DJMMT’S Top 15 Tips for Starting The Division 2

The Division 2 dropped last week and I am loving it. Ubisoft was kind enough to grace me with a copy of the Ultimate Edition. Now normally I would of course write a full review of the game. But because I already wrote a very thorough review of the beta, I decided that it wouldn’t be super productive for my readers to write a review of the full game because much of the experience is the same. That’s not to say that no changes have been made since the beta, because a number of crucial ones have in fact been implemented, to my surprise. But they’re mostly smaller details that don’t warrant an entirely new review. So instead I decided, for really the first time in the history of this blog, that I would write an easy starter guide for the game instead.

My intention here is not to give you a fully encompassing guide to The Division 2. I’m only at level 11 and I’ve only played it for just under 11 hours. There are people who are already much farther along and can give you very specific tips for specific sections of the game. I don’t want to do that. My intention here is that if you haven’t started the game yet, or haven’t really gotten past the tutorial missions, then this guide will help you settle into the game more effectively from the beginning. Now of course these are my opinions on how to most effectively play this game early on. Some of the tips will be obvious, others might be obscure, and not everyone who’s already playing the game will agree on all of them. So take it all with a grain of salt. Just know that I’ve been playing the game solo up to this point, I’m averaging about 1 level up an hour, and while I have died a number of times, it’s not often and it’s rarely a surprise when it happens to me. So without further ado, here are my top 15 tips to starting The Division 2, in no particular order.

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1. Solo Play is A-OK

The Division 2 is sold as a squad based third person loot shooter, and it is, but team based play isn’t a requirement early on. The truth is that other players are a hindrance in many ways when playing a game. They tend to slow you down and aren’t going to necessarily want to do what you care about past the current mission. Thankfully, The Division 2 doesn’t require you to play with others early on. In fact, it discourages it in many ways. You can’t even join a clan until you get to around level 10. It’s not based on level, because it’s a progress/achievement based unlock, but the required challenges have a difficulty minimum of seven with a recommended difficulty of 10. You don’t need a clan to play with randoms via matchmaking and friends, but really you don’t need them early on. You can very comfortably play the game solo for the early portion of the game. I haven’t played with a single other player and I’ve not struggled to clear any missions or side missions. I do die on occasion, but not often. Rather than jump into playing with others, you should use the early stages of the game to get a feel for it and figure out your preferred playstyle, skills, and weapon types.

2. Armor Number Only on Gear (Does NOT Include Weapons)

While there is a large selection of armor with various enhancements of various types, the reality is that none of this matters early on. You should devote no time to looking at buffs, specs, enhancements and so on when choosing gear until you’ve hit at least purple gear and chances are you can probably do that all the way up to gold gear or even post level 30 legendary drops. Just look at the armor number, because the increased defense will do way more for you in the early stages than buffs will. You will find better armor, often with better buffs, literally every time you level up so it doesn’t make any sense to put effort into trying to create a steady build until you hit the armor wall and stop finding better stuff every other mission. Just wear whatever pieces you find with the highest armor stats, change them out for the next better thing frequently, and don’t think about anything else. Ignore colors all together early on because you will often find higher rarity gear with lower defense stats than gear with a lower rarity. Choose the higher armor stat. Rarity only really matters once you start getting mods, which you won’t for quite a while.

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3. Craft Armor (Don’t Buy It)

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the farther into the map you get, the better stores you’ll find. So purchasing anything from the early vendors is a waste of credits because it’s almost all trash compared to what you’ll find in shops later on. I did see one purple mask in the first vendor early on but it wasn’t worth the price compared to the mask I already had at the time, even though it was only blue rarity. But more importantly, crafting is a lot more affordable. Some crafts do cost credits to complete but the prices are always better than buying directly from the vendor. Your crafting potential corresponds with your level, meaning the higher your level the better gear you can craft. This also means that every time you level up you can potentially improve your gear right away if you don’t want to stick it out for a gear drop, which in my opinion you should. One note about crafting is that, like in the first game, it’s RNG based on a performance range. You should not craft anything unless the minimum armor stat in the range is higher than your maximum armor stat on whatever type of gear you’re considering crafting.

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4. Try Different Weapons

You are going to find a ton of different types of guns. Most of them you will have no point of reference for either in real life or in games. Some of them you might know, and because of that you’ll probably consider sticking to them. Don’t! Everyone’s playstyle is different when it comes to shooters but this is not a traditional shooter. Aim matters, but not as much as in a normal shooter. There are headshots and weak points, but those aren’t required to kill enemies effectively in this game. This is an RPG, which means everything goes by the numbers. You get additional damage and XP for getting headshots, but that shouldn’t be your strategy for how to approach the game. Just use base damage to calculate your effectiveness. Whether you hit center mass, a leg, or a hand, the damage is basically the same. So don’t worry about being super accurate. Instead think about total DPS. The number of shots is technically irrelevant as long as you can kill your target(s) without reloading. That’s not to say that you should just pick up a chain gun and forgo all accuracy. Different guns will feel better or worse for different people. The point is that you should never disregard a gun because it’s not your preferred style of weapon because in a numbers game it may actually do better for you overall. So don’t be afraid to try new guns you pick up while looking for that ideal weapon.

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5. Damage > Range > MAG > RPM

Just like with armor, you are going to find a lot of weapons and be unsure which ones to use. Now as I’ve already said, you should try different types of weapons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a stat based component to picking which ones to try. As with armor, you should be picking the most baseline effective weapons you can find and upgrading whenever possible. But comparing guns is a lot more complicated than comparing armor. I’ve found that the most effective way to compare guns is by comparing their specs in this order. Damage comes first of course. As I said, this is an RPG. So it’s not about getting one great hit. It’s about getting the most effective combination of hits in the shortest amount of time. I don’t measure effectiveness based on number of shots. I measure it based on number of reloads. Now of course number of shots is a factor of number of reloads, but every gun has a different mag size and will be only as effective as the shooter and situation. You’ll also find some guns that have really great damage but garbage everything else and ultimately aren’t that effective. Shotguns are the worst about this. You will find some amazing shotguns. But their range is usually garbage. If an enemy gets that close to you it’s often already too late. And most shotguns have trash reloading times. So while damage is important, range is only slightly less important. I’ll take a slightly lower damage sniper rifle over a higher damage shotgun any day of the week because you can play from the safety of distance and cover while still getting a large amount of damage and often about the same reload time. Really you want something that’s effective at mid to far range for most instances but easy to aim in close distances as well. My favorite beginner gun is the Classic-RPK because the range is quite good, the damage is fairly good, and it’s fairly stable.

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Next you gotta look at mag size. Now again, it’s not about number of shots fired as much as number of reloads. But the number of shells per a mag defines how often you need to reload. Even if it’s one shot one man, which it rarely is outside of using an SR, that still means that a five shot mag only lets you kill five enemies before having to reload or change guns. Yes you do get to carry two weapons and a pistol at all times, but I wouldn’t recommend hot swapping rather than reloading every mag as a normal method of play. You really should have your second weapon as a special scenario gun, which I’ll get into later on. I can’t tell you what the right number of shots per a mag is for you, but I can tell you that you should be able to kill a group all standing in a cluster without reloading. Whatever weapon you’re using, if a group of enemies maxing out at six people, assuming none of them are heavy armored, aren’t all taken down without reloading, then you’re using the wrong gun. Later on you’ll get mods and buffs that can heavily speed up your reload time, but you shouldn’t rely on that early on because mods won’t be coming for a while and even when they do that’s a high risk way to play the game, and the reason I don’t suggest maining a shotgun. Once you do get good mods though, I’d say sacrificing mag size for better reload speed is worth the trade off in most cases.

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Last but not least. You should consider RPM. While your secondary weapons can have a lower RPM, because it’s a special case weapon, your main weapon really needs to shoot fairly quickly. Again, unless you’re running a one shot one man build, it all comes down to DPS in an RPG. So the faster you can shoot, the more damage you can get, and the faster your enemies will go down. What you really want to do, once you get there, is find a high damage high RPM gun with a decent to high mag size, put on a fast reload mod, at the expense of some mag shots (around 15%), and then you have a powerful gun that’s fairly accurate at mid-range that reloads at a competitive speed and not often. Currently I’m using an M249 B which deals 402 base damage, shoots 550 RPM, and has a 100 shot mag. This is hard to use in green rarity class because of the lack of mod slots, but once you find a blue one and the mods to go with it, it’s a top shelf gun for beginners and veterans alike. But ultimately when comparing any two guns, compare the specs in the order I’ve given even if it means putting down a gun you really like. Chances are you’ll be more effective now and eventually find the gun you like again with better stats in the future.

