Wars, players will be treated to campaigns set around familiar locations for other Starfighter Assault modes.

  • The battle around Endor will be set in the ruins of the Second Death Star, and players will have a chance to fly Republic and Separatist starfighters in battles set during the Clone Wars. As well, the skirmishes between the First Order and Resistance will also be available in Battlefront II. One of the things I’m hoping to see in Battlefront II will be the appearance of Darth Vader’s TIE/x1, whose innovative designs would lead to the development of the TIE Interceptor and TIE Bomber. One cool feature from Vader’s TIE/x1 would be the inclusion of cluster missiles seen in Rogue Leader, which can lock onto and attack multiple targets.

  • The second phase of Starfighter Assault over Fondor involves Rebel ships attempting to drop the shield generator around the Star Destroyer. Rebel players must fly into a narrow passage way where the generators are held and bombard them. Imperial forces have a simple task: prevent the Rebels from getting into this corridor and damaging the equipment. In the close quarters, I’ve had considerable fun locking onto Rebel ships and, in a manner reminiscent of A New Hope‘s trench run, blowing said Rebel ships away with the TIE Fighter.

  • It suddenly strikes me that I don’t get very much time off elsewhere in the year, making me very appreciative of the extended break. The long weekends also allows me to enjoy a quieter day at home: I spent the morning drafting this talk and reading about overflights in the Cold War, before settling down to a home-made burger with lettuce, tomato, pickles and cheese, along with freshly-made oven fries. Unlike last time, we were more careful with the cooking process, so the whole of the upstairs does not smell like grilled burger. By afternoon, the weather remained acceptable, if somewhat windy, so I spent it hanging out with a friend. After enjoying some cheesecake when I concluded the walk, I continued with my quest to get all the intel in Modern Warfare Remastered.

  • Dinner tonight was a tender and juicy prime rib au jus with mashed potatoes. The pleasant smell of prime rib persisted into the evening, which saw the Calgary Flames best the Anaheim Ducks 2-0 at the Honda Center, bringing a 25-losing streak on their ice to an end. Earlier today, in speaking with a friend, we’ve now set aside some tentative plans to watch The Last Jedi: a new trailer has come out, and I’m rather curious to see what the film will entail, for Rey, who will begin training with Luke, and also for Kylo Ren. At this blog, I don’t usually talk about Star Wars, but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I’ve got passable knowledge of Star Wars lore. I’m quite fond of the films even if the dialogue can be a little poor (especially in the prequel trilogy, where it was downright atrocious) and if the narratives are a bit thin: the scope and scale of the special effects are always fun to watch.

  • While they never co-existed, having disappeared while being transferred to the Jedi Council for investigation, Darth Maul’s Scimitar is included at Fondor. Its most novel ability is being able to cloak and conceal itself from all enemies: I recall shooting at a player with the Scimitar, only for them to disappear. When reappearing, its blaster cannons gain a boost in power. In the thirty seconds I flew it (the match ended shortly after with a Rebel victory), I did not make use of its abilities to shoot down any players. However, the fact that I was becoming sufficiently proficient in Starfighter Assault to acquire the top-tier Hero ships shows that the game mode had been very immersive.

  • This was probably one of the best runs I had in Starfighter Assault: after spawning in as a Y-Wing and going on a seven-kill streak, on top of helping damage the Imperial Cruisers and equipment, I amassed an obscene number of battle points. I was blown out of the sky shortly after but had accumulated enough battle points to spawn in as the legendary Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s signature ship throughout Star Wars.

  • Being Han Solo’s highly modified freighter, the Millennium Falcon is one of the most recognisable ships from Star Wars that goes on to play a major role in helping the Rebel Alliance toppling the Empire. Besides an afterburner that proved fantastic for escaping pursuing fighters and concussion missiles, the Millennium Falcon’s other ability is called “special modifications”, which temporarily boosts weapon damage and reduces overheating. Incredibly durable and agile for its size, the main disadvantage about the Millennium Falcon is that its large profile makes it a highly visible target on the battlefield.

  • One of my favourite features about the Millennium Falcon is not its combat performance, but for the simple fact that after some kills, Han Solo will say something amusing, reflective of his hot-headed, confident personality. The planet and its shipyards were first introduced in a novel for the Extended Universe and accepted as cannon with the 2015 novel Tarkin, although the name Fondor is, amusingly enough, also a brand of German vegetable seasoning.

  • Late was the hour when I managed to spawn into Poe Dameron’s Black One, a T-70 X-Wing that acts as the successor to the T-65B that the Rebel Alliance operated. Requiring more battle points than the Millennium Falcon, I had not intended to fly this, only doing so when I realised I had enough battle points to do so and because the Millennium Falcon had already been taken. Only a few minutes remained in the match, but I made use of Poe’s X-Wing to score a few kills on other players before the game ended. Similar to the standard X-Wing, players can instantly repair with BB-8, and mirroring the T-70’s upgraded weapons, Black One has access to dual torpedoes. There’s also a Black Leader ability, but I never looked into what it does.

  • The Battlefront II open beta ended this morning: it’s a quiet Thanksgiving Monday, and while it would’ve been nice to play a few more rounds of Starfighter Assault, I ended the beta off on a high note: I’ve flown all of the Hero ships in this game mode to some extent. With the open beta now over, regular programming resumes, much as it did two years ago: there’s no GochiUsa to write about, but there is Gundam Origin‘s fifth instalment, which I greatly enjoyed. We’re also a entering the fall anime season now: with Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Hero Chapter airing in mid-November, the only shows I really have on my radar for the presernt are Wake Up, Girls! Shin Shou and Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou. I also should write about the Call of Duty: WWII open beta, which, I should note, was note quite as enjoyable as the Battlefront II beta.

The words “pure fun” are the most suitable for describing the Starfighter Assault game mode of Battlefront II: the mode feels a great deal as though Criterion applied the lessons learned from Rogue Leader. The game modes are well-structured into distinct phases, but seamlessly woven together. Instead of purely AI opponents, players now have a chance to engage one another, adding a new degree of challenge; gone are enemy fighters that can be shot down, replaced with superior AIs and human opponents, the ultimate challengers. Because players can be assigned to different sides of the story, there is a fantastic opportunity to explore “what-if” scenarios. While I don’t think any of the most iconic missions from the trilogy or prequel appear in the full Starfighter Assault, the concept has proven remarkably fun in the open beta, coming the closest since 2005’s Battlefront II to re-creating the experience that players experienced in Rogue Leader. Coupled with authentic aural and visual elements from Star Wars, Starfighter Assault has proven to be the remastered experience of Rogue Leader that I’ve been longing to experience again since the days when I played the game on a GameCube: I am greatly looking forwards to seeing how the other maps play out, and through the open beta, it is evident that Battlefront II has made a serious effort to bring a critical component of Star Wars into the modern age. If the version we’ve seen in the open beta is an accurate representation of how the game mode will handle in the full game, this is a very compelling reason for buying this game closer to the Christmas season, when the spirit of Star Wars will be in full swing as Episode VIII: The Last Jedi premieres in theatres.

