Archives for posts with tag: betas

Faith
I love Mirror’s Edge. It’s one of my favourite games of the last console generation. Thanks to some fantastic controls, its immersive viewpoint and that now-famous sense of movement and flow, it allowed me some vicarious sense of free-running across a beautiful-yet-sterile cityscape, all without having to worry about smashing my precious knees.

So when a sequel/prequel/reimagining/whatever was announced back at E3 in 2013, it was immediately a day one buy for me. Since that unveiling, we’ve learnt about the game’s open world setting, which has been a source of consternation for some; was the game set in an open environment simply to tick a box? What kinds of things would we be doing in this world? Would it subsequently suffer from the open world bloat that blights so many videogame worlds? With last week’s short, three-day closed beta now over, we can answer some of those questions.

The beta afforded us a decent-sized chunk of the City of Glass to run around in, and featured a small handful of story missions – including the climb through the Elysium building we saw at Gamescom last year – to get us oriented in this reimagined world. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a reboot of sorts, though the broad strokes seem to be the same; Faith is of course still a ‘runner’ in this near-future dystopia, essentially a punkishly rebellious courier, and once again her parents were outspoken critics of the borderline-totalitarian establishment. Some unspecified trauma in Faith’s past has led her to become a runner, and as we begin the beta she’s just out of juvie after a two-year stint. What we have here is a younger, more cocksure rendition of Faith, taking risks and defying authority almost as soon as she’s let out of her perspex prison. I wonder if in the full game we’ll get a playable prologue explaining quite how she got there.

It’s an effective start, and the beta is pretty quick to give us control and let us run. The first thing to note is how familiar it all feels: essentially, we’ve got one button for up (jump), and one button for down (crouch), just as in the original game, and wall-runs, springboards and everything else all feel the same as they did back in 2008. This is a very good thing indeed; Dice nailed Faith’s movement on the first try, and traversal isn’t where they needed to innovate. That’s where the move to an open world comes in, and while the City of Glass does feel rather empty at the moment, how much of that is down to this being merely a small slice of the full product remains to be seen.

Restless

Of course, there is a decent amount of ‘stuff’ to be done in the beta, but how compelling it is will come down to the individual. There are time trials – called Dashes here – and rooftop delivery runs, and a number of data bundles and security chips littered across the rooftops waiting for an agile runner to pilfer, but I can’t quite escape the feeling that it’s all stuff I’ve done a thousand times before in a hundred other worlds. However, that the core traversal feels so damn good elevates these tasks somewhat; it’s just fun getting to and from each mission, and I think they’re a more than acceptable trade-off if it means we get this gameplay loop in an open setting.

Getting around the city can be made even better by simply turning off Runner Vision. In the first game, Runner Vision picked out a path for you by highlighting navigable terrain in bright red – unnecessary as that was in such a linear game. Here, you can either have ‘classic’ Runner Vision, which does much the same thing, ‘full’, which basically gives you a ghost to follow, or ‘off’. The latter is the best way to play the game, especially here in an open setting where there’s more than one path – there’s a whole lot of fun to be had simply picking a point on your map, setting a waypoint, and then just finding your own way there, turning something as simple as getting to a mission into a challenging climbing and navigation puzzle as you find your own way over, under and across the City of Glass.

There’s another staple of gaming in the 21st century that has found its way into Mirror’s Edge, and this one I’m not entirely sold on. In the menus, you’ll find three skill trees for movement, combat and gear, each with a broad array of abilities to unlock. As a big RPG fan, I’m certainly not against the inclusion of skill trees, but one thing about the system implemented here that irks me somewhat is that skills that were a core part of your repertoire in the original game are now locked behind an XP system – things like that quick 180-turn, tucking your legs while jumping to clear higher obstacles, or even the skill roll that allows you to maintain your momentum after a long drop. All abilities that you’d use frequently in the original Mirror’s Edge, and all abilities that would be very useful to have in the early stages of this beta, when you have to do without them. With the move to an open world, I can understand that there is some need for gating; allowing the player to get anywhere in the game world right from the off would probably give the mission designers massive headaches, but in a game built entirely around movement, I’d prefer to have everything available from the start and have areas gated by gear, instead. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst seems to have both, and obviously the game is going to be designed around having to unlock stuff, so in practice it shouldn’t be an issue. It still chafes somewhat though, knowing that the full repertoire of Faith’s traversal skills aren’t available from the off, as they were in the original.

