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Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown- First Impressions

“Technology’s always changing. If you don’t keep up with it, it’ll leave your ass behind” —Avril Mead’s grandfather

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown marks the first time the world and lore of Strangereal has been available to PC players. With it comes all of the flight mechanics, colourful characters and impressive settings that accompany Strangereal, brought to life in Unreal Engine 4, which represents a return to the Ace Combat universe for many longtime fans. For me, it means the opportunity to get into the cockpit of a fighter jet and take to the skies of an immensely detailed world that I’ve longed to explore since the days of the PlayStation 2 and Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. However, before I can experience the realm of superweapons and tunnel flights that I’ve come to expect as standard fare in Ace Combat, there is the journey of actually reaching this point. In Skies Unknown, players take the perspective of Trigger, an Osean pilot who is assigned to the 508th Tactical Fighter Squadron (Mage Squadron). On his first flight with Mage, Trigger downs several Erusean bombers attacking the Fort Grays island base, and later encounters Erusean MQ-99 drones during a ground attack mission. With the Eruseans becoming more belligerent and threatening an international space elevator, Osea decides to secure the mega-structure. While securing airspace in support for an operation to defend the space elevator, Trigger encounters the Arsenal Bird and its payload of MQ-101 drones. A mysterious aircraft appears and shoots down several Osean fighters before vanishing. Trigger is later tasked with rescuing former President Vincent Harling, who is stranded at the space elevator since hostilities began. During the operation, a stray missile hits the Osprey VTOL Harling is on, and Trigger is suspected of murdering the former president. He is court-martialled and sent to Spare Squadron as a prisoner. When Eursean forces appear at the 444th Airbase, a fake facility, Trigger sorties along with Spare Squadron, earning unexpected praise from other prisoners for single-handedly shooting down enemy bombers.

With this, I’m now five missions into Skies Unknown, and the first thing that comes to mind is just how smoothly the game handles. In particular, the controls for Skies Unknown are very smooth for PC, far out-stripping what was present in Assault Horizon. I had gotten my wings flying in Assault Horizons with a keyboard-only setup, and while the controls were tricky, they had been manageable. Here in Skies Unknown, the keyboard-only controls handle very well, and I can precisely manoeuvre my aircraft with confidence. The flight system of Skies Unknown on PC is evidently a step above Assault Horizon, and so, I had no trouble flying with the Expert configuration. Besides improved handling, Skies Unknown does away with the Dogfight Mode, which ultimately ended up being a crutch that, while exhilarating for the first few times I used it, quickly became a chore that took the thrill out of dogfighting. One of the key frustrations about Assault Horizon was that some opponents were impossible to shoot down without Dogfight Mode, forcing players to depend on this element to complete missions. In Skies Unknown, this particular aspect is gone, as is the notion of regenerating health: players are able to engage all enemies with only their wit and must be mindful of damage, bringing skill back into dogfights in a big way. Every successful kill is immensely satisfying, and after the first quarter of the game, it is clear that Skies Unknown is definitely the Ace Combat experience players have waited for: it is the first true Ace Combat game for PC, featuring both classic gameplay mechanics and the Strangereal universe, and at this point, having had some experience with the flight mechanics of Skies Unknown, I look forwards to delving deeper into the story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Whereas Assault Horizon dropped players right into things with a mission over Miami, Florida, in the cockpit of the bleeding-edge F-22 Raptor, Skies Unknown puts players behind the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and the first thing to do is get in the air and head towards a flight of Erusean bombers. The F-16 is the default aircraft, and is characterised by good all-around performance, with high manoeuvrability, as well as options for both anti-air and anti-ground special weapons.

  • The F-16 is known for its negative stability: aircraft with positive stability will naturally return to level flight if no control input is given, and its fly-by-wire system is designed so that the aircraft can match the pilot’s inputs. As a result, the aircraft has impressive manoeuvrability, but is also stable where it needs to be. After taking off into the skies, the reflection of the ocean and tropical heat can be seen in the surroundings. The first target is a TU-95, a Russian turbo-prop strategic bomber. These bombers have been around since 1952 and are still operational.

  • I’ve heard that traditionally, Ace Combat games typically feature a bomber interception mission as its starting mission to warm players up to the flight controls. Shooting down the slow-moving bombers is very straightforwards, and when players get the feel for things, a wave of MiG-21s appear. Being able to engage distant targets, then turn away and engage a second target, is one of the most satisfying features of Skies Unknown, and while Ace Combat veterans will be very familiar with this trick, this was new for me: Assault Horizon forced me to focus on most targets until I were certain they were down.

  • While the absence of Dogfight Mode means no more seeing the charred husks of destroyed aircraft, the visual effects of Skies Unknown are very impressive. This fireball resulted from me blasting a MiG at close range. The primary missiles of Ace Combat have limited tracking ability, being able to lock onto both surface and air targets. American and Japanese aircraft run missiles resembling the AIM-9 Sidewinder, while Russian aircraft use R-60 missiles.

  • Missiles are solid general purpose weapons, but they aren’t always effective. Coupled with the fact that ammunition for them is finite, and despite the prodigious payloads even small aircraft have, they shouldn’t be thrown around. Instead, there are some conditions during which the aircraft’s integral cannons will come in handy; even the base gun is fairly effective at destroying aircraft with a few well-placed bursts, and in close-quarters dogfights, guns can be useful when enemy combatants are moving too quickly for missiles to get a lock.

