Review: The Division, More RPG Than Shooter

This review is based on playing the PC version of The Division.

The Division is a complex mixture of third person shooter with RPG basics, topped off with a dash of MMO. One thing players need to know right away though, The Division is not really a MMO. Most of the time you will only see other players if you are in a hub or if you have grouped with them to do a mission… or in the Dark Zone, but I’m mostly going to leave the DZ to the side and just deal with the PvE aspects of The Division for right now. As far as “end game” content goes there isn’t a whole lot currently. It is mostly just Challenge Mode missions and dailies. However, we do know there will be 3 expansions (DLCs) this year, so more max level content should be coming soon. In fact there are also two free content updates and the first of those should be hitting in April.

Gameplay

Overall the gameplay for The Division is straight forward and intuitive both for mouse and keyboard control and if you choose to use a controller. Players can rebind any keys to have their preferred set-up if the default isn’t to their liking. Unfortunately this isn’t true if you decide to play with a controller as those keybinds can’t be changed. The only controller keybind I found particularly annoying was for running you have to hold in the left stick, which is really sub-optimal.

20160320175107_1The Division is a cover shooter, which helps to avoid the “just run in and shoot everything” monotony. Moving around from cover to cover and placing yourself in optimal spots is a huge part of the game, and the system works pretty flawlessly. It can also be a danger, especially on some of the harder missions. I would occasionally move to a place which seemed like a good spot only to find out I now have mobs running in behind me and I’m caught in a crossfire. Part of the learning curve is to really think strategically about how you are going to accomplish goals… also learning which objects aren’t so good at providing cover.

The Division also has some fairly basic RPG elements in it as well, but even though they are basic you can’t really ignore that aspect of the game. There’s only three stats to pay attention to, but if you don’t pick one to really focus on you’ll be really limited on your effectiveness. Also which abilities you choose to equip are also important because, obviously, they affect what you can do. These things become particularly important when working in a group because if everyone is packing the same strengths and abilities, your group will be pretty limited.

One of my favorite aspects of The Division is how simple it is to switch up the build on a character. Talents and special skills can be switched out at a whim, which makes making adjustments when needed pretty simple. While switching these things around will have a pretty big effect stats still are also important and the only way to switch those up are to keep extra gear around. It is possible to change one stat on a piece of gear, but it’s expensive and not really a good solution for a temporary switch.

Unfortunately the gameplay quickly starts to get a bit monotonous as the game settles into a familiar set of mission types. You are either trying to clear out an area of hostiles, trying to rescue citizens, or defending an area. For the most part no matter what you choose to do while leveling you’ll be doing one of those three things consistently. Hopefully when we get the content updates more mission variety will be added.

There is a little bit of variety provided through side missions, though those do tend to also  be clearing out an area or rescuing hostages. However, occasionally there is a side mission where it changes things up a bit. For instance there is one side mission where you are trying to find out happened to a scientist who worked for a local company right when the outbreak was first happening. This mission is an entirely non-combat mission where you just explored and searched for clues. It was absolutely refreshing to take part in something different and these sorts of missions sprinkled around really does help.

Multiplayer

One of the most rewarding experiences in The Division is gathering some friends together and tackling the harder missions together, and you really shouldn’t shy away from doing this whenever possible as it really adds another dimension to the game. One thing I will point out though, whenever possible use an out of game voice chat program because there are many great options when playing PC which make the in game voice system feel especially frustrating to use in comparison.

All of the missions have a way to queue up with other players fairly easily, which really can be a big help. Additionally all the main missions have the normal difficulty and they also have a hard mode. In general the hard mode versions aren’t too hard especially if you go in with three other people. All of the mobs are tougher, on hard modes they all have a secondary healthbar which needs to be taken down before you can start diminishing their actual healthbar, and sometimes there will be more of them.

The real downside to multiplayer is only the main story missions can be progressed for everyone. Since they were trying to preserve the feeling of being alone in a hostile area, each player has their own map. When you group up with players everyone will then join one player’s map. While on that map any side missions or encounters which are completed will only be done for the player whose map you are on. It’s a bit of a pain because doing these things multiple times can really increase the feeling of monotony, so players are sort of encouraged to only group up for the main game.

TheDivision 3-21-2016 4-18-26 PM-983Setting

The way this post apocalyptic world is rendered is nothing short of amazing and done with meticulous attention to detail. They’ve managed to not only accurately capture what various parts of New York look like but also the look and feel of what would happen if chaos broke loose in the city.

Time of day and weather also make a pretty big difference as well. Since the game is set in late November/December snow is the most common form of bad weather, and it is isn’t just a binary snowing/not snowing. Snow can range from small flurries to a full out windy mess where it is actually difficult to see where you are going let alone try to fight anyone else. Night is also much darker than daylight as well and really adds to the feeling of danger no matter what you are doing in game.

