Filed under Tim

Looking at EverQuest 1

Tim started out in MMOs with EverQuest 1, which explains a lot. Join us as we go back to look at an old part of the game as it is today.

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The Appreciation of Scale…

I’m not sure I was ever going to be able to be stubborn about launch dates when it came to Elite: Dangerous, and sure enough, I grabbed it on day one. This turned out to be much later than many people who were interested, who being hopelessly nostalgic sorts, have been waiting patiently for the thing for the last thirty years give or take, so can grudgingly be forgiven for jumping the “beta test” gun a bit.

I am indeed also one of those tiresome gentlemen of a certain age who has fond childhood memories of enduring hypnotic screen borders and high-pitched data-shrieking for two minutes at a time so that I could fling myself into the stars and explore several white-lined objects drawn quite slowly and repeatedly on a black TV screen and pretend it was space exploration. Like this!

You had to make your own entertainment in those heady days, although nine-year old mini-Hemlock had never come across the term ‘sandbox’ applied to what was clearly a game about space, it seems that the modern remake is true to the original in many ways. I was there in the first few weeks of Eve Online, long before it became the modern-day alternate reality opt-in lifstyle choice it is now, and even then, it probably had more rigidly defined structured hand-holding than Elite: Dangerous does. The new Elite basically just gives you a spaceship and tells you to hop it. You get a Sidewinder with low-end gear, 1000 Credits, and no further guidance, structure, narrative or purpose than that. Go! Fly Someplace! Do a Thing! Or Dont! Why are you still here!

Which is fine for some folks, (especially those with the rose-tinted eighties spacehelmets, like me), but seems to have left the more contemporary demographic quite split. The official forums abound with “I’m bored, I quit!” type posts, which are unusual this early after an MMO launch in my experience; clearly folks with a much more modern sensibility of what computer games should be than these old BBC Model B Gaffers. Elite: Dangerous has no rousing opening cut-scene, no celebrity voice acting, no Nolan North, no stirring plot about corporate espionage, your murdered father (who you never got on with since mom died) and a sinister shadowy conspiracy menace masquerading as your sassy female copilot, who constantly tells you which waypoint to fly at next. I’m not even sure that 12 hours in, it turns out that you were the main villain all along, but had memory wiped yourself! (Or perhaps it did. I forget.) It’s all a bit of a departure from today’s style of game design, although I remain hopeful I still get to sacrifice myself at the end to save the galaxy!

Assuming they had a basic design goal of “remake Elite using colours, modern graphics and noises”, what they’ve released is indeed very good. It fundamentally works, and as far as the original went, is all there and then some. I find myself using the word ‘iconic’ a lot, like some gibbering media arts wonk, but it really all is. The station and ship designs could have come from nowhere else, and trying to pilot the Sidewinder through the unhelpfully spinning letterbox slot in the face of a Coriolis Starport literally sent shivers down my spine the first time. Old favourites abound; the Anaconda, the Viper, the Asp and of course the Cobra Mk III, all instantly recognisable by their clean, minimalist, eighties polygons, yet given a brush of modern-day twiddley bits and shinyness. In some ways, I think its how I’d imagined the ships to look, all along.

I really don't have to put labels on these, do I?

Again the nostalgia forgives many sins. For the newer player, its hard to say what they make of this curious retro styling that seems to be everywhere. There are many modern touches though; UI, interface, all sorts of advanced controller, head-tracking and VR gubbins, impressive sound-design, and of course, the bit we schoolyard nerds had wanted all along; persistent large-scale multiplayer.

Nowadays, I wonder if we really knew what we wanted. A significant proportion of the other sorts of forum complaints are familiar from the launch of EVE Online too; “PvE Only Server Plz!”. I think the main problem is the multiplayer aspects of the game just about support one lone pilot asymmetrically and unconsentually ganking another, but seems to have trouble with anything more elaborate. We’ve tried various typically MMO-ish scenarios and had trouble with most of it. NPC Kill Bounties go to whoever gets the last hit in, there are no wings, squads, guilds, or any of that. It has groups, but that’s used to effectively run a private server mode of the game, and does nothing inside the game itself. It once took two of us 20 minutes to arrive in the same open space location, and that was when the instancing was behaving. Another occasion saw myself, Friend A and Friend B all outside the same starbase. I could see them both and they could see me, but neither of them could see each other. Creepy Spacetime Voodoo, or some broken overlapping instance nonsense. It does have a friends list, but seems fickle on who it will allow to talk to whom – it refuses to deliver messages to two of my friends, and I don’t know why.

The original game wasn’t designed for multiple players and neither is this, at least not so far. Even if all the above technical problems were fixed, there isn’t really much ‘group content’ in the usual sense. I wonder if there ought to be or not. Roadmaps and things lie ahead and apparently Wings is a Soon thing, but it seems remarkable it wasn’t there to begin with. Have they ever played an MMO before?

Anyway, all that seems academic, and here is some SCIENCE to explain why!

After some bollocksed attempts at Trading, I discovered that you could get paid for just Staring At Stars, and since then, I’ve been hooked. There’s a Youtube video somewhere further down on the site, where I gabble on about parallax and am awfully pleased with myself for working out how to Explore. And now I just do this. Out went the cargo bay, in went a fuel scoop, and I’m off to infinity and beyond! Of course to really explore, you have to Boldy Go some place none else has Boldly Gotten At, and so I find myself staring at the Galaxy Map more and more, making Plans.

Aside from being beautiful in its own right, it provides all sorts of fascinating numbers. Elite: Dangerous’s Milky Way is very similar to ours; spiral, weighs about the same and smells similar but is different in two key ways. Firstly, there’s a star called “Sol” where the sun should be, and more importantly, almost all of it is made up. They’ve taken some time to fill in obvious known stars; the big ones with names like Castor, Mizar, Archenar, Button Moon, Unicron and such, and also filled in a few hundred thousand or so from actual stellar catalogues; Hipparcos Catalogue (Sidebar ‘HIP’ numbers) and Henry Draper Catalogue (HD numbers). The rest of the 400 billion or so were surprisingly, not added by hand during the beta by volunteers, but have been auto-generated, which itself must have been no small task!

Obviously I’m going to visit them all, but after sitting down and doing some very shaky maths, it seems to be quite a task I’ve set myself! My current ship can do about 11 LY per jump, although with the right fitting, some of the better ones can do up to 30 LY a hop. Making some pretty dubious assumptions about star density, I came up with an average distance between stars of about 8 LY, based on the bit we all started in. Equipped with the Fuel Scoop (ahh…iconic…), it takes about four minutes to complete one cycle of orientate, charge up, hyperjump, arrive, reorientate, refuel, pick out the next target from the map, and jump again.

The scooping is important, because the jump uses consumable fuel and the alternative is to buy it from a starbase. There seems to only be starbases inside a 400 LY diameter sphere of ‘known space’ centered on this ‘Sol’ planet, which I am apparently not allowed to visit without a permit. Damned bureaucratic Solarians and their nasty damp eyes! This Known Sphere seems to be the bit with everything in, including fellow players, but it’s the bit outside the sphere I am interested in. Here are some interesting travel destinations I seek!

HYPUAE EUQ EI-B D13-0: This snappily named star system sits on the planar rim of the galaxy nearest to the Known Sphere, and is 15,177.63 light years away. I reckon that’s about 1898 jumps, which will take me about 127 hours of continuous play, or 64 days if I put in two hours of solid jumping a day and then sleep, eat and go to work. I should be there by 12th March 2015, if I start now!

