The Infinite Zenith

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Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare- At the halfway point

“The Internet is for haters. Everyone wants to knock somebody down, but it’s cool.” —Andy Cohen

After repelling the SDF fleet and forcing them into a temporary retreat, Commander Reyes sets out on his assignment, starting by re-capturing the lunar port to ensure Earth is not cut off from supplies. Subsequently, side missions become available, where Reyes and the Retribution can carry out strikes against the SDF forces to steal or recover weapons, eliminate targets of value or else damage SDF assets. All of this leads up to Infinite Warfare‘s halfway point, a mission set in Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons, in order to destroy a refuelling facility and cripple the SDF’s fuel supply. Combining both infantry combat and aerial dog fights with the Jackals, Infinite Warfare continues to be an entertaining game that presents an opportunity to travel around the different locations of the Solar System in order to defeat a militant faction: whether it be the grey, rolling hills on the moon, the yellow, muggy and hostile surface of Titan, the desolation of Uranus and Neptune or the familiar Earth, Infinite Warfare vividly portrays these settings to give the sense that the player is exploring and fighting in environments that have hitherto remain unexplored, creating a series of worlds that keeps each mission in the campaign novel and free of repetition.

One of the elements I’m enjoying most about Infinite Warfare are the weapons’ versatility and customisations available within the campaign: prior to each mission, players can fine tune their loadout very specifically, outfitting their weapons with the optics and attachments to best fit their play-style. There is also a recommended loadout for folks who simply want to get into the missions without worrying too much about whether or not a particular set of weapons will work. For instance, in Operation Burn Water, the mission to Titan, the recommended loadout is the EBR-800 with suppressor and foregrip, with the suppressed Kendall 44 as a secondary weapon. Given that much of this mission begins as a stealth mission, it makes sense to have suppressed weapons. However, as things progress, the mission invariably goes loud. Thus, I swapped out the Kendall 44 for the Erad, a submachine gun that can alternatively be used as a shotgun. The future setting of Infinite Warfare means that weapons designers have more creative freedom, resulting in remarkably versatile weapons that allow me to play through the campaign without worrying about whether or not I’m carrying the right weapons for the task at hand: in fact, weapons that can transition between two firing modes, like the Erad and EBR-800, are sufficiently adaptable so that I can stick with one weapon and carry a powerful secondary weapon, such as the P-LAW laser weapon or the Spartan shoulder-fired rocket launcher to deal with heavier opposition. Not affecting the game’s difficulty in any way, this ability merely changes how one feels about dealing with the different levels.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The mission on the lunar port is known as Operation Port Armour, featuring some nifty combat sequences afforded by the fact that the large windows throughout the concourse can be shot out, sending SDF soldiers to their doom. Immediately, the SDF’s actions are made known when some of Reyes’ squad mates mention that the SDF do not take prisoners – they are later seen shooting civilians openly.

  • Reminiscent of both the Principality of Zeon (Mobile Suit Gundam and all Universal Century stories) and Vers Empire (Aldnoah.Zero), the SDF is determinedly presented as an evil antagonist whose entire existence is to wipe out SATO and the UNSA. Snippets of text found throughout Infinite Warfare, and from the death screens note that the SDF is a militaristic entity wholly dedicated to victory, possessing a Social Darwinist ideology and believing that they are the rightful controllers of humanity. With their ideology ruled by ruthlessness and strength, Girls und Panzer‘s Shiho Nishizumi looks like an absolute moderate by comparison, and one “Daigensui” would be likely count the SDF’s beliefs as appropriate.

  • Naturally, anyone with a sense of empathy and compassion would immediately see the SDF as the antagonists, a threat to be dealt with and as such, find them an easy opponent to rally against in Infinite Warfare. A simple, black-and-white approach to determining the factions allows Infinite Warfare to focus on its gameplay and core thematic element of sacrifice. Back on the lunar terminal, I continue pushing through, lighting up SDF forces along the way. I pick up a shield and F-SpAr torch along the way, but being blown out into the vacuum forces me to relinquish these assets.

  • With most of the port cleared out, it’s time to go find a Coast Guard Jackal and engage enemy forces outside. By this point in Infinite Warfare, I’ve learned that energy weapons are slightly more effective against robots than organic targets, as well as that the TTK (time to kill) is a bit higher here than it is in earlier Call of Duty titles: it takes at least a fifth of a magazine to down opponents with body shots.

