Halo, Anthem and why we don’t need another Destiny clone.

alternate title “A List Of Things I Hope Halo Infinite Is Not”

The Holiday season is looming, and the Halo Infinite launch party Xbox may once have intended to coincide with the release of the Xbox Series X is finally happening a year and many semiconductor and pandemic related delays later. It’s time to thaw Master Chief after an extended break following the 2015 release of Halo 5, in what 343 has once called a spiritual reboot for the flagship title of the Xbox brand. No pressure.

First, a story about why Halo is a bit personal to me. Years back when we were first living together, my wife picked up a copy of Halo: Reach for her Xbox 360 “to see if it was any good”. Neither of us had played a Halo before it, and I was into mostly fantasy RPG games. A weekend later, we had a second Xbox and another copy of Halo: Reach so we could play together. Soon we’d rearrange the living room to accommodate side by side TVs and forever changed what family night in looked like at our house.

Fast forward to present and on any given game night we may be on different games, single player games, watching a show or playing games with different sets of friends but we still play in parallel. There are a few games we still play together, or exclusively together, and Halo is one of them. As this next title nears release and I see features like cooperative play de-prioritized to make an already late release window, I can’t help but think of other titles we have been excited to try that did not turn out as well. Anthem comes to mind.

BioWare’s ill-fated epic multiplayer space opera fell far short of its potential. Anthem otherwise had all of the right ingredients – excellent flight and combat mechanics, innovative design, breathtaking views and top shelf graphics, a great team of writers and a likeable cast of characters. What went wrong? I can name one mistake, broadly, that no publisher is too big to repeat. Please stop trying to make another Destiny-style live service looter shooter.

Destiny itself is riddled with annoyances its player-base tolerates as they turn in each week to participate in what is otherwise an anomaly in the space-time fabric of gaming. Its success is despite of itself. Random loot rolls for the same limited set of weapons and armor is not the part of the game we need to copy. Another game that made this mistake and later course corrected was Assassin’s Creed Odyssey; the maddening, meaningless deluge of loot to be immediately deconstructed was addressed in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (thank you a thousand times).

It isn’t to say that there is no appeal at all in repeating the same content to try and get the ideal roll for your favorite set of gear, it is just that this cycle by itself can quickly become frustrating and lead to fast burnout. Adding in low drop rates or actual technical issues can turn the experience very negative fast for some players who feel like they put in the work but did not get the reward or expected progression credit. Sooner than the designer would hope, the game will get turned off. This is not hyperbole, but rather a recurring observation from my own home.

I liked Anthem. The storytelling and world-building reached straight into the depths of my imagination and did not let go. I trusted the talent behind two of my other favorite games of all time to be able to deliver something fresh and innovative. I even wrote a bit of fan fiction ahead of the release about one mysterious type of enemy character – ones that appeared to be a model of rogue hardware not unlike the heroes own. I feel like BioWare delivered on this much – the flight combat was as good as we hoped. They were just asked to fit it into a persistent world model it did not seem to be built to support. Fort Tarsis did not need to be Destiny’s Last City for us to love it. I could write for another hour what else they could have done differently but I am sure the team who worked on it knows better than anyone else what they wanted to accomplish.

Halo for me wasn’t ever what Destiny turned out to be, nor was it Call of Duty or Battlefield. Or Fortnite or Apex or Titanfall. Where I started with Reach, Halo was always about the fire team. Being an individual in a group working together to accomplish something heroic. I know for a lot of players Halo was first about playing as Spartan 117.

Master Chief. Blasting alien bad guys with a likable woman AI sidekick and delivering great one-liners in that iconic lead guy voice, this time in a giant open world environment. A face on the front of soda cans and bags of chips and boxes of cereal, a brand almost as recognizable as Star Wars. I have reservations and doubts about the character of Master Chief, who for some people is their Luke Skywalker in this story, but other people may wish to see more of themselves represented on screen. I get this is their “spiritual reboot”, but I hope 343 builds on the amazing cast they had assembled for the previous stories and continues to push the idea of Halo as a larger world than just John and Cortana.

I digress. To be fair, I don’t know exactly what an average week will look like in the life of a Halo Infinite player. The Destiny comparisons above might be totally inaccurate. If the Master Chief Collection or Halo 5 were a good indicator, it was a mix of incentives from both replaying story missions and playing various cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes. On paper, this is pretty much any successful game with live seasons today, but I don’t think any publisher is too big to get this wrong.

The genre today is flush with worlds that built on the success of early titles that include Halo, and a publisher may be motivated to make “the next Apex” or successor to the other title I’ve referenced already. No Brand Too Large to fall over itself to copy a new formula, like Battlefield launching the equivalent of straight to VHS (yes I’m old) title, skipping story mode completely in favor of a large format team battle that looks nothing like the ones it pioneered because that apparently worked OK for another recent title. Banking on microtransactions when they have been broadly frowned on as bordering on predatory. Halo is not and never was any of those things. This doesn’t have to be billed as “a return to form” if they just.. not try to be something else.

Halo Infinite may have launched without co-op story mode for valid reasons, one envelope pushed at the expense of another. I just hope the teams working on it were allowed to deliver the Halo they dreamed of working on.

My wife and I will see you on Zeta, in one game mode or another.

Half Of My Heart Is In Havana – Far Cry 6

far cry 6 Dani in the capital city of Yara, car, high rise apartments and poster of  Antón Castillo
image credit Ubisoft Far Cry 6 fan kit

Set in the fictional Caribbean island of Yara, Ubisoft’s Far Cry 6 is a showcase of adrenaline and breathtaking locale. The series known for its over the top action and darker themes borrows at times from real life events, and like the Camila Cabello song you might hear on a radio in the game referenced in the title of this review, is very much based on a real place.

