Normal Masterworks

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This morning I thought I would do something a little different and try some show and tell.  One of the data sets that I have been thus far unable to find is a list of all of the Masterworks that can drop in the sub Grandmaster 1 modes.  The devs talked about this during one of the streams but there is a partial loot pool available before you enter the Grandmaster difficulty levels.  There are a few Masterwork weapons that can drop in Easy, Normal and Hard difficulties as a sort of way to help ease your progression into the Grandmaster tiers.  However no one specifically calls out what these Masterworks actually are.  Seeing that GM1 drops you off the deep end into a pool that includes all of the the rest of the weapons, components and inscriptions…  if you are wanting a specific weapon that CAN drop at lower tiers…  it will be by virtue of a smaller loot pool much easier to get in a lower mode.

I apparently have been extremely lucky, combined with the fact that I have been running content with friends nowhere near my level range…  which means we are choosing Normal difficulty instead of something more difficult.  I am still seeing a significant number of Masterworks dropping for me personally, and as such have pieces together most of the weapons available in this loot pool.  I have a sneaking feeling that there is an Auto Cannon and a Grenade Launcher available as well… but seeing as I do not main Colossus I have yet to see either of these.  I have however been spending a lot more time on the Colossus in an attempt to get one of them to drop so I can complete the list.  Additionally this will let you see what I mean by there is some Diablo DNA in the way this loot works.

Assault Rifle – Elemental Rage

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I got my first masterworks to drop sub level cap… and this combined with the next one that I will talk about dropped at the same time.  Unfortunately I have not earned a higher light version of this weapon, but I have been working on unlocking the pattern so I can craft one.  The perk of this weapon is Veteran’s Furor which cause a buff to stack anytime you hit an elite enemy.  When you gain a stack of 20 there is a audible sound queue to let you know that your buff is completely primed…  at which point your next elemental damage ability deals 5% bonus damage per stack so more than likely you are going to use this for 100% bonus damage when you hit a full stack.  Other than that it is based off the Defender Assault Rifle which is my favorite of the available options and full auto with manageable recoil.

Heavy Pistol – Avenging Herald

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This was the second weapon I got and ever since have gotten a lot more of them.  This is considered to be one of the stronger early Masterworks because of the fact that its perk can stack.  The perk Raptor’s Deadeye gives you 200% increased weapon damage while hovering, and this is a suit level ability and not specific to this weapon.  So that means you can throw this is your second slot and utilize it with whatever primary weapon you have equipped.  Additionally the buff stacks if you are dual wielding these, which could be extremely brutal for storm builds given that the weapon has a shockingly long effective range for a pistol.

Light Machine Gun -Artinia’s Gambit

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This was the third weapon that I got to drop, and honestly end up using it more than pretty much anything else because I tend to favor LMG/Assault Rifles greatly.  If I spent the time to earn the Elemental Rage pattern, this would probably get tossed in the vault because it is not necessarily particularly good.  The perk doesn’t have a name…  but it causes a detonation to occur when you reload the weapon.  However it specifically calls out “immediate area” which should instead be read as point blank range.  This is useful if I am feeling froggy and decide to melee something as a ranger which primes the target… and gives me a fast way of detonating said target while I am still up close and personal.  However for other uses it isn’t terribly effective.  If it would detonate the whatever I was targetting…  then it would be a really great option for detonatorless builds.

Machine Pistol – Unending Battle

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Prior to getting this weapon I had never really used a Machine Pistol in part because it didn’t seem like an archetype that I really was super interested in.  However this is effectively a submachinegun from any other game… up close melt machine that does nonsensical damage but you have to pretty much be at point blank range.  The perk is called Gladiator’s Wrath and feeds into this role for the weapon because hitting an enemy in point-blank range increases weapon and melee damage by 110% for 5 seconds.  It would have been better if it was some sort of a stacking buff, but I will take it and it really does make this weapon helpful for clearing anything that runs up on you.

Sniper Rifle – Wyvern Blitz

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This is the weapon I have used the absolute least, but pairs nicely with the whole hovering makes weapons awesome trope.  Snipers are just not my thing, but having used this a little bit it seems perfectly reasonable.  Pending you can hit a weak point…  doing so while hovering increases the damage by 40%…  and if you have an Avenging Herald in the second slot…  it gains another 200%.  I really can’t say much since I don’t use this style of weapon much… it seemed adequate for sniping things.

Shotgun – Papa Pump

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Papa Pump has probably the best name of any of the weapons I have encountered and is an upgraded version of the Scattershot…  which is a weapon that really wants to be fired in close range.  One of the interesting things about this weapon is that reloading gives it a 100% boost in damage… and this stacks to 2.  What this means in practice is if you are in a situation where you can pump this twice in a row as it were you can get a 200% boost for 15 seconds which is probably more than enough time to unload one entire round of shots.  I have not been able to use it much but this seems like it is going to be a boss melt weapon, or at the very least taking out elite and legendary mobs.  It helps that it looks as cool as it sounds.

Marskman Rifle – Thunderbolt of Yvenia

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While the “Scout” is not exactly my favorite of the Marksman Rifles it does a reasonable job of representing the closest thing we have to the Destiny Scout rifle in Anthem.  The unnamed perk is that the weapon has a 33% chance to strike the mob with electrical damage…  that does way more than the actual shot.  In practice this just nukes whatever you are targeting whenever the proc occurs, and it also has a side effect of completely wrecking mob shields.  This was the very last weapon that I saw drop in the list I am showing off today, but it has immediately become my secondary weapon because my preferred build out for Ranger is a LMG/Assault in slot one and a Marksman in slot two giving me a lot of flexibility of engagement range.  So far I am super happy with how this weapon feels.