Skill tree

Where I can see the skill trees working well is with combat, which has seen something of an overhaul for Catalyst. While gunplay was a very minor part of the original game, it’s now been excised completely in favour of bolstering hand-to-hand combat. Weaker strikes with Faith’s hands are mapped to the X button and can be used while running to knock foes out of the way without slowing down, while kicks are on Y and can cause enemies to stagger. Kicking an enemy with a left or right directional input will knock the enemy sideways, often into an ally, causing both to stumble and giving Faith an opening, while the right trigger in combination with the movement stick grants a directional dodge. This can even be used to circle strafe enemies, and it’s endlessly entertaining to swing ’round the back of an enemy and kick him in the butt, sending him stumbling off the edge of a building to certain doom. It’s enjoyable to play around with and far more than the necessary evil that combat often was in the original game. Additional, unlockable skills should help to keep it fresh and fun.

But for all that’s new, the crucial thing to take away is that this looks, sounds and feels like Mirror’s Edge. How all those additional systems of progression and questing will shake out, we can only wait for the full game to discover, but Dice have absolutely nailed that same sense of immersive flow that made the first game so great, and allowed me to keep my knees in one piece.

Oh, not that guy again
Since its release last October, Halo 5: Guardians has seen excellent post-launch support from developer 343 industries. New modes, maps and customisation items have been coming at a decent clip, and all for free, subsidised by the entirely optional REQ system. Later this summer, we’ll be getting a meaty new update in the form of Warzone Firefight, though players can get a quick look at the new mode in this weekend’s beta.

Warzone Firefight isn’t quite the same wave-based survival mode we knew and loved from ODST and Reach. Gone is the ability to simply sit and play for hours with a group of friends; Warzone Firefight is built on the foundation of Warzone, the new-for-Halo 5 PvPvE mode that sees the battle escalating as the REQ level climbs, and so it goes with this new co-operative PvE experience. Eight players take on five waves of increasingly-difficult objectives, with each having a time limit of five minutes – fail to complete your objective in time, and it’s game over. These goals are pulled from a pool of differently-weighted objectives that the game selects for your team of Spartans as the match unfolds – you might be tasked with eliminating a large number of jackals in one round, and then with defending a base against a hundred invaders in the next. In the final round, you’ll have to face off against the new Mythic-tier bosses, with upgraded health and abilities.

For the beta, Warzone Firefight is only playable on Escape from ARC, and it feels like a good map for it, funnelling players through the large map’s various structures to get to their objectives. At first, it can seem a bit chaotic, with your goals appearing in different places all over the vast map, but after a few games you’ll learn where to head when you see that objective marker pop up in the lower-right corner of the screen. And speaking of those objectives, it soon becomes clear that there is quite a diverse set of them on offer; even the final round isn’t set, with a fight against three Warden Eternals sometimes being replaced with a pitched battle against four Serpent Hunters in one of the game’s Home bases. Not all objectives are created equal however, and you’ll find you’ll have an easier time of it in round three if you’re facing off against a pair of Knight Marshalls, rather than defending the Garage against dozens upon dozens of tooled-up Prometheans.

Warzone Firefight

You might want to do things the hard way though. The main complaint I have with Warzone Firefight right now is that matches feel a touch too short. The maximum time you can spend in one match is, theoretically, 25 minutes, and that’s if you’re just managing to complete your objectives. Often, you’ll fly through the early rounds in a couple of minutes and finish the five rounds well under the twenty-minute mark. It’s a far cry from the endlessly-tweakable Firefight in Reach, which you could play for hours on end if you so wished. Of course, with this being more score-attack focused, it makes sense that the matches don’t last all day, but quite often it feels like it’s over before it’s really begun – certainly in your early games, as you get to grips with the mode.