Star Wars Battlefront II: A Reflection of Galactic Assault and Infantry Gameplay in the Open Beta

“Roger roger” –Any B1 Battle Droid, Star Wars

Compared to its predecessor, Star Wars Battlefront II is said to feature substantially more maps, weapons, vehicles and a more involved progression system. In addition, Battlefront II also revisits the Clone Wars in addition to the Galactic Civil War and the latest conflicts between the Resistance and First Order. Having caught my eye back in June, the open beta became available during the Canadian Thanksgiving Long Weekend, and I’ve put in some hours into the game’s available modes during the beta. The first of this is arcade, a simple primer into the game mechanics. I subsequently jumped into the incredibly entertaining Starfighter Assault, before switching over to the two available infantry-focussed game modes, Strike, and Galatic Assault. Strike is similar to Halo’s Bomb mode, which pits two teams against one another; one team must grab an objective and carry it to a destination, while the other team must stop them. Galatic Assault is a variation of Battlefront’s Walker Assault mode: two teams slug it out in a larger, objective-based game mode. In the open beta, the Republic clones fight the Separatist droid armies. The latter are aiming to capture Theed Palace on Naboo to force Amidala to sign another trade agreement, while the Republic must stop the MTT from reaching the palace, and failing this, drive off waves of battle droids. Like its predecessor, Battlefront II possesses a different set of mechanics compared to the shooters I’m familiar with. Blasters do not handle as projectile weapons do, and their low damage results in a longer time-to-kill (TTK) than I’d like – players can duck behind cover once I open fire on them to regenerate their health, and overall, getting kills in Battlefront II feels more difficult than it did in Battlefront for folks starting out: I’ve heard that star cards can boost one’s ability to score kills immensely, but I’ve never been too fond of the system.

Looking past the difficulties I’ve had in scoring kills, Galactic Assault turned out to be much more enjoyable once I understood that kills do not seem to matter in Battlefront II compared to other shooters. In the open beta, Battlefront II certainly seems to be emphasising team play over kills, and it seems that kills are less relevant compared to helping one’s team out. In the scoreboard, the number of deaths a player accumulates over the course of a match are not shown. Assists count for as many points as kills, and the simple act of spotting can yield a large number of points, as is playing objectives. Thus, with this knowledge, I took to the specialist class regardless of which team I was with. Armed with a longer range DMR and a pair of macro-binoculars capable of revealing enemies even through physical obstructions, I settled into a pattern of starting Galactic Assault matches with the specialist class, spotting enemies for my team and picking off the occasional foes from a distance. Once the MTT reaches the Theed Palace, I would switch over to the heavy class, which is equipped with a repeating blaster that is excellent for close quarters engagements, doing my best to either push onto the capture point in the throne room (as a Separatist) or defending the throne room from the droids (as a Clone). By sticking close to my teammates and playing objectives, Battlefront II becomes significantly more fun: towards the end of the beta, I was doing much better, but I find that matches always seem to end too quickly before I can spawn in as a hero. The Strike game mode is oriented around closer-range combat, and I’ve found it modestly enjoyable, similar to drop zone in Battlefront II‘s predecessor, although the mode seems to favour the Resistance: I’ve never lost while playing the Resistance, and I’ve never won as the First Order.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My immediate impressions of Battlefront II are that it runs surprisingly smooth: I did not configure my game and used the automatic settings, which set everything to the “ultra” preset. Even with everything on full, the game ran at around 80 FPS: considering that my machine’s four and a half years old now, this certainly isn’t bad. Like my original experience with the beta, the first few hours in the game were met with a bit of a learning curve, as I was trying to figure out the game and scoring mechanics.

  • The specialist class is Battlefront II‘s counterpart to Battlefield 1‘s scout class, equipping a semi-automatic marksman rifle and being able to spot enemies with macrobinoculars that can see through walls. These long range weapons are the only viable weapons for engagements beyond 50 metres, and Battlefront II definitely does not reward long range precision shooting over playing the objective with respect to how points can be earned.

  • On the other hand, assists are worth as much as kills, so throughout my time in the Battlefront II beta, I got numerous points for damaging an enemy that was subsequently finished off by a teammate. Battlefront II takes the “Assist counts as kill” mechanic and goes one step further: kills don’t seem to matter as much, and I recall an instance where I got 1200 points simply by helping clear one of the control rooms and then proceeding to unlock the palace doors. I got maybe one kill from it: the grenade I threw slightly damaged the players inside. Here, I sit inside the composite laser turret of the LAAT/i gunship and managed a lucky kill on someone down below: the weapon’s surprisingly challenging to use owing to the laser’s pinpoint precision.

  • I’ve long wished to fly a Naboo Starfighter in a game that isn’t the Nintendo 64 incarnation of Rogue Squadron: after taking to the skies above Theed, I saw an enemy fighter and spent a good three minutes dog-fighting with them before taking them down. The MTT reached the palace shortly after, and the game kicked me out of the Naboo Starfighter elegantly, re-spawning me as a heavy class driod.

  • I’m not sure what the powerful medium range weapon that specialist classes can equip while using infiltration mode is called, but it is quite capable of close range engagements, offering specialists a fighting chance at ranges where faster-firing blasters dominate. The only class that I did not make use of extensively was the officer class: armed with a blaster pistol and able to buff players, it’s a style of play that I’ll need more time than the open beta has available to become familiar with.

  • While providing an infinitely smoother and more enjoyable experience than the Call of Duty: WWII open beta, there are still a handful of UI issues that linger in Battlefront II. The first is that the score feed sometimes displays that I’ve killed a player twice even though I know there was only one target to shoot at, and secondly, the heat metre can sometimes persist after death and not accurately reflect the weapon’s state. Beyond these two minor issues, Battlefront II‘s open beta has been silky smooth to get into.

  • The heavy class gains access to repeating blasters (Star Wars terminology for “automatic weapon”), which are fantastic for clearing out rooms and dealing out a large amount of damage quickly. Accompanying their base loadout is an impact grenade, a turret mode that exchanges mobility for firepower, and a front-facing shield that can absorb incoming fire. It’s the perfect choice for close-quarters combat inside the palace, and the heavy class is surprisingly effective even outside the palace.

