Unexpected Change

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Strange Transition

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I entered this weekend very much favoring the Playstation 4 version of The Division, because quite simply “it just worked”.  Friday and Saturday both I had all manner of problems with the PC version of the game, but it seems like most of those issues were server side.  Sometime during the day on Saturday they either ramped up new servers, or did sometime to improve the processing… because when booted up the game Sunday morning, everything seemed to magically “just work”.  It is funny just how much network and loading lag can destroy your game experience, because a lot of the problems I had associated with the game client itself…  simply went away.  Before I thought the console interface felt more smooth, but in truth the PC one works just as well once you are no longer fighting with input processing delays.  Additionally I was shocked and amazed at just how well I managed to get this working on my elder laptop.  It isn’t perfect and it isn’t nearly as pretty as it looks on my upstairs desktop….  but it works, and enough for me to get in and run missions or explore the world while watching some television.  Last night I even managed to do more than that, as I took down several bosses that I apparently forgot to pick up from the Hudson river camp.  I had no problem whittling down significantly higher level mobs, and it feels like the longer I play this game… the more I get used to the third person tactical style.

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The other big takeaway I have is how much I am now seeming to not only enjoy the PC client… but lean towards it.  One of the big reasons for me is Teamspeak and to a lesser extent Discord.  Both of which are simple voice solutions that sound so much better than Playstation party chat.  Also it allows me to hang out with people who are not necessarily playing the same game I happen to be playing.  Since I am part of a very social gaming community, this was a huge problem I had when it came to Destiny, because the entire time I was playing that game I felt walled off from my friends.  Another problem I am finding starting to disappear was the whole lack of “space guns” issue I talked about.  This game seems to have a really wide variety of weapon options, that cover more than just the AR/AK realm of assault rifles.  I’ve picked up no less than four different flavors of shogtun, each of which felt completely different in the way it handled.  I also managed to find what seems to be my “Ideal” weapon which is the Enfield L86 LSW rifle that you can see me firing in the above image.  It has pretty great single round accuracy and also fires some really tight bursts that while they travel up… seem to do so in a more predictable manner.   I guess this isn’t super shocking because in World War II games back in the day I used to love firing the Enfield MK1.

Remaining Challenge

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Now the challenge that remains is where exactly to pre-order the game from.  Everyone seems to be offering pretty much the exact same stuff for digital copies of the game…  with Gamestop being the only retail difference offering the Hazmat Suit seemingly in addition to the National Guard outfit that comes with the gold version.  For years I was absolutely opposed to darkening the door of a Gamestop, however at Pax South I met someone that made me start to re-evaluate that line of thinking.  Any company smart enough to make @JetPackHattie a manager… and give her free reign to create awesome events for her store seems like a place that cannot be all bad.  I also went int the other day when I was tracking down a Hori Fight Commander 4 controller, and no one tried to up sell me on anything….  which was always the problem I had with going in the first place.  Problem being at this point… I am not sure if I can pre-order in enough time to guarantee that I get the special bonus stuff.  I also hate physical copies of games, but it seems like GameStop now has a download only option for UbiSoft games at least.  The problem being…  part of me kinda wants this game tracking through Steam even though I still have to launch a horrible horrible secondary UPlay client.  So I begin to ask myself…. will I ever actually wear the Hazmat suit?  The answer is probably not… whereas I can absolutely see myself wearing the National Guard uniform… or at least parts of it.

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In any case I will need to decide something since the game launches in roughly two weeks.  Of note…  just for the sake of anyone wondering how this game will look on their own aging hardware.  Every screenshot I posted this morning is pulled from my laptop which is essentially running 720p and the lowest possible graphical settings.  The game still looks really decent, or at least better than a lot of the previous generation of shooters.  As far as frames per second… at the high end I could hit 50 and at the low end I was hitting around 35… both of which I consider very playable especially given that I was playing the game on a three year old laptop.  Focusing in on targets that are a significant distance away is not the easiest thing in the world.  However with the Enfield I was able to headshot enemies that were on a rooftop from the safety of my hidey hole behind a planter box.  Sure I was targeting a blurry mess, but it was easy enough to determine where the “head” was in said blurry mess.  Essentially at least until the official PS4 Remote Play app releases…. the PC version seems to give me the most options given that I can play upstairs on my desktop, where my PS4 is sitting… or I can play downstairs on my laptop… and in both cases I can play with or without a controller.  The PC version also makes it significantly easier to take screenshots given that with the PS4 I have to constantly be swapping a thumb drive back and forth to copy the files off.  So yeah… over the course of the weekend I shifted allegiance and am now leaning heavily towards picking it up the PC.