6. Use a SR as Your Secondary Weapon

I don’t really play too many shooters and because of that my aim is often a bit shaky. I can count all the successful snipe kills in PVP I’ve gotten on my fingers because I’m terrible at it. But the sniping actually feels really good in The Division 2. Like surprisingly good. So good that I’m genuinely starting to feel like I actually have talent. So even if you’re not traditionally a sniper, you should be one in this game. Specifically because of how it affects the rules of engagement. Again, this is an RPG. You don’t need headshots to get kills. They net more XP and damage, but if you have a good SR and you’re not playing above the recommended level threshold you should be getting one to two hit kills for hitting enemies in the finger. The range makes this gun worth using for two main reasons. The first is that a lot of enemies will be trying to snipe you or take you out from long distance. Closing that gap can be difficult, dangerous, and time consuming. It’s way easier just to blow them away from long range. The other reason is that you can engage challenges from outside the challenge area with an SR and the progress counts. Taking control points is a great example of this. If you can find a good location where you can see the enemies clearly without crossing into the control point boundary, you can engage them and they’ll pretty much never come after you. They’ll shoot towards you if they see you but they won’t try to storm you or flank you. They’ll stay in the control point area and let you pick them off like flies. And they will not respawn. Because of this, the SR is one of the most effect tools a solo player can use. And because of the RPG style of gameplay, you literally just have to hit the broadside of a barn to be effective with it.

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When it comes to picking an SR specifically, I say focus on base damage coupled with mag size. RPM and reload speed aren’t as important because you should ideally be getting one to two hit kills. At the same time, there are some lower damage fast action sniper rifles if that’s your preference but these will give your position away quicker and won’t get one hit kills, which gives enemies a chance to take cover.

7. The Junk Function is Life

As with the first game, you’re going to find a lot of junk gear but not want to throw it out right away. You may want to sell it, store it for specific uses, or deconstruct it. At no time should you just throw it away. In The Division 1, every single piece of gear had to be dealt with manually. You had to deconstruct one piece at a time. You had to sell one piece at a time. It was slow and annoying. In this game you have the junk function, as well as the favorite function. You can mark pieces of gear with either a junk or favorite mark. This is helpful for organization but also for efficiency. You can deconstruct all junk in one shot. You can sell all junk in one shot. There is zero reason to deal with trash gear one piece at a time ever again. Once you upgrade your inventory to max capacity, you can just keep collecting and marking junk till the bag is full and then throw it out in one shot for a profit or crafting components. One of the best improvements from the first game.

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8. Cover Is NOT Optional

If you played the first game then you already know this. But this is a guide for noobs so I felt like though it should be obvious it should still be included. This is a cover based shooter. You cannot Destiny or Halo your way through this game and rely on shot accuracy and DPS to get through firefights. You have to use cover. You have to reload while in cover. You have to use the move from cover to cover function. If you’re not in cover that means you’re either sure you’re going to get the kill(s), moving to cover, or about to die. Always be in cover no matter how weak the enemies are.

9. Use Armor Packs at the End of Armor not Life

You can’t refill life in this game. It refills automatically by not taking damage for a certain amount of time. You can refill armor though, with armor packs. Armor is the white bars floating above your life bar. As long as you have armor, you HP won’t be affected. You can carry a limited number of armor packs at any given time as well as find more from enemy drops and certain refill boxes. Armor also restores itself after firefights conclude but refill packs don’t. Your first instinct may be to use armor packs only once your life bar is nearly depleted, believing you can win the fight and save the armor pack for a worse situation. This is the wrong mentality. There are too many stray bullets, hidden snipers, unseen grenades, and other massive damage attacks to take this kind of risk. As soon as your armor is fully depleted, get behind cover and use an armor refill pack. You’ll replace it later. There are also upgrades that increase how many armor refill packs you can carry and automatically refill them in safe houses. I recommend getting all of these upgrades as early as possible.

Armor

10. Early Progression Should be Natural

This genre is known for its XP and loot grind experiences and yes The Division 2 absolutely has that. But it’s in the late/end game. The level cap appears to be 30 currently. You do not need to grind for at least the first third of that if not more. I haven’t done anything a second time unless I failed it the first time. I haven’t gotten stuck in any missions for an extended period of time. I haven’t struggled a ridiculous amount while trying to complete challenges. You can naturally progress through the opening chapters of this game just by completing the challenges available. Do the main missions, do the side missions, collect the SHD caches, and complete the projects at your own pace without forcibly grinding XP. The early game is set up so that it’s very balanced and fair for a solo experience. You should not even be starting the road to grind fatigue for at least the first 10 – 15 levels of the game.

When it comes to entering new areas, each one has a suggested level range. I recommend finishing all the available single completion activities in an area and collecting all the SHD caches before moving to the next area. Based on my experience, you should be at the half way point of the level range at a minimum before entering the next area. So for example, the third area in the game has a level range of 4 – 8. This means you shouldn’t try to go in there till you’ve hit at least level six.

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11. SHD Caches First

Right away the game will deal you lots of different activities including main missions, side missions, random activities, and SHD cache locations. You should absolutely go for SHD caches first. These net XP, but more importantly unlock your permanent upgrades. Upgrades have a huge effect on gameplay. And there are a lot of them to unlock. So before you run into missions or try to take down that special bounty, just take the time to collect the SHD caches first whenever you reach a new area. And on your way to them you can unlock the safe houses. This way you’ll get some easy experience, upgrade faster. and ultimately be more effective overall. Note that almost none of the upgrades have level caps/minimums and the ones that do all have minimums of level 30 because they’re specialty upgrades. This means that from level one you can start unlocking the majority of upgrades as you collect more SHD points.

12. Control Points are Fast Travel Locations

In The Division 1 you only had safe houses, main landmarks, and DZ entrances as fast travel points. You could also fast travel to main missions. In The Division 2 they’ve added control points. These are basically not so safe houses. They are points on the map that you have to liberate through combat and then once liberated they’re occupied by friendlies. You can use these as fast travel locations. This is super convenient because it means now when you die you don’t have to go all the way back to the nearest safe house which is often not really near your last death location. It’s just in the same map area. Control points are placed in much more accessible locations around the map area so you can get back to the action much quicker. You can also lead enemies towards these points and friendly NPCs will help you fight them.

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13. Keep track of Hyena Boxes

In The Division 2 the main villains early in the game are known as hyenas. These are just thugs that wonder around in gas masks terrorizing people. You will get familiar with killing them very quickly. In certain missions you will come across hyena lock boxes. These hold special items but require special keys to open. Sadly keys are very rare and you will almost certainly not have any the first time you find a hyena lock box. In fact, you probably will find a number of lock boxes before getting a key. I still haven’t exactly figured out what nets keys. I only have acquired one so far. But I’ve found multiple lock boxes. It’s for this reason that it’s important to take manual notes about the location of lock boxes. I use screenshots of the map and physical location to keep track of them. Now obviously there will be guides online for this, but if you’re trying to play without walkthroughs then you need to keep track of these yourself due to the game’s lack of a manual map marker function. Really I’d like to see that patched in.

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14. Pop Your Skills Prematurely

One of my favorite improvements from the first game, and the beta, is the addition of number based skill cooldown meters. You can see the exact amount of time it will take for a skill to recharge so you can use it again. But there’s a strategy to this, depending on the specific skill you’re using. There are eight skill types available with multiple versions of each type. Some of them are single use and have to go through an entire cool down cycle. But some of them give you a bit more control of the situation. The turret being the best example. When you use the turret to completion, the cooldown time is 117 seconds. But you can end any skill prematurely by holding down the skill button it’s tied to. Doing this cuts the cooldown time in half. Smart players will use this to their advantage. You can see how much life/time the turret has left before it will disappear. If you destroy it at any time before it dies naturally, the cooldown time is only 59 seconds. That means that if you pop it manually just before it breaks down you can use turrets two times as often. And you can use this trick for any skill that’s not a one off. So obviously it’s not gonna work for the seeker mine because that’s a one off explosion and will always need to fully recharge unless not used at all, which does happen from time to time. It can still die off after being out a certain amount of time so in that situation you should also pop skills as soon as possible to get the reduced cooldown times.

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15. Turret is a Must (For Solo Play)

Of the eight available skills, all of which can be unlocked from the beginning, the basic turret is without a doubt the most effective skill for solo play. It really is like having a second man on the field. It auto-aims but can be directed at specific targets. It lasts a fairly long time unless destroyed. It has a 360 degree view so it can cover from just about anywhere on the battlefield. Its range is fairly decent. And most importantly it gets kills. A lot of AI support in games doesn’t finish the job. It does some of the work but leaves it to you to close the deal. The turret initiates the negotiation, negotiates the deal, and closes the deal all on its own. At the same time though, you can drop it and it won’t engage until you engage first or it’s attacked directly. This means you can set it up as part of a plan of attack without the set up starting the firefight prematurely. It really is the only required skill option for a solo player. Your secondary can be whatever floats your boat. I prefer the seeker mine but I’ve decided to try out other things for science.

That’s it for my start tips for The Division 2. If you have any more questions please leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as possible. You can also watch me stream the game almost daily on my Twitch channel.

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The Division 2 VIP Beta Review

Let me start by saying that I did not preorder The Division 2. I did play the VIP beta, because I was fortunate enough to obtain a code. But I would never preorder a game in order to demo the game. For me, since demos are now almost completely dead (written as I currently download the Devil May Cry V demo), betas are the new demos. This is even more true when you consider just how little beta feedback actually changes the final game from the beta these days. Betas are the new way we try before we buy. And developers know that which is why they’ve started doing these closed betas that require most participants to pre-order the game. It’s a dumb system and dumb choice to fall into it, but lots of people do it so developers will keep getting away with it. That opening statement was not in any way, shape, or form meant to disparage The Division 2 as a game. It’s merely to comment on current business practices I disagree with while also stating my objectivity with this review because I haven’t spent any money on the game and thus can judge the beta from a neutral position.

