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Feedback and Reflections on Insider Flighting with The Master Chief Collection: Halo 3: ODST

“A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.” –Shelby Foote

A few weeks ago, 343 Industries conducted a flight for Halo 3: ODST, during which several campaign missions were playable, alongside the fondly-remembered Firefight mode and an updated Halo 3 multiplayer which was intended to address issues surrounding hit detection in the retail build. This marks the first time that I’d ever played Halo 3: ODST, an entry in the Halo franchise that is often forgotten amongst the giants like Halo 3 and Halo Reach. As I progressed through the campaign missions, it became clear that at least, for the campaign, Halo 3: ODST is ready to roll. Having experimented with both the Rookie’s free-roam in the deserted streets of New Mombassa and the flashback missions, I found no major issues with gameplay or performance. Events trigger appropriately at the stipulated points in the campaign, movement and shooting feels solid. The smart HUD and VISR function as expected. Although the campaign playlists meant levels were played back-to-back rather than as the campaign originally arranged them (the flashback missions should be started when the Rookie finds evidence in the streets of New Mombassa), I imagine that these are merely loading mechanisms, and the campaign should be functional when it hits the Master Chief Collection later this month. I will, of course, be reserving my impressions of Halo 3: ODST, with regard to the themes, enjoyment factor and contributions to the franchise in a dedicated post once the retail version becomes available, and in this brief reflections post, I will be showcasing my exploration of the New Mombassa streets on legendary difficulty.

The playlist for the city streets only allowed the Rookie to explore New Mombassa with Halo‘s toughest enemies, bringing back memories of the year that Halo 3: ODST came out for Xbox 360. Back in those days, I was acclimatising to life as a university student. During that first term, I found myself in an unfamiliar environment, and my classmates all had different schedules. Having made a small mistake during registrations early on, I ended up reshuffling my schedule to fit everything in, resulting in a chemistry lab that ran into the evening. On days where I had labs, I would spend my free time studying in the basement of building housing the largest lecture halls on campus. Down here, it was quiet, making for a good place to hit the books in peace. After finishing any review and assignments I had, I would head to the chemistry labs in the building over. During these study sessions, I listened to Halo 3: ODST‘s soundtrack, whose film noir elements created a compelling sense of loneliness that I would come to associate with that far-flung corner of campus. During those late nights, darkness crept back into the world as fall gave way to winter. Exploring the deserted hallways of campus had a melancholy feel to it, a melancholy that the Halo 3: ODST captures well, and at present, after spinning up Halo 3: ODST and wandering the streets of New Mombasa, memories of those days return to me as I locate a biofoam injector, bent-up sniper rifle and a helmet embedded in a screen. Provided that the retail version of Halo 3: ODST handles as smoothly as it did in the flight (there were no game-breaking bugs, crashes or performance issues that I found during the time I spent exploring), I anticipate that Halo 3: ODST will be a very smooth launch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Halo 3: ODST was originally released on September 22, 2009 for Xbox 360 and became a distinct entry in the Halo franchise for its focus on an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST) known as the Rookie. These special forces are known as “Helljumpers” for their mode of being deployed into a combat situation, and during the Battle of New Mombasa, a small squad is sent on a clandestine mission that goes awry.

  • The flight allowed me to check out most of Halo 3: ODST‘s campaign, but for this post, I’ll purely focus on the streets of New Mombasa after dark – there is actually quite a bit going on in the story, well beyond the Rookie investigating New Mombasa for clues on a stormy night, so I’d figure that I’d showcase some of the more interesting places around New Mombasa now and then save the campaign moments for the full post later on.

  • The biggest surprise I had going into the New Mombasa playlist during the flight was that this was locked to legendary difficulty, which created an additional element of immersion. Even simple grunts and jackals, which are trivially easy on normal, become a challenge to engage, and every individual brute is a mini-boss, capable of absorbing a magazine-and-a-half of sustained fire from the suppressed submachine gun. It therefore became a matter of picking my fights (and avoiding them) as I picked my way through the deserted city streets.

  • Compared to its standard variant, the M7S suppressed submachine gun is a little more accurate and deals less damage per shot. It also possesses a reflex sight that is linked to a smart optic, giving the M7S a bit more reliability at long range. The Rookie has the M6C/SOCOM, a semi-automatic pistol with an integral suppressor and a VnSLS/V 6E which allows for shots to be placed with accuracy out to a longer range than the M6C. Against grunts and jackals, a single well-placed headshot will deal with them swiftly, and despite being a relatively weak weapon, it is also immensely satisfying to use.

  • When Halo 3: ODST released, the university had not yet undergone construction work to modernise it, and as such, campus relied entirely on sodium-vapour lamps to illuminate pathways with an orange glow. While waiting for a ride on evenings where I had chemistry labs, I would wander around the darkened campus, which had a very similar atmosphere and aesthetic as the streets of New Mombasa.

  • In retrospect, I was never too fond of chemistry labs, since they were set in an old building that, while still satisfying safety code, had outdated equipment that could be fickle at times. I found myself wishing I was back in secondary school, which had more modern facilities and a generally more relaxed atmosphere: university chemistry labs were a ways more stressful and we were also assessed based on how successful our yields and results were. The labs themselves dealt with relatively simple, practical applications of the theory we learnt in lecture, and at least in my first year, I performed decently well in the laboratory component.

  • Even during the academic semester, campus empties out very quickly at night, with only a handful of classrooms being occupied by lectures or tutorials. My days thus fell into a familiar pattern: once a week, I would stay late on campus to do my labs, and I had a four hour break on those days, so I would study in the basement hallways of the largest lecture building on campus until it was time to start the lab. Because my linear algebra course had the lightest textbook, I would often do most of my linear algebra here while listening to Halo 3: ODST‘s soundtrack.

  • In this way, my first term would pass in the blink of an eye, and after final exams ended, I found myself with a decent performance. During the winter break, I ended up reconfiguring my schedule somewhat to reduce the amount of time spent on campus after dark, and because the Halo 3: ODST soundtrack reminded me of those lonely days spent drilling on eigenvalues and testing for invertibility by means of Gaussian Elimination, I promptly stopped listening to the Halo 3: ODST soundtrack. Halo 3: ODST similarly fell to the back of my mind as I started the new semester, which I spent studying with friends in a much more well-lit, inviting space in the student centre.

  • During the moments exploring the more remote reaches of campus in the time after a lab and before my ride arrived, I typically walked around the outside of campus to figure out the best routes between different buildings, or else went into the basement network that linked most of the science buildings together. In my first term, all of my courses were concentrated in the sciences area, so it was easy to get around, but later on, courses would be scattered in unusual areas based on classroom availability, so knowing how to get between buildings quickly was of value. However, the engineering building was intimidating to me, and I rarely went in there early on. It wasn’t until the summer I began exploring campus more fully.

  • I managed to find a shotgun during my trek through New Mombasa, which was an immensely valuable asset in that I finally had something with the stopping power to deal with brutes, even on legendary. One thing I did notice during the Halo 3: ODST flight was that I never encountered the battle rifle, which was my go-to weapon in Halo 3 for being a solid all-around weapon: Bungie deliberately cut the battle rifle from Halo 3: ODST in order to really drive home the idea that the Rookie and other ODSTs were vulnerable, lacking the overwhelming power that the Master Chief’s presence brought to each fight.

  • When I first opened up the New Mombasa streets playlist, I was quite unaware that it had been on legendary difficulty, and even after I took out my first enemy squad, the difficulty didn’t seem to be an issue, although I had felt that I used a bit more ammunition than I’d intended to. However, after reaching the first building and entering a courtyard full of grunts, what I’d thought to be an easy fight suddenly turned into a slaughter, as a few stray plasma rounds ended up wiping me out.

  • Playing on legendary is supposed to be the iconic Halo experience: enemies are incredibly tough and hit hard, and the player’s own damage and durability are reduced. On legendary, it becomes clear as to just how vulnerable the Rookie is on his own, when even a lone grunt can wipe him with a plasma pistol. In conjunction with the lack of a motion sensor integrated into the HUD, one must use the Visual Intelligence System, Reconnaissance (VISR) display to plan out their next move, knowing when to fight and when to quietly sneak by.

  • Other parts of Halo 3: ODST‘s campaign are set during brighter hours of the day, and the Rookie’s segments are extremely dark. Fortunately, the VISR also has a special low-light mode that enhances brightness somewhat, as well as highlighting enemies in red, resources in yellow and allies in green. For these screenshots here, I’ve disabled the VISR so that each scene is as they would appear, but during combat situations, I leave the VISR engaged for improved visibility. The VISR is also immensely valuable for locating evidence, emitting audible cues as one closes in on something important.

  • Because YouTube had not been quite as user-friendly during the game’s original release, Halo 3: ODST remains the Halo title I’m least familiar with, and as such, the flight actually marks the first time I’ve seen much of Halo 3: ODST – this iteration of Halo did not come with a full multiplayer component, instead, using Halo 3‘s multiplayer and consequently, I don’t think any of my friends picked up the title. We never did Firefight during LAN parties, so ODST wasn’t really a title that any of my friends had experience with.

