Friday, March 30, 2012

Risk Versus . . . Respawn? A Retrospective Look At Death Penalties (Or A Lack There Of) In Modern Gaming: Part 1

get all corpse

Those three words probably don't mean much to most of the gamers out there today.  Yet, for me, they represent a growing problem in MMO gaming - and to a lesser extent, gaming in general.

Those of us old enough to remember MUD's as the predecessors to the modern MMO's will probably recognize those three ominous words above - the command to get everything out of a corpse on the ground (which at times could be your own).  MUD's, or Multi-User Dimensions, were almost entirely text-based games that began flourishing in the 90's and then all but disappeared in the early 2000's.  Some are still popular today, sure, but popular is an entirely relative word.

MUD's were a great source of entertainment.  Not only for their (mostly) original content and in-depth game play that often involved memorizing dozens of commands and virtual locations, but because of their harsh death penalties which really instilled not only a sense of fear, but accomplishment.  You weren't only proud of your achievements, but that you didn't die multiple times along the way.

I feel like so much is lost in modern gaming because the majority of games out there have very little risk versus reward built into them.  Instead, when you die - you often click a button labeled 'respawn', and proceed about your way with little to no inconvenience.  

The first thing someone said to me in a MUD was, verbatim:  "Hey, welcome!  Feel free to ask me anything if you find yourself lost, but let me give you the most important piece of advice I can offer: Don't Die."

I play more video games then most would consider safe or reasonable.  I try the majority of the new MMO releases on the market - and still manage to keep up with obscure titles and releases across PC and console platforms.  I give just about everything a shot, and lately, I'm finding that the one big problem I have in games is that there's no sense of accomplishment.  There's no real adrenaline rush - the thrill of victory is barely there, and fleeting at that.

The closest I've come was a brief stint of nostalgia revisiting Diablo 2's hardcore/ladder mode, and the equally brief brushes with Eve Online that I've managed to scrounge through  over the past few years.  Everything else really doesn't do it for me - there's an abundance of end-game gear-grind ability/cooldown cookiecutter games out there that provide 'epic' loot with absolutely no penalty for failing 99 times out of 100 while acquiring it.  And what do you do when you have better gear... use it to get... better gear?  How come so many people subscribe to that philosophy and type of game?  Is memorizing repetitive boss fights, hoping the odds are in your favor and something you can actually use drops, really that interesting?

Join me on this journey - every Friday check back for the next installation of Risk vs. Respawn.  This'll be a staple as long as I feel like it - which, given some introspection, will probably be awhile.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer - A Guide To Human Engineers

Engineers provide a lot of support and direct damage potential, and stand out as a both a great crowd control and direct damage class.

While I plan on covering all races for Engineers it is in my opinion that human Engineers stand alone simply for the fact that they have access to the Overload skill which can be evolved so that it not only incapcitates unshielded enemies briefly, but that it bounces to three other close-by targets as well.  Those targets are also incapacitated as long as they are not shielded/armored - and these enemies remain unable to react for about two seconds; disabled enemies can't shoot, enemies that can't shoot can't kill you. 

Overload is probably the best skill in multiplayer.

Going with a cooldown-based Engineer for all difficulty levels as a result of this skill alone, is very strong.  For those shielded/barrier'd targets like a banshee or geth prime, you have incinerate which deals heavy damage to armored and exposed targets.  I recommend upgrading incinerate with the radius, burning damage, and armor damage evolutions (respectively) to maximize the fallout of clustering multiple stunned enemies together and taking them down with incinerate once their protection (barriers and shields) have been dismissed.

Finally, the engineer's staple skill 'combat drone' shouldn't be taken past level 3, this is for two reasons.  The first is that level 3 gives your drone a little surviveability and shortens the cooldown.  The second is because I advise AGAINST upgrading your Engineer's racial skill (Alliance Training for Humans) to its final level - leaving you 6 points to put into something else, and the only other thing not maxed is the combat drone.

With a maxed out fitness skill (Never take the melee-related evolutions of a skill, I'll explain why shortly) - a human engineer will have 825 health and shields.