The richly detailed environments push the limits of even the highest end gaming hardware today, setting a high bar few other games released this year could approach. It flexes first its credentials as an action title, and then sets out to establish a story the player cares about. Or stories, plural, as it plays more like a good show on Netflix. Here in the finer details is where everything could have gone wrong, but turned out to be the best risk they had taken yet.

Dani Rojas, cover image with rifle and red smoke

The return of voiced protagonist to Far Cry is Dani Rojas, a reluctant heroine who at the onset of the game dreams of a better life away from her homeland in Miami. Unlike the previous protagonists in Far Cry games, Dani gets a full part on camera during dialog and in cut scenes. The difference is just the first way the team set this apart from the series before it, and it is not a small detail. The way the character interacts or even comments out loud on the world around her takes this further, even down to the way she occasionally hums or sings along to the radio while in the car. It is through her eyes and experiences the world of Yara comes to life.

Opposite Dani is the villain Antón Castillo, the Yara’s El Presidente played by Giancarlo Esposito. For a series known best for its iconic bad guys, they did not hold back creating a part that seemed made for the actor. The character of Antón steals the scene – commands it – whenever he speaks. It is very effective storytelling.

Antón Castillo , close up of expression as he listens

The narrative and writing teams on Far Cry 6 put their best work into the depth of cast and individual stories told in each of the regions explored in the game. The people Dani meet are the heart of the game, from families impacted by Castillo’s regime to farmers and musicians and artists or resistance fighters ranging from street gangs to veteran guerillas of generations prior wars. The struggles like those of the Montero family or Radio Libertad are the ones that really grabbed hold of me and did not let go. Far Cry does a good job of being both a game for fun and not losing sight of the bigger picture, giving each location the time and attention to detail to do it justice. I never felt in a hurry to leave an area, and fell in love with the characters I met. The stories felt personal. This was no accident.

Ubisoft described some of the work that went into creating the world of Yara, and the real places they visited and people they interviewed, including family of guerillas who lived through similar events that would serve as a backdrop for Dani’s journey. Every writer, artist, musician and actor who worked on it spoke seriously on the inspirations they found that went into the game. Their stories were important to them and the evidence is in the results. The Montero family seemed less like quest NPCs and more like people you might actually know and care about.

By the time the credits rolled I felt like I had been a participant in something extraordinary, and found myself thinking long after on what I had played.

If you had played the previous Far Cry games and are curious, Far Cry 6 does not “end” after the main story and has plenty to do after. I completed the main story in about fifty hours with time spent on most of the side stories, which I felt was a good length for the game. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for comparison was around 110 hours, counting only some of the side content.

I am looking forward to the DLC content for Far Cry 6 which includes stories from three other Far Cry games focusing on the villains Vaas, Pagan Min and The Father.

sun rise in Yara, scenic view from atop a hill. far cry 6
Far Cry 6 screen shot taken on Xbox

The Bookworm – part 5

Art commission by @javi_draws

This is an Assassin’s Creed Short Story set in the time of Valhalla.

This is the conclusion of this story – Read part one here

 

The Bookworm – part 5

 

The security analyst could barely remember getting home to her shoebox apartment. You did good work tonight, the senior analyst had told her. She had time for about an hour’s sleep before getting a message on her phone from their boss who had reviewed the data she provided at the end of the last sequence. More praise, and the day off. A long weekend.

She lay in bed and thought for a second about catching up on sleep when her cat began quietly fussing at her to see why she was not getting up. “Fine,” she wrestled the cat playfully with her hand, but she was still thinking about work. The senior analyst who had been advising on her unexpected double shift tracking the rogue animus frame’s activity made little secret he knew more about the data anomalies than he would directly say. He made sure she had seen them, and soon after disengaged. As if he lost interest. Yes, the rogue frame was not the only actor on the network, data he did not instruct to leave out of their report, but how many additional actors?

“She knew something was out of place,” the analyst explained to her cat as she opened a small can of food. “The girl,” she clarified to her captive audience, and then began to stare off into space. “It was painful, physically.” Like a ringing in her ears. The simulation was more malleable than logic would suggest, but the subjects in turn could detect that.

The cat let out a small impatient meow. “Oh sorry,” the analyst snapped out of recollection, placing the food dish down and moving to fix herself a cup of coffee. She looked at her coffee mug and made a face, changing her mind. She had enough last night. She could get something else out later.

She absentmindedly cleared the notifications from her phone, no longer surprised when there was nothing interesting there. She caught herself glancing twice when she enabled her Bluetooth to connect to the tiny apartment speakers. Just checking to see if there were any new devices, but there never were.

She put on something upbeat, long weekend vibes, and started running the hot water in the shower. As the humidity from the steam began to obscure the mirror, she watched her reflection disappear. She could not get the puzzle out of her mind. Someone was helping the girl, too.

No one at the office seemed to notice her when she arrived. She sat down at her desk without bothering to take off her parka. She looked around; it was the usual office chit chat and people largely browsing social media during pointless conference calls. On her desk, an unopened bag of assorted nuts and chocolate. Jerk.

Through the small gap in the cube divider she could see another of the junior analyst’s monitors. Mr. ‘I don’t care if IT sees my social media because I never do anything wrong’, busily engaged in a post on recent political activity downtown. The amateur mobile phone footage at the peaceful assembly began buffering unexpectedly. Just as she caught herself staring at his screen with its buffering circle spinning, she noticed indistinct dark shapes in one of the large downtown trees in the frozen image. Corvids. Crows, Jackdaws or Ravens.