Just to summarize what I said before.  All seven of these weapons can drop in any of the game modes, including Easy if you get lucky enough to see a Masterwork drop there.  I am not really sure if there is any rhyme or reason about how Masterworks drop, but I have tended to see them most off from boss encounters and treasure chests at the end of world events.  My first pair of Masterworks dropped from the encounter that asks you to fight three titans at the same time… and each one dropped from a different titan.  I’ve been fairly lucky in that I am getting a couple a night regardless of what I happen to be doing.  Where I am less lucky is in actually getting components and abilities to drop while doing Grandmaster 1 content.  Regardless I thought I would give the players who might be reading my blog and have yet to hit the level cap a preview of what they can get from the lower level modes of the game.

Hitting Level Cap

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This weekend was the weekend I entered the end game of Anthem or what currently exists as a placeholder for what is likely coming.  On Thursday I finished the main story quest and because I spent time burning down side quests between steps in the main story quest…  it meant that I more or less also finished the sidequests at the same time.  I have a handful of contracts that I could be doing but instead Friday night I opted to level through QuickPlay, seeing as that appears to be a game mode tailored for my proclivities.  I’ve talked before about my favorite way of playing Monster Hunter World is through what I refer to as “SOS Roulette” in which I just accept SOS flares from other players instead of starting my own missions.  QuickPlay is sort of like that in that you are helping to fill the party of a mission already in progress.

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When QuickPlay works, it works beautifully and it is a really fun way to hop in and revisit content you have already seen before and gives you a decent chance of earning rewards.  At a minimum even if you join as the mission is finishing you see to get at least two on pilot level rewards…  so for example while I was leveling those were blues and occasionally purples…  but now they are purples and occasionally masterworks.  I said “when it works” because there are key issues with the system in the form of a number of very bugged quests that you can get thrown into.  Both of the two screenshots above are examples of endless missions that will never complete.  At least in the case of “Defeat Dominion Troops” you end up with wave after wave of things to fight allowing you to build up a bunch of experience before eventually bailing out.

On the positive… I got my first two Masterworks from a Quickplay that dropped from the very same mission.  The negative is that Masterworks are sorta like Legendaries in Diablo 3…  and anytime you get one to drop before you hit the level cap of 30…  it is a crying shame because there is no way of infusing it up to be a valid level.  For reference…  Purples cap out at 36 and Masterworks at 45…  so seeing as these are 38 at the time they were are really awesome boost in level but quickly turned into vault trash.  However one of the cool things about Masterworks is the ability to earn the blueprints, so at some point I need to spend time with Elemental Rage killing Legendary mobs so I can earn its blueprint and craft a proper level 45 version of it.  Basically if you are joining quick play and see either “Defeat Dominion Troops” or “Hunt Down Beast” as the active step in the quest…  you are likely going to be in a bugged instance because I have never seen either complete successfully.

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I’ve come to realize that at its core… this game is “What if Destiny were more like Diablo 3”.  Which completely explains why I have latched onto it so hard because I love both Destiny and Diablo 3 and apparently this amalgam of the two with a touch of Bioware characters thrown in?  Moving my way from Normal to Hard and now to Grand Master 1 has felt a lot like progressing through the ranks in Diablo 3.  I reached a point where Normal was too easy… and then I bumped it up to Hard.  Now I have reached a point where Hard feels too easy… and I am dipping my toes into Grand Master rank 1 which seems like the equivalent of that jump up to Torment 1.  As such I am mostly Quickplaying my way into groups that are already doing GM1 because I am in that uneasy boundary between the ranks…  where I can kill things…  but just not efficiently enough by myself to take on waves of them.  It is that feeling of pushing too hard too fast into greater rifts and hitting a bit of a quagmire where you are not progressing fast enough to fill the bar in time…  but you are progressing.

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I figure a few more pieces of gear and I will ease that transition since at the moment other than weapons I only have a single masterwork item that was usable.  Another thing “for reference” is this apparently is what the weekly maximum of the Alliance system looks like.  I currently have five players on my friends list who have capped out at Rank 10 and as such that gives me a maximum contribution of 10,525 gold that I am understanding the system should be given to me at reset.  It was relatively easy to hit the cap and if you are playing with friends…  it seems EXTREMELY easy to cap out each week.  We spent some time yesterday running around and killing the Titans for the current live event that ends in a few hours.  We actually killed enough stuff that we started to the cap of what you can actually store in your inventory.

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All in all… still having an excessive amount of fun playing Anthem.  Sure the game has issues and we spent a good chunk of this weeks episode of AggroChat talking about those…  but I don’t feel like ANY of it is beyond redemption.  The only reason why we are concerned is because EA is notorious for making short sighted calls when it comes to games and studios.  I hope they give the time to Anthem to become the game we all think it can be.  If they can hit a cadence where there is almost always a live event up like the Titan hunt, and there is a steady release of more stuff into the world…  this game is going to be really enjoyable.  I can’t believe I am saying it… but I think for a live service game to succeed they are going to have to follow the model that something like Dragalia Lost does.  Have a constant string of new things for the players to engage with so that the waits between major content drops feel shorter than they actually are as a result.

What are your thoughts, are you enjoying Anthem or did you check out?

Anthem Credit Roll

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Last night I got the credits roll for Anthem.  It happened sooner than I would have liked but considering what sort of game Anthem was…  it honestly provided about as much content as I was expecting.  At the point of finishing the final mission I had logged about 37 hours worth of game play.  It took me roughly 20 hours to get to the point in Destiny 2 where I had beaten the main story arc for the first time.  It is hard to actually compare the two however since I didn’t really focus fire the Main Story Quest in either game.  There was a lot more distractions along the way in Anthem and I took them and latched onto them with both arms.

