Archives for posts with tag: Multiplayer

Oops! I’ve been a bit lax with this recently, so time for an update.

As per previous updates, I’ve been trying to learn how to play Ana as a way to get back into a game I’d fallen out of love with. I began with a three step plan to figure out how to play Ana, as I wanted to get another support character under my belt, and Ana had always struck me as something of a high skill ceiling hero. So I thought it’d be a good way to remind myself why I loved Overwatch before the competitive slide started and it just became a source of frustration.

Step one was to jump into the firing range with Ana to get a decent feel for her various abilities. After that, I’d spend some time in vs AI matches to figure out how she works in a team. The final step was to take her into Quick Play and see how that goes. I mentioned in Update 2 that I’d just begun step 3, and a week or so ago I captured some of my gameplay footage, intending to write this update then. I’ve since been playing QP matches most days, using Ana where I can, and I feel like I’m pretty decent with her now.

I mentioned previously that one thing I kept forgetting about was her sleep dart. More practice has sorted that issue now, and I just can’t get enough of sleeping people. I don’t think there are many moments that can rival sleeping an ulting Genji as he lunges at you, or knocking out the enemy Reinhardt as he boosts toward you. Even better if you have team mates around to immediately melt your sleeping foe. Ana has very quickly become one of my favourite heroes in the game.

I’m pretty comfortable saying that I have another hero under my belt now, as I’ve been playing Ana quite a lot. This also fulfils the other part of the plan – to get me playing Overwatch again. I was thinking of moving my plan over to Zarya after I was happy with my Ana play, as I also really need another tank in my repertoire, but I think, with Sombra hopefully right around the corner, I’ll just continue to have fun in Quick Play until she drops for console players. Sombra looks like a really interesting hero, and I’m itching to try out an offensive utility character. I’m gonna hack all the things.

Ana AmariIt’s been about a week and a half since my last update on my attempt to get back into Overwatch. Part of the reason I’ve been so lax with my writing is that the plan seems to be working; I’ve spent a lot more time playing – and, crucially, enjoying! – the game again. I’ve spent the last ten or so days getting better with Ana, as a large part of my plan was to learn new heroes, with the support sniper being my first little project. Most of that time has been spent in step two of the plan: playing as Ana in vs AI matches, to get a reasonable feel for how she plays with a group.

It’s been a bit of a difficult learning curve in more ways than one. First of all, my most-played trio of heroes – Lucio, D.Va and Pharah – are all very agile, able to get around the map and up to higher places with relative ease, so getting used to Ana, who is pretty much planted on the ground for the entirety of a match, has been a bit of a shift for me. Additionally, it was quite hard at first to stop having my eye drawn by enemies and fighting the reflex to shoot at them, instead of focusing on healing my allies. And since I’m used to being in amongst it during a game – especially when playing as Lucio and D.Va – it’s taken a bit of time to get used to hanging back from the rest of the team to support them from a distance.

I feel like it’s all starting to come together though, and my aiming has improved a lot too – both scoped and from the hip. Really, this was one of my biggest misgivings when I started playing as Ana, as I’ve always been rubbish with sniper rifles, but the more I play, the better I get. Which sounds obvious, but hey, it keeps me coming back to the game! You can see some video of my vs AI games below, and you should be able to see a bit of improvement in those areas as the clips go on.

Over the last few days, feeling more confident, I’ve also made a start on step three by taking Ana into a handful of Quick Play games, though only on maps where I think I’d have enough space to support the team from the back. So far, it seems to be going well, obviously helped by the fact that I’m being a bit smarter about what map comes up – if I feel like I won’t be able to do a decent job with Ana, I’ll pick someone else.

This also means I’ve been delving into Quick Play a lot more recently, having almost ignored it recently in favour of my Ana practice and the Junkenstein brawl. I’ve been having a lot of fun, and seem to be back to winning a lot more than I lose. I still find myself falling back on D.Va and Lucio a lot, but that’s partly because I know them inside out and always end up doing a good job with them. And, more importantly, I just love playing as those heroes. I’ve also started to pick up a couple of heroes that I had been getting pretty decent with before taking a break from the game; I feel like my Mei skills are starting to come back a bit, but I think I’m going to have to put a lot more practice in with Junkrat to get back to where I was.