That’s not to say the challenge isn’t there, however. Enemies in Warzone Firefight hit hard and fast, and there are a lot of them. Perhaps it’s simply an effect of the pressure to score high in a short amount of time making me play more recklessly, but they feel slightly north of Heroic difficulty. Handily, REQ energy seems to build quite fast, so by the time you’re a few rounds in you should be able to bring out some powerful SAWs or Railguns to help you deal with the masses of tough enemies. By the time you’ve used all the ammo, you’re a decent way back to earning another one.

One thing that does irk me somewhat is the spawns. Should you die, you’ll generally be quite some way from the fight when you get back into the game. I understand that you need to be able to spawn in a safe place, but it often means you have to hoof it across the map, potentially missing out on a chunk of the round, which will obviously affect your score. This can be especially tough if you’re defending the Garage in round three, as you’ll spawn in the tunnel opposite, and with tough enemies between you and the base and phaetons patrolling the skies, it’s possible to get pinned down in the tunnel for too long.

Warzone Firefight is also the best way to show off your custom Spartan armour and colours

Warzone Firefight is also the best way to show off your custom Spartan armour and colours

But this is a beta, and 343 are running it months in advance of launch so that player feedback can be taken into account, much like the game’s original Arena multiplayer beta that hit almost a year before the full game landed – things can and will be tweaked between now and release. For my part, I’d quite like to see Warzone Firefight given its own playlist, with a bunch of different varieties to choose from. Or at least one more, maybe with ten rounds rather than five, and with multiple objectives per round, as is already the case with the current offering’s final round, which tasks you with two waves of boss battles. Even better would be to open it up to customs and allow players to tweak to their hearts content. I’d love a co-op mode where I can just sit with a bunch of chums and shoot grunts in the face for an hour or two. And honestly? I want more objectives like ‘defend the garage’. It shows Warzone Firefight at its manic, nailbiting best, the screen alive with dozens of enemies and explosions, the air thick with lead and laser.

As things stand though, it’s still fantastic fun, and it gives players a better chance at seeing what all those REQs actually do, without the fear of being immediately ganked after spawning with a legendary rocket launcher, as so often happens in Warzone. For someone like me, who only plays Warzone once or twice a week, it’s exciting to know I’ll soon have a new mode that allows me to get some use out of all those high-powered cards that I rarely get the chance to bring out. And the fact that it includes matchmaking means you can play it even when your friends are busy.

The beta runs until Monday, so make sure to jump in-game and try out Firefight while you can. There’s no specific date as yet for when the mode will launch in full, but it’s expected some time in the summer. Until then, get some games in, and be sure to get yourself over to Waypoint to let the developers hear your feedback.

Dragon Age Keep has finally emerged from closed beta, and is now open for all to get to grips with.

The Keep is a web-based tool that allows you to tailor your experience for next month’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. As save files from previous games can not be imported into Inquisition (mainly due to an engine shift from Eclipse to Frostbite 3), the Keep gives players the opportunity to go through the main story beats of Dragon Age: Origins, 2, and associated DLC and set the decisions they made throughout the course of those games. The resultant ‘world state’ can then be imported into the upcoming sequel when it launches next month.

Best of all, because it’s web-based, it’s cross-platform; maybe you’ve played the series on PS3 until now, but fancy playing Inquisition on PC? You can do that with Dragon Age Keep. You will, of course, need an Origin account and that account will have to be attached to your Xbox Live or PSN ID if you want to import your world state to either console version.

After logging into the Keep, you can first sync your progress from previous games. This won’t carry over your saves, but will bring in your heroes and collect various accomplishments from across the games and their DLC. It’s worth remembering that the Keep is still in beta, and the first sync did not find my custom Warden from Origins. My version of Dragon Age 2‘s Hawke popped up right away, and a second sync a few hours later managed to fetch my Dalish Elf from the ether.

Dragon Age Keep Varric Narration

After syncing, you can watch an animated retelling of the saga leading up to Inquisition narrated by Dragon Age 2/Inquisition party member Varric, and at any point you can stop it to edit your choices, changing the course of the story as you go. A better idea, however, is to exit out of the narration and go directly to the Tapestry, a colourful timeline that allows you to detail your story more directly. After doing this, you can come back and watch as Varric conveys your personalised tale.

