It has been an incredibly long time since I’ve posted one of these, hasn’t it? Well, I’ve definitely played some games in that time. If anything, it looks like I’ve been a little restless for the last few months, though in addition to everything mentioned here, I’ve also played through an entire, lengthy single player game and been working my way through another classic DOS game, both of which I’ll dedicating separate posts to soon.
“My crew about to head out on another raid.”
Continuing to play through Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds with friends, I really wanted something of a similar vein that I could play solo. I recall hearing discussion about it on some podcasts and was intrigued, but at some point more recently I stumbled upon some YouTube footage of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and I was instantly hooked. I’ve been a fan of Ghost Recon since the early days, and while installments from Ghost Recon 2 onward have lost me more and more, it seemed like Wildlands was taking some of the best parts of those newer games and applying them to a big budget, open world shooter.
It turns out that my decision to hop into Wildlands was (mostly) a good one. While the gameplay quickly felt much more formulaic and repetitive, and a little bit more like GTA 5 with a Ghost Recon skin, than Ghost Recon with an open world, than I was hoping for, the main elements that drew me in remain compelling: playing dress up with the huge (though far from exhaustive, unfortunately) amount of customization options available for gearing up your character and your squad, taking that squad into whatever objectives you might want, whether the single-player campaign missions, or just randomly chasing new weapons and other upgrades, and finally, pulling off a coordinated, Tears of the Sun like stealth assault on an enemy position using silenced weapons, drones, and synchronized, long range shots.
“A quiet nighttime op suddenly heats up.”
The game world is awesome, the action, at its best, feels extremely satisfying, and the customization combined with the open world gameplay leads to a certain immersive quality that practically had me roleplaying the scenarios I’d bring my squad into. I’m 100% sure the game would have been even more enjoyable played cooperatively, but sadly none of my usual crew was very interested in checking out Wildlands for one reason or another. Even though I’ve mostly fallen off of the game by now, I’m keeping it installed for now in hopes that another one of my friends might eventually pick it up. That, and I’ve recently started watching Netflix’s Narcos, which the game seems to be undeniably inspired by, and I’ve already been feeling the urge to jump back in as a result. Wildlands definitely seems like it will be best enjoyed when viewed through the lens of that kind of on-the-ground, legally questionable operations where coordinating with “indigenous forces” is perhaps more crucial than more conventional small squad military or law enforcement direct action. While I personally rarely call on rebel support myself, there are certainly plenty of systems in place to play that way.
While it doesn’t seem like Wildlands is very popular (despite some stubborn attempts to foster an online, competitive community) reviews were generally quite positive so maybe there’s some hope for Ubisoft to justify developing a sequel. I’m sure everyone who still plays would love even more customization options, and maybe they could even throw a battle royale mode in to help boost sales the second time around. Oh, and including the PVP mode from the beginning would probably help get those numbers up too.
At around the same time my hype for World of Warcraft’s new expansion, Battle for Azeroth, was building. I decided to play a little catch up and play through the last expansion, Legion. The last time I took an extended break from WoW was just as Legion was being released, so I’d missed entire thing and really hadn’t spent any time following it. I went in more or less blind.
“The Battle for Azeroth login screen looks like something of a throwback.”
I ran my Dwarf Rogue through Legion’s single player campaign and I found the new zones and their associated storylines and quests to be quite enjoyable. I also enjoyed the whole artifact system and class hall/class quest system much more than I thought I would. That said, as a solo player, I was extremely frustrated by how much gating I encountered. Forays into dungeons and even raids for questline progression, in particular, were the worst offenders. There have always been items and recipes that you could only acquire as part of dungeon and raid drops, or deep rep grind purchases, but in Legion I found my leveling of Alchemy to be completely halted due to some of these non-solo friendly quests. This was the first time since classic I haven’t had my alchemy maxed out. I didn’t have much time to dwell on this for too long, as Battle for Azeroth came out almost as soon as I finished the core Legion campaign. This means only a few dungeons, no raids, not even any PVP (which is usually my primary activity in WoW’s endgame.)