STUEMEAE BC-D C12-4612: Reminds me of a Windows 95 Activation Key I used to date. This star system is about as near to the centre of the galaxy as I could pick out. It really is dense in there, and the stars are often less than a light year apart. Knowing my luck, its the supermassive blackhole that powers the whole damned thing and I’ll get all spaghettified as soon as I arrive! It’s 26,419.20 LY away, so that date with the scary angry devil-robot with the egg-whisk hands will not happen until 27th April, so there’s something!

IORADY EI-B D13-0: Ah…
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in IORADY EI-B D13-0 and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

This Elysian paradise sits at the far opposite end of the galaxy and at 65,444.96LY, is about the furthest away one can get from Lave and still hear the whining about PvP. It will take me until 7th October 2015 to get there, but in fact it might take longer than that, as it is 120LY from it’s nearest neighbour, and I’m not sure anything in the game has that jump range. I expect I’ll meet the Battlestar Galactica coming the other way, in some distress.

I probably need to upgrade to the 30LY/jump ships.

Anyway, all this immensity means that really, the game doesn’t need an Open Play mode at all, because once I get about 25 jumps out from the starting system, I’ll likely never see another player again!

Watch out for progress updates from the back of beyond soon, but in the unlikely event I don’t make it, check out this more organised effort to do broadly the same silliness:

http://kotaku.com/one-thousand-gamers-embark-to-explore-the-entire-galaxy-1677603818

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The List of Demands…

So after a lot of wandering the badlands of overly restrictive MMO grouping rules, we fetched up in Firefall, which I’m quite enjoying. The game itself is decent enough, a kind of jump-pack fueled riot of colours and noises and massive areas of effect. There’s some kind of plot there to do with Nantes and an alien space plague and a crashed spaceship, which found some special crystals, while carrying out the first ever FTL jump, which mutated all the wildlife in Brazil, and gave powered exoskeletons to everyone! Now I come to explain it to someone else…

There is such a thing as trying too hard, and I think the only trope from my Sci Fi Bingo Card that I didn’t see in the opening cut-scene was “They Look Like Us Now”. (They really don’t.) But who cares! It’s astonishing how easy it is to completely ignore the plot, mission texts and what passes for any kind of narrative campaign structure and just drop in there and go utterly loopy with jetpacks and a variety of satisfying and amusing class-based weapons, powers and grenades. As long as there’s a yellow arrow to follow, the rest is entirely superfluous!

So I’m enjoying the basic jumping about and shooting things, which is hugely important. If the moment-to-moment stuff works, you often don’t need the rest of the twiddley bits, which in more turgid MMOs tend to act as an incentive to slog on through the tab targeting and hotkey rotation. Firefall plays a lot like Tabula Rasa and Defiance, I’m finding, and I always liked both of those. I play a lot of other games these days, but still find time to solo about in there.

But the main reason I’m there is because it turned out to be a decent candidate for the big Static Group Nights. We don’t ask for much from our online clubhouses, only that the game has no levels, no classes and can provide meaningful and fun content for groups of 2-13 people. That’s pretty reasonable I think, but few of the usual lineup meet our needs, and it’s always been a bit of a struggle.

We can work around some of it, and several titles have done well for our nomadic selves in the past, lasting longer than the three weeks it takes us to work out why a game won’t work for us. Old timers like Warhammer Online and Guild Wars, which despite various other faults, catered to the way our gang wanted to play. We had a few good runs at Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online, and more recently Planetside 2 and Defiance have done well to cater to us. I guess EVE Online ticks most of those boxes too, but never quite gained popular traction among us. Private Server Minecraft is popular (Check the Steam Group for details of that), but I’ve never had the guts to suggest Tale in the Desert, Wurm Online or the SWGEmu! Not all our gang like Mining!

Most often we find that the Traditional Mainstream MMO is about the least well-suited to the way we want to play. World of Warcraft (and similar) have a habit of forcing us to pick specialisation roles (tank, healer, etc) which never works well for our week-by-week drop-out, drop-in attendance. Every other week, we’ll fetch up with three tanks and no healer.

They force us to play for exactly the same amount of time each week, for fear of falling behind or getting ahead, a problem further compounded by VIP/Lifetime/Founder XP Bonuses, vs F2P flat rate xp. We’re a widely varying degree of casual player, on the whole.

They force us to break up into groups of precisely five, or four, or six, or whatever arbitrary number has been picked for balancing purposes. I think it’s this last one that irks me the most, making me pick my four most favourite friends, then tell the rest to go sit on the bench. Which is frankly unacceptable, and I wonder sometimes if these games think that they are more important to me than my friends…

All of these are solved problems, by the way. City of Heroes solved levels twice; at launch with Mentoring and Sidekicking. “Have a friend who doesn’t play as much? No problem! Click here to become their level for the day. Or have them click to be your level!” They solved it a second time by extending the hijinks to the entire group. “You know what? Why don’t you just pick a level you want to be? We’re all adults here; it’ll be fine.” Many other MMOs followed suit, even including Everquest 2 of all games, so frankly if your MMO doesn’t also do this, It Is Broken.

Most MMOs have more trouble getting past the Trinity, but Rift has an admirable solution; give each class access to lots of sub-variant classes, which can carry out the different required roles as needed. My Rogue can happy flick between a Melee DPS, Support Buff/Debuff, Tank and Healer. Once I’ve set these up, I can swap them in the field with the press of a hotkey. If the roles have to be there, let anyone who is willing have a go at them, rather than forcing the same well-meaning members of the peer group to ‘take one for the team’ and be a tank or healer all the time, in every game. Dedicated players just end up grinding out one of each anyway, and likely come to resent the game for it. Yay, The Lone Lands, again!

Better yet, just get rid of them entirely. Most of the more modern MMO-ey action shooter type games tend to do this, along with Guild Wars 2. Having someone who can heal nearby is nice, but far from necessary, and other sorts of groupwork can be emphasised instead; positional play, timing, shared combos, overlapping damage types, puzzle bosses, etc. Surely we’re not still at the stage where having two team members distract the enemy while everyone wails on it (but not too much!), is still a Thing? If more than eighty percent of your players can’t get through a groupfinder queue in under two hours, It Is Broken.

But it’s the arbitrary group-sizing that I keep coming back to and swearing at. I’m a big fan of the excellent MMOsketeers Podcast, and over recent months I’ve been listening to the troubles they’ve been having trying to three-man four-man dungeons in The Elder Scolls Online. There are three of them, you see, and rather than grab some silent random Efficiency-Bot 8000 from an LFG tool, they’d rather just play among themselves. Not an unreasonable request – playing with silent random strangers in MMOs generally makes me feel uncomfortable too. But the game is punishing them for nonconformity. Very recently, they’ve found a fourth and by all counts, everything is going swimmingly. Let’s just hope they don’t have another friend turn up, or things will get awkward again!

I listen, and nod and sigh. We’ve always struggled on in a similar spirit, making life difficult for ourselves by shortmanning it, rather than abandon our own social ties in favour of what… artificial ones the game seeks to manufacture expressly for the purpose of pixel bosses and pixel loot? We’re stubborn though, and when faced with six players at a five-man instance, will usually struggle with two groups of three rather than make someone go away.