  • Here, I manage to shoot a clone trooper off the AT-RT he was piloting to bring his killstreak to an end. The Battle Point system in Battlefront II is a straight upgrade from the battle pick-ups of Battlefront by removing the random chance of finding a power up on the battlefield. Instead, playing the objectives and skill is how to get to the upgraded abilities. However, my gripe with the new system is that matches do not always last long enough for players of decent skill to get to the hero unlocks before the game ends.

  • Over Theed, the amount of detail in the cityscape is incredible, and if this is how Theed looks, I am very excited to see how the rest of the maps look: besides Naboo, Battlefront II will feature Kamino, Takodana, Yavin IV, Kashyyyk, Starkiller Base and even the Second Death Star. Returning from Battlefront are Tatooine, Endor, Hoth and Jakku. I wager that Bespin, Geonosis, Utapau and Mustafar could also come with the DLC.

  • While great for laying down destruction against the MTT and strafing infantry, air vehicles in Battlefront II move a bit too quickly to be effective in a close-air support role. It would make sense to lower the minimum speed for some starfighters to make them slightly more effective for an anti-ground role; care must be taken here to ensure that they do not become too effective, otherwise, game balance would evaporate.

  • The Strike game mode is set on Takodana in and around Maz’s castle, which was destroyed during the events of The Force Awakens. However, I’ve never been able to replicate the First Order victory in this game mode: every game I’ve played with the Resistance, I won. Here, I’m equipped with a faster-firing blaster for the assault class, which has access to a thermal detonator, shotgun and a tracer dart gun. While Battlefront II has proven enjoyable, I sorely miss Battlefront‘s thermal imploder, which has one of the coolest sounds of anything in the Star Wars universe, second only to the Slave I’s seismic charges.

  • I soon jumped over to the specialist class when it became apparent that First Order soldiers would always be coming from the woods and so, I could sit back a distance and put down pot shots. Strike is an infantry-only game mode, and battle points go towards unlocking more powerful infantry units, rather than heroes of vehicles. Like Naboo, Takodana is beautifully rendered. While fun from the Resistance perspective, Strike has been less than amusing when I’ve played as the First Order, whose white armour causes them to stand out from the forest, and whose spawns leave them open to attack from the Resistance.

  • Scope glint is still very much a thing in Battlefront II, helping players quickly ascertain the presence of an enemy sniper and duck for cover. In the long, open spaces in Theed, the specialist class is a great way to open things, allowing one to spot other players and put them on the mini-map. Overall, I’m not too fond of the way the mini-map in Battlefront II works: it highlights the general direction an enemy is in if they fire or sprint, requiring a specialist to manually spot opponents. One of the things that I succumbed to frequently in this beta and the Call of Duty: WWII beta was accidentally mashing “Q” trying to spot enemies.

  • Most players will suggest playing in third person mode, as it offers a bit of a tactical advantage with respect to spatial awareness and in allowing one to peek their corners. For the purposes of discussion, I’ve chosen to stay in first person so that the weapon models can be seen. Iconic weapons, from the Battle Droids’ E-5 blaster, to the Clone Trooper’s DC-15 series, appear in the beta, and one must marvel at the detail placed into rendering them.

  • Frustrations gave way to fun once I slowly began learning Battlefront II‘s mechanics, and what was originally an “unlikely to buy” verdict turned into a “I’ll buy it if there is plenty of content available at launch”. Looking back, I similarly had a bit of a learning curve going into Battlefront‘s beta back in 2015, and it was only after I unlocked the repeating blaster that the gameplay changed. Battlefront II is a bit more skill-based than its predecessor, and after some eight hours with the beta, I’m a bit more comfortable with all of the functions and controls.

  • The MTT assault on Theed is only one of the galactic conquest game modes, and one of the things I’, most curious to see is if iconic battles from the original trilogy and prequels made it into Battlefront II: while Battlefront was stymied by limited content and a low skill ceiling, walker assault proved to be immensely fun, allowing players to re-live the most famous battles of Star Wars in an environment that was of the same scale as those seen in the Battlefield franchise.

  • The only thing left on the schedule for tonight is chocolate cheesecake, and Thanksgiving Monday will afford me with a rare opportunity to sleep in. The Battlefront II beta ends tomorrow morning, which marks a return to Far Cry 4. For Thanksgiving this year, I give thanks for great food and family, warmth, and the fact that there is good in the world worth preserving. Things do look quite grim, but it is my aim to work my hardest and contribute in what manner that I can to things that are for our benefit.

  • With a bit more familiarity in the game, I switched over to the assault class and performed moderately well during one of my last matches, earning enough battle points to unlock Darth Maul. The match ended before I could spawn in, however, and one of the things I’ve noticed while taking on Hero classes is that they’re noticeably weaker than they were in Battlefront. In the close quarters frenzy of Theed Palace, I’ve encountered both Darth Maul and Rey before. In a blind panic, I opened fire on them along with my teammates, and they promptly died before they could retaliate: their lightsabers are no longer one-hit-kills.

  • I feel that the Heroes should have at least fifty percent more health, but the health should not regenerate, and the Heroes with lightsabers should be able to one-shot opponents since they are entering melee range (whereas Heroes like Boba Fett and Han Solo can stay back to engage in ranged combat). Overall, the Battlefront II beta’s infantry combat isn’t terribly difficult to learn, and there are some fantastic set-pieces. I look forwards to seeing what the full game will entail, and wrap up by remarking that the other game mode, Starfighter Assault, was so exhilarating that I’ve got a separate post on it.

The infantry gameplay in Battlefront II is above average on the whole: movement is quite smooth, and I’ve had fun playing in both third and first person mode, but the long time to kill and dependence on abilities over steady aim means that Battlefront II is ultimately less about good shooting and more about who can best manage their abilities, using them effectively during the right times to turn the tide of battle in their team’s favour. The larger maps and spawn system also can make getting back into combat after death a frustrating experience: one can go for long periods without seeing anyone, then die unexpectedly and be sent back to a far corner of the map, resulting in yet another long walk into things. With this in mind, the walk certainly is a visually impressive one: the graphics in Theed, from the large piles of leaves blowing about, to the fantastic architecture and colours, are breathtaking. On several occasions, I’ve wasted some of my battle points spawning in as a fighter for the sole purpose of flying over Theed just to admire the cityscape. One thing is for sure about Battlefront II: it captures the sights and sounds of Star Wars as effectively as its predecessor did. While an absolute audio-visual treat, perhaps even more so than 2015’s Battlefront, the multiplayer infantry gameplay seen so far, while entertaining, alone does not inspire a purchase of Battlefront II at launch price. However, it is still early to be making a decision – we’ve not seen some of the other modes available yet. In addition, the beta does not provide a chance to try out the campaign or single-player arcade modes; if these turn out to drive replayability to a reasonable extent, Battlefront II could very well be worth the price of admissions at launch.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: A Compare and Contrast with The Division Beta