 

Division PC Impressions

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The Hard Data

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This weekend is another beta test of The Division, and from the sounds of it… this is a much larger pool of testers than the weekend of Pax South.  That Sunday and Monday after Pax South I managed to play quite a bit of Division on the PS4, so this time around I decided ahead of time that I would be trying it out on the PC just to get the broad feel of how the game performs on multiple platforms.  When it comes to PC gaming… a lot of your experience rides upon your hardware.  For the purpose of this test I decided to try playing it on both my gaming desktop upstairs, and my older gaming laptop.  I knew pretty much that the laptop would not perform well at all, but I was still curious to see if the game could reach a playable state on it.  So as a result I thought it was probably best to start by listing the important stats of my two gaming systems… so you can use that hopefully as a judge of how the game will perform on your own systems.  Since this is also an online game… I opted to take a quick speed test this morning just to use that for reference as well.

Gaming Desktop

  • AMD FX-6300 3.5 ghz 6 cores
  • 16 GB Ram
  • MSI GTX 960 4G Gaming Edition Video

Gaming Laptop

  • Intel i7-3630QM 2.4 ghz 8 cores
  • 16 GB Ram
  • 2X Nvidia Geforce GT 650M in SLI Video

Internet Speed

Division_InternetTest

The Gaming Desktop

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Gaming Desktop – 1080P Medium Resolution

When I first booted up this game, I have to say I had an inordinate amount of difficulty getting it to run.  The problem is the fact that you cannot get to the video and graphics quality settings until you wade through the character creation step.  This is unfortunate, since as an MMO gamer primarily… the character creation process is super important to me.  Initially the game launched in such a way that I thought it was trying to split the image between my two monitors.  I did the Alt+Enter trick to drop it to windowed mode, and then Alt+Enter again to attempt to fix the resolution.  However this time I had no mouse input, and could not really touch anything on the screen.  After exiting the game and reloading I was finally able to get in and through the character creation process, which is locked down and pretty minimal at the moment.  However if you hit randomize enough times you can get a character that you can live with at least for the purpose of this test.  Upon entering the video settings…. I realized that for some godawful reason the game was trying to by default run in 4K.  I simply do not have a machine capable for 4K gaming, and I think it was just freaking the hell out on my machine and monitors.  After dialing back the game to 1080p I started getting a fairly reliable 50-60 fps with dips into the high 40s as you can see in the first screenshot of this post.  At least on paper that seems like a really playable framerate, and I give them credit for making the game look gorgeous even on the Medium settings I was running.

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Gaming Desktop – 1080P Medium Resolution

The problem being that the game was not really playable even though I was getting roughly 60 fps.  It suffered horribly from some bad hitching anytime I moved into a new area, or often times in the middle of combat.  I can’t really call it rubber-banding, because there was no time rollback component but it felt quite a bit like rubber banding in MMOs where you hit this hard wall of lag… and things lock up before the world unfreezes and catches up.  This is not too horrible when you are simply running around the city and you enter what I can only assume is a new “zone”, but this is deadly when it comes to combat and encountering mobs that are causing your screen to freeze.  Now my friend Jabberant said that he played all last test on the PC and did not experience any of this… so it makes me wonder if this is simply a case of network congestion or some sort of bottle-necking happening on the server farm.  In any case it does not bode well for the enjoy-ability and stability of this game at launch.  Another friend suggested that I turn off VSync and this to some extent lessened the severity of the freezes…. but they were still very much there anytime I moved into a new area, or encountered hostiles on screen.

The Gaming Laptop

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Gaming Laptop – 720P Low Resolution

Now just a bit of a foreword… I did not expect this game to be playable on my laptop.  My laptop is a Lenovo y500 and at this point that model range is over three years old.  At the time it was hot shit, featuring one of the only laptops I knew with available SLI.  Instead of an optical drive, it features a second hot swappable video card that fits in the multi-bay, and as a result I can still run a lot of games that I should not theoretically be able to run on a GT 650M video card.  I have had decent luck by ratcheting games down to 720p instead of the native 1080p resolution, and I can play things like Dragon Age Inquisition that way… that otherwise choke on this machine.  As a result I thought this would be a good test of just how well this game might run on an aging system.  Firstly I was not shocked that initially I was getting 10-15 fps at 1080p but upon dropping the graphical settings to low and the resolution to 720p I was able to achieve fairly reliable 25-40 fps even in combat.  The problem being that at 6:30 am on a Saturday morning…  the servers should be under as little load as they will ever be during this weekend test…. and I was still seeing significant stalling and freezing anytime I moved into a new area of town… or entered combat.  So this seems to be a general problem with the game, and not necessarily limited to my desktop upstairs.  All of which tells me… the PC client needs some serious tuning before it is ready for prime time.  Given that “prime time” in this case is Seventeen days away on March 8th… this is a little worrisome.

