The Division 2 Private Beta – Endgame PvE

The Division 2 Private Beta - Endgame mission on hard, reviving a friend.

I think with this, it will conclude my impressions of The Division 2 beta. I could go back and do the structured PvP, I could also go in and play the other specialisations (I tested through with the Demolitionist myself, friends took the other two: Sharpshooter and Survivalist, so I saw them in action too).

But I won’t. In part because the weekend is over and the realities of work reassert themselves, sure. Even were this not true though I feel less of a need to explore the demo more. Because it is such a familiar experience I’m more content to wait and see and do it ‘for real’ in the live game.

In any case, we played through the end-game ‘Invaded’ mission included in the beta 3 times, once on normal and twice on hard, the highest difficulty open in the beta.

So… Was it a bullet sponge fest?

On normal, with the gear the premade specialist characters started with? No, actually.

Normal difficulty felt OK. Red health bar guys were just two pumps of a SPAS-12 (8-round shotgun).

This starter gear was primarily high-end gear with a few epics thrown in. We didn’t have anything in the way of modifications for our skills. (Yep, even skills can have mods now.)

Item Level would’ve been in the 330-340 region, with a maximum possible a bit over 350 from what we could tell. High-end armor pieces were ilvl 350, with the highest weapon drop I personally saw at 352.

With this sort of gear, Normal difficulty felt OK. Red health bar guys were just two pumps of a SPAS-12 (8-round shotgun). Purple and Yellow health barred mobs took more, but still felt pretty OK. Focus firing any given target including named bosses melted them quickly.

And on Hard?

Our first pass of this room on hard was a nightmare. It made our group very afraid of the explosive flying drones. They became priority target #1.

Well… Yeah, OK. No getting around this one.

The Black Tusk enemies on Hard are a significant jump up over their normal counterparts. The damage they can inflict feels OK (actually, it hurts a great deal — I’m not into that kind of thing, I swear!) but their life bars. Sheesh.

The red health bar guys can now take five to six solid SPAS-12 blasts, breaking through the heavy armor of the medieval looking guys with chainguns takes the sustained fire of multiple full mags from the group to actually start doing damage.

Our first time through on normal it was clear as day weather at this section. The rain storm at night made for very poor visibility, and added to the challenge quite a bit.

There are quite a few unknowns that may mitigate this though. As I noted, we were missing modifications for our skills. We didn’t have a full set of skills to choose from. We didn’t necessarily have an optimum setup of attribute rolls, gear talents or brand mixes, either.

How much headroom is there for DPS growth from these factors? Unknown. I hope it is substantial though, because this was just hard. We didn’t have an opportunity to try out Challenging or Legendary1 difficulty yet.

Time to Loot

The drops were not so common as to lose all meaning, but neither were they so rare as to demotivate playing just that little bit more for a chance at another.

Warning: There is absolutely no guarantee that the drop rates experienced in the private beta will match live.

But I hope they do – because it felt like the right balance between the original stinginess of loot that we experienced in the early days of The Division 1 and the loot pinata that you’ll find if you go play now.

Even on the normal run we each received a few high-end / exotic gear pieces each. On the hard runs we perhaps received four to five such pieces each.

Basically, the drops were not so common as to lose all meaning, but neither were they so rare as to demotivate playing just that little bit more for a chance at another.

Outside of the brand gear I talked about in my early game impressions, there was no sign of ‘proper’ set gear as yet. Whether they are keeping that back for the full retail launch, or whether it is being held back for a later release, or worst of all in my opinion, expected to no longer be needed due to brands — I don’t know.

The Specialist Roles

Ehhhh.

But will there be perks to differentiate one specialisation from another? Gear sets exclusive to the specs, perhaps? I hope so, as they certainly do not feel very distinct from one another from our experience in the demo and need something to give flavour.

This is probably the area I’d most like to withhold judgement on until the the full release of the game.

But it seemed like your selection of specialty had very little bearing on how you play the game.

90 to 95% of the time you’ll be using your ‘standard’ kit, because the exotic ammo drops are rare. Extremely so. One or two drops of the ammo per run it seems, although on the first run through I had none at all.

The Sharpshooter’s .50 cal rifle is a great fight starter if they’re given the chance. The Demolitionist’s grenade launcher was excellent as an ‘Oh shi-‘ button (although using it honestly just put me in the frame of mind as it being a poor-man’s version of the Colossus’ ultimate). The Survivalist has a crossbow with explosive rounds. It seemed like a fairly versatile weapon, with the bolt lodging into whatever enemy it hits. At that point there is no escape, even if they run behind cover — that explosion in their chest is now inevitable.

But will there be perks to differentiate one specialisation from another? Gear sets exclusive to the specs, perhaps? I hope so, as they certainly do not feel very distinct from one another from our experience in the demo and need something to give flavour.

Conclusion

If you haven’t already, you may also wish to view my thoughts on the early game PvE, and the Dark Zone PvP.

With this experience I wrap-up my time with The Division 2 demo. In large part because the weekend is over and I’m back to work tomorrow, but even if that was not the case, I don’t feel any particular drive to go in and play more.

