2019.03.04Destiny 2: Forsaken -- Is Bungie Pushing Away the Casual Player?

Bungie, the gaming studio spun off from Microsoft and responsible for the HALO and DESTINY franchises, seems to have answered a call from more dedicated players for a more challenging gameplay experience, leaving the less committed (read: people with jobs and responsibilities) behind.

In a recent season of Destiny 2, Bungie introduced The Black Forge -- a new dimension of the game involving an entirely new class of weapons, but requiring the attainment of 600 power level for character participation. I spent that entire season trying to advance my character to 600 so that I can even have a shot at scoring one of these new weapons (forgive the pun), and opening new caches that appear from time to time.

Part of getting to 600 is fighting in the Crucible. Every time I did, I was up against people who were at 650 power -- I was at 550. I got crushed every time I played.

Adding insult to injury, I had acccepted a challenge from the Drifter that requires a number of Crucible opponent kills. The rub is that if you are on a team that loses its challenge, your completion percentage drops. The highest I ever got was 4%; I'm flat-lined.

Yes, I'm mad.

"Grinding" is a term used in the gaming community to represent the work you have to invest in a particular goal, like getting through a level or unlocking a legendary item. Players get frustrated when that relative level seems unusually high, or when, in the case of Star Wars: Battlefront II, they feel coerced into paying to unlock items or characters that they would otherwise have to spend many hours grinding at the game to earn. In the context of Destiny 2: Forsaken, players (besides me) have been complaining about the amount of grinding to reach 600 and to complete the Volundr mission.

According to the new storyline, you must help bring the Black Forges back online by starting forges hidden throughout the galaxy. The first forge is Volundr in the EDZ. Starting it is a 3-person challenge that really requires significant experience, skill, and some CBD oil -- it's pure infuriation (again, getting crushed every time I play -- even at 600!!!). And it's complete bullshit: You really need a power level of over 610 and a lot of experience in this challenge, and enough luck to join a group of others with the same experience and skill, to complete the challenge.

I nearly threw my controller in anger a few times last night. And that's a warning sign for me.

BUNGIE, I fear I'm not long for your worlds. I'm not a college kid who spends all day playing and skipping classes. I work over 40 hours a week and have a family to support and a house to clean. I play in the evenings to unwind and have a good time. THIS -- this is not unwinding. And I'm definitely not having a good time. I understand you have a community that needs new challenges to keep the experience fresh; but you need to make sure those new challenges don't alienate those of us who maybe only get to put in an hour or so at night when the kids are asleep, or a few hours on the weekend. We need you to understand that we're relatively underpowered -- so maybe don't put us into Crucible matches where everyone on the opposing team outpowers us by over 100. We're still with you because we love this game. But we'll eventually reach a point where it's not fun anymore, and we'll go play other games that ARE.

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2018.11.11Destiny 2: Forsaken -- Hellas Basin

"Destiny 2: Forsaken has been an action-packed and tear-jerking addition to the Destiny franchise."

I still believe that. But lately, I've been getting tired.

There are two "quests" at Hellas Basin on Mars. Both are awful grinds -- Bad enough that I probably won't play anything on Mars again once I'm done.

When you first look at the map of Hellas Basin, you'll notice a curious fraction in large numbers at lower right. You'll discover the fraction refers to a total of 45 memory fragments. The fragments, which resemble trophies, are scattered about the map. If you're like me, they've been right in your face in oft-travelled areas; you've seen them but didn't know what they were. Then you shot one and noticed it takes damage. And maybe you figured out that the fraction changed when you returned to the map. Or, maybe you were smarter than I am, and went straight to Google to get the scoop. I couldn't blame you.

I held out for as long as I could before I finally had my fill of searching for them. I think I'd discovered about 20 of them before finding instructions online listing the locations of every last one of them. This is how I learned of the prize: a really nice sword called WORLDLINE ZERO. Through the instructions I found, I discovered that there was absolutely no way in Hellas I was going to find all of them on my own -- a few of them are completely obscured from view, some requiring knowledge of hidden tricks -- the only way to find them is to follow the instructions. (I'm convinced these hidden items are what sells guidebooks.)

Collecting the memory fragments was as simple as destroying them with the right kind of weapon. I mean simple in theory. There was only one step, really -- as long as you had the right kind of ammunition.

The other quest is not so "easy": It calls for the recovery of 40 sleeper nodes -- they appear as black and silver floating diamonds. When you approach one, you'll see a prompt that mentions requirement of a special frequency to open it. The nodes are scattered throughout the map, some in places you'd never find without the kind of guidance I mentioned above.

