Jaded's Pub

While most of my US dwelling friends are getting ready for a big ‘ol turkey dinner to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m sitting down to a big plate of crow.

For a LONG time I scoffed at Xbox One’s backwards compatibility. To me it was a smoke-screen: something Microsoft could talk about since it had a system that was less powerful than Sony, few exclusive games and was losing the console war. I couldn’t imagine that anyone was playing old 360 games, particularly since the few times I tried it I ran into all kinds of issues with crashes and poor frame rates.

Now, I have to give Microsoft credit. They’ve stuck with this idea and games are running better and better. That is especially true now that the Xbox One X has arrived. A handful of Xbox 360 games have even been “XBX Enhanced” and look way better than they ever did on the Xbox 360, and many unaltered 360 games still run better on the XBX than they ever did on the 360.

But don’t take my word for it, listen to the game performance pros at Digital Foundry talk about it:

So yeah, I was wrong. Backwards compatibility on the Xbox One isn’t just a smokescreen, it’s a pretty cool feature and I assume that if and when Microsoft introduces the Xbox Two (and honestly all signs point to them just enhancing the current Xbox over introducing a radical new system) they’ll make sure to bring BC along for the ride.

I think one of my projects for this long weekend will be to dig out the crate of Xbox 360 disks I have in the back of a closet somewhere and see how many of them are supported in the BC system.

All this talk recently has me thinking a lot about “Pay2Win” systems and whether there’s a way to make them more acceptable to some gamers. (I fully acknowledge that there’s a segment of gamers for whom there is no wiggle room on the topic. This post isn’t for them.)

The first thing I would do is give these systems a more accurate name. “Pay2Win” is deliberately antagonistic and not accurate. Just because you spend money in one of these games, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win. What it does is make your character more powerful. So let’s call it what it is: “Pay4Power” (and if we want to get really cute we can call cosmetic-only systems “Pay4Pretty”).

“Pay4Power” more accurately represents what these systems are. A way to make your character more powerful through spending money.

So now that we have that done, let’s come up with a rating system for our hypothetical game. Start with a system like Gear Score, but add to it a figure based on the level of the character and ideally, a figure based on the age of the account. My thinking here is that a level 1 character played by someone who has put 200 hours into the game is going to be more powerful than a level 1 character played by someone who just started. I don’t mean the character itself, but that character’s influence on the match based on player skill + gear + any character stats.

(I realize such a system would be easy to exploit via multiple accounts…I don’t have all the answers.)

So now there is a rating assigned to essentially the combination of you the player’s skill and your character’s stats. Let’s use THAT for matchmaking. That feels like a better way to get ‘fair’ matches to me. And it doesn’t matter how you got the gear, but it does reflect that the player who spent 50 hours playing to earn the gear is going to be a better player than the dude who has played for a day but spent $200 in the cash shop in order to get the same gear.

Next step is dangerous: segment the audience. In my hypothetical game there are three leagues that you can choose to play in.

The e-Sports League — If you play in this league, everyone uses standard gear and characters, leaving the outcome of every game 100% to player skill. The rating system is not used in the e-Sports league (it might have it’s own rating system based on win/loss ratio for matchmaking).

The Purity League — This league is closed to any character that has purchased gear. If you went to the cash shop and got a great weapon, tough. You can’t use that weapon if you’re playing in the Purity League. Matchmaking based on rating is in effect for the Purity League

The Casual League — This is where most of the audience will probably be. This is the “I play for fun” league and it doesn’t matter if you got your gear from grinding or from buying stuff from the cash shop. You can play here. Matchmaking based on rating is in effect for the Casual League.

And that is pretty much it. We rename the system to remove some of the stigma from it (and to more accurately reflect what it is) and we give those opposed to cash shops a couple of leagues to play in that aren’t ‘polluted’ by cash shop purchases. By coming up with a rating system that attempts to factor in player skill, we get more even matches in both the Purity and Casual Leagues, the idea being that win or lose, a close match is generally more fun.

