Tag Archives: multiplayer

Dragalia Lost is pretty, confusing, and pretty confusing

Nintendo has released a couple of games for mobile devices now, namely Super Mario Run, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Dragalia Lost, and I finally have a phone fancy enough to play ’em. Suck it, Windows phone…just kidding, I loved that phone mostly because it had games on it that connected with the Xbox Achievements system. That said, I’ve only touched the free-to-start version of Super Mario Run and found it both perfunctory and fine, but nothing worth dropping some bucks on. Hmm, I probably should uninstall it, seeing as I haven’t touched it in months. Anyways…Dragalia Lost. Hoo boy.

It’s old-school fantasy stuff, with the story taking place in Alberia, a kingdom where dragons live. Now, all royal members in Alberia have the Dragon Transformation ability, where they can wield a dragon’s power by forming a pact with it to borrow their form in battle. This is just something that happens and is accepted by all. Well, one day, a strange occurrence begins to happen in Alberia, with the Holy Shard protecting the capital beginning to lose its power. In order to save his people, the Seventh Prince, who has not made a pact with a dragon yet, sets off on his Dragon Selection Trial. It’s not the worst setup for an RPG though I am growing tired of magical crystals and shards being the McGuffin to get the plot going. Yes, Final Fantasy…I blame you.

How does this “big” game on a little screen play? Fairly straightforward. Players create teams of colorful characters obtained either through gameplay or by spending in-game currency via a randomized gacha machine-style store to assist the Seventh Prince on his mission. These teams are used to take on a series of bite-sized, action-oriented levels featuring very basic fighting mechanics. Mainly attacking enemies and collecting coins/XP. Players swipe to move, tap to attack, and press buttons via the UI to activate skills or temporarily transform into a giant beast. Yup, sometimes it’s a dragon, and sometimes it is clearly not a dragon, but the game still considers it so. Animal classification is tricky.

If you aren’t working your way through these quick levels or reading the game’s dailogue-heavy story chapters, there’s a lot of other things to manage or tinker with in Dragalia Lost. Most of it is seemingly designed to be confusing from the start. Everything can be upgraded–characters, weapons, dragon forms, dragon skills, etc. There is so much upgrading to do; however, this is a free-to-play mobile game, which means players need to grind out levels, materials, and partake in special event dungeons to acquire the majority of these essential upgrading items. Or, you know, spend real money to buy everything you want. Evidently, you eventually unlock a castle section that can help generate resources, but I’m not there yet. Nor will I ever be.

All items that you will want to upgrade share some key concepts with each other, of which the easiest to grok is enhancing weapons with materials. Each kind of item is upgradeable through the use of various rarities of material, such as crystals for adventurers. The next shared concept is enhancing items with the same class of items. Fine, fine. For instance, you can strengthen weapons by sacrificing other, weaker ones to it. Basically feeding a less-than-powerful weapon to the same type, like repairing guns in Fallout: New Vegas. The final communal upgrade path is unbinding, a term that kind of breaks my brain. Basically, this is how you get past an item’s eventual level cap. With unbinding, you will need a copy of an item to raise how much experience it can gain. It also doesn’t help that the menu UI is a little difficult to navigate, and there’s far too many things to click on at any one moment.

Here’s what really rubbed me the wrong way or just in general confused the dragon droppings out of me in Dragalia Lost. Every time I went to do something new, whether it was a quest or explore a just-revealed menu option…the game prompted me that it had to download more data. Sometimes this would take a minute or two, sometimes it was upwards of ten minutes if it was a sizeable chunk of stuff to install. I thought the whole point of downloading the game from the get-go was to download the whole game. I’m not a big fan of this piecemeal method. In fact, as I was writing this post, I went to uninstall the game and was prompted, from the home screen, that it needed to download more data to continue forward. Funk that.