She pulled off her gloves and swiped her access card and pulled up the data transit display. It was quiet. Pulling up the command history, she retrieved the query they had set up for the sequence. Following intuition, she adjusted the scope of the query. Careful, she warned herself. No additional hits. She considered further; she wasn’t thinking big enough. She removed the constraints on the historical date. Anomalies; everywhere. Also, the second phenomena she had tracked. Ancient Greece, London, Italy, Paris. North Africa.

She drilled further into the data, isolating the variance. Senu, is that you?

 

 

A bitter midwinter wind whipped around Eivor and Hadda atop the seaside cliff. Freyja waited idly lower on the path leading up to the spot. Together they managed to arrange the tall stone cairn despite the ever-present push of the trade winds. Below it, a number of smaller tributes. Each to someone they had lost.

It had been a journey of few words, and none since they arrived at the cliff. Even the horse was silent as she tried to find any scrap of grass that could grow in the inhospitable stone. On the ride back Eivor finally spoke. “How was he?” she wondered aloud.

Hadda knew she meant Able, who she had recently returned from checking up on. The other Vikings could not make the journey under the current conditions of war. “He is in good spirits,” Hadda chose her words.

“Able?” Eivor almost laughed. “Who is this other man you visited then?” she joked.

“He misses us,” Hadda began. “But he is well taken care of at the monastery and is kept busy with his work.” She paused, remembering the conversation they had over honey bread. “He was actually excited for what he was working on with the other scribes. An important work.

“He was also happy to see what we had managed to save from his home that was not lost to the fire. Even the partial scrolls.” Hadda continued.

“And the book?” Eivor questioned further.

“He had not seen it since the night we arrived. The clergy did not keep it with the other written works, but rather in a much more secure depth of the fortress the scribes are not allowed to go.” Hadda replied.

It was ironic that one of the safest places to hide something or someone from the King was in the castle-like monastery of his own holy church. The tension between clergy and King was obvious even on the streets. They kept his authority in check, but for how long no one could guess. It was a dark time in Wessex.

“He did ask me something,” Hadda furrowed her brow. “Something I had wondered myself.” She considered again the night she found the book. “What value were just a few pages that was worth more than the whole book?

“Why did he leave the book?”

Eivor considered it, and her expression said she had thought on the same question. “Perhaps the story was worth more to them with a piece left out.”

 

Thank you for reading!

The Bookworm – part 4

Art commission by @javi_draws

This is an Assassin’s Creed Short Story set in the time of Valhalla.

edit: changed one character’s name, which was unintentionally shared by a character from the game

Read part one here

 

The Bookworm – part 4

 

The silhouette of mounted bannermen framed the light regiment as it approached, smoke rising from the razed village behind them. Women, children, and the elderly scattered in the chaos as the Vikings struggled to assemble. Grain stores burned. They struck against the peace accord during the heart of a celebration when they would be the least defended during the first snow of Winter. It was a calculated execution of a people they would no longer tolerate. The calvary did not come to gamble with the veteran raider settlement; it was a show of force flying the colors of the King.

The falling snow swirled thick as the strongest of the Vikings rushed to head off the armored men on horses away from those least able to defend themselves. The thunder of hooves and boots bid Hadda’s blood to run hot. There was something unasked-for, visceral in the sound of steel striking shield that made her senses come alive. She swept up a young child, fearful but strangely silent in the chaos as she surveyed the ensuing battle. In the midst, Eivor struck her first opponent with a force like thunder.

Above the battle, a thin line of the regiment’s leadership watched under banner flapping. The snow and blood mixed on the ground until it ran freely. Sundered shield and splintered spear alike littered the ground as Saxon and Viking fell in a cacophony of death. An arrow pierced a girl through the shoulder just feet from where Hadda and the toddler fled. Amid screaming, Hadda passed the small child to another fleeing woman with a mutual glance and turned to aid the girl who had been struck. The girl with the bundle of small black-eyed yellow flowers now falling out of Hadda’s hair. The wound was severe, but with haste the girl could be saved.

“Torben!” Hadda called out, spotting him on the edge of the skirmish. In his eyes even at a distance Hadda could see the grim determination of a man preparing to die. “Torben!” she called again, attempting to restrain the girl who was fading in her arms. Unable to hear her cries, Torben redoubled the grip on his axe and charged into the fray. He fell two Saxons on foot before a slender-framed rider struck him from horseback. Torben hit the snow like an unbound sack of rocks. He was killed instantly.

She could not hear her own scream. Hadda fought a stream of tears as a strength beyond her own turned to the thick shaft of the arrow piercing the girl she held. She snapped the shaft, and with a bellow pulled the other end through the girl’s torso. She tore her dress into a broad strip until no fabric remained below her knees. She wrapped it tightly as the girl cried out, tying it into a knot before helping her retreat further down the hill towards the lodge. Out of the corner of her eye, something trivial, something otherwise very unimportant caught her eye. The door to Able’s hut was open. The same she had personally closed shut before leaving to the celebration.

Reaching the lodge Hadda and the girl came face to face with the mystic. The same air touched by the Gods radiated around her as she took the girl from Hadda to lead her into the lodge as it was being fortified to withstand a direct attack. A thankful glance from the girl and a knowing nod from the mystic dismissed Hadda as she doubled back to investigate Able’s home. A she raced up the path now obscured by snow it felt as if all sound faded away. She could hear only dull noise over her own footprints crushing snow. Cautiously, she slipped in the door.