Perhaps it’s not so sinister. Perhaps making dynamically scaling content is hard. Still, there are solutions; City of Heroes (spotting a pattern here…) solved this in elegant mathematical fashion with its zone events and world bosses; no matter how many people showed up and at what level, the bosses were somehow always ‘just right’, for every participant. Rift and Defiance, with the Rift/Arkfall public quest type mini-events manage to dynamically adjust the challenge on the fly stepping up enemy numbers and stats depending how effective you all were on the preceeding phase or wave. Every now and then it would go spectacularly wrong, but mostly it works well. Lotro’s Skirmishes were cruder; simply offering many different group-sizings to choose from, leaving it to us to find something suitable. Again – the trust; “You choose – you know what you want best.”

Firefall seems to have legs. It doesn’t have mentoring or sidekicking that I’ve seen, but does provide you with five selectable batteframes, (classes), which act as in-game alts, allowing different players to drop back to a lower levelled ‘self’ on the fly, and carry on. Not ideal, but manageable. The Tank, Healer, DPS thing is sort of there, but so lightly applied as to be negligible, so we ignore it entirely! Healing is nice, but anyone can pick fallen comrades up and anyone can stock up with simple crafted health packs. The group size thing is giving us troubles though. Six is a group, and more is a Platoon, which is fine, but the usual multi-group cobblers starts to apply. Kills made by Group A don’t give xp to Group B, etc, etc. Shortsighted! We get by though, and rather than seek out actual Raids, we tend to just Platoon up and go attack the Solo Content for People Who Are Five Levels Higher than us. A compromise, but it mostly works for us.

The ideal Friday Night game is something we’ve almost found, several times, but never quite. Firefall will do for now, but I doubt we’ll stop looking any time soon. I just wished we all lived nearer – could just go down the pub!

The Hints of Satiation…

So another Steam Sale has come and gone. Given the bizarre and ungrateful reaction that the last one provoked in me (see the final Season 3 How To Murder Time Podcast for excessive whining on that), I mostly gave this one a miss. Besides, there’ll be another one along in a month I expect. I did briefly have a peek at the list and love what they’ve done with the new infinitely scrolling sales list; the session became positively Sisyphean at one point; scroll scroll scroll, must search for bargains….FOREVER!

On the whole though, the overloading stimulus of it all more or less convinced me to give up on the concept of “browsing” on Steam, and now, I’ll just stick to occasional checks on specific titles I’ve been waiting for, lurking for the inevitable £2.49 threshold to hit. The Wish-list approach seems the only way to sanely interact with Steam nowadays, but that might just be me.

 

It did all remind me of a good old chat we were having on Mumble a few weeks back, where the following was brought up and we all had a go:

https://steamdb.info/calculator/

Not a Valve site and I make no guarantees as to what they do or don’t do with any Steam Login or password you use there, but typing in just your Steam ID, selecting a currency and pressing Go will swiftly come back with precisely how much you’ve ever spent in Valve’s platform dominating digi-O-mart. It also works on other people, which is a bit worrying; presumably this is all publicly available API data which is just being used to do some simple calculations. Since you can easily find out anyway, I’ll save you a click and own up to £489 spent on 53 games.

 

Totalled up like that, it’s a bit alarming, but that was over 10 years, and I think I’ve probably got my money’s worth. I certainly wasn’t the biggest number when we all tried it and I’m pretty sure the Co-Host has a significant lead on me too.

I guess it’s only a problem if you aren’t getting value for the amount spent. In my case, the “Games not played” stat, a.k.a “The Pile Of Shame” is a bit worrying at 11 (21%), particularly given how disapproving of that I am in others, but much of it is the free bits of Half Life 2 and Counterstrike that everyone gets, and a couple are things that I know I’ve bought, but am Saving For A Rainy Day.

I do that, which is sort of the point I’m getting at. I often feel guilt at not being a good enough consumer, not supporting the industry appropriately. I take too darn long to play these games, never pay full price for any of it, never shell out for bonus figurines and whatnot, never buy stuff when they want me to, or nearly enough of it, and worse of all, I often develop hankerings to play these things again, years after they were in any way cool or fashionable. As a point, I currently happen to be playing Fallout 3, the first Puzzle Quest, and Guild Wars. One.

 

See for me, these games never go away, which is why I am often very cross about the whole abandonware thing. I’d happily pay someone for these old games, but no-one wants to earn my money a lot of the time! I’m also slightly furious when short-sighted game, OS and hardware designers refuse to give a toss about backward compatibility. Planned obsolescence is a sort of heresy in my world-view! Why make the same thing, badly and on purpose, over and over, when you could make a fine thing once, then make something entirely new next! Good things should last forever! A computer game is for life, not just 16 hours!

 

Anyway, it all goes some way to explaining why I’m such a flippin’ hipster when it comes to The New Things. It’s not so much that I liked it better before it was mainstream (i.e. commercially available), it’s more that I’ve not finished with the Things I Already Had Yet! And it only gets worse with each new game; a game which, if it’s even remotely good, I will continue to replay once every two to three years or so in rotation with all the others I still have, going back to Baldur’s Gate, System Shock and beyond. (“Anyone for a Lords of Midnight Hotseat Marathon?”) Adding in MMOs, which all seem to be free now and by design have no satisfactory ending, and I start to wonder if there won’t come a time, perhaps soon, when I Will Have Enough Games. Fin. The End. No more purchasing required. Ever.

 

It’s an odd thought.

 

Incidentally, that £489 is tied up in entirely non-physical goods, which effectively vanish if Valve turn off the 486 that runs Steam, which is chilling in it’s own way. I like to think that Valve’s last act on this Earth will be to throw the big “Deactivate the DRM” switch, releasing all our bought and paid-for games into our own custodianship, but I’m notably naïve. And anyway, in this giddy ‘Canticle for Lebowitz‘ type future I’m imagining for us all, we’ll probably be fighting each other with pointy sticks for the last pouch of Rad-Away, long before Steam’s absence becomes a problem.

I shall try to stop obsessing about Steam soon. Until then, don’t have nightmares!

Virtual Virtual Warfare

1.8GB of patient downloading later, Game Update 4 for Planetside 2 arrived. I have to say, SOE are really earning their wages with the update schedule of this thing, cracking on with many and significant improvements month by month since release, to a game that didn’t even launch that broken in the first place.

You can find the full patch notes here:

PS2 Official Forums: GU4 Patch Notes

 

Loads of things there as usual, but the big headline item is the new VR Training Area, which I’ve already had a run about in and think is genius. Accessible from the Warp Terminal screen as a small button beneath the islands, this takes you to a Star Trek Holodeck inspired mini zone containing terminals, shooting ranges, a large bit of Indar-Greenery style terrain to drive and fly about on, and even a practice Watchtower structure in one corner. Apparently, it even has a Quad Bike racing course, which as yet is incomplete, but Soon…

There is a separate one for each Empire, naturally, but the place continually spawns random ‘NPC’ troops and vehicles to shoot at. This isn’t really PvE in any real sense; these entities have no AI at all, and will simply stand there, unmoving and unshooting, but are still useful for proper research into numbers; how many shots to kill what, with what, etc, and in a far less panicked environment that in battle. Some of the spawned troops and vehicles are your of own Empire, which you can still shoot at. It does the ‘bloop’ noise but gives you no actual grief points, which is handy for recognition training, etc.

More importantly, while in the VR Training Area, everyone gets everything unlocked. While there, it flags you as having already bought everything it is possible to buy with Cert Points. It doesn’t unlock anything that is ordinarily SC only; camo, horns, skulfase, etc, but all the rest, including the cash-shop guns.

