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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.

The Division: Six-Piece Classified Striker’s Battlegear, One Million Damage Sniper, and the Bullfrog at The Endgame

“We won’t get that lucky. We never do.” –Faye Lau

The combination of returning Global Events and their attendant incentive to return to the legendary missions has afforded with me an opportunity to acquire both a complete set of Classified Striker’s Battlegear, as well as the Bullfrog. The weapon compliments the Classified set very well, and in conjunction with a Showstopper, I’ve found myself with an inclination to return to The Division, which has certainly proved to be an enduring game despite my usual preference of playing it solo. Global events and a bit of luck have been instrumental towards helping me complete the Classified Striker’s Battlegear set: specialised for dealing damage with automatic weapons and providing a measure of self-healing, the Striker set is counted as one of the most versatile and effective sets in The Division. In practise, it means melting enemies and having the capability to prolong one’s durability in firefights: at the endgame, The Division provides the gear for players to perform in ways previously not possible, and the variety in Classified Sets allow for enough gameplay diversity so that there is plenty to do at the endgame for folks who’ve not yet collected everything. Of course, with The Division 2 coming out and offering an entirely restructured way to play, I am curious to see how the sequel plays out.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Like the Nekopara Extra OVA post, this one’s a bit of a shorter one: I note that readers aren’t terribly interested in hearing how I’ve managed to more or less get all the best gear in The Division solo, so this time, I’ve kept the post and my bragging to be shorter. For a week back in July, The Division‘s Underground DLC was freely available to all players, so I took this opportunity to give it a go solo. The Underground consists of procedurally-generated missions similar to dungeon instances and there are several game types. On the whole, I found that The Division offered plenty to do even without the DLC, so I never ended up purchasing any of the expansions.

  • Back in late July, I was still running my LVOA-C, a fantastic assault rifle whose performance and accuracy make it one of the best general-purpose weapons in the game. As one advances in The Division, the extended magazines become the best weapon modifier available, offering upwards of 120 percent ammunition capacity to double one’s ability to deliver sustained damage.

  • To counteract this, The Division 2 will be balancing out attachments so that there will be pros and cons to equipping different setups: in particular, equipping extended magazines will come at the cost of reload speeds. This will force players to choose their attachments carefully, rather than lead everyone to gravitate towards the tremendously useful extended magazines.

  • Here, I play the first set of missions for the Underground and melt my way through the final named elite in the mission. While I felt that Underground might’ve been a DLC worth picking up, I eventually decided that considering how many other ways there were of acquiring gear in The Division, strictly speaking, it was not necessary to get DLCs for that purpose. This will preclude me from getting the DLC-exclusive Shield assignments done, but that’s fine.

  • By this point in time, my Striker Set allows me to be more effective against enemy Agents in the Dark Zone. During one manhunt, I managed to burn away a rogue Agent’s health down to around ten percent before they were finished off by other Agents. This is in spite of my gear being unoptimised and not yet fully calibrated to bring out the maximum performance from the Striker bonuses, as well as lacking dedicated PvP weapons; I am still heavily configured for PvE effectiveness, favouring armour destruction and headshot damage for the most part.

  • I vividly recall that, when the Madison Field Hospital mission came out in the Legendary difficulty, my group was devastated by the final fight with the First Wave Agents despite doing okay. Playing through my first Legendary mission with the six piece Striker set, I realised that I was much more fragile than before, and while the health regeneration bonus is useful, I will need to stack other talents and roll more stamina to fully capitalise on the build’s powers.

  • Besides the Striker’s Battlegear, I’ve also got a full Hunter’s Faith and Firecrest classified set, as well. With the Hunter’s Faith set, I am now able to hit for upwards of a million damage on each headshot using a bolt-action rifle without stacking any other skills on top. When a Global Event is on, damage bonuses continue to amplify the damage dealt: I have hit for up to three million damage per headshot during the Ambush event, during which bonus damage is given when one is standing still.

  • Ever since I got a Bullfrog in a very lucky drop while farming open world bosses for GE credits, I’ve found it to complement my playstyle. The Bullfrog is a FAMAS assault rifle with the “uncomplicated” talent, which deals bonus damage if no stability mods are added. The weapon is inherently unwieldy and has a high spread at longer ranges. My Bullfrog has destructive and responsive rolled, allowing me to deal bonus armour damage and also additional damage at closer ranges, which is the range I typically fight best at. The stability bonuses offered by the Striker gearset allows my weapon to become very effective at close range, replacing the House. To quickly build up stacks, I have a Showstopper AA-12 with accurate and predatory, which ensure that more pellets find their mark.

  • If there is a case where I need more range, I’ll swap over to my M700 Carbon. After learning that one of the First Wave Agents were running a healing station, players soon began to focus their fire on the medic first. Once the medic is down, this fight became considerably easier – during my first run, I ran very late and was forced to disengage to catch sleep ahead of the next day, but now that players are familiar with the mission, finishing Madison Field Hospital on Legendary was no different than the other missions. I will need to optimise my Striker build to improve survivability; at this point, I have too much electronics and not enough stamina.

  • Thus, after 170 hours in The Division, I have a build that seems to work very well for me. My remaining aspiration is to complete a Classified Path of the Nomad set and tune this for PvP; at this point in time, I’m only missing one piece in this set. I do not expect to write frequently about The Division from here on out: I am currently going through the game a second time with a new character with the goal of gaining an extra 120 slots for items. With this post in the books, I’m now well-positioned for a special post tomorrow. Doing these short posts also lead me to wonder if folks are okay with me writing more concise discussions.

In the meantime, leading up to The Division 2‘s launch, there have been more global events and in-game activities in The Division. The Shields have been especially interesting: players who complete certain assignments not only unlock rewards in The Division, but also will gain access to different tiers of rewards in The Division 2. These Shields have been quite fun to collect, although there are others that require a considerably greater degree of commitment and patience to acquire. Like Battlefield 1, The Division was launched with less content and progression, but over time, support for the game contributed to its continued replay value; in both cases, DICE and Ubisoft have managed to elevate the excitement for their upcoming titles by offering events in-game to encourage players to get more mileage out of them before their successors are launched, and the results of this is that I’ve been finding incentive to come back to both games and experience them anew. In the case of The Division, coming back means being able to collect the last of the exotic weapons I’ve been eyeing, and also finishing off my quest to collect a good Classified gearset. The replay value and longevity I’ve gotten out of The Division is very encouraging, and my interest in seeing what The Division 2 is about has increased: I will likely have a better idea of whether or not The Division 2 is my cup of tea following the open beta in early 2019, and this game might just be worth purchasing if it starts off strong and continues to improve further during its life-cycle.