And the publishers still get their income from the “whales” who, presumably, will be happy to play around in the Casual League since it pretty much represents the norm in the games we have now. That means that I (in the end, it’s all about ME) don’t have to pay for DLC and Season Passes.

Next up, I solve world hunger and end all wars…

I just wanted to wrap up this series with a few last thoughts.

As mentioned earlier, I’m not playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 heavily yet since I have so many other gaming irons in the fire. I’ve been doing 1-3 matches each night and a match takes maybe 10-15 minutes. Last night I had enough credits to unlock one of the two most expensive hero units (Vader and Luke Skywalker are both 15,000 credits while Leia is only 10K –where’s the outrage over that? Why are the men more valuable!?). Now it turns out I did splash out for the “Deluxe” edition and when I first started playing I wasn’t paying much attention to what crates I was given. Maybe, I thought, I had a huge jump on other players because of the Deluxe edition.

The good news is that over on the Xbox, I have EA Access, which offers a free trial of new games, including Star Wars Battlefront 2. So I decided to start over. This was the standard edition. I got 3 loot boxes on first login. One was the Daily Loot Box (they give you a free one every day though in truth the rewards inside are pretty minor). Another was apparently for signing up for a newsletter? It was called something like “The Newsletter Crate” anyway. No idea why I got that. And the third was a “Founder’s Crate” and I have no idea why I got that one either.

I played one match of the MP dogfighting mode. I had zero unlocks for my ship so I was flying completely “vanilla” and, here’s a shocker, I still had a blast playing. The dogfighting in this game is challenging but SO fun. When I was done I had something like 3500 credits. That was from the crates I got at first log in, credits from playing the match (something like 300 for that) and credits for various “rewards” I got for playing (you unlock a lot of rewards at first because you get rewarded for stuff like “Playing your first match” or “Winning your first match” and my side had won the match).

In retrospect I think the Deluxe version did give me a boost of a couple thousand credits, so without having gone Deluxe I might have to play another night before I could unlock Vader (that or play more than just a few matches each night). It still is nowhere near what the haters are saying (somehow “40 hours to unlock a hero” has become an accepted fact even though it is objectively very much false).

My last point is this. I wonder about gamers who have spouses, young kids and demanding jobs and who can maybe only squeeze in an hour of play a couple times a week, but who LOVE Star Wars so want to play. These people probably aren’t parked on Reddit spewing outrage. I wonder if they might have LIKED the idea of skipping Starbucks on their ‘gaming day’ so they could spend a few bucks and open some crates, just to speed up the unlock process. Conversely I wonder how the “no pay to win!” set would react to a mode of the game where everyone uses identical gear. In other words, the person who plays an hour a day has the same gear as the person who spends 50 hours a week playing. I suspect some of them would be outraged about that. Being at an advantage because you have more free time to play seems OK (remember, you don’t have to be skilled to earn credits, you just have to show up – you could go AFK and still earn credits), but being at an advantage because you’re gainfully employed and can spend a few bucks here and there is not.

OK I’m done. If I write anything else about this game, it’ll be about the game, not the outrage. I still haven’t started the campaign because Aloy needs me to guide her through The Frozen Wilds. The MP stuff has been a complete blast, though, for me. I’m coming at it from a Star Wars nerd point of view, though. If you want to know if it is a great shooter you should ask someone who plays a lot of competitive shooters.

The story so far.

Star Wars Battlefront came out a few years ago and got pretty mediocre reviews. Complaints were mostly that it lacked a single player campaign and in general there wasn’t enough content to justify a price. The developers released additional content over the next year or so, but you had to either buy a Season Pass or buy the DLC as it came out. Few consumers seemed to do so.

As someone who did buy the Season Pass, I regretted it. By the time the new content came out the player base had shrunk to the point where it was hard to get a game together if you wanted to play in the new content, since so few people purchased.