This is hugely important for a variety of reasons.

Firstly this greatly improves on the previous ‘Try a gun for half an hour per 30 days’ system of the Trial Unlock Button, which is now effectively rendered obsolete, although there may still be a use in trying a gun against real enemiesnow and then. Players contemplating buying cash shop guns can now really put the thing through its paces in VR before putting down the SC, which is great.

Secondly, it lets you discover that a thing is something you actually want to buy in the first place. Despite becoming a quite good Gal pilot, I’d given up the Scythe up as a lost cause early on, being barely able to clear the warp-gate before slamming it into a mountain, let alone dogfight in it. Thanks to the VR, I now know that the Hover Stability Airframe 3 Upgrade totally transforms the thing, greatly reducing the minimum forward velocity and making it handle a lot more like the Mosquito and Reaver from the first game, offering much greater control in a fight, instead delivering one burst of fire, then zooming uncontrollably out of range. Unlocking Hover Stability Airframe 3 costs 700 Certs in total (100 +200 + 400), not a casual sum, and not something I’d plan on saving up towards, without first getting some idea of exactly what I’d get for that. I now know, because in VR, it gives you everything to try out anyway.

Thirdly, it gives you somewhere safe to practice. Using the Scythe as an example again, it is very much a vehicle you need to practice, but previously, the only place to do that was in and around the Warpgate on a continent where your folks had built up a buffer zone of friendly hexes. And even that was no guarantee of safety from lone Mosquitoes and Reavers, chancing their luck on deep strikes. The VR zone is relatively quiet, so good for fledging first flights. Even better, the VR charges no resources and has no cooldowns, so crashing your first Scythe doesn’t then make you sit there like a lemon for 15mins before letting you try again; you can respawn and get straight back to the flight training.

There are some downsides; VR K/D stats don’t count toward anything, Certs can’t be earned in there and so on, and there is a danger that the place will be so popular, it’ll drain forces from active duty, certainly while it’s new and different at least. There’s also a current bug where consumables (med kits, grenades, mines, etc) cost real resources, but that’s to be fixed soon I expect. These are minor things though, and on the whole, this addition to the game is a fantastic one. It isn’t a new idea, mind you; Planetside 1 had something similar for a very long time, and was similarly useful there too.

Thinking about it, I’m not sure they even need to bother with actual Sanctuaries now; the VR and Dropship Terminal were the only useful bits of the place, and both mechanics are now in PS2.

 

Other Interesting update notes:

Flash: The Flash now takes a ‘rumble seat’ passenger, who sits on the back and can fire their own weapons as a kind of ad-hoc turret. It can now also be given the Wraith cloaking system, like the PS1 variant, allowing the whole quad bike to cloak if being ridden by an infiltrator. This cloak uses its own battery, not the Infiltrator’s and is quite generous at a default 40s. The thing still makes a lot of noise though, so watch that. To top it all off, you can now buy a side mounted shotgun for the Flash, in addition to all its usual machine guns options.

General Blast Nerf: Seems like almost all the splash damage explosives have had their radiuses dropped somewhat. Should make life easier for Infantry survivability, particularly vs Tanks. Gunners and Grenadiers now have to be somewhat more accurate.

Ammo Capacity Buff: Most infantry weapon ammo capacities increased. Engy Resupply Nerf!

Magrider Hover Tweak: Should be a bit more floatey on hills and such again, after it’s previous harsh but necessary over-nerfing.

Prowler P2-120 HE Nerf: Blast radius reduced 30%…. thank god… Those things have been everywhere lately…

Vehicle Kill XP Buff: Huge increases (+400% in many cases) in XP for vehicle kills, by type. This is the Vehicle itself, pilotless or otherwise. I think you get separate extra XP for killing people inside them anyway.

Minimap Zooming: use [ and ] to zoom in and out a bit. Useful!

Rejigged Respawn Map: Uses the normal zone map now – much more useful. Can now edit waypoints while dead, handy for Squad Leaders for whom there is only peace in the grave…

Watchtower Redesign (again!): Vehicle Spawning now to one side of the ground floor drive-through. Less collisions when trying to get a Sundy in there!

Plus the usual huge amount of world and equipment tweaks and adjustments. All in all, impressive. And to top it all off, they rotated the warp gates again; new and relatively unfamiliar ‘home territories’ for everyone!

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Street Sovereignty

So in spite of myself, I appear to now be liking Ingress, the Google Citizen Monitoring System masked as Augmented Reality Game. That it is recording my every move for some sinister future purpose, I do not doubt, but figure that Google already know my… well, pretty much everything that I do online and over email anyway by now, so where is the additional harm?

The thing still seems to be in beta, but I don’t recall any NDA being mentioned and don’t generally care about those anyway. Basic gameplay is somewhat new and interesting to me, never having had a phone capable of this stuff before. Two factions, the Enlightened and the Resistance are battling it out in a secret invisible and made-up world, trying to have the most territory under their control at any given time. Something to do with Mind Units, which isn’t sinister AT ALL!

To do this, players create Control Fields. To do this, players create three Links in a triangle. To do that, players claim Portals by putting eight Resonators around them and then connect them together. New Portals can be submitted using a Share option which the client adds to the camera features of the device, allowing a photo tagged with location data to be uploaded to Google’s Sinister ARG Dept., which a few weeks later, might show up as a new portal for capture.

Ingress Phone Client

The phone client shows a zoomable but limited version of Google Maps which updates as you move about, and upon which bobbles of XM (Exotic Matter, apparently) can be seen drifting about. Moving to within about 25m of the stuff will harvest it, increasing your XM bar. This bar can then be spent recharging friendly portal defences, attacking enemy ones, and carrying out all sorts of other actions.

The other required piece of info is the website Portal Map, www.ingress.com/intel A login is required for that, but it looks broadly like this. I didn’t know about that map, which led to me basically assuming that there weren’t any portals out there at all. Everything hinges on the Portals, and so far, Portal distribution seems somewhat hit and miss; monuments and statues seem to be a favourite for starters. The phone client has an inventory, and you get items for this by going to the Portal out there in the cruel cold real world, and Hacking it; doesn’t matter who owns it, it’ll often dispense a couple of items for you.

Resonators are the things you use to claim and control Portals. XMP Bursters are the things you use to attack enemy Portals, draining the energy of Resonators. Portal Keys are interesting and can be used as a method of remotely recharging friendly Portals, saving you having to visit the thing every single day. They can also be used to create Links, but I’ve not got that brave yet! I’ve also sometimes received Portal Shields, items you can add to existing friendly portals to give them limited damage reduction. It’s a lot like MMO harvesting nodes, only with actual walking involved.

Recharging, Bursting and Hacking all give you AP, which is Ingresses experience bar, and what does experience make? Levels! I’m currently level 1, out of 8, and this means that even if I manage to loot Lv2 items (And I sometimes have), I am not allowed to use them. I can only use Lv1 Bursters, which do about 1-4% damage to each Resonator I’ve tried attacking so far, and can only deploy Lv1 Resonators, were I to claim a portal of my own, which makes for very rickety defences indeed. Higher level friendly players can upgrade existing Resonators over the top of those though. The average Resonator level of the Portal determines how long links to it can be, ranging from 160m at L1 to about 160km at L8.