With Battle for Azeroth, the zones are probably even better than in Legion. It impresses me how good Blizzard has gotten and how they continue to improve at world design, though I have to say that questing in World of Warcraft STILL feels a lot less compelling than games like my beloved Star Wars: The Old Republic or any number of single player RPGs. At least, outside of some vicious reputation grinding, the gating from Legion seems to be largely gone. Oh, and I need to give a shout out to the soundtrack, as this one might be the best by far, which is saying something after just playing through Legion.
The only issue that I feel strongly enough to really complain about is the change to the way the global cooldown (“GCD”) works, which I can sum up simply by saying that more (most?) abilities are now tied to the same timer, which means you can’t “spam” them out (or particular, between them) too quickly. What seems like a small change on paper can actually really change the feel of certain class specializations radically. For me, as an aggressive combat rogue, I feel like it makes combat feel noticeably clunkier, and I feel less capable as a result. I really don’t like it.
“Gulgrim, my main, hanging out wherever I abandoned him months ago. Poor guy.”
Anyway, I don’t have much more to say about BfA for now – I played through ALMOST all of the Alliance campaign, maxing my character’s level far before finishing, before getting distracted and falling off the bandwagon. I’ll definitely go back to World of Warcraft to finish the single player content and hopefully check out PVP and some of the other new systems, though for now I’m waiting to see what the upcoming 8.2 patch is going to look like.
I have to say, moving between WoW’s expansions back to back like this really serves to highlight the unfortunate cannibalistic nature of them. Warlords of Draenor’s central feature, the garrisons, were completely abandoned once Legion came out. With Battle for Azeroth, the artifacts and class halls we spent so much time leveling and working with? Abandoned. I’d really like to see expansions that change and build upon existing content in a less destructive way, personally. Maybe if expansion content were developed this way we wouldn’t need silly things like World of Warcraft Classic.
I finally feel like I’m getting close to closing this chapter of my life. While I’m still very much a fan of Warcraft and enjoy dipping back into it every couple of years, it’s the lore more than the gameplay keeping me around. With that in mind, I’m really looking forward to playing through the recently announced Warcraft 3: Reforged. I hoping that the whole generation of gamers who only know Warcraft via WoW will jump on it and enjoy it as much as I did back in 2003. I would have rather had Warcraft 4, but I’m interested nonetheless.
Back on the shooter front, me and my normal PUBG crew were definitely being tempted away from PUBG by the promise of battle royale modes in both Battlefield V and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Unfortunately, I and most of my friends were totally disappointed by the direction it seemed Battlefield V was going, and interest in that very quickly fizzled. BO4’s battle royale mode, Blackout, on the other hand, was looking fucking sick, and quite a few of us hopped into the Blackout PC beta weekend in September with most of us agreeing that it might very well take our interest away from PUBG.
“Finishing off the boss of a public event. I’ve loved this system since WAR.”
Finding myself not wanting to give up the highly polished, smooth gunplay of Call of Duty to return back to the clunky, sometimes buggy feeling mess of PUBG, I decided to dust off Destiny 2, particularly because everyone had been talking about the pre-Forsaken expansion 2.0 patch, which made a number of much-requested tweaks and balance changes. I ended up playing through the single player campaigns of both Curse of Osiris and Warmind expansions. I had fun with both despite feeling a little bit like “more of the same” campaign content. Still, that content was pretty enjoyable to begin with, and neither it or these expansions overstay their welcome with too much unnecessary grind.
The 2.0 patch made plenty of other changes to the game though, most pretty positive. I strongly dislike what they did to the infusion system, changing it from an easy, convenient way to cash in your junk gear drop to keep your favorites useful, to making it quite cost prohibitive, meaning you’ll only want to keep your absolutely favorite items upgraded, and even those, probably not too often. I know that it’s viewed as a very positive change, but I also had a very hard time getting use to the new, lower TTK (“time to kill”) in PVP. I’d often find myself rushing into situations where I’d normally survive long enough to get a kill, or pop off my super, only to get mowed down without achieving anything but an embarrassing death. It was rather demoralizing, and despite quickly realizing why it was happening, the adjustment hasn’t been easy for me.
“My poorly geared Warlock main hanging out with The Traveler.”