The Division: Onslaught, Exploring the West Side Pier and The Urban MDR

“We choose to…do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.” —John F. Kennedy

The Division‘s latest Global Event, Onslaught, allows players to deal one of burn, bleed or gas effects to enemies, and players may cycle through the different effects by reloading. The end effect is dealing additional status effects damage that can temporarily immobilise enemies and take them briefly out of the fight by lighting them on fire or disorienting them. By making use of the different effects, players can control fights in a manner of their choosing and engage enemies in a novel way that adds a bit of flair to the gameplay. While this global event was active, I decided to take advantage of the status effects to see if I could acquire more exotic caches, and also had the chance to explore the West Side Pier, a new area added to the game in the 1.8 patch. The northwestern side of mid-town Manhattan was previously inaccessible, but now, two new game modes and new places to explore have been added: I’ve not explored this area until now, but it is an intriguing place with a replica of the real New York’s Aircraft Carrier Intrepid museum. Here, the different enemy factions all work together against the players, and there are no civilians or allied JTF forces: it’s one of the most challenging areas of the game to be in outside of the Dark Zone, and offers the resistance game mode, where players square off against endless waves of enemies. It’s an entertaining mode that allows one to test their loadouts, and also offers an additional avenue of acquiring gear, although by this point in my experiences within The Division, the modes of acquiring gear have largely become irrelevant – high end pieces and gear set items have dropped with such frequency that they’re all I see in the game now.

With a reasonably viable setup in The Division, as well as the all-exotic loadout, my sights have been to acquire an Urban MDR. Modelled after the Desert Tech Micro Dynamic Rifle chambered for the 7.62mm rounds, the Urban MDR is a semi-automatic battle rifle with the Distracted talent, which allows the weapon to deal bonus damage on targets affected with status effects. It hits harder than other assault rifles and is comparable to the semi-automatic marksman rifles for damage, but in exchange, the vertical recoil on the weapon is stronger in the absence of a compensator, and the weapon can become unruly without a good under-barrel grip. The weapon is at its finest when used in conjunction with the Firecrest or Predator’s Mark builds with some Tactician’s Authority pieces, which allows the gun to almost always make use of the additional damage bonus, but in Onslaught, the extra status effects also allowed me to try the weapon out without needing to extensively modify my setup. The Urban MDR can be a fun weapon to use: it has the attributes of an assault rifle with the damage of some of the weaker marksman rifles. The end result is a weapon that has increased armour damage and a theoretical maximum magazine capacity of 44 rounds that fires slowly and hits like a truck: the Urban MDR is unique among the assault rifles in how it handles, and it looks beastly, as well. This is why I was looking to acquire an Urban MDR – the weapon has special attributes that add another, interesting way to playing The Division. However, up until now, my luck had not seen me find one. It was during the Onslaught event that I joined up with a team to take on the Warrengate Power Plant on legendary, and while we were wiped once during the boss fight, I managed to use another well-timed Recovery Link during our second attempt to help give my teammates a fighting chance. For my troubles, I got a weekly cache (having finished my quota of missions) and an exotic cache from completing the mission.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Battlefield 4 does not have a pink weapon skin, and The Division lacks a P90. When the Onslaught event began, I was just getting caught up with Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online. The closest I came to replicating the LLEN loadout is with any submachine gun with the pink camouflage: The House is an absolute beast, and is my favourite weapon for getting out of a tight spot. I normally go with grey or tan weapon camouflages to make myself more difficult to spot: the bright pink means I’m visible from a klick away and does not serve me well at all in places like the Dark Zone.

  • I engage rogue agents here on my own with the inevitable results. Because dying in the Dark Zone as a non-rogue no longer has any penalties to it, one of my favourite strategies is to bait rogue players into killing me repeatedly, increasing their rank and possibly trigger a manhunt. I’ve managed to do this on a few occasions: I’m completely geared towards PvE, having a maximum of a 70 percent boost to armour destruction, and so, when it comes to PvP, where critical chance and critical damage is more valuable, I’m much less equipped to do so with my main loadout.

  • I’ve found that the best way to enjoy the Dark Zone now is to simply not collect any item drops (unless they’re exceedingly rare). With no need to extract items (and the attendant stress that extractions bring), it is much easier to focus on simply clearing landmarks and evade any rogue agents that may be present. At this point in time, I’ve become geared enough towards PvE that I can burn through elites and named enemies without any effort: soloing landmarks in the higher sectors of the Dark Zone is very straightforwards now, and I’ve run into groups who’ve expressed surprise at encountering a lone player in a recently-cleared landmark that had moments before, been marked as available on the map.

  • Here, I make my way to a supply drop after helping out with a manhunt, conferring a small cut of the bounty. When I first began, I struggled to clear the elites guarding supply drops, and wondered if tactical link would be needed to deal with the enemies if I were going solo. This is no longer the case, as I’ve enough firepower to melt through the elites. I’ve heard stories of opportunists allowing other players to fight the elites while they engage survivor link and claim the supplies for themselves. My approach to supply drops is pretty blasé, and if another agent steals a supply drop I’m working on, so be it.

  • I admit that it’s become a bit more difficult as of late to match-make into legendary missions. I decided to give them a go for Onslaught, during which players have access to ammunition that deals burn, bleed and gas damage. Reloading allows one to switch the effect on the fly, and it is very effective to combine different effects together to control crowds of enemies. Here, I am fighting with three other players at Warrengate Power Plant. Notice that my weapon skins are quite plain compared to those of my teammates’: there’s a certain appeal about the desert tan colours, and for the most part, I run with simple skins to avoid standing out in the Dark Zone.

  • With this year’s E3 just a few days away, I look ahead into the future: The Division 2 was announced a few months ago, and a new trailer released earlier today, detailing the setting and showcasing the gameplay. When I first saw the footage for The Division from the 2013 E3, I was completely blown away by how beautiful everything looked. The launch version of The Division is vastly watered down, featuring fewer AR-type elements in its UI and also dialling back the visual fidelity to a considerable degree, but from a gameplay and content perspective, The Division was well worth playing through even though it may not look as impressive as what was shown in the E3. The new trailer for The Division 2 shows a very familiar game that looks like a straight upgrade from The Division. Things still look like they handle smoothly, but with a fresh coat of paint that hopefully will retain the AR-esque elements.

  • I can accept that this year’s E3 reveal for The Division 2 will might be light years ahead of the product that will be shipped to consumers from a graphics perspective. In today’s gameplay trailer, it is revealed that Washington DC will be the setting. The Division‘s Manhattan is beautifully rendered and highly authentic, but a sequel would become stale very quickly if it were to be set in New York again. I personally was hoping that The Division 2 would take us over to Asia: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul would have provided an incredibly refreshing backdrop for a continuation. An Asian setting makes sense because at the end of The Division, Aaron Keener escaped with the means to continue manufacturing the Green Poison. However, DC is a logical choice: Keener had intended to bring the world to its knees, and taking out Washington would’ve been a very powerful move.