Melee, while attention-grabbing as there are many skills related to it, is always a bad idea.  While on bronze it might seem tempting to wade through enemies with heavy melee's, on silver and gold, you'll quickly find yourself getting wrecked as the five enemies standing around your melee target drop you to the floor before your blow even connects.  Don't melee unless its absolutely necessary.

For the alliance training evolutions you'll have to pick from at levels 4 and 5, I suggest going with Damage and Capacity, and Power Damage, respectively, in order to ensure that your abilities are as effective as possible.

Weapons for an engineer are really limited.  You need your cooldowns to be a short as possible in order to ensure that you can not only keep groups of enemies at bay, but that you can kill them quickly once you have dispersed their shields.  I stick with either the M-8 Avenger X (Easily obtained from buying lots of rookie packs) or the M-25 Hornet with a light materials upgrade.  Both weapons will serve you well - but honestly, you shouldn't be firing them all that much, especially once you progress beyond bronze difficulty - and remember, its about abilities as an engineer, not weapons. 

Playing on difficulties other than bronze is a real challenge for the Engineer - as other classes find out, weapon damage really falls off compared to abilities once you start playing on silver.  Unless you're a Soldier or Infiltraitor, forget about using weapons on the Gold difficulty as you won't be able to break cover long enough to kill an enemy before you either die, or are heavily wounded. 

Your role will be crowd control by spamming overload, distraction with the combat drone (a short cooldown and it almost always draws an enemy's attention), and burning down armored targets with incinerate.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mass Effect 3: Power Combinations Explained

There's a lot of new power combinations in ME3, you'll notice them more in multiplayer then you will in the campaign for the simple reason that multiplayer games tell you what/who kills each enemy.  That's what made me initially look up tech bursts and fire explosions.

Biotic combo's are easy to spot from the big blue explosions and bodies flying everywhere, where as tech bursts can be much more subtle and may not even be given credit for the kill.  The one thing that may not be obvious from the explanations below is the kill messages for Fire and Cryo explosions.  You'll notice the explosions once you look for them - however you'll still see that an enemy was killed with overload (as an example).  This is a programmatic error in my opinion: 

What the game does with biotic explosions - Enemy gets hit with warp > enemy gets hit with throw > throw doesn't do direct damage (it does force damage which is calculated differently) > biotic explosion triggered > biotic explosion does direct damage > biotic explosion gets credit for the kill

What the game does with fire/cryo explosions - Enemy gets hit with incinerate > enemy gets hit with overload > enemy does from overload damage > overload gets credit for the kill > fire explosion triggers > kills nearby enemy > fire explosion gets credit for the kill.

Said in English - the enemy you kill to start the fire/cryo explosion doesn't die from the explosion, it dies from the ability that triggered it.  This confused me, as I thought the explosions weren't happening because they didn't get credit for the initial kill(s). 

Anyway, here's a reference I amassed from a number of sources including other fan sites and the Bioware official forums:

Biotic Combos

  • Singularity --> Warp, Throw, Shockwave, Charge, Nova, Cluster Grenade, Reave
  • Stasis --> Warp, Throw, Shockwave, Charge, Nova, Cluster Grenade, Reave
  • Pull --> Warp, Throw, Shockwave, Charge, Nova, Cluster Grenade, Reave
  • Warp --> Throw, Shockwave, Charge, Nova, Cluster Grenade, Reave
  • Lift Grenade --> Warp, Throw, Shockwave, Charge, Nova, Cluster Grenade, Reave
  • Shockwave (only with Rank 6 Lifting Shockwave enhancement) --> Warp, Throw, Charge, Nova, Cluster Grenade, Reave
  • Reave --> Warp, Throw, Shockwave, Charge, Nova, Cluster Grenade