The first thing that needs to be said about The Division 2 is that Ubisoft did not reinvent the wheel, and that’s a compliment. I really liked The Division. I liked the core story. I loved the gameplay. I loved the map. I loved the concept of the dark zone. I loved a lot, but not everything, about the gear system. For me it was a great game. The endgame was severely lacking at the start and then by the time it released I had no interest in jumping back into the game so I never really got to experience a lot of the later content. But in general I thought it was an excellent game. Really what I wanted from The Division 2 was the same core game with a lot more polish in a new locale with better endgame content. While I can’t speak to the amount of content in this sequel based on the beta, I can speak to the gameplay and basic mechanics and those are for the most part almost exactly what I wanted.

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Improvements have been made. One of the most noticeable is in the storage. It’s organized now. As soon as you open it, you notice the specific gear type categories. Thank God! So much more convenient. And managing your gear is streamlined as well. You can mark things as junk and leave them in your backpack or stash to return to them later still marked as junk. Or you can press “Deconstruct Junk” from the sub-menu and all your junk gear is instantly deconstructed. I will never go back to manually deconstructing again, because it takes longer to manually deconstruct one item than to just mark the one item as junk and deconstruct it through the sub menu. The gameplay is still really tight, but I think the cover to cover movement is even smoother than in the first game. The weapons and gear system is pretty much the same with the color coding, numbers, and special attributes. And that’s fine. The compare items system works much better than I remember it being in the first game. Maybe I’m just imagining that part though. But in general the gameplay feels better while not totally different. The crafting is still an annoying RNG system though.

The world is much more interesting. I know a lot of people were/are whining that it’s no longer set in New York, but that’s a stupid complaint. What really matters is how alive the setting itself is regardless of where it is. The world of The Division 2 is much more alive . . . with NPCs. There are many more animals in the map now. Not just dogs. There are dear, raccoons, rats, birds, dogs, and probably other things. Hopefully a bear appears at some point. And all the animals are interactive. You can even kill the rats, which I of course tested FOR SCIENCE! There are many more patrols of enemies as well as friendly NPCs roaming the map. You can call for backup from NPCs, which is awesome. You can take control points and then they get guarded and managed by friendlies, who you can then supply with resources to make them stronger. And these control points act as fast travel points so you have a lot more efficiency when traveling around the map, if you want it. At the same time though, the world outside the DZ seemed pretty devoid of other players. I want to believe this was just because it was a closed beta, but I saw plenty of other players in the safe houses. But outside I had very little contact, or even sight of, other players that I wasn’t personally grouped with. And honestly even the DZ wasn’t as populated as I expected/hoped it would be with actual people.

Dead Rat
Rat postmortem.

The lack of players was hopefully the cause of this, but I had so much trouble with the matchmaking. Really that was my only serious complaint about the beta. The entire matchmaking system outside of main missions is/was absolute trash in the beta. The first problem, which the game didn’t notify me about, was that your settings are defaulted to friends and clan members only. The problem with this is that it didn’t tell me which led me to spending over an hour trying to find people to join my group from the matchmaking station with no luck. Someone on Twitter had to tell me to change my settings. But that didn’t even really help. First, the game kept switching back to friends and clan only no matter how many times I set it to open. I’m not sure what was causing this. But even when it was set to open, I had no luck with getting people to join me. I’d sit at the matchmaking station forever and no one would join. I’d get tons of invites to join others but never got anyone to join me. Now usually I don’t care about being the group leader, but because of what I consider a content management flaw, being group leader when you’re actually trying to complete stuff outside of main missions is required.

The matchmaking in main missions works great. You go to the mission start point and the matchmaking station is right there. It works quickly and effectively. And when you complete the mission it’s done for you even if you weren’t the host. The same cannot be said for random map activities. Taking control points is challenging. It’s not impossible to do solo but it is hard. The final control point on my map was too difficult for me to solo with the gear I had at the time. So I opted to try to do it with other people. I joined a random group and we cleared it. Then when I returned to my session it was still unfinished, leaving me stuck still unable to finish it and still unable to get people to join my group. My main issues with the matchmaking come down to a lack of hard controls/customization options.

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First, why do I have to go to the matchmaking station? It’s 2019. This is supposedly a map full of players constantly roaming around looking for things to do. Why can’t I just initiate matchmaking from anywhere in the world and nearby players can just join up? In Destiny I you would see people running around the map all the time. You could easily work together without being in the same group and easily join up without having to change sessions or forgo your own game’s progress.

Second, why can’t I control specific details of the matchmaking process? I would get countless invites to other groups but no one ever joined mine. Why can’t I set that option in the matchmaking? I should be able to tell the game exactly what I’m looking for, whether or not I want to be the group leader, and what specific type of activity I want to do. The matchmaking station only had six categories: random activity, random main mission, open world exploration, answer the call, and random bounty and dark zone, both of which were not available during the beta. These matchmaking options aren’t specific enough. Random activity truly was completely random. It would just pick a task with no regard to what I actually needed to do on my map and try to toss me into some random group. Random main mission seems completely pointless until/unless you’ve already done everything and are just looking to farm XP. I hope I never need to use that. Open world exploration is too vague. Instead you should be able to choose from a list of available activities on the map like take control points, farm XP/gear, side missions, or any other number of things that can be done on the map. Random bounty gives me hope because bounties are a nice new addition. They’re randomly occurring hunt missions where you have to take down a specific NPC within a time limit for special gear and additional XP. Having a specific matchmaking option for this gives me hope that there will be tons of them constantly running on the map. During the beta I only encountered two or three bounties. A dark zone matchmaking system is of course necessary and will obviously be present in the final game. I just hope they put a matchmaking station in the DZ entrance, since there wasn’t one in the beta, in the final game because the safe houses aren’t near the DZ entrance, which you can fast travel to directly.

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The answer the call feature is the beginnings of a great idea that I hope works better and easier in the final product. While you can’t match make from anywhere on the map, you can call for help. This is not when you’re bleeding out and hoping for a revive. You can send up a call directly from the map or menu at any time. People can answer your call and randomly join your group to help with whatever activity you’re doing. This was the only time I was able to get someone to join my group. It took a while, but eventually a white knight answered my call. The nice thing about this feature is that you can leave the call on while still playing the game so you’re not just sitting around waiting like at the matchmaking station. And the game notifies you when someone puts out a call nearby. The problem is it doesn’t show you on the map where they are unless you answer the call so you never really know how far it is till you’ve already committed. Another problem with the feature is that I think you have to go to the matchmaking station and use the answer the call feature to help someone else. I kept getting random notifications via ISAC that someone was in need of assistance and had put out a call. And I genuinely wanted to join these players and help them. But I couldn’t figure out how to do that from where I was when getting the notification. I hope I’m wrong and just couldn’t figure it out because the feature will only be effective if at any time from anywhere you can just answer the call, join their group, and run directly to the location of the player in need. If you actually have to go to a safe house and use the matchmaking station first then it’s a wasted concept no better than the open world exploration matchmaking feature. The matchmaking needs to be heavily improved. Being part of the Division is the main crux of the game’s plot/concept. If you can’t easily and effectively team up and work with others then it’s a waste of what’s for the most part an excellent shared world shooter.

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The Dark Zone seems much improved in some ways and worse in others. There is no longer a single dark zone that everyone plays in. Instead, like the map itself, there are dark zone districts of varying difficulty levels, each with multiple entry points. This is a way better system. It allows players to choose the level of challenge they’ll be facing and better manage their DZ experience. I kind of hope there will be some sort of management controls from Ubisoft’s side that will ensure that super high rank players can’t just roll into the noob DZ and tear through lower level players. That’s the only problem I see with a system that actively tells you where the easy and hard parts of the DZ are. It’s essentially creating a shooting gallery for advanced players. The DZ otherwise works much the same as in the first game. But now there are more marked enemy spawn points and notifications to tell you when they’re occupied so you can better manage your roaming time and not just wonder around hoping to find stuff to do. I didn’t see enough other players in the DZ, but again this was a closed beta so I assume this won’t be a huge issue in the final game. My biggest complaint about the DZ was the frequency of valuable drops. There were not nearly enough air drops taking place. In the time it took me to reach DZ level 10 I saw only two or three total air drops. This is too slow for a populated DZ. They should be happening every five to ten minutes so there’s enough swag for all players to at least have time to get to and try to fight for. And the occupied landmarks weren’t dropping enough valuable stuff at all. Many times I would clear areas and not even get any contaminated gear. While I really liked the fact that you could get some gear in the DZ without having to do the extractions, this shouldn’t be happening at the rate it was compared to finding contaminated gear. And the contaminated gear I was finding was mostly complete trash.

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Since there was no DZ matchmaking available during the beta, I ran the DZ solo. I liked that I was able to do that effectively. I worked with other random players I found within the DZ without ever officially teaming up with them. The system works and people are able to coordinate well within the DZ without being in groups. I was also able to kill a rogue agent, steal his gear, and extract it solo. I only saw two the entire time I was in the DZ so a 50% success rate is pretty good. The DZ leveling system is nice. You can level up fairly quickly if you stick to farming landmarks. In The Division 2 DZ levels come with special perks that only affect the DZ. There are level tiers every five DZ levels and each tier grants you a perk. Some levels have only one perk and others have you choose which one you want to implement, sacrificing the others in that tier in the process. You can respec your DZ perks but this feature wasn’t available in the beta so I don’t know what the cost or process of doing this is.