  • Instead, Halo 3: ODST stands out to me for its music, which has a completely different feel than the epic guitar and Gregorian Chant from earlier Halo games. Instead, composers Michael Salvatori and Martin O’Donnell adopted a jazz noir sound that evokes a mysterious, contemplative feeling through the use of saxophone. However, rather than the contemplative tone that traditional jazz noir creates, Halo 3: ODST has a more melancholy sound for its nighttime segments. The combat sequences and flashbacks, on the other hand, have a more traditional, militaristic sound.

  • That Halo 3: ODST balances both out, creating the film noir atmosphere for the Rookie’s segment, and then returning to the form that Halo is known for, creates a very compelling atmosphere during different segments of the game. The film noir tone, however, calls for the orange-yellow glow of sodium vapour street lights, and some years ago, my city transitioned away from those to LED lights. The university followed suit shortly after, replacing all of the aging lamps with modern LED ones.

  • This simple change transformed the campus’ nightscape to be a shade brighter, less shadowy. In the years following, I carefully timed my labs so they did not occur during the evenings, and most of my late-night stays on campus usually resulted from taking exams. In my graduate degree, I stayed late to help with various events around campus or invigilate exams. On the occasions where it was dark by the time I left, I noticed that the brilliant white lights of the LEDs helped to create a more inviting environment.

  • While the flighting has ended, and we’re likely due to see Halo 3: ODST somewhere later this month, I note that I’ve deliberately chosen to write about the flight now because it coincides with the first day of lecture, which admittedly took some getting used to. I believe today should also be the start of a new semester, as well. As I moved through my university program, the first day of lecture became less noteworthy: by graduate school, I regarded the first day of lecture as little more than a time for when hallways became busy again.

  • For the actual Halo 3: ODST discussion, I’ll delve into more plot-related elements and gameplay mechanics. There are enough differences in Halo 3: ODST to warrant playing with a different style, but some elements remain unchanged (such as the fact that ODST can hit as hard as Master Chief can when meleeing enemies). With this being said, it’s time to wrap things up: I realise this is my third games-related post in a row, so I assure readers that my next post will return to anime.

  • Altogether, it took about two hours to hit each piece of evidence and wrap up the streets of New Mombasa in full on legendary: once I reach the building that leads into a complex housing the Superintendent’s data core, this playlist concludes. I will be returning at some point in the future to write about Halo 3: ODST proper, and having gotten this bit of reminiscence out, that leaves me free to focus entirely on Halo 3: ODST without lapsing into nostalgia about university.

Once Halo 3: ODST hits retail, all eyes will turn towards Halo 4, the first Halo title that 343 Industries developed. The previous Halo titles, Halo 3 in particular, have set the precedence for what to expect, and moving into the future, I am anticipating a very exciting launch for Halo 4, as well. It is a little surprising to see The Master Chief Collection nearing completion, around a year after Halo Reach first released to PC, and in all honesty, The Master Chief Collection coming to PC was probably the biggest event in gaming this year, outstripping even the likes of Call of Duty: Warzone for me. Admittedly, a lot of gaming these days has begun straying from the path of what makes them enjoyable: the Battle Royale genre is one I have no patience to play, either dispensing with skill (such as Fortnite, where dirty tactics like camping are accepted) or falling to its own success (Call of Duty: Warzone and its cheaters, for instance). Seeing classics make their appearance on PC has been most welcome: Halo has always been about immersing players in a different world through its campaign, and striving to improve and learn through its multiplayer. To see the Halo approach to gaming still standing strong after over a decade, against modern titles, attests to just how well-designed and innovative the series is, and the Master Chief Collection will be something that continues to give its players enjoyment long after Halo 4 releases and finishes off the collection, keeping people engaged and excited as 343 Industries works toward releasing Halo Infinite.

Feedback and Reflections on Insider Flighting with The Master Chief Collection: Halo 3

“I would prefer even to fail with honour than to win by cheating.” –Sophocles

I had previously received an invitation to test Halo: Combat Evolved earlier in February, but an account issue prevented me from logging in and participating. This time around, 343 Industries has begun testing Halo 3 ahead of its release into The Master Chief Collection, releasing just over half of the single-player campaign missions and rotating multiplayer game types during its run. I was provided with an invitation to participate in the flighting programme and hastened to experience both the single-player and multiplayer aspects of the game before the test period ended. The Halo 3 flight offered five of the nine campaign missions: out of the gates, I was impressed with the visuals and handling. I will be returning once the game is finished to deal with the story and my impressions of gameplay – this time around, I will be focused more on the technical aspects of the game as a result of the flighting. Out of the gates, there are no major performance issues that are immediately apparent: the game handles smoothly, with no frame drops or any stuttering even in busier areas. The only major issue affecting the campaign is the weapon audio: the report of a weapon is barely audible over the music and ambient sounds during a firefight. However, while Halo 3 appears ready from the campaign perspective, the multiplayer component is stymied by a major problem with the mouse sensitivity to the point of being unplayable: in close quarters engagements, I favour having higher sensitivities to ensure I can continue tracking my targets, and I typically position myself in such a way so that I can favour closer-range engagements in Halo. At present, the maximum available sensitivity in Halo 3 is far too low to be effective in the multiplayer, and this is something that needs to be improved prior to the full release of Halo 3.

The reason why the sensitivity settings are too low in Halo 3 for the gameplay is related to the presence of both mouse-and-keyboard and controller players: in The Master Chief Collection, players who use a controller are given an aim assist utility that is intended to help them keep up with mouse-and-keyboard players by automatically shifting the camera to be centred on an enemy. In practise, this has allowed players using controllers to have an immense advantage over those who use mouse-and-keyboard in close quarters scenarios: since the time-to-kill in Halo is high, being effective means consistently landing shots on an enemy. Players must track their targets and time each pull of the trigger: on a mouse-and-keyboard setup, how well players can pull this off boils down to a matter of skill, and an experienced player can be quite effective with the mouse-and-keyboard in all scenarios. However, controller players have aim assist which handles this tracking; the player only needs to pull the trigger, and aim assist ensures their shots will land. This leaves mouse-and-keyboard players at a massive disadvantage in close-quarters firefights – the inevitable result is that during the Halo 3 flighting, I’ve been unable to see any sort of success in a given multiplayer match against players using controllers. Because of low sensitivities, I’ve experienced a reduced ability in being able to reliably track targets: players move faster than I can keep my crosshairs on them, and if they have a controller, they are assured that their shots will find their mark. Beyond sensitivity issues, the other gripe I have with the flight is that dual-wielding is similarly unintuitive: whereas Halo 2 was designed so that the left mouse button would fire the left-hand weapon and the right mouse button would fire the right-hand weapon, Halo 3 has this reversed, and there is no easy way to change this. Similarly, having separate reload buttons means that it is hardly practical to dual-wield, and for most of the campaign, I simply eschewed dual-wielding in favour of running the battle rifle.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My performance in Halo 3‘s flight was worse than what it was during the old days of LAN parties when my friends switched us over to Halo 3 from Halo 2: back in those days, I was lucky to get 5-10 kills a match, but most games during the flighting, I found myself unable to even hit five. Halo 3‘s gameplay is slower than that of Halo 2‘s, and almost all of the weapons are weaker than their predecessors. As a result, it was quite difficult to get used to the new way things handled.

  • Owing to the weaker weapons and the fact that I simply wasn’t able to aim and track as quickly as I’d like, triple kills did not happen during my time with the flight. I do, however, have a pile of double kill medals for my trouble, and admittedly, while the experience in the flight was decidedly negative, I did have a few moments here and there in the multiplayer. My friends have long felt that Halo 2 was the superior game when it comes to multiplayer, featuring superior weapon balance and mechanics that were more skilled based.

  • While the multiplayer portion of the flight was not quite as smooth as I would have liked, I had absolutely no trouble at all with the campaign: the Halo 3 flight made five of the nine campaign missions available, giving a good spread of what was available. Overall, I have no complaints about the campaign at all. I was originally considering splitting this post to cover both the campaign and multiplayer, but it’d be tricky to do that without the full story on the table. As such, I will be doing a full discussion of the campaign once Halo 3 is launched.

  • Heretic is Halo 3‘s remake of Midship, one of the best close quarters maps in the game for MLG slayer. I’m generally not fond of FFA-style games, since there’s too much opportunity to be vultured after a firefight, but the flipside is that a skillful player has more opportunity to chain impressive multi-kills together in FFA than they would in MLG Team BRs. In the days of old, I struggled to get kills with the battle rifle and instead, most of my kills came from melee or grenade sticks.

  • One aspect I did enjoy in Halo 3 was the addition of the gravity hammer: this Brute weapon is a weaker incarnation of the gravity hammer that Tataurus yields in Halo 2, and with a powerful shockwave projector, can flatten enemies or even deflect projectiles. Having confiscated a gravity hammer from another player on Guardian, I ended up going on a short killing spree with it and earned myself a double kill for my troubles. Guardian is the Halo 3 equivalent of Lockout in terms of design, but no Halo map is as enjoyable as Lockout: an update would later add Blackout, a map that has the same layout, to Halo 3.