  • The second mission in Skies Unknown entails a combination of anti-ground and anti-air combat. Ground targets present their own challenges despite being stationary: because one is flying by so quickly, if one overshoots their target, then they must turn around and hit them again. Flying at slower speeds helps one get a good lock before firing, and there are some aircraft with dedicated anti-ground special weaponry that can lock onto multiple surface targets, or else deal massive area-of-effect damage. At this stage in the game, I don’t have access to those parts or aircraft yet.

  • In most missions, critical targets will be given a special designation and appear in red outlines on the minimap. Eliminating these targets allow the mission to proceed to the next stage; I’m still a novice when it comes to Ace Combat, so I’ve not bothered to go for score and time bonuses during my first run. Instead, my goal will be to go through the game and get an idea of what each mission entails, unlock the F-22 Raptor, then go back and get all of the ace kills, as well as unlock the Wyvern. Once I have enough of the aircraft tree unlocked, I’ll then attempt the S-rank and challenges for the game.

  • After the surface targets are eliminated, the Erusean forces begin deploying MQ-99 drones. Unlike human pilots, drones are immune to high G-forces and so, can turn much more sharply than human pilots. Players are introduced to high-G turns here, which are superbly useful for making tight turns for getting behind drones. While powerful, they also drastically reduce one’s airspeed, and dropping below a certain speed, one will stall. Fighting drones for the first time proved challenging, but eventually, I managed to beat them.

  • After completing an in-air refuelling, players head towards a group of enemy fighters, flying over a rainforest that resembles the Amazon. Skies Unknown introduced clouds as tangible entities that can impact gameplay: flying through them interferes with missile tracking, allowing one to evade missile locks at the expense of reducing their own locking effectiveness. As well, staying in clouds for extended periods can cause icing and expose players to turbulence, affecting stability and manoeuvrability.

  • The biggest surprise encountered during the third mission is the Arsenal Bird, an airborne aircraft carrier that houses the MQ-101 drones. Superior to the 99s in every way, these unmanned carriers also carry laser weapons and the Helios missile, which can disrupt or damage multiple aircraft. When the Arsenal Bird appears, the targetting HUD lights up with enemies, and players are overwhelmed with the amount of firepower there is in the air.

  • Players will be tasked with destroying the Arsenal Bird, although at this point in the campaign, it is much too early to be destroying the Arsenal Bird. I managed to deal some damage to it, but the Arsenal Bird then deploys an energy shield, and the mission switches over to destroying the UAVs, which have begun decimating allied forces. During the confusion, an unknown aircraft will appear and shoot down two allied pilots. The mission ends when all of the UAVs have been destroyed.

  • I believe this mission was the one showcased during the E3 and the subsequent demos some years back: Skies Unknown was first announced during 2015, and was set to release during 2017. My curiosity in Skies Unknown were piqued by my experiences in Assault Horizon, and Infinity was a PS4-exclusive: upon hearing that Strangereal was coming to PC, I found myself interested to see what the game would be like. However, developmental delays pushed the release date to 2018, and then 2019.

  • When Skies Unknown launched, reviews for the game were largely positive, with players praising the game’s return to classic mechanics and style seen in earlier titles. The PC version came out after the console versions, and while still fun, the game is a console port whose lack of easy support for flight sticks was its biggest shortcoming. I can see the frustration amongst those who have sophisticated flight stick setups, but for me, Skies Unknown remains very enjoyable: I don’t even have a controller and fly using the keyboard.

  • The fourth mission involves flying through a tight radar net to reach the orbital elevator, marked by large red circles on one’s minimap. There was a similar mission in Assault Horizon where one had to pilot a strategic bomber through radar, but the radar beams were projected onto screen-space, making them easy to avoid. This mission was a test of how the keyboard setup worked, and when I came out of the other end in one try, I knew that the keyboard setup I’m currently running with would be sufficient.

  • After clearing out the anti-air emplacements around the orbital elevator’s base, players fly towards the city and engage trucks carrying launchers for the MQ-99 drones. Any UAVs that have launched must also be shot down: they will move towards the orbital elevator and open fire on the rescue forces if left unchecked. Being made to deal with multiple targets at once and multi-task is a staple of Ace Combat games, and provides the sort of challenge that engages players.

  • Some of the combat in the fourth mission is set over Selatapura, a Usean city that experienced economic hardships during the events of Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies, but since underwent massive development. It turns out that Selatapura is roughly Strangereal’s equivalent of Singapore, being a major port city, and those with linguistic background in Malay and Sanskrit note that Selata is “South” from the Malay seletan, and pura is city from Sanskrit. Details like these show the extent of the creativity from the Bandai Namco studios in world-building.

  • During the course of this mission, a few UAVs did end up getting past me, forcing me to peel away from striking the launchers on the ground and turn my attention to the stray drones that’d begun making a beeline for the space elevator. I’ve found that at distance, drones can be downed with missiles or picked off with gunfire, but owing to their mobility, dogfighting with them is very tricky. If one can pull out of endlessly circling their opponent and make some distance, engaging and destroying enemy aircraft becomes a bit easier.

  • On the topic of guns, one of very few the pet peeves I have with the Ace Combat series is that is that the guns on planes are referred to as “machine guns”. The term “machine gun” specifically refers to small-arms calibre weapons (i.e. smaller than 20mm), and automatic weapon firing rounds with a diameter of 20mm or greater is referred to as an autocannon. By definition, the M61 Vulcan, which fires 20mm rounds, is a cannon, not a machine gun. I imagine this terminology stuck from the days when aircraft fired .50-calibre rounds, which are 12.7mm in diameter, hence their being referred to as such in Ace Combat.