In general, I really like how the map is broken down. Each area, including the DZ is clearly marked with level range recommendations/requirements. There are a fair number of fast travel locations in each area, once you’ve unlocked them. There are events constantly appearing to farm additional XP such as bounties, hostage situations, and broadcast hacks. Even if the endgame isn’t super strong, there seems like there will be more efforts to keep the game alive past the base game. But there is definitely going to be what seems to be a lot of end game content as well.

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Endgame is always the Achilles heel of these types of games. It’s especially difficult when they’re not trying to go the Destiny route of adding plot based expansions at additional cost, which I can’t say will or won’t be the case with The Division 2 at this point. What I can say is that the beta featured a number of endgame clues and teases. There is of course the DZ, which I already discussed. Each mission can also be replayed on a harder difficulty. But that’s not all there is. There are definitely going to be raids because they’re mentioned in the beta’s pause menu. But there are also invasion missions. Invasion missions are replays of old mission maps with completely new enemies and plot tie-ins. But these aren’t just the same enemies with new skins. These enemies are way harder, way smarter, and way different. I finished the final (second) main mission in the beta at level six. The maximum level you could reach during the beta was level seven. That’s regular level as opposed to DZ level. Upon completing the last available main mission you unlocked special access to an invasion mission. This gave you access to three specialty builds that were much higher level and had way better gear. This gear also included an additional (fourth) weapon with a special feature. Examples included a grenade launcher and a compound bow. This mission had enemies set to level 32, more than four times higher than the enemies in the regular mission. They were a special military group that was invading the area and presumably trying to conquer Washington DC. They had crazy stuff including literal attack robots. This mission was difficult. It took me, as part of a four man team, 58 minutes to complete. It was stressful, it was scary, it was exhilarating, it was satisfying as hell once completed. While I don’t love the idea of replaying the same mission maps over and over, calling these the same missions does a disservice to the people that designed them. It is a wholly different experience. In light of all this, I’d say it looks like there is going to be a fair amount of endgame. I just hope it’s available as soon as I reach the end of the base game.

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Finally, there seems to be a new PVP mode other than the DZ. The Conflict mode was described in one of the tutorial messages, but sadly I didn’t have time to try it before the beta ended. Hopefully I’ll be able to try it in a public beta before the game releases. Based on the little bit the tutorial screen tells about it, I believe it’s a PVP mode with multiple specialized maps and modes that nets rewards. It also has its own leveling system, making a total of three within the game I’ve seen so far. I could also believe that many people were playing this mode which might explain why the map felt so devoid of players to me.

Overall I was really happy with this beta. It showed me the things I needed to see and experience to want to buy the full game. Gold edition seems like it will probably be necessary, but without a content timetable, I can’t say if it’s the best decision for me, as I really didn’t make proper use of the season pass in the first one. I had a good time with this beta and I think this game will do very well. It’s the same core game from the first one with a number of noticeable improvements, added modes, and a new setting. I’m definitely looking forward to retaking Washington DC.

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas Editions Matter

A couple months ago, I published a review of my first hours playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas. While I stand by the views expressed in that review, it has come to my attention that it may have been misleading due to information that I was not aware of at the time of writing. So don’t consider this post a retraction of that review but rather a clarification of some specific points.

I praised Starlink and continue to do so. It’s a phenomenal game that I never put down feeling disappointed. But having done more research and now finished the game, my perspective has been altered, or more appropriately refined, slightly. Every play session I had, in the 30 hours it took me to complete the game, was enjoyable. Whenever I stopped playing, I was excited to play it again as soon as possible. While I was playing it, I always felt like there was a lot of content, albeit much of it was repetitive a la the No Man’s Sky formula. It definitely feels like a large amount of fulfilling content tied to a story I found interesting, until I reached the end, which was surprisingly abrupt, even though it was after almost 30 hours of play. While the gameplay can get repetitive due to the farming and planetary take over mechanics inherent to the game/genre, I still think it’s a great overall experience that appeals to players looking for games like No Man’s Sky with more direction. What I was not aware of though is how vastly different my gameplay experience was to that of other players. More specifically to players who don’t also have the Digital Deluxe version of the game.

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The review copy of Starlink I received wass the digital deluxe edition on Switch. When I first started the game, I was under the impression that most of the content I had access to was available to all players with the exception of StarFox related content for PS4 and XB1 players. What I learned after already playing 20 hours was that this was/is completely false. Apparently anyone who didn’t buy the digital deluxe edition is playing a completely different game than I did.

My version of the game gives me full, unadulterated access to 10 pilots, 6 ships, 15 weapons (not including the default Arwing lasers), and all the StarFox story content. All ships, including the Arwing, all weapons, and all pilots can be used interchangeably in real time for every single portion of the game. You can even play the StarFox missions without using StarFox. Every pilot, weapon, and ship has independent experience points and can be mastered through use. Each pilot has special abilities and attacks that are useful in specific situations. Each weapon and ship can be modded with four to five mods that drastically affect performance. You can have up to three saved loadouts that can be hot swapped in the menu screen whenever you want, including mid battle. I had full control of my gameplay experience. I could tailor my loadout(s) for each individual enemy to be perfectly suited to take them down.

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I needed a ridiculous amount of experience to max out everything, which I didn’t end up doing due to a lack of content, so I was never needlessly gaining XP. The RPG elements of the game were a critical part of my gameplay experience and added to the diversity and strategy of playing the game. For me, Starlink was a robust, multifaceted space fighter shooting game with RPG elements, a solid plot concerning several playable characters, and an arsenal of weapons at my disposal. I do think it was ultimately too short for the amount of pilots, ships, and weapons available though. But this wass not the game many people appear to be playing.

Something that needs to be noted about my version of Starlink is that the content is all seamless. When I was playing the game, I couldn’t tell what was vanilla content and what was deluxe edition content. There are no content walls. There are no purchase this to unlock this moments. There are no separate menus for DLC content. The story doesn’t break apart for each character. The cutscenes aren’t broken up between different characters. Everything in the game seems like it should be there and the game would suffer if any part was removed. Even StarFox content has been almost perfectly weaved into the rest of the game. Other than the differing art style, the characters appear in basically all the group cut scenes, as do all the other pilots. So I honestly can’t even imagine what this game would look like without all these pilots present. Yet this is apparently how the game is for everyone else.

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I had assumed that everyone had access to all the weapons and ships but that some of the pilots may be in the story but not playable without those specific toys. What I have come to learn is that actually nothing is available to vanilla physical edition players except the toys that came with their version. Even worse is the fact that the XB1 and PS4 physical starter packs come with less content than the Switch starter pack for the same price, due to the lack of StarFox.

The Switch physical starter pack comes with two pilots, two ships, and three weapons (not including the built in lasers on the Arwing that don’t take XP to get stronger). The XB1 and PS4 versions only come with one pilot, one ship, and three weapons, don’t have StarFox pilot or content, and don’t have a built in default weapon on the ship. All additional pilots, weapons, and ships have to be purchased separately for all versions. This is ridiculous. It’s literally all my fears for gaming brought to life. People have been making EA DLC jokes for years but this is the extreme version of that.

StarFox Starter Pack

Playing Starlink with only two pilots, three weapons, and one ship would be like paying $60 for Smash Bros and getting only two fighters, one map, and only hammers, hearts, and bombs as usable items with everything else being available as paid DLC. And these physical starter packs cost $75! That’s insane. Especially when you consider that for $60 you can get the vanilla digital edition and start with five ships, seven pilots, and 12 weapons. You are literally getting bent over by buying the physical edition. Expanding your arsenal of ships, pilots, and weapons is also considerably cheaper via DLC in digital form. You could probably buy a second digital deluxe edition of the game and have change left over with the amount of money you would spend buying all the content in physical form. For just $5 more than the physical starter pack you can get the digital deluxe edition and that’s without taking sales prices into account. As I write this, it’s currently $60 on the eshop.

I think this is a real problem. Not only for the game itself, but for the precedent it sets. This is more predatory than amiibo and that’s already bad to begin with. Not to mention the fact that this pricing scheme ruined the image of a perfectly good game that should have been in the running for Game of the Year. It definitely shouldn’t have won, but the digital deluxe edition would have been worthy of nomination if it was the standard edition.

Physical DLC

At first I didn’t understand why this game was being ignored. It was old news just a couple weeks after it released. I was having a blast playing it and I didn’t understand why no one else was even talking about it. Now I do. This is a phenomenal game that has everything I wanted from this genre, but the bulk of players are essentially playing a beta version of the game, and that sucks for the developers too. Their game was ruined by greed. And the gameplay experience is ruined for the players who don’t have all the content as well.

The difference in weapons, ships, and pilots is so severe that it’s honestly like playing a completely different game. For example, I have six ships. That means that in any battle I can have my ship blown up six times before it’s game over. I have never gotten a game over even though I played on hard. But if I only had one or two ships I would have been getting game overs constantly. I have 15 weapons to choose from with elemental properties, range properties, and ammo style properties. Some are rapid fire. Some are burst fire. Some are single fire. Some are short range. Some are long range. I have five different elemental types to choose from, all of which were required to solve certain puzzles along the way. I honestly can’t imagine playing the game without all these options. Elements matter. There are fire and ice type enemies. If you only have one fire weapon, one ice weapon, and nothing else, you are basically playing with one weapon against any fire or ice type enemy because using the enemy’s element powers them up.