TheDivision 3-16-2016 10-12-58 PM-194One particularly nice addition which helps to make this game feel more authentic is the radios playing in each safe house. They will often have news reports or someone broadcasting their (some might say paranoid) take on events, but then interspersed will also be music. The music is particularly nice because occasionally I’ll recognize something.

For instance one day I was in a safe house and realized The Moldau was playing on the in game radio. I stopped what i was doing and just listened… and there was background noises (like coughing) as if it was a broadcast of a live performance somewhere. That particular moment really surprised me and really made an impression. Since then I have started listening to those radio broadcasts more and have recognized even more music. It’s a really thoughtful and interesting choice to include these little real world auditory references.

The overall attention to detail in everything from how things look to how everything sounds adds a really important layer to The Division. It is one game where I’d argue if you aren’t playing with the sound on you are definitely robbing yourself of a huge chunk of the experience.

Conclusion

Overall The Division is a pretty solid game where players are put in the role of trying to bring order back to a city which has fallen to fear and chaos. The missions can get pretty monotonous at times, but there are random side missions and a lot to explore if you just take a moment to look around and venture off the main path a little. Additionally multiplayer can be a ton of fun and add even more interest to the main game. It is definitely worth a look if you are interested in a RPG with the feel of a shooter.

Review: Bloodborne, The Unforgiving RPG

Originally posted on Gamebreaker March 23,2015

Bloodborne is a new Action RPG by From Software for the PS4. For anyone who didn’t play Dark Souls the main thing you need to know is… this game is brutal and very unforgiving. Be prepared to die. It is also completely worth the pain if you can take it. For anyone concerned about spoilers, I am going to try to keep away from anything

Gameplay

 As someone who mostly plays MMOs the fact Bloodborne can’t be paused wasn’t a huge issue for me, however not being able to save whenever I wanted to was a bit of a transition from most RPGs I play. There are checkpoints in the form of lanterns which can be activated as progress is made throughout the game (finding new areas, killing bosses, etc…). There aren’t very many of these though, and you have to activate them when you find them or else you won’t be able to use them.
Bloodborne™_20150322132326

Bloodborne™_20150322132326

Bloodborne also functions a bit differently from other RPGs because every time time you zone in or out or die, all the mobs respawn on the map. That is nice for helping gather Blood Echoes (currency), but it can be a bit of a pain when you die after running through a very long section. It also caught me quite off guard at first.

Speaking of Blood Echoes, they are needed for buying new items, upgrading and repairing weapons, and a little thing called leveling your character up. All stat increases cost a certain amount of Blood Echoes and this is the main way characters are leveled. A certain amount are rewarded for each enemy killed, harder enemies give more.

One thing I was at first saddened by and then intrigued by is when I died I lost all the Blood Echoes I had collected (and not spent). However they could be recovered. They were either on the ground where I died, or one of the enemy monsters might have picked them up. If they were picked up all I had to do was look for the guy with the glowing eyes and kill him. However, if you die on your way to retrieve the Blood Echoes they will be lost forever. This resulted in me, rather hysterically, scrambling to pick them up mid Boss fight on a few occasions.

The zones are pretty huge and have a ton of hidden paths. Exploration and repetition are a huge part of Bloodborne. Not only will shortcuts be found, which are hugely helpful after dying, but sometimes a way which had been blocked will become unlocked. For instance in one of the first areas there is a gate which can’t be opened from the side you’ll be on. However, as you explore you’ll find a lever which will open the gate and will let you pass through. Ways which are unlocked in this manner will not reset when you die. I’d suggest checking everything out, and if you get to a point where you can’t figure out where you should be going… look for ladders or boxes blocking passages.

You will die in Bloodborne, accept it now. It’s ok. In fact in order to get your first weapons you have to die in the first fight in the game. So that is gotten out of the way quickly. After the first death the player is transported to the Hunter’s Dream which serves as the player’s main hub. This is where the player obtains their first weapons to be able to effectively fight. Check back often because new things will show up as progress is made throughout the story.

Combat

The combat is very fast paced and the enemy AI is sort of interesting. Nearly all the monsters will use a variety of tactics when fighting, which will change as you level up. However, they are apparently all deaf. There are many occasions where I’d be brutally and noisily killing a mob right next to another one but they wouldn’t even notice. Learning what would and wouldn’t cause aggro was interesting since I was sort of expecting some of the mechanics of stealth games to be in play.

The off hand guns can be used to interrupt an attack, and if timed correctly it can be followed up with a very brutal killing blow. It would be gruesome if it was more realistic, but it always feels like a bit of an accomplishment. This stunning effect doesn’t have as much of an effect on the Bosses, but it is extremely useful for most monsters encountered throughout the game.