Standing the center of a wreck of overturned bookshelves and spilled parchment was a familiar dark figure. Heavy coat framed flowing tunic and belt of a man she had seen before. The man from the garrison of her warden, he who owned the decorative knife left on the chapel table. Laying eyes upon him, Hadda’s ears began to ring louder than any sound she had heard before.

In a corner, Able stood as if turned to stone while falling. His wooden crutch hung suspended in air. In the gaze of the stranger even the dust seemed to freeze in time until he locked gaze with Hadda; deaf with fear. The interior of the home was destroyed. Helpless, Hadda looked on her adversary. Indulgent gold adorned pearl white silk and a radiant red cross. His impeccably trimmed beard and mustache contoured a face wrought by angels. He was a full foot taller than Hadda, blond hair bouncing at his collar. His steel eyes cut her to kneeling. The very earth beneath her trembled. The figure made show of breathing deeply through his nose.

“Intoxicating, isn’t it?” He chimed airily, voice cracking open the heavens above them.

 

 

The security analyst pulled one half of her headset off her ears in frustration, staring directly at the senior analyst. He could barely contain his amusement. She was well beyond asking questions she knew she would not get a straight answer to. The simulation had been modified. She was as certain as the glee on her mentor’s stupid face. She hoped her glare was as icy as it felt. He continued to smile as he lobbed a chocolate into his mouth.

Enough games, she cursed to herself as she turned back to the swarming data transit flashing before her. The second anomaly she had observed was still there, also. Cooley, she returned the headset to her ears and relaxed in her chair as the scene continued to unfold.

 

 

Hadda shook, fighting the shrill noise in her ears. The dark figure paced as Able’s adobe began collapsing around them, embers raining without source until a number of tiny fires started among the scrolls. Hadda’s cheeks were soaked with tears. The man withdrew something from his long coat. A single scrap of paper, which Hadda recognized immediately as belonging to her. The Greek prose.

“Like the very gods in my sight is he who sits where he can look in your eyes, who listens close to you, to hear the soft voice, its sweetness murmur in love..” he read aloud. Bright flames danced around him. Able lay in a heap too close to the blaze. The figure tossed the paper into the flames, where it incinerated immediately. Hadda sobbed. “Sappho,” he continued. “Lost to time.’ He declared.

The cry of a raven pierced the night as Hadda regained control of her senses. Eivor leapt into the fray with a fury of a dozen men. Sparks showered as the stranger parried her twin axe strikes with a blade that shone like pure sunlight. Eivor did not relent. Strike after strike, she tested his footwork until she had backed him out of the open door and onto the path outside. In the distance a Saxon horn signaled retreat. The Vikings had held their ground. “Hadda, get Able to the ships!” She urged.

With a practiced riposte, the dark figure disarmed Eivor, exchanging positions so his back faced the scribe’s home, now engulfed in fire. Hadda drug a still-conscious Able past where the pair faced off. Eivor checked her footing, but her opponent took two additional steps back. Into the flames. With a smirk he disappeared in the inferno. Eivor spent no more time than necessary doubting what she had seen. Towards the sandy shore, ahead of Hadda and Able, a lone horseman rode to intercept.

Hadda recognized immediately the slender rider. The man who had killed Torben. His horse made a restless sound. “Winnifred?” Hadda gasped, out of breath. She lacked the strength to stand, and Able could barely support his weight with help.

“Traitor!” Her stepbrother Brandon shouted. A long moment passed, nothing but the distant sound of burning, the agitated horse and the sea lapping against the hull of the longship. He held his sword aloft. In his eyes, cold intent.

Eivor rushed to Hadda’s side, a long spear held low ready to strike. Brandon kicked his armored heels into his horse’s flank, urging her to charge.

No!” Hadda cried, leaping between Eivor and Brandon. The horse panicked, rearing up and throwing Brandon into a heap of armor and pride. Eivor lowered her weapon.

Brandon gasped for air, struggling at length to remove his helmet so he could breath. Hadda stood as tall as she could muster, weary but filled with resolve. Brandon slowly collected himself and retrieved his sword. “Do you know what happens to horses who throw their riders in battle?” He sneered, slow stepping to Hadda’s left. Eivor studied the two carefully. Her raven called from above.

With no further warning Hadda uncoiled, releasing the river-worn stone concealed in her hand. It sailed the twenty paces between them, striking him squarely in the forehead. He collapsed into the sand, rolling to support his bleeding head in his gauntlets. His voice was hollow with pain.

The horse shuffled anxiously until Hadda spoke to her. Eivor stood tall. “This horse knows you?” Eivor let out her breath. “Your favor with the Gods..” Eivor put a hand on Hadda’s shoulder, meeting eyes with Able as he helped himself to kneeling. “You surprise us all.”

Hadda nuzzled her face into the horse’s neck, sobbing in relief. Brandon struggled nearby. “Eivor, this is Freyja” Hadda introduced her through tears. The horse affectionately stepped towards Eivor.

Brandon pulled himself to standing. “Freak!” he screeched at Hadda, opening crying. Above them on the slope the eldest of Eivor’s raiders ran to investigate, scar over his blind eye.

“Just go,” Hadda pleaded with Brandon. She motioned with her hand for the grizzled warrior to wait.

Brandon’s knees visibly shook. Without another word, he turned to a darkened stretch of the river bank in the approximate direction that the other Saxons had retreated and ran.

Quiet settled before anyone spoke. The older Viking pointed with his sword in the direction Brandon had gone. “A lot of rough swimming that way” He deadpanned to laughter.

Able helped himself to standing with Hadda’s assistance. Several more of Eivor’s best men approached with serious faces. The broad-shouldered warrior held with him the treasured bound book; renowned axe holstered on his back. The others carried supplies for a journey.