All in all, I feel very much like a newbie in an MMO; surrounded by powerful veterans with no real ways to make a difference, with a long period of ‘doing my time’ before I get to sweep through towns and villages crushing all in my path. At higher levels, my XM bar capacity increases and I can use more potent gizmos, but as a brand new player, it does seem like being on refuelling duty is the thing; scouting out my region and trying to acquire as many Portal Keys as possible, and of course, harvesting as much XM as possible.

Resonators appear to decay about 15% of their power per real-time day, so a big part of the game seems to be maintenance. Coincidentally, using the cloud of XM that seems to gather about each portal, I have enough capacity to carry out three or four Recharges per portal, of about 3-5% for the whole set. In other words, to hold ground, let alone go on the attack, each Portal needs to be visited by at least one defending player once per day to do the top up. Having its Portal Key means that this can be done from more or less anywhere, so as well as biding my time and building up AP, collecting a comprehensive set of local Keys seems a good first move.

I seem to get about 10AP per recharge, and Level 2 is 10,000AP. XMP Bursting enemy portals pays more; 100AP, but is regulated by the number of Bursters of your level that you can hack out, so is more sporadic. Quite a big timesink ahead, although as ever, grinding looks like it pays. A Portal can only be hacked by the same player once every five minutes, but if you have nothing better to do than stand on a windy common next to a piece of inexplicable Civic Art all day, you can apply obsession for great imaginary profit. I expect for most players, one or two visits a day is plenty; passing foot traffic by commuters, that sort of thing. Mind you, if you have to catass, at least this game ensures you do it outside in some fresh air!

 

The whole thing is hitting all my Skinner Box buttons, of course, but is fascinating to watch as well. The Intel Map shows the bigger picture and the day-to-day cut and thrust of local and wider ‘combat’; for example, last night some powerful Blue chap came through our town and devastated almost everything, flipping most of the well-built up Portals that our more active local Greens had built up there. This feat must have needed dozens of high levelled XMP Burster and Resonators, which must have been stockpiles over some weeks. I get one or two of those per Portal Hack, usually. Will he return? Is he local too? Can he maintain them all? Can we take them back? I find myself fascinated, even if my own participation is, as yet, minimal and limited.

I went out, earlier in the week, on a lengthy pedestrian circuit around town, Hacking away, Recharging and Bursting without real plan or purpose, and quite by accident gave myself a decent bit of brisk exercise, which felt good all by itself! I started to wonder about the other folks staring at smartphones. Were they the Enemy? Unknowing allies? Probably neither; I’d never noticed until I got one myself, but everyone out there is tapping away on their own black mirrors nowadays as they walk and sit, and Ingress is probably one of the least likely things they could all be doing.

It reminded me a bit of the big old sovereignty map games of EVE Online; a huge single game world, territory, control, late-night shifts in power, lowbies like me diligently hauling fuel and mining ice, veterans roaming for easy captures and blobs moving about capping and sweeping away hard work in moments, and of course, none of it ultimately mattering at all in the grand scheme of anything. I expect similar problems of drudgery and burnout await me further down the line, and how interesting would EVE Sovereignty be with only two Alliances anyway? But for now, I’m intrigued.

I suppose, like EVE, the real way to achieve anything substantial, is to organise, and there are certainly local and regional groups on that G+ thing, and the client has a dedicated range-based faction chat window. A bit early in the day for all that for me, but we shall see…

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Reviewlets: A30 Walker & M60 Bulldog

Two guns for my newest favourite Planetside 2 vehicle, the Galaxy. The Galaxy is a highly situational choice; a twelve-man troop transport VTOL aircraft and is very iconic, being a firm favourite from the first game. Unless you just want to use it as a flying kamikaze bomb to burn up otherwise unwanted Aerospace resources, you’ll want at least five crew for this plane to get the most out of it; a pilot and four gunners. Seven additional passengers can be loaded for the full 11-man paradrop on target facilities, and the whole paradrop thing is the Galaxy’s primary purpose – rapid redeployment across awkward or distant terrain. Everyone except the pilot is protected from falling damage when jumping from this plane, at any height. Static and regular squads should be looking to have a few members practice and pimp their Galaxies to increase squad mobility in general. To beat the Acquisition Timers and Resource Costs, have several Galaxy Pilots work in rotation.

The secondary purpose of the plane is a bit more hit and miss; the ‘Galaxy Gunship’ concept from PS1. With all armaments upgraded from the stock M20 Drake average-at-everything heavy machine guns, can the Galaxy become a potent offensive unit in its own right?

A30 Walker (Galaxy Primary/Secondary Anti-Air Turret) 500 Certs, 700SC

This turret is a potent anti-air light machine gun. It has a usefully long range, big magazine, fast reload and improved rate of fire over the default M20, making it just the thing for pesky ESF Mosquitoes, Reavers and Scythes, allowing the gunner to keep up a lengthy harassment of enemy fighters and bombers. Available for the top and rear turret slots, (seats 2 and 3), they provide useful and broad arcs of coverage, but the pilot needs to be aware of the general direction of incoming fire and rotate the body of the plane appropriately, trying to keep the enemy in the top/rear/centre region, thus ensuring both top and tail guns have a good arc to play with. These guns are principally for keeping ESF at arm’s length rather than outright killing them, but my regular gunners do get a fair number of kills with these; enemy ESF cannot ignore these turrets for long and must keep their distance, or try to come at you from under/ahead.

Useful Upgrades: Zoom Optics and Ammo Capacity. Magazine Size and Reload Speed are already usefully high to start with, so should be lower priority for spending, particularly since you’ll likely have two of these turrets to upgrade.

8/10: Extremely useful. Most of my Galaxy deaths have been to either Phalanx Flak Cannons (which you can’t do much about anyway) or to Mosquitoes and Reavers. Any Anti-Air capability you can give the Galaxy is great, and in the absence of a Galaxy-Mounted Flak Turret, this is the next best thing! Annoyingly, you’ll need to pay for it twice to unlock Primary and Secondary versions, but still worth it.

(Like everything Galaxy-based, these turrets are Common Pool, so non-Vanus can go with these too.)

 

M60 Bulldog (Galaxy Tertiary/Quaternary Grenade Launcher Turret) 250 Certs, 500SC

This turret fires reasonably punchy, small AoE contact detonated shells, designed for clearing clumps of infantry on the ground. It’ll also whittle merrily away at enemy vehicles too and is comparable to the default C75 Viper turret found on the Lightning; similar clip, more damage and faster reload, but with a lower rate of fire and shorter range. The turret is available to replace the left and right wingtip nacelle guns used by seats 4 and 5. Not an awful lot of use while in the air and en route to targets, I think the idea is that these guns are to be used against ground targets immediately prior to dropping troops, softening up the facility somewhat ahead of ground deployment, and then by a circling Galaxy after the drop, to support the capture and help repel resecure attempts, although you’d have to weigh up if the two gunners, who will need to stay aboard, would have been more use on the ground instead. (I usually keep the AA gunners aboard for preference, if any.) The turrets do get kills in my experience, but the intended targets are usually either big and powerful; tanks, etc, or small and fiddly; distant lone infantry, making them far less useful to the day-to-day Galaxy pilot than the A30 Walkers. Tank kills are tricky but possible; remember that most tanks can’t aim straight up. In general, I find the best defence is simply to get the plane the hell out of dodge when faced with anything substantial enough to need these turrets. Hovering and dukeing it out rarely ends well, because everyone tends to drop everything they’re doing when presented with the chance at a Galaxy kill! In a dedicated ‘gunship’ configuration, make sure you have all the Galaxy extras; Composite Armour, Flares, Airframe, etc. These turrets won’t do it alone.