Bloodborne™_20150322170315

Bloodborne™_20150322170315

All of the main hand weapons have two forms. They have the smaller 1h version which does slightly less damage but attacks really quickly. The quick attacks are very useful for quickly overwhelming a monster before it can attack back (they’ll also do this to you).

By pressing L1 the main hand weapon will transform into a big two hander (Hunter Axe shown here). As expected this form will be a bit slower but will do more damage per hit. Additionally you’ll be able to hit things further away, and in the case of the Hunter Axe AoE damage is also a bonus.

Combat also seems designed around staying mobile and using the terrain to your advantage, especially when it comes to Boss fights. Range attacks can often be avoided by simply walking after the shot is fired or stepping behind a pillar. For other attacks running or dodging is generally required, though both of those consume Stamina which is also needed to attack. Managing Stamina consumption is extremely important.

The last part of combat to be aware of is the Regain system. When the player takes damage they have a small window of time where they can regain the health by dealing damage. However, this doesn’t mean it is always best to just charge in and be extremely aggressive because what you can get back might be less than the damage you could be taking. Again it’s about finding the right balance and timing things correctly.

Multiplayer

The default asynchronous multiplayer is one of my favorite features in Bloodborne. As you wander around you and other players can leave notes about all sorts of things. Some notes might be helpful, warning you about an impending ambush, while others might be decidedly less helpful. Other players can vote on each note they discover as to if it was helpful or not. My only real complaint with the note system is it’s all prewritten text.

Bloodborne™_20150322173645

Bloodborne™_20150322173645

Also every time a player dies they will leave a red bloodstain where a tombstone will rise, and by interacting with it you can watch their final moments. This is sometimes funny, but it can also be helpful in avoiding potential danger or figuring out how to win a fight. Additionally as the player increases their Insight level they’ll more often see ghosts of other players running around which can be distracting but it also can give clues about where to go.

CO-OP Multiplayer is also available after obtaining the Beckoning Bell and Small Resonant Bell. The Beckoning Bell is how a player invites others to join, and the Small Resonant Bell is how other players signal they would like to join a multiplayer game. There is also an option to set a password so only people you give the password to can join. Each session costs an Insight point and up to 3 players can play together at once.

PvP is also available for people who are interested in it. An Insight level of at least 30 and a Sinister Resonant Bell are required to take part. The goal is for the host to reach the Boss on the map before either one or two other players kill the hosting player.

Technical Aspects

First thing first, Bloodborne is a beautiful game. All of the environments have a ton of detail which helps to set the Gothic/horror setting. All the character models have a ton of detail as well, including hair movement which is often an issue in many games. I often notice when playing characters with longer hair it often moves in just weird ways, which can be distracting. From Software’s attention to detail overall is really impressive.

Overall the game runs really smoothly as well. I had no stuttering or visual issues at all. In fact gameplay was pretty much bug free. The only thing I experienced which could fall into the realm of a bug is when I first start up the game player notes and tombstones won’t load up. However, the first time I go to the Hunter’s Dream and back everything loads up no problem.

There is one aspect which was a good bit frustrating though, the loading screen. Every time you die or go to/come back from Hunter’s Dream you get a loading screen… and it is generally long. My loading screens were so long in fact I started timing them. The shortest one I got was 11 seconds and the longest was 41 seconds, which is almost a minute. Overall the average length of my loading screens was 30 seconds… which was extremely frustrating. I started feeling like the real downside of dying wasn’t losing my echoes and the items I used but the loading screen.

Conclusion

Overall Bloodborne is an excellent game. I didn’t even discuss the story, character creation, or chalice dungeons at all but they are all highlights as well. This game is not easy though. People who get frustrated at dying might have a hard time getting through Bloodborne. Blindly running in and just whaling on mobs will only get you so far, tactical play is really emphasized. Additionally the “tutorial” is extremely limited. Most everything is left to the player to figure out; which is an awesome departure from the norm in gaming these days.

Bloodborne is an Action RPG for PS4 and will be released in America on 3/24 and in Europe on 3/25. It has an ESRB rating of M for gore, violence, and unrated content created by players.

Revolution 60 Review: The Next Evolution Of The Mobile Game

Originally posted on Gamebreaker July 25th, 2014.

When I first sat down to play through Revolution 60 I had some idea of what the game was like from previously playing a demo last Fall. I had been intrigued by it because Revolution 60 was trying to offer an experience in a mobile game which I have only ever experienced with PC and console games. A story driven game which is also challenging and fun. I wasn’t disappointed.

collage_lb_image_page2_2_1Story

Revolution 60 is set in a futuristic world where China and the US are competing for control of a space station weapons platform. The player mostly fills the role of Holiday, who is the assassin on a team of elite spies, though there are a few points where the player will also control Min and Amelia. Before too long, the mission starts to go sideways and it’s up to the player to prevent a major international incident from happening and to prevent a psychotic AI from getting free.

rev60_3All of the story scenes are done in a very interesting and compelling way, which flows naturally into gameplay. There are quite a few instances where what seems like a cut-scene will flow seamlessly into an action event. If you are slow on reacting to this it can have dire consequences.