Finding 40 of these is a huge grind, because you must generate the override frequency through conversion of resonance stems. Each override frequency requires four stems -- which are awarded either singly or in pairs upon completion of public events, including the appearance of Cabal drilling rigs, disruption of hive witches' rituals, or recovery of fallen WARSATs at Hellas Basin, and excluding the escalation protocol events. You'll need to fight in somewhere between 80 and 160 public events to generate enough resonance stems to make the material needed just to go look -- and listen -- for the nodes.

As one finds more and more nodes, the probability that one will continue finding new node after new node diminishes. Combining resonance stems does not guarantee creation of a node you haven't already discovered. So forget what I said about having to fight in between 80 and 160 public events -- it's some WAY bigger number for sure.

At this point I've found nearly 30 of the 40 nodes. I haven't consulted Google yet for any tips, and I don't know what the reward is once all 40 are found -- but unless there's a cheat that gives me 120 resonance parts all at once, it doesn't seem like the rest of the knowledge will matter much: at 3/4 of the way through, I can tell you confidently that I'm really, really tired of Hellas Basin.

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2018.10.10Destiny 2: Forsaken

Destiny 2: Forsaken has been an action-packed and tear-jerking addition to the Destiny franchise.

The trailer:

Here's the harder nerd stuff: As a Hunter, I couldn't be more upset they killed off Cayde-6. As a fan of the game, I couldn't be more upset they killed off Cayde-6. After running the length of the main scenario and tracking down the people responsible (yes, this is spoiler-free), you're left with the pursuit of Cayde-6's prized weapon: The Ace of Spades (clearly shown in the video).

This is the annoying part: the pursuit of the weapon became a drawn out series of carrot-and-stick events that became a major inconvenience. Destiny 2 has something for everybody -- but not everybody is going to want to play at everything the game has to offer. Personally, I don't really enjoy PVP matches. I'm a casual player -- I play in the evenings for a little while after kiddo goes to bed, probably like most other dads who want a little virtual pew-pew-pew in their lives. PVP puts me up against pizza and Red Bull-fueled college kids who play for hours and hours and hours every day. I routinely get beaten pretty badly in those matches (I got my backside handed to me by one guy whose power score was 600! I didn't know that was even a thing!). But to progress in quests like the Ace of Spades, I play them not because I want to. I'm sure my gameplay improves the more I play them, and I appreciate that, but it gets kinda hard to appreciate incremental improvement when you're spending most of the match respawning. I stink at PVP and I own that.

The biggest note about Forsaken, though, has to be the task at the close of the pursuit of the weapon. It's tantamount to an extended good-bye from an old friend.

There was one thing in that whole task that has made me think there's a chance we'll see a Cayde-7. And, honestly, I hope we do. I'd been a little suspicious about what was going on with the Cayde character -- how it was that he was so central to the plot, yet was relegated to a small space in the hangar for the past year or more. Contrast with Zavala, who has the equivalent of an entire pier all to himself. For me, what made Cayde-6 special was the humor. Fillion infused Cayde-6 with tremendous humor, and it was something that made me want to play and keeping playing the Destiny franchise.

Why is Cayde-6 gone? Did the players tire of his wit? I looked to the Internet for answers. Turns out Fillion didn't do any of the voice work for Forsaken1. But, bigger than that, Bungie reports they wanted to create a storyline that would hit players directly in the feels2.

Well, it worked.

In Bungie's first smash hit, Halo, you played as Master Chief, a character who was completely ambiguous on purpose so that the player had no preconceived notions about what s/he looked like. The effort was designed so that players could have no trouble inserting themselves into the role. The trouble with that, I find, is that I had no connection with it. Master Chief offered a suit for us to wear, but not much beyond that. The Destiny franchise is very different, because from the start we had a character we could like and identify with -- a guy (an Exo, not a person) with a great sense of humor and a weirdness that made you constantly question whether the guy was an idiot or a genius. (I'm still collecting expired ramen coupons, thinking they may be worth something someday.) Cayde-6 was no suit for the player to wear. Cayde-6 was interactive, and... alive.

My concern now is what the future holds. Destiny without Cayde-n is just another kill-kill-kill game. I can get those anywhere. Cayde-6 brought the franchise to life. One of the commenters on the PlayStation blog felt much the same: "Cayde-6 is my favorite, as a hunter… he was my mentor through the last several years across each game." Truth.

Ballsy move to take Cayde-6 "off the board" (Bungie's words). At this point, I have Cayde-6's gun, ship, and emptiness. I want my mentor back.

