How to Survive 2 Impressions

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Sandbox/Mission Hybrid

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Roughly a month ago a friend of mine hooked me up with a copy of How to Survive 2, because she knew I was a fan of the whole zombie apocalypse genre and it was a game she was enjoying.  I had all of these plans to write up a proper impressions piece, but got sidetracked by all things The Division.  This game was a whole lot of the reason why I survived the lead up to the launch of that title, because it gave me something fresh to piddle around with.  The basics of the game are that you are a survivor in a world long after everything went to shit thanks to the zombie outbreak.  Since I did not play the first title, I feel like there is probably some background story there that I am missing.  What I do know however is that this title is set in the coastal region of Louisiana.  There are no real recognizable landmarks however, but instead the world simply borrows a swampy feeling Tileset.  The game has both single player and multiplayer game modes, but I have largely spent my time playing single player.

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Within moments of starting a new game you are introduced to the character of Kovac, a man that at first you only know as a voice coming through some sort of a speaker system.  He serves as your guide as he attempts to teach you the basics of surviving in this world.  The game itself is divided into two basic chunks, the large open world area that allows you to freely roam and explore, and very tight and controlled missions with specific objectives.  The missions themselves are repeatable and you can crank up the difficulty to give you better rewards and experience.  One thing of note, and why I am doing an impressions piece is that the game is in early access, and there are a lot of things that are simply not in the game yet.  Much of the tutorial that walks the players through how the world works is simply missing, so I had to rely on my friend and what I could google to figure out a few things.

Level Your Camp

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One of the big things that I was missing was how one actually levels up.  The game has two parallel systems that are designed to level up together, that is your “camp” that you are building in the open world and your character itself.  Both of these have levels associated with them that are purchased through the spending of experience gained through doing activities.  The fastest way to gain this experience for me at least, seemed to be to repeat one of the early missions with the difficulty slider cranked up as far as I was allowed to.  The reason the whole camp leveling thing was a bit confusing at first, was that the character level is locked to the camp level.  So in order to level up your character you have to first level the camp, and you will continue to stair step the two progressions from that point on.  In addition to raw level however there are numerous perks that you can unlock… some of which are absolutely must haves like the ability to open lock picks.  Others are improve the efficiency of using weapons or items, and I assume are also really important once you get a good idea for how you want to build out your character.

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The thing I have noticed is that the difficulty of encounters ramps up pretty quickly, especially in the open world.  For quite a while all I encountered were the generic slow zombies, however once I got to around level three or four the game started to throw in those “track star” zombies that have become popular in the more modern and edgy zombie films.  Around level five I encountered this games version of the boomer… the fat bloated corpse that explodes when you get it low on health.  I am sure as the levels continue to ramp up I will keep encountering other mixes of bad guys each one with their own way of dealing with it.  The only real problem is that in the bit I have been playing my only ranged option so far is a crafted bow.  I am wondering when exactly I will encounter guns, because while I have found a small bit of ammunition.. I have yet to find anything to use it with.

Fallout-Esc

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There is a certain nostalgic feeling to playing this game that I have a hard time really putting into words.  In many ways the game reminds me of the original Fallout games, in that much of your interaction is happening in smaller closed maps that are tightly designed around a single mission.  There is a big of fog of war going on as well as you explore because you can only actually see a small section of the screen at a time.  This is magnified as you go into buildings because there is a forced zoom that happens allowing you to see finer detail inside.  This also makes it much easier for a zombie to sneak up on you and there have been a few moments especially on the night missions where I genuinely jumped when something lumbered out of a corner that I had not been looking yet.  Wandering a cityscape with only your flashlight to see with…  is unexpectedly tense given that this is a top down isometric game.  I definitely had moments of trying really hard to bait everything out of buildings before actually going in to explore them for the fear of getting overrun especially on higher difficulties.

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The game is very much not finished, but what is there was really enjoyable to play and helped to get me through those Division withdrawals.  I would really like to play this game with friends because I think it would be extremely awesome to explore larger cities together.  The game is targeting PC, PS4, and Xbox One, and I could absolutely see this being an enjoyable console co-op experience because the movement feels like it would translate well to a twin-stick controller setup.  The big thing to remember about this game is that it comes with the same early access concerns as always.  The game is not finished, but they seem to be updating pretty regularly.  They have a beta branch that has more frequent updates, but also likely is in a less polished state… and then the normal branch is largely stable.  I had quite a bit of fun playing the game, and I intend to pick it back up again.  It is the perfect thing to pop into do a mission, and then exit feeling like you accomplished something or at least moved the experience bar forward.  While going through all of my recent home renovations there were many occasions where I simply did not have the time to get into something terribly detailed.  Instead I booted up How To Survive 2, and poked around for a bit and got my quick gaming fix before returning to the fray.  I liked it and look forward to seeing how this evolves.  At some point I feel like I really need to poke my head into the original game since this one doesn’t really provide much backstory.