Still, Dragalia Lost both looks and sounds amazing. The song that plays on the home screen is beautiful and worth the download. Or you can click this link and save some space on your phone. Everything else comes off as both a bit one-note or ultra head-scratchy, and I’d prefer something more in the middle, a little easier to digest. Maybe the Shining Force Classics from Sega–consisting of Shining in the Darkness, Shining Force, and Shining Force II, and which I have already downloaded and waiting for me to tap on–will do the trick. For now, I’ll say goodbye to Dragalia Lost and hello to more room on my cellular device. Hello!

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Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Atomic Ninjas

Atomic Ninjas, which is a pretty cool name, one I’m a fan of mostly because I am noodling with a new small comic book about bad ninja-themed jokes, has the most uninspired story. It goes like this: a security guard at a nuclear plant falls asleep on the big red button that one should never, ever push and the planet explodes. However, not all have perished. Thanks to their natural survival instincts, ninjas are mystically altered. And for some reason, they must now fight each other. That’s it. You get nothing more than that to go off of, which is mostly fine considering this is a brawler a la Super Smash Bros. Melee, but c’mon. Try a little harder.

After a quick tutorial with your sensei, an old man who speaks in broken English, your only gameplay options are to have an online match or a local match using friends on the couch or adding in bots to the mix. I tried twice to get an online match going, but it doesn’t seem like Atomic Ninjas has a huge fan base. The game came out in 2013, but it’s one of the newer additions to the PlayStation Plus family of downloads. At one point, someone did join my lobby, and their username had the word Vita in it, but they quickly left after nobody else showed up. Oh well. So it was off to experience this brawler via battling bots.

The main action plays out like this: you and three other players (or AI-controlled bots) are dumped into a somewhat small arena and must destroy each other by flinging them off the limited number of platforms and knocking them into the laser beams on the outskirts. Rinse and repeat, with a few different modes thrown in for good measure, like king of the hill or capture the flag. The premise remains the same, and the focus is always on multiplayer. There are three weapons to use (punch, shuriken, and a force grab to chuck boxes and knock foes back) and three gadgets (grappling hook, wall claw, and rocket-backpack) to help you traverse through the area quicker.

Alas, the action is repetitive and somewhat uninteresting against bots, and the arenas aren’t anything exciting to explore. The ninja costumes you unlock are just that, cosmetic, and don’t really add anything new to the experience. Also. the camera is zoomed in pretty far, which makes figuring out where enemies are a little difficult to discern. Lastly, there’s just not much to do other than what I’ve already described, and the rewards for leveling up are so minimal they might as well not exist at all. Sorry, Atomic Ninjas. Maybe you should have let that massive explosion take you in the end.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Snakeball

I’m pretty sure I’ve never played the original Snake, having only touched some updated version of it on a cell phone many years back. Snake‘s a pretty simple concept: the player controls a dot, square, or object on a bordered plane. As it moves forward, it leaves a trail behind, resembling a moving snake. In some versions, the end of the trail is in a fixed position, so the snake continually gets longer as it moves. Another common take on the mechanic is that the snake has a specific length, so there is a moving tail that is a fixed number of units away from the head. Either way, the player loses when the snake runs into the screen’s border, a trail or other obstacle, or itself. According to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia, there are over 300 Snake-like games for iOS alone. Oh me, oh my.

Which brings us to…Snakeball. This one evidently uses most of the mechanics of the late 1970s Snake, with the goal being taking balls and throwing them into the hole at the center of the stage. There are variations on this gameplay, but the main goal stays the same throughout, accompanied by a flashy disco graphic style. Stages take place on disco floors that Tony Manero would greatly approve of. You can select between 16 different characters, all with a bunch of color schemes, and, evidently, if you had access to a PlayStation Eye camera, which I do not, you could snap a photo of your face–or anything else you found photogenic–and plop it onto one of the riders. Developed by Gamoola Soft, this is very much a casual game, which is why I played an hour or so of it, saw what it had to offer, and uninstalled it from my PlayStation 3, as per the goal of these themed posts.