Useful Addons: Magazine Size, as you only get 6 normally. Zoom Optics help with whomping distant infantry.

5/10: A lot less useful than you’d expect, mostly because a Galaxy is not a tank, and really can’t survive hovering for long enough to make these work well. For a strictly Anti-Air Gal, you might even do better with the stock M20 guns. A nice extra option and relatively cheap to buy, but there are better things to spend the points on…like the A30 Walkers!

(Common Pool, so available to all.)

 

Pimping out the Galaxy is an expensive job, with four possible turrets to buy at present, and clearly only for folks who can be reasonably confident that they’ll have gunners to man them often, but the A30’s in particular have made a noticeable improvement in keeping my bird in the air.

For those who can’t or don’t want to part with the readies, I have another tip for helping fight off the scourge of Empire Specific Fighters; Hemlock’s Handbrake!

Observe:

Hemlock's Handbrake

Pay attention class!

 

Fig. A is a familiar sight; Oh No! The fiendish Johnny AirCav is on our Six, pecking away, and we have no tailgunner! We’re going down! Or are we? Not if we don’t panic, we aren’t!

Keep an eye on the minimap; when Johnny AirCav is about halfway between us and the rear edge of the minimap, and looks to be flying straight and level, do the following:

  • Full Speed Ahead, if you aren’t already.
  • Nose Up Sharply! Ideally we want the plane to be flying directly upward, as seen in Fig. B
  • Mash Space Bar for Great Victory! This will make the Gal go ‘up’ in relation to the horizontal surface of the Galaxy, i.e. Backwards at some speed.

If all has gone well, see Fig C. The Galaxy has considerably more HP than the ESF, and if the fighter is following too closely, salivating over a juicy Galaxy kill, he won’t be able to get out of the way in time, and will quite often slam into your upper surface, scaring the bejeesus out of your top-turret gunner. Roy Lichtenstein ensues, and I’m not talking about the one with the woman crying into a phone! This will do only about 10-20% of your own total HP to you in damage, but utterly obliterate Johnny AirCav. It’ll even give you the kill pop-up, too!

This manoeuvre gets a bit more dicey if you’ve picked up multiple bogeys, but worth a go anyway, because the alternative is being shot down by Johnny AirCav and his mates anyway. A Galaxy can theoretically ram a Liberator to death, HP-wise, but those don’t tend to go fast enough for the above to work that well. Also, they have a really hurty Anti-tank front gun, so won’t be chasing you for terribly long. Have to rely on tail and top gunners for those.

The whole thing is hilarious, and seems consistently repeatable enough time to be a proper tactic and everything! Get up there and give ‘em hell!

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Thoughts on Squad Leading

Planetside 2 continues to entertain, and like most of these MMOs for me these days, seems to shine as a venue for good friends to have quite casual social hijinks of an average evening. Some of us are better than others at the whole shooty shooty thing, but there’s a good general atmosphere on Mumble in the Fire Rounds Rapid outfit of which I seem to have become somewhat in charge of.

We’re there to have fun, of course, but there is an actual game going on too, and I’m slowly learning what is involved in leading a squad in PS2. One of the great and unique selling points of PS2 over, say Borderlands, Halo or Battlefield 19-whatever is the sheer scale of the fighting. These are really large maps, with a LOT of participants, dozens at any given base and likely thousands overall. Making some kind of sense of it all is very much part of squad leading.

This can be tricky, but there are various tools available to help, I’m finding.

100 Certs will unlock Command Chat, giving you access to the [Leader] chat channel if you are currently leading a squad. This is somewhat helpful. Often leaders of outfits will take this seriously and give updates of where they’re going, what they’re doing and that can help give the squad leader some idea of the distribution of friendly forces. This also unlocks use of the yellow [Orders] broadcasts, which other friendly troops can see, and sometimes even obey!

More certs (200) can unlock map-placeable reinforcement request icons for attack and defend. This also creates several new spawn locations for all on the death screen to use, which can help direct the flow of battle on an empire-wide basis somewhat, but again, it’s still down to individual troops if they want to respond – it’s not an RTS! I can’t do that yet, but it does look handy.

My own main concern is typically finding a satisfying fight for the troops in my squad. I look for several things when picking out a next objective.

 

Numbers

A good fight is one where the numbers are broadly equal. Several times I’ve withdrawn our squad when it looks like we’re about to get a massive mauling from a 40+ organised assault from a big-name enemy outfit. There is a time and a place for a heroic Rorke’s Drift style last stand, and that place is usually in the movies. In the ‘reality’ of PS2, assuming a generally equal level of average individual skill, 40 vs 10 will go about as well as you’d expect. It’s not actual losses that worry me – this is a sci-fi future battle based on nanotech immortality afterall. I worry more about morale. Being on the receiving end of repeated steamrollering to the point where it looks like they are just toying with you can sometimes be necessary (to delay, to hold out if you know reinforcements are nearby, etc) but isn’t a huge amount of fun if that’s all that happens to you for two hours.

The opposite is often true as well. It can be useful and revitalising ‘downtime’ to do 10-man paradrops on empty and undefended bases, certainly, and the bigger picture of continental conquest does require this kind of tidy-up fairly often, (to create territorial buffers, to improve resource gain chains, to gain cert points for the squad’s long-term development, etc), but taken to extremes, this misses the point of the game and can make for a boring two hours for all concerned.

Finding the sweet spot can be tricky and does rely on luck as much as judgement. A base where there are about ten or so defenders makes for a great fight for us, and is generally satisfying for all concerned, win or lose.

The best pointer I’ve found so far for this is the Map Screen side bar details. The sectors flash based on all sorts of obscure criteria, but the line of text above the pie-chart is a more useful guide; ‘No Enemies Detected’, ‘Enemy Squad(s) Detected’, ‘Enemy Platoon(s) Detected’. A squad is 2-12 players and a platoon is 8-48 players, depending on how full or spread out those players are. Not precise, but a useful ballpark. As a typically full single squad, we need to be looking for single enemy squad warnings. Oddly, I have no idea at all how many friendly troops are present – the map gives me more information about the enemies than allies, which seems an odd way to run an army!

The absolute best way of judging this stuff however, is scouts. Having one member of the squad grab a fast vehicle or drop-pod and actually go there to take a look. Whenever the winds of war scatter any of us across the spawn map, I’ll always try to get some on the ground intel where I can. Doesn’t need to be an Infiltrator, although that can help, they just need to be there.

 

Connections

Being a somewhat defensive sort of person psychologically, I’ll generally favour sectors nearer the home warpgate than further away. I personally view the shooting as a means to an end, and that end is the conquering of the island map, in all its multicoloured hexagonal glory. By trying to keep solid buffer zones between the home gate and enemy, we generate supplies for planes and tanks faster, but also keep overall morale up. Anyone glancing at the map and seeing big tendrils of enemy colours bothering the warpgate might start to think we’re losing! On the other hand, seeing healthy solid swathes of colour in ‘our bit’ of a map frees troops up to focus on pushing forward, safe in knowledge that, due to the bizarre game of Blockbusters that territorial claim turns into, their own efforts aren’t for nothing.

The Blockbusters game annoys me a fair bit, it has to be said. You can read about how the Lattice from Planetside One worked here, but all too often in recent weeks, a satisfying and hard-fought major base fight has been rendered useless because one bloke on a Flash stood next to a control point for a minute, quarter of a mile away and cut the base sector off from our own territories. You can still finish the base capture and gain certs from it and the fighting, but a bold enough slice across the hex grid can significantly starve your forces of vehicles, maxes and grenades, if it is allowed to remain for very long.