In the meantime, EA put THREE development teams on Star Wars Battlefront 2. DICE was handling the ground based stuff and was the ‘main’ dev, Criterion was working on space combat, and newly formed Motive was working on the single player campaign. In spite of the fact that so many resources were being devoted to the game, it would of course launch at $60, same as it would have 15 years ago.

At some point EA announced that there would be no Season Pass, but they would be continuing to support the game with new maps and modes well past launch. In lieu of a Season Pass they would generate revenue via micro-transactions. At the time, this decision was APPLAUDED since no one likes Season Passes.

Then the Great Loot Crate Riots of 2017 began. Really it started with Middle Earth: Shadow of War. “OMG loot crates in a single player game, the world is ending.” That was a big deal right up until launch when folks starting playing, having fun, and found that buying loot crates with real money was truly optional. (Curiously Assassin’s Creed has had stuff you could buy with real money in its games for the past few iterations but no one really cared. Not sure what Shadow of War did to draw all this ire.) Today, a few weeks after launch, no one seems to be too fussed about Shadow of War having loot crates. It’s a great game. Great enough that I bought it on both PS4 and Xbox One X.

In the meantime the horde had turned on Star Wars Battlefront 2 with its “pay to win” system (which really is a “pay to slightly up/side-grade your character but if you suck you’re still going to lose” system). There was a lot of drama, gamers were livid and again, the world was going to end.

Someone came up with a system that determined it would take thousands of dollars or thousands of hours to “unlock everything.” Of course every gaming blog jumped on that to create more hysteria and ad-revenue. I don’t really believe those numbers, but what I found really fascinating is that people were acting as if the game wouldn’t be fun until everything was unlocked. It’s a ridiculous concept. Think about a game like World of Warcraft. Imagine if there were complaints about how long it would take to collect every piece of gear in that game. Pretty much the same thing here.

People also act as if the gear in SW BF2 is like the gear in Destiny. As if you spawn with a rifle that does 20 damage but you can pay to get a rifle that does 50 damage. But that’s not really how it works. It’s more like you have a rifle that does a lot of damage but has a low rate of fire and you can pay to get a rifle that does less damage but has a higher rate of fire. For the most part weapons are balanced (or intended to be). There are definitely cards and mods that will give you a slight advantage, but it’s not as egregious as the horde would have you believe.

Meanwhile, the game launched early for some players. It was hard to hear but if you could make your way through the loot crate anger you’d find people saying they were having fun playing. You had to be quick because anything you say positive about the game gets quickly downvoted into oblivion on Reddit or comment threads. In today’s toxic online world, you need to be on message with the horde or your opinion doesn’t count.

EA held an AMA on Reddit and tried to respond calmly to the horde but even then, their answers got downvoted to the point you had to really hunt for them. Gamers didn’t want a dialog, they wanted to be pissed.

Thursday night, on the evening of official launch, EA caved. They announced that at launch they would be turning off the ability to buy crystals, the currency you use for making real money transactions. The horde hated pay to win, and so EA shut that system down. At launch no one can say the game is pay-to-win. The voice of the horde was heard and acted on. They won.

The response? Did you think the horde would be happy? You don’t know gamers. Rather than acknowledge that EA is trying to make things right, gamers immediately started pointing at this line: “The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game.” The on-message horde response to the EA announcement is that this is a BS move that they are making for launch and that they’re just going to turn it all back on again once the anger subsides. The hardcore tin-foil hat sect thinks this was all orchestrated from the start. That EA wanted to make gamers pissed so they could make this change at the last minute and seem like good guys. Yeah, right.

This is why we can’t have nice things. We gamers just have so much hate in our hearts that we’re never willing to give a big publisher the benefit of the doubt. We scream at them for doing things wrong but when they try to make things right, we just scream more. There is no winning once the horde has turned against you.

Maybe 2 weeks from now EA will just re-enable things as they are and you can all tell me what a jerk I am and how wrong I was. I don’t think they will. Prior to launch they’d already drastically reduced the cost of heroes based on feedback from the beta. That indicates to me they’re willing to make real changes. I’m not saying EA is an altruistic company. I’m saying they’re a company that wants customers to stick around and wants ‘long tail’ sales. If they just turn the same system back on, they’ll just have angry customers again and people will walk away from the game.