Don’t get me wrong, my experience with The Division 2 — some frustrating bugs and crashes notwithstanding2 — has been by and large a positive one.

But it’s also been a very familiar one. The changes are for the most part very welcome, but the core of the game is just The Division 1 done in summer.

I’ve said it before — but it really is true; if you enjoyed and want more Division 1, this will be absolutely your jam. If you didn’t get on with Division 1 then it’s equally likely you’ll find nothing here to change your mind.

I enjoyed the taste of the endgame the beta allowed, I feel that some tuning on enemy life / armor values might be in order if the player damage doesn’t scale much from the additional mod slots we were missing, especially in consideration of the fact this was only on ‘Hard’ difficulty.

It’s not a pre-order, must have, day 1 title for me. When I pick it up is going to largely depend on the rate of content releases for Anthem. With the first story update scheduled for March, Anthem may well hold me over for some time.

Potentially that is quite an optimistic view though, and I know within my circle of gaming friends some of them are hyper-keen and were extremely impressed by the continuation of The Division. This makes it much more likely that I’ll pick it up on or soon after release — but I’ll get it when I need to and assess when that is as we go.

As always though with demo impressions, this is by no means a review. There are just too many unknowns (for me, at least) to even begin to make such a claim. Certainly the demo experience has solidified my position on to buy or not personally — but if you’re still on the fence and didn’t get a chance to try the beta out this weekend yourself…

Just wait for the actual reviews and launched game streams, etc. You’ll be able to get a much firmer idea then how well (or not) Massive and Ubisoft have managed to deal with the bugs, the balance and the like.

The Division 2 Private Beta – The Dark Zone

I spent about 4 hours in the Dark Zone today as a duo – and let me tell you. I’m glad I wasn’t out there alone. It might just be a demo thing, but almost everyone was pretty gung-ho about going rogue and ‘testing things out’. Fortunately for us, that meant there were plenty of targets.

I haven’t yet given the structured PvP mode available in the beta a go (Conflict) so I cannot speak to the quality of the map design or how that mode feels to play.

So this will speak to the feel of PvP in The Division 2 more generally, and what it’s like to explore the Dark Zone with the new player density and map size.

If you’re actually after what the PvE experience is like, or the game more generally, then check out my impressions of the early game. The end-game PvE impressions are still to come.

Time to Kill and General PvP Feel

TTK has definitely been reduced in PvP combat relative to what it was in The Division 1. But it is not down to Call of Duty or Battlefield levels of quick as some were concerned about before we gained access to the game.

The TTK is measured in seconds, around the mid single digit figure range under sustained fire.

If you let yourself get caught with your pants down without any nearby cover, then you’re very likely dead. But with so much cover around, you’d have to be actively trying to avoid it. ;)

I was a little dubious going in how I felt about Massive adding Normalisation to the Dark Zones. But after seeing it in action and how they’ve done it, I’m a convert.

Not all weapons are created equal when it comes to PvP, the ACS-12 — a fully automatic shotgun with a 20-round mag (21 if you chamber one as well) — is rediculous.

If you can get someone trying to repair their armor or suppressed behind cover from a buddy, you can pop around for a quick ‘Hi!’ followed by a veritable hailstorm of lead which quickly leads to them on the floor, expression stuck somewhere between surprise and sad-panda.

For your mid-range engagements, Assault Rifles feel very good. At one point I was walking around with two AR’s equipped to avoid having to reload, before ultimately changing to and settling on one AR for distance and to close, then the ACS-12 auto-shotgun for up close and personal.

I was a little dubious going in how I felt about Massive adding Normalisation to the Dark Zones. But after seeing it in action and how they’ve done it, I’m a convert. I like it. Essentially the base stats and the item modifiers will be normalised to a certain level, regardless of the starting item level or rarity.

No more DZXP after hitting Rank 10 in the beta. :(

But those who invest the time to get good gear in the form of exotics (think legendaries), for example, will still reap some reward in that they will have additional talents and mod slots on the gear to be normalised. If you’re a low level rocking in with greens and blues; sure the base damage and whatever mods you’ve rolled will rank up – but you’re still missing the 2-4 mods and talents the people with time invested will have.

To me this feels fair and a great balance, that makes it possible to compete for those coming in yet without making it feel that time invested to gear up has been wasted the moment you set foot into the DZ.

Honestly, overall PvP in The Division 2 feels pretty good. I couldn’t tell you how long it took us to reach Dark Zone rank 10 (the maximum in the beta) because time seemed to be flying by so quickly. I would estimate though that if it was over an hour, it wasn’t by much. More likely it was less.

Heck, you’re rank 2 and a bit by the time you’re done with the entry tutorial; which I’ll cover next.

Entering the Dark Zone

If you’re contemplating The Division 2 without the benefit of experience from The Division 1, you will be pleased to know that there is a tutorial mission included now.

It will guide you through activating your first safehouse, getting and extracting contaminated loot, and activating the gateway turrets. More of those in a bit.

Throughout this mission you’ll be running around an instanced version of the Dark Zone map without other players around, granting an easier and less threatening way to get started.

This is a positive addition, but I hope you are not made to run through this in full for each of the three Dark Zones!