I spent a lot of time talking to the various NPCs as new conversations opened up and spent a significant amount of time running down side quest chains.   Pretty much anytime I felt like I was nearing a major jumping point in the story, I went through a sequence where I burned down every bit of side quest content that I had available to me…  which was a lot.  I read the dialog…  occasionally contemplated what was being said and it allowed me to piece together fine details about Fort Tarsis and the extremely rich setting that is Bastion…  which is only one such area of the Anthem world.

If you set out a laser focus on ONLY beating the story… you could probably do it in about 10 hours total whereas the Destiny 2 equivalent of that would probably take you about 5 hours.  Largely I am throwing the comparisons out just to prepare you for the expected scale of the initial content release.  To use another Bioware game as an example… I spent a little over 90 hours playing my way through Mass Effect Andromeda… and yes I am still bitter that we never got any DLC content for it.  Essentially Anthem is a game that provides a bit of story that is adequately scaled for the sort of Looter Shooter gameplay experience that it is.  However there is a richness to the world and characters that Destiny 2 failed to deliver…  without copious amounts of piecing things together outside of the game.

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If you are avoiding talking to the side characters or completing the secondary objectives…  then you are honestly missing a lot of the magic that is Anthem.  While the characters are fundamentally different than the ones you encounter in Mass Effect or Dragon Age…  they are somewhat serving a different purpose.  Each character interaction that you have builds upon the larger world that is Fort Tarsis and the territories beyond.  Each story acts as a vehicle for delivering a vignette that fills in another gap in the picture of what is happening… and quite regularly the arc that happens with character A will bleed into the arc that happens with character B and C later down the line.  There is a delightful interconnectedness that happens with Anthem that I greatly enjoyed.

In the above screenshot you can see a fountain in the courtyard of Fort Tarsis that evolves over time from being a completely abandoned moss clogged mess to being a thriving hub for social gatherings.  You can also see the two Lancer statues at the back end of the courtyard restored to glory…  both events happen as you play through the game and interact with other characters creating a subtle sense that your actions really did change the setting of the game.  I think of this as similar to the way that Rowena rebuilds an area in each Final Fantasy XIV expansion that slowly progresses and gets more intricate as additional patch content is released.

Sure there are no romances and you don’t get a cast of supporting characters that respond to your commands, but I don’t think either of these would have worked with the sort of story that Anthem is telling.  That is not to say that at some point down the road there is not room for both to happen, but I think that is not really their focus right now.  However nothing is set in stone because if you look at the sweeping changes that occurred to Elder Scrolls Online between the client that launched and the current juggernaut that exists today.  I have not doubt that tweaks will be applied as we move through the content cycle.  I am very curious to see what the content drops that are coming end up looking like, because I feel like they have equal opportunity to impress or disappoint.

All of the elements of Anthem built up to provide me a very enjoyable experience.  I maybe lucked out and did not encounter much in the way of bugs during the almost 40 hours I have played since last Friday.  Now that additional players are entering the fray, I am hoping that Bioware is capable of scaling the servers up smoothly to provide for a solid “official” launch.  For now however I feel like Anthem is well worth your time and attention in spite of all of the confusing drama that seems to be surrounding it.  I keep thinking that they are playing a vastly different game than the one I have been playing.  Sure there were things that could be smoother, but in the grand scheme of things I have loved the experience so far.

Some additional resources for those entering the game today…  I have been keeping a Roster of players Origin account information seeing as there is no way to import friends from other platforms.  If you want to add your own information to the list the Sign-Up form is here.  Adding friends had the side benefit of helping to progress the Alliance system that I do not fully understand… but it appears to be some sort of gold payout based on your “doing stuff in the game”, and how much your friends have also “done stuff in the game”.  Naithin has talked a little bit about the system over on the Time to Loot blog, but I still don’t feel like I have a firm grasp on it.   I look forward to more of you joining those of us who did the silly thing and paid for faster access to the game.

Big Patch Time

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I am still sick this morning, but I am hoping I will feel better throughout the day.  At this point I have taken off a day and a half and in my position that only worked because I had a couple of very light days meeting wise.  This is the worst part about being sick as an adult the feel that you need to keep working through it or else things will fall apart.  This is complicated by the fact that I have something silly like 400 hours of sick leave banked…  but if we take more than 40 hours in a six month period human resources seems to freak out about it.  That means in practice that I try and ration my usage just in case something goes horribly south like last January when I got the actual name brand flu.

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I am still playing a not insignificant amount of Anthem.  At this point the Origin client has me at 33 hours since the spreadsheet launch last Friday.  Were it not for a handful of circumstances that got in the way of my gameplay that number probably would have been much higher.  Still that is a fair amount of time to log into any game during its first week, and in part a good deal of why is that I have been sitting on the couch trying not to die from horrible feeling.  The last two days have allowed me to log more time than I normally would have into a game like this and as such I am further along in the storyline than I probably would be otherwise.  I am sorta sensing I am either near the end or near some sort of a bit confrontation…  and because of this my natural delaying tactics have kicked in and I seem to be doing anything other than playing the main story quest.  I’ve done this at several points now… where I completely farmed down everything else that was available to me other than the main story quest and I am going through that pattern once again.

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As far as my loadout of choice goes…  you can see what I have equipped at a high level in the above screenshot.  Firstly the combo I am leaning heavily on is Inferno Grenade to apply a status and Pulse Blast to detonate said status.  Both items deal a lot of damage on their own, but when combined they do a fair job of destroying the Scar bigbois.  If you can land the grenade and the pulse blast at medium to close range you can often times two shot them.  As far as weapons go my loadout of choice there tends to be either an Auto Rifle or a Light Machine Gun for slot 1 and a Marksman Rifle for slot 2.  This gives me a good combination of up close melting power with the ability to pick off targets at range if I so choose.  The reason why I go Marksman over Sniper is the fact that if I run out of primary ammo…  I can still kill things up close and personal with a Marksman Rifle whereas I really cannot with a Sniper.  I am currently suffering a drought of Inferno Grenades and since the Blue Pattern doesn’t seem to exist in the game right now I don’t have a crafting option to make up for it.