I think they’ll do exactly what they’ve said they would do. That they “… will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning.” before turning real money transactions back on. And of COURSE they’re going to turn them back on at some point. They’re not going to develop and give away additional content for free without any kind of revenue stream.

I just think its sad that the gamer horde seems determined to stay mad even when they ‘win’. I’m not sure what a company can do to disperse the horde, honestly. I’m glad I’m not in the game development business, that’s for sure.

I got early access to Star Wars Battlefront 2 via pre-ordering (I guess?) so I played a bit of it last night. I enjoyed it. I know I’m not supposed to say that and I’m supposed to be outraged about loot crates but meh, life is too short.

Loot boxes are going to be with us for a while, at least when it comes to games from the giant publicly-traded publishers like EA, Activision and Ubisoft. It’s just part of the cycle of game publishing. First it was DLC, then it was Season Passes, now it’s Loot Crates. Would I prefer they not be there? Sure. That said, I prefer loot crates to having to shell out for a Season Pass. In a perfect world we’d spend $60 and the company would supply new maps and modes for free for a couple of years, but is that a realistic thing to hope for, particularly in this age of aggressive sales on games? The only people who are going to pay $60 for Battlefront 2 are the ones buying it at launch. Wait a month and it’ll be $50, wait a couple months and it’ll be $30, but you’ll still be able to benefit by the post-launch extra content. Revenue to pay for that content has to come from somewhere.

For SW Battlefront 1 I did buy the Season Pass and hardly used it since the it fragmented the player base. It took so long to get a game on one of the Season Pass maps that I rarely bothered, and over time I got bored with just playing the maps that shipped with the game and drifted away. So for me personally, I’ll take loot crates and knowing everyone has the same selection of maps to play on.

Then specifically there is the “But these loot boxes are pay to win!!” arguments. Again, don’t really care. Someone is always going to have more stuff unlocked than me. If I’m facing 2 opponents with more unlocks and one of them got them by spending an extra $100 and the other one got them by playing the game 12 hours a day because he lives in his parent’s basement and has no job, does it really matter to me? Yes it does matter in one crucial way. The dude spending an extra $100 is the dude making it possible for EA to do away with Season Passes in favor of loot crates.

I mean, I think EA could have side-stepped a LOT of controversy if they’d gone the “cosmetics only” path for these loot crates, and I get why people would have preferred that, but for me personally the pay to win aspect isn’t going to have much impact on me so I can’t work up much outrage over it.

The one issue I can sympathize with are the folks that are pissed that some of the heroes need to be unlocked. When you first get the game, you can’t play as the more iconic heroes (or villains) and you have to spend in-game credits to unlock them. Prior to launch EA at least reduced the price of them, they’re now anywhere from 5000 to 15000 credits. If you got the game because you really want to play as Darth Vader and then you learn that you have to play for a couple of nights to earn that 15K (or spend additional cash to buy credits) I can understand why that would be upsetting. After my first night of play I had a little over 6000 credits but I did get some loot crates free from playing the beta and some of them had credits.

Personally, I kind of enjoy having a goal to work towards so for me even this doesn’t bother me much but I do think it’s a valid thing to be upset about. Plus, weirdly, I don’t even like playing the heros/villains. I kind of prefer being a regular Clone Trooper or a Rebel or whatever.

There are things I don’t like about SW BF 2, though. I don’t like that they added the scoreboard back (in the beta there was no post-match scoreboard which I thought was a good thing for a Star Wars game that is going to pull in a lot of casual players). I don’t like the loading times, which are pretty awful. I don’t like that the Clone War era droids are so skinny I can’t spot them as easily as I’d like. I don’t like that there doesn’t seem to be a space battle single player mission (though you have to unlock the single player missions as you go — these are separate from the single player campaign — so I could be wrong) because I need a LOT of practice flying these ships.