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Gaming Laptop – 720P Low Resolution

All of this said… the game was shockingly playable on this old hardware.  It felt pretty much like playing Destiny on an XBox 360.  Sure the world looks like a blurry mess, but the core gameplay itself was pretty solid…  apart from the whole freezing thing.  I could in theory see myself playing this on the laptop without much issue, and even games like Warframe cause me to make resolution concessions to be able to run them downstairs from the comfort of my couch.  I also have to say that as far as controlling the game… I am MUCH better at playing it with a mouse and keyboard, largely because even after all the time spent with Destiny… I am MUCH more accurate with a mouse than I will probably ever be with a controller.  So given that Laptop graphics cards generally run an entire generation behind as far as performance goes… that would mean my laptop is the equivalent of an SLI GTX 550 setup….  so a 660/670/680 range video card in a desktop should be able to give equivalent performance.  Basically meaning that if you have an old machine, it won’t look pretty but the game should at least still be playable.

PC versus PS4

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Gaming Desktop – 1080p Medium Resolution

There are positives and negatives about both systems.  You can read my original thoughts about last beta test, where I talk more about the game-play than the nuts and bolts.  A lot of those statements still apply for either version.  Largely where I stand at the moment is…  the concept of being able to play from my laptop is really nice…  but even then I was consistently plagued by problems.  The Division on PC will be a viable game at some point, but my fear is it will be months after release and a couple of patches later, which is honestly what I have  come to expect from the MMO gaming launch cycle.  These sort of games are rarely if ever 100% on the PC at day one, and I fear that The Division is going to be another case of that.  The Playstation client however just worked flawlessly.  I didn’t need to get in and fiddle with resolutions or slowly and painstakingly ratchet things down until they reached a level of performance I was happy with.  Instead I just booted up the client and played the damn game.  As someone who has always favored PC as the platform of choice… I have to say it sounds really damned odd to hear myself saying that.  Sure there are problems with PSN and such, and I fully expect it to be flaky a bit around launch day to.  However once you get into the game it just works, and works well.  Sure there are issues with some muddy textures on the PS4, but the game runs without hitching in combat or movement or anything of the sort.  So right now I am still very much up in the air about purchasing this game, however if I do… I will more than likely be picking it up on the Playstation 4.  The ability to simply turn it on and play without having to worry about framerates and resolutions…  is extremely appealing.  Additionally there is the problem of this being a heavily PVP game… and at least on a console I know all of us players are on even footing.  With the PC… this is absolutely going to be a game where your system will control how well you can play.  On low settings….  aiming on encounters is really difficult because the further away from you the mob is… the more it just sort of blends into the background.  Running on high resolution and sharp textures is going to give an advantage to anyone who can afford the system to run it.  So largely for my impressions… I am a bit disappointed in The Division as PC gaming experience…. but I know that I can always fall back on the PS4 and still be happy as a clam.

 

 

E3 2015 Day Zero

Microsoft E3 2015

MinecraftHololens Yesterday was a huge day of E3 shows with Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Sony all strutting their stuff with big press conferences.  While I still stand by my statement yesterday, that Bethesda software is winning this E3, everyone involved had some interesting things to show off.  Mainly for me this is the year that Microsoft figured out how to do a relevant press conference.  The past two years since the announcement of the Xbox One have provided extremely awkward and disconnected moments, but for the most part Microsoft nailed it this time around.  They provided a wide scope of games to appeal to all genres, and while I don’t believe in their exclusivity after seeing titles appear on steam months later, I do feel like they are trying really hard to wrap up a large stable of winners as far as software goes.  The big title that I am interested in is the new Tomb Raider game, which makes me realize that I really need to finish the last Tomb Raider game.