  • While ostensibly lighter-armoured and more lightly armed compared to the SATO Jackals, I manage just fine with a Coast Guard Jackal here, engaging the SDF Skelters and other vessels alike without much difficulty. Defeating the SDF here returns control of the port over to the UNSA, and Reyes’ team takes off to continue pushing back remaining SDF forces in the area.

  • The first Infinite Warfare trailer depicted the space combat of Operation Port Armour, coupled with the part of the mission involving the infiltration of an SDF destroyer. One YouTube, this video holds the infamy of being one of the most disliked videos of all time, having over 3.5 million dislikes. A part of me wanted to try Infinite Warfare and find good things to say about it just so I could stick it to the folks who hate Call of Duty. Despite being the third consecutive instalment in the main franchise to be set in the future, Infinite Warfare has the most solid storyline and interesting maps.

  • While Infinite Warfare is superior to Ghosts and Advanced Warfare for the most part, Advanced Warfare has a more innovative HUD: weapon and utility counts are projected as AR elements directly onto the weapon in world space, rather than in screen space as with more traditional elements. Infinite Warfare returns to a screen space based HUD that is relatively minimalistic and useful, although like the other Call of Duty titles I’ve gone through, I find myself running out of ammunition and reloading during inopportune moments more frequently than in other shooters owing to the way the game plays.

  • The first of the side missions that I took on was Operation Phoenix, set in an asteriod field near Uranus. The goal is to sneak onboard an SDF cruiser and recover a prototype Jackal fighter armed with laser weapons. With a slower firing rate and higher damage, the laser was developed by SDF teams; the SDF’s emphasis on military means that they are more advanced than SATO forces with respect to equipment, rather like how Zeon was the first to employ mobile suits and Vers had Kataphrakts powered by the Aldnoah system.

  • The second side mission I attempted was Operation Taken Dagger: over Neptune, I participated in the rescue of UNSA engineers and recover a prototype heavy weapon. One of the more entertaining aspects about space combat in Infinite Warfare is the ability to use a grappling hook as a weapon to execute SDF soldiers. This marks the first time since 007: Agent Under Fire where I’ve had access to a grappling hook – the Q-Claw of Agent Under Fire  was remarkably amusing to use in the multiplayer, being able to adhere to any surface and pull a user along quickly to otherwise unreachable places on the map.

  • Stealth is usually the smartest option where available: I snuck around the shadows and used melee takedowns to silently dispatch SDF soldiers, making use of a proximity scan to constantly track where enemy soldiers were. With all of the engineers rescued, the next part of the mission is to recover the prototype P-LAW and make use of it: like all of the heavy weapons, it is an immensely powerful weapon that shreds and is balanced out with its inability to be resupplied from ammunition creates.

  • Operation Safe Harbour involves defending space stations from SDF forces in orbit above the Earth. Beyond the usual engagement of SDF Skelters, there is also a pair of SDF destroyers that need to be eliminated, as well. They possess heavy armour and are bristling with weapons: my strategy was to stay afar and eliminate the weapons first with the 30 mm cannon, before pounding the ships with the 50 mm cannon. It’s a bit of an arduous process, but sustained fire results in a very rewarding sight as the SDF destroyer explodes in a blinding flash of light.

  • On my HUD, it says that I’ve defeated an enemy ace in combat. The aces and other high-value targets are figures instrumental to the SDF, but fighting them in the chaos means that there’s no stage-piece boss battle – they would fully blend amongst the regular forces were it not for an indicator over their person, and while they might be slightly tougher than an ordinary soldier, they can still be downed pretty quickly, bringing to mind how quickly bosses in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands are taken out.

  • The last of the side missions I took on before moving on to Operation Burn Water was Operation Pure Threat, set in an asteroid thicket above Europa. What initially looks to be a waste of time, when Reyes finds a derelict SDF vessel, turns out to be an ambush, and in the chaos, I bag yet another elite SDF pilot. In something like Gundam and Aldnoah, figures of importance usually pilot more powerful machines, but the reality is that ace pilots are known for their skill rather than the quality of their weapons. As such, in Infinite Warfare, while ace pilots may manoeuvre more skilfully, they aren’t any harder to shoot down than other enemies.