There are three main modes in Snakeball: Snakeball, Challenge, and Ball Frenzy. Snakeball is the multiplayer mode, where up to 8 players can play online; however, since this game came out at the end of 2007 and I was playing it for the first time in 2018, a decade later, there was nobody online to play against. Shocking, right? You can battle bots though it isn’t too exciting. The Challenge mode tasks players with navigating through levels to open up a teleporter and go to the next level, with 14 levels in total to complete. Ball Frenzy is basically a remake of the classic Snake, with 10 levels to conquer. The goal of this mode is to collect all 1,000 balls in the level without crashing and destroying the ship.

Did you know that, for a time there, Trophies weren’t a thing on the PlayStation 3? They kind of only came around after the Xbox 360’s Achievements system began picking up steam as Sony wanted in on the extra stuff action. A lot of games got patched to include poppable Trophies, and all games going forward seem to now have ’em. However, Snakeball was not one that got graced with a patch, and so it is just this very straightforward experience that is mostly fine, but a bit lifeless and repetitive and lacking goals.

I’ll probably play some strange, updated version of Snake down the road. It’s inevitable. However, that said, I’ll probably never touch Snakeball ever again.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Starwhal

Starwhal is an easy game to purge from my PlayStation Plus collection on the PlayStation 3. Why’s that? Because it’s heavily dependent on local multiplayer for fun times, and I have no fleshy friends to join me on the couch and play against. The entire point of this fake future sport that forces narwhals to battle each other to the death is to poke each space narwhal–a starwhal, if you will–in the heart with their pointy horns. Do this enough times and be the last one standing to claim victory and enjoy a buffet of whatever it is that narwhals enjoy eating. Hold on, I’m actually looking this up.

Seafood. A lot of seafood, like squid, Greenland halibut, shrimp, Arctic cod, rockfish, flounder, and crab. I’d enjoy some of that too, honestly.

Anyways, the game’s options are limited. You can play a deathmatch mode either versus your fleshy friends or add in AI-controlled opponents. I tried this three or four times and didn’t really enjoy it. The starwhals are purposely difficult to control, and I never found myself getting a good grip on steering them in the right direction. They feel unmanageable and remind me of trying to guide a squire on a leash across a field full of nuts and other squirrels. There’s a whole lot of flopping about. If I managed to damage an enemy, I promise you it was purely accidental, and I didn’t win a single match against the computer. Oh well.

There’s also over 30 Obstacle and Target challenge levels to hone your combat skills, but again, I struggled with simply controlling my green-colored, wig-wearing starwhal from one side of the screen to the other. Couldn’t even beat the gold time for the first challenge area. I figured they were only going to ramp up in difficulty after that and decided this was just not for me. Similar to things like Sportsfriends and Crawl, these types of gaming experiences are better with friends, where you can together laugh and cry out in frustration as your starwhal flops the wrong way, causing you to lose the match. Without them there, it’s just me and a growing grimace, listening to some pretty rad tunes.

Paulwhal, out!

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

Ultimately, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a whole lot of nonsense

Sigh. Well, here we are. Some nearly 80+ hours later–and I’m not including the time I put into the PlayStation 3 version, which was all kinds of borked–and I’m just about done with Dragon Age: Inquisition. I want to be done-done, but there are a few things left to see and try, such as the fact that this game has an online multiplayer component to it, and after putting this much time into the bloated beast I feel compelled to see it all…because I never want to go through this again. Ever. Y’all heard me. Sorry, Achievements for beating the story on higher difficulties–ain’t gonna happen.

Anyways, I have a lot to say about Dragon Age: Inquisition. Probably too much. As mentioned above, I’ve put a good number of hours into this thing, almost on par with Disney Magical World 2. In the end, the latter is the much better game of tasks and rewards, dressing your avatar up in various outfits, and engaging combat. Yes, those are fighting words, and I’m ready to fight. That said, there’s a good chance I’ll forget something and that this post will be somewhat frantic and unorganized. I apologize in advance, but if you continue on and read through this whole dang thing, grinding out each and every word, I promise you a reward at the end: a weapon, named something like M’ahlbrogger Gur’s Justice or Stormstrangler and in purple font, but several levels lower than the weapon you are currently equipped with. Sorry. You can immediately mark it as junk and sell it to the nearest vendor. Or destroy when your inventory becomes full. I understand. After all, that’s how the game is played.