But when the option to play as Ana comes up, it’s great practice – playing against AI helps to figure out her place in a team, but it’s not so good for figuring out how she works against the enemy. Thanks to QP, I’m starting to get a good feel for when and how to use Nano Boost, and though I still occasionally forget that I even have a sleep dart, I have managed to pull it out a few times at very opportune moments; last night, in a game on Route 66, my team had just hit the second checkpoint and as we were all clustered around the payload, the gate began to open and out flew a Bastion in tank mode. I slept him almost by reflex, which felt absolutely amazing – that ultimate would have done a ton of damage to a closely-grouped team. Instead, everyone was able to focus on him when he hit the ground and take him out before he did any real damage. God, I wish I’d captured that!

Zarya

I’m getting to the point now where I’m happy enough to say that I have another hero under my belt – Ana needs a bit more work, but I’m fairly comfortable playing her more frequently in proper matches now, as I feel like I’ve got the basics down pretty well at this point. I’ll capture some Quick Play games with her for my next update, and then it’s back to step one as I repeat the process with another character. I said in my first Boot Camp post that I really wanted to learn Mercy, but I’m going to put her aside again to learn Zarya – I now have two supports I feel comfortable with, but I’ve only ever played one tank in D.Va. I need another one in my repertoire and the Russian bodybuilder is the one that interests me the most right now.

At this point, I think I can call the plan a success. The idea was to get back into a game I used to love by learning new heroes, and though I’ve so far only picked up one more character, I am absolutely back in love with Overwatch again. Let’s hope that continues as I move forward with Zarya from next week!

OW hero banner
Like millions of other people, I fell hard for Overwatch. I must admit to not having followed it at all until the console closed beta back in April; I was vaguely aware of its existence, but didn’t know much about it at all. So it was out of sheer curiosity that I decided to try the beta on Xbox One. I jumped into a game against AI opponents to learn the ropes, and discovered that I had no idea what was happening or what I was supposed to do. Matches were over so fast that it was difficult to actually learn anything at all.

So I entered a game against fellow humans, woefully unprepared, and began to learn the hard way. Now, I’m not really one for online competitive shooters to be perfectly honest – Halo is really the only series whose multiplayer I’ve bothered to get to grips with, give or take a few dozen hours in Titanfall, because mechs and wall-running – so I only played a handful of games over the beta period. Enough to get a rough idea of what it is you do in Overwatch.

Yet after the beta ended, I found that I couldn’t get the game out of my head. There was something about it that kept firing my imagination, and I took to posting about it on forums, discussing it with friends, and then watching strategy videos on YouTube, which is when the game really started to come into focus and excite me with the possibilities: “I didn’t even try that character!” I’d think to myself. My mind ran away with all the cool things I could do with this character on that map, or even with a certain hero in a specific circumstance. I was hooked. I pre-ordered the limited edition. Blizzard had me.

So this is a thing that seems to be happening.

So this is a thing that seems to be happening.

And when the game came out, I immediately fell in love with it. I played it daily, sharing plays of the game online and with friends, uploading my own clips to YouTube, discussing my own strategies, and just plain having a ton of fun with the game.

Then came competitive, and I loved that too. I found it so much more fun than quick play, much more focused and less ‘messy’, thanks to the lack of hero stacking and players taking better account of team composition. When the season ended and I was forced back into quick play, I was a little disappointed.

So when competitive began anew with its second season, I couldn’t wait to jump in. And I was off to a flying start, winning my first four placement games on the trot. I joked to friends that I was obviously due a losing streak. I was. I lost all of the remaining placements bar one, which ended in a new-for-season 2 tie. I’d heard people complaining about ‘the slide’, and wondered if this was mine. It was, and it lasted weeks.

It was all going so well...