I personally don’t like that, but its part of the game, giving soloists and small squads something pivotal to achieve. So when it comes to picking a next sector, I’ll generally not pursue cut-off pushes, instead opting for a recall back warpgate and a push toward the offending obstruction. If we’re quick enough, we can restore connection and the advanced push might be able to continue as before.

 

Inertia

Moving to a new location and getting set up takes time, and a squad of ten can only move so fast, redeploying, getting vehicles, travelling, securing satellite outposts, and so on. The more people under your command, the longer this kind of thing takes, something not well understood by many of the more vocal Command folks, who expect instant results NAO!

The more entrenched the position, the more relevant this becomes, as seen by everyone’s favourite game of conkers, The Crown on Indar, which is fast becoming its own meme. One does indeed, not simply walk into The Crown. Read more about the unique properties of this outpost here and here, but suffice to say, an assault or defence of the Crown is a serious undertaking which will likely take most of a session’s play. And that’s fine, if that’s what everyone wants to do.

Different sorts of nights out are available in PS2, but being able to judge the mood of a squad is key here. Sometimes, folks will want to really dig into something, like The Crown, and sometimes folks will want to be moving about rapidly, making progress, getting things done. It all comes down to inertia. As a squad leader, it’s important to be able to get a sense of the satisfaction the squad is getting from the task at hand, because it’ll be up to you to do something about frustrations or boredom, usually by issuing new orders for a new target. Mind you, if folks are enjoying a battle, it is not necessarily a bad thing to let a fight you suspect won’t win in the end, continue for fun anyway.

 

Variety

One way to keep things interesting is to try new things often. Tank columns, Galaxy paradrops, Liberator and ESF squadrons. Individual troops will gravitate to the roles they enjoy, further reinforced by cert spending on class-based specialisations, so micromanagement is a bad idea unless your Outfit is one of these ultra-hardcore ‘duty before fun’ types of setup. For the squad leader, basic gameplay will be about putting to best use the roles that your squad put at your disposal, but breaking up the drudgery with the occasional ‘Everyone grab a Scythe!’ for a mad five minutes can be refreshing and hilarious!

 

I don’t pretend to be an expert in squad leading, and am still learning the job as I go, but already I’m starting to see some basics on which to build.

Edit: Some very useful explanations of what everything in the Squad Leader Certifications section actually does can be found here!

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Reviewlets: Saron HRB & G40-F Ranger

Two ground vehicle weapons today. These are a funny thing to review well, especially in the multi-crew vehicles, since you, the paying customer, will rarely be using them yourselves. The person who spawns the vehicle is also the person who gets to fit all the modules and weapons on it, including the big ticket unlockable turrets. This basically ends up with you putting down cash in a game for the better enjoyment of other people, which is an odd state of affairs.

Naturally, this will appeal to regular squad-folk more than determined soloists, although perhaps those with an eye on bigger empire-wide picture may see the benefits in acts of cash-shop altruism which give random gunners the tools to perform better. Very hit and miss, literally! I’m lucky enough to have a fairly large squad of regulars for our nights out in there and this opens options for effective coordination in the multi-crew vehicles, which we use a lot; Sunderer, Galaxy, Magrider and Liberator.

With that in mind, I grabbed a few of the vehicle turrets on my recent Station Cash binge:

 

Saron HRB (Magrider Secondary Weapon) 1000C or 700SC

This beast is a very high powered armour-piercing laser cannon mounted on the top of the hover tank, for use by the seat 2 gunner. As a flat trajectory laser bolt, it functions like a very high-powered artillery-sized sniper gun, capable of astonishing accuracy at very long ranges. Hugely more potent than the default stock twin machine gun, it does have drawbacks. It has a clip of one, meaning frequent reload downtime, and only around 25 shots in storage (without mods), meaning that your driver will need to keep a firm awareness of where the nearest ammo tower or Sunderer is for rearming, and as gunner, you’ll need to keep the driver updates on how many shots you have left – they can’t see your ammo supply. Your driver will also need to know when to keep steady and level too, you only get one shot at a time, so a stable platform is essential – use voice comms to arrange that where possible.

It is gleefully capable of one-hitting infantry at almost any range at which they are visible, but this is probably not the most efficient way of using it, and it packs a huge punch in tank-on-tank duels, taking a stock Lightning in three hits*, although as with any other gun load-out, neglecting the relevant chassis armour modules will still get you killed easily enough. Good at turret clearance, but then so is most stuff! The upper arc limit means it’s not the best at anti-air, but if you do catch distant hovering aircraft napping, it will mess those up quite badly too!

Out of all the options on offer, this gun most replicates the feel of the old Planetside One Magrider – this one feels a little heavier to use, but offers the same long-range bolt of energy death that always impressed me with the original Vanu MBT. Old school, best school!

Useful Addons: As many Zoom Optics as you can afford – it really is that precise. Extra Ammo and Reload Time Reduction are both relevant and useful for this gun too.

8/10: This gun really unlocks the full potential of the Magrider, a tried and tested vehicle-mounted railgun from the dawn of Planetside.

(Non-Vanu Options are tricky here; the other two empires appear to get most of their punch from the Primary Weapon. I guess the nearest equivalents for the Secondary Weapon are the Enforcer ML85 (NC) or the E540 Halberd (Common Pool), similar damage and ammo profiles, but those seem more rocket-launcher based, so lose on precision.)

 

G40-F Ranger (Sunderer Primary/Secondary Weapon) 1000C or 700SC

Out of all the things you can put on top of a Sunderer, I find this one to be the most useful. The G40-F is an anti-air proximity burst flak cannon, similar in function to the Phalanx Wall Turret, Burster Max arm or Skyguard, offering a significant defence from roving Mosquitoes, Reavers and Scythes, and can drive off Liberators too if you get an early spot on them. Manned by alert occupants in seats 2 and/or 3, it can put out a satisfying large amount of proximity air-burst flak at considerable range, and even take out Air Cavalry that doesn’t immediately hit the afterburners and get away. Given the precious nature of the Sunderer as a mobile spawn point and its wide recognition as a high threat to a base assault or defence, being able to drive off potential rocket spammers from on high is well worth the points.

With two of these on, you sacrifice potency against infantry and tanks – the gun does very little damage against either, and you’ll be forced to improvise by having your own lazy heavy lads leap out and deal with those on foot if you want to survive. The guns remain useful when parked/deployed, keeping enemy air from farming your newly spawned comrades to some extent, and I’ve even had some success with these turrets in a dedicated ‘anti-air Sunderer’ configuration; with enough armour plating, turn speed and smoke launchers, it makes a surprisingly viable alternative to a Skyguard Lightning. Against enemy heavy tanks, I’m not sure anything you can put on the top of the Sunderer will help a lot – dodge and weave!

You can of course mix and match, using one of these and one of the other Sunderer guns, but lose AA power doing so and will have to be content at merely driving planes away, rather than killing them in most cases.

While the main PS 1 ‘Skyguard’ buggy didn’t make it to 2, instead becoming an turret option for the Lightning, using G-40s on the Sunderer actually seems closer to the older vehicle, with a dedicated driver staying on the move while a rear gunner focuses exclusively on the air targets.

Worth noting; if you want two of these on a Sunderer, you will need to buy each separately. I’d have preferred to see one single unlock applied to both, so it loses some admiration there.