Not First Rodeo

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The Waiting Game

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Yesterday marked the official release of The Division… or at least it did in some parts of the country.  Most of the evening was a simple case of me waiting around for the servers to unlock.  My friend Lonrem apparently purchased his CD Key from a UK reseller, and as a result he was able to get in and play significantly earlier than the rest of us.  It was completely unintentional as he was simply shopping around for the best deal, but I guess that is a neat trick for games like this that have a somewhat staggered launch cycle.  The rest of us however had to wait for midnight eastern to pop in and attempt to play.  I say attempt to play, because as the saying goes… this is not my first rodeo.  To the best of my knowledge UbiSoft has never launched an MMO, so as a result I expected the first night to be extremely choppy.  My only real complaint is the fact that I had to wait until around 11:50 to begin extracting the game from steam…  which was a process that took over twenty minutes.  I mean I get why they limit folks, but it seems like they could have flipped that switch about 11pm and let folks get through that step so they were quite literally ready to go when the final switch was thrown at midnight.  The bulk of last night was me playing other things while waiting on access to The Division.  My goal was simple… stay up long enough to create a character and then head to bed.

I played a little Destiny, and then ultimately retired to the sofa to piddle around.  After doing my Garrison chores in World of Warcraft, I ultimately landed in How to Survive 2, which is a game that is really growing on me.  It is not going to win any rewards for graphical fidelity, but there is something about it that I find appealing.  Sunday I managed to get the first mission that straight up wrecked me, so last night I attempted it again but this time dialing down the difficulty a little bit.  That is one of the things that I failed to notice at first is that you can repeat the missions, but each time you can adjust up or down the difficulty.  This creates some interesting ways to get easy experience, as the very first mission objective is simply kill 5 undead…  which you can do really quickly and if you crank up the slider to maximum difficulty you soak up lots of xp.  The mission I struggled with was the very first night mission, which means I had to see everything by either spotty moonlight or by shining my flashlight around.  This made exploring buildings as anxiety ridden for me as I imagine it would be for real in this situation.  I found myself playing vastly differently… shutting doors after me to buy myself some time just like I used to board up windows in State of Decay.  If that mission signals more of the game to come I am looking forward to seeing it, because I expect to repeat that mission a bunch just because it was extremely enjoyable trying to stay alive in a much more infected city at night.

Desert Parkour

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I guess I was simply in a zombie mood because after playing a few missions in How to Survive 2, I moved over and booted up Dying Light.  Now I have had a copy of this game for quite a while but never wound up playing it.  I am not exactly sure why, because at least aspects of this game are right down my alley.  The whole parkour thing… not so much, but their particular implementation is pretty great.  At base level the game reminds me a lot of the fun I had running around the rooftops in Assassins Creed II, but this time… the citizens were out to kill me and I couldn’t really blend in among them.  I feel like I am late to the party, but I had quite a bit of fun running the first several missions.  I managed to make it through the tutorial and into the “real” game where I chose to remain offline, because I absolutely did not want some player showing up in my game and hunting me down as the “Night Hunter”.  While I didn’t actually make it terribly far before feeling like I needed to log out and watch the clock again…  I want to definitely pick this back up the next time I want a single player game.  It seems like an amalgam of a bunch of other games that I enjoyed, and it looked gorgeous on my laptop and performed extremely well.

Crash and Burn

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I already talked a bit about the frustrations of having to wait for the game to unpack, and while I had not intended to… I popped on voice chat to hang out with Tam, Kodra and Ashgar who were all waiting as well.  Ash purchased through Uplay so he was up and running well before the rest of us.  Tam, Kodra and I all seemed to get in around the same time and I apparently took significantly longer on the character creator than the other two.  I was just about to finalize my appearance when I hit a server connection error.  As expected the UPlay servers crashed and crashed hard.  It was at this point that I decided to go to bed, because I doubted they would be playable for awhile.  My key complaint with this game is that you are not sent to a menu first, so that means you have no access to the graphical settings until after you wade through the introduction.  In the multiple betas I have played in and on multiple machines…  this game has never once auto selected a viable graphics option.  During beta it kept trying to tell me I could run the game on 4k… and this time around it seems to favor running the game in a postage stamp sized window.  It is only after logging in and changing the settings that things became usable.  Dear UbiSoft… never do this again…  in a PC game the first screen you see should ALWAYS be the Graphics/Audio/Whatsit menu.  I mean I get what they are going for…  wrapping the player in story from the second they launch the game…  but this could have been just as easily done from hitting the play button from a menu.

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I managed to get into the game this morning, created my character and poked my way around the Brooklyn starter zone that we did not get to see during the beta.  So far I am liking it, it feels like a less hectic version of Manhattan.  I am not sure if I am simply better at the game than I was when I first played beta, or if the AI is really dumb… but I am mowing down the mobs in the Brooklyn area without issue.  I like how often gear upgrades are dropping and at this point in the few minutes I have played I have already essentially swapped out my entire gear set other than weapon.  The only frustration is that I really want to get to the rewards vendor so I can make sure all of the items that I supposedly unlocked are really available.  I have an 8pm raid tonight in Destiny but it is my hope to pop in and play some Division tonight to maybe get out of tutorial land.  If the servers stay stable…  like will be golden.  I don’t think there was anyone who has ever experiences an MMO launch that did not expect the servers to crash and burn last night.  However in talking to my friend Ravener, it seems like they recovered pretty quickly and within an hour the game was completely playable for the rest of the night.