And that’s about it, really. So far no regrets, but anyway I really bought the game because I wanted to see what EA Motive has done with the single player campaign. I didn’t even start that yet since I’m already juggling so many games (Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Middle Earth, Shadow of War, Forza 7, and .hack//GU Final Recode) but I’m optimistic about it.

So while other parts of the Internet are occupied with sending death threats to Battlefront 2’s community manager and calling for a boycott of the game, I’m just over here playing it and having fun. Sorry Internet, I’m just not that into you any more. In a time when Hawaii is taking steps to prepare for having a nuclear bomb drop on them, I just have to pick my battles when it comes to what to be stressed out about. Loot crates are WAY down on that list.

…and I feel like I should write a big long tech-jargon filled blog post about it, but I’m kind of tired of arguing about it in various places. I just want to enjoy the console.

So far, I’m really happy with it. “Enhanced” games look amazing, of course. Folks who do things like pixel counting (aka Digital Foundry) are finding that just about every game looks better on XBX than on PS4 Pro, the one exception seeming to be Titanfall 2, but that might be due to a bug. Learn more here:

Aside from the whole “Woo 4K” aspect, the XBX loads games quicker, makes many un-enhanced games look better (either via better frame rates or dynamic scaling systems that can stay at higher resolutions longer) and it is SO BLISSFULLY quiet. I love it.

Look I’m a self-identified Sony fanboy, but Microsoft has done good with the XBX. Maybe being the underdog has been a good thing for them. Lots of games are getting patches (something I was worried about until recently) and Microsoft makes it easy to identify games that take advantage of the X (in both the store and in your game library you can filter by “Xbox One X Enhanced.”). They just seem to be doing more to make it easy for us customers than Sony did with the PS4 Pro (which, remember, didn’t even have Boost Mode at launch).

So should you buy one? Probably not. The problem with the Xbox One X (in my opinion) is that it caters to a very narrow segment of the gaming market:

1) If you’re a PC gamer that wants a console too, pick a PS4 Pro or, I guess, a Switch. Virtually everything you can play on the Xbox One is also available on PC.

2) If you’re a PS4 gamer who is curious, as nice as the system is, it probably doesn’t justify a new library of games. The games don’t look THAT much better than on a PS4 Pro

3) If you’re an Xbox gamer without a PC, then the Xbox One X is for you. Even if you don’t have a 4K TV yet, the better frame rates, loading times and ‘super sampling’ make it worth the upgrade, in my opinion (and assuming you’re a reasonably serious gamer).

The biggest struggle with a system like this is demonstrating it. I can take a screenshot like this one:

But the original of this was a 22 meg PNG so I had to compress it to make it a reasonable size, and even then the 22 meg version didn’t have the HDR effect. In the game on an HDR TV, that sun was so bright it was almost hard to look at.

Same with this video clip. It’s pretty, but not nearly as pretty as on-screen. The sun shining through the trees was stunning enough in-game that it prompted me to save this clip. Looking at it in a browser you’re probably thinking “What’s the point of this clip?” By the time you reduce the resolution to 1080P, strip the HDR and add in compression artifacts, it just doesn’t hold up.

I guess the only real way to experience the XBX is to go to a Microsoft Store or a Best Buy or something and see it in person.

Anyway, zero regrets here. So far I love the Xbox One X.

We’re less than a week away from the launch of the Xbox One X, but I’ve slowly been drifting from excited to concerned, mostly due to the lack of info about the new console.

There’ve been a skillion Xbox One X “unboxing” videos on YouTube, but no video of the thing running. Turns out there’s an embargo. Now the glass-half-empty people see this as a warning. Maybe there’s something Microsoft doesn’t want us to know, lest we cancel our pre-orders. The glass-half-full people have another angle. I guess the ‘official word’ is that they put an embargo in place so the various outlets would have time to put together quality content rather than throwing some shit together in an effort to be first. Think of lifting the embargo like waving the green flag at the start of the race. Everyone can be prepared for when it starts.