Impact of the Dark Zone Map Size and Alerting Changes

In The Division 2, within the two plus minutes it takes from when you send up the flare to the chopper leaving with your loot safely in tow — it is entirely possible for another player to book it there from anywhere on the map.

We’re talking small. Real small. Yes, The Division 2 ships with 3 such areas to play in, but it’s not the total area that is of concern. It is the density.

If your focus is on the PvP elements in the first place, this is likely going to be a positive news story for you. If you were there more as a PvPvE player with an intent to focus on the PvE element just with some added risk… I’m sorry.

Size is the biggest factor here, but the zone now also alerts other players when a ‘Landmark’ location (PvE stronghold type location) is engaged with, so anyone so inclined can make a beeline to you.

Extractions could be done in The Division 1 with relative safety if you so chose, because you could use an extraction point far, far away from any known Rogue players.

In The Division 2, within the two plus minutes it takes from when you send up the flare to the chopper leaving with your loot safely in tow — it is entirely possible for another player to book it there from anywhere on the map.

For some scale comparison to these images, The Division 1 map screenshot was at maximum zoomed out distance. The grid roads you can see are main streets. The Division 2 map, the bolder lines are streets – the smaller lines between them you can see are walkways, paths, alleys and similar.

Again, this is good news if it is your intent to PvP like it was ours today. But I know a lot of people enjoyed The Division 1’s Dark Zone for the risk and occasional PvP but didn’t want it to be constant.

That particular playstyle is not likely to be an option in The Division 2. You will either need to choose to adapt and take a more active PvP participation level, or to forego the Dark Zone altogether.

It’s not ALL bad news though, even if you’re not so good at PvP to start with, as contaminated loot (the kind you must extract to secure) is not the only kind available.

Completing a Landmark on the map and the occasional drop besides will go straight to your normal inventory, so even if you do lose that stash of contaminated loot in the process of trying to extract, you still come away with something beyond than the taste of bitterness and defeat.

The Turrets

Sigh.

Their impact to the game is fairly minimal actually. We had one rather ‘lol’ moment though when someone turned rogue on us just a liiiitle too close to the turrets coverage zone and were wiped off the map nigh instantly.

They are not out in the playfield at large, so can be fairly safely ignored. The stated reason for their inclusion is to prevent camping of Rogues at the entry/exits of the DZ and therefore make the DZ feel more welcoming to newcomers.

Ok, fair enough, but while you’re in one of the DZ waypoints, you can fast travel to absolutely any other one. So it wasn’t truly needed from that perspective.

And then the other changes made to the alerting of PvE Landmarks being engaged with and the reduced TTK seem to run contrary to welcoming in new players anyway.

In essence, they’re nothing to make a fuss about — but also seemingly a pointless addition.

Conclusion

It’s something I said in the Early PvE impressions too, but essentially if you liked PvP in The Division 1, you’ll more than likely enjoy it here too.

It feels good, with a great balance between pace and time to react. When I end up having time for the full launch of The Division 2, I’ll certainly be there.

Note that I said PvP specifically there rather than ‘The Dark Zone’, because I can’t make the same claim there. If you are mostly a PvE player, but still dipped your toes for the heightened excitement and tension in The Division 1’s Dark Zone, my sense is that you may very well not enjoy The Division 2’s take.

A potential mitigating factor to this is that each week, one of the three Dark Zones will cycle into a heightened danger mode where normalisation is turned off.

If it turns out that the true hardcore PvP fans flock to this particular DZ each week, you may still get the experience you’re after by simply going to one of the other two. But that’s a really big ‘if’.

The PvP of The Division 2 is faster paced, but without losing sight of what The Division is. It’s still an RPG looter-shooter and this is reflected in the TTK not being the sub 2-second times of CoD or BF and having your arsenal of skills to support.

It feels good, with a great balance between pace and time to react. When I end up having time for the full launch of The Division 2, I’ll certainly be there. :)

The Division 2 Private Beta – Early Impressions of Early Game

Righto, so I’ve spent about 6-7 hours with The Division 2 beta so far. This first day of access has been about the early game (starting right from level 1) with a transition to allowing late-game play and testing a specialisation after the three-hour maintenance tonight.

I’ve completed both of the main story missions available in the demo, most of the side missions and then a bunch of the more randomly-generated event based content.

I have not yet tried out the available Dark Zone area or the PvP, so I can’t talk to that just yet.

Before I go any further though, I want to acknowledge I have a bias toward Anthem. I intend to ultimately play both games, and see myself bouncing between them as content releases occur, but certainly my preference is to start with Anthem. If you’re interested in why that is — then some of my reasoning for that is here.

I’ll endeavour to keep most of these sections therefore as factual as possible, with a more subjective opinion piece in the post’s conclusion.

Technical Stability

The Division 2 immediately presents a more polished set of technicals than the Anthem demo did, and I include the improved open Anthem demo in that statement too.

The servers showed little to no sign of a struggle to start with and game performance was solid without causing the PC to do a pretty good impression of a space heater like the Anthem demo client did.