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Of course people aren’t enjoying the game. They’re not getting to play the full game with the entire experience. Every character can max out each ship and weapon plus their skill tree. I’ve mastered some weapons with StarFox, no ships with anyone, and only managed to max out StarFox’s skill tree before finishing the game. But that’s because I played as all 10 pilots throughout the course of the game. Whenever I maxed out something with a specific pilot, I wouldn’t use it with that pilot anymore so that I never wasted any XP. If I was limited to only one pilot, one ship, and two weapons, I’d have  maxed out everything long before the end of the game and would have wasted tons of XP. It’s also important to note that every pilot has a skill that enhances all other pilots. That means that the more pilots you have the more benefits, which I did take advantage of with all 10 pilots, you get for the entire team.

I think this whole thing is a real shame and a scary look at the potential future of games distribution. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a great game. I encourage everyone to buy it. It’s lots of fun and 30 hours of content isn’t terrible by today’s standards. But please make sure you buy the digital deluxe edition, otherwise you’re not only not getting the full game experience. You’re getting flat out conned into spending more money than you need to for not even a quarter of the experience you get with the digital deluxe edition. It’s a shame this game was ruined this way. It’s a shame most people won’t play it because of this system. And most of all it’s a shame that Ubisoft felt like this was an acceptable practice. I hope they patch it so that everyone can at least get the minimum number of pilots, weapons, and ships that the base digital version offers. Otherwise this is just highway robbery.

Again, I don’t retract my original soft review of the game. Everything I said in it was accurate and I do stand behind the game for its graphics, story, and gameplay. But I now have to qualify it by saying that I was speaking specifically about the digital deluxe edition and that’s the only version I endorse people to buy.

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Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – Storytelling Done Right

I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed games since the beginning and always in order. I’ve never skipped a console release title, including those Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles games, which actually weren’t that bad. I’m currently behind so I only just finished Syndicate this week, but I can’t wait to play Origins and Odyssey. I, like most long time AC players, have a weird relationship with the franchise. It constantly teeters between love and hate. There are things that are truly great about the franchise and to have seen how far it has come since the original release more than 10 years ago is both impressive and inspiring. But there are also issues that have plagued the games for years, many of which have only gotten worse over time. In my opinion, the storytelling is the weakest part of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and has been since at least Assassin’s Creed III. But the storytelling issues have existed since even before that game which was already several games into the franchise. This is extra depressing because the story is ultimately why I continue playing the games. I want to see a clear ending to this franchise. That’s not because I don’t like the franchise and want to see it end, but rather that I play games for the stories and I hate stories that don’t have clear endings.

AC has a host of storytelling problems. This is due mostly to the disjointed nature of the games and how they function as parts of an overarching narrative that has itself drastically shifted in direction in non-sensible ways over the course of the franchise. The big problem with the storytelling is that the modern day content has little to do with the Animus content while also acting as the bridge between multiple games that you’re only really playing for the Animus content. But it’s very apparent that the modern day content has always been an afterthought in the creation of these games. Rather than try to clean it up, Ubisoft decided the best way to deal with the modern day storyline was to significantly reduce its presence within the games. You see this a lot in the games that take place after ACIII. The amount of modern day content has been reduced more and more until you finally get to Syndicate where you don’t even play in the modern day. It’s reduced to four or five short cinematics all with the intention of justifying a single end game cut scene that doesn’t feature anyone of significance other than the weird first civilization MCP (yes that’s a Tron reference) that keeps showing up in games since ACIII but never really does anything. Supposedly it saved the world from a solar flare though.

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I see the direction that AC has taken by almost completely diluting away the out of Animus content to non-playable cut scenes and a bare minimum of time on screen as a good thing, but that’s not actually the part about the storytelling in Syndicate that I like the most. The key factor that I think makes the storytelling superior in Syndicate to just about every other AC game to date is the fact that you have multiple never before seen playable characters experiencing directly related stories and spaces. In past games you never had this, save for a short sequence in ACIII as Haythem Kenway. You had two loosely related characters acting independently of each other in the form of an ancestor and an Animus user/viewer. This never worked well for me because the games always slacked on the setting, gameplay, and writing for the Animus user. I genuinely didn’t care about Desmond and his whiny, depressing parent issues. I cared even less when you were some anonymous drone sneaking around the Abstergo offices. Those aspects of the story (and gameplay) have always been trash by comparison to the ancestor. That’s also why you never saw Desmond on the cover of the games. What I cared about has always been the story inside the Animus. Syndicate fleshes this story out more.

In Syndicate, you have two main playable characters and a third one if you play the Jack the Ripper expansion, during Industrial Revolution London. Plus there’s a fourth playable character in the base game that takes place during WWI for a short disconnected sequence. I thought this entire presentation of interconnected stories was brilliant. It added context, emotion, and background to all the characters involved. It strengthened the overall storytelling in a number of ways. It also led to variations in my gameplay style from character to character because I felt compelled to play each character the way I thought they would play rather than how I preferred to play. In many ways it was like playing multiple games in one while still maintaining a focused narrative. And even though the WWI sequence wasn’t directly connected to the main story, it was still excellent because it followed the progeny of one of the main characters. It was like taking a break from the game without taking a break from the game while providing additional information for the overarching narrative. I thought it was brilliantly executed.

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Syndicate doesn’t have the best plot of any AC game. It’s set in a time where capitalism is already ruining people’s lives in a country that’s not that interesting in the grand scheme of the AC universe. But it tells its story better than most of the other AC games I’ve played so far. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it considering the large number of negative comments I heard about it. I genuinely don’t understand where the negativity came from because it’s way better than Unity and is a nice change from Rogue, which is just a smaller scale copy of Black Flag. Many people even told me to skip Syndicate altogether, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Syndicate even handles the age old main character gender problem in games well. The game doesn’t center on either a male or female character. It stars both. And adds one of each additional character in the special sequences. It’s a perfectly balanced form of gender neutral storytelling that lets the player decide what/who to play as while making them both plot relevant without being plot neutral. There are also sequences that are character specific because the two play off of each other in a very effective way. And they have a few differing abilities to offer you a reason to swap between them depending on the mission you’re in.

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It’s a perfectly democratic way to make and play a game that in no way lowered the quality of the storytelling. Really it enhanced it. And, in this case they made me want to play as the female character in the right way. They made her interesting. Evie Frye is a better character than Jacob Frye. Or at least a better assassin. She thinks things through. She acknowledges the consequences or her and her brother’s actions. She has better stealth abilities. I wanted to play as her more. I still made myself rotate between the two often, even when I didn’t have to, but she’s the better character, in my opinion. That’s how you get male gamers to play games with female protagonists. You make the characters interesting and the games good. It’s really that simple. Tomb Raider does well because Lara Croft is a good character and the games are well made. There’s no magic formula. It’s not a political issue. Real gamers play good games. You could do The Witcher with a female protagonist. But it has to be at the quality level of The Witcher. Otherwise it’s just a “shitty feminism game that wishes it was The Witcher.” But by giving the player the choice in Syndicate, Ubisoft managed to make a game with a female protagonist without having to market it as such.  This made it way more appealing and accessible for everyone. Which begs the question: Why have we been playing these shitty out of Animus sequences for all these years to begin with?

The only reason the Animus is part of the franchise is that Ubisoft needed a link between all the games. For some reason they felt that it wasn’t good enough just to have the same name and general Assassin Templar war. They wanted to directly link each game via an overarching story, which in my opinion they’ve done, but failed to do well. Even as they’ve changed it over time and tried to salvage it, the modern day stuff is still trash. And with the death of Desmond, a character I absolutely hated, I all but stopped caring about who’s involved or what’s happening. I just want it to end so I can have a real conclusion. But why didn’t they just connect the games the way they connect the WWI and Jack the Ripper stories in Syndicate from the start? They could have just used the ancestry concept but directly linked the games via historical meetings. You have Altair get married and have kids. Then you have one of those kids become an assassin and travel to another country. Then that person meets another assassin named Ezio Auditore. Then the game follows Ezio.

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You get the same effect you have now of following a story through time and changing between multiple characters. You can even keep the piece of Eden thing they have going. But you don’t need all that superfluous modern day crap that no one even cares about anymore. You link the characters directly to each other through history as the war continues. That would also allow you to return to older characters later in different points in their lives. Like Ezio in Revelations. It takes place years after Brotherhood. Rather than doing the whole memory sequence mumbo jump they could have just done a game about another assassin he met along the way and then at the end of that game, years later in the timeline, that assassin reconnects with Ezio. Then in the next game a now older Ezio goes to Constantinople. No weird annoying bullshit needed. And it’s not like people can’t deal with time hops. The current games do them and it’s not an issue. You just do a sequence like Connor went to England and then wipe forward years later and show him returning from England, or whatever. The audience isn’t stupid. We can follow a shifting narrative. How else have we been playing AC games for all these years? You could go back in time as well. Just do an Edward found this old journal of a past assassin and started reading it opening sequence as a transition backwards. It’s not that hard.