I flip-flop between the two glass halves, personally.

Another concern is this list of Xbox One X Enhanced Games (scroll down to find the textual list). It’s a nice big list, sure, but look at the “availability” column. Very few of these enhanced titles are ready. Most are “In Development” or “Coming Soon.” Even new games like Middle Earth: Shadow of War and Assassin’s Creed Origins are listed as coming soon.

If like me you’ve been holding off on these games in order to play them on the Xbox One X, it looks like your wait is going to be longer than expected. It’s possible that all of a sudden on Tuesday all these “coming soon” titles will flop over to “available” but I’m a little worried. We were also told we could d/l 4K assets ahead of the Xbox One launch if we’re using an external drive, then swap that drive to the Xbox One X and start playing on Tuesday, so there is a reason why we’d want the enhanced versions ahead of launch.

Even 2nd party titles like Forza Horizon 3 and Forza 7 aren’t available yet. When the embargo lifts I expect we’re going to see a lot of Gears of War 4 gameplay (since that’s one of the few titles ready for Xbox One X).

I’ve had the PS4 Pro for a year now and support has been pretty hit or miss. I was hoping that with two ‘enhanced’ consoles on the market developers would step up their game, but maybe I’m being too optimistic. I will give Microsoft this much: at least they are being transparent about what is available. On PlayStation you have to turn to googling to find out if a game supports the Pro.

I’m in a tough spot. You see Assassin’s Creed Origins launched today. I pre-ordered it on the Xbox platform to get the pre-order goodies (I love the Assassin’s Creed games, aside from AC 1 — yes I know its cool to hate the series but I’m too old to be cool), but the reason I chose Xbox over PlayStation was because I wanted to use it as a test platform for the Xbox One X. How much better will games look on the XBX than on the PS4Pro? I need to know.

Problem is, XBX doesn’t come out until a week from Tuesday. Now I have to either not play my new game, or play it on a less than optimal system. Decisions, decisions.

Look, I’m not a hipster millennial. (Is that a thing or do you have to be one or the other?) I LOVE great graphics. I remember when EGA was a big deal and no, I don’t want to go back to those times and play pixel-art indies. Fie on that. I say again, FIE! Give me gorgeous high resolution graphics AND gameplay I love. It’s not too much to ask, at least not until single player games die.

And yes, let’s nip the inevitable discussion in the bud: I realize PCs offer the very best graphics available. For reasons that could occupy a whole other blog post, I am no longer interested in gaming on the PC. Please just accept and understand that everyone is different and for ME personally, PC gaming is off the table.

Meanwhile, I have Middle Earth: Shadow of War on the PS4 Pro. Love the game. But then someone did a comparison of it on the XBX and the PS4 Pro and it looks better on the XBX. This was from a demo at a show so it’s hard to say if it plays better, but it clearly looks better thanks, presumably, to the addition video ram in the XBX (as compared to PS4Pro). You get higher detail textures on the XBX; the Digital Foundry guys suspected they were loading in 4K textures created for the PC that the PS4Pro didn’t have the memory to handle.

So now I find myself not wanting to play Shadow of War on the PS4Pro anymore. I keep thinking I should rebuy on XBX…but I want to play it now. Plus I had a Nemesis to import on the PS4 since I completed Shadow of Morder on that platform (got the Platinum for it, in fact).

So now I find myself replaying Shadow of Morder: Game of the Year edition on the Xbox One so that I can have a nemesis to import into the Xbox version of Shadow of War IF I decide to re-purchase.

Because 4K! And HDR! And better textures! Also, for AC Origins, Dolby Atmos, but I need to buy the $15 headphone app for that since I don’t have Atmos audio in the room.

I mean, let’s be clear. These are nice problems to have. Too many great games that look too good. Am I right? I just really want to get the XBX in my hands to make sure I like it. Mostly I worry about how loud it is, and if the UI is finally snappy. Though already the most recent update to the Xbox UI seems faster than the old one.