  • The missions to infiltrate SDF vessels and recover high value items brings to mind the sort of challenges surrounding learning about when Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name is coming out as a home release in Japan. I’ve been keeping an eye on developments, but it seems that news of box office figures, merchandise for sale and general gushing about the film is the only information that exists. There is little doubt in my mind that trying to figure out when this movie will be out on BD is about as difficult as infiltrating an SDF destroyer and stealing a weapons prototype: one wonders what the rationale for being this tight-lipped about the release date is.

  • While Your Name will have to wait for the present, there are fortunately things that can be taken care of in the present, and enjoying Infinite Warfare is one of them. Finally starting Operation Burn Water, I am inserted onto the surface of Titan. It’s a very vivid depiction of what the only moon in the solar system to possess a dense atmosphere looks like: while most of the surface is flat, there are mountains exceeding 1000 meters in height in some places. The game also captures the presence of hydrocarbon lakes and precipitation on Titan’s surface very nicely. Being on Titan also brings to mind a line from Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, in which “methane clouds rain sodium hydroxide, a caustic alkali!”. Sodium hydroxide is not a known form of precipitation on Titan; methane clouds would simply rain methane in liquid form.

  • With this in mind, the chemical reaction between sodium hydroxide and sodium acetate can undergo a reaction to form methane and sodium carbonate (NaOH + CH3COONa → CH4 + Na2CO3). As we have the reaction, I could probably calculate the reaction enthalpies and determine what the energy for the reaction is, then decide whether or not it is feasible for exotic conditions to produce sodium hydroxide in aqueous form from methane clouds in an environment that humans can survive in without any sort of protection. However, I do not imagine readers are here to learn about chemistry: it’s time to return the discussion to Infinite Warfare. After playing the stealth game and sneaking through SDF-occupied grounds, I clear a landing zone for friendly forces, which bring an allied C12 tank along with some heavy armour. These monstrosities are “a cooler version of E3N”, bringing vast amounts of firepower with them and can absorb an incredible amount of damage. Small arms will not harm them at all, requiring a rocket launcher or F-SpAr torch to take out. Having one in my corner allows hordes of SDF soldiers to be dispatched with ease.

  • After the Olympus Mons appears, the C12 and heavy weapons are decimated. An air strike is the only option, and Reyes takes to the skies once more, shooting down multiple SDF air elements before landing at a terminal to remove the safeties, allowing pressures to reach dangerous levels. Once the facility is cleared, it’s a simple matter of lighting the fuse and watching a rather impressive explosion from the fuelling tower.

  • The EBR-800 has quickly turned into one of my favourite weapons: it doubles as an assault rifle and can be counted upon in a pinch. Looking through my site’s archive, March has been a busy month, featuring 56 percent more posts than February even though I’ve been about as busy at work this month as I was last month. It’s not often that I have time to sit down and relax, but weekends are the time to do so: the weather’s finally beginning to feel like spring, and after stepping out today for some errands, I also enjoyed fried chicken for dinner. A year ago, I was on the flight home from Laval, and although I fell ill shortly after returning, I recovered just in time for exam season to kick in. These days, I’ve got no exams, although my subconscious plainly thinks I’m still a student; one dream I had recently was that I failed to submit assignments for several consecutive weeks, only to begin wondering why I was concerned before waking up.

  • Despite making it back out, Reyes is shot down and left adrift in orbit around Titan with E3N. It’s hauntingly beautiful up here, and E3N’s presence is a reassuring one, keeping Reyes company until the Tigress picks him up. One aspect I’ve not mentioned too much yet is Sergeant Omar’s gradual warming to E3N – despite considering him a disposable tool early on, Omar comes to trust E3N and cracks jokes with Reyes, being a character I’ve come to respect. The characters in Infinite Warfare share a strong sense of camaraderie, allowing me relate and yearn to see what happens next to them next.