There is unfortunately one very significant caveat to this — if you play in sessions longer than ~2 hours at a time, you will be subject to a memory leak issue.

It presents in one of a few ways — the most common being to simply crash, but at one time I started taking performance dips which grew increasingly worse over time, from 75-90 FPS working well, down to 15-25 FPS with judders before I finally reset the client.

There are also intermittent server-side disconnects. They’re not terribly frequent — perhaps once every hour or two, but a poorly timed one can cause you to lose all progress in a mission and restart.

Earlier I was running from the nearest safehouse to the East Darkzone (the one open during the Beta). I was just about there when a client freeze and crash hit. I logged in again, almost arrived a second time and then had a server disconnect. Sigh.

Visuals

Whether it is simply YouTube compression being YouTube compression, an intentional downplay of the visuals to avoid accusations of ‘Downgraaade!’ later on or other — the game in action on your very own screen looks a lot better than the game trailers would suggest.

While it is unmistakably still the same engine as The Division 1, there is an increased visual fidelity and sharpness to The Division 2.

I believe higher res textures are playing a role here, but also a conscious design choice from Massive to not soften the image so much in post process. This game is edgy, but not in a jaggy unanti-aliased kind of way.

There doesn’t appear to be any sort of Motion Blur on by default which I’m sure will make a lot of people happy.

In short, Division 2 aims for a much crisper display, and hits the target well.

Gameplay

If you played The Division 1, you know what to expect and you will already know whether or not that is a thing you want more of.

If not for the increased diversity in biomes in the game, the moment-to-moment gameplay could easily be mistaken for that of the first game.

That’s not to say there haven’t been changes – there have, of course. But if you didn’t enjoy the core gameplay of the first there is likely nothing here to change your mind.

I’m a new to The Division!

In that case – know that you’re in for a third-person cover shooter that leans more toward the RPG end of things with longer time-to-kill than most other shooters you might be familiar with.

The Division 1: Expect to see a lot of snow.

Having said that, standing around, not using the plentiful cover around will still see you a pile of mincemeat on the ground in fairly short order. At least — that is true until you’ve geared up and started using the appropriate skills if that is a position on the field you want to occupy.

Loot is a huge component of the game, if you consider Diablo or Borderlands in third-person shooter form you’re pretty much there.

And like Diablo at least — the abilities also play a major role. You can unlock the ability to heal, wield a powerful shield letting you advance on the enemy position without cover and ultimately flank, deploy turrets, and more. You can equip two such skills at a time, select a modded-variant of these skills to use and then also pick an ultimate skill from a selection of three.

The game can technically be played solo. But don’t. You’re best off with friends and may have up to 4 (including yourself) in the freeroam and main story missions.

For more detailed information, highly suggest you take a look around the net for other reviews, but I note that any review from the launch of The Division will be woefully out of date.

I’m not new — what are some of the key differences?

You might want to sit down for this one. After your experience with the JTF in The Division 1 you might not be ready for it.

Seated? OK, good.

The friendly NPCs in this game are not useless. The relatively low-key ‘capture and hold the area around this box’ side-missions of The Division 1 have been upgraded to a Territory Control mechanic in The Division 2.

Skill selection in the demo is incredibly limited but for the most part are quite promising. Perhaps the biggest exception to this is the new Division 2 variant of the Seeker Mine which is… not good.

A small area of the map will become an enemy stronghold, which you can fire off a flare to bring in surrounding friendly NPCs.

And they do work. They will push in on enemy positions and really make their presence felt. They’re also not your typical MMO or MMO-lite NPCs that deal no damage and essentially are just activity placeholders til you come to save the day.

No, these guys will mow shiz down.

And this sets a general theme for Division 1 –> 2 transition. Everything that was in the freeroam map of Division 1 is still here but generally speaking a bit bigger and better.

Side missions are more like mini main story missions, although perhaps a bit formulaic in what we’ve seen so far. Fight your way into a building. Do something (e.g., save a hostage, check on some intel), then: Oops, the enemy got mad and sent in reinforcements. Fight your way back out as well.

Safehouses still exist, but some of them are now Settlements. Settlements can be upgraded with your support with new facilities to help both the people there and yourself. They’re where you will recruit your operational staff from which unlocks additional facilities back at the Base of Operations.

They’re also often extended mission hubs, with each upgrade then opening more missions and side activity options.

Making up for this somewhat, the turrets (both Assault and Sniper variants) are amazing — so there is definitely a bit of a mixed bag.

The gunplay is about the same (which is to say, competent — but nothing to write home about).

Skill selection in the demo is incredibly limited but for the most part are quite promising. Perhaps the biggest exception to this is the new Division 2 variant of the Seeker Mine which is… not good.

‘Seeker’ Mine is now a bit of misnomer. Because it doesn’t. (At least not in the Airburst modded form, I couldn’t say for certainty none of the mods do.) Instead you deploy the Seeker as before, but then must target an area for it to go do its thing at.

If you’re using this to open combat, then all good! It will scuttle on over and give a rather surprising ‘Hi!’

If you’re already in combat, generally by the time it’s rolled its merry way over to the target location everyone there is either dead or 10-meters away in some other direction.