Let’s talk about story first, however, since this is a massive roleplaying game set in a fantasy land full of magic and magical beings. That means story is big, larger than life, and it definitely is just that. I found it daunting early on, less as time progressed. Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s story follows you, known as the Inquisitor, on his or her journey to settle the civil unrest on the continent of Thedas and close a mysterious tear in the sky called the Breach, which is, unfortunately for all that live in this world, unleashing demons. The Inquisitor is viewed by some as the “Chosen One” and because of this forms the titular Inquisition in an attempt to stop Corypheus, an ancient darkspawn, who opened the breach to conquer Thedas all by himself. Phew. Got that? Basically, good versus evil, with some shades of gray sprinkled throughout.

The narrative was somewhat simple to follow…early on, when you only had a small base in Haven and a limited number of areas to explore and side quests to deal with. However, once Haven bites the bullet and you are forced to move into a so-not-like-Suikoden abandoned castle in Skyhold, the story stops feeling important. Sure, to everyone in this world, it is of the upmost importance that this Breach is closed, but the game doesn’t really hammer this home; instead, you are given plenty of breathing room, as well as meaningless quest after quest after quest to do because…well, I guess people like doing a lot of different things in RPGs. I do too–I just prefer that there’s meaning, a reason. In every big area the Inquisition can run around in, you can do lots of things, such as: go discover every region, establish a number of camps, complete requisition recipes, claim a bunch of historical sites as yours or at the very least under your protection, scan for shards, scrounge up all the shards, complete a select amount of Astrarium puzzles to unlock a hidden cave, figure out illustrated treasure maps, close Breach rifts, harvest plants and minerals, ping the area for hidden items, loot dead enemies, recruit agents, and more. All of that is of course mixed in with normal combat and main quests that often have you fighting tough bosses or doing specific things, like impressing royalty while simultaneously investigating something mischievous.

Hey, while we’re at it, please help fill out this timely and totally relevant poll of mine:

 

Right. I’ll also say that about fifty hours into the game…I started skipping cutscenes and mashing my way through dialogue trees to get through them as fast as possible. I knew that, if I wanted to maintain good relationships with everyone and be mostly neutral to a lot of situations, I had to select the dialogue option to the top right most of the time. You know that’s a bad sign for me if I’m just trying to rush through it all. Several years ago, I remember being shocked to discover a buddy of mine doing this for Fallout: New Vegas, a game I loved to listen to and ate up every conversation, but maybe that felt to him like Dragon Age: Inquisition did to me after so many hours in: just wasting my time. Also, I’m evidently not alone on this matter.

Okay, let’s switch over to combat, as that is a big part of all of this, and I might even go as far as to say it gets in the way nine times out of ten. In Dragon Age: Origins, combat was something you paused the action for and planned out, to ensure your survival. I skipped Dragon Age II so I don’t know how it was there, but here, in this one…there’s barely any strategy involved. I’ll present to you how I tackled every single encounter in this game and did more than fine. It went like this:

  1. Enter combat.
  2. Hold RT to attack targeted enemy from a distance with bow and arrow.
  3. Use three specific powers, generally in this order–Explosive Shot, Long Shot, Leaping Shot.
  4. Continue holding RT and wait for cooldowns to cool down.
  5. Rinse and repeat.
  6. (Sometimes I’d poison my weapon or use Full Draw, but these were rare moments in time and only when I noticed the icon for them was ready.)

I only occasionally switched to other members of my party to give them a health potion, but never bothered to control them individually or give them specific tasks to do. They seemed fine on their own. Again, about halfway through my journey, I gave up caring and just used the “auto level up” button on Dorian, Varric, and Blackwall, the only three dudes I stuck with for the long haul. Considering we took down 10 dragons, over 75 Breach rifts, Great Bears, and the final boss rather quickly, I guess it all worked out fine. However, when it came to trying to run to a specific area or get a bunch of shards, combat just got in the way and slowed progress down. There’s no easy way to duck out of an encounter, so you might as well finish it, otherwise it feels like running through molasses if you try to leave the area.