Eh…. maybe I should play the Switch until November 7th. Ha! That’s a joke. I was being silly. I don’t play the Switch. The Switch collects dust.

Because I am a sucker, I pre-ordered Star Wars Battlefront 2, so I got into the beta on Wednesday (it’s open to everyone starting Friday). The first game took a beating but honestly I had some good fun with it for a while, but mostly I was interested in #2 for the single player campaign from Motive. I pre-ordered because I dunno why. Retail therapy when I was down or something.

Anyway I did and played the beta a few hours last night (of the Galactic Conquest mode…everything in this post is about that mode which is, for me, the reason to get the game aside from the single player stuff) and took zero screenshots so sorry about that. I did want to list some of the changes and things I liked in this game. Hopefully they will stay the same into launch but I’m pretty sure the online e-peen gamer jerks will be raising a stink about the first one and I fear EA will change it.

So what’s the first one? At the end of a match there is no ranking of players, at least that I could see. You get a screen where someone is awarded MVP and someone else gets called out for having the biggest kill streak or the most kills, but it’s all positive reinforcement. Then you get your own stats showing how much exp you earned. But you’re never told you came in 19th out of 20 players.

I LOVE this and it seems like a perfect system for a Star Wars game that is probably going to attract a lot of casual gamers who will frankly suck in MP (that’s me I’m talking about). Playing MP games when you’re bad is frustrating enough without having your nose rubbed in it at the end of the game. You are still told how you did, but the fact that you struggled isn’t advertised to everyone else playing. I really appreciate this feature and it kept me in the game a lot longer than I otherwise would have stayed.

So that’s the first thing.

The second is how you respawn. SWBF2 rewards working as a team. You get more exp for doing things alongside teammates than if you did the same things on your own (or so they say, I couldn’t measure it). When you respawn, they hold you back for a few seconds and then spawn you in as a group of up to 4 people. If no one else dies, you don’t have to wait forever. After a few seconds they’ll still let you spawn in alone, but generally they try to release you in ‘squads’ of people. Again, a godsend for those of us who suck since what I do is follow another player and try to back them up.

Third thing is classes. There are now 4 classes: Assault, Heavy, Officer and Specialist. I played all four (there are daily goals and for yesterday one of them was to play each class for 10 minutes, which is pretty much a round). Assault is your basic grunt, I guess. His default skills are grenade, a short-term shotgun and a tracking dart that is supposed to help ID the enemy. Heavy is an armored dude. He has a grenade, a short-term Mini-gun and a Shield. Officer is a support class. He has a grenade, a buff to reduce damage to nearby friendlies, and a turret. Finally Specialist is the sniper of the team. He has a grenade, a short term stealth mode with a mid-sized gun, and thermal binoculars that can tag enemies and sees them through walls.

These are all the default skills but you can use “cards” to modify/replace them. I found I really liked the Heavy since I could lean into my ‘spray and pray’ style of gaming.

Fourth thing is specials. In the first game you’d find Icons in the battlefield that you could grab to pilot a tie-fighter or become Luke Skywalker or whatever. Regular players knew where these were and casuals like me rarely got to them. In SWBF2 you earn a currency during play, and when you save up enough you can just buy one of these specials when you spawn in. It means I won’t get to be a Hero (5000 credits) very often but I could fly a ship or be a buffed up unit at least once per round (anything from 500-2000 credits). At least it is in my control.

Disclaimer: All of the above is going from memory, which in my case isn’t 100% reliably. Caveat emptor!

All in all I had fun. The one map in the beta is Naboo where you’re either a Clone Trooper or a Droid (“ROGER! ROGER!”). I really liked being a droid because I felt vaguely silly and having droids gunned down by the dozens felt ‘normal’ to me.

I drifted away from the first game as the DLC dropped since it fractured the player base and made it hard to find games to join. This year EA has pledged not to do that. All the DLC maps and stuff will be free so everyone should be able to play in everything. I have to admit I’m really looking forward to MP in this game now.