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2018.03.11On Pokemon GO!

I've been playing Pokémon GO! for two years this coming July -- started playing as a way to increase connection with kiddo and to add some fun distraction to exercise. Since then, she's just about stopped playing, but recently I've hit a significant milestone.

It's been a very long road, but I reached Level 30 late last week! And I bought the sweater to prove it!

Image credit: Niantic

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2018.03.04On Wolfenstein II


I am a late adopter of this title. I didn't really care too much about it at launch because I was so heavy into Destiny 2. But Destiny 2 is very heavy on Internet traffic, and my wireless connection to my console has been suffering of late... so I downloaded the insanely large Wolfenstein II. And wow am I glad I did.

It's a fantastic game -- I actually LOL'd and applauded the birthday scene -- and it plays much much longer than I thought it would... though there's one thing about it that makes me nuts: use of the Enigma terminal is very poorly explained and the interface is difficult to understand.

image credit: GameRevolution

Honestly, this part is awful and frustrating. Most people are going to burn through Enigma codes simply because the interface is difficult to understand. There are a number of posts online about it -- just Googling "Wolfenstein II enigma" was sufficient to return several. Three big notes I'd offer about using the terminal are:

  1. The interface is basically broken into two halves of the screen. Except for the progress bar at the top of the screen, the top half is the series of codes you must match, moving from left to right and numbered 01 through 07. Each code sort of resembles a domino piece, with a top and bottom series of dots.

    The bottom half of the screen is the confusing part: it is comprised of two rows of patterns -- an upper row and a lower row. Your task is to make the patterns IN THE CENTER match the numbered part of the code you're working on.

    So now I can describe the image above: the player has solved the first part of the code. The "01" section is comprised of three dots arranged diagonally on top of six dots grouped in two columns of three. On the bottom half of the screen, the player has aligned those two halves at center, which has completed that section.

  2. In that bottom half, your left thumbstick controls the movement of the upper series of codes, and your right thumbstick controls the movement of the lower series of codes. The game developers have reversed the directions the sticks report when you move each row. In other words, moving the left thumbstick to the left moves the upper row to the right, not to the left as you would expect; and the same is true for the right thumbstick moving the lower row of codes.

  3. Your time for solving each of the seven bits of the code is limited -- you only have a few seconds for each. My advice: if you're having trouble getting your bearings on the machine, it's better to return to the list of Ubercommanders than to burn one of your codes. On the XBOX ONE, you leave the decryption screen by tapping the "B" button. This will take you back to the list. Then go back into the decryption screen with your quantity of collected codes intact.
Surely, the developers wanted you to have to figure out the "enigma" as part of the gaming experience, but in my case, I burned through a lot of collected codes just in trying to understand the terminal. The terminal is important because it allows you to discover more precise locations of Ubercommanders, and to then perform missions to neutralize them. These missions allowed me to keep playing the game after I'd completed the story. But because I'd burned so many Enigma cards, I didn't get to some of the Ubercommander missions.

Now that I have a good handle on the Enigma machine, I'll probably go back in and start the game over again. I had a great time playing it.

Like it's predecessor, the game is hella gruesome... but there are some very, very funny scenes that make the experience richer. The funny scenes are funny enough that I'd want to share them with my family, but the gore is gory enough to really make me think twice about playing it in their company.



Image credit: Bethesda Software/MachineGames

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2018.01.24QUAKE. Yes, you read QUAKE.

I still love this game.

I just played it all the way through on my Windows 10 laptop. For some perspective, I was introduced to the game 20 years ago, and played it then on my Pentium-133 running Windows 98.

By the way, it's the same executable from way back in the day -- I just took a chance on installing the disc, and it works! About the only thing is the resolution. The best resolution I can get is 1024 x 768. The game simply doesn't understand the wider screen ratios of today.



Image credit: id Software

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2017.11.17Honored to become Clan Admin

Yesterday I was invited to become an admin for a Destiny 2 clan I'd joined a short while ago. I'd received an invitation to join after doing one of the Crucible matches with a current member.

The nice thing about being in a clan is that everybody benefits from the really hardcore players. Clan members earn points for their clan while they play, and once a certain number of points are accumulated for the week, everybody benefits. Plus, you have people at the ready to join you on group ventures.

Of course, a clan needs communication. Bungie created a companion app for Destiny with messaging support for clans. I've mostly seen it used for coordination of when to join up to do strikes and so forth.