  • The Division 2 will be set in the summer, so I wonder if there will be more interesting outfits available for selection. Besides the fact that there’s a (mostly) new setting, what would get me excited about The Division 2 would be the immediate inclusion of the same end-game content we now have in The Division 1.8.1: having gear-sets and exotics to work towards through ridiculously difficult missions, world-tiers to incentivise collecting better gear, high value targets to hunt, resistance to provide waves of enemies for testing one’s mettle and Global Events, plus the thrills of a Dark Zone would provide plenty of content for a newly-launched The Division 2, such that the most dedicated of players would not run out of things to do after hitting the level cap.

  • If The Division 2 launched with the same content as what is available in The Division 1.8.1’s base game, was set in an East Asian city and handles as smoothly as The Division does now (both from a gameplay and connectivity standpoint), it would be an easy day-one purchase for me. Given my experience with The Division, I would not hesitate to buy The Division 2 at full price – I’ve put in 135 hours at the time of writing into The Division, so I’m sure to get the bang for my buck if things turn out well for The Division 2. Here in my legendary run, I square off against a Lieutenant Sasaki. Our team got wiped out on our first attempt, and we were close to being wiped a second time, but fortunately, I activated my recovery link, bringing everyone back to life.

  • During the Onslaught event, I played missions to unlock weekly caches, which have a guaranteed exotic. When I finished the legendary mission and the weekly assignment, I returned to the base of operations to open them. Opening the weekly cache was a bit disappointing, but opening exotic cache I got from playing the Warrengate mission landed me the MDR. I was thrilled: while the MDR does not line up with my preferred play-style (I run a four-piece Striker set with the Ninjabike backpack), I wanted to have an MDR so I could mix things up. The weapon also looks exceedingly sleek.

  • My first inclination was to give the MDR a whirl: with its slow firing rate and extended mags, the MDR can take out entire groups of enemies before needing a reload. While somewhat lacking in stability, having good weapon attachments can make the weapon’s recoil more manageable. The weapon is definitely fun to use: handling like a cross between a marksman rifle and assault rifle, it burns through armour and allows for headshots to be scored. Bonus damage from the status effects in Onslaught makes the MDR remarkably effective, although its lower rate of fire makes the MDR a decidedly inferior weapon for close-quarters combat.

  • For any serious engagement in a legendary mission, the Urban MDR would not be my choice of weapon: my LVOA-C and The House have proven effective beyond any other weapon combination, so I’ve not looked back. However, with the myriad of ways to play The Division, it’s always fun to equip different gear-sets and weapons to give them a go. Here, I run through a vividly-lit alley close to the Base of Operations after blowing apart the open-world named elite and his entourage here: the warm, golden light brings to mind the moods of the Christmas season.

  • I figured the time was high for me to try out the Camp Clinton area of Manhattan – this was an area that I had previously not explored, but now that I had a setup that worked for me, and all of the exotic weapons that I’d sought to collect, I was properly outfitted to deal with the enemies here. There are encounter-style missions known as Alerts; coming in five varieties, they give Division Tech, equipment and target intel when completed. They’re quite fun to complete, but one challenge about the West Side Piers are that there is no in-fighting among the enemies.

  • Consequently, random groups of standard-type enemies can lay waste to unsuspecting players: I’ve never died to NPCs outside of mission areas until now, and for this reason, exploring the West Side Piers offers a thrill that is absent from other parts of Manhattan. As an end-game section of The Division to explore, the Division Tech earned from doing Alerts here is immensely useful towards optimising gear. I’ve burned through my Division Tech trying to improve gear pieces with reasonable configurations on them, and the updates are quite noticeable: enemies melt slightly faster, and I recover more quickly.

  • The USS Intrepid Carrier Museum can be seen here; the original USS CV-11 Intrepid was commissioned in 1943 and participated in several battles in the Pacific Theatre. After the Second World War, Intrepid was decommissioned, modernised and then recommissioned. Among its most noteworthy operations were the recovery of space capsules from the fledgling American space programme and in 1974, was decommissioned once again. It became a museum ship in 1984, and today, is a well-known destination in New York: the museum ship featured in National Treasure as a location where Ben Gates evades the FBI with help from rogue treasure hunters.

  • When I travelled to New York in 2011, I had a chance to visit the USS Intrepid for myself; Manhattan is a very active and busy place that gives Hong Kong a run for its money, and the traffic jams here are legendary. The Division really succeeds in capturing the strange sense of quiet following the Dollar Flu pandemic, and this is one of the main reasons why I ended up getting The Division despite having sat on the decision for nearly two years. I was dissuaded by the fact that the game did not have much in the way of end-game content, but by the time Patch 1.8 was introduced, The Division had much more to do even in the absence of the additional DLC content.

  • Having a good amount of armour destruction allowed me to survive a ways into each of the resistance missions as a solo player. These endless missions are a fantastic test of one’s gear and setup: with my four-piece Striker set, augmented by the use of a Ninja Bike backpack that lets me gain the ammunition bonus of the Lone Star set and the improved resilience against elite enemies from the D3-FNC build, I’m balanced to deal damage, absorb it from tougher enemies and also can operate on my own for longer before running out of ammunition.

  • With the proper setup, one can reach the tier two resistance caches on their own. There was a bug where one could get tier five equipment from caches earned from playing resistance on tier one difficulty if one switched back to tier five before opening them, but this particular issue has been rectified now. I’ve still yet to learn the waves and patterns of the resistance mode, having only spent about an hour experimenting with the different maps and their layouts: there are some tricks to improve one’s performance and make the most of the SHD tech pickups, which are used to unlock new areas, supply crates and gear caches, but with The Division nearing the end of its lifespan, I’m not too sure if it’ll be worthwhile to put too much time into things.

  • My original interest in the resistance missions were that they were said to be a fantastic place to farm for classified and exotic gear. However, considering the amount of time it takes to get to them, I feel that for folks who do not have any of the DLC, playing through legendary missions, weekly assignments and entering the Dark Zone is the more efficient route for getting gear. When available, Global Events are unmatched for collecting classified gear items.

  • In fact, looking through old conversations out there about The Division, I’ve noted that in older patches, classified and exotics were extremely rare. They’re not easy to obtain for a reason, but in my experiences, I’ve managed to amass a sizeable collection of exotics and have made some progress in collecting classified gear pieces as a predominantly solo player who occasionally teams up with others to complete legendary missions. That I’ve managed to do so is no small feat, and I’m a bit surprised that I was able to get this much milage out of The Division. This is what motivates the page quote: I recall that early in The Division, players were having trouble getting their gear scores up.

  • Having now done everything within the base game for The Division (except for the Incursions), one wonders if I have any plans to buy the DLCs. The answer is no: while it would open up new game modes to explore, most of these are dependent on teamwork for an optimal experience. The only DLC that would work for me is Underground, since this can be soloed, but I’ve heard that it’s also very repetitive in nature. Rolling for 15 CAD at full price, I’ve seen sale prices bring it down to 4.50 CAD. If the next Steam Sale offers a comparable discount, I might just take the plunge and pick it up.