Tech Combos

FIRE EXPLOSION - Can be set up by: Incinerate, Carnage, Inferno Grenade, Incendiary Ammo
  • Can be detonated with any Biotic/Tech/Combat powers that can deal direct damage (except for the powers that are used to set up the combo).
  • Effect: Enemies effected by any of the fire based powers, cause an AoE fire explosion once they are killed by a direct damage power.
  • Note: Enemy MUST be killed by the second power in order to cause a Fire Explosion. It will not work if an enemy is hit by Incinerate > Overload, and survives. So, in this case, Overload would have to do sufficient damage to outright kill a burning enemy in order to cause a Fire Explosion.
CRYO EXPLOSION - Can be set up by: Cryo Blast, Cryo Ammo
  • Can be detonated with any Biotic/Tech/Combat powers that can deal direct damage.
  • Effect: Frozen enemies killed by damage based powers cause an AoE cryo explosion freezing any enemy that is nearby.
  • Note: Same as Fire Explosion, frozen enemies MUST be killed by the second power in order to trigger Cryo Explosion.
TECH BURST - Can be set up by: Overload, Energy Drain, Disruptor Ammo, Sabotage
  • Can be detonated by any Biotic/Tech/Combat powers that can deal direct damage (except for the powers that are used to set up the combo).
  • Effect: Enemies effected by electricity based powers, discharge multiple electricity bolts to nearby enemies, when hit with direct damage powers. Effect is similar to Overload's Chain Overload upgrade.
  • Note: Unlike Fire & Cryo Explosion combos, this one doesn't require an enemy to be killed by the second power. E.G. enemy hit by Overload > Incinerate will produce Tech Burst, whether he is killed by Incinerate or not.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mass Effect 3: First Impressions

DISCLAIMER: If you don't like spoilers, don't read first impressions on my blog: I hypothesize, spoil, and min/max speculate frequently.  You have been warned and despite my best efforts, I can't suppress my speculative nature as often as I'd like when firing from the hip on first-impression articles.

Now, before I even set out to play Mass Effect 3 (ME3), I had to slap myself across the face for not finishing my insanity play through of ME2 prior to its release.  You see, when I first beat the game a lot of the downloadable content wasn't available, so I played it again on the hardest difficulty (which I regret for the sheer amount of time it wasted for no benefit) and then, two days after it's release, I finally got around to starting ME3.

I wanted to play on Insanity, again, because I am a glutton for punishment and hoped that Bioware did something other then give the enemies bigger numbers to simulate the game being harder.  Thankfully they did, but more on that later.

So after sitting through the grueling five minute opening sequence six or so times to see what changed with every class, I settled on Vanguard because Biotic charge - a skill I had previously made fun of extensively in other games, is ridiculously overpowered and can keep you alive endlessly.  Also, a maxed out pull also ensures that anything not in armor/shields/barrier is never a threat.  Adept would've been a close second choice - but without the instant-shield-recharge attack, they tend to die instantly often.

Not that the vanguard doesn't die instantly.  Charge a Mech (they'll grab and instakill you) or really any big enemy that has a strong melee attack - you'll be reloading often.

Game play really requires something other then the Gears of War method to progress.  You can't just grab cover and return fire expecting to win - a creative and innovative use of you and your squad's powers will really benefit every situation.  This is a far cry from what Insanity was on ME2 - which really was just an endless amount of prayer factored in with a lucky scenario that happened to fall into place perfectly and allow you to progress.

Side Note:  In ME2, when you have to destroy the reaper core towards the end of the game, just prior to getting legion - this particular battle where husks and abominations swarm you endlessly easily goes down on my list as the hardest part of a video game I've ever played, ever.  I was an infiltrator, and perhaps  playing as an adept or taking more biotic squad mates would've helped (I had Reave as my power), but still.  It took three hours and over 100 reloads to successfully finish that part of the game.  

Insanity is fun and rewarding - but also punishing.  Stay out of cover, or approach an engineer's turret, and reload the game.  More on that in another article.

They did a lot of things right in ME3, and while I'll do my usual good/bad/balanced review next week - I'll commend Bioware for making a few very tough decisions, sticking with the ammo system, and improving load times as a whole throughout the game.  The only major complaint I have about the game so far is the story, which seems unbelievable at best for the ME setting and characters I've invested so much time into.  I'm interested, but if this wasn't Mass Effect - I'd be scratching my head wondering what the writers were smoking when they wrote up the script for this game.  Loopholes and character development abound.

Keep an eye out for the good/bad/balanced articles starting early next week!