Monday, 4 August 2014

Gaming Update - Heroes & Generals

War Games, Games of War, Call of War... We could list any number of iterations of warlike words and find a hint of a game in there, so we each need to pick our genre and wade through the mess of bad games to find good ones, this weekend however I've found one which I find strangely compelling, but which I don't think is the perfect game.

What do I mean by perfect game?  Well, I think for everyone their perfect game is different, I once thought World of Warcrack was my perfect game.  But fifteen minutes of thinking about how much time I'd wasted collecting tokens to then see an expansion appear with yet more quests to collect yet more tokens (BUT THEY WERE BLUE THIS TIME!) had me quit, from sheer frustration... Many other games have come and gone since...

World of Tanks for example, this has been a staple over the last few years, but it ebbs and flows to and from in my playing landscape, mainly because of the huge step up in skill and memory needed to just play tanks... As a kid I could play tanks, I poured them out of my plastic tub and drove back and forth across the iron curtain with them in the soil and sand of the back yard... Now-a-days the entry level is so much higher, especially when you add competitive people into the mix, and you suddenly find yourself meeting people who don't just want to wallow in the mud like the little white bull, but instead they want to ammo rack you and hide behind your burning hulk.

This isn't a jab at competitive play, I was very competitive in other games, notably Day of Defeat, my first major and perhaps the only multiplayer third person shooter I mastered, and the one of the few games I've chosen to actively play competitively.

So finding Heroes and Generals, and being a little tired of being shot out the skies in War Thunder, or having my Tank blown from under me in World of Tanks, and so very annoyed with other titles in my Steam library, I downloaded and set to figuring out this game.

Figuring out is the main challenge, you see the game comes in multiple parts, there is a browser like part, which acts as a window onto the solider's, weapons, vehicles, training and skills you have - as well as the credits or game gold you've earned or purchased to unlock more of the game.

Then once you enter battle a 3D client launches connecting you to the battlefield.

Once into the 3D world, you choose your spawn location, and set about working out how this game works...

Its a massively multiplayer World War Two landscape, this is Day of Defeat of old for me... Except, one can end up training to drive tanks, jeeps, trucks, planes... Or just fight on foot.

And as a beginner, fighting on foot was my only option.  So creating a German soldier, I was handed my G43 and a few potato masher grenades and thrown into the mix.

Almost the first thing I found was the ability to use nearly anything you find on the battlefield, enemy guns, ammo, vehicles and even a villagers trusty bicycle.

At the low levels you need to get used to the bikes, because they're the ubiquitous and only transport in the game, at least transport faster then your own feet.

The mechanics of the soldier are good, raising his weapon, aiming and reloading all come naturally to anyone with even a modicum of first person shooter experience.  Moving has its down sides.

The initial problem I had with movement was using sprint (shift) and then sending my man prone (z), between the two is the "\" key or "|" bar key on a UK layout keyboard... pressing this rogue key brought up the 3D engines message queue, a little like the old style console in the Quake engine... And hitting it was very very annoying, locking out your controls and initially I was not aware I'd miss keyed and hence had no idea how I'd opened this console view... once I got it closed a controls remapping was in order... Except, I could not change this damn key - least not in the base view.

The game is very atmospheric however, providing early morning fog, dust, smoke, impressive explosions and good terrain.

If you can find a position to shoot from, you can pretty much shoot from it... However, there are some annoying problems, and problems with benefit the annoyance causing, teeth gnashingly smug, camping... Yes, this game encourages more camping than...

Initially without resorting to camping I found myself dead time and time again, but at least I was leading assaults, one tactic I noted benefited the early games (which are played on a simple set map with three capture flags) is that if one flanked around and went to capture the enemies first flag, they would all rush back to save the flag.  This allowed your own team to then capture the contested middle flag more easily... I'd be there time and again, capping the rear enemy flag as about 8 enemy would hove into view and nail me with a nail of gunfire and grenade... But all was good, because we took the middle, kept the middle and I kept going back to the enemies flank and rear to stir up trouble, thinning the struggle for the middle.