  • Of course, for the next Steam Summer Sale (which begins in eleven days), my eyes are on Far Cry 5. While the discounts won’t likely be too substantial, considering the strong sales numbers, if I can get a price reduction closer to forty percent off, then I will pick up the game. Otherwise, I can hold off: I’ve heard that Far Cry 5 handles similarly to its predecessors from a gameplay perspective, but my main interest in the game was its setting, and this isn’t something I feel like I’ll be missing out on too much should I decide to wait for a better sale. While Far Cry 5 might be a game I’m on the fence about, this past weekend has also seen the release of new Battlefield V trailers and gameplay footage from EA Play.

  • The resistance modes were the first place where I encountered drones, which come in two types. Standard types have a red targetting laser, and shock drones have a blue laser. I’m not particularly fond of the latter, as they can leave players exposed to other attacks. Fortunately, with their weak armour and health, they can be disposed of fairly quickly.

  • In the footage of Battlefield V, I’ve seen the new fortification and team play mechanics, new maps and weapons, as well as the new UI. Fortification will provide a new way to counteract destruction, and seeing destruction play such an instrumental role in a Battlefield title means an increased emphasis on teamwork and tactical play. The only maps we’ve seen so far are in Norway, but the snowy terrain and aurora look absolutely gorgeous. The War Stories will also be introduced over time, and without a premium model, the game looks like it will keep on giving after it is purchased. I expect that Battlefield V could perform very well even without Steam Summer Sale-type events, and having seen a proper bit of gameplay for it, my decision on Battlefield V will largely be determined by how smooth the netcode is at launch.

  • If Battlefield V‘s launch is at least as smooth as that of Battlefield 1‘s, then it will be a very easy decision as to whether I pick up the game shortly after launch. For now, we return to The Division, where I’ve been playing around with the MDR and my all-exotic loadout. Having had the chance to try out the all-exotic loadout, it is a satisfactory all-around setup where I sacrifice firearms damage for more skill power. While quite entertaining to use, with all of the different bonuses the pieces confer, it is not as specialised towards my personal play style, and so, I don’t use it for team-oriented missions. Conversely, running all exotics for hard main missions isn’t too bad: that the all-exotic loadout is balanced means that it’s versatile enough for one to handle most missions without too much difficulty.

  • At some point in the future, I aim to return to the West Side Pier by day to see what it looks like here. With a reasonably effective build and more or less, all the weapons that I was looking to acquire, I have a feeling that my days spent in The Division will be more exploration driven now: I’ve still to complete all of the encounters on the eastern side of Manhattan, for one, but now that my gear allows me some survivability, I’m not too worried about dying while running around and simply taking in the scenery, which looks fabulous. I’m running The Division at high settings at 1080p and have a consistent 60 FPS on my five-year-old setup (albeit a setup with an upgraded GPU from 2016), so one factor that will directly impact my decision to buy The Division 2 will simply be whether or not my machine can run it.

  • Here, I fight in the last of the resistance maps, set in an underground facility called the Powerhouse. So far, while I’m very excited about Battlefield V and look forwards to seeing just what The Division 2 entails, most of the anime community is completely disinterested in the innovation that these games have. Much like some are downright dismissing the titles I find noteworthy, I am of the opinion that Nintendo’s E3 showing is unlikely to be impressive for me: games like Super Smash Bros and Kingdom Hearts do not look to be pushing the envelope for the technology powering games.

  • I’ve noted that the posts here on The Division (or other gaming posts) are given a cooler reception relative to my anime posts. I’m rather aware that my entire reader base consists of fellow anime fans who may or may not share my interest in shooters, and I think that the average reader coming here is likely looking for analysis of themes, explanations of plot points and random remarks on various scenes for anime. However, while these posts seem to offer a limited return for the effort it takes to write them, I note that I write this blog for myself as well as for readers – this is an electronic journal of sorts for me, and I enjoy recalling my adventures in games as much as I do writing about anime. While we’re on the topic of this blog’s logistics, I’ve decided to disable comments for posts older than two years on the basis that 1) this reduces spam and 2) it would be somewhat disingenuous to discussing older posts with readers when I cannot fully recall the rationale for some of my thoughts.

  • With this being said, I’m more of an anime blog than a gaming blog, so the focus of things will always be more anime-oriented. We thus look ahead into remaining posts for June, which we are not even halfway through yet. I am certainly going to write about Amanchu! AdvanceComic Girls and Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online. As well, I am planning a special set of posts for the summer solstice, and I am also considering doing another post for the Terrible Anime Challenge series. Finally, news has reached my ears that Harukana Receive is going to begin airing on Friday, July 6. I’m debating whether or not this series will get an episodic review for the present, but even if it does not get an episodic review, if there was one anime for the summer season I am writing about, it is this one: at the minimum, I will follow the same format for Amanchu! Advance for Harukana Receive.

  • With the MDR now in my arsenal, I’ve more or less collected all of the exotics that I’ve set out to acquire. This is the all-exotic loadout I’ve always dreamed of having, and with this done, I feel that I’ve gotten the fullest from my solo experience of The Division. I may occasionally return to mess around with the West Side Piers missions and Dark Zone, as well as to try my luck with weekly mission caches (getting a Bullfrog would be quite nice, even if it is extraneous), but I think for the present, I am in a position to take a bit of a break from farming for gear in The Division and focus my attention on other things. So, readers disappointed that I’m not writing more about anime will likely be less disappointed: besides the remaining shows of this season, and the other Terrible Anime Challenge on the table, I’ve finally finished AIR from Kyoto Animation. I will be writing about AIR, and as well, my copy of Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai has finally arrived: no promises yet, but I am going to try and watch this ahead of Canada Day.

When I returned to the terminal, I bought global event caches and got a Damascus, an exotic M9 pistol. Opening the weekly cache landed me Shortbow Championship pads, which I had a superior version of already and proceeded to scrap. I turned to the last item, the exotic cache I got from finishing Warrengate Power Plant, and opened it. Against all odds, I got the Urban MDR. Despite its low gear score of 258 and average talents (Focused and Commanding), I finally had an Urban MDR in my inventory. I re-calibrated it, replacing Commanding with Brutal. I subsequently optimised it so it would hit harder and then took the weapon out for a spin against the various open-world named elites, and the free-roaming enemies of the West Side Pier. With the effects from Onslaught active, it’s proven to be a fun romp: the weapon is very efficient with its ammunition, and when an extended magazine is equipped, one can go through multiple veterans or entire groups of standard enemies before needing a reload if their aim is true. While the MDR’s semi-automatic fire is not suitable for my preferred Striker setup (I run with the House and LVOA-C exclusively now for missions), and it is dependent on status effects to be at its most effective, the MDR is nonetheless a fun weapon to use even in the absence of a dedicated setup: it’s great for mixing things up and experiencing things a little differently. I’ve heard that this weapon is incredibly rare in The Division, and consequently, being able to get an Urban MDR on my last exotic cache was such a stroke of dumb luck that I can’t believe it. While I’m seemingly on a hot streak, maybe I ought to get into Kantai Collection, where I’m sure dumb luck will let me register for the game and maybe subsequently solo Kantai Collection‘s 6-5 events with the basic loadouts that would make veteran players salty.