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Last night a little over 4 gb patch landed and it took forever to download…  which at first I thought was Origin being Origin…  but in the end I realized that it was my gigabit ethernet card being dumb again.  I have this bug that if I ever need to cycle the router…  my network card for some reason drops down to 10 meg mode.  The only way to get it back to its full speed is to disable the NIC and re-enable it again.  Once I went upstairs and took care of that the patch finished in seconds.  You can see the full patch notes here, but there are a large round of major tweaks.  The first big noticeable one for me personally is the above screen that you now see whenever you hop in your Javelin.  It simplifies your gameplay options rather than the weird pick an icon on the map method that previously was employed.  It greatly streamlines the process which I appreciate, and definitely makes it easier to get into QuickPlay or Freeplay faster.

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As one of the folks loving the game… it feels real bad to see a lot of the free floating sodium that seems to be surrounding this game in the content creator community.  I am not entirely certain what they were expecting, but the camp seems to fall along two lines…  either the game isn’t as good in the moment to moment gameplay as other titles on the market or that the game doesn’t have the rich storytelling that Bioware is known for.  There is a third camp of trolls that just like pointing out bugs in games and being an asshole about it, but I don’t really consider them to have any merit since we live in a magical time where one massive patch like  the one that rolled out yesterday can fix a ton of them in a single pass.  I feel like the first two however have merit, but I think it is more likely a case of misplaced expectations rather than problems with the actual game itself.  What I went into Anthem expecting was something that felt like Mass Effect Multiplayer combined with some story building and a bunch of characters on the same tier as Doctor Chakwas, and that is more or less what I received.

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In truth what I got was a game that felt way better than Mass Effect multiplayer, and a cast of characters that I feel are way more engaging than Doctor Chakwas was…  that ultimately weave a story about this new world that I am interested in exploring.  I never expected the gunplay perfection that is Destiny, but what I gained instead was the ability to move freely and think in all three axis to solve combat problems.  I think there is a lot of depth here in what we can do and the builds that we can create, and it also gives them a ton of room to grow the experience over the coming year.  They have already stated that they intend on adding new gear and new Javelins, which will keep remixing the experience.  The only glaring problem I see right now is the fact that there are only two strongholds at launch, which based on my experiences with FFXIV patch cycles…  two is never enough dungeons to keep players from getting bored out of their skulls.  With QuickPlay being the equivalent to the FFXIV Roulette system…  players are going to have the dungeon they like to play and the dungeon they really hope they don’t get which is always the case.

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Tam however was completely right about me and QuickPlay.  Right now when I don’t necessarily want to engage in something seriously…  I hop into QuikPlay because in general in my experience it tends to put you in towards the end of a mission.  I’ve joined literally moments from getting awarded treasure which also feels odd…  but more often than not is an easy two blue items and a small bit of experience.  Last night I experienced my first time that it dropped me in from the very start of the mission, but even then it felt pretty chill because it wasn’t MY quest completion riding on the line.  I knew that if I needed to bail I could exit out at any point, but in practice worked my butt off to make sure that the other player got through the mission.  It is so weird how when I join other players I tend to do way better than I do when I am completely solo.  I think it might simply be a case of having already experienced the mission and intrinsically knowing where I should and should not go in order to complete it.

Ultimately I am still having a blast playing the game.  I suggest you push past the criticism and give the game a shot for yourself on Friday.  Right now some of the biggest critics also seem to be some of the biggest supporters of Anthems competitor The Division 2, so I question their motives.  Seeing as Division 2 releases almost exactly one month after Anthem…  I am wondering if they are concerned that a success for Anthem would pull away players from The Division.  In my case at least after playing both Demos… I was way more engaged with the story and interactions in Anthem than Division 2.  I personally hope both launches are successful and that they both find their communities.  I realize there are a limited number gamers and due to the unrealistic expectations of investors… it turns a game launch into a zero sum experience, but I just wish it didn’t cause so much salt and hyperbole.

The First Loop

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At this point I am trying to keep my blog fairly spoiler free given that the game is not out yet for a ton of people.  I still find that concept really odd, but I am pushing past it because I see that as an EA thing and not necessarily a Bioware thing.  When I have a major fork in the road coming up in a game I tend to spend a significant amount of time avoiding it.  I am not sure why I do this thing but it happens constantly.  I am in the final stretch to the “end” of Assassin’s Creed Origins…  but have not played the game since I realized that.  In Anthem I knew something major was about to happen, but I was not exactly sure what… and as a result I spent most of my evening avoiding playing through the only quest that I happened to have in my journal.  As a result I spent a lot of time roaming around last night in Freeplay mode while watching Umbrella Academy, which seems pretty great so far.  However given the events of the quest that I had been seemingly avoiding…  I wish I had done this at the beginning of the night rather than the end of the night so I could see more of the story.

Anthem threw me its first loop, because up until now most everything had largely been predictable.  I was not expecting what happened last night to change the entire tempo of the game from this point forward…  and I like that a lot.  So often my wife and I will be watching something on television…  and I throw out a random statement as soon as I get the idea a thing is going to happen.  The other night it happened during one of the medical procedural that she likes to watch, and they were setting something up…  and I blurted out what I thought they were setting up.  In the end it turned out to be exactly what I was thinking because earlier in the show they had set up a character only to kill it off, and talked about a specific medical procedure as an offhand reference.  This happens with games as well that often times I can see the train coming before it arrives at the station…  recent example when FFXIV introduced the “Shadowhunter” character I pinged Tam who was further along in the story than I was at that point and made my guess that turned out to be completely on the nose.