I fully realize I somehow never posted about my (relatively brief) time with Destiny 2 when it launched in 2017, somehow. I’ll leave the in-depth Destiny 2 analysis to the more hardcore players, but the short summary of my experience is that it’s the type of extremely polished AAA shooter experience that you’d expect from Bungie if you’re a Halo veteran, and the single player campaign and PVP modes are both quite a lot of fun. Tie that in with a loot drop system and a heavy focus on multiplayer, and it’s easy to see why people got so addicted to the franchise.
It’s far from perfect, however. I, for one, expected Destiny 2 to be more like the Destiny that Bungie was rumored to developing in the early days, rather than a polished up rehash of the first game, somehow including less of the features that kept players hooked during the later phases of that game’s life. In any case, with no investment in the first game, I feel like I got my money out of it and will be returning soon enough to play through the Forsaken campaign. With no group of friends dedicated to it (interestingly, most of friends who were hopelessly addicted to Destiny 1 bounced off Destiny 2 hard!) and no huge attachment to the endgame systems, I can’t see ever treating it more as just a fun single player campaign set in a multiplayer world at this point, however. I’m fine with that.
“Parachuting down in Blackout!”
Finally, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 launched and, as planned, I played the absolute hell out of it. Much to my surprise, Blackout mode wasn’t actually where I spent my time though. While I stand by my opinion that this new battle royale mode is quite good and a worthy addition to the franchise, I found it somehow much less forgiving than Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. In PUBG, it was always fairly easy to drop into an area and get looted up before having a conflict with the enemy, and those conflicts were usually fairly tactical when they did happen, but in Blackout I feel like I’m usually finding myself in furious engagements almost immediately, often before I’ve even found a firearm, and they often feel desperately frantic (and not in a good way.) Solo mode feels fairly good in this respect, though I much prefer playing battle royale games with a group, and squad mode feels far, far too hectic. Duos seem to be the sweetest spot to me. The biggest issue though, is that somehow the draw to hop back in and try again, especially after a terrible, frustrating loss, just isn’t there in Blackout, while being one of the most interesting parts of the PUBG “special sauce.” I’m not quite sure how to explain this, but it’s not just me – almost all of my group has also bounced off of Blackout, and from some posts I’ve read, we don’t seem to be alone in this. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher.
On the flip side, I got utterly hooked on playing through the normal multiplayer modes, especially team deathmatch. I don’t think I’d played Call of Duty multiplayer since Modern Warfare 3 in 2011 and I still find the multiplayer of Call of Duty to be quite a lot of fun, with the progression system giving me just enough of a carrot on a stick to keep me addicted to leveling up my character. This time around, I’ve actually stuck with it long enough to max out quite a few weapons and “prestige” my main account at least once now. I’ve even taken to playing in “hardcore” mode which eliminates most of the disparity between different weapons and weapon types (I fucking HATE getting “shotgunned” with a “no scope” 50 caliber sniper rifle shot… ffffuuuuu!) and changes the balance of firefights quite a bit in general.
“Lining up a kill shot in Hardcore.”
While I did eventually grow tired of the churn of Call of Duty’s multiplayer, as I always do, and I’m finally considering returning to the slower, more tactical gunplay of PUBG, I legitimately hadn’t been this addicted to a “normal” deathmatch type gamemode in PC game for so long I can’t even recall when it might have been. All in all, despite not dedicating my time to Blackout like I’d planned, Black Ops 4 has still been money well spent.
It was a busy several months of game hopping, and every game I’ve mentioned I’ll definitely consider going back to at some point in the future. For now, I’ll likely dedicate my time to more and more single-player experiences, particular those that have been stuck in my backlog for far too long, while desperately being on the look out for the next multiplayer experience I can hop into with my crew.
By the time I finally got around to editing this and posting this, I hadn’t played any of the games mentioned in quite some time. I had to begrudgingly re-install Destiny 2 to get screenshots, which means I’ll probably be heading back to play Forsaken much sooner than expected. On the flip side, hopping into Black Ops 4 to play a few more rounds of multiplayer for screenshots felt great, and I was a little sad to have to resign myself to uninstalling it. That’s possibly the best complement I can give it.
Side note: New year and a new, slightly larger thumbnail image size! Rejoice!