The Division: Counting Cards, Blackout and New Legendary Missions

“No matter what you or anyone else does, there will be someone who says that there’s something bad about it.” —Tom Clancy

The Division‘s latest update brought to the table two new global events, modifications to the gear system and drop rates, added two new legendary missions and also introduced a host of bug fixes to improve the experience for players. With Division’s 1.8.1 patch live, this is a game that’s continued to keep on giving – a far cry from when it first released, there seems to be no shortage of things to do at the endgame to keep things interesting. The latest Global Event, Blackout, introduces the shock ammunition modifier, which allows players to stun enemies and deal increasing damage as one runs or fires. The stun from shock ammunition provides players with a few critical seconds to duck behind cover or reload, and additional damage makes it easier to tear through The Division‘s infamously tough enemies. The end result is non-stop entertainment in making use of shock ammunition to explore the two new legendary missions: 1.8.1 adds Amherst’s Apartment and Grand Central Station as missions with The Division‘s toughest difficulties, and these two missions are well-suited for the mode. Besides new legendary missions, changes to the caches available for purchase with GE credits have been made, allowing players to purchase caches that guarantee pieces of classified gear from a certain set. Exotics have also been modified: exotic weapons that can be purchased from the vendor will no longer drop, and all exotics are now added to the pool of items that can drop from light zone bosses. These changes indicate that The Division, contrary to claims otherwise, is still going strong: Ubisoft has made it clear that en route to the upcoming The Division 2, they will continue to motivate players to get the most of The Division.

Having spent all of March in global events, I managed to acquire an all-exotic loadout through the legendary missions that I’ve played through. These missions are no walk in the park and for the most part, simply cannot be soloed by a majority of the players. Having tried them, I can attest to their difficulty, but since my last post, I’d also had some time to tune my loadout more finely, replace some gear and also optimise my favourite weapons. As a result, I’ve noticed that as of late, I’ve been able to melt enemy elites and veterans without too much difficulty: while working on weekly assignments, I’ve returned to the Dark Zone and burned my way through supply drops and even finished my first-ever contamination event solo. In legendary missions, I’ve become much more useful to my team, dropping enemies in less than a single magazine. The improvements to my performance have made legendary missions less daunting: the new missions are much more manageable than the old ones in that can be finished more quickly. The narrow passages and corridors of Amherst’s Apartment and Grand Central Station funnel the LMB soldiers into chokepoints that make them vulnerable to concentrated fire; a reasonably well-coordinated team can easily hold out and triumph in firefights. I’ve also begun to run with recovery link now, which has proven useful far beyond the other signature skills for legendary missions. During one Grand Central Station run, I lost my entire team to the final wave of named elites in the mission’s final segment. I was the last individual alive, and because I had recovery link, I was able to revive my entire team. This gave us enough of a second wind to complete the mission, and as the Blackout global event draws to a close, I’ve had a chance to enjoy the new legendary missions and acquire some new exotic weapons.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In order to complete the weekly assignments, I needed to return into the Dark Zone. It suddenly strikes me that beyond the fourth sector, I’ve not actually explored the Dark Zone in too much detail, and here, I clear a landmark in the third sector on my own during one memorable evening where a group of rogues were running around and eliminating anything that crossed their paths.

  • All of the group’s activities were showing up in the feed, so I made it a point to avoid them if they were powerful to shrug off repeated attempts from other players to take them out. Because I was mainly in the Dark Zone to hunt cleaners, we thankfully did not cross paths: besides cleaning out cleaners roaming the streets, I also descended into the contaminated zones to get at the cleaners down there.

  • In the Dark Zone, I’ve largely been unsuccessful with claiming supply crates because I was ill-equipped to deal with the elite enemies that spawn in, but with my current setup and the Blackout global event, I found that I was tearing through enemies like a hot knife through butter. I was able to claim several supply crates during my time spent in the Dark Zone, and these offer items that do not need to be extracted.

  • I’ve never soloed a contamination event up until now, and the only time I had done one of these previously was with a group that I randomly joined with. During that particular run, I managed to find a Big Alejandro, an exotic light machine gun, but lost it to a group of rogues. This time, however, I was able to clear a contamination event on my own and got a Medved for my troubles. Extracting it was an exhilarating experience, although since this wasn’t an MDR, I would not have been too bothered if I had lost the Medved – this is an exotic shotgun that fires slugs in place of buckshot.

  • While the Dark Zone might be the most lawless and desolate part of Manhattan available for players to explore in The Division, there are places that have a neat atmosphere to it. This street, brightly lit with its Christmas decorations, does not look anywhere nearly as intimidating as those parts of the Dark Zone dominated by biohazard markers, plastic coverings and endless garbage bags, for instance.

  • At the time of writing, I’m rank forty in the Dark Zone, and I believe that at rank fifty, I’ll have access to those high gear-score blueprints that would allow me to craft the weapons I most enjoy using. At this point, however, this seems a little unnecessary: I’ve more or less found all of my weapons through drops from regular combat, and I’ve found the setup that works best for me. I run with the LVOA-C with Destructive (increased armour damage), Unforgiving (increased damage output when low on health) and Accurate, and my House has Accurate and Deadly (increased critical hit damage).

  • These rolls seem to have worked exceptionally well for me, and so, I optimised my weapons to their maximum gear score of 286. I subsequently returned to the legendary missions to see how the weapons would perform, and The House truly shines. It is considered to be the best exotic weapon: its unique talent is “card counter”, which allows half of the magazine to do twenty percent more damage per shot. Coupled with a respectable firing rate of 850 RPM and the fact that the weapon can be fully customised, The House is an absolute beast of a weapon that makes it the exotic to have.

  • In practise, The House is obscenely powerful even without the Destructive talent: the weapon talent can be exploited by counting bullets, allowing a skilful user to consistently deal more damage with the weapon. I personally find the notion of card counting an amusing one: a fellow I know once declared that he would count cards in Poker, even though the method is intended for Blackjack and other card games in its family. We had a good laugh that game, and I ended up breaking even, winning back my buy-in.

  • I picked up my first house in a Superior Global Event Cache, and over the course of my time in The Division, found two more Houses. Neither of the new ones have as good of a talent roll as my first, but I’ll likely keep them around and see if I can roll better talents on them at a later date: as a firearms-oriented player, electronics-dependent talents are not my cup of tea. It really says something about a weapon when it is able to make even legendary missions more manageable – since I picked up a House, I’ve not failed a legendary mission yet.