“There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.” —Herman Melville

It should be quite plain that Wildlands and The Division are completely different in terms of their base mechanics; The Division is an MMO-style game where loot and progression dominate gameplay, while Wildlands is intended to be a third person cooperative shooter. However, with a design far more accommodating to folks who prefer to play solo or only with a small group of friends, Wildlands initially does seem more in line with the sort of title that I might be interested in. With this in mind, however, there are some elements that are worth considering now that the Wildlands open beta has concluded: in this post, discussion will center around differences between the two games’ betas (I’ve not purchased The Division since its release). We begin with the elements that Wildlands does better than the Division, and this is the presence of random events that can make a mission unexpectedly challenging or straightforward. During the raid on a training camp, I had successfully eliminated the first of three instructors when the rebels arrived and began lighting up the place, causing Santa Blanca and UNIDAD helicopters to show up, fighting one another. In the ensuing chaos, I entered the camp’s other compound and eliminated the two remaining instructors. Previously, I had attempted an all-stealth approach but was discovered and died even after shooting down the Santa Blanca helicopters. Similarly, some of the convoy missions can become more interesting (and challenging) with the presence of traffic and UNIDAD patrols. Understanding that Wildlands is a tactical shooter, I also enjoyed the gunplay: one well-placed bullet is sufficient to down an unarmoured enemy, and even enemies with body armour do not require more than a few bullets to neutralise. Moreover, Wildlands provides an abundance of choice: after finishing the first mission, players can take on the provinces in any order of their choosing to eliminate a central member of the Santa Blanca cartel, giving a sense of freedom that stands apart compared to the more structured story missions of The Division.

While Wildlands proved to be quite entertaining, there are some aspects of The Division that are superior to those of Wildlands. The first is the user interface: The Division‘s unique, augmented-reality HUD remains one of the most innovative I’ve ever seen, projecting just enough information onto the screen to provide vital information at a glance. Seamlessly integrated into the world, it’s unobtrusive while at once being useful: two features I particularly liked were the pathfinders for highlighting a path to a destination, and the point-cloud renderings for the ECHO mechanic. The interface elements for the menus are also simple to navigate, making use of tiles to quickly show all of one’s items. Besides the amazing user interfaces, The Division also had a more intriguing premise. The fun in blowing up drug cartels notwithstanding, the idea of a bioterrorism act involving banknotes infected with smallpox cripples New York, forcing the activation of the stay-behind unit known as The Division to assist responders and investigate the cause of the disaster. It’s a terrifying thought to imagine such an event occurring, and presents a fantastic immersion into a speculative world where one has the opportunity to explore the deserted streets of New York. The Dark Zone was also an interesting component of the game, adding an additional sense of danger and uncertainty that resulted in some interesting emergent social interactions forming amongst the players. This is noticeably absent in Wildlands, which plays the much more familiar cooperative approach. Ultimately, owing to their differences, both titles do have their own merits, and so, for players like myself, the question ultimately boils down to which game is more single-player friendly.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The routine in Wildlands is a very familiar one: any point of interest is almost certainly to have a group of bad guys, patrolling, and blowing cover will make the battle substantially more difficult. This seems to be the case for stealth-driven games, where players who exercise good patience can get through areas very easily, whereas those who prefer going loud will find things a lot more tricky.

  • After arriving at the enemy encampment, a rainstorm blew in. In Wildlands, clothing can become wet when exposed to the elements and will dry out over time. In most games, dynamic wetness is usually not rendered, so players can walk through a rainstorm or wade through water, coming out as dry as before they went in. Although water-logged clothing will not slow a player’s movements down substantially as one might expect, it’s nonetheless a nice touch to the game.

  • As it turns out, one only really needs a good long-range weapon for a stealthy engagement: I managed to pick off more or less the entire camp with the M40A5 from a distance, before walking in and lighting up the mortar shell crates with my sidearm. As it turns out, my referred loadout (an assault rifle and sniper rifle) is the preferred one for stealth. There’s another that places a greater emphasis on LMGs, SMGs and shotguns, but those likely require a good team in order to be effective.

  • The mission to take out the Santa Blanca training instructors proved to be a difficult one: on my first few attempts, I set off the alarm, causing Santa Blanca helicopters to show up. On these first tries, I located a mini-gun emplacement and blasted them out of the sky, but eventually died when the UNIDAD showed up. On subsequent efforts, I decided to go with the stealth approach once more, disabling alarms, and generally being sneaky to minimise detection.

  • The later attempt proved more successful, and I managed to take out two of the three instructors before I was detected. The helicopters rolled in, as did the UNIDAD, but as these two factions began firing upon one another, I took advantage of the chaos to shoot out the last of the instructors to complete the mission. For amusement’s sake, I then found an armoured personnel carrier, sat myself in the gunner’s seat and decimated the UNIDAD helicopter before taking off for the next mission.

  • One of the more interesting gameplay mechanics that make death seem inconsequential in any Wildlands mission is that a mission will be completed whenever the goals are satisfied, independently of whether or not one makes it out alive. I remember one mission in the Itacua, I entered an encampment, took out the target and died seconds after the mission was completed, and when I respawned, the mission was complete. The implications of this are that it is possible to sneak into a heavily fortified area without dispatching anyone, take out the target or grab the intel, die and still finish the mission.

  • The mission where the goal was to search the communications outpost was an amusing one: I commandeered an APC and used it to clear most of the camp before walking in and taking the objective at a very casual pace. Close inspection of this image finds that I’m equipped with the 805 Bren A2, with a red dot sight and magnifying optics. Wildlands offers a very versatile mechanism that switches the player’s perspective from first to third person when aiming down sights; with automatic weapons, aiming over-the-shoulder is excellent, providing a greater field of vision.

  • Conversely, sniper rifles are best fired from the first person to maximise accuracy. Here, I close in on an aggregation of individuals of interest on a mission. Carelessness with the AI teammates led this mission to fail the first time I tried it, since they opened fire too early and allowed the target to escape, but I figured out that the individual of interest would try to flee in a vehicle and had prepared a pursuit vehicle.

  • I’ve never actually tried to swim across the large lake at the center of the Montuyoc province, but out of curiosity’s sake, I hopped into this smaller pool near the lake to see what would happen. The steam effects suggest that it’s a warmer pool, and some cursory searches find that there are indeed hot springs in Bolivia as a consequence of the tectonic activities that forged the Andes mountains.