Romance was a big part of Dragon Age: Origins, and it is not the main focus here. Gone are the days of giving a woman shoes and watching a meter go up. That’s actually a good thing because that’s simply not how a relationship works. However, you still earn likes and dislikes from party members based on actions you take in the story and conversations, most of which you can enter a romantic relationship with–I went with that bearded beauty Blackwall. This romance option was probably the most interesting part of Dragon Age: Inquisition all in all, as I found his character intriguing and mysterious, and there’s a quest chain to follow after you and he do the dirty deed, which really goes places and changes his future involvement in the campaign. However, I never felt compelled to dig into anyone else’s backstory. There were too many people to pick from, and because of that I went with one only and dug deep. Sorry, Sera, I’m sure you had a zany bunch of quests to do.

The crafting system is terrible. There, I said it. I struggled to figure out how to do most of it, though tinting armor and weapons to be a certain color was fun. Basically, you have a recipe to make a weapon, and depending on what materials you put into it, you’ll get different results. Obviously if you use higher-rated materials like dragon scales, you’ll make a stronger thing. That said, there was no easy way to compare this weapon-in-progress with one you had equipped, so you had to remember the stats and hope for the best. A majority of the time I ended up wasting dragon-related materials on a weapon that still turned out to be weaker than the unique bow or staff I got from beating a story mission’s boss. In fact, the entire UI for equipping weapons and armor is frustratingly slow to slog through, and I found myself storing my unique, purple-font weapons away without so much of a glance. What did it matter? I was taking down everything in my Inquisitor’s path without a struggle.

Let’s see. What else, what else. Oh yeah, Dragon Age: Inquisition is broken or always on the edge of breaking. Like an ice cream truck on a thin sheet of ice. It’s a game that asks players to do some platforming even though it was clearly not designed to be that kind of experience. Here’s me trying to collect a shard. Speaking to people can be problematic too, with the dialogue wheel sometimes not activating or activating in the middle of nowhere. Here’s me talking to a dude and then suddenly entering combat. And sometimes you just want to sand surf. Several times, the game crashed to the Xbox One dashboard without warning. Thankfully, it autosaves frequently, and I got used to making hard saves.

DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition has been weird. This version that I bought last year during the Black Friday sale came with everything: Jaws of Hakkon, Dragonslayer, Spoils of the Avvar, The Descent, and Trespasser. Since I wasn’t playing the game from release day with an eye to the sky for more, I didn’t know what was what and what order things should be played in. I also got a whole bunch of special armor recipes, mounts, and things like that right from the get-go. I did know that one piece of DLC was only accessible after completing the main quests. I’ve now completed all the DLC, but finishing Jaws of Hakkon and The Descent very late into the game, with the former being finished after I beat the main campaign and Trespasser, sure felt like a waste of time and energy. There was no point to even looting any enemies or chests because I wasn’t going to play any further after I finished them off.

And now I’m just going to cop this style from The A.V. Club and leave everyone with some…

Stray observations

  • Clicking in the left analog stick to ping the environment for interactive items is officially one of my least favorite things in modern game design
  • I rode a mount two times total, one for a story mission in the Hinterlands and the other when messing around in a menu and accidentally hitting the button
  • I’m the Inquisitor, the Chosen One, leader of a great army, and I have to pick all these flowers and rocks myself?
  • I killed a bunch of nugs near the end of my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition to help pop the Trial of the Emperor Achievement, and I feel like a monster
  • Anthem better not be Dragon Age IV, but sci-fi, or I’ll cry on my controller and break it
  • My character’s name is Felena, but now I wish I had named her Felicia, so I could say that thing all the kids are these days

Trying my best to be a team player and not get hypothermia in The Division

tom-clancy-the-division-survival-gd-impressions

Tom Clancy’s The Division sure has had an interesting year and change, and I’m actually quite mixed on the game. Like a piece of delicious chocolate that is marred by the powerful taste of disgusting coconut, there’s good and there’s bad. It did make my list of my five favorites for all of 2016, but I know that a lot of that backing had to do with simply just how much time I put into it over the few months I dug deep over getting all them dumb collectibles. However, I quickly found that the end-game material was less appealing and eventually drifted away from snowy, apocalyptic New York City as my shallow pool of online friends greatly dwindled, returning briefly to play a bit of Underground, its first expansion last summer.