  • Skies Unknown has been seen by some as Ace Combat with Gundam 00 elements for the orbital elevators, and one of my friends remarked on his surprise at the Arsenal Bird’s “GN Field”. While there are no super-powerful Gundams in Ace Combat, players do get access to increasingly powerful and iconic aircraft as they progress through the game. Players can unlock the Wyvern, and later DLC could add the Falken and Nosferatu to the lineup. If I do get the DLC, I’ll likely do so when it’s on sale: I’ve seen that it’s supposed to add three new missions, as well, in addition to iconic aircraft that are as legendary as Gundams in the Ace Combat universe.

  • Enemy planes traditionally carried countermeasures against missiles in earlier iterations of Ace Combat, but as of Assault Horizon, countermeasures finally became available for player use, and in Skies Unknown, aircraft do not abuse them the same way powerful targets did in Assault Horizon – this was the biggest frustration in Assault Horizon, forcing players to enter Dogfight Mode to destroy tougher enemies. Flares in Skies Unknown can instantly break all missile locks, but are in very short supply, and I only use them in cases where I am absolutely focused on a target and do not wish to evade: missiles show up on the minimap and usually can be dodged with a high-G turn.

  • Special weapons provide a powerful means of quickly and efficiently dealing with particularly tough foes, or large numbers of foes at once. The F-16 is equipped with four active radar-guided missiles that lock onto a maximum of targets at medium range. I’ve been using these to deal with a large number of airborne foes when they’re a ways away. The supply of special weapons is very limited, and while upgrades allow for more to be carried, it’s nonetheless a good idea to save them for tricky spots.

  • The story in Skies Unknown is fairly engaging, as is the chatter players experience in the background. While engaging drones, friendly forces will suggest firing missiles at the orbital elevator’s main pillar, which would cause the drones’ programming to kick in and defend the elevator, drawing them off Harling’s VTOL. Unfortunately, a stray missile will hit the VTOL and kill Harling. Since Trigger is the closest to Harling at the time of his being shot down, he will be held accountable as Harling’s murderer and spend the next several missions with a penal unit stationed at the 444th.

  • Located along a quiet coast , the 444th Air Base is far removed from other Osean population centres and military installations. Despite its remoteness, the location is beautiful: the blue skies look amazing, offering a calm airspace to fly about in. The peace won’t last, however, as Erusean aircraft begin appearing with the aim of destroying the base. While prohibited from using weapons, the ferocity of the Erusean attack forces AWACS Bandog to give clearance to engage.

  • As the AWACS officier, Bandog is one of the more colourful ones, frequently insulting the other pilots in the air. His dialogue is hilarious, and while be belittles everyone in Spare Squadron, Trigger’s combat efficiency earns Bandog’s begrudging respect over the course of his time in Spare Squadron, even as he badmouths everyone else.

  • We’re now more than halfway through February, and this Family Day Long Weekend’s been a bit more of a quieter one on account of the snowfall in the area. Both Saturday and Sunday were characterised by extremely slippery roads. To close off the Chinese New Year festivities, we went out into a frigid evening for a dinner with family, where we had Poon choi (盆菜, a Cantonese dish with a variety of ingredients, such as prawns, abalone, chicken, pork, duck, oysters and vegetables). The warm and flavourful experience was a much needed respite from the winter cold. Also on the menu was ginger-onion lobster on a bed of noodles, pea shoots and sweet and sour pork.

  • While yesterday remained cold and snowy, the weather today’s been much more agreeable, being both warmer and sunny. Back in Skies Unknown, I continue flying against the Erusean bombers, who’ve really become convinced that the 444th is a legitimate airbase. After being transferred to Spare Squadron, players gain access to the F-104C and MiG-21. I ended up picking the MiG-21 for its gun pods. Flying a weaker aircraft seemed appropriate given the story, and the MiG-21’s biggest strength is its mobility.

  • Initially, I was struggling with this mission because the last three bombers approached from a higher altitude than before, and leaving too many aircraft in the air meant I was constantly being painted. It was here that I became more familiar with the minimap; I learned to differentiate between missiles that were about to hit me and missiles that were going to miss. When multiple missiles are coming from all directions, I deploy countermeasures.

  • While Spare Squadron has no interest in preserving the facilities, the mission will fail if bombers deal too much damage. Bandog will bitterly (and hilariously) tell the other pilots to shut up, and the comedy of the moment made it worth losing out on the mission. However, I figured something out and managed to down all of the bombers targetting the base. in the end to finish the mission, and here, blast one of the bombers, which detonate spectacularly.

  • The deep blue skies of this fifth mission looks absolutely stunning, although it’s hard to feel a sense of tranquility when there are targets to shoot down and enemy missiles to evade. Unlike Assault HorizonSkies Unknown comes with both a free mission mode for replaying completed campaign missions as well as a free flight mode. The latter is absent from Assault Horizon, likely because some missions wouldn’t have accommodated for free flight, but now that this mode is back, one can conceivably fly around fantastic settings without mission objectives to worry about.

  • With this post, I’m done the first quarter of Skies Unknown and will be pushing ahead in the campaign. My plan is to first beat the campaign, then go back and unlock the Wyvern and beat all of the aces. Finally, I’ll go for the S-ranks as time permits. There’s plenty to do in Skies Unknown, and one of the things I do wish to do is unlocking the entire aircraft tree. In the meantime, I think that with this post on Ace Combat, I’ve finished off one more gaming post. I’m not too sure when I’ll have a chance to look at Penguin Highway, but the ten-year anniversary of CLANNAD ~After Story~‘s Ushio arc is imminent, and I will need to take a look at that.