  • The other fun aspect of Halo 3 is the inclusion of the Spartan Laser: while I’ve now fired one properly on PC in both the Halo: Reach and Halo 3 flight campaigns, the flight represents the first time I’ve been able to pick up the weapon in multiplayer and get kills with it. It is with the power weapons where players can witness the more sophisticated physics engine of Halo 3 at work. Explosions can result in unusual things materialising, lending itself to comedy in some moments, such as when one accidentally kills themselves with a traffic cone thrown by an explosion.

  • The larger maps in Halo 3, coupled with the fact that the battle rifle is no longer as effective as it was in Halo 2, means that firefights are protracted and drawn-out. At medium ranges, the battle rifle stops being effective. As it turns out, Halo has a mechanic called “bullet magnetism”, which refers to the tolerance a bullet can be from a target and still count as a hit. Halo indicates that a player’s shots will register when the reticule is red, bullet magnetism is in play, and one’s shots are guaranteed to curve towards an opponent.

  • Outpost is probably my favourite of the Halo 3 maps from an aesthetics perspective: the combination of bases on the edges of the map, open areas in the map centre, and massive radio dishes in the background, set under the light of a day coming to an end, creates a very unique and interesting atmosphere. It is on larger maps where the battle rifle feels inadequate in Halo 3, and firefights that would’ve been very manageable in Halo 2 turned into a situation where I would dump an entire magazine at a foe, only for them to kill me instantly.

  • The aim assist aspect of The Master Chief Collection is the subject of no small debate since the launch of Halo: Reach, with some players feeling that aim assist outright ruins the game for mouse-and-keyboard players, and others believing it to be a necessary part of the game for players who run with controllers. I lean more in favour of the former: in excess, aim assist takes the skill out of Halo, and a degraded experience for mouse-and-keyboard players is bad for a game that was ostensibly supposed to bring the Halo universe into the realm of mice and keyboards.

  • As it stands, I consider defenders of strong controller aim assist to be players who want to do well at all costs. Such players fear their advantage might be taken away by any changes to aim assist, and vehemently defend aim assist under the impression that a good enough player should be able to overcome them, irrespective of input scheme. Here on Last Resort, Halo 3‘s interpretation of Zanzibar, I managed to go on a short streak with the sniper rifle. Unlike the Halo 2 sniper rifle, which yields sniper medals for every successful kill, Halo 3‘s sniper rifle only awards medals on a headshot kill.

  • The sniper rifle is even more valuable in Halo 3 owing to the fact that it can reach targets that the battle rifle cannot touch: while my team focused on closing the distance to secure the flag, I hung back with the sniper rifle and picked off stragglers to stop them from firing on teammates. The sniper rifle remains fun to use, but the old firing sound is a little weaker compared to the Halo 2 Anniversary incarnations of the rifle. The UNSC sniper rifles of Halo fire 14.5 mm rounds, which are larger in bore than 50-cal rounds, but as the rifles fire APFSDS rounds, their recoil is far lighter than that of a rifle firing BMG rounds, allowing even the marines in Halo to fire the weapon from the shoulder.

  • Infection is one of the more unusual game modes, officially introduced into Halo 3 after the Halo 2 custom game mode became popular. The inclusion of these novel modes mixes things up a little, although having spent the better part of the past seven years in Battlefield, where games are objective-oriented and set on large maps, upon returning to Halo, I find myself gravitating back towards the smaller-scale eight player matches more frequently, since these represent drop-in, drop-out sessions that fits my schedule particularly well.

  • During one match, I saw for myself the impact of a controller could have on performance: one of the players on my team began racking up kills at a rate that seemed impossible: we had ended up on a larger map, and there were numerous firefights where I had landed a few rounds on an opponent before this player appeared, snapped onto them and scored the kill. Players who’ve used both mouse-and-keyboard and controller setups state the latter gives an unfair advantage: during my time in the multiplayer, I watched as players snapped onto other players and landed shots with flawless accuracy. This performance is a result of controller aim assist helping them, rather than purely through legitimate skill – keyboard and mouse players do not get aim-assist.

  • This is what lends itself to my page quote: I don’t have fun when I lose unfairly, but I have even less fun when my team wins through the action of players who play dishonourably. Whereas gaming from an older age emphasised improving by having fun (i.e. “the more fun you have, the more you are encouraged to improve, so you can have more fun”), these days, gamers seem fixated on creating meme-worthy moments even if it comes at the expense of integrity, For these people, they believe that if they can make my meme and get upvotes for it, underhanded tactics are acceptable to use.

  • In the old days of Halo 2 Vista, I remember the thrill of improving enough in multiplayer to earn multi-kills and go on kill-streaks on virtue of skill alone: using a controller to gain an advantage over mouse-and-keyboard users, however slight the edge is, is still to be playing dishonestly, and consequently, while I do have an Xbox controller floating around, I am not going to resort to using it just to have fun in a game. As it stands, the Halo 3 flight is still quite buggy, and one of the known issues in the game was poor hit detection, which could further have exacerbated the situation.

  • 343 have acknowledged that hit detection is an issue owing how game steps on PC handles differently than on the Xbox because of to frame rate differences: in conjunction with the poor sensitivity, this is likely why my experience in the Halo 3 flight was particularly poor. The hit detection is a known issue in Halo 3‘s flight, and 343 is likely going to work on getting this one ironed out. However, the mouse sensitivity doesn’t appear to be something on their radar.

  • Another issue I’ve experienced since Halo 2 was the fact my text chat no longer seems to be working. This isn’t an issue in multiplayer, but in co-op, I use it to coordinate with friends who don’t use voice chat. I’ve had several occasions where I needed to pause and step aside for something, but because text chat wasn’t working, they proceeded ahead and entered a firefight short-handed. I’m not sure if 343 will address this issue, but in the flight for Halo 3, I tested the chat out and my messages did not seem to be getting through in the multiplayer, suggesting that it may be similarly broken if I create a lobby and co-op with friends.

  • One thing that was extremely frustrating in Halo 3 was the fact that vehicular handling is worse than it was in any Halo game I played thus far: vehicles bounce and flip on the slightest provocation, and there were a handful of matches where, had I not flipped over or slowed down as a result of the game’s implementation of vehicle physics, I might have actually ended up with a triple kill or overkill.

  • My performance in the Halo 3 flight was so poor that I wondered if I had lost my touch with FPS in general, and so, a day before the flight was set to end, I returned to Battlefield V to see if my skills had been lost. In back-to-back matches of conquest, I went 21-14 and 21-13, respectively. When I spun up a match in Halo 2, I performed as I normally would. This tells me that, rather than my skills being an issue, the poor showing I had was a result of issues in the game and a lack of familiarity with the inconsistent mechanics.

  • With a rough flighting experience, I am glad that things at least ended on a decent note: I won my last match and here, scored a kill on the enemy team’s MVP, ending a spree of theirs in the process. The flight ended two days ago, and I’ve already submitted my feedback for the team’s consideration. I hope that 343 will address the issues and make Halo 3‘s entry a success: I am fully confident that the campaign will be amazing, and I may play a match or two of the multiplayer to see if it is in a state that I am able to have fun in. With this post, we now enter July, and today is Canada Day. Traditionally, it’s a day to go out into the mountains, but owing to the global health crisis, and the fact that Canada Day is in the middle of the week, I will instead spend the day relaxing in a different way, before celebrating Canada Day properly by watching a virtual fireworks presentation.

Consequently, mouse sensitivity is the most critical fix that needs to be applied to Halo 3 at present: increasing the maximum sensitivity by around 50-80 percent will ensure that mouse-and-keyboard players have a fighting chance in close-quarters battles. If a player are given the means track their opponents at least as quickly as they move, then in a firefight, the outcome becomes dependent on skill, rather than the input method. The presence of aim assist is a contentious one in the community, and I’ve felt that a simple implementation of a much higher mouse sensitivity ceiling would level things out considerably. Overall, Halo 3‘s flight shows that once a few critical fixes are made, the game is ready to roll out into the release phase, which currently is anticipated to be mid to late July. I am particularly enthusiastic to go through the campaign: the missions were built with co-op play in mind, and with no critical performance issues whatsoever, the campaign looks like it is ready to be launched, allowing me to finish the fight and wrap up the original trilogy in Halo. Similarly, the core aspects of multiplayer are working in a satisfactory manner, and I’ve not encountered any serious issues like being disconnected from a match, or clipping through geometries in the maps at all during my run of things. If the issue of sensitivity can be adequately addressed, the multiplayer could be an engaging component of Halo 3, as well: as it was during the flight, the multiplayer was unenjoyable and frustrating to play, not for any reason beyond the fact that I’m not able to track my opponents at a speed that I am comfortable with. Beyond this, the other issues I’ve found are more of a matter of acclimatisation, and even if unaltered, I could learn to adjust to the new schemes over time.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: Viewpoint Museum, Superior Gear and a Reflection on the Open Beta

“Being a victim is more palatable than having to recognize the intrinsic contradictions of one’s own governing philosophy.” ―Tom Clancy

The Division 2′s open beta ran three weeks after the private beta, adding one new mission and raising the level cap; since the private beta, the open beta has shown that the game has become a bit more stable and responsive. After speedily making my way through the first two campaign missions, and utilising the experience bonuses to quickly hit the minimum level needed to take on Viewpoint Museum, I finally arrived at the new level. The journey here was a quick one, but upon revisiting Washington D.C. in the open beta, I found that the new setting isn’t a bad one after all – the empty streets of Washington D.C. no longer feel quite so sterile, and there are more activities to do while one is moving around on the map. Handling has also been improved since the private beta; my character feels more responsive, and I no longer stagger whenever my armour is depleted. However, some bugs in the movement system still persist: I find myself getting stuck after interacting with doors and keypads, and there was one instance where I was unable to move after attempting to open a supply drop. Beyond minor grievances with movement, which can be the difference between life and death, The Division 2′s open beta shows that the title is largely ready for launch. Even on my older computer, I was able to maintain a smooth sixty frames per second, dipping down to fifty in more intense moments, and on the whole, the gunplay feels much more satisfying at lower levels than they did for equivalent levels in The Division.