  • Extracting the informant was probably one of the trickiest and most tense missions I played through: moving him a “mere” 1.4 kilometers proved to be an unexpected challenge when both the Santa Blanca and UNIDAD forces appeared with helicopters, and I had such an amount of open ground to cover. I made it by hiding behind large boulders and evading the helicopters, which eventually began attacking one another, buying me enough breathing room to reach the extraction site.

  • The last obstacle I encountered was a Santa Blanca patrol, and while some shooting with my side arm rectified that issue, my AI teammates finally caught up and provided enough covering fire, allowing me to complete this last mission. With four of five story missions completed in Montuyoc, I decided to go for some exploration and collect all of the different weapons in this region before continuing on with the final mission.

  • As heavy clouds roll over the region, I close in on the weapon case. By the end of the beta, I found all of the weapons, which include the Shorty 12G, TAR assault rifle, and two more sniper rifles, as well as the different weapons accessories. While the accessories are useful and allow one to fine-tune weapons to fit with their play-style, in general, the muzzle attachments tend to be mixed bags, reducing recoil at the expense of preventing a suppressor from being mounted.

  • The sharp-eyed reader will have noticed that my equipment was a little more diverse during the first of the Wildlands posts that I wrote, but I eventually decided to stick with one set of equipment. The options for customising one’s appearance is varied and can be used to create some interesting-looking characters, but I chose to outfit my character in a versatile manner to explore different settings without looking out of place.

  • Unlike some games out there, which suggest that less clothing confers more armour, Wildlands thankfully sticks to the realism route and ensures that players can only choose from clothing that make sense for special operations. I recall titles such as Vindictus, which I’ve only played briefly, where some of the better armour in the game does not actually involve more armour for defending against attacks, and some challenges require players to complete missions without any armour at all.

  • It’s been quite some time since I played Vindictus — if memory serves, the last time I ran it was back during 2013. Since then, my Steam library’s grown dramatically: prior to the summer of 2013, I had an older computer whose upper limits for gaming included Team Fortress 2 and Portal 2. However, after I built a new computer to replace this older system, I picked up Bad Company 2 and Crysis. From there, the number of games I could run expanded, and I’ve gone through a variety of titles over the past several years.

  • Over half of my Steam library consists of shooters (first person or third person, tactical or run-and-gun). The other games include strategy games like Sim City 4 and DEFCON, as well as some visual novels (including CLANNAD, Go! Go! Nippon! and Sakura Angel) and puzzle games. As is evidenced by this blog, I’m a huge fan of shooters: this is not unique to me, and from what I gather, the innate drive to make decisions that early humans utilised in finding food remain hardwired into our brains. These days, finding food involves sitting at an office and then earning money to hit a grocery store or restaurant, but our biological circuitry remains.

  • This evolutionary rationale would account for why first person shooters are so popular, and contrary to popular belief, they do not cause violence. Instead, I’ve found them remarkably cathartic; studies have found that populations with a proportionally large number of gamers correlated with a reduced number of violent crimes. Back in the Wildlands open beta, I’ve made it to the mine where Carl Bookhart is hiding out. There’s a sniper rifle case in this mine, the MSR, that can be picked up.

  • After reaching Bookhart, I cleared out the room with the AI teammates and shot him in the head with an assault rifle to complete the mission, unlocking the M4A1 tactical, which comes with a foregrip and optics. The illustrious weapons are fun to use, although in the beta, only assault rifles could be unlocked, and I predominantly play with the sniper rifle.

  • Here, I wrap up a side mission involving the delivery of communications parts to rebel forces, giving me a large amount of communications points. Besides communications, medical, fuel and food supplies can also be delivered. In addition, small caches are found throughout each map. Besides the skill points and levels needed to unlock skills, the skills also have a supply requirement — the side missions, although optional, contribute greatly to assisting players in unlocking new skills.

  • With all of the main missions complete, I returned to Itacua to explore and see if I could find a plane to fly, as well as locate the remaining weapon attachments and the one weapon I’d not bothered to find while I was here last while rolling through the story missions. The scenery at this rebel outpost is impressive, and I found myself staring at the water effects.

  • Here, I fire the TAR-21 assault rifle at Santa Blanca forces. A Coyote RDS is visible, and this is also one of the few images I have where I’m actively firing. The TAR-21 is the assault rifle variant of the IWI Tavor, firing 5.56 mm NATO rounds, and while it is absent in Battlefield, its smaller form, the MTAR, can be unlocked as a carbine. It’s a reasonably fun weapon to use in Battlefield, having a high rate of fire that makes it most useful for closer engagements (the recoil on the weapon is quite high).

  • I return to the UNIDAD base armed with the MSR sniper rifle, picking off sentries so that I may sneak into the facility undetected and find the weapon case, as well as the attachment. Similar to the HTI, it initially comes with a five round magazine and packs a bigger punch than the M40A5; it is effective up to 1.5 kilometers in reality.

  • The results of exploration is the unlocking of the 12G Shorty, which is the only shotgun I managed to find during the course of the Wildlands beta: this stockless shotgun is sixteen-point-five inches in length and has a capacity of two shells. Despite packing a wallop in extreme close quarters, its low capacity and short range means that the weapon was highly impractical even in close quarters, where one can run into several opponents.

  • The first time I visited the town in Itacua’s northeastern corner, I ran into a UNIDAD patrol and only just escaped. Here, I’ve commandeered a buggy armed with a minigun from the UNIDAD compound that I was exploring earlier, and if I order an assault, as I did here against Santa Blanca goons, the minigun will tear them up on short order. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any shoulder-fired anti-air or anti-tank options, although in some videos, I’ve seen folks use explosive drones to instantly destroy helicopters.

  • I’ve outfitted my assault rifles with an under-barrel grenade launcher attachment for fun: while going loud is not the smartest thing to do in most missions, with no more story missions left to complete in the beta by this point, I figured it was time to go and mess around with some of the different weapons: this grenade launcher is excellent for taking out crowds and destroying unarmoured vehicles.

  • One aspect of Wildlands that was hilarious was the fact that vehicles could automatically right themselves when flipped over, and when using the motorbike, I could hit objects at obscene speeds, and the bike would merely bounce into the air. I’ve only died once while on a vehicle, and that came from hitting another vehicle head-on in a collision because it was so tricky to steer the bike.

  • After clearing out Santa Blanca patrols, I finally come across the plane and a short landing strip. The mission: steal the plane and its supplies, then land it safely somewhere to deliver said supplies. However, immediately after takeoff, the unusable controls reared their ugly heads, and I crashed immediately, landing on the hillside. As planes require a flat surface to take off from, there was no way I would be completing this mission, so I flattened the plane with a grenade to fail the mission.