After reading Isey’s post, I was talking on Twitter about how this passage (which I had to trim down for Twitter) resonated with me:

I know people are enjoying it and I admit that I am too – but the nagging thought that we have all been part of a big scam, a rouse, is hard to ignore when you look at how little content was actually provided with how little change.

My buddy Scopique asked how it could be a scam if I’m enjoying the game, which was a fair point and led to a mini-discussion that I thought I’d summarize and maybe elaborate on a little here.

For me, the shooting mechanics of Destiny 2 are fun. Going from level 1 to level 20 and then gearing up to 260 or so is also pretty fun. And if I were in a more positive head space I could probably say that was enough to justify the purchase, but in a lot of ways I feel like I could have deleted my Destiny 1 characters and re-leveled them and had just as much fun.

And I’m with Isey that this doesn’t feel like a whole new game. There’s some quality of life changes, sure. And there are new areas to explore but for me most of them don’t really feel all that new. Most of your fights will end up being in some kind of natural arena or room that would not feel at all out of place in Destiny 1. The enemies aren’t new. There’s no new class to play.

But what feels the most scam-ish to me is this semi-hard block they’ve put on progression. As readers of this blog know I struggled all weekend trying to make progress. I know it is possible because plenty of people have done it, but for me I was really stuck at a certain power level. Three days of playing netted me a power increase of 1.

Then the weekly reset happened last night. With it came the weekly Flashpoint (a Milestone that asks you to do Public Quests in a certain zone). I did that, it took no more than an hour (4 Heroic Public Quests were enough) and my reward was gear (1 exotic and a high-power legendary) that pushed me from 267 to 272 — 5 points in an hour as opposed to 1 point in 3 days.

On the one hand I was really happy to get my power level moving, but on the other, it just feels wrong. The “right” way for me to play Destiny 2 appears to be to log in for an hour on Tuesday after the reset, do the Flashpoint and then set the game aside for a week. It’s a system the encourages you not to play, which feels odd. (Granted there are other Flashpoints if you’re a PvPer or are confident enough to do the weekly Nightfall Strike).

It feels to me like a system put in to slow people down in order to give Bungie time to slap together more content to keep us occupied. There just doesn’t seem to be enough to do once you churn through the campaign (which I’ve done twice now in the 2 weeks since launch and I’m not a hardcore player). The game feels unfinished when you get to higher power levels.

OK complete honesty: there’s a ton of stuff I haven’t done. Adventures, they’re called, and they are basically side quests. Why haven’t I done these? Because there just doesn’t seem to be a point. The narrative isn’t compelling enough to warrant doing them, and the rewards you get are capped so that they aren’t going to improve your character once you’ve hit 265 or thereabouts. You can earn experience but after level 20 that just gets you Bright Engrams that you turn in for trinkets from the cash shop. Once you’ve had a faster Sparrow and a fancy ship drop (which for me happened very early on) Bright Engrams are pointless (you can get Shaders which are important for some people).

Of course there is a random chance of an Exotic Engram dropping while you are out and about, but those feel infrequent enough that it’s like buying loot boxes in some other game. I guess I just want some reliable way to slowly progress (hoping RNGesus craps out an exotic doesn’t count for me). If I feel like I’ve made some kind of improvement in my character I’m happy. But when I play and play and just feel like a cartoon character churning my legs and not moving, it’s disappointing. Maybe the problem is that getting to 265 is too easy? It’s like Bungie wanted to rush us to an end game that never got made. (I’m not ignoring the raid, but to do the raid you really want to be 280, so how do you get from 265-280… and that’s setting aside the fact that the raid isn’t for everyone.)

So circling back to the “scam” argument, I just don’t feel like Bungie has given us enough to warrant a $60 price tag. What is there is fun for a while, but the game feels unfinished to me. The end game is just way too thin. In fairness, playing a game for 2 weeks means I probably have gotten my value out of it, but I just feel like I’ve hit a dead end before my character is ‘finished.’ Give me some way (other than “wait for the reset on Tuesday) to reliably claw my way forward and I’d be much happier, I think.