Useful Mods: Ammo Capacity and Ammo Magazine Sizes – each gun has its own ammo supply, but your gunners will get through a lot of the stuff rather quickly. Zoom is less important despite its long effective range, as the shells have proximity burst. Extra reload speed is always nice in any gun.

7/10: Very useful for the stated purpose, but they will leave you vulnerable to infantry and tanks. Also, I don’t like having to buy the same thing twice!

(Non-Vanu need not worry; the Sunderer is Common Pool, and so is this gun, so everyone gets access to it.)

 

In general, the multi-crew vehicles tend to come with all-purpose, not-that-great-at-anything heavy machine guns on the gunner spots by default, but a few certs or SC in the right place can open up some very interesting options for medium and large squad use. The trouble is, you yourself might not get to play with them that often.

I’d like to see post-spawn modification of vehicles, perhaps giving jump-in random gunners the option of automatically replacing existing turrets with ones they’ve unlocked themselves. Nanites can do anything, you see!

As ever, do share your own thoughts and experiences with the cashshop gunnery below!

* Our Lightning Expert was somewhat startled by this impromptu testing session, but did get to then test his Automatic Nanite Repair System, which seems very good itself, so everyone gained something from the experience. For Science!

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Reviewlets: Solstice SF & Eidolon

So here we are in an F2P Age, more or less; a state of affairs which generates mixed feelings among many. I always liked the idea in principle, but with provisos. Opportunities for idiocy and avarice certainly do exist more now than under the one-monthly-fits-all age, and it’s very much up to us to evaluate all new cash shop offers carefully, with an eye to what is right for us. I always thought that this would be our new role as MMO bloggers; to highlight and scorn the stupid, but also to assess and praise the good ideas too, in the form of mini-reviews of the new and more granular level of consumerism we now have in front of us. The dedicated LOTRO blog and podcast Casual Stroll To Mordor illustrates what I mean, with regular reviews of specific items and deals, along with recommendations (or otherwise) from folks who know a bit about what they’re talking about.

I’ve found those helpful in the past and would love to see more of this sort of thing across the whole genre; expert players giving detailed scrutiny to specifics, rather than the same old tired ‘All F2P is Bad/Good’ rhetoric.

I’ve found myself to be enjoying PlanetSide 2 a great deal in recent months, which is a game that asks for nothing at all up front, instead relying on Station Cash purchases of said specifics, along with an optional Premium sub package, to pay for it all. I put down some Station Cash mostly because they didn’t require me to, and I felt they deserved it. With it, I got some gun unlocks, which I’ll tell you about here! For context, I am mostly a Vanu Sovereignty Engineer.

 

Solstice SF (Infantry Carbine; Engineer or Light Assault) 500 Certs or 700SC

The first thing I unlocked, this is a slightly slower firing version of the default Engineer gun, suitable for close to medium range targets. The strength of the gun is the huge number of different gadgets you can attach to it; one-shot grenade, smoke grenade and shotgun blasts, sights, rails, suppressors, etc. These secondary fire modes restock from the standard Engineer ammo packs, hugely increasing potency in defensive situations, giving the beleaguered defending Engineer infinite grenades at no Inf. Resource cost. These extra add-ons do not unlock with the gun, but need further Cert-only unlocks at about 100 each, so some investment is required to get the most out of the basic gun. Once that is done, I can see no real reason why you’d want a Solstice over the Solstice SF.

It reminds me a great deal of the PS1 ‘Punisher’ Medium Assault rifle – not the best thing for a straight firefight, but incredibly versatile, particularly when coupled with the Engineer’s infinite ammunition deployable packs. As a Light Assault weapon it seems less useful, because in that case the one-shot under-slung gubbins really are one shot, and there are probably better options for jetpackers to get the job done; better shooting guns, SMGs, C4, etc. I see the Pulsar C mentioned by VS LA folks as an alternative.

Useful Add-ons: Under-barrel Grenade Launcher, Under-barrel Shotgun, Soft-Point Ammo

8/10: Indispensible for career Engineers, opening up extra tactical options. A decent straight shooter for indoor or near-ish work too. Not the best at anything, but good enough at almost everything and a distinct upgrade and replacement for the starter gun. (At 500 Certs, this is a reasonable medium-term goal for saving up in-game too, for free.)

(If you are not Vanu, the NC ‘Gauss Compact S’ and the TR ‘TRAC-5 S’ offer similar stats and functionality)

 

Eidolon (Infantry Battle Rifle: Engineer or Heavy Assault) 1000 Certs or 700SC

At the other end of the range, the Eidolon is about the closest you can get to sniping without being an Infiltrator. Extremely precise at very long ranges, the thing handles very much like the default Infiltrator Rifle, only without the ridiculous wobbling. Equipped with a 6x Scope (Not included, but a must and only 30 Certs), the thing holds steady as a rock when aimed, even while standing. No holding shift to take a breath needed! The down side is a much lower per shot damage. This can still work well; two or three headshots can still kill, and at distances few expect an Engineer to be able to do anything about. Failing that, merely harrying the enemy with repeated body hits can cause panic, pressure and even kills. A generous 20 shot clip and surprisingly high refire rate make sniping a viable play style for Engineers using this gun, but do watch out for proper counter-snipering Infiltrators with experience and one-hit-kill real Sniper Rifles – you are unlikely to win a sniper duel with this gun.

Indoors and at close ranges, this thing will get you killed. The precision and semi-automatic nature of the gun means that when surprised in a portacabin, your opponent is far more likely to win a spray-and-pray circle-strafe DPS frenzy, although calm and well-aimed tap-firing can still work here sometimes. Switch to a different loadout if you can, or whip out the pistol and knife. This doesn’t make it bad, per se, just highly specialised. The gun seems useful for Heavy Assault chaps too, offering high accuracy at distance for the initial approach on a base assault, but again, the specialised nature of the gun means a swap to a Shotgun or Light Machine Gun is probably a good idea before heading inside. Heavies tend to have a lot else going on at the time anyway.

This one reminds me a bit of the Heavy Scout Rifle from PS1; missing the sheer power of the proper Bolt Driver, but with several ‘goes’ per clip. Sniping ‘lite’, but good for harassment.

Useful Add-ons: 6x Scope, Compensator

7/10: Useful extra flexibility for an Engineer, with a much simpler learning curve than cloaker rifles, but career snipers should be looking at proper Infiltrator guns. Not terribly useful up close, or if you just don’t like sniping.

(Non-Vanu should look for the NC ‘Warden’ or the TR ‘AMR-66’ for a similar gun.)

(Note: There seems to be a current bug which makes the Eidolon not show up in the ‘Depot’ Cash Shop lists. To find and unlock it, go via the Engineer’s Certifications listing instead – there should be an unlock button there.)

 

Don’t just take my word for any of this! PS2 lets you test these weapons yourself, before buying, which is a very welcome innovation indeed.

To do this, find the item in the Certs listing, press the ‘Unlock’ button and in the resulting popup preview window, instead of buying it, find the blue ‘Trial’ button near the bottom. This will let you use the item for an hour or so, after which that specific trial is locked for a month, after which you can try it again. I recommend this before any purchase, just to get a feel for how it works before parting with the readies.

I also got a load of vehicle guns too. More on those to come!

Incidentally, I can only try so much stuff out, so if folks with experience in other class or vehicle gear want to chip in their own reviews in comments below or their own blogs, I’m happy to repost and link as necessary!

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