Eivor faced Hadda directly, gently straightening her torn dress. “You must get Able to safety. The book cannot remain here.” Eivor looked down, solemn. “War is upon us.” She shuffled her boots, considering her next words. She held forth her hand, revealing the bracelet Hadda was to receive in the celebration earlier that night. “This is for you.” Hadda fought tears. “Hadda, with these men as witness, I declare you a free woman.”

Hadda stood tall, tears rolling free down her cheeks. On the hill above, a silhouette of a woman with antler headdress watched. With trembling hands, she put on the bracelet. She was not sure what to say.

Without a word, Eivor pulled her into a mighty hug. “Go now,” Eivor reassured. “I will care for Freyja personally.”

A brief moment passed as they regarded one another before Eivor spoke again. “Odin is with you.”

 

this story concludes in part 5

Speculative Assassin’s Creed Short Story, part 6

pirate woman on ship looks to the skies
Art commission by AyshaArt ig @k.ayshaart

This is an untitled speculative short fiction set in the world of Assassin’s Creed

This is the conclusion of this story. Read part 1 here

Part 6 – The Ship of Legend

Farah sat soaking the Miami midday sun at the window seat bar in the Bistro just across the street from the plainly labeled datacenter complex. Social media giant operations personnel chatted opsec secrets loudly adjacent to public safety IT analysts. Everyone here was in a technical field of some manner or another. The cute Puerto Rican gentleman waiting tables flashed a toothy smile at her and made a hand gesture to ask if she was doing ok or needed a refill on her drink.

It was a scorching Miami summer day, where the streets were freshly painted asphalt or concrete. No car under a hundred thousand euros to be found; no building without vibrant street art in sight. Her ride from the airport only briefly interrupted to check into her hotel room in the bay, she had met the engineer who would escort her into the datacenter where the animus bed was hiding in plain sight. The elderly gentleman, a Boston native Russian with cartoonishly wild white hair provided her with an access key card prepared already with her photo, assumed name and a sticky note with a key code in plain red print. He made two impossibly cliché “in the motherland” jokes in the span of ten minutes. Who was this clown? Nadji seemed to know him well. Nadji was to attend lunch with her, but received a text message he would not read out loud and departed with short notice. She still had not heard from him.

She hit the bottom of her glass of water with a loud buzz of her straw, momentarily pausing every spoken conversation in the restaurant. The waiter laughed, and without asking produced a different drink that looked like ice and milk with a dash of cinnamon. Farah thanked him and took a sip. It was overwhelmingly sweet with a hint of rice. “What is this drink called?” she asked through a mock expression of disgust.

“Venezuelan chicha” he laughed with a wink. Farah felt a rush of color in her cheeks. Did he just serve her alcohol at lunch? Then there was a tinkling of the bell on the door. Sitting down at the only free stool left in the place, the one next to Farah, was Farah’s mother.

“Is it five o’clock already?” her mother’s tone was like knives at play.

Farah’s face stung. She could only imagine her expression. No one else in the bistro noticed.

“I thought you were in-“ Farah started, mind hitting racing speed in an instant.

“The only place on Earth I knew you would not follow,” her mother replied as if she had recited it in her head for this very moment. Neither said the name; the following silence was mutual.

“Then where?” Farah trailed off, anticipating disappointment.

“Inside,” her mother said with gravity. She watched Farah draw a conclusion before speaking again. “She was a remarkable woman, was she not?” The smile that followed was genuine. The first Farah had seen of her mother in years.

The conversation did not resume until they were safely inside the datacenter. The dull business grey partitions and privacy screened rows of machines were grander than any she had seen. The elderly engineer hummed a limerick of some sort in front of a small display. Compared to the underground hacker space, this looked more like they had misplaced a tanning bed at a mall print kiosk. The animus frame looked nothing like the other model, maybe an entire decade older without a preformed body recess or body sensors. A wheel-about medical sensor with just two monitor cables sat idle nearby. Hiding in plain sight, indeed.

Her mother quietly filled Farah in on what felt like years of their mutual ancestor’s history as she had experienced it. They determined they had in fact experienced the same brief island encounter following the sinking the first ship she had commanded. As it turns out, it was not the last one she lost. They talked for hours, eventually catching up in real life too. It was a funny thought, to be discussing multiple timelines and lives that connected them. One detail remained: How did Abstergo not already have this ship, the most feared pirate vessel of all time? Her captain’s death was well documented history.

The tone of the conversation turned somber; her mother sinking as if she was retelling a death. Because, she was. She had pursued the ship and her crew, commanding what to that day had been the deadliest ship to sail the South Asian Sea. She lost the battle and her crew. As she struggled to keep her own head above water, she desynchronized. Farah’s mother then told how she went into cardiac arrest in the animus frame – the same they now sat beside – and had to be resuscitated, followed by urgent surgery. She believed that was the end of the story. She found the ship of legend and died for it. Nearly twice.

The elderly gentleman stopped humming. “Ah yes, but there was more data.” He laughed at his own thoughts. “She was desynchronized just a third of the way into the memory frame. The subject lived to be 55!” he explained proudly.

“I cannot go back,” Farah’s mother mourned. “I cannot risk it so soon after the surgery”

Farah got excited. “Abstergo never found it because it did not sink? So, you put me back in at that point and I pursue the ship!”

Her mother nodded with a renewed smile. Everything started to come together, and they powered up the machine. Farah kept looking to the door to see if Nadji would show up. She checked her phone more than once, even though he had technically never properly texted her in the plain. The minutes grew closer together and soon she was lying on the unremarkable glass bed with coffin style lid looming over her. Sensors connected, injections complete and lights out.