It doesn’t feel good to use in its current form which is disheartening because the Airburst Seeker Mine was one of my favourite skills from The Division 1.

Making up for this somewhat, the turrets (both Assault and Sniper variants) are amazing — so there is definitely a bit of a mixed bag.

Loot

I’ll likely comment on this again after we get to see some of the endgame variants, but I already can tell I like the direction of the changes to Loot from Division 1 –> 2.

Armor and Brands

Right from the outset with low-level green drops, armor pieces can belong to one of several ‘brands’. This forms the basis of a set-bonus for gear right from the outset, letting players customise builds in interesting ways.

The ‘Providence’ brand, an all-rounder set that covers off skillpower, health and weapon damage.

Right from level 1, you can start thinking about the direction you want to focus — be that on empowering your abilities, marksmanship, defensive staying power or straight up raw firepower.

Brand set bonuses only require 3 pieces to get their maximum bonus, so you have a number of ways to mix and match across your gear.

Perhaps the one downside to this is that crafting armor pieces feels a waste of time as they do not come with a ‘brand’. At least not at the outset of the game.

Weapons and Modifications

The variety in weapons and their handling characteristics is impressive. The shooting perhaps seemed a bit loose to start with, but may well have been a symptom of lower accuracy weapons without the benefit of modifications.

Seeing an Epic drop, even in the demo, lit up all the reward centres in my brain.

Around levels 5-6 I started getting weapons which felt tighter to control and access to enough perk points to buy out the basic range of weapon modifications.

Mods now don’t litter your stash or inventory taking up space. You gain access to at least a set of basic modifications through investing in Perks, which can then be used on any weapon at any time.

Modifications will typically have both a positive and a negative effect, and at least for these low level variants there is an actual decision to be made on whether or not you’d want to use them. Is a reduction in Crit damage worth the increase in Stability? For an LMG, maybe. For a SMG almost certainly not.

I’ve also gained access to to some Blueprints for Modifications which do appear to need to be crafted before they can be used. I think these DO go into your bag, but there is a separate inventory for modifications.

I haven’t crafted one of these yet though, so I’m not 100% positive how this fits together. I’ll revisit this in a later post.

Character Progression and Perks

The Division 1 lacked much in the way meaningful progression outside of levels and gear. While there was a perk system present, it offered less meaningful choices and it was relatively linear in how it was unlocked.

Expect for your main way of character progression to be, as it was with The Division 1, with levels and gear.

The Division 2 by contrast, while very likely to end up in the same position of a ‘finished’ character having everything unlocked at least provides you with a set of decisions on what order to tackle your unlocks in based on what you felt you wanted or needed most in the moment.

The options are largely themed around capacity. For example, increased inventory (starting size is frustrating), increased stash, carry capacity for grenades, armor kits, etc. But there is some variation for example with the basic set of weapon modifications.

Still, expect for your main way of character progression to be, as it was with The Division 1, with levels and gear.

Impressions of the Early Division 2 Gameplay vs. Anthem

I like what I see. There is a lot of promise and fans of The Division 1 are likely to be pleased with the direction the game has taken.

When I can’t jump or even step over certain ledges, getting stuck on a ramp only inches from the ground in places — I’m immediately drawn back to the hyper-mobility of Anthem.

On paper, I was beginning to question my choice in focusing on Anthem first, as it sounds like The Division 2 is going to have a much heavier load of endgame content from out of the gate. Some of which we’ll get to try later tonight or tomorrow!

However actually getting my hands on the game again confirmed for me that I’d be happier with Anthem. The weighty, stuck to the ground feel of The Division 2 offers a much more realistic environment (not that ‘realistic’ is a term that should be tied too heavily to a looter-shooter) but it also offers up its own set of annoyances.

When I can’t jump or even step over certain ledges, getting stuck on a ramp only inches from the ground in places — I’m immediately drawn back to the hyper-mobility of Anthem.

It’s hard to say with having had exposure to such a limited selection of abilities in The Division 2 so far how they compare, but it is easy to tell they’re more of a supportive role as opposed to Anthem where they are (depending to some extent on your choice of Javelin) the main feature of the combat. At least this is true without the heavier cooldown orientated builds which may be possible with later game gear.

So this leaves The Division 2 reliant on its gunplay and cover mechanics. This is a solid foundation, and with the right set of friends by your side allows for some awesome moments in the set-pieces of the main missions.

The grounded nature of The Division 2 can then be turned into a strength whereby flanking your enemy to get a good shot becomes an exercise in team tactics.

Ultimately my wish is that The Division 2 and Anthem were separated in launch dates by more than just a month. Even one extra month would have allowed for a much more peaceful co-existence in my life. ;)

As it is, my friends and I will have to prioritise once both are out. Barring any nasty surprises with the launch of Anthem, my expectation is that my preference still lies there.

The content schedule for Anthem while heartening, I feel is still going to provide a gap. In which, jumping over to experience the story and endgame of The Division 2 for a while shall be very welcome.


Anthem Impressions – Two Demo Weekends In

Anthem - Ancient Ash Titan looms directly ahead, with a wave of its minions - the ash elementals swarm around its feet.