  • While I’ve not shown any instances of my usage here in this post, Wildlands does offer a night vision mode by default, excellent for those night missions where spotting enemies can be next to impossible in the darkness. I also unlocked thermal vision in the skill system, but did not play nearly enough to reach rank 14, which would allow me to unlock a special kind of suppressor that allows a weapon to deal full damage even when the suppressor is mounted.

  • After collecting a laser sight for my sidearm here, I decide to take another shot at flying. I was modestly more successful, but was shot down by anti-air missiles. Despite this, I bailed out and survived, but the plane was totalled, failing yet another mission. Side missions will become available again, so there’s no big concern for failing these, but main missions will cause the game to end if failed. Speaking of failures, I note that yesterday was the tenth anniversary to Five Centimetres per Second‘s theatrical première, but even such an occasion apparently does not merit any mention of when Your Name‘s home release will be. Toho has been remarkably secretive about things, and one wonders if it would take a Tom Clancy-style operation just to learn when the BluRay disks hit the market.

  • In the last moments in the Wildlands beta, I travelled to the southwestern corner of Montuyoc, which I’d not explored, and found a desolate, snowy mountainside that provided a beautiful view of the province. Now that both Wildlands posts are done, looking ahead into the future, I will be detailing my initial impressions of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, as well as covering the Yuyushiki and Kiniro Mosaic: Pretty Days OVAs. I remark that I also picked up Titanfall 2 during the EA Publisher Sale for sixty percent off, which means that I will be experiencing the campaign to this one, as well.

Ultimately, I think that, while I had a bit more fun with The Division‘s beta, Wildlands ended up being a bit more friendly for solo players, with its inclusion of AI teammates and vehicles. However, Wildlands does feel like a game whose value is most apparent when playing with a group of friends: I’m predominantly a solo gamer, and seeing as I never did end up purchasing The Division in spite of how enjoyable the beta was, it’s safe to say that I’m unlikely to purchase Wildlands in the future. Readers may have noticed that for Wildlands, I’ve got a bit more criticisms than I do for other games. This beta also had noticeably more issues than the previous games, ranging from the poor vehicle handling to one instance where I fell through the map. In general, I only purchase games that I am convinced that I will likely enjoy, so the chance that I’ll play through and complete a game I’m not enjoying is very small. With that being said, even if the vehicle controls are rectified by the time Wildlands launches, the game does not appear to be my cup of tea at full price; perhaps a good discount may lead me to change my mind, but with how Steam Sales and Ubisoft titles have worked, I imagine it will be quite some time before a good sale price may be found. In the meantime, it’s time for me to push forwards with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s Remastered edition.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: A Reflection on the Beta

“These drug cartels represent a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.” —POTUS, Clear and Present Danger

Developed by Ubisoft Paris and announced in 2015 at the E3 event, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is the tenth title in the Ghost Recon series. Set in the near future where the drug cartel Santa Blanca becomes the most dominant narcotic supplier in Bolivia, players will take on the role of a fictional special forces operator inserted into the nation to cripple the drug cartel, whose expanding influence begins to concern the United States government. After entering Bolivia by helicopter, the operator meets up with their CIA contact, Karen Bowman, and is given an assignment once they arrive in the Itacua province: to locate Amaru, an old man who founded the resistance group Kataris 26. Once Amaru is found, players can subsequently take on the Santa Blanca cartel in any order and manner of their choosing. Intelligence is collected to determine which locations of Itacua are worth locating — as more assignments are completed, the local commanders’ locations are revealed. In an intense firefight, both are killed, leaving me to continue the hunt in the neighbouring Montuyoc province. Standing in sharp contrast with Itacua, whose landscapes were dominated by verdant greenery, Montuyoc is an arid desert with only one large lake at its centre. Here, the enemies proved to be much more challenging, requiring more creative means to take out, but in the end, after some nine hours of time in the open beta, I finally reached the abandoned silver mine and neutralised Carl Bookhart, completing all of the eleven story missions available in the Wildands open beta.

I first heard about Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands (Wildlands for brevity in the remainder of my post) through one of my favourite YouTubers, TheRadBrad, who played through the first several missions in the Itacua province, acquired the M40A5 sniper rifle and wrapped up his mini-series of the closed beta with the mission where one must steal a sports car to acquire its GPS data from one of the local cartel lieutenants. My adventure continued on from here; I completed some side quests to gain access to support from the rebels and also managed to defeat the two bosses of the province. The beta shows that Wildlands is a beautiful game: the different provinces are fantastic places to explore, filled to the brim with details in the landscape. Dynamic weather adds variety to gameplay, prompting players to change up their tactics. While the Bolivia of Wildlands looks beautiful, the game’s narrative is not quite as captivating as that of The Division: inspired by Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger, where John Clark and Domingo Chavez infiltrate Columbia on a covert operation to destroy a drug cartel, Wildlands‘ storyline is more familiar, more grounded and more derivative. Players do not feel a particular curiosity towards seeing what’s next because it’s a simple matter of killing everyone of note in the cartel. Missions very quickly settle into a formulaic process — I arrive at the location specified in the intel, send my drone up to look around, then blow some bad guys away. If all has gone well, I clear the area out and complete my mission, otherwise, the alarm goes off and things devolve into a firefight I’ll lose, since the control mechanisms in Wildlands are not quite as smooth as they should be. Even then, moving around on foot is acceptable compared to the lack of controls the vehicles offer, and the AI-controlled companions bring to mind the sort of behaviours seen in Halo: Combat Evolved whenever I tried to enter a vehicle. While the controls are tricky to master, Wildlands delivers solid gun play — weapons feel very powerful, and I absolutely enjoyed downing enemies with a well-placed headshot from my suppressed sniper rifle, or firing a quick burst from an assault rifle to dispatch even an heavily-armoured enemy.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Immediately after touching down and sneaking up a mountainous path to locate a cartel lieutenant who has information on where Amaru is, I am greeted with a plethora of vivid colours, from the deep blue sky and the greens of the jungle, to the mahogany of the muddy ground. Colours in Wildlands stand out, and is easily one of the most impressive aspect of the game. The number of vistas in Wildlands means that I could easily make this post with thirty screenshots to showcase some of the different places I visited during my trek through the beta. It doesn’t end here: this post only covers the first half of my journey, and I will be returning in the near future to discuss the second half of my journey, as well as comparing Wildlands with The Division.

  • In combat, players can choose between a traditional first-person view while aiming down sights, or switch back to the over-the-shoulder system seen in some tactical third-person shooters. For weapons with higher magnification optics (anything 4x or higher), this is the better way to play, while for weapons with red dot or iron sights, shooting with the over-the-shoulder camera perspective allows one to retain situational awareness in close quarters engagement.