As such I really appreciate it when a game can throw me for a loop and in hindsight all of the clues were there waiting for me…  but I didn’t piece them together because I was too engaged with the content to notice the signs.  I love it when a game shocks me…  and even though this is probably on the lower tier scale of shocks it was still an extremely good experience to go through.  If you have played through the content to this point you will know what I am talking about.  However please keep the comment section spoiler free in respect for the people who have yet to get their hands on the game.  Some folks are stuck behind having played their 10 hours already, and another batch simply purchased the game and cannot play because they can’t or won’t pay the $15 tax to get immediate access.  However I find it refreshing that the game can shift gears and change what sort of a story that is playing out in front of us.  The fact that I am wearing my N7 decal (which I spent my accumulated coins on purchasing from the Forge) makes the above screenshot feel like a Mass Effect game seeing as I go with the green, red, black and white color scheme in that game as well.

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Another thing I thought I would mention this morning is something that had been bugging me up until this point.  In my friends list I would see players with backgrounds behind their name and could not for the life of me figure out how to set this.  Copious amounts of googling yielded no results either with me calling it a Nameplate or even after getting the correct term a Banner.  I realized in yesterdays post that my friend Naithin had one of these nameplates so I figured I would ask them about it.  So in order to get to the above screen… you have to hop in your javelin and then click over to the squad tab that is shown on that screen.  You will see a number of options and one of them is hold right mouse to change banner image, or I assume something equivalent will show up if you are on a console or using a controller.  This will pop up this screen and give you a bunch of different pictures and backgrounds to choose from…  I have no clue where the larger image is used but the textured background shows up pretty much everywhere in the game.

I think now is the time for us to talk about one of the glaring issues that Anthem has…  it has a horrible UI.  I am certainly hoping that none of my friends at Bioware were responsible for said UI, because I would feel bad in saying this.  However it just does not behave in the manner that I would expect it to… and everything seems to be more cumbersome than it should be to interact with.  The fact that I could not for the life of me figure out how to change my nameplate is a prime example of this.  It required me to be on a very specific screen that I never actually clicked over to in order to find it.  When I have set up a squad I have done so before actually getting in my Javelin, so it seems like an odd design decision to bury that option on a screen you can bypass ever going to.  However I thought I would post it on the blog in case like me you were curious and clueless.

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I spent a little time trying to play the Storm again last night… and nope…  I am absolutely a Ranger through and through.  I just feel squishy as a Storm as compared to how I feel in the Ranger.  I know it is largely a play style thing… and my default play style is to get up and personal in the heat of the action and run around dodging incoming attacks.  What the storm wants you to be is a hovering long ranged damage platform, that casts spells tactically on the battlefield below them.  I should probably give Colossus another try and play with the slam all the shields nonsense it offers.  When I hit my next unlock I will likely be spending it on that Javelin.  However my true love will probably always be the Ranger.  I hope you all find that Javelin that is the perfect fit for you as the game officially launches this coming Friday.  Strong Alone, Stronger Together!

 

Anthem Friend Exchange

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Well here we are… it is officially the day that Anthem launches…  and by launches I mean if you paid a bunch of money you can get access to the game today.  I know several of us did this thing ahead of purchasing the PC version, because in doing so it gives you a discount off the game purchase price in the first place.  The only problem is things are way murkier than they have been in the past.  There are now two tiers of Origin Access…  the $5 a month basic customers and the $15 a month customers.  We are now in an era when you need a spreadsheet to explain when exactly you get to play the damned game.  EA support of course did this thing…  and while I am grousing about it I do not necessarily blame Bioware for this apart from the fact that they allowed themselves to get bought years ago.

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So if you are dumb like me and went ahead and ponied up for a month or two of Premier…  then you can start playing Anthem legitimately today at 9 am Central Standard Time.  I will unfortunately be at work and given that we have freezing rain going on outside I have no clue what my commute is going to look like.  As such I will probably get a super late start tonight and am hoping the servers are stable by the time I actually get home.  If you have Origin Access basic… aka the $5 a month that used to be the only thing that was available…  you get to play a 10 hour head start.  Something of note…  if you are in this camp Origin loves to not fully close games.  I had this happen to me with Andromeda and saw all of my hours tick away while I slept.  Make sure the executable for Anthem is good and dead in Task Manager to prevent this from happening to you.

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For everyone else…  you get to start playing next Friday, which is kinda screwed up that the folks who are paying the $15 premium are going to get one full weeks worth of game before the folks who simply ordered the game.  This is a frustrating situation and I am weak as fuck for playing into the “buying early access” game model.  The real question is… I have no clue what this is going to do to the grouping dynamic and how far of a gap between characters is completely reasonable.  We didn’t really pay attention to levels during the demo but wound up largely within a level or two of each other given the very limited range that was possible.  We all mostly capped out at 15 by the end, and while I think we pulled in someone who was around 10…  it wasn’t really a noticeable issue.

I am hoping it will be simple to help pull players up and do group content together regardless of the level gap.  This gets into the other major problem with Anthem…  there is no guild/clan system going in at launch.  This combined with how dodgy the Origin client is in general has made me contemplate some sort of alternate way of collecting people who are going to be playing and also occasionally available for grouping.  As such I set up a google sheet this morning to start collecting Origin account information.  Because I didn’t think of a better way to handle this…  there are two parts to the system…  the Sign Up Form and The Roster sheet.  I will be manually copying entries from the Form over to the Sheet… which is honestly the only way I could think to do this without either manually sharing out the Roster or giving everyone Edit access which would go horribly wrong.