Additionally, the choices made during gameplay affect how the story unfolds, and having a certain amount of reputation with Min or Amelia will open different dialogue options throughout the game. One of the best surprises in Revolution 60’s story was it’s possible to play through the entire game and still fail the mission. And it’s not all dependent on one choice which is made at the end of the game. How the story ends is completely dependent on choices made throughout the game.

Along with the story, the music and voice overs play an important part in emphasizing story points. This is definitely one game you’ll want to have all the sounds on for. The level of detail the environment and character animations also worked well in selling the authenticity of the setting. Revolution 60 is the the first mobile game where I legitimately got so wrapped up in the game I lost track of time.

Proficiency Points

Lack of story isn’t the only area most mobile games fall short on, complexity of gameplay is also a key area which is generally lacking. Revolution 60 uses a number of different mechanics to decide if an action in the story is successful or not.

rev60_1During the entire game depending on how well tasks are performed “Proficiency Points” are earned. Failing at a challenge will subtract points from your total, and succeeding but not as well as you could have will reward less than doing something perfectly. Dying also comes with a Proficiency Point charge.

At the end of the game depending on how many Proficiency Points have been accumulated success or failure of the mission will be determined. Having gameplay throughout the game be a determining factor and not just a single choice is huge and really makes the entire game feel important.

In Normal mode the player does get a couple of tries at succeeding, but like I mentioned previously those extra tries do come at a cost. Sometimes a combination of movements will need to be performed, other times things will need to be done in a certain amount of time, and some times it’s a combination of these things.

Combat

Combat is based on a grid system and as you fight the different enemies you’ll learn certain sounds indicate a certain types of attacks and each attack also has a different animation associated with it. Learning to recognize this information is important because it is possible to interrupt an attack if the you hit the enemy at the right moment, though the enemy can also interrupt you as well.

COM_Capture1-2048x1536-1302053214It’s also possible to chain together movement and attacks to quickly accomplish an attack or dodge. However, if you aren’t careful you might just move yourself into the line of attack. Learning when to go all out, and when to bide your time is a vital skill in getting through combat as efficiently as possible.

Every time a successful attack is made on an enemy a certain amount of energy is earned. When enough energy is obtained and the player is standing in the front row they gain access to a special more powerful attack. These special attacks require specific action events to be done and success depends on how well they are preformed. In most fights each special attack only requires two skill challenges, but later on there are ones which require three or four of these challenges. Also near the end of Revolution 60 every time a special attack is used in a fight it’ll ask for a different combination of action events.

What RPG would be complete without a talent tree system? The system in Revolution 60 is pretty simple, but it is also full of tough choices which all have a direct effect on combat.

There are 9 levels in the game and each time a level is gained one point can be put into the talent tree. In order to get to the most powerful abilities, you’ll only want to pick one thing in each level to put points in. It seems like any combination of skills is viable, but some combinations are clearly better than others.

Difficulty

rev60_2There are three difficulty levels Easy, Normal, and Girlfriend (Hardmode). Easy is designed for kids and people who aren’t really experienced gamers. Normal is where everyone else will start out and is challenging without being overly punishing. Only a successful completion in Normal Mode (meaning the mission doesn’t fail) will unlock the Girlfriend mode. People looking for a real challenge should definitely aim to unlock Girlfriend mode and spend most of their game time there.

My only real disappointment with Girlfriend mode is the tutorial still functions as a tutorial and since you have to get through normal to even play Girlfriend mode, it felt a bit redundant. However, the tutorial passes quickly and Girlfriend mode is a ton of fun if you are looking to be challenged.

Conclusion

My first “ah ha” moment in gaming was when I played Final Fantasy VIII, it was the first game I ever played in which I felt completely wrapped in a world and had a gaming experience which was more than just completing tasks. There was a story I felt part of and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.

ss-013Mobile gaming has existed in a state similar to what I experienced prior to playing FF8 for the first time. There are fun mobile games but they all have the barest story, if any at all. Revolution 60 is pushing mobile gaming to the next level and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Revolution 60 launched on on July 24th in the Apple App Store. It’s free to try, and $6 to unlock the entire game. Even if you only play through once it’s still multiple hours worth of content. Revolution 60 will also be released for PC and Mac later this year.

One last thing; Revolution 60 doesn’t end until after the end credits are done so don’t bug out early! Plus you get to listen to “2-Player Co-op (Player 2 Press Start)”which is a bonus.