After completing Viewpoint Museum, I went back into the Dark Zone to quickly hit the maximum Dark Zone level: normalisation of gear has made the Dark Zone a lot fairer, and while I was clearing landmarks on my own, a pair of players decided they wished to go rogue against me. Equipped with a good knowledge of my preferred skills, how my weapons handled and familiarity with the mechanics as a result of the private beta, I ended up squaring off against both agents head-on and managed to defeat them. PvP combat never really was my cup of tea in The Division, but The Division 2′s normalised Dark Zone provide a rather interesting environment to fight in: all players have an equal chance here. This particular Dark Zone is a bit small, but there are other Dark Zones, including at least one where players go in with their regular stats, allowing individuals to experience the Dark Zone as they please. Besides destroying rogue agents, I also successfully completed through the Jefferson Trade Centre Invaded mission, solo, with the demolitionist specialisation. It turns out that the M32 MSGL is an absolute terror, and upon encountering the named elites, I was shocked to learn that the grenades could bring down these enemies in one shot. Again, experience with the private beta meant that I had no difficulty melting my way through the Black Task on my own. With this particular experience under my belt, I spent the remainder of my time on improving my loadout and finishing off all of the different projects to upgrade the Theatre Settlement.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While LMGs in The Division became obsolete very quickly, I found that at all points in The Division 2, from the story missions to the endgame, LMGs were versatile, viable weapons that could hit reasonably hard and put down sustained amounts of damage downrange, making them especially useful against crowds and heavily armoured enemies. I spent most of Friday evening working my way back to the point where I could complete this mission: my progress from the private beta did not save, and I took advantage of this to run a new character.

  • The Viewpoint Museum is based off the Newseum, a museum that showcases a history of journalism. The locations of Washington D.C. are faithfully replicated, and looking at a map of Washington D.C., it is quite impressive as to how accurate The Division 2‘s D.C. are to the real-world equivalent. In the beta, much of the map remains locked, and in the full game, I imagine that players will be able to visit Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Capitals.

  • It seemed curious to be fighting a building about the history of journalism, with the intent of shutting down the True Sons’ propaganda broadcast: the True Sons are probably most similar to the LMB, being well-trained and well-organised. They were formed by a former JTF officer who was disillusioned with how things were handled following the Dollar Flu crisis, and are probably the most lethal enemy players will face until the Black Tusk arrive.

  • Despite Ubisoft’s reassurances that The Division 2 is not directed at conveying a political message about the current state of government in the United States, and the fact that the game is ultimately about showing how people can come together to survive and overcome adversity, some game journalists have insisted on pushing their own narrative. Arguing that The Division is symbolic of using force to take back a fallen system, journalists claim that it is “[disrespectful to] the intelligence of the players” to claim that the game is apolitical because of its symbolism. The page quote is one of Tom Clancy’s very own remarks, speaking succinctly to my own thoughts on the presence of virtue signalling and the excesses that accompany it.

  • While all people are entitled to their opinion, it is disrespectful to suppose that the creator’s intent is irrelevant when considering the merits of a game and its messages. It typifies games journalists of a certain type to insert their discourse into something meant to entertain players: this issue has been especially prevalent since an incident some five years ago that threw the practises of gaming journalists into the open, although I personally find the discourse that such journalists raise to be largely irrelevant to my own perspectives of a game. Simply put, gameplay mechanics and progression matter much more to me than political messages.

  • I ended up running an M249B throughout most of The Division 2: the hordes of enemies that storm the player means that for most mid-range engagements, my assault rifle would run dry after three enemies, and being caught in the open with an empty chamber spells certain death. Throughout The Division 2, I switched between the different kinds of weapons, and found that the weapons’ different performances are much more pronounced than they were in The Division: every weapon has a role to play now, and so, it is useful to carry a range of weapons now.

  • The final stage of taking back the Viewpoint Museum involves disabling EMP jammers on the rooftop, while simultaneously engaging True Sons. The EMP will prevent players from using their skills and also introduce a considerable amount of visual disruption on the screen, so it is imperative to take the jammers down right away. Once this is done, players will square off against the named elite that appears.

  • During the course of The Division 2‘s open beta, I found that enemies of all difficulties, from basic enemies right up to the named elites, all were relatively straightforwards to engage at all levels. When I first played The Division, enemies with yellow health bars were always intimidating to fight, and that The Division 2‘s enemies never invoked a sense of fear in me the same way the toughest enemies of The Division did suggest that I’ve since become more familiar with the mechanics of The Division. With this being said, the First Wave agents that were the bosses of Legendary missions were absolutely monstrosities to fight, and could easily wipe the careless teams out wholesale. I imagine that these enemies will be present for The Division 2‘s equivalent of legendary missions, such as raids.

  • Having completed the Viewpoint Museum with minimal difficulty, I had now caught up with the open beta’s experiences and soon turned my attention towards maxing out my Dark Zone rank for a second time. The Dark Zone available in The Division 2‘s open beta was about the same size as one of the sectors in The Division‘s Dark Zone, but despite this, seemed to offer plenty of opportunity for exploration. Randomly roving bands of enemies are absent, as most enemies seem concentrated around the landmarks.

  • During my run in the Dark Zone, I never bothered extracting any items since the gains from a successful extraction seems outweighed by the risk of losing it. However, I did have two separate instances where other players turned rogue in my face, hoping to score a quick kill, and I ended up pasting them on the pavement: this fellow here opened fire on me, and I happened to have my M249B out: its large ammunition pool mean that while he was stuck reloading, I could continue to lay down fire, eventually downing him.

  • I brought down another rogue agent using a superior CTAR-21: during the course of the open beta, I found two superior items in my travels, and their performance gave me a very minute edge over would-be assailants. The sum of my experiences in The Division 2‘s Dark Zone meant that it would be worthwhile to buy the game just to cause trouble for the agents that would turn rogue: normalised gear means that winning a firefight with other players boils down to better spatial awareness, weapon control and skill management. Against individual rogues, they simply stand no chance.

  • I decided to give the endgame Invaded mission another go, and this time, rolled with the demolitions expert loadout. This specialisation gave me access to the M32 MSGL, a six-shot grenade launcher. There’s a special way of improving one’s odds of acquiring signature weapon ammunition: with the marksman, it was nailing headshots, and with the demolitions expert, it’s using explosives or weak-point kills. I had no shortage of 40 mm grenades during my second solo run, and this time, with improved map knowledge, I made it through the first corridor without too much trouble.

  • I decided to save the 40 mm grenades for a named elite, and I was horrified with its effects. Unlike the TAC-50, which requires a direct line of sight and is better suited for long-range operations, the M32 MSGL’s indirect fire capabilities means that it is capable of being used against enemies in cover. I fired off one grenade in the ISAC Terminal room, and killed the named elite in one round, preventing the shutdown of the ISAC Terminal in record time. I subsequently used the grenades to annihilate hordes of enemies: the grenades appear to be capable of doing up to 500 thousand points of damage.

  • The biggest disadvantage about being a solo player is simply the risk of being flanked is increased by several fold: blindly charging into a new area without being mindful of enemy placement is the surest way to death, and I’m sure that many games journalists of late don’t know this simple, but effective trick to staying alive longer. When I entered this room, I had no idea where the enemies would spawn from, and so, threw my auto-turret into the center. The turret is very effective at whittling down health of enemies, and can be set to lock onto drones, as well: any complaints that the skills are ineffective are a consequence of not experimenting and doing some reading on what the different specialisations have.

  • I feel that for gaming journalism to be more relevant, organisations would need to encourage their staff to cultivate a more satisfactory understanding of game mechanics, as opposed to tangential matters that do not impact gameplay. For me, I had no trouble blasting my way through the Black Tusks at this point: the M249B was my go-to weapon during this run, and I was very impressed with how LMGs from The Division 2 handle: assault rifles no longer deal bonus armour damage, and extended mags have a unique set of drawbacks that force players to be mindful of how they mod their weapons. As such, for their impressive ability to suppress enemies and sustain fire, they are excellent for solo players to control large numbers of enemies.