Why would I do this thing you ask?  Well it is simple…  Origin is this walled garden disconnected from the other various gaming networks.  It for whatever reason does not seem to understand that we want to group up with people we might know from other platforms and as such has no way of importing users or getting suggestions from other platforms.  There is no twitter or facebook integration, and most certainly nothing like the Steam integration that Epic Games Store has.  So you are stuck trading ids with people on a one by one basis and I figured something like this… would allow a large number of us to catch up in one pass and turn the friends list in Origin into something that is actually useful.  Right now at the time of posting the sheet only has my information but I will be updating it throughout the day and keep posting new names at least once daily after that.

So to summarize:

Hopefully this smooths out the bumps given that this is a bit of a new venture into MMO territory for the Origin client given there was no integration between Origin and SWTOR.  If you think this is a really dumb idea, then I am more than willing to accept those comments.  If you think it is a good idea however…  fill out your info and lets get ready to fly some mech suits!

Anthem Demo Weekend Two

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Outdoor cat has officially been fed so I can now sit down and start trying to compose my feelings about Anthem Demo weekend number two.  The first “VIP Demo” weekend was for folks who had pre-ordered the game and I will assume a certain batch of influencers that were brought to that special EA event to record footage.  You can scroll through my thoughts about that weekend in a post I made last week, but for me and most of the AggroChat crew it was a buggy and often times unplayable mess.  However there was enough good there laying just underneath the covers to make me interested and quite honestly miss playing the game.  So while I was not on nearly as much as I could have been… I played a significant amount of Anthem this weekend.  I managed to get in a Stronghold…  this games version of a Strike and spent a significant amount of time just roaming around and doing World Events and the little mini-dungeons that are available off the segment of the map we had open to us.  It galvanized my desire to play this game… and largely reinforced my decision to keep playing the “shootymans” class the Ranger…  who appears to be a really amazing single target dps class.

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What I want to talk about the most however is what a difference there was between the first and second weekends.  During the first weekend it was a constant struggle to be able to play this game…  and in the second….  everything just sorta worked flawlessly.  Sure there were some minor glitches like for some reason our javelins would not load on the “reward” screen.  Additionally I have never actually seen the full suit prep sequence because the game kicks me over to a loading screen when I assume that sequence is designed to make us ignore how generally long loading into an area takes.  However what was gone was the need to keep closing the game with task manager and loading back in to successful get into a mission.  I could just play the game as it was intended to play and this made me way more open to grouping up with friends given that it was a predictable sequence rather than a struggle to get all four players into the same instance.

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I’m very impressed with how communicative Bioware has been during this whole sequence…  and more than that I feel heard.  We all for the most part universally complained about how bad Mouse and Keyboard Flight/Swimming felt….  and they acknowledged that yeah… it feels less than optimal.  These changes are apparently already in the “live” build of the game, but what is even better is that they have started giving us a run down of things that will be fixed before the initial EA Premier launch on the 15th and what will be in place by the 22nd.

  • UI Clicking on visible options in menus fixed for 15th Feb (except social which is 22nd Feb)
  • Navigating Menu tabs with Q and E instead of old keybindings fixed for 15th Feb
  • Forge rotation speed with mouse improved – 15th Feb
  • Scrolling with mouse wheel wont zoom your javelin AND scroll the menu (will be contextual based on where your mouse is) – 15th Feb
  • D-Pad will show as keyboard bindings – 15th Feb
  • Turning off Motion Blur in settings now works (decoupled from post processing) – 22nd Feb
  • HDR toggle available – 22nd Feb
  • Camera Shake slider added – 22nd Feb

I’ve said it before but I believe that Bioware feels the pressure that this launch has to go fairly flawlessly, given the perceived failing that Andromeda was.  The whole multiple launch dates thing does not do it any favors, especially considering that a lot of the issues that plagued Andromeda were fixed by the end of that first week.  EA has a bad habit of shredding game studios, and the whole teasing a Dragon Age game…  I think is more insurance than anything else to try and keep delaying that decision.  If launch goes like last weekend however I think we are going to be just fine, and what I really want is the same level of communication that they are giving the community to continue into the first year of the game.

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I really do think that Anthem might be the game that can finally blended the different looty shooty genre players together.  There is enough here to intrigue the Destiny players with a rich and interesting lore and the Ranger class being essentially a “Destiny” class where it is mostly gun play with a few abilities.  There is also something here for the Warframe players that want move movement and ability spam…  and the Storm and the Interceptor fill those roles nicely.  Then there is a class for the player who just wants to be a big freaking mech in the form of the Colossus.  What is better is that gameplay feels more enjoyable when you are running with a pretty decent mix of the four classes.  Ranger as far as we can tell is going to be the class that has the highest single target damage…  so great for boss killing.  Storm is the battle tactician that takes an overwatch position over the battlefield and can effect large swaths of it with its abilities.  Interceptor is the fact melee shredder that is probably going to be excellent at grabbing objectives and avoiding taking damage.  Then you have the colossus which is the king of staying alive…  as was seen this weekend when Ashgar absolutely saved the day by surviving long enough to start bringing us all back up during a stronghold.  They all have their key niche and all feel great when played together.

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Ultimately I progressed my character as far as it probably could have been during the Demo.  I managed to upgrade every slot to a level 19 rare item and my final build was an Light Machine Gun for my main weapon… a Marksman Rifle for my secondary to melt anything at a distance like snipers.  Then I would run poison darts to act as my primer… that also doubles as a debuff that causes me to just deal extra damage to that target.  Frag Grenades after trying a bunch of different options seems to be my detonator of choice, and also a decent crowd sweeper.  Then muster point is what I was running as a damage boost for helping to burn down those big mobs.  As far as components I was running one to increase Frag damage and another to increase LMG Ammunition, and it was a build I was pretty damned happy with.  I could in theory go for a max damage build by picking up the devastator sniper rifle, but I never got one of those to drop for me and did not see it in the crafting tables.  I also settled in on the above paint scheme which is pretty much the colors I tend to choose in any game that gives me the options.

