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.

 

Trapping Anjie

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Watch PSO2 Nonsense because Sol requested it from Belghast on www.twitch.tv
Last night when I got home I fired up the stream and played a little Phantasy Star Online 2.  Over the weekend Sol made a comment over my Stream discord that I really should be streaming as I played…  I assume so she could see what the game was about.  The core problem with that is I am guessing based on some of the things I have seen is that the early game is very much not entirely like the late game.  One of the reasons why I loved PSO back in the Dreamcast days is that it was essentially “Space Diablo”.  Essentially you had a randomly assembled corridor dungeon crawler set on a series interesting tilesets that involved killing everything and getting loot drops as your reward.  This core design loop seems to be in place in PSO2, and while I absolutely knew what I was getting myself into…  I am not sure if most other gamers would view the title the same way I do.

There are certain aspects of the game that feel very dated from the relatively chunky terrain to the fact that everything is essentially a tightly closed in circuit.  Sure you can do more with your terrain than you used to be able to do…  like jump…  I don’t think you could jump in the first PSO.  This is actually used in many cases to hide secrets in the verticality of the level design… but as is also seen in a sequence in my VOD from last night it adds to frustration because the jumping mechanics are also relatively low fidelity.  There is a point where I am trying to jump between the individual islands of rock in a chain surrounded by lava, and I am constantly failing to hit the terrain at exactly the right spot allowing me to hop up onto the surface.  While the game is only five years old at this point… but in some ways it feels older.

One thing of note… it took me a bit to realize that my microphone was muted so for the first little bit of the VOD I am completely silent.  I was talking up a storm, describing the various things I was encountering…  all wondering why the folks watching were not responding.  Then I noticed the blinking red light on my Yeti telling me that I had muted it at some point.  I think I have this revelation about ten minutes into the video where I correct it and apologize.  I am not really sure how often I will be playing PSO2 but I am nonetheless glad I went through the process of installing it.  It is a fun game and the core mechanical loop of killing sci-fi monsters for fun and profit is one that I enjoy greatly.  Just not all that sure how fun it is to watch me doing this thing.

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The tail end of my evening was spent in Monster Hunter World hanging out with my friend Grace and working on getting her the last few tickets needed for The Proving quest.  I had originally hoped to grab Thalen as well and help him out, but he was nowhere to be seen last night.  Generally speaking I am assuming he had pressing family matters, which I hear is a thing when you are a parent.  I mean I sometimes have pressing family matters too with my cats, but they are on I feel a completely different plateau of general needs.  Usually what I am dealing with is Kenzie prancing around in front of me trying to make sure I see the rubber band that she just dropped on my desk…  that she wants me to fling out into the hall so she can chase it.  If you ever hear the sound of a rubber band zinging through the air while I am streaming…  then I am doing precisely that.

The whole Anjanath farm thing had a side benefit in that I had really wanted to create Flammensucher the crazy flame axe that passes for a sword and shield.  During our final run of the night I managed to get the last of my fangs allowing me to craft it… and I have to say while I love it…  I am having a little bit of buyers remorse.  The problem is not the negative affinity, because it deals more than enough fire damage to make up for that.  The core problem so far is that it has completely horrible durability and I got down to orange sharpness while killing ten Gajau for an investigation.  I am used to being able to fight the boss through two changes of venue before dropping out of blue sharpness…  so this is a significant change for me to get used to.  The positive however is that the fire damage is still potent regardless of the base sharpness.

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At some point I need to get back on the wagon and work towards downing the final boss of the game.  I’ve been sitting on that step since this weekend and have yet to really give it an attempt.  I think that is in part because I have a screenshot directory full of things that look like the above…  with me failing various elder dragon fights.  Granted I tend to fail upwards and learn from my mistakes, but it also takes a lot out of me.  This combined with the fact that I have zero burning desire to “finish the game” means I tend to languish around in the doldrums leading up to final boss fights most of the time.  My friends like Void/GrnMushroom have a deep burning desire to defeat games that propels them forward into throwing themselves against fights until they eventually batter them down.  Me… I just like to wander around and constantly find myself actively avoiding finishing things…  even in a situation like this where I know it is just the beginning of a whole new playstyle.

I do however want to uncap my level…  at least until 49 where I have to fight another roadblock…  and start farming elder dragons for bits and pieces to make interesting sets and weapons.  I really need to start throwing myself at Nergigante until he is no big deal and something I can down regularly.  The weird thing is…  I would far rather throw myself into the nonsense that is SOS Roulette most of the time than actually solo something in this game.  I am not sure what it is about soloing that feels bad to me, even though my palico does an amazing job of tanking the bosses and keeping me alive with a constant string of vigor wasps.  It just somehow feels better when I am running around at minimum with another player, and at best with a full party of varied weapons.

Sure it gets frustrating when folks are fainting and there is nothing you can do about it…  it even causes me to curse very loudly sometimes…  but the fights are interesting because I am having to deal with all sorts of random elements.  This weekend when I was attempting Teostra I was starting to feel like I needed to stop calling myself a positivity gamer given how much I was cursing.  However Sita hung out with me and we Duo’d the fight…  but even that took a few attempts.  Basically Monster Hunter World feels best when it is a game played with other players be they friends or completely random strangers.  As a result I doubt I will stop the madness of SOS Roulette any time soon.