Since then, two more expansions have dropped, namely Survival and Last Stand, bringing about a number of changes to The Division‘s inner workings and plethora of systems involving math, as well as making running around the Big Apple worthwhile even after hitting the level cap. Well, not entirely worthwhile, but more. There’s still a hollowness to the running around, but at least new meters are filling up and check-boxes are being checked on a frequent basis. I’m really good at the daily challenges involving destroying weapons and gear for crafting materials that I’ll never ever use; I can hold the stick in for days.

Well, instead of devoting a post to each piece of DLC and clogging up Grinding Down in all things The Division, I figured I’d lump everything together for one single critical damage attack since I’ve now gotten to dabble in every expansion though I do not claim I was often successful. In fact, I mostly died a bunch. Still, there are thoughts, so out into the contaminated snow we go…

Underground was the first expansion released for The Division and focuses on exploring the uncharted underworld of New York City. Players are tasked with chasing after enemies with up to three other Agents through a maze of tunnels and subways. Or, if you are like me, you’ll play it solo and on the easiest difficulty in hopes of finding all the collectibles which, thanks to the randomly generated levels, are found only on a wing and a prayer. I think I’ve collected five of one type and four of another so far and have leveled up my overall Underground rank to about 13. As you level up this rank, you can modify each run with restrictions, like being unable to use your abilities or even have a mini-map, and being successful with these turned on results in greater rewards. There are a few scenarios you can play through, and a solo run with no modifiers can easily be completed in 10-15 minutes, which, when there was not much else to do in The Division, was enough to occupy my brain and hands for a bit.

In the Survival expansion, players must–and hear me out first–survive as long as possible after a horrible helicopter crash. I’m not sure why I included the adjective horrible there, as if there is such a thing as a delightful helicopter crash. Anyways, this expansion is quite different from Underground, as well as the main campaign. You are alone in an extremely hostile environment, and the only way to continue breathing and making it back to safety is by gathering essential supplies and high-tech equipment to call for help and get your frozen butt extracted back to your base. It is without a doubt my favorite mode to play, as it feels extremely fleshed out and there’s a lot of tension in every move you make, considering the longer you hesitate the more likely you will die.

Now, by essential supplies, I’m talking about scarves and jackets and, I guess, weaponry, but this mode is all about the clothing on your back because you not only have to worry about being hit with bullets but also hypothermia; you combat the elements by dressing appropriately and huddling near trashcan fires. This mode makes clothing matter and exciting, though the fact that you are sick and in constant need of medicine can be too stressful. This is why I don’t play things like The Long Dark or Don’t Starve–there’s too much to worry about, and I really just want to wear comfy clothes and walk slowly from one waypoint to another, enjoying the view. Still, Survival is exactly what I wanted to see from The Division‘s DLC–a unique endeavor that forces you to think strategically instead of simply hiding a wall or car and blind-firing until all the enemies are on the ground.

For Last Stand, things become a little more traditional. This DLC pits teams of eight against one another on a section of the Dark Zone where the goal is to capture and hold as many terminals as possible. Naturally, the team that holds more terminals builds up their score quicker and wins. Sounds both simple and familiar, yes? Well, there are a few wrinkles. Such as the fact that enemy mobs still roam the battleground area. Players can eliminate these scrubs to earn a currency used during the match to build defenses like turrets or scanners that detect enemy movement in a designated area. Lastly, all gear is normalized to make things as fair as possible…if a bit uninteresting.