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Towards the end of the weekend they started an event that caused Primals to spawn in large numbers and frequency… so I managed to get in and take down a few of the bigger ones.  In fact I was fighting one of the big primals when the servers went down, so no clue what loot might have dropped.  Weirdly the game let me keep fighting, so I am guessing part of the world is cached on the client itself?  This gives me concerns when it comes to what hackers are going to be able to do to the game…  but without a PVP element I am not entirely certain how much it will effect me.  I am a little saddened that it sounds like while my weekend was smooth and flawless…  others that had a flawless previous weekend…  started encountering disconnect problems during this test.  I’ve now played 16 hours worth of the Anthem demo and can say that I am looking forward to starting on the 15th.  If you have not already picked up the game…  you can pony up for a month of Premier…  which gives you a discount that you can then apply to your preorder…  and will also give you access to the full game on the 15th instead of the 22nd.

So my awesome readers…  are you picking up the game?  Will you be joining me on the 15th or are you waiting on the 22nd…  or are you just going to take a hard pass?

Anthem Demo Impressions

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This morning I am going to talk for a bit about the Anthem Demo that a good number of us participated in this weekend.  If you did not have access to the demo or one of the many friend codes that were floating around…  the truth is what you missed more than anything is a lot of frustration.  However the game that was buried under that layer of frustration was apparently good enough to keep us engaged and trying to log in over and over.  I want to talk a bit about my expectations for the game before going into it.  First off this comes from the pedigree of Bioware, so I expected a great world  with good character development above pretty much everything else.  Mass Effect was not a series known for its amazing gun-play, but instead the interesting things you encountered along the way.  My ultimate hope was that Anthem could be a game that was fun to the Destiny players, The Division players and the Warframe players and act as a unifying vehicle that was “a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll” and create an experience that felt familiar and enjoyable to all of them.  Essentially my hope was that it could be the game that folks rallied around in my community rather than having a group of us split loving Destiny and another group split loving Warframe.

Connection Issues

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So lets get the bad stuff out of the way first.  This is a screen a saw a lot of this weekend… otherwise known as the 95% freeze.  The game would load fine into Fort Tarsus the social lobby, but as soon as I picked a mission and attempted to start it the screen would freeze with 5% of the loading bar to go and stay there indefinitely while consuming near 100% cpu and gpu.  Now the weird thing about this is…  I am used to these sorts of bugs happening on the PC version of games…  but it was apparently fairly ubiquitous across all three platforms the game is appearing on which leads me to think this is infrastructure related.  There are individuals however that seemed to be completely un-phased by it… so I am also wondering if there is a connection/location based component.  Whatever the case the only way to get past it was to go into Windows Task Manager and kill the Anthem process, and then upon loading back into the game you would be prompted to join the expedition already in progress…  at which point you could load into the mission.

Experience and Loot Issues

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Last night I started being hit by a different bug, where I could not return to base from a Free Play mission.  This was remedied by killing with Task Manager and then when prompted to rejoin the mission…  saying no.  The only problem with this however is that in doing so I sacrificed all of the experience that I had gained while doing the mission.  This is the second major problem with Anthem…  everything in the game is considered to be a “match” and nothing is rewarded until you successfully complete said match.  That means if you get disconnected and for some reason cannot rejoin that session… you are going to loose out on all of the achievements and experience that you gained from that mission.  The only consolation prize here is that loot that you picked up seems to be independent of this annoying cycle, that said…  it isn’t ACTUAL loot until you have been through the exiting a mission screen to turn those generic loot indicators into physical items.  So I knew I had a few blue items in my inventory but had no clue what they were until I had joined another freeplay session…  which again required me to kill the game, relaunch and join the abandoned session…  before finally exiting out of a free play session successfully so I could acquire the stuff that I had looted in the previous rather length session.  This is some horrible nonsense…  loot should not live in this transitory state until you have successfully jumped through the right hoops… and also the exp you have gained should not be held hostage by buggy connection code.

Flight and Movement

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Now we move to something that is both one of the biggest strengths of the game… and one of the biggest weaknesses if you happen to be playing with a Mouse and Keyboard.  Freedom of movement is a massive part of this game and it feels awesome to be running along and simply lift off into the skies flying towards your next objective.  I think the overheating mechanic does a good job of giving you a reason why you can’t simply fly around in GM mode like you effectively can as soon as you get a flying mount in an MMO.  It is cool that you can dive quickly down to cool yourself back off or fly through a waterfall to get the cooled buff to extend your flight time.  Those are all really great mechanics…  but the mouse and keyboard controls feel awful without a significant amount of tweaking.  Huge credit goes to my friend @_KateyLee for providing me a link to a post on the Mouse Sensitivity forums where they worked through a bunch of different configurations.  Ultimately just zeroing out all of the sliders related to flight and swim movement seemed to provide me a good baseline…  from there I will tweak things up when the real game launches until I reach the most comfortable setting for me personally.  However if you also felt like flying and swimming was a horrible experience…  you might just try dropping the sliders down to zero and seeing if that works for you too.

Gunplay

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Another big part of a game like this is how the moment to moment gun-play feels…  and to this I can give the game a resounding “okay”.  It feels passable and quite honestly this game as a whole feels like they took the Multiplayer components of Mass Effect 3/Andromeda and built a brand new game around them.  I never really thought that any of the weapons in a Mass Effect game were terribly inspired feeling, but they got the job done and I guess that same admonition carries forward to Anthem.  I liked Assault Rifles and Shotguns in Mass Effect, so it is zero shock that my default loadout so far for Anthem is an Assault Rifle and a Shotgun.  I am hoping as we get into the wider game that we will start to see a greater breakout of weapons… because right now we have a couple of different variants of the weapon types but there is a general sameness to the way they feel.  The bar that I hold a game up to is Destiny, and the gun-play in Anthem is nowhere near as fluid or tight as that.  It however feels better than I remember Mass Effect Andromeda feeling…  which in itself felt a lot better than Mass Effect 3…  so baby steps?