When I first went through Assault Horizon, I experimented with a range of controls and it took a while to find a setup that worked for me. I ended up deciding on the keyboard-only approach and stuck with it for the remainder of the campaign. Here in Skies Unknown, I similarly took a good half-hour to configure the keyboard controls so that everything would be intuitive and familiar: once this initial setup was completed, I began flying through the first mission. While Assault Horizon might be the game many wish to forget, I personally found the game modestly enjoyable despite its dependence on Dogfight Mode, taking players to a wide range of locations, from Dubai, to Moscow and Miami. For me, Assault Horizon was my entry into the series: I learned to fly here, and those experiences have translated over into Skies Unknown. Having had a quarter of the game under my belt, I am thoroughly enjoying Skies Unknown, and while the days of watching cannon-riddled wreckage from enemy fighters fly past my jet are gone, Skies Unknown has plenty going for it – it was a particular thrill to see the Arsenal Bird appear for the first time and then deploy its microwave shield. Such fanciful technologies were noticeably absent in Assault Horizon, and having high-tech gear in the game, both to fight against and equip, is immensely exciting: I personally cannot wait to equip and fire the Tactical Laser for the first time on PC, and in order to do that, I’ll need to push further into the campaign and earn the in-game currency needed to unlock new aircraft.

Nordlys: Reflections on the Battlefield V Campaign

“I’ve always found your country to be beautiful…and unsettling. When I came here as a child, they told me stories of creatures and monsters in the woods” —Lieutenant Weber

Lieutenant Weber interrogates Astrid Bjørnstad about the location of resistance fighters. Outside, in the snowy and frigid forests of Norway, Solveig Fia Bjørnstad prepares to infiltrate Vemork Hydroelectric Plant and cripple the German effort to produce heavy water, a component in the refinement of fissable materials for nuclear weapons. Sneaking through the valleys and forests by night, Solveig rescues Astrid and recovers a document. The two are captured, and Astrid pushes Solveig off a bridge to ensure she can continue the mission. Solveig fights hypothermia to reach a dead drop, and before succumbing to the elements, managing to find a cabin and eliminating the lone German soldier inside. The next morning, she reads a letter from Astrid, and makes her way to a portside town where Germans are storing their heavy water shipments. Her actions alert Germans to her presence, and they evacuate with the last remaining shipment. Solveig gives chase, but a U-Boat appears. Astrid attempts to destroy the heavy water with a stick grenade, sinking the U-Boat in the process and the Germans surround Solveig, leaving her to an unknown fate. Nordlys (Norwegian for “Northern Lights”) details the Norwegian heavy water sabotage operations conducted by saboteurs between 1940 and 1943 to prevent the Germans from acquiring the heavy water needed to manufacture nuclear weapons. While modern perspectives find that the heavy water produced at Vemork Hydroelectric Plant had a very low purity and would have unlikely been useful, the bravery of the resistance members involved in the sabotage are recorded. The prospect of Nazi Germany in possession of nuclear weapons was a sobering one, and the Allies made an active effort to cripple the German heavy water programme. By February 1943, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Norwegian operatives managed to destroy the production facility. In conjunction with Allied bombing raids, the Germans ceased operations at the site, and the Norwegian heavy water sabotage programme is presently counted as one of the most successful sabotage operations during the Second World War.

Prominently a stealth mission, Nordlys is also perhaps the most visually spectacular, beautiful War Story available in Battlefield V. The bite of a winter’s night is offset by the presence of hauntingly stunning Aurora Borealis adjourning the skies. Slipping through the woods like a ghost, it is easy to see how Norway can seem unsettling: the land is remote, desolate but beautiful, and it attests to the sense of unease both sides of the war would have faced in their efforts to come out victorious. While the Germans may view the Norwegian resistance as monsters in the forests, their own determination to create a technological terror is also akin to opening Pandora’s Box. Even though players see things from Solveig’s perspective and conclude that she’s no monster, creating this sense of uncertainty adds to the sense that in war, both sides have their fears and objectives. Battlefield V mentions that humanising one’s enemies is a surest way to lose the war, , and similar to Battlefield 1, suggests that if we could humanise our enemies, war might not be as vicious or commonplace. Compared to the likes of the Normandy Beach landings or the operation to capture Berlin, heroics such as those undertaken by Norwegian resistance members have largely been forgotten. By taking players into the frozen landscapes of Norway, Battlefield V‘s War Stories both serve to remind players that bravery can definitely take all forms, are motivated by reasons distinct to different individuals and that World War Two was a global conflict, leaving even the most isolated parts of the world untouched. From a game-play perspective, this means fighting a war somewhere faraway from the familiar operations, allowing players to explore locales that most World War Two games don’t visit and seeing how powerful the Frostbite Engine is.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Stealth is ostensibly encouraged in Nordlys – Solveig is equipped with throwing knives that are one-hit kills and totally silent, but have massive drop and thus, take some skill to use. There are numerous paths in the first act, allowing Solveig to sneak past patrols undetected, although there are also some seemingly contradictory challenges. As with Under no Flag, these challenges are designed to encourage multiple playthroughs, and when I return, I will doubtlessly be on easy difficulty to blow through things faster.