I’ll probably continue to poke at The Division throughout 2017, especially since Ubisoft plans to remain supportive of the game for the near future, even offering up two more expansions for no cost to the player. I suspect I’ll revisit Survival the most of the three DLCs as it offers something very different from the standard experience. Look, this game has been and remains often confusing and clunky, and yet I enjoy the firefights, dressing up my avatar, and the idea of having a full gear set that really plays to my strengths, which are healing other players and taking potshots from a safe distance. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but the dream is enough to keep me logging in now and then.

Gears of War 2 continues its virile fight against the Locust horde

gd impressions on gow2 xbox 360

A part of me somehow knew that if I waited long enough I could get all of the Gears of War games for free thanks to Xbox’s Gaming with Gold program. Well, not exactly free, as I am paying money to be a Gold member, but free from the outside looking in. It started out with the first Gears of War, which I played through and found myself dumbfounded over how this became a popular, blockbuster series, even if I was having fun with the active reload mechanic. I find it perfunctory and fine, but nothing amazing, and you can feel free to call me names in the comments (if I approve your abhorrent name-calling comment for all to see, that is). Then Microsoft gave out Gears of War 3 and Gears of War: Judgment, but I was holding my breath for the second entry in the series so I could at least play them in some sort of sensible order. Lo and behold, it was a freebie for February 2016, completing the path forward.

Gears of War 2 takes place shortly after the end of the first game. The Coalition of Ordered Governments continues its fight against the Locust horde, who are attempting to sink all of the cities on the planet Sera. Sergeant Marcus Fenix leads Delta Squad down into the murky depths of the planet to try to stop the Locust from destroying Jacinto, one of the last remaining safe havens for humans. I feel like, other than the part about sinking planets, you could use this same description to summarize the first game, too. Either way, there are a couple of small side stories to explore, such as what happened to Dom’s wife Maria and a civil war brewing between the Locust and the Lambent.

Gameplay remains largely unchanged from the first Gears of War, though you can now pick up fallen enemies and use them as cover against incoming bullets. These are lovingly referred to as meatshields, which I approve of greatly. Regardless, you’ll push forward in linear levels, hiding behind cover and popping out of it to shoot the bad dudes. You’ll also have an AI-controlled partner with you for most of the missions, and I assume this character can also be controlled during the co-op campaign. I found Dom, at least on the “normal” difficulty, to be mostly a waste of space, especially during that boss fight against the Leviathan. Truth be told, and maybe this has to do with my recent practice with the Gears of War 4 Beta, I did pretty good in the campaign, only seeing red a handful of times, and those really only occurred during the two separate fights against Skorge, as I wasn’t sure exactly of what to do. Okay, okay…maybe an unseen Ticker got me now and then as well.

Alas, I’m still not enthralled with the running and gunning of the Gears of War series. I liked finding the collectibles in the levels, which should not surprise anyone following Grinding Down, as well as when you got to ride a Brumak near the end and just massacred everything in front of you. There’s also one level inside a giant monster where the focus is not on pelting Locust with bullets but rather surviving all the weird internal organs.  Those stand out as the highlights of the campaign for me.

Since beating Gears of War 2, I’ve been dabbling in its multiplayer modes. For various reasons. One is to clean up some Achievements I’m close to getting, like performing all the different execution methods or using proximity mines to kill ten enemies. Two…is that I fully expect to never return to Gears of War 2 once I start playing the third one, which I’m in no rush to load up, and so I want to make sure I get everything out of this game that I can. Or rather, that I want. I managed to get into one online multiplayer game with real-life people and had my butt handed to me swiftly, and so now I’m sticking to local matches against bots, as well as the Horde mode (solo and on “casual” difficulty). I also plan to pop back into the campaign and grab the remainder of the collectibles, considering I already got half of them my first time through this brown, brown world.

I’m definitely not immediately launching into Gears of War 3, even with the way this campaign ended on a cliffhanger. I’m okay waiting a bit. There’s plenty of other games currently in circulation too, such as Sunset Overdrive, I Am Alive, and Saints Row IV. In the meantime, if you are in the mood to play some Gears of War 2 and want to help me progress through Horde mode (I crashed into a wall around wave 6), hit me up on Xbox One.