The choices you can make are pleasingly granular, offering the full range of states for the major decisions, such as what happens to Loghain near the climax of the first game, but oddly, some choices that seemed almost meaningless at the time have made their way into the Keep; did you save Elora’s halla in the Dalish camp? What happened to Bella, the tavern girl from Redcliffe? The Keep wants to know, and I’m not entirely sure why. BioWare has said that not every choice you make here will carry across to Inquisition and that they plan for the Keep to be used for future Dragon Age titles as well. Beyond that, perhaps it’s just nice to have a more complete record of the mark your characters left upon the land of Thedas.

Dragon Age Keep Tapestry

The Keep is an excellent way of ensuring your Dragon Age history can follow you across generations, and of course you don’t even have to stick to the choices you made when in the previous games. But if I have one complaint, it’s that there is little context for the decisions you’re asked to make; if it’s been a while since your last playthrough, good luck remembering some of the more minor choices from the scant text provided, and heaven help any newcomers looking to tailor their world for Inquisition. Even having recently replayed Origins, I had to flick over to the wiki a few times to jog my memory. Newbies would be better served heading straight to the Varric narration and editing from there.

But as a means to bring your game history with you without the benefit of save game importing, the Keep is excellent, and with Varric narrating your past, more than just a compromise.

I mentioned in my last post that I was currently playing the Titanfall beta for Xbox One, and that I had yet to play the third and final mode on offer, Last Titan Standing. I’d put it off for the first couple of days, as I thought I wouldn’t like it all that much; I expected it would just be Titans shooting the crap out of each other for a few minutes and not much else. This negative impression wasn’t helped by the knowledge that dying once means you’re out for the rest of the round.

But I was more than willing to give it a chance to change my mind, and after a couple of hours with the mode last night, change my mind it did. To better illustrate how the mode plays, I’ve collected some of my GameDVR clips together into a Last Titan Standing gameplay montage (once again, apologies for the video quality; Titanfall and XBO GameDVR don’t seem to like one another very much).

There’s a fair bit more to Last Titan Standing than just jumping in your mech and slugging it out with the other team. Of course, you can do that, but you’re going to want to stick with at least one other friendly Titan or risk being overwhelmed by multiple enemies. But you can also jump out of your Titan, setting it to guard mode to keep it out of the fight until you’ve weakened the other team. Or you can set it to follow you around, providing extra firepower and a diversion for your pilot.

Either way, playing as a pilot really has its benefits in this mode; the attention is always on the Titans, so as a nimble footsoldier you can scramble up and into buildings and fire your anti-Titan weapon into the backs of your enemies as they’re pre-occupied with someone else. After a while, I had taken to setting my Titan to guard a remote part of the map (so as to keep it out of the fight for as long as possible), heading out as a pilot to soften up the other team, before bringing my factory-fresh mech steaming into the fray.

I was surprised to find, after a few matches, that Last Titan Standing is probably my favourite mode of the three in the beta. I had thought it would be an almost tactics-free slugfest, yet I found it to be the most considered mode on offer once you got into the swing of things and devised a plan for taking down enemy Titans. I can also say I have a distinct preference for the Fracture map when it comes to Last Titan Standing; the relative openness of the map certainly helps when there are twelve mechs pounding through the environment, and it even feels better for pilots, as the warren of tunnels around the ground level afford those on foot a better chance at escape when they manage to pull a Titan’s attention.

Angel City, on the other hand, can get very congested, with battles often ending up confined to a certain corner of the map and friendlies trying to manoeuver around one another to get in and out of battle. You can see what I mean in my gameplay montage above.

The Titanfall beta is scheduled to end tomorrow, and I think I’m going to miss it when it’s gone. Thankfully, the full game will be out in a month, with a wealth of new maps, weapons, Titan classes and game modes. I’m looking forward to it. Are you?