  • Players who sneak under the bridge using the lower deck will be rewarded with a suppressed M1911. Suppressed weapons are unavailable in the multiplayer at present: earlier Battlefield titles gave suppressed weapons unique attributes to mix up gameplay, but this has gone away since Battlefield 1. In the campaign, however, they remain useful, and the M1911 allows me to run the James Bond loadout, giving me one more option for dealing with lone guards.

  • While the forests of the True North Strong™ are about majesty and beauty for me, the taiga of the Nordic countries and Siberia are a bit more haunting. Despite the knowledge that I am playing as one of the “monsters in the woods”, the cold, lonely forests of Norway seem quite uninviting here, and passing through a German camp, the fires add an inviting warmth to an otherwise cold-feeling level.

  • The Aurora Borealis in Nordlys are perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen in any video game, even besting those seen in The Eldar Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s been nearly six years since I picked up Skyrim on a sale, and while I had a great deal of fun in the game, my library has since expanded considerably, so I was finding less time to go through Skyrim. However, I did unlock the Clear Skies Dragon Shout, which allowed me to spawn Aurora Borealis at will during the night. The graphics of Battlefield V are even more impressive, and as I make my way to the hydroelectric plant, the beauty of the aurora are apparent.

  • Aurora are commonly green, a consequence of solar particles interacting with oxygen molecules at an altitude of 240 kilometres. Blue and red aurora come from interactions with nitrogen molecules at different altitudes. Here, I make my way into the facility: having blown the stealth challenge, I decided to go loud for the remainder of the mission. Solveig encounters numerous weapons during the mission, and I went with a combination of single-action rifles, the suppressed M1911 and the FG-42 en route to the plant.

  • In reality, the Vemork Hydroelectric Plant is located outside of Rjukan in Norway, was opened in 1911 and was the world’s largest power plant, producing an output of 108 MW. It produced heavy water from 1934 until 1971, after which it was closed. A new power plant replaced it, and the old site became a museum in 1988, detailing the Norwegian Heavy Water Sabotage programme. When Solveig is running through it, heavy water production is going full force.

  • Sneaking through an empty building, with a suppressed pistol, by night, during the winter, reminds me of 007 Nightfire‘s The Exchange. Since Nightfire, shooters have come a very long way, although Nightfire holds a special place in my books for being the first FPS I’d owned: during Christmas, I used to play various 007 games on my cousin’s Nintendo 64 and GameCube, coming to associate Christmas with the atmospherics in a James Bond shooter. I would tend to say that of the James Bond shooters, Nightfire is probably the most polished, with an engaging campaign and fun multiplayer.

  • One of my longstanding dreams is to travel to historic World War Two sites in Europe: the Vemork Hydroelectric Plant is probably far removed from what might be considered accessible, so I’m probably not to walk through the same halls that Solveig have walked through. There’s a charm about Germany and Austria, so I’m thinking that in the future, my first vacation to Europe will be riding a train through the mountains of Austria and visiting timber-framed German villages. My German is completely gone now – despite having taken German during all three years of my high school, I’ve not once used the language since university.

  • In fact, I would tend to think that I am more proficient now in Japanese than I am in German. If I should choose to visit, I think revisiting some of the basics would be useful. Back in Battlefield V, I managed to reach Astrid, and knowing that the remainder of the mission is a protracted firefight, I found myself a Bren gun. This is Perrine’s weapon of choice in Strike Witches, and is suited for use against the hordes of German soldiers that appear: the single-action rifles are a bit too slow for close quarters. In the multiplayer, the Bren’s biggest disadvantage is its magazine, which is highly obstructive: I’ve not run the Bren with any frequency.

  • The FG-42 is another solid weapon: of the light machine guns, the KE-7, Bren and FG-42 handle most like assault rifles. During the days of the beta, the FG-42, when fully upgraded, was considered the best LMG available. At present, it’s a reliable firearm that is balanced and satisfying to use, and I usually roll with either the Nydar Sight or 3x optics: iron sights have never really worked well for me in Battlefield, so I avoid them where possible.

  • The darkest part of the Nordlys mission is the second act, where Selvig must deliver a dead drop during a raging blizzard. She has access to the M30 Drilling, but there is no option to use the rifle barrel as far as I am aware: I’ve not found any rifle cartridges, and in the campaign, the M30 seems to be a double barreled shotgun only. Hypothermia is a part of the game mechanics here, and Solveig must stop to warm up by the fires periodically to avoid freezing to death. This is an element that was last seen in Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s Snowblind mission, which sees Marlowe separated from his squad, following with his making his way down the mountain during a massive blizzard.

  • On the topic of bitterly cold, snowy weather, a cold wave has struck my area. At the time of writing, it’s been sixteen straight days of -20ºC (-4ºF), with windchills reaching upwards of -40ºC (-40ºF) and yesterday evening, a fierce snowfall hit the area, reducing visibility and making roads dangerous. It grows tiresome to have to go out to weather so cold it bites at any exposed skin, but forecasts show that the cold might be reaching an end.

  • Skiing is a part of several sections in Nordlys, and Solveig can use this to quickly surprise enemies. One challenge entails killing an enemy with a throwing knife while skiing, and to cheese this assignment, I simply equipped the skiis and then threw a knife at an enemy. After the long dark of the night, return of light into Nordlys’ final act was very welcome, and the Norwegian village here looks like it comes fresh out of a Christmas card.