  • When the named elite appeared, I lured him into a narrow corridor and equipped the M32 MSGL: I was fully expecting a challenging fight ahead, as the elite here has an RPG of some sort that can one-shot players from full health, but I was left speechless after absolutely shredding the elite with a single shot. This brought my second end-game run to an end, and I leave finding the demolitions specialisation one that could be very entertaining for close-quarters maps.

  • Exploration found the starting area to be revisitable, and here, I pass through the area The Division 2‘s beta began in. Compared to three weeks ago, the weather back home has remained bitterly cold, and we’ve broken some records now. Besides being the fourth coldest February in the city’s history, we’ve had more than four straight weeks where the temperatures have not broken above 0ºC. To stave off nearly a month of non-stop cold, I stepped out to an Irish Pub on Friday for some hearty Irish classics: a piping-hot Steak and Guinness pie with large chunks of beef and root vegetables proved more than sufficient for warding off the cold.

  • Having said this, it looks like temperatures will finally warm up at least a little in the upcoming while. Despite being nowhere near as warm as the atmosphere conveyed in The Division 2, anything above zero is considered balmy for me. The Division 2, being set in the summer, definitely gives off a sense of warmth, even mugginess: the lighting has vastly improved over The Division, and here, I stopped to admire the volumetric lighting streaming between the trees while pushing to complete more of the activities for the settlement projects.

  • Unlike the private beta, I had a bit more spare time available over the weekend to complete the settlement projects in full. The Division 2 offers plenty to do, and it’s clear that the game has taken the lessons of The Division to keep things engaging for players en route to the endgame, as well as during the endgame itself. With this post on The Division 2 at a close, readers left wondering about my writings in March won’t need to worry: I do have a few more posts on games upcoming, but coming up next will be a lengthy post on CLANNAD ~After Story~ as Ushio’s arc concludes, and then a reflection of why I felt the ending in ~After Story~ was one that was appropriate for the story.

  • This is my final loadout from the open beta: I ended up collecting quite a number of specialised assault rifles during my run, as well. On the whole, my final loadout for The Division 2‘s open beta proved to be rather more impressive than the one I had after The Division‘s open beta: this particular arsenal will be moot, given that all progress will reset once the game goes live, but I’m still very pleased to have found a superior CTAR-21 and backpack during my run. All of this was accomplished without using any exploits or tricks; I was able to find everything just from normal gameplay.

Overall, I spent around eight hours in The Division 2′s open beta. During this time, I acquired more specialised gear than I had expected, and even managed to find two pieces of superior gear. My experiences in The Division‘s beta and the final game showed that the superior items would appear much later in the game than they did in the beta: it wasn’t until level twenty where I began seeing purple drops. This open beta was exceptionally fun and also illuminating in that it helped me reached a more informed decision on where I stand with The Division 2. On one hand, Washington D.C. has proven itself to be a distinct and engaging setting to fight in. New mechanics show that The Division 2 has definitely applied the lessons learnt from The Division to create a more compelling experience. Crafting and inventory management has seen vast improvements over its predecessor, and this time, shooting is much more satisfying even when one has not reached the endgame. While some issues remain with the movement system, The Division 2 has made considerable strides since its private beta. All of this is very positive for the game, and I expect that fans of The Division will definitely enjoy this one upon its launch. However, having said this, I do not see myself pre-ordering The Division 2 or purchasing it shortly after release for two reasons – I already have a considerable backlog of other titles that I’d like to go through, along with quite enough to do in the foreseeable future. It does not appear in my best interest to buy a title at launch, only for it to accumulate dust in my library. Instead, what will likely happen is that into the future, once I’ve made enough headway in my backlog, I will pick up The Division 2. In all honesty, this does seem like a game that merits purchase at launch price, and I think that anyone familiar with The Division will do well to grab this one.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: Soloing the Black Tusks in the Endgame Invaded Mission during the Private Beta

“Brave men rejoice in adversity, just as brave soldiers triumph in war.” –Lucius Annaeus Seneca

After taking back Washington D.C. from the Hyenas, Outcasts and True Sons, the Strategic Homeland Division appear to have regained their footing over the American capital. However, the arrival of Black Tusk, a private military organisation whose objectives are shrouded in enigma. With training and gear surpassing that of even the Division’s, Black Tusk are the toughest enemies players will face: after their arrival, they take back strongholds and settlements, armed with highly sophisticated weaponry and automaton. They are the equivalent of The Division‘s Last Man Battalion, but having likely benefitted from Aaron Keener’s betrayal, are counted as even more formidable enemies. This is the faction that players fight at the end of The Division 2, and the private beta offered a chance to square off against the most lethal enemies seen in The Division since the First Wave and Hunters – upon completing the Jefferson Trade Centre mission, players gained access to three level thirty characters, one for each specialisation, and had an opportunity to take a shot at Black Tusk. I decided to attempt this mission solo: I had, after all, gone through more or less the whole of The Division, save the Legendary missions, on my own, and at level thirty, access to a signature weapon would have offered some quarter even against overwhelming odds. At least, this is what I initially thought: shortly after spawning into the Invaded mission, I found myself wiped out after setting foot into the Jefferson Trade Centre’s first corridor, being blown to bits by the exceptionally tough enemies and their liberal use of explosive drones to flush me out of cover. I was thus stuck at the first hallway, unable to advance further.

However, The Division is not known for being forgiving, and I decided to look through my inventory to see if there was another way: besides the SR-1 rifle and PP-19 Bizon, I found that I had an L86A2 available to me. The PP-19 was woefully inadequate for close quarters combat, and against my enemies, was simply not dealing enough damage, so I switched over the the L86, and the mission suddenly played differently. The SR-1 remained useful, and with this setup, I approached the mission with greater caution, slowly picking away enemies from range with the SR-1 and luring them towards my position so that they could be dispatched, one at a time, with the L86. I thus fought through the Jefferson Trade Centre’s crumbling hallways and derelict parkade, reaching the ISAC terminal, which was guarded by a named elite. The time had come to use the McMillan TAC-50 anti-materiel rifle, and even though it was close quarters, I managed to line up a shot, decimating the elite and much of his armour. Finishing him and the automaton off, I managed to prevent shutdown of the ISAC terminal. I subsequently fought through an atrium, disabling jamming devices and fending off hordes of Black Tusk soldiers, before returning to the courtyard to square off against the stronghold lieutenant. Again, the TAC-50 found its place here: two headshots, and the named elite was downed, allowing me to finish the mission in its entirety. In the release version, a pile of awards would await players, but for now, the sense of accomplishment from having finished the mission solo is not a bad substitute at all.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When I reached The Division‘s endgame a year ago, I had a gear score of 137, and so, my priority was collecting better gear. I was reasonably well-equipped to deal with most threats of my world tier, and so, entered expecting the endgame mission to be about as difficult as a challenging mission in The Division: quite manageable if played correctly. However, here in The Division 2, I have not spec’d out my character to my liking, and so, did not have a character that was tuned to my play-style.

  • The start of this mission, however, felt more like a legendary mission: I spent quite a while trying to figure out how to get past this hallway, and it was not until I switched over from the PP-19 to the L86A2 where things began turning around. Without another player to help me deal with threats that had flanked me, I was forced to retreat and make use of my armour-repairing drone to keep alive. However, the amount of hot lead the L86 could deliver was a much-needed asset in the narrow hallways of the Jefferson Trade Centre.

  • An automatic weapon dealing respectable damage is essential for The Division, and I admit that the PP-19 was never my choice of weapon, doing far too little damage to be useful at the endgame. I traditionally run with assault rifles and the extended magazines since they have bonus armour damage, and with the Destructive perk, plus the additional armour damage conferred by the Striker’s Battlegear, I am predominantly geared for PvE. In The Division 2, extended mags will no longer be as powerful, and this is where LMGs will shine: the L86 can hold 60 rounds and this proved to be useful, allowing me to take on more than one enemy at a time before reloading, and at close ranges, their recoil is more than manageable.

  • Every version of The Division has its frustrations: in The Division 2, the drones that enemies can deploy are an irritant. They deal a non-trivial amount of damage and force players out of cover. Because one is now made to deal with them, enemies can then flank players while they are distracted. This is especially tricky for solo players – in groups, players can coordinate attacks on the enemy. I ended up burst-firing the L86 to take out drones approaching me.

  • I’ve heard nothing but frustration for some players who attempted the Invaded mission: in teams, the challenge comes from a greater number of enemies to deal with, whereas solo, the difficulty stems from being flanked. The changes in The Division 2 meant that some players found it even more difficult than The Division‘s Legendary missions, but I disagree: I’ve never beaten a Legendary mission solo before, primarily because the end of each mission has players square off against First Wave Agents that are incredibly tough.