After learning that the side missions reset with the completion of a main mission, I’m likely to go back and finish all of the side missions I’ve unlocked so far, having completed Operation Burn Water, before moving onto the next mission. Unlike previous instalments of Call of Duty except maybe Black Ops III, Infinite Warfare has created a new means of approaching missions and encouraging replay of its campaign. Consequently, while the space shooter setting might be viewed as being derivative or unremarkable, Infinite Warfare‘s campaign has proven to be the strongest of the Call of Duty campaigns since the days of Modern Warfare, offering numerous options for players even if the game ultimately is very linear in nature. These directions also mean that, with the new choices available for players, the game will take a bit longer to complete. Consequently, I’m going to switch over to Titanfall 2 and also go through the Call of Duty Modern Warfare: Remastered campaigns in the near future; owing to upcoming events, I would like to complete these games before said event arrives. With this being said, I am not leaving Infinite Warfare behind: most likely, I will resume once mid-May arrives.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare- Impressions of the campaign after an hour

“This is Admiral Salen Kotch of the Olympus Mons. You are defeated. Death is no disgrace!” -Admiral Salen Kotch

Despite being one of the most maligned installments in the Call of Duty franchise, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Infinite Warfare from here on out for brevity) managed to pull my curiosity with its setting and premise, where humanity’s efforts to colonise other locales in the solar system eventually results in the formation of a radical military faction known as the Settlement Defense Front (SDF), who mount an assault against the United Nations Space Alliance (UNSA) to break a long-standing stalemate. The game begins with a botched operation to retrieve a weapons prototype, and in the aftermath, the SDF launch a surprise on the UNSA, crippling their fleet during the Fleet Week celebration events through a combination of hijacking the UNSA’s AATIS guns and through the deployment of the Olympus Mons, the SDF’s flagship that is now armed with the F-SpAr weapon. Despite the efforts of Leftenant Nick Reyes, only two UNSA vessels survive — he is subsequently promoted to Commander and given captaincy of the Retribution, with the mission of delaying the SDF long enough for the UNSA to rebuild their fleet. Through the campaign’s first few missions, I’ve seen the unsuccessful mission to retrieve the F-SpAr, watched the SDF attack on Fleet Week celebrations and have flown into space with the Jackal interdiction fighter, capable of operating in both an atmosphere and the vacuum of space. So far, it’s been a fantastic introduction to Infinite Warfare, and all of the negativity out there surrounding Infinite Warfare appears to have been left behind on the surface as I take flight into the void of space and begin the task of regaining the initiative in a fight with the SDF.

The premise of extremist groups forming shortly after human efforts to colonise space has long been explored as a topic in Mobile Suit Gundam, where the EFSF began contending with the Principality of Zeon as political relations between earth and its colonies decayed. In a manner of speaking, Infinite Warfare appears to be what Mobile Suit Gundam would look like had the weapons and concepts been designed in North America as opposed to Japan, featuring fighter craft in place of humanoid mecha but otherwise share the fundamental idea of a totalitarian regime fighting against a weary democratic system, opening with a surprise attack and placing focus around one ship (the Retribution stands in for White Base and the Nahel Argama). However, instead of watching things, Infinite Warfare places players directly into the boots of a pilot set in a world where there are no exceptionally powerful weapons. The absence of a powerful game-changer such as the Gundam means that Infinite Warfare is aiming to tell a different story about war than Mobile Suit Gundam does — while Gundam aims to show the horrors of warfare, it also strives to discuss the possibility and what can lie beyond war, achieved because of an extraordinary weapon that defeats other weapons. Lacking this, Infinite Warfare is perhaps more cautious in its story, and this is where I am headed now in the campaign, to see what happens next to Commander Reyes and the Retribution.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Even though I know it’s well-crafted skybox, reflective materials and a single directional light, in conjunction with some shaders, the view from Europa’s surface is phenomenal; I spend a few moments admiring it before I proceed with the mission. When I first started Infinite Warfare, I was hit immediately with a hiccough in that the game would freeze up, crash and send me back to my desktop. It plainly was not my computer’s specs, so I did some investigation and found that AVG was causing the issue. Adding the entire directory fixes things, and at last, I find myself ready to begin.

  • The question I can expect of some readers would be why in the world I would even consider, much less go through and play a game like Infinite Warfare. Aside from the fact that I am Infinite Zenith, the honest answer is that I’ve been intrigued by the game’s premise, and the campaign seemed to be a fun adventure. Thus, while some folks may express a certain amount of disgust, yes, I did end up buying the game and I’m enjoying it, so I will be doing talks on this game, although not with the same frequency as I did for each of the war stories from Battlefield 1.

