Thoughts on Apex Legends

Respawn Entertainment, creators of the awesome Titanfall series, has now thrown their hat into the Battle Royale ring, like many other studios before it. The budding genre is already becoming over saturated, but some gems peek out from the chaff from time to time, and I believe Apex Legends is set to do just that.

I’ve played a handful of Battle Royale games and have found only a couple of them to be to my liking. Apex Legends ticks a few boxes for me that others have not. I prefer the forced first person perspective (which was also a plus in Black Ops IIII) because in any third person shooter, you can utilize the camera angle in relationship to your avatar to see around corners in a way that wouldn’t be physically possible in real life. Being a sort of spin off of the survival genre, Battle Royale succeeds when you are forced into this camera position and need to utilize your senses to outlast the other players in the round. I also enjoy the team-play aspect of groups of three. There are only three classes of legends in the game, so you can make a balanced team with only three players. The voice chat works, but it also is entirely unnecessary. The “jumpmaster” feature is also great for keeping your team heading to the same place on the map and not being picked off elsewhere.

The map feels large, but you can still traverse much of it fairly quickly. There are no vehicles, so everything is done on foot — thankfully there isn’t stamina to worry about. The weapon and gear selection feels adequate and the gunplay is excellent. I do miss the double-jumping and wallrunning of Titanfall along with the ability to call down and pilot mechs, but I understand why they didn’t go that route. I’m hopeful for an additional game-mode that will allow the use of mechs sometime in the future but it doesn’t seem likely. Still, there are a variety of skills to use via the different legends, so it still feels varied enough.

Typical of most Battle Royale games, you’ll have rounds where you are one of the first teams eliminated, and other games you’ll be the last ones standing. My second match ever when this good, as I was playing Gibraltar and our team was the first to the circle of safety so we set an ambush. Gibraltar’s ultimate ability calls down an air strike, so when I saw the enemy team coming I dropped it on them and managed to take they whole team out in one go. Since then I’ve managed to be in the top ten several times but haven’t won another round. Rumor has it that there are plans for solo/duo queues coming soon, but actually think the team co-op is a better approach. Even playing with randoms it has been a good time.

The game looks great and runs smooth. I think it’s a blast. At least Respawn seems to have done their homework, as they’ve taken some of the better ideas from the competition and included their top-notch FPS gameplay to the mix while avoiding some of the over-the-top design choices. When loading up for the first time you’ll have access to six legends, with two being unlockables. There is a micro transaction storefront, but no power is being sold — just fluff skins for Legends and weapons. You can buy in-game currency to speed up your unlocks or to outright buy skins, or you can just unlock them with scrap parts eventually. I still don’t have enough in-game currency to unlock a new legend, but it doesn’t seem like it will take that long to get there. Honestly it’s probably worth throwing a few bucks at the company just to make sure the game doesn’t disappear, but I’d rather buy a “unlock all legends now and in the future” package than skins ala Quake Champions or SMITE.

No matter the case, the game is out now, and is Free to Play. I personally don’t have Origin installed so I downloaded Apex Legends on my Playstation 4. If you’re a PC player you’ll have to get this via Origin. It probably looks even nicer there. I’d give it a whirl if you enjoy the Battle Royale genre or need a new FPS in your life.

New & Noteworthy: Wargroove

It’s rare these days when I get a game right as it releases (or at least this close to release). I suppose it should be noted that I didn’t actually purchase this one though, instead it was gifted to me by my father. He was congratulating me on my new job, which *side note* I’m starting tomorrow with an orientation at 8 am. So first of all, thanks Dad!

Wargroove is a game that I didn’t see coming. I happened upon it in the Steam discovery queue, and it was reminiscent of many old-school turn-based RPGs from years past. I added it to my wishlist and that was going to be that until later on when I had disposable income to check it out. Looking it over, I was instantly reminded of the Shining Force series, but most reviewers of the game hearkened it to Advance Wars — a series I’m familiar with but never played. There’s also elements that feel familiar to Langrisser (Warsong) of which I covered recentlyWargroove is a top-down tactical RPG created in-house by Chucklefish Games, whom you might know as the creators of Starbound, and also the publisher of Stardew Valley and a cool rogue-lite I played years ago called Risk of Rain. The one similarity all of these games have is a pixel-art graphic style, but that’s where the sameness ends.