  • One of the biggest surprises in The Division 2‘s endgame is that Black Tusk medics can revive downed enemies, rather than just healing them. This was such a shock, and also impressive as a mechanic: it suddenly becomes all the more important to take out enemy medics, since they can bring heavily armoured forces back into play. Carelessness can quickly shift the tide of battle, so one’s priority should be dealing with medics – they are vulnerable while reviving, so this is the best time to take them out of the fight.

  • The TAC-50 is one of three signature weapons in The Division 2: for the marksman specialisation, the TAC-50 is a long-range weapon that can rip distant foes apart. Chambered for the .50 BMG, the TAC-50 is lighter and more accurate, but has a lower muzzle velocity than the Barrett M82. I’m guessing it was chosen for its lower ammunition capacity and bolt-operated action (in turn conferring balance): the M82 has a ten-round detachable box magazine and is semi-automatic, while the TAC-50 runs with a five-round magazine.

  • Even though it may not be an iconic Barrett rifle, it is powerful and can blow enemy elites away: on my lonesome, I managed to clear this part on short order and secured the ISAC terminal before it could be shut down. During The Division 2‘s Invaded mission, I found that a headshot with the SR-1 deals upwards of two hundred thousand points of damage, while the TAC-50 can hit for three hundred thousand. By comparison, my M700 Carbon from The Division hits for around six hundred and fifty thousand without any damage bonuses, but it can easily reach one million damage if I’m running with sniper-oriented gear.

  • The main downside about signature weapons is that ammunition for them is incredibly rare. I found that ammunition for the TAC-50 dropped frequently enough, since I was commonly using the SR-1 and dropping distant enemies with headshots. Headshots in The Division 2 aren’t quite as satisfying as they were in The Division, where kills from headshots made a whooshing sound. While an indoors mission, the open spaces of the parkade allowed me to make good use of the SR-1: from the looks of things, killing enemies a certain way will increase the likelihood of special ammunition dropping.

  • Games journalists for major sites found the Invaded mission to feature bullet sponge enemies, a common complaint with The Division: one article I read had the author recount nigh-invincible enemies that took, and I quote “400 light machine gun bullets … to the face and [were] still standing”. As well, the author found that skills were ineffectual, barely dealing any damage. I disagree – the automatic turret is effective for dispatching drones while holding down a location, and I could drop purple enemies with a thirty rounds from the L86.

  • Special ammunition is rare, but the drop rates aren’t abysmal, either. With this being said, I can see the higher difficulty missions as definitely requiring more than one player to complete; the Raids that will be coming in The Division 2 involve eight-player teams, attesting to their difficulty, and I wager that the rewards for completing those missions will rival the exotics and classified gear of The Division.

  • With this being said, I wonder if the signature weapons will be replacing the Exotic and Classified gear sets of The Division; a part of the joy in The Division was going on excursions to find the rarest gear, and on my part, I managed to complete the Marshall Shield, which entails collecting all twenty-five of the Exotic weapons and gear pieces in the game. The Golden Rhino, a special revolver, dropped for me, and since then, I’ve now got all of the Exotics available in the base version of The Division. This was no small feat, especially considering that I went through the entire game solo except for the occasional Legendary mission.

  • The selection of Exotics in The Division weren’t bad: I’m especially fond of the Urban MDR, The House, and the Bullfrog. I wish there was an exotic bolt-action rifle in the game that acted as an anti-materiel rifle, although I know full well that such a weapon would be difficult to balance. An exotic bolt-action rifle firing .50 BMG rounds would be devastating against named elites and would render some missions too easy. The Division 2 has signature weapons fulfilling this role, using ammunition capacity to ensure that players only use the weapons under certain conditions.

  • One nice feature to have in The Division 2 would be variations of the signature weapons, which would alter gameplay slightly. For instance, players would be able to swap out the TAC-50 for the M82, allowing them to deal damage faster, but it would also burn through special ammo more quickly. Similarly, the M32 MSGL could be exchanged for a RG-6, whose smaller dimensions make it faster to reload, but at the expense of range or firing rate. Finally, the crossbow could be exchange for a compound bow: a crossbow would hit harder and be more accurate, while a compound bow would have a faster firing rate and be stealthier.

  • I ended up having enough time to beat the Invaded mission once with the sharpshooter specialisation, and when I attempted the demolitions specialisation, I found that the total absence of special ammunition meant that I could not get enough rounds into the M32 MSGL to make it effective. I imagine that a grenade launcher would be more effective for crowd control than against a single target, and a team of players with varied specialisations could be far more effective in endgame missions compared to individual players.

  • The time has come to break out the TAC-50 again and wield it against the final wave of enemies to clear this mission. To convince readers that I was, in fact, able to solo this mission, all of the screenshots I’ve provided all have timestamps. I knew that I would be squaring off against a powerful named elite here, but before that can happen, waves of Black Tusk forces appear. For my solo play, I found that the automatic turret was most useful: it can automatically lock onto drones and destroy them, or else keep an enemy distracted long enough for me to waste them.

  • As such, unlike many of the gaming journalists who found the endgame pure frustration, I managed to complete the Invaded mission of the private beta in under an hour. One of my friends remarks that gaming journalists of late are probably more equipped to deal with low-skill games (like kinetic novels written in the Twine Engine) than games that involve spatial awareness, good reaction times and a reasonable understanding of mechanics, hence their miserable experiences in The Division 2‘s endgame.

  • Two shots from the TAC-50 were sufficient to utterly destroy the named elite: this is offset by the fact that the named elite is so powerful, he can one-shot careless players. Because of my setup, I simply engaged him from range, then peeked around a corner and fired a second shot to finish the job: there is a degree of satisfaction from firing the TAC-50 owing to its powerful report. The signature weapons prima facie seem more skill-driven than the signature skills of The Division: I ended up running purely with recovery link to instantly revive myself from lethal damage and in Legendary missions, save my entire team from being sent back. Here, no such abilities exist, forcing teams to be more careful about how they approach missions.

  • Just like that, I managed to complete the endgame mission alone, with no support. Many of the other folks I’ve seen, including Jusuchin, ended up joining a group in order to complete the mission: while squadding up gives the advantage of having more guns available to prevent flanks, and also allows for teammates to revive one another, enemy difficulty is also elevated in response. Both group and solo play have their own unique challenges.

  • I ended up getting a handful of high-end items, allowing me to replace the superior gear pieces in my loadout, and during the course of the mission, also got an improved L86A2 to replace the default one I started with. It looks like the gear scores have also been raised in The Division 2, going up to 350. For now, there’s no way to optimise gear or weapons, but once the full game comes out, I’m certain that once players are able to properly tune their loadouts, the endgame will become much more enjoyable. With this post on The Division 2‘s private beta in the books, I will be writing about Ace Combat 7 in the near future, and Penguin Highway. I’m sure that Penguin Highway will be a breath of fresh air for my readers, who doubtlessly grow tired of my endless posts on games.

I note that at this point, being handed a level thirty end-game character geared completely randomly mean that this mission was already quite tricky – under normal circumstances, I would pick the gear and loadout that matches the way I’d like to play. A good assault rifle and secondary weapon would be my choices in a given mission for The Division, but given that The Division 2 has a much more balanced weapon attachment system, it suddenly dawned on me that LMGs might also have their roles to play; with their larger capacities, they are capable of sustained fire, ideal for dealing consistent damage against the tough Black Tusk units. Even the standard “grunts” with red health bars are no pushovers. Between Black Tusk’s flanking and their liberal use of equipment, they are an incredibly challenging, nigh-frustrating foe to fight. In spite of this, patience and understanding of enemy patterns eventually allowed me to prevail. Overall, the mission took me about an hour to finish: after a quarter-hour of struggling against the first hallway, I eventually found my rhythm and made my way through the remainder of the mission at a more methodical pacing. It is immediately apparent that the endgame was designed for players to group together, even though Ubisoft has made it clear that The Division 2 is more solo-friendly than the first. I’m curious to see what directions The Division 2 will take, and while I’m presently undecided about the game, I could see myself picking this title up during a good sale – the campaign itself is supposed to last forty hours, and that alone could merit the price of admissions. The question, at that stage, becomes whether or not I would have time to sit down and experience The Division 2 in all of its glory.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: National Treasure, The House, Rogue Agents and a Reflection on the Private Beta