  • The weapons in Infinite Warfare are quite foreign to me despite being derived off modern firearms. I’m wielding the NV4 here, the default SATO assault rifle. With low recoil and a slower firing rate, the weapon is a ballistic type, meaning it can punch through walls. The weapon players equip has a variable magnification holographic sight and a suppressor, reflecting on the operation’s covert nature.

  • The secondary weapon players have access to is the FHR-40, a ballistics-based submachine gun resembling the FN P90. With a large magazine and high rate of fire, the weapon is countered with weaker rounds and higher recoil. Moving swiftly through the facility and clearing out any SDF forces, the seventh SCAR team quickly makes its way to where the F-SpAr prototype is. Players control Dan “Wolf” Lyall in this mission.

  • One of the heavy weapons in Infinite Warfare, the F-SpAr torch is a man-portable version of the F-SpAr directed energy weapon and is the only weapon that can damage the C12 bipedal tanks that appear. The beam emitted by the weapon can lock onto enemies and explode organics into a red paste; the weapon’s damage output is immense, but so is its firing rate (it can burn through an entire magazine in seconds). Despite their efforts, Lyall’s team fails their mission and are ultimately executed by Kotch’s men.

  • The Geneva, Switzerland of the future is filled with skyscrapers; beautifully rendered here, the combination of a cityscape with large battleships gives a sense of scale that provides an impressive backdrop. E3N is introduced here, and I immediately take a liking to his personality, which gives the sense of being both reliable and having a witty character that adds much to lighten up the atmosphere in what is otherwise a very serious-feeling game.

  • After the dropship I’m riding is shot down by the AATIS network, Reyes finds himself crashing into a shopping centre where SDF forces have landed; they begin shooting civilians, but before Reyes and Salter can be killed, Reyes is given the Kendall 44 sidearm and takes out two SDF soldiers. I immediately set about finding a primary weapon. The first weapon that I encountered was the Karma-45, which resembles the Kris Vector 45 ACP.

  • While there are skyscrapers all around, Reyes is shot down over the older districts of Geneva, as evidenced by the buildings here. SDF soldiers all around begin massacring civilians, and one aspect of the game that unsettled me was when I accidentally fired upon what appeared to be a civilian crossing my sights, killing them. However, even with this occurrence, the game itself did not end, standing in contrast with shooters that enforce a do-no-harm approach.

  • One feature in Infinite Warfare that I particularly like is the grenade cooking indicator, which shows how long one has before the grenade will go off. Because enemies will try to vacate the blast radius of a grenade, cooking one will give them much less time to react. The feature was added in Call of Duty: Ghosts, which had a few space missions but otherwise looked unremarkable. I ended up passing over this one, and from the sounds of things, Ghosts proved quite unpopular.

  • Here, I am equipped with the Volk, a directed-energy assault rifle that resembles the AK-47 in design. Having a high damage but low accuracy and rate of fire, the weapon is quite commonly found in-game. Insofar, I’m not too sure what the precise difference between energy weapons and ballistic weapons are: I’ve heard that energy weapons can regenerate ammunition in their magazines over time but cannot penetrate surfaces, whereas ballistic weapons are more powerful and can punch through surfaces.

  • Here, I wield the RAW light machine gun, pushing through the burning streets of Geneva en route to the AATIS control station. Owing to the way the weapons work in Infinite Warfare work, it stands to reason that it’s a good idea to have an energy weapon and a ballistic weapon so one can be ready for most situations. In general, I always stick with a good all-around weapon, like an assault rifle, and then pair it with any other weapon with a more specialised role.

  • An SDF gunship makes it difficult to close in on the AATIS control facility, but fortunately, one has access to some friendly close-air support, which will sweep through the area and clear out large numbers of enemies very quickly. With this feature in mind, I pushed up the hill and hid in a downed dropship while awaiting for the support to come back online after taking out ground infantry.