It was all going so well…

Yep. I didn’t win a game for almost an entire month. Of course, it’s not quite as catastrophic as that sounds; I was already playing the game less and less thanks to the streak of demoralising, one-sided losses I found myself in, managing maybe four or five games a week. But I didn’t win a single one of them, and eventually I found myself avoiding the game entirely. I’d still read and talk about Overwatch online, but my comments had a bitter edge to them. I’d still watch gameplay and strategy videos online, I’d still keep up to date with changes and new hero speculation. But when I thought about actually playing it, I’d have to force myself. I’d play for half an hour, spend the whole time getting utterly crushed, and then abandon it for another week. It went from something I loved being a part of, to something I only enjoyed at arm’s length: I still loved the game, I just didn’t want to actually play it.

All of which brings me up to today, with the game currently back in the headlines thanks to the surely-imminent Hallowe’en event and players hoping to greet a new hero in Sombra, I devised a plan. I’m going back to boot camp.

The first step to getting back in the game is avoiding competitive. Getting steamrolled in ranked matches is just too damn demoralising, so I’m going to just give it a wide berth for a bit. Secondly, I’m going to focus on heroes that I’ve neglected. At launch, my idea was to build up a base of three or four heroes that I felt really good with, and then branch out from there, and I was (and still am) very comfortable and confident with Pharah, Lucio and D.Va. I was also starting to get good with Junkrat, Mei and Soldier back when I was still playing regularly, but when the slide began and I started to drift away from the game a bit, I’d find myself falling back on my mainstays. This means I now suck with at least two of those heroes (I think I’m still kind of OK with Soldier).

It's going to be difficult not to autolock D.Va, because she's so damn awesome.

It’s going to be difficult not to autolock D.Va, because she’s so damn awesome.

So that’s why I’m going back to boot camp. I’m taking myself into an environment where I’m not so afraid to lose and I’m going to branch out, try new heroes and work at getting better. I started last night, taking my first step to getting back into the game by jumping into quick play for a few games with my established heroes, just to get my feet wet again. But over the coming days and weeks I’m going to force myself to vary my picks and get better with a wider array of heroes. To do this, I’m going back to the way I got to grips with a handful of characters right at the start, before rushing into the game and subsequently neglecting much of the cast. So I’ve given myself these three steps:

1: Jump into the training arena to get to grips with a hero I haven’t played before. Obviously I have a working understanding of every character, having played against them all at some point in my 50-odd hours with the game, but that’s not the same as actually using them. I need to learn what to do with them myself.

2. Play a few VS AI games with that new hero to see how they play in an actual match environment. I’ll go for medium AI so that the match isn’t over in seconds and thus teaches me nothing of note.

3. Take that hero into quick play and see how I get on.

I’m not sure how much more frequently I’m going to be playing Overwatch with this plan in mind, given we’re now entering video game silly season – indeed, Gears of War 4 is out today and I want to give that the time it deserves, too – but I do know I miss the game a lot and want to get back to having fun with it. So I think what I might do is set myself a loose goal of learning a new hero a week and then reporting back on a weekly basis. That also has the positive side effect of getting me to write more, which is another thing I’ve been neglecting of late.

So we’ll see how it goes. With any luck, I’ll see you back here next week with a new hero under my belt and, hopefully, some fun Overwatch stories to tell. Who knows, I might even give my Elgato a work out and get some video evidence on the go. At the very least, even if I don’t get back into competitive and find myself enjoying it again, at least I’ll have seen more of what the game has to offer.

Halo 5 victory bros
The Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta begins in earnest next Monday, but this past weekend members of the Xbox One dashboard preview were allowed a short peek past the curtain. We got to take a look at the content that will make up the first week of the three-week test: 4v4 arena multiplayer on two maps, Empire and Truth. Empire is a small, asymmetric map set either on Earth or a human-controlled colony, while Truth, a remake of Halo 2 classic Midship, offers a little more room to manoeuver.

What everyone really wants to know about however is how the game plays. Well, it plays like Halo. To anyone not particularly interested in Microsoft’s premier FPS series, that might seem like an obvious descriptor, but Halo fans will be sceptical after 343’s first turn at bat, 2012’s Halo 4, experimented with a few things – like loadouts and killstreak perks – from other shooters, in the process tarnishing that Halo feel that fans expect. Here, there’s no need to worry. Everyone starts with the same guns – the classic MA5 assault rifle and another take on the series’ iconic magnum – and other weapons are back on the maps as pickups, where they belong. Ordnance drops? They’re gone too. It’s pure arena slayer – fair starts for all, and map knowledge and control is paramount.