I just did this, it was obviously a winning tactic, and game after game we won...

You know what reward I got for this active effort... NOTHING.

Not a dime, not a sausage, not a scrat... I had a horrendously negative Kill to Death ratio, and received no capture points - because I never completed a full cap - and though I might spot and nail the odd enemy coming in, I was basically hiding in their base, with a limited field of fire, so unable to really get meat a head of my shots and so I didn't score much.

The agony of this state of affairs was only added to by the crappy G43 weapon I had, and the very high prices of alternative weapons... For instance, in the whole weekend I earned around 40,000 credits.... I had to spend 5,300 on grenades and was forced to spend my initial credits on a MP36 (which I never use) by the tutorial...

So, what could I get for my 40,000 credits... NOTHING... The K98, a more powerful rifle is 71,000 credits... So for playing maybe 12 hours over a busy weekend, and winning games, I didn't earn nearly anything.

Luckily I levelled up quickly and around level 4 I was earning "Soldiers Pay", this is an amount of credits automatically awarded on a Win, if you're active for 50% or more of the battle... And Winning I was in the early games, so with credits coming in, I decided to upgrade my pitiful G43 rifle, rather than save up for the K98.

New sights, different ammo and a new barrel and I had added to the punch of the weapon significantly, though it was still perhaps 100,000 credits away from being a one shot killer.

The upgrade statistics are also a bit of a black box here, you can select items to see how they affect range, or damage done, but there are no real obvious benefits to some of the options available... Huge damage, but massive accuracy penalty... Right, I smell the game balance here, but this is a war game, in war designers don't generally strike the nerf bat so hard on an option.

However, from level 4 and above I had a very quick rise in Ranks, mainly because once you get over level 4 you're out of the boring 3 flag set map and into the open world of any battle on any map... You can select which mission to enter, or even join a battle on a specific location, for example I took part in the defence of Nottingham several times - loosing each time - DOH.

But, I did find a general rule of thumb, missions either consisted of winning quickly with friendly armour and combined arms... Or my team literally under performing all around me.

Add to this the already mentioned - no reward for tactical actions - and I was getting a little bit frustrated.

So much so between Saturday and Sunday, I took a break and thought about how should I play, should I come to this game and try to play it like others - like Day of Defeat, where I would never have had a G43 as my main weapon? - or should I try to learn more about this game, about how the game designers want you to work it.

I chose the latter option, and things started to take form...  The first thing I noted was that one could select a badge on ones character, the badge is like a special skill, and it defaulted to a badge given to me by the training mission, however, changing it to a different skill I found I was much less noticeable by the enemy, great for my flanking actions.

Then I changed how I moved, instead of running from A to B, I found myself going from tree to tree, from tree to rock, reading the terrain and trying to learn how to stay in cover.  To my delight the game picked this up and awarded me skill points for scouting, for combat movement, for all manner of things... And these added into the very complex layers of the browser section of the game, upgrading my soldier.

One can pay to win here, just throw gold at your skills (or ribbons as they're called in game) and you can max them out, buy any weapon and take people out, but I'm in this for the long haul, I want to unlock the game as I go.

I think, when I'm bored of WarThunder or everything else, Heroes and Generals might be a place for me to while away an hour in first person combat.  I just hope that the unlock curve is not as exponential as I fear it maybe - as I'm now 20 hours into playing and after upgrades and ammo refills, still only have around 40,000 credits, where I want to really start to buy more powerful weapons, such as those I pick up off of corpses.

Rethinking the game play style I found most successful, it consisted of hiding in the flanks, taking out enemy as they were in obvious locations and then picking up a sniper rifle, or other such powerful rifle as soon as possible.  Sticking with the issued G43 is a real struggle, especially as you pick up the US counterpart Garand and its far superior...

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