Pinpoints of shadowless light, shifting lines and a return of her alter self’s strength. She was filled with even more vigor and cunning than before. Her mind blazed at the rush of collected memories. Above, the cry of an eagle. She had grown to know this sound, it was one that reassured her she would somehow always come out on top, no matter how dire the circumstances. No matter how unlikely she was to survive a leap from incredible heights.

She was on the deck of a ship, tied to a wooden chair at a small uneven table. Her armor and weapons were gone. Her head tied firmly back, the very center of her gaze on the great Black Flag above.

The ships captain approached, full crew at attention. A flagon of mead in one hand he sat down in front of her.

“Marry me” he proposed loudly, slamming down his flagon. “For today we return to the Caribbean!”

Farah could not contain her shock. “I’ll do no such thing!”. He crumbled, first with the anger of a man who despises being told no, then rejection. Sorrow faded into resignation and long silence. He finished his mead.

“Very well, then” he concluded and stood up to leave. “Cut her loose,” he commanded. “Return her weapons. It would be a shame if she expired.” His once boisterous crew was silent as the grave, producing one small rowboat and a blanket wrapped around a few pieces of armor and her trusted cutlass. They waited until she and the boat were lowered into the water and free of the ropes before throwing down the wrapped equipment.

There was no land in sight.

Farah’s pulse would not soon relent. The nerve!

She woke the following morning, momentarily confused that she had fallen asleep in the animus and woke up still there like the rowboat was her forever home. There was a silent image in her mind. A sidebar note on a Wikipedia page. Her page.

Died       3 December 1737 (aged 55). Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.           

Her brow furrowed first in silent revelation, then confusion. “No, that was definitely NOT Captain Edward Kenway!”

Furiously, she unwrapped her equipment. A few belts, bags, the cutlass and a familiar leather bracer with three buckled straps. With a flick of her wrist, she looked to the horizon.

In the distance, a lone Brig. Above, an eagle.

Thank you for reading!

Speculative Assassin’s Creed Short Story, part 5

pirate woman on ship looks to the skies
Art commission by AyshaArt ig @k.ayshaart

This is an untitled speculative short fiction set in the world of Assassin’s Creed

read part 1 here

Part 5 – Remembrance

A curse passed her lips. Farah remembered the woman’s name; it was not her memory alone but one she shared with her ancestor. It was her ancestor.

“Excuse me?” Naomi blinked. The dark-haired woman and Farah both lay in a tangle of sensor wires at the feet of the toppled animus frame. The once illuminated bed she lay in was dark. The air was thick with the sour smell of burnt copper.

Farah repeated the name to blank stares.

“The astronomer?” Nadji asked, surprised. “Not a pirate?”

“Yes,” Farah replied. “But also, a pirate,” she corrected herself.

Ray sprung into action. “Hell, she has her own Wikipedia page with verified dates of life events.” There was a long, grim silence as the page loaded before them nearly as quickly as Farah realized she was about to read how she dies.

How she died.

Children. Grand Children. Died peacefully. Farah openly wept.

No one spoke.

One by one the computer monitors went dark, after each another fan that was silent. The broken animus bed and associated equipment was loaded into an empty freight elevator. She was told the rest would be collected by an asset recovery and destruction crew after they had disappeared. Farah’s thoughts returned to home and her Nana. She looked at her phone, thinking about how often no one cared to check the phone at home when it rang and how often Nana refused to clear or even pay mind to app notifications on her mobile. Pages of unanswered text messages lit Farah’s face as she sent another. She called and there was no answer.

“Good news!” Nadji exclaimed out of nowhere with the joy of someone who had just picked up a pizza. Farah stared. He had her suitcases.

“How?” Farah stammered.

“The police,” Nadji answered with a wicked grin. “You caused a wreck.” Nadji paused to consider his next words. “I told them you were hurt and went to the hospital and they believed me. They let me have the bags.”

“They have you on record?” Naomi’s voice went from calm to urgent. Nadji hesitated.

“That reminds me,” Nadji pivoted suddenly. “We have another bed!” Everyone blinked.

That reminds you?” Naomi was hot.

“Yeah,” Nadji’s expression became his game face. “We have a plane to catch.”

“I just figured you had met someone,” Nana laughed. “I’m fine thank you. Your Babu’s boat though has a new leak.” Earlier in the phone call Nana had also mentioned it was raining, which Farah could hear was accompanied by some wind. Nana wrapped up the call with a kind word, reassuring Farah slightly. Farah had kept to the story Nadji invented and did not mention her new friends. The hospital, a wreck, her found luggage.

Farah and Nadji sat at the small airport terminal, one in a partition out near where sea planes took off. It was the only one capable of transporting both them and the damaged bed within the time frame they had available. Naomi had produced a flawless fake passport and associated visa papers out thin air, congratulating her on her attached college recommendation with a flourish. The praise in the letter was almost excessive. Farah worried it would draw attention and was still juggling the arithmetic of how she was already a legal resident before she even arrived. Harder still to process is how going to America was going to get them closer to locating something lost in the South Asian Sea.

The animus bed, obviously. Nadji’s contact had come through in spades, and although Farah did not hear the whole of the conversation it sounded like the bed was not even in the U.S. yet. It was en route from London.

While in confidence earlier Nadji had explained to Farah that Abstergo was so close to the trail of the team that did the other hack that they were accidentally ahead of themselves when they tracked her down. Abstergo was after the other team; the other team was after her. The men she had seen were Abstergo contracted private military who believed Farah was already in-network. It was sheer luck, the span of one night, that they ruled her a false positive match outside the job faire.