All of this doesn't necessarily commit me to becoming some sort of hardcore gamer. I look at the clan as an asset for joint ventures and as a body of knowledge. I'm pleased to have joined, and am honored to have been asked to become an admin.



Image credit: Bungie

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2017.11.11Won my Poker Game

A pair of bullets. Image credit:

Something was with me tonight. I don't know what it was.

At tonight's meeting of our monthly poker game, I completely dominated. I've no idea why. I never have before.

Tonight's game was smaller than usual -- I'm sure that was part of it. But I was still playing against some really solid players (for our league) -- so I was surprised I took out everybody and got to the top.

And that's a significant feat -- usually different people take people out of the game. But in tonight's game, I took out everybody. That's got to be pretty rare.

Of course, it's poker -- much of this has to do with the cards you get. Most nights, I get crappy cards. Tonight I got crappy cards, too -- but I was able to play some of those hands smartly enough to add to my stack. I didn't get GREAT cards -- I think I had a pair of Kings at one point. Never saw two bullets. But I ended up with A-something a fair few times.

So tonight, for the first time ever, I came home with the win. Only one other time I came close -- I got to the final two and my opponent, who was tired and had a long drive ahead of him, threw me an extra few bucks for giving him the "W." I usually play like crap, so I didn't mind.

I can say pretty confidently that my play has improved. When I first came to the game, I barely knew anything about it. I've grown to love the people in my group, and I look forward to playing rotten cards and laughing a lot. It's my one night out each month, and I really look forward to it.

Next month, the bounty is on ME. That's new!



Image credit:

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2017.09.03Destiny 2 Trailer Awesomeness

BRAVO to Bungie and Activision for their humorous approach to some of the Destiny 2 trailers!



Image credit: "Cayde-6's Drink" by WildeThang

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2017.08.16HITMAN Reboot

Every now and then I surf the available games on the XBOX ONE, and sometimes I find something I hadn't seen or played in a long time. This is how I found out SQUARE ENIX has dressed HITMAN in a nice, shiny new suit.

HITMAN has been around for a long time -- but I really like the makeover its been given. And SQUARE ENIX changed their model from a single, standalone game to a more episodic approach. Now, like television, they offer the option of buying single missions ("episodes") for $10, or buying a bundle of missions (a "season"). That's nice for people who want to try the game out (at $10) before committing $60 for the equivalent of a full game.

Another thing that really struck me about the new version: during the introduction screens, SQUARE ENIX has included a brief blurb about how its company is comprised of people of different derivations and religious beliefs. I think that's a very nice touch -- it underscores that they've produced this game as a work of fiction without malice toward anyone (despite the subject matter).

Indeed, the different scenarios seem to occur in different places around the globe -- I'm playing a scenario set in Morocco with targets that include a Moroccan army general and a financier from somewhere in Scandanavia. Before that I had to get rid of a European male and female at a fashion show someplace in Europe, and an engineer holed up in his family's estate in Italy.

For the uninitiated, HITMAN may seem like a standard kill-kill-kill kind of game. It's not -- not really. It's a puzzle game, just with a grisly subject matter. Your objective is to eliminate a target -- but how you do it is up to you. You may be direct and use a weapon, or you may get creative and, say, loosen the bolts holding a giant speaker on the wall, or unhitch the winch suspending the chandelier, to get the same result with the appearance of an awful accident instead of outright murder.

That doesn't necessarily mean HITMAN is fun for the whole family -- apart from the subject matter, the language can be coarse, and its obviously violent.

HITMAN is a treat for the problem-solvers, but it's not a game I'd play while my mother is visiting or kids are about.

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2017.08.02Pokemon Raid Battles are FUN!

Laurel and I were driving by a public park we know to be loaded with Pokestops earlier when we saw a long line of cars and a big group of people. Sitting at corner stoplight, we opened up our Pokemon apps and saw there was a raid battle going on against a large, firebird-like creature called a Moltres. So we turned the car around and joined the group. Everybody else there all seemed to know each other -- all were adults, and all were participating in a coordinated raid against this powerful opponent.

One person signaled the rest of the group to join the battle -- this was key for all of us to join the game together. And together we brought down two really big Pokemon. Some had better luck than others in throwing extra balls to capture a less powerful version of the creature for their own collections -- Laurel succeeded there. I did not.

Point is, it was fun! The people were of varying ages, but most were about our age. Some had kids. Everybody seemed to get along well. After the raid, they all loaded up in their cars and headed toward a local restaurant -- to fight another raid!

They're all part of a local group that stays in contact over social media. It was fun to be a part of it for a short while -- perhaps we'll seek them out for more fun adventures!

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