  • In previous missions and events, I ran with the survivor link, which grants increased damage resistance and movement speed. While useful in some circumstances, it turns out that for legendary missions, the recovery link is superior in every way – being able to revive an entire team is beyond valuable. During one run at Grand Central Station, we’d cleared all of the LMB and were preparing to fight the four Agents that appeared. My teammates were probably still new to the Grand Central Station mission, and immediately, I found myself the only member of the team still alive. In the voice communication, one of my teammates shouted “T, T!”. The signature skill is by default, mapped to the “T” key.

  • I had been saving my recovery link exactly for such a moment: observant readers will note that I selfishly run with overheal and tactical pulse: I make extensive use of both talents in a given mission to stay alive, and having overheal allows me to get enough health to escape a pinch even if I’m out of med kits. I thus activated my recovery link, saved my entire team, and we regrouped to defeat the wave of agents. The map became littered with various items, and by this point in The Division, high end items drop with such a frequency that superiors have become utterly worthless.

  • With my experiences, I am now going to continue running recovery link as my signature skill for all legendary missions: while I initially figured that tactical link could be useful for boosting damage against bosses, and that survivor link could be great for escaping a difficult situation, being able to save one’s entire team makes the missions much more straightforward to complete. Why is there a random post on The Division, one might ask? The answer is two-fold: first, the Blackout event will be ending in a few hours, and second, this post was actually supposed to be a talk on Gundam: The Origin‘s sixth movie, but it seems that I underestimated how long some things take to become available on this side of the world.

  • Gundam: The Origin‘s sixth (and presumably, final) instalment screened in Japanese theatres yesterday. While the first to fourth instalments were available to watch very quickly after screening in Japan, this sixth movie has followed the fifth in release pattern. I believe that there will be a chance to see it later this month, so I will be writing about The Origin, just at a later date. Aside from The Origin‘s delay, yesterday was, by all counts, an ordinary Saturday on this side of the world. I ran a few legendary missions, and then stepped out to a pleasant spring afternoon to relax at a local bookstore, before heading off for dinner. It was steak night, so I ordered a medium-rare sirloin steak with sautéed prawns, asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes.

  • There’s nothing like a juicy, flavourful steak and tasty prawns to accompany some of the best weather we’ve had all year, and moreover, it’s great to see spring return to the world. Trees are starting to bud now, and grasses have become verdant with the warmer, pleasant weather. Spring has also returned to the world in my workplace: after a difficult year last year, it seems that things are turning around now. Of course, talking about it would mean going off topic, so I’ll leave this discussion of reality and return things back to The Division.

  • Here, I begin pushing into Amherst’s Apartment: the narrow confines of the mission means it’s actually quite difficult to get flanked, and despite the waves of well-equipped LMB soldiers, this legendary mission is also one of the quickest and most straightforward to complete. After some teammates set up a support station, it was a simple matter of switching over to the LVOA-C and firing until there were no more enemies left. In most games I’ve matched into, teammates have typically run with a support station, and when placed properly, these can be as useful as a well-timed recovery link: they automatically revive downed players.

  • If a nearby teammate is downed and I happen to be reasonably safe from fire, I will attempt to revive a teammate, as well. I have come to greatly enjoy legendary missions in The Division because, aside from incursions, these are the missions that really encourage team play. Because every member of a team is interested in the mission rewards, they will work together and help one another out even when they are not communicating by a microphone. It’s a far cry from the chaos of the Dark Zone, and seeing the cooperation in legendary missions have also made me appreciate the Dark Zone more.

  • I admit that it can sometimes be a bit irritating to matchmake and not find any groups available, or else match into a group with only one other player, then watching as the other player disbands the group because not enough people showed up to do a legendary mission. However, when things work out, they work out well. I’ve run into some interesting people during the course of my legendary mission runs in The Division, and I’m glad that by this point in time, people are not being kicked for having too low of a gear score.

  • Outside of The Division, DICE has made Battlefield 1‘s They Shall Not Pass DLC free for all players. I still recall buying the premium pass a year ago so I could play through the new French maps, and looking back, I have absolutely no regrets about my decision. Buying the DLC simply means paying to save time and play earlier. I will be doing a post in the near future on what it’s like to return to the French maps, which I’ve not played too extensively since the other DLCs came out: after more than a year of having bought the premium pass, I’ve finally had a chance to take the wheel of the Char 2C in a game of conquest, and the experience alone is meritorious of a blog post.

  • Over the past two weeks that Blackout was running, I’ve gotten more exotics than I’ve cared to count. While the Urban MDR continues to elude me (I’m looking for one simply because the gun looks cool; the MDR is best suited for a skills-oriented build), I’ve picked up a new Big Alejandro to replace the one I lost in the Dark Zone and it’s been a fun weapon. As well, I’ve also got a Heel now (an exotic DMR) and new shotguns, plus plenty of duplicates. Exotic weapons and gear can be useful, but for the most part, they serve a more illustrious role for me.

  • My loadout has not changed too dramatically since I last posted: I have an improved Strikers kneepads and a new M9 pistol that holds more rounds than my previous M1911. As well, The House has become a more regular part of my loadout since I learned of its exceptional performance. My gear score has also increased slightly, to 283. This pretty much brings my current post on The Division to an end, and looking ahead, I’ve actually got a bit of a surprise for readers: I have plans to do a mini-series for Yuru Camp△ this and maybe next month. I did mention that May looked a little sparse for anime, so as time allows, I will be doing something fun for Yuru Camp△. As for The Division, I will be returning when the Onslaught event kicks off in the future.

There is still one more new global event, titled “onslaught”, which will run at some point in the future. Similar to blackout, it is a damage modifier, and once it is live, I will likely take a look to see just how much of an impact the multiple damage effects have on gameplay. At this point in The Division, my quest to collect more gear pieces suited for my style continues, and while I originally thought it appropriate to stop here on account of repetitiveness, it turns out that playing through the endgame is much more entertaining than expected. While missions are repetitive to some extent, playing with a full squad of players against overwhelmingly powerful enemies have made each return to a legendary mission unique. Similarly, the uncertainty of ambush and betrayal in the Dark Zone adds a certain thrill to the game. In the fifth world tier, I’ve had reasonable success in matchmaking with other players to tackle legendary missions, and in the Dark Zone’s toughest tiers, the presence of manhunts and rogue agents continue to keep things exhilarating and fresh. My days in the Dark Zone now are largely PvE, although I also make a game out of evading rogue agents and, on good days, seeing if I can extract gear before rogue agents show up. The presence of other players makes it quite clear that The Division is certainly not barren or devoid of players: even now, there’s new content for players to enjoy. After blackout winds down, I’m going to take a short break and return to see what onslaught will be about. Perhaps, if my luck holds, I may even get an Urban MDR.