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My point is that Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate does a great job with the storytelling because for 99% of the game it doesn’t pull you out of the Animus. And that 1% isn’t gameplay. It’s only cut scenes. This created a much stronger and more coherent narrative experience. As I said at the beginning of this post, I haven’t played Origins or Odyssey yet so maybe they’ve finally cleaned it all up. But I doubt it. There’s no real reason we needed this modern day storyline to make this franchise work. And I think it could still be done away with now. By implementing multiple playable characters in the same directly connected time periods, they can tell a much stronger story and solve their diversity problems at the same time. Adewale didn’t really need his own expansion in Black Flag. He should have just been playable in Black Flag with his own special sequences as well as in the open world. Haytham could have been playable for a much larger part of ACIII. These games are already connected in many ways. They simply needed to go the extra mile and not make up some weird trapped in the machine AI story filled with solar flares and faceless walking simulator sequences.

Syndicate was the best AC since played Black Flag. It has revitalized my interest in the franchise and I’m very much looking forward to both Origins and Odyssey, both of which I’ve heard great things about. Hopefully that includes great storytelling.

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Nintendo Switch) Early Impressions Review

I was unsure about Starlink: Battle for Atlas going into it. The marketing was good but kind of vague. I was getting some No Man’s Sky vibes from it, which isn’t a compliment, but I was also getting some solid story based gameplay vibes from it as well, which is the greatest of gaming compliments. If I’m honest I have to say that the main selling point for me was that Star Fox is in the Switch version. You have to understand how much I love Star Fox and how long I’ve been waiting for a good Star Fox game. Having played every home console Star Fox game on its original release console, including Star Fox Guard and Star Fox 2, it’s my opinion that a good Star Fox game hasn’t been made since 2005. Star Fox 2 is good, but that was made in 1996. I hated Star Fox Zero. It had some good ideas but the controls were terrible to the point where I struggled just to finish the base game and haven’t played it since. So the prospect of a good Star Fox game was very appealing, but not enough to get me to buy Starlink day one, because this wasn’t made in house by Nintendo. Thankfully I received a review copy and I’m glad I did.

Let me be very clear in saying that I’m only about three hours into Starlink: Battle for Atlas at this point. I plan on playing it a lot more and after the three hours I have played, I can already say that I will absolutely finish this game and possibly go for a 100% completion. But I wanted to write something about it now while it’s new so people who are on the fence can get a better understanding of it so they can make a more informed purchasing decision. That’s why I’m leaving this review unscored and I put “Early Impressions” in the title of the post. I also want to make clear that I haven’t looked at the non-Switch versions of the game at all. I don’t even know how they compare graphically so be aware that this review is only talking about the Switch version unless otherwise stated.

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Before getting into the finer details of the game, there are two main things that need to be said about Starlink before anything else. The first is that this game essentially took all the good ideas from No Man’s Sky, layered them over a The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild foundation, and then decorated it with Star Fox paint. That’s what this game is in a nut shell. They took the No Man’s Sky open world, resource management, space exploration concept, added an actual story, dialed back the map to that of large, but not infinite, and allowed players the ability to play an open galaxy space fighter game as Fox McCloud with his crew along for the ride. In other words, they did what people actually wanted rather than try to be overly experimental for the sake of grandeur.

The second thing that needs to be said is that this is not a Star Fox game. The PS4 and XB1 versions of the game don’t contain the Star Fox team. They were added into the Switch version similarly to how Link was added into Soul Calibur II (2002) on the Gamecube version of the game. The difference though is that Fox and crew have been added into Starlink with great care and effort. It’s not lazily done last minute. It’s not a few added cutscenes and no direct interactions. From what I’ve seen so far, Ubisoft took the time to weave Fox, Peppy, Slippy, Falco, and it seems Wolf directly into the plot of the story. There are cutscenes where the Starlink regular characters and the Star Fox team interact directly. Fox and crew enter the Starlink team’s ship during cutscenes and interact with them in dialog during normal gameplay. The point is that while this is not a Star Fox game, you’re able to play the Switch version like it is one, and that’s intentionally how I’ve been playing it so far. In a lot of ways, that might be the future of Nintendo games and if so, I’m looking forward to it.

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Visually speaking, Starlink is very good, but it’s still a Nintendo game. I do believe it could look better on a more powerful machine. That being said, in true Nintendo style they’ve crafted a game that isn’t trying to look realistic so it’s fine that it doesn’t have super PC Master Race 4K graphics. The graphics are by no means bad though. The landscapes are beautiful and fairly well detailed. Fox and crew look great as far as finer details go, but they don’t really fit into the art style of the rest of the game. And the game runs very smoothly. The cutscenes look surprisingly good. Or at least the present day ones do. There are also some flash back cutscenes that are hand drawn comic strip style art. They look good for what they are, but they don’t match the rest of the game, that I’ve seen so far, in tone. Mostly though it’s one of the better looking games I’ve seen on Switch. It’s up there with Xenoblade Chronicles games. There are definitely some things that I believe are scaled down from what they would look like in the PS4 version, but not so much so that I feel like I’m being cheated playing on this platform.

What’s nice about this galaxy is that it’s both diverse and lived in. There are a lot of different settings and landscapes, even on individual planets. It’s not just dessert planet, lava planet, water planet. One planet, of which there are several, has multiple habitats. Wild life is native to certain regions and not others on any given planet. There are abandoned cities, skeletons littered across deserts, active settlements, roving bands of outlaws, and ancient ruins. It’s not a world(s) that exists for you. They just exist and you happen to be there.

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There’s a lot going on in the full HUD. I haven’t turned anything off yet, but I’ve already considered it. It’s all useful information, but it just takes up so much of the screen. Depending on what’s happening, there are times when like 50% or more of the screen is covered in HUD data. Thankfully, you have the ability to toggle off and on each individual part of the HUD and two of the options can be set to appear only at specific times. I like the menus. They’re very simple and easy to understand. They have a very space age tone to them but they still come off very Nintendo. Smooth edges, interactive pictures, and easy to read text. I also really appreciated that you can set the subtitle text size, language, and backing opacity. You can even set the temperature readout to Celsius, Fahrenheit, or Kelvin. I don’t know if I’ve played any other games that have Kelvin as an option. Enemies, target objects, and bases all have floating life bars as well, so you can always see the status of things. This is really helpful and I’m glad it’s there, but it also adds even more HUD to the screen. I guess the best way to describe Starlink overall is that it looks the way it’s supposed to. I don’t think I’d change anything about it visually other than giving it more power so the details could be even crisper in the landscapes.

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The sound is solid. The effects are limited to user interactions, which is a bit of a disappointment, but you don’t usually notice it during normal gameplay. What I mean is everything you do has a sound effect, but only certain things you do things to have a reaction sound. For example, if you shoot a canister that’s meant to be shot, you will hear your weapons fire and you will hear the canister explode. But if you shoot a wall, that’s not meant to be shot, you will hear your weapons fire, but the wall won’t make a sound. Essentially there are a limited number of sound profiles and interactions in the game. But again, most of the time you won’t notice this unless you’re actively shooting things you aren’t meant to shoot. Your ship has sounds for everything from boosting and jumping to changing out weapons. And the things you’re supposed to interact with all make sounds as well. The quality is clean and mostly clear, but it can get drowned out by your weapons fire. You do have the ability to set separate volume levels 1 – 100 for speech, SFX, music, and ambient sounds as well as change the audio mix between three sound profile options.

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The dialog audio is good. There are many different characters that speak in this game and they all have their own voices. That includes NPCs like shop keepers and outlaws. All speaking characters, including outlaws, have individual names and their talking avatar shows up on your screen during dialog. You will never see any characters walking around though. Every sentient being is in a ship at all times. Only wildlife and enemies are just walking around the landscapes. The wildlife have their own sound profiles as well, which is always a nice touch.

The gameplay takes some getting used to. It’s essentially an all-range mode fighter plane game that takes place both in space and on the ground. You have the option to free fly between space, the sky within a planet’s atmosphere, and at ground level. You are always in your ship, but the way you move is determined by the flight mode/space you’re in. In general, the controls are fairly straight forward. You have up to two weapons mounted at any time, which you control with the triggers. You can boost, shield, jump, and interact with the four buttons (A,B,X,Y) on the right joy-con and you use the shoulders and arrow buttons for special commands. When in ground flight mode, you have a lot more control and don’t have to worry about altitude. But you also have limits to how high up you can jump. What is interesting though is that the game seems to have dynamic jumping, meaning it tends to make you jump as high as you need to go rather than having a limited jump height. There is a max limit though before you have to change to flight mode, which you do by holding the right shoulder. My biggest complaint is that the buttons aren’t customizable. I wish I could swap the boost and jump buttons and make the shield a different button as well. I pretty much never shield during combat because of where the button is placed.