This post is more difficult than I imagined. And it’s due to more than just experience with the demo itself. There has also been a fair number of information drops since the VIP Demo.

Not all of that news has been good. I’ve experienced something of a mental tonal shift in regards to Anthem too. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still all in and wish this game absolute success.

But there is a significant difference between constructive criticism vs. an irrational degree of cynicism. Or perhaps less charitably — driving clicks through sensationalist moral outrage or jumping on the current hate-bandwagon.

Despite what the internet by and large would have us believe these days – it’s actually OK to like something. That doesn’t however excuse blind faith or rationalising away legitimate concerns. Unwarranted positivity can be just as damaging as unwarranted negativity.

So here’s an attempt at rendering more of a balanced view. Based on both the information released since my last write-up, and another weekend of play.

The Open Demo itself

By and large, everything I discussed in my last impressions of the VIP Demo still holds true. We were after all essentially playing the same build of the game, warts and all this weekend.

With a couple pretty key exceptions: They fixed the infinite loading / 95% stuck bug. And the servers launched in a much more stable condition.

Otherwise though — the bugs remained. Enemies still vanished, sound still cut out, key parts required to complete events could depart with a disconnecting player, rendering events (and even the Stronghold) unable to be completed. Luckily, this is confirmed fixed in live game build.

There are a few things that I either didn’t cover or feel needs more attention now though. For example, Pete reminded me in his impressions post of the annoying insistence to second guess the players choice to go into Private play mode. If you want to play a mission in private, even though you literally just dug several menu’s to change it… When you go to launch the mission it will ask, ‘Are you sure?’ with a patronising message about the game being better with other players.

For your first time through a mission, other than with friends? Vehemently disagree. Having a random blaze off ahead, forcing you into a teleport after them without the time to take things in or find things yourself is the worst. Stop it Anthem, stop it!

Mouse and Keyboard Controls

I mentioned before I quite liked the controls – to the point of hoping the fixes talked about for the live build didn’t change things too dramatically.

Dealing with Mouse Acceleration is 100% normal to me. I’ve turned it off now and increased the DPI used on my mouse. It has taken a wee bit of adjustment, but has helped highlight for me the problems people have discussed with the flight model.

This is still true. But I’ve done a little more research on the topic of mouse control and at least understand the problem others are experiencing a little better now.

This article gave me a much better understanding of issues around mouse acceleration and the like. Turns out I’ve been amongst the scrubbiest of scrubs, with Windows mouse acceleration turned on (the ‘Enhance Pointer Precision’ option).

And I mean, that sucker has been on for years. Probably since the option turned up in Windows XP.

So dealing with Mouse Acceleration is 100% normal to me. I’ve turned it off now and increased the DPI used on my mouse. It has taken a wee bit of adjustment, but has helped highlight for me the problems people have discussed with the flight model. So I hope the planned fix assists us all in that respect.

There is still an element of ‘git gud’ to picking up Anthem’s flight as well though. The practice effect is strong, but it kicks in after a relatively short amount of sustained play.

Menu and UI

I think… Painful might be the right word to use here.

It largely gets out of your way when it matters, but makes what should be simple tasks such as inviting squad mates and launching a mission much less intuitive than it should be.

We are getting some good fixes coming through for launch, but it is clear that the interface was a console first design. That needn’t necessarily be a death knell for a UI even on PC.

But layer on that lacking (in the demo, at least) the simple ability to click through to elements clearly displayed on the screen just because they’re one level down, and this really odd laggy, delayed sensation to the menu interactions? And yeah.. Painful.

The console method of confirming actions by requiring a key to be held down has jumped to this PC interface as well. In some instances, I’m OK with it, e.g. when requesting to leave a mission early or leaving freeplay. But other times it is ridiculous, e.g. when it asks you to hold ‘Esc’ to simply leave a menu, as if it is a key that commonly gets mispressed!

Honestly speaking — unlike controls where issues can actively diminish the play experience — a painful UI is rarely a deal breaker, and it isn’t here either.

It largely gets out of your way when it matters, but makes what should be simple tasks such as inviting squad mates and launching a mission much less intuitive than it should be.

How was the end of Demo event?

Eh. It was OK.

It was overhyped for what it ended up being. To be fair — this was a community action rather than anything BioWare did. There was a small teaser to hang around for the final hours of the event, and from this videos were spawned speculating we were to see a Shaper Storm or a Cataclysm event.

But while BioWare themselves never promised any of this — managing player expectations is a key aspect of managing a fan community, and this was nowhere to be seen.

Admittedly, it did look good in motion. And even better at night.

So when it turned out to be an orange patch of storm in the sky, with a few particle effects representing fiery fallout from it and an abundance of Ash Titans around the place… And that was all… ‘Eh’ is about right.

In fact before I went back in and found the Ancient Ash Titan myself — I was getting to ready to leave this demo on a detached and very down note.

Fighting this guy first-hand saved my experience with the demo.

I almost didn’t bother going looking. I had heard already that people were suffering from the despawning-monster bug prevalent in the demo build of the game and losing their progress against it.1

I’m glad I did, because watching this fight and taking part in this fight are dramatically different things.