The game opens with a short tutorial that explains a bit of what’s going on under the hood, along with a prelude to the storyline. You’ll start off as one of the evil characters heading to take care of the king of this land. Story bits happen in cut scenes that are layered over the top of the gameplay map, as is combat, done in an animation style that I adore. Your unit(s) will appear on one side of the screen, with enemy unit(s) on the other, and your unit(s) will cross over the middle border to attack and vice versa. A single unit on the map can represent multiple units though, which is mostly conveyed through their health bar. You can get an over view of the map to make strategic decisions, and also click on units or the map terrain itself for more information.

There seems to be a bunch of complexity here but it’s really rather simple. Some units do better against others, and weak to others still. Some terrain will benefit you, and some will slow you down along with lowering your defenses. Later missions introduce buildings that you can capture by first lowering their health to zero and then using the appropriate unit to claim them. You’ll also eventually get barracks and other buildings that allow you to purchase units once per turn. The story continues, and with your father being dead, you (the princess — now queen) must lead your people against the oncoming evil. Sounds pretty similar to most fantasy tales, no? You will end up being able to control other heroes, and your heroes themselves have what they call a “groove” which is essentially a hero power that can turn the tide of battle. Our queen can heal units in a small area. Another hero of this faction can lay down a stone that grants units within a small area a defensive boost. It’s all pretty straightforward when you get used to it.

Outside of the main campaign, there are a few other things you can do. There is a multiplayer option where you can play against friends. You can play Arcade, which essentially is a death match on a map with plentiful resources and you’ll progress through various bosses to complete it. There is also a map/campaign maker, and it’s fairly easy to use. I threw together the above map in under 5 minutes with minimal effort, and it appears that you could create some cool stuff if you wanted to go down that route. This gives the game near infinite replay-ability. There is also a puzzle mode that I have yet to unlock, but I’ve only played the game for a handful of hours.

It appears that the devs haven’t quite called the game done yet either. There is a post on the dev blog that tells us what we can expect in the future, from bug fixes to additional content updates and DLC. The main complaint I’m seeing around the interwebs is that the factions aren’t defined enough, and having played a bit I can see why there is this criticism. Indeed, your Pikeman will behave identically to the enemy’s spearman but will have a different skin to identify it. Essentially all units in the game are identical, so you’ll be seeing the same things over and over. Thankfully there is quite a bit of variety between units, just not between the factions outside of their heroes. Still, I have enjoyed the game and think you will too if you’re into this type of game. Perhaps future patches will add some new units to switch things up a bit. Either way, I adore this game so far and am thankful to have the opportunity to play it! Wargroove is available now everywhere besides Playstation 4, but that’s coming “soon.”

Thoughts on Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII

I’ve had a long and strange on-again off-again relationship with the Call of Duty franchise that has taken place over the last couple of decades. The first time I ever saw the game in action was at a friend’s house on his PC — the original game that started it all. It was reminiscent of other World War II games that I had enjoyed during that era, namely the Half-Life mod Day of Defeat and the Medal of Honor series. What would come to pass over the years is interesting, and also indicative of the overall gaming industry’s trends; originally strictly created by Infinity Ward and now being developed by several different companies and the series has gone from being a PC exclusive to being available on nearly every platform since. At one point the series became an annual event, and the price of entry was just the tip of the iceberg — almost every single installment has had several staggered release DLC packs. Such is the way of business, I suppose.

The first title I actually purchased was the first sequel, Call of Duty 2. That same friend that has shown me the original decided to grab the sequel as well, so we used to spend hours playing random maps together. Back then, like most PC games of the time, there were user generated maps and servers with custom rule sets; it truly was the golden era of the genre. Call of Duty 3 was not available to me due to being a console exclusive and in 2006 I was primarily a PC gamer. When 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare released however, I was on board. This was the first game in the series to be released on all platforms simultaneously, but it still retained some of the boons I mentioned earlier, namely some private servers with moddable content. After that, I sort of forgot about the series, probably due to being into MMOs and also lacking a console until about 2009. I also has a computer change after one PC died and I got a laptop but it couldn’t handle most FPS titles. So I missed out on World At War and Modern Warfare 2. Many hail the latter as being one of the best in the series, but I haven’t played either to this day.