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The fact that you’re always in your ship is a good thing. It makes for a more streamlined experience. You travel around planets and mine for resources, among other tasks, but things don’t require as much nitty gritty work. Boxes are scattered around the worlds that contain Electrum, the equivalent of gold/money, mods, and other useful things. You just have to shoot or blow them up to open them. The items contained within the boxes are automatically collected. This saves you so much time. At first I didn’t realize collecting was automatic so I went up to every box and manually collected things. But once I realized I didn’t have to I started sniping boxes from far away and saving tons of time farming. There are also resources that need to be mined from nature like plants and metal ore. These do need to be picked up manually. They can be sold at outposts for Electrum. NPCs will often task you with collecting things for them as well a number of other types of tasks like deliveries, scouting/exploring missions, and hunts for enemies and objects. You use Electrum and special resources to upgrade the main ship, your general skills/perks, and outposts. Your weapons and fighter ships are upgraded through perks rather than individually. But each weapon, ship, and pilot has their own experience gauge and leveling, so it pays to play with various loadouts so you’re developing your entire crew as opposed to just one set. I will admit though that I haven’t been good about that myself just yet. I’m pretty much only playing as Fox in the Arwing and I tend to use the same two guns a majority of the time. In the long run though I will change them once I max them out, otherwise it’s just a waste of XP.

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The game lets you change your loadouts, including ships and pilots, on command. At any time, including in mid-battle, you can just go to the menu screen and change your load outs. Ships and weapons also have mod slots, which matter a lot. Mods can affect a number of things like base damage, elemental damage, healing speed, movement, and so on. You have a limited number of slots for each piece of gear, but these can be expanded a finite amount with general upgrades. The ability to change loadouts in real time is useful because you can create loadouts for multiple scenarios and hot swap them based on the situation rather than having to re-spec your ship for every encounter. Loadouts matter because different mods and weapons work in tandem for the best results. For example, using fire and ice weapons concurrently results in a “Thermal Shock” damage scenario. You freeze enemies susceptible to ice damage, causing them to literally freeze in place and sometimes fall over. Then you burn them with fire ammo. The resulting reaction between the two types of ammo causes additional damage and effects to enemies. There are several types of weapons combinations that have special effects. This is why preparing multiple layouts is so useful.

The Ubisoft Club rewards for Starlink are some of the most useful I’ve seen in any Ubisoft game. The four rewards give you a collection of strong mods that will greatly enhance your performance. I don’t know if these mods will be that useful down the road once you’ve started finding higher level stuff and creating your own via mod merging/crafting, but early on the rewards mods are extremely valuable. I recommend buying them right off the bat if you have the Ubi coins to spare. And since the game has more coins to earn than to spend, you still make a net gain if you complete all the rewards tasks, many of which are pretty easy.

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The game, at least at this point, is not too difficult. That’s not to say that it’s easy, but more that it’s fair and rewards you for playing both smart and dynamically. If you just sit in one spot and fire away you might win, depending on the difficulty, but chances are you will struggle. To master the game you need to understand how weapons combinations work, which enemies require which weapons, which the game helps you with, which mod combinations work the best for your play style, and you need to master maneuvering. You also need to pick the right pilot for you. Each pilot, of which there are at least 10, some of which I found later in the game, has their own strengths, weaknesses, and special moves. Fox, for example, summons Peppy, Slippy, and/or Falco to battle. They only stay for the duration of the battle, but it’s a useful technique. You can do this at ground level or in space. Once you get the hang of the game, you will push yourself to harder challenges. I started at normal, but after only two hours in I changed it to hard. I haven’t tried very hard yet. You can also turn friendly fire on or off. I keep it off though personally.

Enemies have levels and you aren’t aware of how big a difference those levels can be until you challenge something way out of your league. My Fox is level four and I haven’t struggled much, but I have had a ship blow up a few times in the normal course of play. But when I discovered a level 16 special enemy, it whipped my ass. Something to come back to later. That’s the nice thing about the game. There are things you know you’ll want to come back to later. The death system is interesting in Starlink. I think it works well for the type of game it is. Your ship has a life bar that heals automatically after a certain amount of time without taking damage, but if you take too much damage too quickly your ship will blow up, but this isn’t game over. You have a total of at least six ships. Each one has its own stats as one of four classes that I’ve seen so far. When you lose a ship, you can just swap out another one and use that one for as long as you want or until it also blows up. Then the next time you get to a repair shop you can spend Electrum to repair all your damaged ships. This system is really convenient because it means you rarely have to stop play even if you got a ship blown up. This also means that there is no stoppage in normal play. You can get hit with multiple battles back to back. Outlaws can attack at any time. You can fly into a nest accidentally. When you go to the menu the game is paused so you don’t have to worry about dying while trying to re-spec. But you never truly know what you need to be prepared for.

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There are also a number of mini-game and puzzle mechanics scattered throughout the game. Some are quite simple like pulling/plucking things. When you want to harvest plants or open doors, you have to grab them with your ship’s cable and then pull. But you have to pull the right amount. There’s a meter that you need to fill with enough pull pressure before the object will release. You aren’t allowed to over pull it though. It has to be properly measured or the object will remain attached. It’s hard to explain in text form, but as you find more important items, the pull min-game becomes harder. Some puzzles involve shooting targets with certain types of ammo or in a certain order. There are door puzzles that require you to figure out a sequence of locks in a specific order. I also really enjoy the ways you can interact with wildlife. You have to scan them to add to your database and learn more about them. Scanning one isn’t enough though. You need to find and scan three or four of the same species to get full data about it. You can also help animals, which I really like. Sometimes you find animals that have infections and you can help remove them. This will make that particular animal act friendlier towards you. To be honest I have yet to see any wildlife act with hostility towards me unprovoked, but I have had them show fear. The game is so much more than just flying around, collecting, and shooting.

While Starlink is a story driven game, it’s also an Assassin’s Creed style open world game. There are tons of side activities, special requests, hidden treasures, and random encounters you can seek out. You can spend a seemingly unlimited amount of time developing your team and resources without touching the main quest. It’s like No Man’s Sky with the option of meaningful gameplay. Overall, I’m very happy with the gameplay experience. There are some control issues you have to get used to and as with all resource games, mining will most likely get old. But as a whole, this is a great experience that I’ve only scratched the surface of.

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As I said, I’m not super far into this game yet. Less than four hours total. So my understanding of the story is still very limited, but I can say that unlike with No Man’s Sky, this is a narrative driven open world(s) game. And that includes Star Fox’s role in the game. You are actively pursuing narrative based goals. You meet characters and develop relationships with them. Outlaws have grudges against you and/or members of your team that they’ve had past interactions with. You’re not just flying around space collecting resources so you can build better ships. The game does have lots of mining opportunities and developing/upgrading your ships and other things in the game are a core part of the gameplay, but this is a single player, story driven experience with a finite amount of content. That more than anything is why I like this game and was almost completely disinterested in No Man’s Sky at release. The story is what makes the game worth playing.

The writing works. It’s not Naughty Dog level storytelling, but it’s a fairly large cast of characters, real social interactions between them, developing relationships, villains, heroes, mysteries, and side characters that you grow fond of. Now again, I’m still very early in. It’s quite possible that this is all just strong foundation to hook the player in early and then it will eventually devolve into a boring mining collectathon with little story. But it doesn’t seem to be going in that direction at this point in the game. So far I’m happy with the characters, I’m happy with the plot, and I’m especially happy with the fact that all the Star Fox team members are an active part of the story, even though they were added in later.

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I’m not gonna speak much on the replay value of a game I’m only three hours into of this seemingly high amount of content. What I will say is that there appears to be quite a bit of content and I assume there will be some future DLC as well. Because of the way the game is structured, there are multiple ways to play and approach things, which means there is the potential to want to replay the game using different pilots, load outs, and tactics. You also have four different difficulty levels. But because you can change difficulty, loadout, ship, and even pilot at a whim, I see no reason to replay the entire game at this point. It makes more sense to just change things around as you play your first playthrough fairly often and make the most out of a well-rounded experience. So at this point, I can’t say whether or not the game makes sense to replay, but in general there appears to be a lot of content anyway so that’s fine for me.

I’m really happy that I’m playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas. I’m not far in yet, but I’ve enjoyed it a lot so far. I’ll admit that my bias towards Star Fox plays a factor. It’s the game that I think many people wanted No Man’s Sky to be with the tradeoff of a finite amount of content. Finite doesn’t mean lacking amount though. A game doesn’t have to be infinite and in my opinion shouldn’t be. I enjoy the fact that the game has a lot to do but still has defined end goals. As I said, I’m not going to score this game so early in my experience with it, but I do recommend it for people who like open worlds, space fighters, and customization options in games. You can also check out some gameplay on my YouTube channel. I’ll be streaming the game via Twitch on weekends as well.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

How I Learned to Love the Rabbids

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past five or so years, Rabbids are these stupid rabbit like creatures that appear to be sentient but never seem to do anything other than make funny noises and cause trouble. They originally appeared in Rayman 4 (2013) but were so popular that Ubisoft decided to give them their own game series. I hate Rabbids. I think they’re annoying and add very little to no value to gaming history. I have gone out of my way not to play any game featuring them, including Rayman 4. But technically I haven’t played any of the Rayman games, outside of demos, so that doesn’t necessarily mean anything special. In any case, Rabbids irritate me.

It was my distaste for Rabbids that made me very unhappy when they first announced Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for the Nintendo Switch. I actually really liked the idea of them making a Mario strategy game with a Banner Saga style grid battle system. While it isn’t canon, pun not intended, I was fine with them giving Mario and friends guns. The game seemed very interesting. But I could not stomach a Rabbids game. It felt so odd to see Nintendo allow Rabbids to enter the Mario universe. It was very out of character for the company and I’m still not entirely sure how it happened. It was the presence of Rabbids in the game that made me ignore it initially.