As the Ancient Ash Titan’s health gets lower, it starts using more abilities and in different sequences, increasing in tempo and variance the further in you get. All before berserking out, firing everything it possibly has at you for a while before self-destructing.

It was wild, exhilarating even. More of this, please.

Still — as an event, it was fairly lack-lustre over all. But from all indications, we should only consider this to be the ‘Phase 1’ of such an event roll-out. In live the expectation is that this would continue to build into bigger and better things.

OK, that’s fair — I can buy that. I don’t buy that it was necessarily a good idea to showcase a ‘Phase 1’ event with no follow-up, in a demo you’re putting out to help sell the product though.

Endgame

Moving on from the demo itself: Endgame news.

The embargo on endgame broke Feb 1st, and… Hoo boy. You might have heard, there are only three strongholds2 at launch.

Strongholds are not the only endgame content, but from what we can tell, for those serious about endgame play – they will be the main activity immediately following launch. They are more than a Strike in Destiny 2, but perhaps a little less than an MMO’s dungeon where multiple boss encounters are expected. They culminate in a boss battle at the end, and have events and mini bosses throughout.

One of the three will unlock during the main story path, but the remaining two will only unlock after reaching maximum level (30).

We’ll also have Legendary Contracts occupying a similar difficulty level as the Strongholds, but it seems only one a day. A legendary contract is a set mission but generated from a random selection of three events which escalate in difficulty from one to the next.

Outside of these we’ll also have the difficulty scaling into Grandmaster 1-3, similar to Diablo 3’s Torment levels. We will have full access to freeroam, other non-Legendary-contracts and the open world mini-dungeons (e.g., the demo had The Mandible and The Necropolis) to get through at these difficulties.

Even so, I get the concern. Only three strongholds for launch is an incredibly weak offering. I feel like even if they’d bumped it to five, while still weak, the outcry would not be so vehement. Hell, I’d be a lot more accepting of five.

I understand that it’s fairly common practice for the looter-shooter genre titles to launch without anything in the way of an endgame. But have they not learned from the outcry and player-base bleeding that goes along with it each time?

BioWare have been suggesting that they will be providing some clarity over the post-launch roadmap soon. I’m looking forward to seeing this and how quickly we can expect additions to what is currently sounding rather thin on the ground.

BioWare has also said that there have been multiple live-content teams at work on post-launch content for the past several weeks, so there is still potential for a quick turn around… But, in the absence of that information?

Here’s my current conclusion…

Conclusion

I’m still very much looking forward to Anthem’s full release. The core of the game is excellent, the skills (if not all the weapons) feel impactful and great to use.

At that point I could comfortably put Anthem on the shelf and give it time to develop more of an endgame — likely giving The Division 2 a try while it does so.

The loot while not yet showing signs of living up to the great examples set in Blizzard’s titles and other ARPGs, is certainly a hell of a lot more interesting than anything Destiny 2 offers in this area.

But! I am tempering my immediate long-term expectations for the game. That isn’t a contradiction, I swear! What I mean is — if at launch, I can get somewhere in the region of 50-80 hours of it, accounting for going through the story, finishing up with the reputations and challenges I care about, perhaps getting into a decent set of Masterwork gear (with some legendaries scattered in) to such a point I can get into and do the Grandmaster difficulties? Then I’ll be happy that it was money well spent.

At that point I could comfortably put Anthem on the shelf and give it time to develop more of an endgame — likely giving The Division 2 a try while it does so.

I’m no longer expecting to get hundreds of hours out of the title immediately. Eventually, yes. But not immediately.3



A new Anthem demo approaches

Less than a day stands between us and the launch of the next Anthem demo. This time the floodgates spread open, the spigots of access turned to full.

It will be the best of times. It may also be the worst of times. BioWare’s Head of Live Service, Chad Robertson has posted some information setting expectations.

There are a few key takeaways, but perhaps the main one is that the dreaded infinite / 95% loading bug should be fixed. We’ll see. I’m personally a little sceptical. Not I hasten to add due to a belief in any lack of effort on their part, but because this shit is hard.

From the last go-around, there were reports that simply changing your Window’s clock settings to ‘Auto’ was making a measurable difference for some people. There was also mention that there was interplay between various local (in-home) and ISP specific routing methods contributing to the problems.

There has been more testing over the course of the week, and I hope for everyone’s sake that they’ve nailed this one. I’m just saying don’t be surprised if some people still strike it.

Any other differences to this build?

Not really – we’re still not going to be playing the ‘live’ version of the game, so there is still — as with last time — a myriad of fixes that have been made that we won’t see the benefit of.

Examples?

  • Live version will allow you to run in Fort Tarsis,
  • A squad indicator, showing you direction of your teammates even if they pass the range of your main HUD display
  • Loot won’t come with 0% inscriptions
  • Loot won’t come with inscriptions that are literally impossible to use (e.g., Interceptor mod with Ranger gear buffs)
  • Fixes to other bugs/issues ranging from audio issues, XP gain problems, flight control feeling off for M+KB players, etc.

So all that and more (Dantics has a great video on the topic here, actually) we will have to wait for the live version of the game.