Enter Call of Duty: Black Ops. This is probably my favorite entry in the series, but also when I became a bit disillusioned with it. I absolutely adored playing the Zombies mode for hours on end (which I would later learn was actually introduced in World At War), and I even completed some of the prestige levels in the multiplayer component, along with earning the Platinum trophy on my Playstation 3. I bought all of the map packs and loved it. I thought this love for the series would continue on, but after purchasing the lackluster Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, I lost my love for the series and declared a boycott on it and its business model. I would subsequently skip playing Black Ops II, Ghosts and Advanced Warfare. I did later try Black Ops II only because I assumed it would be as good as the first in that particular arc, but wasn’t very impressed. I would later purchase my Playstation 4 and it just so happened that Call of Duty: Black Ops III would be the pack-in game, so I was back to playing. This didn’t last long though. I never finished the campaign, never maxed my level in multiplayer, and didn’t play zombies as much as I would have liked. Only being a casual fan at this point, I subsequently passed on Infinite Warfare and WWII. The latter was a little tempting, only because I love that time setting but I still didn’t bother.

Now that we have come to the end of the line, I’d like to talk a bit about Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII, the newest installment. I purchased this one for my son for Christmas because he had been playing my copy of the third Black Ops, and had been talking about wanting this title. It’s the first time a Call of Duty game included a Battle Royale mode, because clearly that’s the new hotness. Beyond a slight amount of curiosity, it was frustrating me that he had not really touched the game despite asking for it because of his obsession with Fortnite (which I’ve clearly expressed my opinion on) and he also got grounded from gaming recently so it was collecting more dust. I figured I might as well give the game a whirl since I paid for it after all.

The first thing that stood out to me is that there was no campaign. Despite these games being like riding a bike, I still usually will play a bit of the campaign just to see what it’s all about, and then subsequently jump into multiplayer or zombies. I still have to say that the multiplayer experience in Call of Duty games is one of the best in my opinion, mainly because I detest the thought of running for a mile to get back to the action after dying ala the Battlefield series. It turns out this was a source of controversy that I missed, as there were conflicting stories that the campaign element was scrapped due to not being finished, and another tale that this was intentional from the beginning of development. I can believe either story, mainly because Activision will rush some shit out, and because multiplayer is the bigger, more popular component.

So instead of having a campaign, multiplayer and zombies, instead we now have Blackout, which is the Battle Royale mode. Upon further inspection, it plays like you would expect. It’s first person, you drop in on the map from a helicopter and have to avoid the cloud of death that shrinks the map as the match goes on. Apparently there are “land, air and sea vehicles” available to grab and move around faster, but I didn’t see any in my couple of rounds. What I saw that set it apart was the ability to grab weapon mods that you can attach to your guns, and some support items like riot shields and RC surveillance models. You can heal up with first aid kits (but they don’t help much, so stockpile those). I didn’t last too long due to ignorance of the map and what to expect, but it did seem like a good time. Much like the way Treyarch has sort of segregated Zombies from the Multiplayer and given it its own set of things to level up, you’ll get that here too. Looks like you can unlock mostly fluff items but it’s something to work towards.

I didn’t do anything with Zombies outside of the tutorial, but I did like what I saw. The graphics look sharp and though there are familiar mechanics, there are some new twists as well. I think this game is a cohesive multiplayer PvP and Cooperative package and if you were smart enough to wait to get it on sale (I paid $40) it’s probably worth your time, particularly if you have friends that are willing to play. You will have to pay for the DLC packs to keep current with all of the maps though, so that’s more money to spend down the road. The choice is yours. Hopefully some of my opinions will help you to make that choice.