Exploration

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Where the game excels is in exploration…  the world while relatively small in the part we have actually seen…  feels massive because every inch of it seems to be peppered with things to explore.  While out in free play mode which is this games version of “patrol mode” I got a tip from my handler about activity happening in a certain area… that there was a shaper relic that needed silenced.  So I moved over to that area of the map and went through a sequence of fighting things and collecting orbs until I finally silenced the relic.  This awarded me a chest and a bunch of experience points, but also had the unexpected side effect of now opening up a new area of the world map which lead to the ruins that I am exploring in the above screenshot.  This eventually lead me to a boss fight where I took down an elemental titan, which again counted as a world event with its own rewards.  This is the sort of thing that happens in game is that one thing chains into another thing and another and means that the world feels extremely fluid and rewarding to explore.  Since I tend to spend most of my time in these games solo… this means I will have a rich experience that is unfettered by walling up anything interesting in the game behind group content.  Just in my short time playing I have encountered a ton of areas that would be thought of as Lost Sectors in Destiny terms, that are hidden behind a waterfall or at the bottom of a lake or quite honestly in plain sight as you happen to be zooming past it.  This game is exploration porn and the suit gives you enough tools to be able to get pretty much anywhere.

The Suits

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Another huge positive of the game is that the Javelins all feel different.  In Destiny for the most part it is all about gun-play with your supers and abilities adding flavor to the experience…  which quite honestly the jumps being the biggest differentiation between the classes.  In Anthem the Ranger is effectively your Destiny style class with grenades and a super and a weird weapon ability…  mixed in with a wide range of weapons.  As a result I really really love the Ranger because it is what I was looking for in a game.  However the other classes are playing totally different games…  with the Colossus being sort of a Reinhardt shield tank that happens to have the heaviest weapons but pays a penalty in movement because of it and completely loses the over-shield in favor of a physical barricade.  The storm is legitimately a caster and will spend most of its time in the air casting elemental attacks down on opponents rather than spending a ton of time shooting the weapons.  The interceptor feels like Zero from Borderlands… and is a literal Ninja and moves and has attacks that feel completely appropriate for that sort of game style…  but has a massive penalty to the amount of harm it can soak up.  When you are running with a balanced party the game feels extremely cool as each of the abilities feed off of each other, and in turn they all feel completely reasonable when moving around solo as well…  but also sort of dictate a different way of approaching problems.

Fort Tarsus

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Now we are going to loop back around to another negative.  While gorgeous as evidenced by this painting like screenshot from in game…  Fort Tarsus does not feel great to explore.  Now I realize a lot of the functionality was turned off completely during the demo… as we were constantly reminded any time we tried to interact with anything.  However shifting from third person suit mode to very slow first person human mode feels awkward and weird.  I mean I get what they were going for… they were trying to create a clear delineation between “mech mode” and “operator” mode.  The biggest problem that I tend to have is how freaking slow I move while running around without my suit.  The layout means that I am going to be traversing this location over and over as I do the functional things that are required to play the game…  which also means I am going to hear that same partial Bhangra synth loop over and over and over… side note if you stand there it doesn’t actually go anywhere and just keeps looping over the same little sample.  At a minimum I would like to see them give me a sprint option.

Characters and Story

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The demo does not really give you a lot to go on.  You are essentially sent on what feels like a side mission to recover a relic and then deal with the ramifications of using this weird tech.  However the brief amount of time that we got to spend with characters, makes me extremely hopeful for how this game is going to feel as a whole.  I already care about Zoe the mechanic who keeps my Javelin running and has a casual back and forth about how we are ALL her favorites.  Matthias my Arcanist also seems like someone I am going to be perfectly fine getting to know better through the course of the missions.  The dialog itself seems to be a simple A or B set of answers…  or in Mass Effect terms… Paragon or Renegade.  However so far in the most simple of interactions…  Zoe at the forge for example seems to remember what I have said before and use it in later dialog so there is some manner of branching already in place for the few instances it has come up.  NPCs that seem to remember our past interactions is going to go a long ways to making me feel more engaged with the game world as a whole.  This was something that would have helped Destiny quite a bit… if the NPCs remembered our past adventures.

In Summary

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As a whole I am really looking forward to playing Anthem legitimately, and I am booned that each of the AggroChat crew seemed to find some element or specific javelin that they really enjoyed.  I am hoping this very rough weekend helps them make the necessary tweaks for a successful launch.  Next weekend there is going to be another demo, but I think this time the floodgates are going to open a bit further.  I am going to hope that the various connection issues have been ironed out and that my tweaks to mouse settings continue to provide me a better than default experience.  If so…  I think Anthem is going to be a great experience.  That said I am preparing myself to weather the storm of a rough launch, and I have to give Bioware a lot of credit for taking to social media and Reddit early this weekend and trying to stay in constant communication as they were working through the issues.  This scores me a lot of points that they were being open about the struggles, and in the grand scheme the fact that they are listening is going to win them points with the community as a whole.  Ultimately this isn’t going to be the game for everyone… and if you already bounced off this style of game then it probably isn’t going to be the one that causes you to see the light.  However it does already appear to be welding the breach between the Destiny and Warframe factions of AggroChat, so I have hope that maybe it will be something we can all play together.

So if you took the time to play it this weekend, what were your thoughts?  I would love to hear them.