  • Here, the skies are grey as clouds roll in, but later, the clouds begin dispersing. The sharp contrast between light and dark means that the clouds grow much darker while light floods in, similar to how the play of light results in very dark skies when the sun breaks through the sky in reality. In Wildlands, much of my screenshots will feature weapons equipped with suppressors: intended to be a tactical shooter, enemies will go down in only a few bullets, and while suppressed rounds are much weaker, they allow players to take out enemies without being detected.

  • The driving in Wildlands takes some getting used to: controls are very loose and imprecise, so what one initially intends to be a small adjustment in course will result in a wide, uncontrolled turn that can send the player careening off the road. This lack of control makes driving quite unenjoyable, and is compounded by the fact that the camera swings while reversing to face the back of the vehicle. I have free control of the camera while driving, so I expect to turn the camera myself if I need extra visibility in the back, rather than have the camera do it on my behalf.

  • In a small town in the north-east corner of Itacua, I encounter the UNIDAD for the first time. These private military contractors are a rogue branch of the Bolivian army in Wildlands, are denoted as purple on the map and are much tougher than the Santa Blanca enforcers, wearing heavy armour into combat and bringing superior weapons, as well. On my first encounter, I fought them and managed to elevate my patrol status to two chevrons, only just getting away when they began pursuit. Subsequently, I learned to avoid UNIDAD patrols.

  • Players start Wildlands with the P416 assault rifle (based off the Patriot Ordinance Factory P416), which has reasonable accuracy, firing rate and damage, the Heckler and Koch MP5 and the P45T pistol. All of these weapons can be outfitted with suppressors that lessen their damage but also increases one’s stealthiness. It is generally advisable to keep one’s suppressors on at all times, since enemies do not take more than a handful of hits (if unarmoured) to go down.

  • One of the earlier missions involved activating a radio transmitted and defending it from attacking Santa Blanca forces. By this point in the beta, I’ve unlocked the M40A5 sniper rifle, and despite its lower zoom optic, the weapon proved to be an indispensable asset throughout most of the game, allowing me to silently dispatch enemies without drawing attention to myself. However, there are parts of the game where it’s necessary to go loud, and here, I use a fragmentation grenade to destroy a Santa Blanca vehicle.

  • When I first heard news of the open beta and its start date, I realised that it would conflict with some of my other commitments. In order to maximise the time I could play through the beta and complete the main missions (which is my goal for any beta involving a campaign), I planned things out ahead of time so blog posts were done, and time was blocked out accordingly. By 25 Saturday, I had largely finished the first province and was getting set to visit the second — I was set to meet up with coworkers for a pizza and poker night, so a fine balance and time management allowed me to thoroughly enjoy both.

  • It’s been quite some time since I’ve made a pizza, and so, presented with the ingredients, I added different pepperonis, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatos, jalapeño, and even shrimp to mine, on top of the default cheeses. The end result was a bit messy but turned out delicious: I dumped a generous amount of hot sauce onto my pizza and savoured it. After the pizzas were demolished, the evening turned to poker and chocolate cake: it was my first time playing Texas Hold ‘Em, and the buy-in was 20 dollars. After a few practise hands to warm up, I surprised myself with how quick it was to learn the basics, and so, we set off into the main game.

  • Some two-and-a-half hours later, the last hands were played, and I managed to break even. It’s true that poker is more about psychology than probability, and that one’s current state is by no means indicative of what the end result is: I was quite close to elimination, but two successive wins with a full house and three pairs, respectively, brought me back into the game. Back in Wildlands, I drive a truck while trying to catch up with a convoy carrying supplies. When convoys, choppers or planes are stolen and delivered, they can bring vast quantities of supplies to the rebel forces. The points one gains for doing these activities go towards unlocking skills and equipment.

  • The scenery here reminds me of the scenery I encountered when travelling in Taiwan back during 2014, and a part of me would like to return to the Eastern side of the nation to explore the Huatung Valley, a beautiful region surrounded by mountains on both sides. The majesty of this area brings to mind the sort of emotions evoked by the Titanfall 2 soundtrack, which is absolutely amazing, and at some point this year, I plan on picking up Titanfall 2 if it goes on discount, to play through the campaign.

  • Stealing El Politio’s race car was a particularly fun mission: after sneaking into the garage, I simply took the vehicle and enjoyed its performance en route to the destination.  This is the last mission that TheRadBrad played through, and so, having done both this mission and acquired the M40A5 as my second primary weapon, I’ve now gone through everything that was presented during the closed beta, which ran some three weeks ago.

  • Here, I drive into a village in a mini-bus. While the driving system in Wildlands leaves something to be desired, one feature I did enjoy is that players can command their AI squad mates to begin opening fire on enemy positions, minimising my own exposure to their fire. In this manner, I cleaned up the village on short order and began making my way to the mission objective, to free a prisoner with some intel.

  • Unlike last year, where I was working on a conference publication during The Division‘s beta, there are no academic-related tasks this year to deal with. I’ve mentioned this with some frequency, but every time I think about it, it’s always a bit of a shock to learn just how quickly time flies. It only seems like yesterday that I spent a day at the lab, working on course material before coming home to play through The Division‘s beta.

  • For much of this post, which represents the first half of my experiences within Wildlands, I ran exclusively with the P416, M40A5 and the P45T. I would on some occasions, pick up weapons taken from enemies, which allowed me to fire the M4A1, 805 Bren A2 and the 6P41 (PKP Pecheneg, for us Battlefield fans). On the whole, the other weapons proved to be fun to use, especially considering how they were equipped with the 4x optics, allowing them to be used at greater range.

  • For much of the Wildlands beta, the M40A5 suppressed was probably my favourite weapon for stealth engagements: it packs a good punch, has a good-sized magazine capacity and can be used to pick off enemies at longer ranges in a reliable manner. Here, I storm a UNIDAD facility to interrogate a commander to acquire some intelligence that sets in motion the final main mission in this province. On my first visit, I neglected to explore and did not find the weapon attachment or weapon at this site, so I returned after completing all of the missions.

  • Knowing where the province’s bosses, La Yuri and El Polito, I commandeered a helicopter and flew towards my destination as the skies began to darken. The helicopter is a good way of getting between destinations, but the controls were quite tricky to become accustomed to. However, I eventually got the hang of it and made my way to a farm house on a hill to complete the last of the missions in the Itacua province.

  • Unlike the bosses of The Division, who soak up bullets like a sponge, the bosses of Wildlands go down in a few rounds. The challenge is not gunning down the bosses, but rather, getting to them: the entire room was full of their cronies who filled the air with hot lead, and I was downed once during the fight, forcing one of the AI teammates to revive me. By the time I got back up, the AI teammates already took out one of the bosses, but I swung around and managed to get the kill myself before they could vulture my kill to end this mission and acquire two illustrious AK-47s.