Nadji had procured the hacked animus bed, which the second group of London-based hackers now needed to get rid of. Abstergo was certain to notice the bed they had pinned to the bug bounty showing up connected to the network, no matter from where. A move so risky it may work. Naomi and Ray each disappeared separate ways. Farah would not meet them again.

Unprompted, Farah began laughing quietly. “They took one look at me with food on my face and knew I was not a threat.” Farah wiped away a tear as she retold the story of the night at the job faire as Nadji doubled over laughing.

Next stop, Miami.

(this story concludes in pt 6!)

Speculative Assassin’s Creed Short Story, part 1

pirate woman on ship looks to the skies
Art commission by AyshaArt ig @k.ayshaart

This is an untitled speculative short fiction set in the world of Assassin’s Creed

Part 1 – The Warning

“Have you finished packing?”

The loud chop of a cleaver on cutting table snapped her out of a daydream. Nana was preparing the morning catch for market. Content to live as her family had a century before, Farah’s grandmother had never wished for more than their modest brick and stone home hewn into the rugged hills near the coast. The cobblestone paths and numerous uneven stairs were too small for most modern cars; those who lived here still got to town by bicycle or with handcart in tow. When Farah had first moved here, she was amazed at how different living was compared to just kilometers in any direction. Nana still woke well before dawn to take the boat out, returning around the time Farah should be leaving for Uni. Every morning she rode her bicycle to the ferry to cross the channel and catch a bus to the city, standing out in her modern clothes like a glowing sign amid the fishermen. It had been home when she needed one, but she could not remain.

Packing, right. A year ago, she would have been relieved to move back into the city. Her prior room in the high-rise apartments had a window that looked out over the business district. Living with her mother had been contentious at times but was mostly just lonely due to her frequent long hours. Well, up until the tech giant unexpectedly divested assets and her mother’s job moved overseas. Farah’s Visa, even expedited, was more than a year delayed. Thank skies for Nana.

Nana was strict, serious but not unkind. She was a shrewd negotiator and had known the volatile fishing markets and family business dynamics longer than most of the merchants had been alive. Her profits were slight, but with no debt to speak of she enjoyed a comfortable, simple life. She reminded Farah often how far back generations of her family had lived here.

CHOP. Farah struggled to bring her mind back to the present. The events of the previous nights at the Tech Institute were too bizarre for her to dismiss as incidental. The job faire began with about as much disappointment as she expected, required experience she didn’t have, unpaid opportunities, corporations with dubious social standing and a stack of pamphlets she would not look at a second time. But later, hot street cart kebab in hand, an unexpected exotic car pulled up and stopped directly by her on the walk. The suits inside were British and seemed to have been following her. How did they know her? Their generous offer seemed suspicious. Did her mother arrange this? There is no way every island-locked teen who entered into a web browser the words “abstergo jobs” got a visit from business guys in Italian cars.

Farah finished packing the last of her things, which amounted to two well stuffed suitcases and a backpack. She did not look forward to the stares she would get hauling all this on and off the bus. She could not say louder I’m moving if she yelled. Her grandmother was waiting at the door. She handed Farah a warm cloth wrapped scone with some preserves. This was it; it was goodbye again. The interruption in the morning routine was ceremony enough. Today Nana would ride the ferry to the bus stop with her to wish her a good trip.

Brief rain showers set the mood for the bus ride, mercifully ceasing just long enough for her to lug the suitcases into the subway. As she identified the stop she should wait at, she wondered how she would get along with her new roommates. They all were attending Uni as she was, although some had gone home for the summer. An odd tone from her phone startled her from her thoughts. It was on silent. The notice was from a random Bluetooth device that had attached to her phone with a strange name. She quickly went into settings to disable the Bluetooth and saw in the connection details the device was named “DO NOT TAKE THE CAR”.

It was mid-morning, before the lunch rush so not many people waiting or unboarding at this stop. Farah looked around fearful, no one suspicious – wait. Taller kid maybe her age, hoodie, shoulder bag, track pants and brightly colored sneakers just disappearing up a flight of stairs as he pocketed a phone. Was it her imagination or did he glance at her as he rounded the next stairs up? She looked back to the train, door open waiting for her to board. The car was almost empty. What was she doing? she scolded herself, but her feet would not move to the car. The door closed, and the train left. She looked back to her phone and the device connection was gone.

Exasperated at herself, she lugged the suitcases up both flights of stairs and looked around. There were not many more people at this level, storefront lights saturated the tile floors and low concrete ceiling. At a nearby newsstand an uninterested clerk stared at her phone. On the small sales counter a newspaper was folded in half. The clerk made eye contact with Farah briefly, popping bubblegum. Wary, she picked up the newspaper and left a few coins on the counter. Incredulous, Farah opened it to find a street address written on it.

The sound of expensive shoes tapping on tile warned Farah of a man in a suit approaching, hand descending from what she thought might be an ear-piece, looking her way. The clerk was still staring at her phone. Farah left, suitcase wheels making a chorus of noise as she moved quickly to the street level. The address was someplace she knew only in relation to other buildings it was near but she knew how to get there and that it wasn’t very far. She felt panic setting in as she made it out of the subway into the humid midday streets. What a sight she must make, she winced, the only woman hauling two large suitcases into downtown like she was late for something. She felt eyes on her even if no one was looking. Was it obvious how afraid she looked, or that she was running from a random guy? Or following the directions of a kid to a location she was unfamiliar with like a complete fool? She shook her head to focus, sweat was starting to form on her brow.