I’ve never been a huge Halo fan , but even I have to admit that the Halo Guardians demo looked pretty amazing.  The title I was most amped about seeing again however was The Division, since we had not really seen much since the last E3.  It seems like now we have a pseudo release date and a beta beginning towards the end of this year.  My big concern was with the lackluster showing of Destiny so far, that this title might have simply quietly been cancelled.  Thankfully that is not the case, and we will be exploring a new action role-playing game setting early next year.  The video that takes the cake however for Microsoft is the Hololens demo showing off a special Hololens version of Minecraft.  The more I see of Hololens the more I think it is going to be a real force in gaming, and not just another gimmick hoping to find a Market.  Virtual Reality headsets extract you from the world, and Augmented Reality keeps you interactive with the world…  I think that is going to make a big difference.  The little I have played with the Occulus Rift was cool, but I suffered a pretty massive headache and was dizzy as hell as my mind tried to readjust to the “real world” after being in the unit for only around fifteen minutes.  I cannot imagine what it would be like after some of my marathon gaming sessions.

EA and UbiSoft E3 2015

As good as Microsoft did with their press conference, EA doubled that effort in the opposite direction.  The entire thing was this awkward and disjointed mess trying to play towards too many different demographics and just coming off as frustrating to I believe all of them.  The biggest frustration for me personally was the fact that this press conference was about one thing for me… getting to see the new Mass Effect game.  We got a minute and a half trailer…  and that was quite literally all we saw of Mass Effect.  Similarly with Mirrors Edge Catalyst… the game so many people have been amped to hear more news about…  we got a two minute trailer.  It seems that all EA actually cares about is peddling the new years edition of the same damned sports titles they have been selling for decades.  From what I can tell roughly an hour of the presentation was tied up in these sports titles with blips at the beginning and the end about something interesting.  I do have to say though that Star Wars Battlefront still looks amazing, however I have had that on preorder from the Playstation network since the Fan Fest announcement.  They didn’t really need to sell me on that title, but I am looking forward to it all the same.

UbiSoft on the other hand unleashed a whole bunch of interesting stuff.  We are apparently going to colonize the moon in Anno 2205, which looked amazing.  They are releasing a version of Trials Fusion where you apparently play a cat that rides a flame breathing unicorn.  We got to see even more staged footage of The Division, this time centering around the “Dark Zone”PVP area.  The game I never thought I would be interested in however was Ghost Recon Wildlands, which for all intents and purposes seems to be their answer to the Just Cause franchise.  Big open world game where you take on drug lords in whatever fashion you see fit.  It looks like it is going to be extremely fun in the same way that I lost serious amounts of time to Just Cause 2.  The real triumph of the show however is that Aisha Tyler is amazing, and I want her to host every press conference from this point on.  Additionally they brought out Angela Basset at one point, who is the absolute badass mocapped leader of the new Rainbow Six.  While there was not a whole lot that I was extremely interested in, it was nonetheless a good show or at least looked amazing as compared to the train wreck that was EA.

Sony E3 2015

ff7remake_cloud Finally we wrapped up the night of E3 events last night with the Sony Press conference, and honestly even hours afterwards I am not 100% sure how well it went.  They dropped some massive bomb shells on the crowd, but it only really plays to the folks who were already PS4 fans.  Ultimately the goal of an E3 press conference for both Microsoft and Sony is to sell hardware, and at the end of the day I end up with the same equation.  Most Xbox One exclusives also come out on the PC, and I own a fairly solid gaming PC.  Most PS4 exclusives don’t, and as a result that is the hardware I chose to buy.  This years game conference only serves to give me more reasons to be happy with my decision.  The show lead off with finally giving a date to a game many had just expected got cancelled…  The Last Guardian.  This game was originally slotted for the PS3, and it was questionable if it had survived the generation hop.  The big reveal of the night however is that Final Fantasy 7 is in fact getting a Remake.  It was glorious to see at least glimpses of Cloud and Barret as they moved past the camera in all their ps4 glory.

18225727733_fb611b7f50_z The title that both came from out of nowhere and stole the show for me however was Horizon Zero Dawn from Guerilla games.  This apparently ushers in a brand new breed of post apocalyptic storytelling, that manages to do so without weaving in a zombie premise.  We live in what seems like a Clan of the Cave Bear like setting, until we see the first giant robot roaming the landscape.  This is Turok the Dinosaur hunter, meets Last of Us, meets Zoids.  We get to see the female bow hunter protagonist take down a giant robot t-rex like creature.  As Tam commented during the stream, we have apparently gotten really good at making fighting giant monsters seem awesome.  Had I not already purchased a PS4, this would have been the title that sold me the console.  I am really hoping this ends up being a vast open world landscape that lets us wander around and explore, hunting the big game and unfolding what happened during “the darkness” that lead to the machines roaming the earth.  There were of course other titles announced that looked great, and that I will likely play, however at six in the morning… the day after the show…  the Sony conference was all about FF7 and Horizon for me.  You can check out the full show trailer below.