Epic Taking Shots at Steam

Epic Games used to be synonymous with Unreal Tournament, a game that I and millions of others adored and played over the course of the years. In recent memory though, people associate the company with the game Fortnite, which has been topping charts for months and according to SuperData and Wilhelm’s posting, raked in 2.4 Billion dollars over the course of last year. This begs the question — how do children and teenagers have this much disposable income? Their Battle Royale mode is free to play, and though it does have microtransactions for ridiculous skins for nearly everything in the game, I can’t seem to find anyone over the age of 21 who actually enjoys the game. People will go on and on about how you shouldn’t disparage <insert piece of media here> just because you don’t personally enjoy it, but I’m not that person. Fortnite is literal garbage and I can give you a few reasons why I think so.

My first issue with Fortnite is the game itself. For starters, it began as a co-op wave based game that sounded fun — that is until they tacked on this Battle Royale mode and turned the genre into the phenomenon it is today. I think it was pretty shitty of them to abandon the core game that many fellow Internet denizens enjoyed. It’s also over-the-top ridiculous but an otherwise dull Battle Royale experience. Despite not being much of a fan of the genre, I have still tried various iterations and have enjoyed some of them. I’ll take Battlerite Royale or Realm Royale over this dumpster fire any day. Despite it being clearly aimed at a wider audience, the appeal just isn’t there for most adults, probably due to the design choices along with the ability to literally build towers into the sky when you’re supposed to be shooting and killing your opponents. Take away that building component and the rainbow of bullshit and perhaps you’d have a better game. But then you’d probably have Unreal Tournament, and now we’ve come full circle.

But this article isn’t supposed to be about criticizing Fortnite itself, no this is supposed to be about how Epic Games have now opened their own storefront to compete with the likes of Steam. We first learned about the store prior to the end of last year, and Epic was touting the fact that it intends to take less of a cut for game sales on its platform. It’s easy to imagine them being able to afford this having made all of that cash with Fortnite. It seemed that the majority of us felt like there was no way that anyone could really compete with Steam though. Sure, there is the Humble Bundle Store that has sales around the same times of year and GOG that gives DRM-free options to get your game on, but they aren’t taking much business away from Steam. Honestly there are other options but most of them are less popular or sketchy so I’ll leave it at that. Whatever the case, Steam has been a major part of PC gamer’s lives since the early 2000’s. Other big companies like Blizzard, EA and Ubisoft have made their own launchers as well, but even then there was a period of time where their games were still available on Steam, you’d just have to go through the motions of launching a launcher from Steam which caused some people (like me) to completely boycott those companies just to cut down on the amount of launchers on our computers. I prefer consolidation, regardless of if that means “monopoly.”

I actually had the Epic Games launcher installed for a time, mainly because I was following the ongoing development of the next Unreal Tournament game. But due to the massive success of Fortnite, Epic decided to stop further development of UT, and for that I am even more cross with them. I’ve had Origin and Ubisoft’s launcher and I still have Battle.net installed. More recently I added Bethesda’s launcher to the mix and it’s getting to the point again that I don’t want all of these damn launchers. It feels like the golden age of MMOs all over again — needing 300 different launchers to play a variety of games. Origin and Ubisoft went the way of the dodo on my PC, and I decided that I would only play their games on console to avoid the clutter. I’m letting Bethesda slide a bit here because I love their games, but Fallout 76 has been a sore spot for most. I have only played it for a couple of hours due to waiting on them to sort out the issues, but that’s a story for another day.

What initially spurned this conversation piece was the most recent news that broke this week. It appears that Epic Games have managed to lure a company over to their store, even though the game had been available for preorder on Steam for months now. Apparently those customers that preordered on Steam will still get their copy on Steam, but the game’s store page will be taken off of the service soon. So if you want a copy of Metro: Exodus on Steam you should probably go ahead and grab that now while you can. From what I’ve read, Steam charges developers 30% of each sale made on the platform. I’m assuming that means that Epic is charging less, but I’m not sure what the actual percentage is. It’s a free market, and I guess I applaud someone for trying to stand up to the behemoth, but I can’t see this being good for gamers outside of potentially saving them money due to competition. What I see is an increasingly fractured player base or being stuck with a ton of launchers to play games when we really should have these titles releasing on all platforms to give players’ choice back.