Valkyria Chronicles: Exploring the Enter the Edy Detachment and Behind Her Blue Flame Campaigns

“Hear me, loyal son of The Empire! Shore up your defenses and ready for their attack!” –Selvaria Bles

In Enter the Edy Detachment, Edy Nelson and her squad are separated from Welkin’s group. While moving their way back, they come across a village held by Imperial force. Lacking armour and more firepower, Edy decides to have her group hold the Imperials off long enough for the villagers to evacuate, and after learning that Rosie needs assistance, Edy moves towards helping her out. Edy’s mission is short, simple and provides a bit of fun for players. Selvaria’s Behind Her Blue Flame campaign, on the other hand, follows her operations with Imperial engineer Johann Oswald Eisen, a timid soldier whose experiences lead him to become more capable. Here, Imperial forces make to capture the Ghirlandaio Citadel from Gallia. Because Selvaria is adverse to Ragnite weapons, Johann works with her to advance, allowing them to take Ghirlandaio. General Damon is shocked and orders the use of chemical weapons, which disable Selvaria. Johann comes to her aid, and fully recovered, Selvaria again lends her considerable skills in combat towards an Imperial victory, driving off the Gallian forces and General Damon to secure Ghirlandaio Citadel. In the aftermath, Selvaria shares a meal with Johann as thanks, and Johann decides to become a scout, inspired by his time fighting under Selvaria’s command. The full-fledged campaign in Behind Her Blue Flame will award players with the Ruhm, Selvaria’s personal weapon, and the tenacious can also unlock an additional level, in which they can play as the Imperial Alliance’s most lethal soldier with her Valkyrur powers unlocked.

Enter the Edy Detachment offers very little by way of story, save a bit of humour, but Behind Her Blue Flame is quite the opposite, providing players with a profound experience from the Imperial Alliance’s perspective. Having long played for Gallia, it was very refreshing to play Valkyria Chronicles as the Imperials. The nameless soldiers that Squad Seven had slaughtered wholesale during Valkyria Chronicles‘ campaign are given human attributes and backgrounds – they are no longer nameless and inhumane. Valkyria Chronicles presented Maximillian as a despot bent on conquering Europa without a concern for his subordinates, but Behind Her Blue Flame illustrates that Selvaria, despite her Valkyrur origins and utmost devotion to Maximillian, is as human as anyone else, caring about those under her command and constantly striving to accomplish whatever goals are assigned to her. In her downtime, she cooks and maintains her appearance, and is not immune to moments of embarrassment, either. Similarly, while players have long seen Gallian forces as the protagonist, watching General Damon’s incompetence and reliance on WMD show that Gallia’s military also has immoral elements. Consequently, it was superbly entertaining to destroy his tank and watch as he loses composure while Selvaria and Johann best him. The Behind Her Blue Flame missions excel at presenting Imperial soldiers as people and that wars are ultimately fought by human beings: in providing players a chance to see things from the antagonist’s perspective, things in Valkyria Chronicles no longer seem so black and white.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • There’s a fun aspect about Edy’s character, and I personally found her to resemble Kantai Collection‘s Zuikaku in appearance and manner; both share the tsundere personality. Edy’s mission is a simple one: hold off Imperial Forces and then reach the marked point before one exceeds a certain number of turns. This mission, however, proved much more difficult than the campaign missions in that orders are not available.

  • Before we continue further, I remark that I played through the Edy Detachment campaign back during January of 2017 – I am very bad when it comes to recreation, so it takes me forever to finish something. With this being said, once I start something, I will finish quite quickly. The Edy campaign (not to be confused with her challenge missions) is a short one that offers no unlocks, but offers players a chance to see how the show is run when Welkin and Alicia are not around.

  • I ended up beating this mission with a B rank: not particularly impressive, but I note that at that time, I had not played Valkyria Chronicles for upwards of six months. The reason why I did not have a separate post for Edy’s mission was because it was comparatively short, and so, there was not enough content for me to do a separate talk on things. As such, I decided to merge the post together with Selvaria’s missions.

  • Selvaria’s missions, unlike Edy’s, features exceptionally strong writing and solid character development despite its short runtime. Players will have access to Selvaria, a veritable one-woman army, and several Imperial units to command. The gameplay is identical, although as one of my readers mentioned in a comment I can’t quite find, the Imperial soldiers are not particularly durable and should be used with caution. By comparison, Selvaria is a beast: Ruhm is Valkyria Chronicles‘ equivalent to Halo‘s pistol, a weapon so infamous that it has been more or less immortalised in gaming history as one of the greatest overpowered weapons of all time.

  • I loved Johann’s story – a timid soldier, his time with Selvaria transforms him into a determined soldier devoted to his duty, and he also changes roles from the support-oriented engineer to a scout. Most of my strategy in Selvaria’s missions were to move Selvaria forward, and then move Johann up to provide support for her. I was therefore able to finish the first mission on short order, and decided to not go for Damon’s tank on the far corner of the map.

  • Even without demolitions boost, the Ruhm is powerful enough to ruin the Gallian tanks in one action. Gallian light armour is actually quite powerful against the light tank players are given, being able to take out most of my health in one shot, and as a result, I’ve had a few attempts that saw me lose my tank. Selvaria might not have demolitions boost, but her orders to increase defense are immensely powerful and allow the otherwise fragile Imperials to survive interception fire more easily.

  • Besides providing a solid bit of background for Selvaria, the fact that she’s not fond of Ragnite-based weapons means that she’s also unable to wield grenades and break down the barricades blocking her path. This forces players to use Johann to support her: as an engineer, he has access to three grenades per turn, which are utilised to clear barriers. The result is a very unique dynamic between Selvaria and Johann: as powerful as Selvaria is, she simply can’t clear the barriers on her own and is entirely dependent on Johann to help her. Other soldiers, though capable of carrying grenades, do not carry nearly as many.

  • The DLC missions show that the Gallian army is not above using WMDs to accomplish their aim: while Valkyria Chronicles presents the Imperials as soulless invaders, the DLC illustrate that the host of soldiers Squad Seven wade through are also people, with families and dreams of their own. It was therefore a bit unexpected to see Damon deploy Ragnite Gas, a nerve agent, against Imperial Forces. This leaves Selvaria immobilised, and so, on the second mission, the goal is to get Johann to her: he’s carrying an antivenin to Ragnite gas.

  • Because I did not destroy Damon’s tank on my first run, I ended up with “Rout of the Gallian Forces”, where the central gate is closed. The left flank on the map is weakly defended, and after I captured one of the bases to prevent Gallian forces from storming in, I managed to reach Selvaria in two turns. Fortunately, by eliminating nearby hostiles, Gallian forces were not able to capture her, and once I had Selvaria back in commission, it was a simple matter of boosting her defense with an order and sprinting to the end of the map to capture the base.