“Let’s see what the second wave is made of.” –Aaron Keener, The Division

Seven months after the events of The Division, where rogue First Wave Agent Aaron Keener abducted Russian scientist Vitaly Tchernenko, the Dollar Flu has spread around continental USA, and Strategic Homeland Division (The Division for brevity) are sent in to assist survivors and recapture Washington D.C., which has fallen to criminal organisations and vie for control of the American capitsl. After securing the White House as a base of operations, players head to the theatre district and assist a settlement in retrieving their compatriots, before reactivating the ISAC servers at the Jefferson Trade Centre. Along the way, players capture strategic locations to help survivors, can go recover the Declaration of Independence in The Division 2‘s take on National Treasure, and gain their first foray into Washington D.C.’s Dark Zone. Upon finishing the Jefferson Trade Centre mission, players also gain access to three pre-made level thirty characters, where they have the chance to take on the Black Tusks, an elite military unit with equipment that gives The Division’s a run for its money. Set in Washington D.C. during a sweltering summer, The Division 2 is a world apart from the frigid winters of Manhattan: snow and cold are displaced with overgrowth and foetid pools of stagnant water. The atmospherics are completely different, and where Manhattan offered a much more cold, desolate setting, Washington D.C. feels like Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us brought to life. The more vivid, colourful environment, and settlements that have developed now that the Dollar Flu is slowly starting to recede, give the impression of a world where people have adapted and endured despite the widespread damage that has occurred. However, while the new location is vividly rendered, I personally enjoyed the Manhattan setting to a much greater extent and felt that any sequel could’ve taken players to cities like Hong Kong or Tokyo, which would have really accentuated the consequences of allowing Keener to escape during the first game. Taking the game over to Asia would also have provided the opportunity to explore Asian cities: I would have thoroughly enjoyed having my Base of Operations at the Hong Kong Convention Center and fight through the skyscrapers of Central, or evade rouge Agents in MTR stations around Mong Kwok, for instance. The atmospherics for The Division 2 aren’t as memorable as those of The Division: a sweltering summer set in the Eastern Seaboard evokes imagery of basement-dwellers wasting away perfectly good summer days poring over TV Tropes’ forums or endless image macros, which is of course, no way to spend a summer.

Handling similarly to its predecessor, The Division 2 introduces some major changes into numerous aspects of the gameplay. Gone are the days of having to balance gear for firearms, toughness and electronics points, as well as concerns about blueprints yielding obsolete equipment and having to endlessly keep track of mods for gear. All of this has been streamlined so that things are easier to manage: with the right resources, players can continuously upgrade their gear as they level up without needing to fill their inventory with duplicates. The weapon modification system has also been improved, so that attachments offer side-grades for each weapon. Each optic, barrel, under barrel and magazine mod provides a benefit for a weapon that comes at a cost. In The Division, it was viable to attach a 15x rifle scope, suppressor and extended magazines for all of one’s weapons, since it would improve headshot damage, magazine capacity and accuracy consistently. The end result of this was that players would always run these attachments, leaving the others unused. With each attachment now providing one drawback in addition to its benefits, players will be made to consider what works best for them: certain barrel attachments reduce damage against elites in exchange for more headshot damage, for instance. The health system has also been redone; players now have an armour system covering their health, and medical kits are replaced by kits that repair damaged armour, forcing players to use their skills and consumables more wisely. Vaulting has seen dramatic improvement over its predecessor: in The Division 2, players can vault over smaller obstacles more quickly than large ones. Beyond some noticeable changes, however, The Division 2 is very similar to its predecessor and entering the game, I had no troubles at all familiarising myself with the gunplay and movement systems. While many of these changes benefit The Division 2, there are also some the movement system is not as responsive or crisp of the first – I was unable to walk properly after entering the Dark Zone, and occasionally felt as though my player was not going where I was asking. Modifying weapons was quite tricky, as clicking on a slot would always send me to the optics mods first. Visibility is also reduced, making it more difficult to see enemies and properly plan out one’s engagements. Random enemy encounters can also be frustrating: players generally feel a bit weaker in The Division 2, and getting flanked by unseen enemies can result in certain death. However, for its limitations, The Division 2 does feel to be a worthy sequel to The Division, being simultaneously familiar, while also introducing mechanics that show the developers have been mindful of community feedback.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The last time I wrote about The Division, I was trying to push my post count to one thousand ahead of the blog’s seventh anniversary, and when I wrote about The Division‘s open beta, it was three years ago. According to that post, I spent most of that Saturday on campus attempting to fix my lab computer, which had failed for reasons I can’t remember. Three years later, I’m on the lawn of the White House, repelling hostile forces as twilight sets in. For this post, I’ve got thirty screenshots, and I’ll be writing about the endgame’s Invaded mission in a separate post.

  • I was fortunate to get into The Division 2‘s private beta; this was not open to everyone, and it was a stroke of luck I could experience things. After taking back the White House as the base of operations, I immediately began making my way to the Theatre to begin the campaign and side missions: the beta featured two stories and five side missions. My immediate impressions of Washington D.C. were that, while quite nice, it’s missing the same impressive atmospherics as Manhattan from The Division.

  • The first campaign mission takes players to the Grand Washington Hotel. I recall travelling to the Eastern Seaboard some eight years previously, and the hotels in this side of the world have that sense of grandeur from an older period to them. Compared to Madison Square Garden in The Division, I did find that some parts of the mission were a bit more sterile in nature in terms of lighting and colour.

  • As I fight deeper into the hotel, I entered what appears to be a banquet hall. Many hotels double as event venues for conferences, celebrations and other events, although at this point in The Division 2, it’s clear that the hotel’s seen better days. The Hyenas are among the first of the enemies encountered in The Division 2: along with the True Sons, they are the only enemies one will encounter during the private beta. The Division 2 seems to be missing an equivalent of the Cleaners, flamethrower-toting sanitation workers decked out in protective gear.

  • The cleaners were a unique and interesting enemy to fight, and their presence in The Division 2 is missed. I ended up finding an M16A2 rifle during the first mission: rifles in The Division 2 are a separate category from the assault rifles, being distinct in dealing more damage per round and having semi-automatic fire compared to assault rifles. The Division only had marksman rifles, which could either be slow-firing bolt-action rifles or the faster-firing designated marksman rifles.

  • Also absent from the private beta was the pulse: in The Division, the pulse is an indispensable tool that marks out enemy positions and when upgraded, allows players to deal additional damage against marked targets. Healing is also gone, replaced by a drone that can drop explosives on enemy positions or repair one’s armour over time. The armour repair is the preferred option, since armour is damaged very quickly. A particularly bothersome feature in The Division 2 is that players stagger whenever their armour is depleted, preventing one from ducking into cover and causing them to lose their orientation.

  • We’re now nearly halfway through February, and the month has been brutal as far as weather goes, with -20°C being the daily high and windchill of -40°C a part of each and every evening. The bitterly cold weather has not dissuaded some of my friends from gathering, and on the weekend of the private beta, I was invited to bowling and raclette. It’s been four years since I last went bowling, and this time, I got three more strikes than I did last time. The grilled meats of raclette were a welcome respite from the cold: we decide to mix things up this time, and I brought fondue beef, as well as prawns seasoned with garlic powder and black pepper, which, in conjunction with the usual sausage, pepper, mushroom and cheeses, was the perfect way to ward off the cold after bowling.

  • The evening concluded with two rounds of BANG!, a surprisingly fun card game. The next day, we went out for dim sum downtown amongst the still-frigid weather: the cold receded somewhat after har gao, deep-fried squid and beef chow fun, and I took the time to purchase some new sweaters. We also saw some ice sculptures at a park nestled amongst the skyscrapers,, but on account of how blistering the windchill was, could only stay for a few minutes. Considering how packed the weekend was, I’m surprised I managed to get as much out of the private beta as I did.

  • The side missions of The Division 2 are more varied than those of The Division, and the first one I went through entailed collecting SHD tech. In The Division, SHD tech was used to optimise gear and was used only in the endgame, but here, they act as skill points for unlocking mods and perks for the player. There are various SHD caches scattered around Washington D.C., and nearby are gear caches as well.

  • Because I have an entire post dedicated to the Jefferson Trade Center mission, I won’t be covering that in too great of detail. This mission entails reactivating the ISAC terminal before rescuing another Division agent. The summer setting does allow for some interesting phenomenon to be witnessed, such as partially flooded basements and parkades filled with disgusting algae water. It’s a very nice touch and brings to mind the writings of The World Without Us.

  • I ended up playing The Division 2 on medium-high settings, which struck a balance between maintaining a smooth sixty frames per second and preserving visual fidelity. From a graphics perspective, The Division 2 is similar to The Division in many ways. Some textures in The Division 2 are inferior, but on the flip-side, lighting in The Division 2 seems to have improved over its predecessor.

  • The parts of a narcotics lab can be seen here: during the intense firefight with the Hyenas, destroying the glassware will cause the chemicals to evaporate. The Division 2 features a new status effect: shooting at the Hyenas’s weak points releases a poison of sorts that disorients players and directly impacts their health without damaging their armour. It forces players to engage them at range, but when destroyed, it also slows the enemy down. The rushers are particularly bothersome, and so, I made it a point to have a good close-quarters weapon when dealing with enemies.

  • When I encountered my first named elite in The Division, the ensuing battle took upwards of a quarter hour, and I wondered why my weapons were so ineffective. I wished I had a marksman rifle, and looking back, it turns out that the trick to beating Madison Square Garden was to close the distance and use an assault rifle. By the time of The Division 2, I am more familiar with enemy archetypes and know that snipers have weaker armour, so I ended up closing the distance using cover and then proceeded to melt the boss. Having finished both campaign missions, I unlocked the Invaded mission.