  • Designating the SDF gunship as a target is the only way I can think of for taking it out quickly: other mechanisms are ineffective or will expose one to the elements, since I don’t think there are any MANPADs conveniently hanging around for players to use. Once this threat is neutralised, players enter the facility and regain control of the AATSI guns, learning that there is a spy, Akeel Min Riah, an SDF agent responsible for sabotaging the UNSA. After Riah is apprehended, Reyes and the other SCAR operatives take to the skies.

  • The transition from boots-on-the-ground gameplay to taking control of a spacecraft is remarkably smooth, and if I had to guess, I imagine that the cutscenes incorporate some trickery to give the sense of multi-scale; through my research, I realised that true multi-scale will likely remain unattainable with current generation technology owing to the allocation of resources in order to smoothly transition from one scale to another. Instead, various sleight of hand techniques, such as altering the scale of objects and spaces, are used to convey differences in scale.

  • The first space combat sequence of Infinite Warfare is ferocious and fast-paced. One of the features that proved to be unexpected was how the Jackals handle in flight. Movement is more similar to walking than flying, similar to the Banshees of Halo, and so, I found that it makes more sense to have standard mouse look directions while in flight, rather than the inverted that I prefer for conventional flight controls.

  • The “dog fight mode” mechanic from Ace Combat: Assault Horizon appears in Infinite Warfare, allowing players to lock onto fast-moving enemies and have the autopilot steer so that they may concentrate on shooting. The mechanic was a bit of a contentious point, but it’s straightforwards to shoot down enemy fighters without it: to those folks who dislike it, there’s nothing stopping them from simply not using it. Further to this, it turns out that higher difficulties remove this ability entirely, forcing players to depend on a sure aim to shoot down SDF fighters.

  • While we are on the topic of Ace CombatAce Combat 7: Skies Unknown was recently announced for PC. There’s no concrete release date, but the game is powered by the Unreal Engine and set in Strangereal, making it the first-ever Ace Combat game set in Strangereal to be on PC. The game’s a little more than half finished by this point in time and is likely to come out later this year; I’m excited and might pick it up shortly after launch if the PC version proves to be well-received. Back in Infinite Warfare, I pummel an enemy cruiser here with the 50 mm cannon, eventually turning it into a glowing pile of wreckage.

  • The sudden arrival of the Olympus Mons was a bit of a shock and changes up the tenour dramatically: listening to the radio chatter, a sense of concern is conveyed when Salter and the others note that nothing the SATO forces have is effective against the super-carrier. However, exhibiting the qualities of a capable leader, Reyes orders his forces to concentrate fire on the vessel even as it destroys a SATO vessel in one shot. This action is reminiscent of Théoden King, who rallied his men and ordered them to “reform the line” when the oliphants appeared.

  • These overwhelmingly large beasts instill fear in their enemies through their size, but in giving his orders, Théoden forces his men to rally and regroup before fear kicks in, causing discord. His decision to take them head-on might be questionable from a tactical perspective, as it would maximise casualties, but from a strategic perspective, was probably a better move, since the act would show the Haradrim that their greatest weapon, fear, would not be efficacious here. Returning to Infinite Warfare, the Olympus Mons is the largest and most powerful warship ever built in this universe, with a length of 927 meters. Reyes hands control over to Ethan and things momentarily becomes a rail shooter, where the only goal is to damage the ballistic cannons on the Olympus Mons.

  • The Retribution executes a tactical collision (really a more professional way of saying “we’re ramming it”), forcing the Olympus Mons to retreat. In the aftermath, Reyes returns to the Retribution and learns of the extent of the damage that the SDF has inflicted. He is promoted to commander and tasked with keeping SDF forces at bay while the SATO fleet regroups and rebuilds. Speaking freely, I’m highly excited to push forwards with the campaign after the first set of missions, but the unexpected arrival of the Kiniro Mosaic: Pretty Days OVA will require some minor adjustments to my schedule so I can get a talk out on that soon.