There are also no armour abilities – selectable, rechargeable power-ups introduced by Bungie in Reach and inherited by 343 in Halo 4 – which means you’ll no longer be facing off against an entire team of Armour Lock spammers. What replaces them in Halo 5: Guardians are Spartan Abilties, base skills that every player has access to right from the start. These are mainly abilities that enable you to get around the environment more fluidly, and I’ll talk about each in turn, starting with my favourite, the thruster pack.

Halo 5 thruster evade

This should be immediately recognisable to anyone who played Halo 4, as it’s essentially that game’s thruster pack armour ability, except made actually useful. It’s no longer a canned animation that takes you out into third person, and you can use it in mid-air without losing momentum. For the uninitiated, it does exactly what it says on the tin and gives you a short, sharp boost in whichever direction you’re moving. You can use it to back up or close distance quickly, or speed-strafe out of the way of an incoming sniper round perhaps. That may sound overpowered, but it’s balanced quite nicely.

First, remember that everyone can do it, which means they can match you move for move if so inclined, and if you’re trying to use it to get out of danger, you’d best have somewhere to go – boosting in a direction in the middle of an open room is likely just going to prolong the inevitable. Secondly, it requires a short cooldown, so don’t think you’ll be boosting all over the maps; if you’re going to use your thrusters to burst into an area, you need to have a plan, because you can’t just immediately fly back out if things get hairy.

I mentioned that you can use the thruster pack in mid-air, and this will ideally be combined with a bit of sprint momentum to move across the maps more quickly. Add to this another new skill, the ability to mantle up to higher ledges by holding the jump button – so long as you can physically reach them – and the result is a pleasing degree of extra mobility in what has always been a relatively mobile series. These two things in particular – thruster and clamber – feel like a very natural fit for the Halo formula; we’ve long been used to clambering all over the furniture in this series via skill jumps and the like, and these added extras slot in perfectly, allowing players to maximise the verticality that has always been a part of Halo multiplayer.

There are also a few other things your increased mobility allows you to do, such as a thruster-enabled shoulder charge melee attack that can quickly close distance and catch you unaware, and you can now slide by crouching during a sprint. Holding crouch when in the air also stabilises you, slowing your descent and maybe allowing you to fire off a killing blow if you’re chasing a weakened opponent. There’s also the Ground Pound ability, which allows you to get the drop on an unsuspecting enemy at the expense of hanging in the air for several seconds to charge it up. In a small arena game, it seems borderline suicidal, but I imagine it’ll come into its own on larger maps – it seems custom made for BTB, where you’ll have much more space to move around and catch opponents unaware.

Sprint has also seen some balancing. A lot of players hated the unlimited sprint in Halo 4, feeling that it served to stretch maps out and give people an easy way out of fights they probably shouldn’t have engaged in in the first place, and 343 have made a decent attempt to answer that criticism, too. You can sprint indefinitely if you wish, but your shields won’t recharge while you do, meaning that using it to get out of trouble carries a risk as you greatly lengthen the amount of time you remain vulnerable. Stop sprinting, and your shields will begin to refill. It’s a small yet smart way to allow faster movement while keeping it in check.

Focusing on Halo 2: Anniversary‘s more arena-based maps seems to have sharpened 343’s vision for Halo 5: Guardian‘s multiplayer, and it’s obvious that the team are aiming for the competitive circuit, at least where arena is concerned. Team mates automatically call out enemy positions, thrown grenades and power weapon respawns, which means it’s not absolutely necessary to be communicating with your team – a useful addition for a player like me that tends to play Halo multiplayer alone. Prior to playing, I imagined I’d find this off-putting, but in practice it gives me a greater awareness of the battlefield and allows me to be a more productive member of the team, even while playing solo.

Power weapon placements are also marked on your HUD, so everyone always knows where they are and when they’ll be back. This may seem somewhat antithetical to the accepted way of playing Halo – that is, to learn the maps through play – but it helps to keep everyone on an even keel, meaning your skill with weapons, grenades, melee and movement is what counts most.