The Titanfall beta is currently underway, a few weeks ahead of the game’s March 11th release on PC, 360 and Xbox One, and I managed to get hold of a code for the XBO version yesterday afternoon. I had to rely on a friendly forumite on one of the gaming sites I frequent (despite having registered minutes after the site went live…), and have managed to get a few games in so far. Now, the beta is fully open to all XBO owners, with a full, open beta on the way for PC.

So, some impressions are in order. The beta contains three game modes (Attrition, Hardpoint Domination and Last Titan Standing) across two maps (Angel City and Fracture), and so far I’ve had a few matches on each map of both Attrition (TDM) and Hardpoint (which is essentially a three-hill King of the Hill gametype).

First thing’s first: I suck at Attrition. I’m really bad at it. The only FPS I’ve ever played in competitive multiplayer are the Halo games, so this is quite a change of pace for me; encounters are far shorter, and I keep burst firing the AR as if it’s Halo‘s MA5 – old habits die hard, I guess. I’m far better at Hardpoint; I always did prefer objective gametypes in Halo, and this mode compliments my sneaky, defensive playstyle better than the all-out war of Attrition.

It also allows you to use your Titan in more tactical ways: hardpoints tend to be inside buildings, so you can double-jump through a window, capture your objective, and then set up shop inside, guarding all interior approaches with your shotgun and active camouflage, while your Titan, set to guard mode, defends the outer approaches. It’s a great deal of fun. Here’s five minutes of my last game (also showing the xp/level up screen and some in-game challenges), captured with the XBO’s GameDVR function. Unfortunately, it seems to compress the hell out of Titanfall clips for some reason, so the quality isn’t great, but enjoy.

I haven’t yet played Last Titan Standing, whose name speaks for itself – everyone begins the round with a Titan, and when one team has lost all of their mechs, it’s the end of the round. Of course, you can get out of your Titan and have it follow you or stand its ground (either way, it will engage nearby enemies), but once your Titan and your Pilot are defeated, there are no respawns. I’m planning on giving it a try later on tonight, so expect another video.

A couple of aspects of Titanfall have been drawing some criticism – the graphics and the AI grunts. Graphically, I think it’s a good-looking game. It’s not going to wow anyone on a technical level, but art design is generally pretty strong and animations are smooth. By no means does it look bad, and looking up to the sky to see a Titan drop in is unlikely to ever get old – it’s a pretty thrilling sight, especially if you manage to drop it on a bunch of enemies for added carnage.

Secondly, the AI grunts in the game aren’t really bots. They’re fodder to help you get your Titan faster (each AI kill knocks a few seconds off of your Titan clock, which is always counting down anyway), and they also add a bit of flavour to the world; stumble upon a group of friendly AI and they’ll be happy to see you and sometimes even call out targets. And despite their weak nature (they react slower and go down far quicker than a player-controller enemy), they can still surprise you, as I found out during a game of Hardpoint. They don’t seem to show up on the minimap, and so can get the jump on you if you aren’t paying attention or are fixated on another target. You can see me fall foul of this at the 1:30 mark in my above video. Yes, I got killed by an AI grunt. The shame.

Some have speculated that the grunts are in the game to make up the numbers, considering that Titanfall is ‘only’ a 6v6 game, but it never feels like there are only twelve players in play – even disregarding the grunts, at any one time each player could have a Titan in the map, following them around or guarding a specific point. It feels like a hectic futuristic warzone, especially in Attrition, which I found a little overwhelming at first – the pace, combined with the amount of carnage going on, was a lot to process when you’re first thrust into the game. Hardpoint Domination definitely feels a bit more considered, and there’s a definite ebb and flow to the game, but it still retains some of that frantic pace that defines Attrition.

So far, I’m quite liking Titanfall. It definitely has that ‘one more go’ factor that is so important in games of this type. I’ll need a good few more games before I really get into the swing of things, but I’m certainly looking forward to the full release next month and, as someone who prefers single player over multi, I’m interested to see how Respawn’s ‘campaign multiplayer’ works out. I’d have much preferred a standard single player mode, but I understand the reasons behind the developer’s choice here. Given how fun the beta is, I’m willing to give Vince Zampella and his team the benefit of the doubt.