An hour into Infinite Warfare, and I’ve been quite pleased at how smoothly the game handles, both with respect to the boots-on-the-ground aspects and the sequence involving Jackal combat. I’ve got no gripes about the gameplay itself, and note that while I did have a bit of trouble starting the game (the fix was adding the entire Infinite Warfare directory into the exceptions for AVG), once things got started, it has been a solid experience. Gunplay is crisp and responsive, more so than any Call of Duty I’ve previously played, and the set pieces are appropriate. From these experiences insofar, I’m enjoying the campaign and its presentation of an interactive variant of the Mobile Suit Gundam story. There might be no Newtypes or mobile suits, but Infinite Warfare‘s first few missions give an excellent sense of what this game’s campaign is about. I am very excited to experience where things go next, and while I’ve only got a minimal interest in the multiplayer, I can say for sure that this game is not one that is deserving of the negativity and vitriol that would better be directed towards more constructive activities.

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steam Winter Sale 2016

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” – Josh Billings

The 2016 Steam Winter Sale ended about two hours ago at the time of posting, and today, while I’ve technically got the day off on account of a Bank Holiday, I’ve spent much of the morning working on work-related things. The last and only time I wrote about a winter Steam Sale was back in 2014, right before I took off for a two-week vacation in Taiwan and Hong Kong. During that sale, I picked up Valkyria Chronicles alone, and it turned out to be one of the best games I’ve ever played through. This time around, I decided to pick up Far Cry 4 and Sim City 4: the former was because I was interested in playing an open-world shooter, while the latter, I decided to reacquire on Steam so that I would not be required to insert a CD-ROM into my computer every time I wanted to build cities (and because my MacBook pro lacks a CD drive). Besides these games, there were no other titles that caught my eye. During the course of the sale, I also accumulated a large number of trading cards, crafting a level two Steam Awards badge, plus badges for SUPERHOTDeus Ex: Mankind Divided and Valkyria Chronicles in the process. Having beaten all of the games I bought through the course of 2016, in 2017, I imagine that between Sim City 4Far Cry 4 and Battlefield 1, plus the other titles I’ve been longing to play through again, I will have plenty on my plate from the gaming perspective to keep me occupied.

  • I’ve found that Steam’s current way of doing things during a sale, by offering trading cards for exploring one’s discovery queue (and then voting on community events) is the best way of doing things: no longer do I have to vote every eight hours or run the risk of losing cards. This year, the community event was The Steam Awards, where players can vote for their favourite games. Some of the titles I’m fond of, including Portal 2 and DOOM, made the finalists for the awards.

  • Just Cause 3 and Grand Theft Auto V remain high on the list of games I’d like to try out, but because they’re open world, I imagine that I would probably not find the time to beat them. At present, the only true open world games in my library besides Far Cry 4 is Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which I picked up during the Summer of 2013 for a song and still have not beaten yet.

  • With the crafting of my SUPERHOT badge, I managed to efficiently use all of the money in my Steam wallet. I entered the badge-crafting spree this year with exactly zero dollars and zero cents in my Steam Wallet, sold off all of my excess trading cards, and bought enough cards to complete three badges, returning my wallet’s funds back to zero. Besides the SUPERHOT and Mankind Divided badges, I finally got a badge for Valkyria Chronicles, as well.

  • I’m fond of including profile screenshots as the closing image to these posts mainly because they show snapshots of my Steam profile through time. Perusing earlier posts show how my page has changed through the years, and also give indication of how icons to the applications I use change. Here, I’m rocking the Alicia wallpaper I got from crafting the Valkyria Chronicles, and she remains one of my favourite characters in the game from both a gameplay and writing perspective.

My purchase of Sim City 4 presents with it an opportunity to do a new series of posts for 2017: I’ve done some basic strategy posts in the past, but have never really shown off my cities. Since I upgraded my computer back in 2013, my old cities were lost, and until now, I’ve not bothered to reinstall Sim City 4. Thus, to follow my quest to build a region-filling megalopolis, I will be dropping by on occasion to showcase how the city is doing, and initially, will be playing through Sim City 4 without any modifications. Of old, I used to have mods that enabled for better pathfinding, increased transportation options even further and provided new landmark buildings. Once I fill out a majority of the tiles in the region, I will reinstall some of the modifications and see about extending the game’s features further, but until then, it’ll be interesting to see how my cities progress. On the Far Cry 4 end, I will go through the campaign and explore Kyrat at a methodical pace. There will be a handful of posts about that, as well: it’s time to conclude reminiscing about this year’s Steam Winter Sale and begin enjoying the titles I’ve picked up.