I started a poll on Twitter to see what others might think about this occurrence and how they plan to proceed.

For reference, I would vote to stick with Steam. I have far too many games on the platform and unless there is something exclusive to Epic that I can’t get anywhere else and NEED to play, I’m sticking to this. Even then, I’d probably just buy the game for console to avoid it altogether. I understand frugality though, so I included the option to bargain shop between the two, which seems to be the most popular to this point. I guess if you were just getting into PC gaming then you have the option to get your collection started with Epic but for me it’s just not something I want. I’m offended by Fortnite‘s existence and success, and I’m offended by Epic panning Unreal Tournament. That’s enough for me to not give them any dollars at all.

The Darkening of Tristram

Season 16 recently began in Diablo III, and with it there are some new features as usual with these seasonal updates. I haven’t really played through a season in quite some time, despite sort of jumping into season 14 after having purchased the Necromancer DLC pack. I didn’t stick with it that time, and I haven’t yet leveled a Necromancer to 70. There was a bit of hype around this season for whatever reason, and I caught wind of many people on my social media feeds giving it another go. I decided to do so myself, and also learned of the “Darkening of Tristram” limited-time event that was running as well. I remember hearing about this event before, that a chunk of older Diablo games would be recreated in this newer engine, but having played through the special event, I now know this isn’t quite what has happened. The event is marked on your adventure mode map with a pentagram. You can go to that particular zone and will find a portal in what remains of Tristram to go back in time.

The first thing you’ll notice is the grainy textures, but the UI is also simplified and animations not quite as smooth. Essentially it’s a lower quality filter over the top of the existing engine, but it does what it sets out to do. Sounds and music from the original game are present and this gives a great nostalgic feel, if not being a little harder to follow. It’s amazing how bad old games look after a few decades, and this is already running much better than those older titles in the series. Whatever the case, you are now in the original version of Tristram, but it’s clear that everyone and everything has been decimated. Your only objective is to “Slay the Dark Lord,” and there is no real direction on how to do so.

Those of us who played the older games will remember that you would head into the labyrinth and continue on down until you finally face Diablo (a feat I never accomplished when playing the original Diablo). On the way down, there are various sub-levels that are one-offs and will contain various enemies. Some are more familiar than others, like the Butcher (pictured above), and many of the unique creatures feel like they are designed with RNG, but that’s the nature of this style of game.

I made the mistake of taking a break from my run the first time around, and was already about 11 or 12 levels deep. Fair warning, if you log out of the game while running this dungeon, you will have to start all over again when you come back. So today, I decided that I would run the dungeon again and make sure that I didn’t log out until I completed it. Thankfully, there are only 16 floors to conquer before you run into the Dark Lord, and there wasn’t any one part of it that was really a challenge. I was only running on Normal difficulty, so that’s probably why, but when you run hardcore characters like I do, you want to avoid death and I didn’t know what to expect.

The Dark Lord caught me by surprise, randomly appearing on the 16th floor, but I had a feeling it was coming up soon due to being teleported to a mini-dungeon and fighting some important sounding mini-bosses, and then being teleported back to the “same” floor that looked completely unexplored. The fight was over before I knew it, mainly because I’m running skeletons and the golem and I sit back and syphon life, so he was downed quite quickly. After killing him, what I assume is the original end game movie from Diablo plays, and that looked horrible but set up the events to follow in Diablo II. Afterwards I was able to collect my loot, earning this interesting gem:

I haven’t seen exactly what this does just yet, but I did slot it into my current helmet. There were banner unlocks and a new transmog that came along with completing this event, and I earned a few achievements along the way. As a whole, I’d say this limited event was successful and a good little time waster. I look forward to other things like this added to the game, but with Blizzard doing Blizzard things, it’s unlikely we’ll see much more before we end up with a new Diablo (or they move completely to mobile with that Immortal thing). If you haven’t checked this out and want a little nostalgia trip, the event is still running, so hop in game and check it out!