  • While the other Imperial units besides Selvaria are very weak defensively, their offense is acceptable, and they should not be ignored: they can be used to capture bases, eliminate hostiles and provide additional command points to make the missions easier. Beating any two of Selvaria’s missions will unlock the Ruhm for use in the full game, and this weapon, like the Federov Avtomat, is a game-changer, turning any shocktrooper into an assault rifle-wielding beast. Specialising in close quarters engagements, shocktroopers usually wield submachine guns, fast-firing automatic weapons that fire 9 mm pistol cartridges. Because the Ruhm is chambered for the 7.62 mm round and is characterised as a versatile, infantry-portable weapon, it handles more similarly to an assault rifle.

  • Against all but the most distant of foes, and foes behind cover, the Ruhm is able to dispose of enemies with ease. After completing Behind Her Blue Flame once with any score, on either of the two possible second missions, will unlock the Ruhm for use in the campaign, but there’s a reason why I went through things again. On my first run, I was not particularly focused on destroying Damon’s tank, since I simply needed to get the second mission done.

  • While guides maintain it’s a bit tricky to get Damon’s tank in three turns, Selvaria and Johann can be moved quite far. The trick to eliminating Damon’s tank is to know where it is located, and once found, it’s a matter of clearing all Gallian forces out and pulling one’s lancers back to keep them alive for the next turn, redeploying them at a capture point closer to Damon’s tank. Eliminating Gallian units also reduces their number of command points, so once their turn ends, and the player’s lancers spawn in, it’s a simple matter of running around the corner and smashing Damon’s tank with a single shot to the thermal exhaust port radiator.

  • Once Damon’s tank is destroyed, he will pull back, and it’s a quick finish as Selvaria and Johann push forwards to capture the required objective. Taking out Damon’s tank causes him to retreat and order a strike on Ghirlandaio: this has a tangible effect on how the second mission turns out, and in my opinion, this actually results in an easier second mission: the main gate is opened, and while Damon will use artillery to try set off ammunition stored at the facility, this won’t occur early on in the mission.

  • The first action is to move the Imperial tank up, and subsequently eliminate the Gatling guns. Keeping the tank up here at close range also allows for Musaad the Mole to be eliminated by Gallian interception fire alone. I’m not sure if this is a bug or feature, but it does allow players to take out a Gallian elite unit without much difficulty. Some patience will be required, since the interception fire won’t deal a high amount of damage, but it’s worth the wait.

  • Pushing through the remainder of the mission is very straightforwards once the tank is moved ahead: after Johann reaches Selvaria, it’s game over for the Gallian forces. As such, I will now go on a tangent and consider Girls und Panzer: Dream Tank Match, which prima facie has a very similar set of mechanics to Valkyria Chronicles. Unfortunately, despite having a full English version, it’s only for the Playstation 4, and as such, is something that I won’t be able to experience unless I drop some coin for a console.

  • This is a bloody shame, and as far as I’m concerned, a terrible business decision: locking out a PC version isn’t going to convince PC gamers to cough up for a Playstation 4 and reduces sales overall. I have long been waiting for a chance to apply my own brand of strats to schooling the Nishizumi Style, and to be denied this is somewhat disappointing. Of course, if a PC version ever does become available (likely, after Half-Life 3 is released), I would not hesitate to buy Dream Tank Match at full price, if only so I could take proponents of the Nishizumi Style to school.

  • There are other games to be enjoyed in the meantime, so I won’t worry too much about the fact that I probably will not be playing Dream Tank Match without a Playstation 4 for the present, and return to Valkyria Chronicles, where I’ve been given access to Selvaria’s Valkyrur powers, having beaten all of the other missions with A-ranks. As a Valkyrur, Selvaria has access to the incredible powers afforded by a Valkyrur lance. In addition to a Gatling beam mode, which she made use of during the Barious mission, Selvaria’s lance also has a single-shot beam that can eliminate anything.

  • The beam weapon is capable of of melting multiple tanks in a single shot, putting it on par with Halo 3‘s Spartan Laser: with this much firepower, and the object of the final mission being simply to eliminate all Gallian forces, Selvaria’s final mission is remarkably straightforwards and perhaps the very best definition of what proper fanservice is, being something that appeals to the viewer in some way. While Selvaria’s assets might just be why she’s so favourably viewed, I personally enjoyed her story and in-game performance to a much greater extent. I’m glad that Selvaria was not implemented with deformable object physics. Beyond being a visual distraction, ill-implemented approaches can also be resource intensive.

  • It’s been a shade less than three years since I write about Valkyria Chronicles for the first time : back then, I had just finished setting up an upgraded computer ahead of my work with the Unreal Engine and spent the afternoon eating a fried chicken poutine while talking about a seminar I’d attended with my supervisor. Presently, I’ve enjoying a quiet evening following a dinner with an extra-crispy, spicy fried chicken, and it’s the middle of tax season. Some things have changed in the three years that’ve passed, such as my volunteering as a judge for a local city-wide science fair, and others have remained the same.

  • So, about a year and a third after I began the DLC, I’ve finished the campaign segments of Valkyria Chronicles, and I might return to the main game to beat it a second time as time allows. Of course, seasoned readers will know by now that whether or not this will happen is entirely up in the air, to be determined as time allows. With this being said, however, there are some things that are not so uncertain; I will be writing about Comic Girls and Amanchu! Advance after their respective third episodes have aired, and I have tenative plans to review Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? (Uchiage Hanabi, Shita Kara Miru ka? Yoko Kara Miru ka?) once its home release is available.

Having completed the campaign-driven DLC missions of Valkyria Chronicles and unlocked the Ruhm, I’m now back into Valkyria Chronicles‘ new game mode, which allows me to replay old missions and make use of all of my unlocks. It’s been nearly a decade since Valkyria Chronicles first released in Japan for the Playstation 3, and despite its age, Valkyria Chronicles has aged very gracefully. The pencil sketch-like visuals, made possible by the CANVAS Engine, gives the game a timeless feel, as does the setting, and as such, even against modern giants like Battlefield 1 and Far Cry 5, Valkyria Chronicles continues to look and feel amazing. While the gameplay has become a bit dated (movement and aiming is a little unwieldy), the mechanics largely feel smooth and responsive. My story with Valkyria Chronicles began with watching the anime some years ago: after Girls und Panzer ended, I was looking for an anime that provided similar armoured combat, and Valkyria Chronicles was one series that seemed to fit the bill. I left the anime largely impressed and picked the game up for PC once it became available, and since then, Valkyria Chronicles has become one of my favourite games of all time for its superb narrative, world-building and gameplay, representing the a game that has found the perfect balance between Only In Battlefield™ moments and story. The DLCs further bolster the game’s enjoyment factor, breathing additional life into a well-written world, and my procrastination abilities notwithstanding, I’m glad to have taken the time to take a look at Valkyria Chronicles‘ campaign DLC missions.