  • Like Under no Flag and Bad Company 2‘s Sangre del Toro mission, the final act of Nordlys gives players the freedom to visit three sites and destroy their targets in any order. Stealth is again a part of the gameplay, but at this point, since players will be causing explosions anyways, I figured that there was little point to staying quiet.

  • During my original playthrough, I was intending to complete the challenge of disabling all alarms, but I might’ve missed one, as the challenge didn’t unlock. On the topic of unlocking things, Battlefield V‘s latest Tides of War assignment is unfeasible owing to how strict the conditions are, making it an unreasonable use of time to try and unlock the Stug IV. I will likely end up buying the tank with company coin later – it is not worth the frustration to try and get the remaining kills: I spent two consecutive hours without any progress, and that time is better spent doing something else.

  • Nowhere else in Battlefield V‘s War Stories are the skies this clear and this deep a blue: Nordlys has definitely captured the feeling of a winter’s morning with its skies. At this time of year back home, the days have begun lengthening again, and the skies are brighter by mid-day. During the shortest days of the year during late December and early January, the sun is very low in the sky, and there is a faint hint of gold in sunlight even when it’s noon.

  • I would suppose that, since I’m in Norway, this is the closest players have to experiencing Les Stroud’s Survivorman Ten Days specials, which aired in 2012. For the Norway special, Stroud started in a remote backcountry road in a broken-down vehicle, then attempts to make his way to more hospitable surroundings. He finds hunters’ cabins and deer remains, making deer soup while a blizzard rages away. Afterwards, his decision to descend the mountains into the valley below leads him to find homes along the coasts of a fjord. I remember that episode best for having a chilling time lapse while Stroud describes the dreams he has while sleeping after his first meal in a while, having watched it in between studying for the MCAT.

  • Here, as I make my way to a cliffside bunker where heavy water shipments are held, I walk along a highway adjacent to the water’s edge. This area reminds me of the roads along the lakes of Interior BC; a few months ago, I was out here for the salmon run; the skies were deep blue and trees were turning yellow as autumn was setting in. I imagine that, in the deep winter, some of these highways would be quite difficult to traverse, as they are covered in snow.

  • I’ve heard a non-trivial amount of controversy surrounding DICE’s decision to use Solveig in place of a male commando unit in Nordlys floating around on the ‘net. For me, playing as Solveig did not change my gameplay experience in any way, so I’ve got no complaints whatsoever. It seems that, following the culture war surrounding games and games journalism in 2014, the community has become only more vociferous at perceived “threats” to games: my own thoughts are that, so as long as game mechanics do not become negatively affected (i.e. as long as we’re not stuck playing games made in the Twine Engine, or by those who only have the vaguest ideas about how Unreal 3 works), I’m not terribly worried.

  • Back in Nordlys, I reach the end of a mission, where a mid-day snowstorm transforms the skies into the sort of miserable grey that has dominated the weather in my area for the past few days. There’s some cover here amongst the equipment, and it is prudent to make use of it while returning fire on the German soldiers. The mission ends here, and while Solveig’s fate is unknown, what is known is that the resistance’s efforts will have a tangible effect on Norway. I will be writing about the Tirailleur mission for Battlefield V, but before then, Ace Combat 7 is the next game I will be writing about. My experiences in it are nothing but positive, and I do wish to do this talk justice.

Granted, the War Stories of Battlefield V, in skipping the best-known campaigns of World War Two, have left players largely disappointed that DICE did not showcase a proper Normandy Landing or capture of Iwo Jima in Frostbite: such a mission would have almost certainly blown away all contemporary World War Two games and allow players to experience famous moments with the latest technological developments. For me, the campaign is a secondary aspect to Battlefield V; previous titles also had campaigns, but the bread-and-butter of the games are largely in their multiplayer components. Having said this, I do enjoy the quiet that campaigns offer to players, allowing one to explore stories and places that are otherwise absent in multiplayer. Missions such as Nordlys showcase how modern game engines can be used in conjunction with solid cinematics and voice-acting to create a captivating, immersive atmosphere that, while perhaps lacking the spectacle of multiplayer, act as an enjoyable experience for those looking to experience a story in an interactive, visual format. The sense of dread, uncertainty and doubt, intermingled with the beautiful landscapes and skies of Norway were very compelling, and despite my lack of prowess with stealth missions, Nordlys is my favourite War Story in Battlefield V. Given the time, I would very much like to go back and do a full exploration of the level to collect all of the hidden letters and finish the challenges, which would also unlock Solveig’s knife for use in multiplayer.

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.

Under No Flag: Reflections on the Battlefield V Campaign

“This is war, son. We fight one battle, then we fight another one until it’s done.” –George Mason

Billy Bridger is a criminal who has been incarcerated for arson, armed robbery and illegal use of explosives. Officer George Mason, however, offers Bridger a position in the Special Boat Service. Although Bridger initially refuses, he eventually relents and is tasked with destroying German aircraft in Africa. On his first assignment, Bridger’s special explosives fail to detonate, and he is forced to destroy the aircraft using anti-air emplacements. Mason is injured, and Bridger makes off to find first aid supplies while destroying the remaining German equipment that he encounters. However, when he radios for support, he inadvertently alerts German forces to their position. Mason encourages Bridger to fight on, and, using the equipment available to them, the two fend off an onslaught of German soldiers and armour long enough for the British fleet to respond: friendly forces clear out the remaining German forces and evacuate the pair. Bridger and Mason later prepare to attack Greece. While Billy Bridger and George Mason are almost certainly fictional, the Special Boat Service (SBS) are real, being the amphibious equivalent of the renowned Special Air Service (SAS). Founded in 1940 by Roger Courtney, who infiltrated a ship with a kayak to convince Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes and Admiral Theodore Hallett that using kayaks for infiltration was viable, the SBS went on to conduct various raids during the Second World War. The SBS became a part of the United Kingdom Special Forces in 1987 and, with a specialisation in maritime counter-terrorism, have since participated in a range of operations from Afghanistan, to Sierra Leone.