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Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was released just a few months before I finally purchased my Switch. I knew I was going to purchase a Switch and I knew when I was going to purchase it. What I didn’t know was that I was going to end up purchasing a Rabbids game on the same day. I had sworn the game off but then people started talking about it. So many people on Twitter were praising the game for its amazing gameplay mechanics. I didn’t have any particular reason to think the gameplay would be bad but my bias against Rabbids made me assume everyone was over exaggerating. They have in the past on multiple occasions. So I was still not planning on buying the game. Then the awards season hit.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, to my surprise, won four awards for best strategy game and was nominated for several other awards from multiple game awards shows. I was shocked it did so well. It seemed like people weren’t exaggerating and that it really was that good. I have owned every console Mario game since Super Mario 64, and many from before that as well. Part of me was devastated to be skipping this Switch Mario game. And the promise of amazing gameplay in a genre I hadn’t really experienced in a Mario game before was also very alluring. But I still said I wouldn’t buy a Rabbids game.

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It has always been a ritual for me to buy a stack of games when I first purchase a console. I’m not one of those people who buys a new system just to play one game. It needs to already have several games I want to play before I even consider buying it. On the day I went to buy my Nintendo Switch, multiple limiting factors came into play. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Explorer’s Edition hadn’t been released yet and wouldn’t be for a few more months. Super Bomberman R was sold out in all the stores I went to because it had just recently been brought to Taiwan. I did eventually get it though. Snipper Clips was a game I was buying specifically to play with my girlfriend so it didn’t count in my stack of games to play with purchase. I would kind of say the same about Just Dance 2018 but less so. This meant that the only games I was buying for my new Switch to be played for myself at this point were Super Mario Odyssey, obviously, ARMS, Sonic Forces, and Splatoon 2. Two of those games aren’t even real single player games. It was at this moment that the clerk, who I actually know very well and trust his recommendations, suggested Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.

With only two legitimate single player games, the great reviews, and the awards, I ended up buying my first Rabbids game. It hurt even when I was making the purchase but I did it. I bought Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. I felt dirty. I felt like I had betrayed my morals. I did not feel happy about the purchase. But it was already done. And in Taiwan you can’t actually make returns for games so even if I wanted to change my mind, I couldn’t.

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It took me seven months to finally start playing Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. By that point I had beaten Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Sonic Forces, the Splatoon 2 single player campaign, gotten bored with both ARMS and Super BomberMan R, and had beaten other games on my PS4. It was time to give this game I had purchased a try. The start of the game was not promising. An annoying video that features the Rabbids prominently for several minutes before Mario even appears. I had to stomach through it and get to the actual gameplay.

Once you make it through the necessarily long tutorial and actually get to battle on your own, you realize right away that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle really does have amazing gameplay. It’s different from any other Mario game I’ve ever played and it’s extremely well done. I was hooked so quickly. The other thing that’s really nice about it is that it has text based dialog and turn based gameplay. Meaning you can play it with no sound while doing other things and you don’t miss out on the experience much at all. I love to play it undocked while watching Netflix. It’s great. I don’t even have to hear the Rabbids making all their annoying sounds. The gameplay is creative, addictive, and convenient. And it’s easy to play just one battle and then step away. Jumping back in is fairly easy with the Switch’s sleep mode function.

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So let’s actually talk about the Rabbids. It took me quite some time but I will admit that the Rabbids in this specific game have grown on me. This is due largely to the dynamic Ubisoft has created by making copies of the Mario characters as Rabbids. Rabbid Peach is one of the funniest characters I’ve seen in a long time because of the dynamic she has with Peach and Mario. Alone she is just a ridiculous character that spends too much time taking selfies. But when interacting with Mario and constantly competing with Peach, I find the character hysterical. Other Rabbids in the game are funny too. Rabbid Donkey Kong looks so awkward that you can’t help but laugh. Rabbid Mario’s mustache looks ridiculous. I haven’t gotten Rabbid Yoshi yet but I’m sure that’s going to be hilarious as well.

It seems I’ve learned to tolerate the Rabbids in the context of this game and they actually make me laugh. I really have to commend Ubisoft for creating such an excellent game and tip my hat to Nintendo for taking such a large risk with their most important franchise. I’m usually very good about gaming predictions but have to admit that I did not see this coming out nearly as well as it did. I enjoy Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle so much that it will be the first Nintendo Switch game that I actually purchase DLC for. I regret that I didn’t wait for the Gold edition originally because I really want all the content for this one. Maybe one day I’ll even buy a second Rabbids game.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Tapei Gameshow 2018

Every year, for the last three years, I have attended Taipei Game Show. And every year I take the time to recount/review my experience. This year will be no different. For those of you who aren’t aware, Taipei Game Show (TGS) is an annual video games event held in Taiwan. It’s more like PAX than E3. It’s open to the public, there are no press conference style presentations, and usually they demo unreleased games to the public, but rarely if ever announce new titles. Or at least no new titles that will be important in the Western markets.

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Certain companies take TGS very seriously and make an appearance every year. This includes big names from multiple industries such as PlayStation, Ubisoft, Bandai Namco, HyperX, Twitch, and many more. There are also a ton of smaller names, mostly developers, and tons of indie projects from the known like Aragami, to the completely obscure. One thing I always find very interesting is the focus on mobile gaming. Mobile games, as in Android and iOS, are huge in Asia. Much bigger than in the West. They even have mobile eSports and take it seriously. As much if not more space is taken up at TGS by mobile gaming than PC gaming. But console is always king simply because PlayStation, Bandai Namco, and Ubisoft always show up in grandiose style. And yet, Square Enix had their own booth where all they showed was a single mobile Kingdom Hearts game that is only available in Asia, just to exemplify how important mobile is in this event and in the Asia market in general.

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What I find interesting is that XBOX has no real presence at TGS. Microsoft doesn’t even try to show up. There are plenty of XBOX ONE controllers used at booths for PC gaming, but XBOX makes no real appearance other than in the store where they sell every type of current gen gaming product you could want. This makes sense because XBOX has almost no market share in Asia. It’s not the platform people game on here. But I find it odd that Microsoft doesn’t at least show up for the PC gaming aspect of the event. But in a way I guess it’s not really necessary because no one in Asia legitimately tries to game on Apple and Linux isn’t a huge thing here for gamers like it is in the US. What I find very disappointing though is that year after year Nintendo makes no appearance. This is Asia. It’s an even stronger, more loyal market for Nintendo than the US. The Switch is big here, especially in Taiwan and Japan. Even higher ups in my company own Switches because Nintendo is a favorite in this region and it happens to be an amazing console. I was happy to see that the Switch had a big presence in the Ubisoft booth this year though.

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The free swag was good this year, but it’s not the best I’ve seen it. Ubisoft swag was amazing this year. They went above and beyond everyone else at the event. But the other booths were pretty underwhelming for the most part, save for a few exceptions. Even PlayStation was pretty weak on swag this year, offering only a sticky note pad. Of course the memorabilia available for purchase from PlayStation, and other companies, was quite nice.

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As far as the games shown, talking only mainstream AAA titles right now, I was underwhelmed. Usually they present demos and/or videos of unreleased stuff that you may have heard of but haven’t yet had enough time to really make a decision about because not enough had been shown to the public at that point. This year it was mostly stuff that you already knew about, and quite possibly played. A lot of it had already been released or at least had an open beta take place. Some examples of this that were on display to try were Assassin’s Creed Origins, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, Monster Hunter World, and Metal Gear Survive. I’ve played every game on that list in my apartment, with the exception of Assassin’s Creed Origins, at least one time. And AC Origins was released months ago. These sorts of titles should not be shown at an event like this, with the exception of maybe Dissidia Final Fantasy NT and Metal Gear Survive because those games aren’t actually on the market yet. But they both had open betas before this event so there was really no reason to display them here. I was also shocked to find that other than in the PlayStation brochure, there was absolutely no trace of God of War at TGS this year. I don’t know how that’s possible. The game is being released in less than three months. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to show a playable demo. In past years at TGS I’ve gotten to try pre-release games that went on to be huge including Horizon Zero Dawn, For Honor, Attack on Titan and The Division. So it seemed very odd to me that God of War wasn’t featured with such a nearby release.

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That’s not to say that there were no new games that hadn’t been played before, because their certainly were. New games on display with demos included Far Cry 5, The Crew 2, Hokuto ga Gotoku (Fist of the North Star), Attack on Titan 2, Detroit: Become Human, and Dynasty Warriors 9. There was also a large number of new mobile games you have never and probably will never hear about as well as a bunch of PC games and lots of HTC Vive VR titles. There was also a huge section of board and card games. This is the case every year and it’s interesting to see. Happy to report that they still carry Settlers of Catan.

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Personally, I was happy to get to try Far Cry 5, Hokuto ga Gotoku (Fist of the North Star), and Attack on Titan 2. I’ve been considering buying these three games, once released, for a long time now and I’m glad that I got to actually try them so I can make final decisions about each game.

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This was a good Taipei Game Show, but it was not the best year I’ve ever attended. In a lot of ways it made it seem like the best games currently on the docket are already out, Monster Hunter, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and so on, rather than that we have some amazing games coming soon, which we absolutely do.  Maybe the timing was just a bit off this year or the very recent releases seemed more important than unreleased titles, but this TGS felt like I paid more for atmosphere than gaming news compared to previous years I’ve attended.

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