Halo 5 Battle Rifle Scope

I do have a couple of complaints, however, and the main one is that automatic weapons seem quite overpowered in this build. It feels like they’ve had a substantial boost to both accuracy and range and my immediate gut feeling is that they need a bit of nerfing. If 343 wanted to make automatics viable (which seems to be the case, given that every game in the early access period was AR starts), they’ve certainly done that. But when an SMG beats out a battle rifle at mid-range – which happened to me on Truth – then they might have gone a touch too far. I wouldn’t like to see them completely neutered however, as it it’s quite nice to actually be effective with the trusty old MA5. A bit more fall-off in effective range will surely help.

My other complaint concerns something that had me very worried when the first glimpses of Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer appeared online, yet as it turns out, it’s a very small objection. It’s to do with the game’s new scope animation, which looks for all the world to be Call of Duty-style ‘aim down sights’. ‘ADS’ is something I am resolutely against seeing in Halo, and it’s probably the one thing the player-base can agree on. Thankfully, it’s pretty much just a cosmetic change, and serves the same mechanical purpose as scope zoom did in the previous games; movement remains unrestricted, meaning we can still strafe and jump unhindered as before, and de-scoping also makes a return, dropping you out of zoom should you take a hit. Just as important as freedom of movement is the fact that there’s no penalty to hip fire to force you into scope in order to be effective – precision weapons are as accurate as they always were, and scoping just gives you a bit of zoom. Many, including myself, had worried that the new mechanic would make the game feel too much like other shooters on the market, but in practice that just isn’t the case. It’s really just a new animation for a signature Halo mechanic, and the combat loop is still unmistakably Halo.

The only real difference with scoped weapons is the addition of extra screen furniture in the form of a physical scope, rather than the full-screen zoom we had before, and it’s this I take issue with. It’s not too bad with the Battle Rifle, as there isn’t much to get in the way, but when you zoom the DMR, the scope takes up quite a chunk of your field of vision, obscuring a decent amount of the scenery around what you’re scoping on. It clouds your peripheral vision more than ever before, even if it doesn’t particularly affect the way the game plays.

In the grand scheme of things though, and taking into account that this is a beta of a game a year out from release, these are both relatively minor issues considering how much the game feels like Halo to me. It feels like what Halo 4‘s multiplayer should have been, and I get the feeling that working on the more arena-focused Halo 2 for the recent Anniversary remaster has allowed 343 to remember Halo‘s core strengths – that is movement, teamwork and map control, along with the holy trinity of guns, grenades and melee. It’s maybe a touch faster, a bit more mobile, but, so far at least, Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer is Halo through and through. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the beta brings when it goes live on December 29th. Until then, you can enjoy 18 minutes of gameplay captured on my Xbox One.

chiefponcho
With the recent announcement of Halo 5: Guardians, and the subsequent confirmation of its 2015 release, speculation has renewed as to what this year’s Halo title for Xbox One will be. Back at E3 last year, 343 head Bonnie Ross promised fans that their Halo journey on Xbox One would begin in 2014, a promise she reiterated when announcing Guardians.

And so, the oft-rumoured Halo 2: Anniversary pushed its way to the fore again; 2014 marks ten years since the game’s original release after all, so it seems like a no-brainer. But a rumour emerged over the weekend concerning an altogether larger plan for this year, something that would tally with Ross’ claim that Halo‘s Xbox One journey would begin with “a giant leap, rather than one small step”; according to Engadget, we’ll be seeing not one but four remastered Halo games this autumn.

Apparently dubbed ‘The Master Chief Collection’, the set is said to gather up remakes of all four main-story instalments thus far and serve as a story catch-up to fans old and new alike. As the collection is focused on the Chief, Engadget’s unnamed sources say that it’s unlikely that Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach will be a part of the package, which makes sense if the idea is to get players up to speed for Halo 5: Guardians.

While something quite similar was rumoured back in January of this year, I personally think this it’s a bit too good to be true. Can 343 really remaster four separate games in the two years that will have passed since Halo 4‘s release? Even with an external development partner (such as Saber Interactive, who 343 collaborated with on 2011’s Combat Evolved Anniversary) it seems like an absolutely colossal amount of work. I really, really want it to be true, but I remain sceptical (as an aside, I really hope if it is real, it’s not called ‘The Master Chief Collection’, because that’s just an awful name. Maybe call it Halo: The Great Journey, instead).