While labelled as the fourth mission in Battlefield V‘s campaign, I played Under No Flag second: set in the fields of Africa, this was my first experience with the campaign and also proved to be unexpectedly enjoyable. Although I had originally counted Battlefield V‘s campaigns as something to get through, these feelings were quickly dispelled upon entering the coasts of Africa under a storm. Upon finishing this war story, it turns out there was also a lesson to be learned: Under No Flag suggests to its players that an individual’s worth is not determined by what skills they possess, but what they apply these skills towards. When Bridger begins his mission, he is ill-equipped for completing objectives and setting aside his ego, but as he works with Mason, he comes apply his skills for explosives and causing chaos towards disrupting German forces, rather than petty theft and assault. By the time the German forces mount their onslaught on the pair, Bridger has become more accepting of Mason, having gone through the lengths to find him first aid. While war is doubtlessly terrifying, it also can bring out the best in some: given the circumstances, Bridger becomes more selfless than before, channeling his experience towards fighting for his country rather than for his own gain. The story shows that from its humble origins, the SBS has since evolved to cultivate some of the very best, being the British equivalent to the equally renowned Navy SEALs.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Battlefield V‘s campaign looks gorgeous, even more so than Battlefield 1‘s – DICE has truly outdone themselves with the visuals here. When I first stepped into the campaign late during November, I was absolutely blown away by how detailed and crisp everything looked. Here, I am armed with the De Lisle Carbine, which has an integral suppressor and when combined with subsonic ammunition, is counted as one of the quietest weapons ever made. As I was new to the campaign, I did not know of the weapon’s properties, and swapped it out for a suppressed Kar 98k.

  • My dreams of reaching the enemy hangar undetected was soon dashed owing to a lack of patience, and I resorted to the old standby of shooting up anything that moved. Had I made more liberal use of the De Lisle, I might’ve been able to complete the challenge more easily: the De Lisle would be great for closer range encounters, while the Kar 98k would work best at long ranges, where I can pick off lone targets.

  • Besides the De Lisle, players also have access to the M1928A1 Thompson submachine gun. This weapon is the last to be unlocked for the medic class, and is counted as one of the better submachine guns with its rate of fire. Because it is not fitted with a suppressor, the Thompson would be ideally suited in those situations where one is compromised; the weapon has excellent hipfire.

  • Upon reaching the hangar, Bridger places his “special” explosives on the Stuka aircraft. However, they fail to detonate. This moment is meant to show that Bridger’s old arrogance won’t always apply in a military scenario, and that in the armed forces, people use standardised equipment for the simple reason that it’s tried-and-true: having extensively read about military equipment, I’ve seen numerous prototypes and concepts that never saw mass production for standard issue. Because the armed forces is about getting in, getting the job done and getting out alive, only the best equipment that meets specifications are selected for use.

  • With his objective of destroying the aircraft still standing, Bridger commandeers a Flak 38 anti-air gun and begins firing at the aircraft in the air. The Flak 38 represents a considerable improvement from the QF 1-pounder seen in Battlefield 1, firing 20 mm rounds with a higher muzzle velocity. These emplacements are stationary but can be towed in multiplayer, and here, I managed to down all of the aircraft without sustaining damage to unlock one of the challenges.

  • The last time I had a truly open Battlefield campaign mission was Bad Company 2‘s Sangre del Toro, which I vividly remember having reached after Otafest 2013. After coming home from my first-ever anime convention, I was exhausted and kicked back with some Bad Company 2, going from broadcast station to broadcast station to triangulate the location of a long-lost cargo ship containing something of value. In that mission, players could visit the three broadcast stations in any order, giving it an incredibly open feeling.

  • If I had to be honest, my first-ever convention was somewhat of a disappointment: there wasn’t very much merchandise to buy, and I wasn’t familiar with any of the special guests. A year later, I went back, and with a much more well-organised plan for what events to hit, I managed to get a rare convention pin (of which there are only 100 of), get autographs from special guests such as Yū Asakawa (Azumanga Daioh‘s Sakaki and Norimi Kawaguchi of K-On!), bought the Gundam model I was looking for and visited their Maid Café. I never particularly enjoy attending panels, so during the intermissions between events of interest, I returned to my lab to watch Rick and Morty.

  • I’m not sure if I have any inclination to visit additional anime conventions in the future as an attendee: while it’s nice to see the presence of other fans around, I’m no cosplayer and would much rather spend a day hiking in the mountains or sipping a caffe mocha while browsing through books.

  • Back in Battlefield V, I manage to destroy an objective spectacularly with explosives. Sneaking around the town was fun, and this act gave the impression of the open-ended approach that DICE had previously advertised would be a part of the Battlefield campaigns moving forward. They had announced this for Battlefield 4, but the campaign there still felt exceedingly linear. By Battlefield 1, campaigns had finally reached the level I was expecting: both 1 and play considerably more differently than the Battlefield campaigns of old.

