Tuesday 31 October 2017

Guild Wars 1: Halo Edition

I thought I was going to write about Forza again this month. New game, it was the first time back on the circuit-driving stuff for me for some time so all of those new tracks & cars would be fresh (and lovingly rendered in 4K HDR with the arrival of the Motorsport series on Windows). The series had finally caught up with the competition (dynamic conditions etc) and this has always been the best semi-sim racing to be had with a controller.

It was not to be. The actual racing still got me where it needed to be. Start out with assists off (baring a braking point so I don't need to memorise tracks), cockpit cam; overtake the pack for a few laps of racing then go into driving mode and chase that top clean lap for the leaderboards at the end. But I'd decided to play around with longer races in the career (nice option) and beyond the LoD system seeming to remove all the LoD levels at once (possibly now patched), the game's stability simply wasn't there. There are no in-race checkpoints that save your progress so if you select a three hour race (as the long version of the very first endurance race in the career is) and the game crashes after two hours then you have to start again. I asked myself, "what if it crashes again?" and realised I don't know if I want that groundhog experience. Guess I'm waiting for them to nail down a proper release (still no Forzathon events, an auction house, or leagues) that works 100% of the time or add in mid-race save points for endurance races.

What have I been doing instead? Catching up on some backlog stuff and then jumping into that Destiny 2 PC release. I'd generally not been that bothered by the release of the first game, especially with the crashlanding of the launch version they originally scraped together from their cancelled initial vision. Basically the idea of a Halo game without even the framework of a low-budget SciFi story to keep it all going forward sounded like something I'd find ok but not remarkable (and the bits of it I did play confirmed that it wasn't quite sticky enough for me to keep going with that gameplay loop around shooting the packs of enemies).

What changed? I guess I finally had a break from playing Halo games (Halo 4 was fine but maybe I'm done until they find something new to engage me with and Halo 5 was not that) which gave me time to look forward to more of that sort of SciFi shooting. I also found something in the RPG loop of The Division that scratched an itch I wasn't convinced you could scratch well (with years of FPS RPGs showing that anything but the actual shooting or gun collecting was where the real game was - the point of classic Deus Ex is not to constantly find the guns fun to shoot with, they're where you go when a plan is unravelling).

So Destiny 2 is a shooter based around being part of a class of people who are special but during the plot it turns out that actually you are the one true extremely special person (or person in a robot body? some of the world details are really not explained if you didn't dig into the website descriptions provided with the first game) and so get to do a load of heroic missions where everyone speaks in your ear to say what a good person you are for being good at shooting and literally unable to die. Except for the bits where you're not allowed to die and you get checkpointed back to the last save point. It's very Halo possibly by way of Bioshock's Vita-Chambers. But it tells a basic complete story which is accompanied by a load of good skyboxes and enough dialogue to keep you bouncing along that ten hours of main narrative. If you have played AAA solo FPSs, you know roughly what to expect.

There is also, in an almost Guild Wars 1 style move to bring a story to an online setting, lots of side missions (many co-op, others solo) and hidden treasure in the four large open areas that much of the story campaign is built around. There's probably another ten hours of narrative there (moving away from cut-scenes into purely audio and scenarios - some repurposing the mission areas with new enemies and set dressing) and a lot of it doesn't really get pointed out while you play the main campaign story (beyond being map icons to run past).

The story is for pushing players from level 1 to 20 which ties into a gear (power) level of 10 to 200. After which the gear goes to around 300 but you'll have finished the main campaign so it's an ideal time to do all the other side missions. I ended up at around 275 after enjoying those additional stories and hunting for some hidden caches in each open area. I even bumped into some other players and did some of the co-op encounters (not story but just a scenario that plays out against waves of enemies and some props that you have to destroy to capture within the time limit of the public event) while I was moving between locations. It's all very as expected for an online game like this without making it a game you need to constantly group up to enjoy. They put a full Halo in there, even if they did make it so basically better gear stops really dropping at 265 in order to make there a tier left for people who want to group up and do "end-level" activities (some PvP and PvE content, including a single raid, for which there is a bit of story setting it up in the game but not that much - they did kill the big bad at the end of the story so you can't fight them here).

One of the weirder things is that The Division (and what I understand from Destiny 1) built guns from random perks and archetypes/names with a bit of variety to give it that Diablo dice roll for exactly what you get. Here, a gun has a name and a power level; that's enough to completely define it. From there you get to equip your own paint skin, mod (a gem system for attaching a small extra stat to a single slot), and pick from what that weapon type has in terms of options. But you're not rolling a "Gun X with Red Dot 3" - all Gun Xs either have the option (ready to be enabled) to equip Red Dot 3 or they don't. A few guns have no options at all and many it's just a choice of short or medium scope (which changes the effective range far more critically than changing the actual optics of the weapon - if you're outside of the effective range then it doesn't matter if you always hit the weak point, you'll be doing next to no damage).

It's a fun game for the moment to moment and there's just enough variety in there to give you enough to get a strong preference for certain play styles and so weapons that enable that (eg by the end I had decided that I always wanted range for my kinetic slot and leave the 3-shot pulse rifles at home because I'll always take a scout rifle for the DMR-style experience). If you're looking for a slightly more evolved combat than just replaying a Halo game, Destiny 2 isn't a bad option.