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun with the rumour and speculate a little. As such, I’ve been wondering what shape the multiplayer component of such a release might take. Would they include all four games’ multiplayer modes? Would it be something based on Halo 4? Perhaps a beta for Halo 5? Or maybe something else entirely?

My first thought was that perhaps the collection would include just the single-player campaigns; Engadget’s sources are positioning it as a story catch-up, so multiplayer doesn’t necessarily play into that (and really, who’s going to complain about missing MP when you’ve got four campaigns to play through?). Secondly, if we consider that remastering four campaigns is a hell of a job alone, remaking separate MP modes for all four would surely be a nightmare.

Perhaps then, it’d be a port of Halo 4‘s multiplayer? Other than an extended Halo 5 MP beta, this seems the most logical idea. However, considering that ‘The Master Chief Collection’ seems very much like (massive, exciting) fan service, and that some series fans have reacted with annoyance to some of Halo 4‘s more mainstream contrivances (such as ordinance, loadouts, weapon unlocks), that may be seen as something of a black mark against the package.

But never mind what we’re likely to see. If we’re speculating here, why not draw up a wishlist? If I could have my dream Halo multiplayer mode included in this collection, it would be one experience rather than four disparate, game-specific modes. This single Halo multiplayer universe would be a relatively ‘pure’ Halo experience, perhaps modelled after Halo 3‘s multiplayer, and would include all the maps from all four games. If people wanted to play a more Halo 4-style game, have that as its own playlist – its own mode, like Griffball or Infection, but again, playable across all the series maps. Hell, you could even throw in a Reach playlist and all of that game’s maps, weapons and vehicles too.

Additionally, I’d like to see private lobbies where you can get together with friends and filter everything to create your own, pitch-perfect Halo experience. Make everything tweakable – rule sets, weapon sets, vehicles, kill limits, gravity, everything. If it’s going to draw on the entire history of the series, then why not allow fans to throw everything they want into a private match.

Then – and this is the most important part – it would be included with ‘The Master Chief Collection’ via a download code. That’s right, I want it to be a separate download. Why? Because I’d like to see 343 decouple Halo multiplayer from a collection of disparate games and have just one separate Halo MP experience that gets updated with new maps, modes, weapons and vehicles when a new Halo title comes out.

Just think about that for a second. It’d be like everythingHalo multiplayer’ in one place, updated and run as its own thing throughout the Xbox One’s lifespan. It’d mean no splintering of the community, no dropping an older game’s multiplayer to jump into the new one – just new additions as the series goes on, updated independently. It’d encompass both the past and future of the series in one fell swoop, and bring all Halo fans into one experience. And just think, you could launch it straight from your hard drive whenever you want, without having to put a disc in the drive.

Of course, I can’t see this ever happening, much as I’d like it to. I imagine it’d require 343 to staff up enough that they’d have an entire team always beavering away on the ongoing multiplayer service. But hey, if any platform holder has the money to do such a thing, it’s Microsoft.

But if I can’t dream, there’s one big issue I’d like the next Halo to address: please, please, please remove map voting. I know it sounds almost perverse, a player asking for less choice, but here’s the thing: the players can’t be trusted, and I don’t want to play Team Slayer on Ragnarok all day, every day. While most people will point to some kind of ‘CoD-ification’ as the reason why they’re not as fond of Halo 4‘s multiplayer as previous titles, for me this map repetition was what drove me away from the game. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen the DLC maps that I got for free with the limited edition, let alone played on them, and that needs to change.

Oh and also: bring back Invasion. Oh, and Firefight, too.

We’re just a couple of weeks away from E3 now, where we will surely hear all about 343’s plans for the rest of 2014. Only two weeks, to find out if my crazy fever-dream of a perfect, standalone Halo multiplayer service will come true. Who am I kidding? Of course they won’t. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be any less excited for whatever they unveil on June 9th, and while I may be sceptical about the rumoured collection, I’ll be absolutely over the moon if that’s what Bonnie Ross ends up unveiling on stage.