Any reason to play again this weekend?

What… What sort of question is this? I don’t even…

No no- I got you. Progress is carrying over from last weekend, so if you feel maxed out already this is a legitimate question. There are a couple of potential draws though which you possibly might not know about.

  1. On the last day of the VIP demo — BioWare opened up all four Javelins to all VIP demo players. So if you didn’t get a chance to max out (or at least test out, to your satisfaction) the other two Javelins, you now can.
  2. A live event has been teased for Sunday afternoon (or Monday for Aus/NZ folk — there was a dev tweet suggesting they would look after us timewise so that we could play too, even allowing for work, etc — but no details yet on what this looks like.)

The common belief is that the live event will be a Shaper Storm — one of the big storms we see at the end of the E3 2017 Gameplay Video, right before the cut without seeing where it goes or what it does. Shaper Storms are expected to be another type of endgame content, but at this stage very little is known.

The embargo on endgame content is also due to end tomorrow in line with the opening of the demo, so from a timeline perspective it’s certainly possible.

Personally I’m expecting something a little lower key; perhaps some sort of mob invasion, or freeplay world boss event — a general playing with the live service ‘dungeon master’ type tools.

I guess we’ll soon see! I’ll be sure to update my impressions afterward!

What to expect when you’re expecting… (an Anthem Demo)

There is a lot of information floating around about the upcoming Anthem demo–some of it not quite right. So I’m here to help distinguish between what we ‘know’–that is, we have it direct from an official source–vs. what has merely been speculated.

Little does this Grabbit know how soon, or how much, it’s peaceful existence is about to be disrupted by a horde of new Freelancers…

What we’ve been told:

BioWare’s Mark Darrah and Michael Gamble have been busy beavers on Twitter, providing information and answering questions on what we will get in the demos.1

The playable level range will be 10-15.2 You will be dropped into the thick of it at level 10, without the benefit of the tutorial, nor having had the ability to run through customisation of your pilot/human avatar like you will in the full game.

All demo players will start with the Ranger. At level 12 we will be able to select a second Javelin of our choice to test.3

The demo was branched from the final game code base ~6 weeks ago.4 This has a few distinct call-outs of its own. Namely, 6 weeks worth of bug fixes are missing from the demo build.

Tweaks to mouse and keyboard flight controls made since the branch for a more nuanced control experience are missing from the demo.

Some things have been renamed for additional clarity in the final build, that will still have their old names in the demo.

Balance in terms of the economy and the difficulty have not been updated to the final state either. Mark Darrah confirmed5 that in general, the demo build is easier than what we will experience in the final build.

This will be an important note if you, or your friends, are concerned about the seeming ease of the game. The demo is not going to be representative of the final game difficulty. More on this in the next section.

In a similar vein to the difficulty, the gear drop rates and overall economy of the game do not reflect final game state either.

Demo will be a 30gb download6 This proved to be incorrect! For PC at least–the Origin download for the Anthem Demo weighs in at 44GB.

Progress will carry over from VIP demo to the Open demo, but not live.7

So this is what we’ve been told–if I’m missing anything, please do let me know. Oh. Actually. There is one more thing. I guess. The preload is live right now. Also, VIP friend keys are available. Just a small detail. ;) Take a look at the official EA Anthem demo page for information on starting the preload on your platform of choice, or take a look at this Reddit Post for advice on grabbing your friend VIP keys.

Demo gets a trailer

This short (30 second) trailer popped up this morning. Little bit of a new scene and dialog from Matthias.

This way lies speculation!

…And information which might well be official that I read previously and cannot now put my hands on the source.

Either way–take this section with a healthy dose of salt.

It seems the demo build we’ll be getting our hands on is more or less the same build that certain content creators in the ‘EA Game Changers’ programme were given access to late last year.

This build we believe was optimised for ‘shorter play sessions’, to which I take the mean that the XP gain and loot drop rates will be inflated over what BioWare would consider ‘normal’ for the final product.

We will level faster, see more items and potentially items of a higher grade than we will see at the same levels of pilot and difficulty in the launch product.

What is also somewhat murky is how many Javelin picks we will get to test during the demo sessions. From this twitter thread, we can confirm that all four Javelins (i.e., Ranger, Colossus, Storm and Interceptor) will be available to choose from. But not how many we will have access to on a single account.

The level cap of 15 would suggest two, and two has been discussed in various twitter threads the devs are on without contradiction or correction. My advice here would be to expect only two, then if it ends up being four, bonus!

There has been some discussion that we might all be given the Ranger to start and then get to choose only one other Javelin. My suspicion is that this is confusion over the base game and getting the loaner Ranger in the tutorial before making a choice on your actual starting Javelin.

I predict therefore that we will have open choice of two Javelins. Just two days now til we can confirm ourselves!

I was wrong with that prediction, and this has now been cleared up in full! BioCamden has posted on Reddit in the past hour that the Ranger will be the first unlock for everyone. At level 12 we will be able to pick another Javelin to try.

As a parting note: I am still likely to have another VIP friend key or two to giveaway–if you’re still needing one, let me know in the comments!

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