Making it Official: Anthem on Hold

Warning: Some elements of the negativity drive might be spinning up in this one.

In case it wasn’t clear — I’ve put Anthem to one side for the moment. This started out in a fairly happy and OK space. The revised expectations I put on the game during the second demo weekend were all met if not actually exceeded.

And despite my warning at the top of this post, I’m not yet ready to make any dramatic style, ‘I’m done forever!’ type statements. I may not even be done for long. But without any doubt, for the moment at least, I am done.

I was near to just letting that fact slide until I was ready to revisit (likely in April after the alternate player progression, new stronghold and some other fun bits were added.)

Then this tweet happened:

There are two more in the thread, one which indicates they believe they can take ‘Months’ to fix this.

Rather innocuous sounding if unaware of the context, I know. You may recall Isey’s post from a couple of days back urging BioWare to claim and own the increase to the loot drops people were seeing. Isey warned of the anger that would stem from taking this away a second time.

Prophecy fulfilled.

The video is well worth a watch for a summary of the reactions at the moment and the camps forming around the change.

I get what BioWare is after. They are making an effort to chase down a long tail of play through masterwork and legendary scarcity. They are following a philosophy of, ‘People will stay longer if there are still gear optimisations left to be made.’

What they’re perhaps not understanding yet, is that even with their loot improvements — their loot game simply isn’t strong or engaging enough to have that effect yet. Scarcity plus relatively uninspiring loot is becoming a player-churn driver rather than they player-retention driver they hoped for.

Once you’re decked out in ‘Somewhat OK’ masterworks in the Javelins you personally care about, the shine wanes fairly quickly. What should be the best part of a loot game — the refinement and optimisation of your build — is entirely missing or is too dispiriting to try chasing after for very long.

This could potentially be addressed in a number of ways, and a raw increase in the number of drops exchanged for your time invested is possibly the bluntest instrument in the toolbox. I acknowledge that. But it’s also the only one BioWare has right now.

They can clearly switch it up quite quickly, something that would not be true of introducing alternate, more delicate, options such as a reforging ability1 or adding more diversity to the masterwork/legendary effects and items pool.

But… Chad’s response really got under my skin in this instance. I’m not even 100% sure I can adequately articulate why, either, other than to say it is some awful mix of condescension while also being completely tone-deaf. There is a lack of empathy or understanding there so complete it makes me not want to hear from Chad again. Certainly he should refrain from tweeting again on issues like this, and possibly it should be reconsidered whether he is the right person for ‘Head of Live Service’.

*sigh* I’m a bit surprised at how much this tweet chain resonated and in such a negative way with me. Text is a poor communicator of ideas at times, and I’ve been trying to keep myself open to this fact. Interpretation of the emotive content (or lack thereof) is always going to be subjective at best. I acknowledge that. And yet I feel it so completely with this I know I’m going to be hard-pressed to be convinced.

Like I said earlier, I’ll be back to check on progress again. I’m not ‘done’ done, I’m not even ready to take the game off my ‘interested’ list. There are plenty of distractions (too many, in fact!) here now or coming soon. All the while though, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a strong April and May in Anthem-land!

Improvements to Anthem Loot Incoming

Unfortunately, the patch cannot fix this item. The new loot generation rules will not be retroactive. Still; it should prevent this happening again!

Ben Irving has now detailed what the loot improvements coming today or tomorrow are. They’re a really positive start that should make getting a Masterwork or Legendary more rewarding, if not necessarily more frequent.

Loot Change Highlights

  • Greens and Whites have been removed from the level 30 loot pool. It’s unclear however whether or not that shifts the probabilities of the higher rarities up, resulting in a higher chance to obtain MW or Legendary. It is entirely possible that the roll chances have remained the same, just with any loot that comes up as Green or White no longer actually dropping now.
  • Inscriptions to better fit their items. Some inscriptions have literally no way to use them. Two main versions of this issue at the moment:
    1. Item Specific (Cog Icon) inscriptions that cannot benefit the item it’s on. e.g., Cog Icon buff to Grenade Launcher damage on an Assault Rifle.
    2. Suit Wide (Javelin Icon) but on an item specific to a Javelin who cannot benefit from it. e.g., Ice Damage increase on a Ranger specific component. The Frost Grenade does no damage. Ice Effect is useful, but Ice Damage is not. Note: The Javelin-wide but still not useful issue is not specifically addressed in Ben’s Post. We will have to see if this is fixed with this patch or not.
  • Reduction in number of Masterwork Embers required to craft. You need 25 Masterwork Embers to craft a Masterwork gear piece at the moment, this is dropping to 15. Craft 40% more MW’s than you could before! … A bit painful after having crafted a bunch recently. But great going forward! ;)

Inscription Change Details

The changes detailed here are what give me some hope that despite the Javelin-wide but still not useful issue not being addressed, it may actually still be resolved.

Currently the inscription pools are extremely broad and generic. The example Ben gives is ‘Weapons’ as a single pool of possible Inscriptions.

When this patch hits, later today or tomorrow, every slot and type will have its own pool of inscriptions to draw upon when being generated. Further, each potential slot for an inscription on a piece of gear will have its own pool to draw upon.

Worth noting too, despite there being no indication of this in the current Anthem UI, there is a concept of Major and Minor stat-types already. Major inscriptions as you might expect focus on increasing either your damage or your survivability. Minor are more utilitarian or quality of life in nature.

I do query then some of the Major stat choices, for example, on the following item which one is meant to be Major?

Is Shotgun Ammo is meant to be the Major Inscription, with a minor DPS increase through less reloading required? Or maybe the Ammo Drop is, because picking those up also prevents need to reload? Either way, that’s still fairly unexciting as a Major.

What Will These Changes Mean?

Anyone coming to the loot-grind phase of the game now are definitely in for a better time of things. The confusion that items with dead-inscriptions has created for people has been fairly immense, leading people to believe they were missing or just not understanding something.

If you’ve already been on the loot-train like me, it’s going to depend on how far along and how lucky you got! These changes are a great start toward making loot drops more exciting though, with far less likelihood of something disappointing coming your way.

I have some fairly strong items (e.g., I’m not sure I’ll ever get to replace my legendary Pulse Blast at the current item level cap), but plenty of others that are just filling in space.

If you’ve lucked out on God Roll items for most of your gear already, it doesn’t help at all with the variety of items on offer unfortunately or in increasing build options. But at least the Roadmap shows that new items are coming with a fairly regular cadence, starting March.

These changes also mean my interest has been refreshed. I’ll jump back in more after it lands to check-out the changes first hand and see if I can get my Ranger into a state that GM2 feels good to play.

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 – 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.


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