  • One of the more amusing things about The Division 2 is that there’s frequently calls to assist other downed agents, and I invariably ended up helping no one. I get that dying during free roam is frustrating: in The Division, enemies are rare enough so that one is always prepared to handle them, even if they are a few levels higher. By comparison, reduced enemy visibility means that encounters with roaming enemies are not so straightforward, and it is possible to die from a bad flank.

  • At some point during the private beta, I came across the Urban MDR. In The Division, the Urban MDR was an exotic semi-automatic rifle that dealt bonus damage to enemies afflicted by a status effect. While handling more like a designated marksman rifle, the Urban MDR’s classification as an assault rifle allowed it to hold up to 45 rounds, and deal bonus armour damage. It was an interesting weapon to use. In The Division 2, it’s classified as a rifle and handles similarly as it once did. I immediately placed an ACOG sight on it to help with longer range engagements.

  • While recovering SHD tech from the Bureau Headquarters, modelled after the J. Edgar Hoover Building, I put the MDR to good use clearing away distant enemies. Two headshots were sufficient to down most opponents, and here, the Brutalist architectural style of the building can be seen. The Hoover Building resembles the Math Sciences Building at the University of Calgary, as well as Lakeview Square, a mixed use building I worked briefly out of during my time in Winnipeg.

  • An open beta will be running during the first week of March, and at this point, I’m wondering if it is in my interest to continue, having already obtained a reasonably comprehensive experience of what The Division 2 will entail. If my progress from the private beta carries over, then I will definitely be taking another look in more detail, since it would be a chance to see if I can improve my loadout before the open beta ends (I’ve seen players get superior items in the Dark Zone), as well as attempt the Invaded mission with the M32A1 MSGL. Otherwise, I will likely stick with Ace Combat 7.

  • Here, I arrive at the National Archives with the aim of recovering the Declaration of Independence. The mission felt distinctly like National Treasure, where treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) plans out an elaborate heist to steal the Declaration of Independence with the aim of securing the next clue to a major treasure. My task is rather simpler in The Division 2: all of the immensely complex security systems have been disabled, and it was a simple matter of walking in, destroying anything that moved with the MDR and then picking it up.

  • After picking up the Declaration of Independence, it’s off to the main floor where the document is housed while on display. Players must fight a boss, but armed with the L86A2, I made short work of all enemies despite being surrounded the instant I joined the fight: here, I’ve equipped the seeker mines to act as a smart grenade of sorts. I note that The Division 2 has an impressive soundtrack: the music is well-done and rather suits the atmospherics, similarly to how The Division‘s incidental music accentuated the atmosphere in the game.

  • During control point capture events, players have the option of calling in support, which makes the fight considerably easier. The Division 2 also introduces stationary weapon emplacements: mounted M134 miniguns allow players to put an insane amount of hot lead downrange, and when used properly, can allow a player to tear enemies apart. Even named elites do not stand a chance. With this in mind, when players are at the receiving end of the weapon, they are pinned down and must move carefully – being exposed to its fire will eliminate players very quickly.

  • During my run in The Division 2, I only picked up one specialised weapon: the RPK. With extended magazines no longer quite as overpowered as they were, LMGs are modestly useful again even during the endgame, where their larger ammunition capacity means being able to deliver sustained, consistent damage against the exceptionally tough Black Tusks. Against ordinary enemies, I found that LMGs are best used at closer ranges – their recoil can be quite unruly. Shotguns have also been given a major improvement: the double-barreled shotgun I acquired was a one-shot kill, and I found a Saiga 12K that could consistently deliver two shot kills.

  • The first of the Dark Zone missions is a PvE introduction to mechanics in the Dark Zone. It was a breeze to complete, especially since I found an MPX prior to entering the Dark Zone. In The Division, the MPX was known as The House, an Exotic SMG whose special talent was dealing bonus damage with one half of the magazine. Without any downsides, this is easily the best Exotic in the game. I’ve gotten four of these over my time, and the weapon is beastly. Even though the MPX loses its Exotic status in The Division 2, it remains very powerful.

  • I encountered several players in the Dark Zone, and for the most part, everyone was friendly, preferring to work together to clear landmarks. I revived a few players who were downed in the tougher landmarks, and for the most part, found the Dark Zone to be surprisingly easy compared to its predecessor’s – my gear and weapons have been normalised, so everyone’s gear performs the same for PvP, but also allows players to hit harder against the enemies, which scale accordingly with players.

  • Once I familiarised myself with the Dark Zone, I was clearing landmarks on my own, but for the most part, I was hesitant to pick up any gear and call in an extraction: my experiences with The Division‘s Dark Zone was harrowing, and I was killed by groups of Rogues. Towards the end of The Division, however, I was powerful enough to melt individual players who had gone rogue, but I still prefer staying out of sight and away from groups, since four players could easily overpower me had they any semblance of skill.

  • I did end up focusing on clearing supply drops: for the most part, they are straightforward to finish, and armed with the MPX, I burned through enemy elites like a knife through butter. There was a strange bug during one of my attempts where the enemy elites threw grenades that staggered me, from incredible ranges, and I failed to reach the supply drop. In the chaos, another player got to it first, but because the drops don’t yield uncommonly good gear, coupled with the lack of incentive to go rogue, I let the player go.

  • The Dark Zone in The Division 2 lacks the same intimidation factor as The Division‘s: whereas The Division‘s Dark Zone had biohazard containers, hazmat equipment and coverings everywhere, plus deadly contaminated areas that evoked a terrifying feeling of dread, The Division 2‘s Dark Zone lacks the same sense of doubt and unease, acting more as a designated area for gear hunting and PvP.

  • This is why I remarked earlier that Washington D.C.’s Dark Zone, and general atmosphere, feels more like the conditions under which Tango-Victor-Tango’s original founder and co-founders discussed the formation of a site for cataloguing tropes in media: sweltering, muggy summers of the Eastern United States seem the perfect conditions to discuss creating a new website while sharing a few brewskis. I don’t drink, but I do remember walking the neighbourhood with a friend while discussing the progression of various turning points in Tango-Victor-Tango’s history years previously.

  • Unlike the beta for The Division, this time around, I did end up making the level cap for the Dark Zone: in this landmark marked “hard”, I soloed and blasted all enemies to reach Dark Zone rank ten, the cap for this private beta. The MPX served me very well against all manners of opponents, having a good firing rate, magazine capacity and damage output to handle both named elites and rushing enemies. At this point, I had a small collection of items, and I decided to give extraction a whirl to complete my Dark Zone experience.

  • Normally, when I call in extractions, hordes of enemies rush me: even with a Gear Score 289 character armed to the teeth with the six-piece Classified Striker’s Battle Gear, exotic weapons and two hundred hours of experience, the Dark Zone of The Division remains a harrowing experience. By comparison, The Division 2‘s Dark Zone feels less suspenseful: the scariest moment I had was when a player decided to hijack my extraction. I decided to fight back, knowing that I would likely die and lose items I weren’t worried about. We destroyed the first player, but then the second player, “Camobiwon”, decided to fight me. I blasted him with the MPX, his health melted away and he died nearly instantly. I ended up completing the extraction and was left to wonder if a normalised Dark Zone would lead to some more balanced PvP combat compared to The Division.

  • Here’s my final loadout for the private beta: I ended up collecting the same number of specialised items, although truth be told, the MPX handled like an exotic, with how much damage it was dealing. Subtle icons can be seen amongst the items, indicating that The Division 2 is likely taking the concept of gear sets and applying them to non-high end items, as well. Overall, this wasn’t a particularly bad run for the private beta, and having more or less done everything to be done, I would later go on to successfully solo the Invaded mission available. I will be writing about this in greater detail soon.

After reaching the level cap, I ventured into the Dark Zone to wrap up the introductory mission and also explore it: unlike the previous The Division beta, there was also the Invaded endgame mission to experience, so I did not linger. During my run of the Dark Zone, I ended up running around various landmarks and clearing them, helping the agents that I encountered. I decided to call in an extraction to see what the experience in The Division 2 was like, and found that unlike The Division, it’s not quite as harrowing, with fewer enemies rushing onto the capture point. However, I did run into two players who figured they could try and get some free stuff from me. One had already gone rogue trying to cut the rope – another player and I gunned them down. The surviving player then tried to kill me, and I subsequently ended up melting them somehow, successfully completing my extraction. With a reasonable idea of what the Dark Zone was like, I headed off into Invaded, which I will write about separately. Overall, The Division 2 looks to be a very entertaining game – Ubisoft has promised a smorgasbord of endgame activities to keep players excited, and aside from issues with movement, as well as grenade-staggering and some UI and UX issues, this sequel seems fairly solid. With this being said, even though The Division 2 has been stated to be quite doable for solo players like myself, I find that as a day-one purchase, The Division 2 is better suited for those who’ve got a few buddies they can squad up with; I can see this game as being very entertaining for players who can play with friends. As for myself, I see myself picking The Division 2 up, not immediately, but at some point in the future once I’ve seen a bit more footage of it, as well as after giving the game some time to see a few patches: by the time I joined The Division during its 1.8 patch, the game was practically flawless and remarkably enjoyable solo.