  • Of the old campaigns, Bad Company 2 had the best narrative. Battlefield 3 had the best gameplay diversity and overall atmosphere. Battlefield 4 was a little weaker but still fun, while Hardline had the best customisation options for weapons. Folks have long wondered by Bad Company is not getting any continuation, and DICE has replied that it’s tough to pin down what made Bad Company 2 so enjoyable for so many. For me, it was the combination of a balanced multiplayer and reasonably deep progression system, coupled with an unforgettable campaign whose ludicrous story was matched with hilarious, entertaining characters.

  • After blasting everything in town, I headed off to get the first aid kit for Mason and stopped on a bluff overlooking the comms station below. I was astounded at how sharp and photorealistic everything looked here: this was the moment where I realised that Battlefield V‘s campaign was not simply something to get through, and from here on out, I decided to slow down and appreciate the campaign more.

  • Airfields and deserts invariably remind me of action films from the 1970s with a desert setting, and here, a faint haze can be seen on the horizon. The combined effect was quite pleasant, and I made my way through the second act with a suppressed rifle and StG 44: since Battlefield Hardline, campaigns have placed a much greater emphasis on stealth over straight-up firefights. I miss the older campaigns where going loud was encouraged, and overall, while the new campaigns are impressive (Battlefield 1 and V have definitely been fun), they don’t have quite the same magic as Battlefield 3 or Bad Company 2.

  • For me, a good Bad Company 3 would have the visual fidelity and movement system of Battlefield V, the TTK/TTD, map design, progression system and unlock system of Battlefield 3 and a campaign dominated by the likes of Marlowe, Sweetwater, Haggard and Redford. Looking back, Battlefield 3 was probably my favourite Battlefield: I’ve spent the most time in Battlefield 3 and greatly enjoyed its mechanics. The game is a little dated now, but it still handles very well.

  • On my first run, I was not aware that one could steal one of the aircraft parked here and use it to effortlessly torch everything down below. I thus resorted to a stealth-focused run where I used the Lewes bombs to destroy everything. Using diesel oil and Nobel 808 plastic explosive, these bombs were easy to carry and highly effective against parked aircraft. Despite their unreliable fuses, they were used for their power.

  • The StG 44 rifle was the premiere weapon during the Battlefield V alpha and beta stages: hard-hitting, accurate and versatile, the weapon was a good all-around choice that allowed players to handle threats reliably at most ranges. Since then, the weapon’s multiplayer incarnation has been nerfed: it has very high recoil and will not trade blows with the Sturmgewehr 1-5. The best way to use this weapon is in between the Sturmgewehr 1-5 and Ribeyrolleys’ ranges: it fires faster than the former and deals more damage at range compared to the former.

  • The final act to Under no Flag is an onslaught battle where stealth is irrelevant and where the object of the game is to defend an area against hordes of Nazi soldiers. I found that a rifle and LMG was sufficient to hold off the enemies at reasonable ranges. Vehicles will show up, so it’s also imperative to have good anti-armour options. A combination of Panzerfausts and use of the Pak 40 should be sufficient to deal with the tanks that show up later.

  • I’ve gotten far enough into the multiplayer at this point that I’ve gotten all of the specialisations for the MG-34. In the campaign, this weapon is superbly effective as-is, being able to decimate entire groups of enemies before one needs to reload: between this and a self-loading rifle, picking off enemies swarming up to Bridger’s position was not a particularly difficult challenge.

  • While the Bren is an iconic gun, I’m finding that I’ve not run with it much in the multiplayer. The reduced options for melee weapons means that running authentic Strike Witches loadouts is actually harder than it was in Battlefield 1: there’s no Bowie Knife, BAR or sabre as of yet, and I’m still a short ways from unlocking the MG-42.

  • Of all the missions, Under no Flag is the least inspired of Battlefield V‘s campaign mission, and it was still quite fun; this is saying something. While more veteran players count the campaign as dull, I personally enjoyed playing through it. Elsewhere, such as at Tango Victor Tango, criticisms of Battlefield V have been much more vociferous – those with the time, but not the hardware to actually play the game, have spent their days mindlessly agreeing amongst themselves that Battlefield V is a “dead” game and that DICE deserves their reduced sales numbers for how they conducted their marketing program.

  • I couldn’t care less about things like “community backlash”, and it must be a miserable experience to only have enough computer hardware for commenting on Tango-Victor-Tango, Reddit or Twitter, rather than being able to experience things for oneself. Back on this corner of the internet, I admit that Under No Flag was the most difficult campaign mission to write for, and with this in the books, I am moving to Battlefield V‘s other missions. Nordlys is my favourite mission, and the reasons for this will become apparent in the post where I recount my experiences with it.

The first mission proper of the Battlefield V campaign that I experienced, Under No Flag introduces a combination of stealth elements, multi-directional approaches for completing level objectives and an incentive to complete objectives for the sake of unlocking a special melee weapon for use in multiplayer. This mission sets the precedence for how Battlefield’s campaigns have evolved: from the highly linear and set-piece driven missions of earlier titles, Battlefield campaigns of late have incorporated stealth and exploration as a means of encouraging replay. In the second act of Under No Flag, players have the option of sneaking into an airfield to plant bombs on targets, but the mission also provides a challenge of stealing a plane and using this to destroy the targets. In order to get to that special melee weapon, I will, at some point, need to return to the campaign again and go through each mission to wrap up the challenges and find every letter in each level. While there’s a spate of titles that I’ve got to go through and enjoy, the visuals and audio of Battlefield V are unparalleled: there is plenty of incentive to go back through each mission again and experience it in a slightly different manner, once I find the time to do so.