  • I found a helicopter equipped with dual mini-guns and set about picking fights with the Santa Blanca helicopters in the sky, blowing one up here in a spectacular fashion. While fun to fly, aiming the primary weapons on the helicopter proved to be surprisingly tricky, and with the vehicle bobbing this way and that, it proved difficult to point the guns down towards the ground to strafe enemy positions.

  • The dynamic weather patterns in Wildlands meant that I would be able to stop and admire the sunrises and sunsets in between missions. With the major story missions of Itacua complete, I set about visiting the weapon caches to pick up new weapons. The intel to locate these spots were found by exploration, and after looking through the weapons menu, I was disappointed to learn that the Vector .45 ACP would not be available in this province to unlock.

  • While seemingly frivolous, the collectible medals offer enhancements to skills unlocked. Similar to the weapons caches, they can be unlocked by looking through intel scattered around the various settlements, and here, I find a medal near a rebel-controlled farm. More than ever, I am reminded of the mountainous regions of Eastern Taiwan, and I entertain notions of an open world game set in Taiwan during the 1940s under Japanese occupation, where players can play as the Taiwanese resistance.

  • I decided to go reach a spot to hunt down the MG121 before taking on a supply drop mission. Ideal for laying down a large amount of suppressive fire, LMGs also deal excellent damage but have a longer reload time. One of the elements in Wildlands that I initially assumed to be a bug was that picking up weapons from defeated enemies would automatically add them to my collection, and that weapons would persist after I left the game and returned.

  • Here, I fire the MG121 at enemy forces hiding behind a helicopter carrying medical supplies. Missions involving the theft of a helicopter proved to be fun and also the most straightforwards to complete, although there have been cases where one of the enemies will make a beeline for the helicopter and fly off with it: destroying the helicopter will result in the mission failing, although in the beta, the game is forgiving enough to re-issue the mission if it had been failed earlier.

  • With more or less all of the areas explored to a satisfactory extent, the time had come for me to make tracks for the Montuyoc province to continue with my journey. Having played through several time-sensitive games such as Battlefield 4 and Titanfall as a part of Origin’s GameTime programme, as well as several betas, I’ve developed a methodology to enjoy these titles as fully as possible given my limited time in playing them: for multiplayer games, I simply play as often as I can and spread my time out to experience things in the greatest breadth possible, while for games with a set of campaign, I’ll begin by completing story missions first.

  • This town here is located on a snowy cliff-side on the boarder between Itacua and Montuyoc. A far cry from the jungles and greenery of Itacua, I reached this location by means of a motorbike. Unlike World of Warcraft, the different regions smoothly transition into one another: this is stated to be the consequence of gods forging the world, and magical elements contribute to the dramatic change in terrain between the different locations: the Searing Gorge and Burning Steppes are two locations sandwiched between Dun Morogh (a snow-covered land) Elwynn Forest, a temperate, green setting.

  • After clearing out this town, I proceeded by motorcycle to the first of the checkpoints in Montuyoc. One of the fastest vehicles in the game, the motorcycle is also one of the easiest to use for the Montuyoc province, allowing players to cut across the desert plains quickly. There are large boulders strewn here and there, but those can be avoided. The main disadvantage about the motorcycle is that it only seats one. Pickup trucks and mini-buses allow players to bring their mates, but this limitation is only constrained to co-op: the AI teammates seem to be able to spawn on the player’s position after they exit the motorcycle.

  • The large lake at the center of Montuyoc reminds me of Namco Lake in Tibet; this salt lake located in the Tibetian plateau is the largest salt lake in Tibet and counted as one of the most beautiful in China, with deep blue waters beneath treeless mountains covered in snow. The weather up here is harsh and subject to frequent snowstorms, making it difficult for vegetation to take hold, and in Wildlands, one can surmise that conditions are only slightly more hospitable, as grasses can be seen in some parts of Montuyoc. I’d love to visit Namco Lake, although for the present, I’ll enjoy the fact that I got to explore a virtual version of the lake in the Wildlands beta.

  • Upon entering a new province for the first time, the first goal is to hit up locations where the intel is located, and acquire it so that the first set of story missions unlock. At these locations, there will be Santa Blanca cartel enforcers hanging around, and they must be eliminated before anything else can be done. I imagine that the same will hold true for each of the twenty-one provinces in the game.

  • All told, I’ve heard an estimate of around seven to eight hours of total time could be spent in the Wildlands beta to complete the story missions and side missions: this is more or less true, so a bit of computation suggests the final game will take roughly 73.5 to 84 hours to complete in total. Conversely, The Division clocks at at an average of 30-36 hours to complete in full. That’s a vast amount of time to be spending in one game, and to put things in perspective, I’ve got around 63 hours in Receiver, 51 hours in Skyrim, 43 in Valkyria Chronicles and 32 hours in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

  • Here, I overlook a small settlement and the lake at the center of Montuyoc province as the sun sets. Besides playing through the Wildlands beta this weekend, I also picked up Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition for a third off — I discovered the deal while waiting for my appointment at the bank, and despite the overwhelmingly negative reception for the game, I have been looking to buy both games for some time. This is so I could give Infinite Warfare a shot and see if it’s as bad as people make it out to be, and to play through Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s Remastered Edition. The latter is associated with my memories of the MCAT exam nearly five years ago, and it will be quite nostalgic to go through Pripyat again with the improved graphics for old times’ sake.

Having played through the game as a solo player, Wildlands beta proved to be reasonably entertaining and also showcased the scale of what Wildlands offers. However, although spectacular in the scale and details of Bolivia, as well providing a fantastic experience with respect to how the different weapons handle and perform, from my experiences with the open beta, Wildlands does not look like a game I would pick up: travelling between the different locations turned out to be a bit of a chore, and missions unwound almost with the same sequence of events each time. The combination of (albeit a very impressive and well thought-out) open world elements with a derivative narrative means that Wildlands ultimately becomes very familiar: Far Cry 4 provides a similar experience in the first person and has different nuances that encourage exploration, while Just Cause 3‘s taste for wanton destruction far outclasses that of Wildlands (it does not seem that one can destroy buildings with missiles, sustained mini-gun fire or cannon rounds). Despite the fun I’ve had in sneaking around enemy positions and a shooting everyone in the head with a suppressed sniper rifle, as well as the joy in watching shifting weather patterns, Wildlands is a game that I do not see myself considering picking up in the foreseeable future: getting around can be a bit of a challenge, and the nature of the narrative raises one additional question: what is left to do in Wildlands once the cartel is completely defeated?