She reached a busy intersection, checking her composure as she alternated between wanting to cry and acute self-awareness. Her phone chimed again, startling her. She looked down, it was the Bluetooth again. “NOT THAT WAY”, the device read. She scanned the shoulder to shoulder crowd, cars and eyed straight in the direction she was about to cross a grey van. She worried she was imagining all of this, cracked from the stress of moving. Still, she changed course and began on the walk to her left against the flow of walking traffic. The tires on the van squealed as it turned suddenly to adjust to her new direction. That was Farah’s last straw. Tears welling as she broke into a run, she pushed through people knowing she had to get with the flow of traffic or risk them catching up. She darted into traffic to the blare of horns as she narrowly evaded the Van and cut into an alley that connected closer to where she needed to go. The honks of traffic behind her faded, but the rev of an engine sounding off the narrow brick passage told her all she needed to know; the van had followed into the alley. With a cry she abandoned her suitcases and broke into a sprint.

(continued in pt 2)

Three things I hope to see in Watch Dogs Legion

credit: newsweek

Keep Calm and Resist. Watch Dogs Legion follows one of my favorite games of all time, Watch Dogs 2. The third installment of this story driven stealth sandbox by Ubisoft continues the exploits of the hacktivist group Dedsec first told in Chicago, San Francisco and now in the near future of the UK. With a narrative that frequently feels torn straight from actual headlines, Watch Dogs has skirted closer to current events and issues than most games dare tread. Still, the success of Legion is not guaranteed and I would not envy the writers tasked with releasing a “Post Brexit” story in the ongoing real world political climate. With that said, I can’t wait to see how well they have done. Here are three things I hope to see in the upcoming release.

A memorable, well written cast

The Watch Dogs franchise has been told from the perspective of exceptionally well written characters to date, from Aiden in the original to Marcus, Sitara, Wrench and Josh in Watch Dogs 2. Their individual backstories were of no small consequence in how the world was built. Watch Dogs Legion treads into new territory with a breakthrough concept of potentially millions of complex but otherwise randomly generated characters living and going about their lives in London that are potential protagonists – a next gen sandbox for storytelling. Transitioning from a fixed cast in Watch Dogs 2, perhaps one of the best in a game in the last decade to loosely random characters with plot seeds must be an incredibly daunting task for their team of writers and world builders. I applaud them for their pioneering spirit in this effort, but I remain cautious to see it succeed. I hope to feel the same kind of attachment to the characters in my story that I did in 2. Tall Order? You bet, but I wont count this team out until I see it myself.

Deep Stealth

Probably one of my favorite aspects of Watch Dogs 2 was how many of the complex puzzles could be solved by only non-lethal means, many by stealth and good situational awareness alone – including one of the hardest missions late in the game. With all respect to the folks who work on the combat systems, hacktivism and gun culture have marginal overlap at best and with the saturation of technical survival shooters on the market today Watch Dogs Legion has nothing to bring to the RPG-lite shooter genre.

Post Launch Content

Of my three wishes, after what we saw in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Origins this seems like the easiest (?) ask – compelling ongoing seasonal content. The DLC for the prior Watch Dogs felt very late however well done. Origins and Odyssey were each blessed with substantial support for further story and timed events that drove player engagement long after the story was finished.

To conclude with a fourth wish, I hope we catch a glimpse of the stateside Dedsec crew at some point in the story as it evolves, it was too good to leave behind. I hope to see an official release date announced soon.

For Honor – Such Beautiful Flaws

for-honor-standard-edition

Like a spring-loaded boxing glove in a shiny wrapped box, For Honor is the gift that keeps on giving well past your second black eye. Equal parts stunning faux-history medieval brawler and cruel test of patience and temper, Ubisoft’s unconventional arena fighter pits Knights, Samurai and Viking warriors in a cycle of never ending war. As unforgiving as it is breathtaking, it will bring out the worst – and occasionally the best – in any team.

The heart of the game is symmetrical, cinematic 1v1 Duels, 2v2 Brawls and a variety of epic 4v4 melee battle modes. Each of the three factions has four classes loosely categorized into well-rounded Vanguard, armored Heavy, nimble Assassins and wildcard Hybrids. However it would be more accurate to just say there are twelve characters, as you can only draw distant similarities between two of the same class, like the Samurai Hybrid and a Knight Hybrid, despite both using polearms. Each of the twelve has a staggering amount of visual and technical customization to further match a specific playstyle or loadout, with gear appearance and performance customization on par with the highest end RPG and way beyond anything I’ve seen in traditional arena games. The feeling of ownership of a fighter as you raise them, unlock feats and collect gear for different loadouts is only further emphasized when you’re thrown into the fray. Unlike some other competitive games where gear stats only matter in top tier combat, the default PvP mode here has gear stats enabled. Battles are brisk, do-or(and)-die trying pace with zero room for mistakes. The melee combat itself is a masterpiece of exact directional blocking, dodging, parries, strike distance, stamina, footwork and oh, learning to avoid any ledge taller than a street curb. Combine light and heavy attacks into Street-Fighter-esque combination moves that must be memorized per hero, each with situational advantages and potential one hit kill uses, and try to survive for the chance to show off a brutal execution move. The difficulty of the combat also makes it very rewarding when you win. I’d dare say this is the skeleton in the closet – the dirty secret, so to speak. If it were easy, it would probably be a lot less fun.

New players will do well to enjoy the story mode first, which is not too short and teaches most of the class basics along the way. It can be played alone or co-op with a friend. Ratchet up the difficulty and the story mode is also nearly impassible challenge on “realistic” mode, at least towards the last few chapters. The AI in both the story mode and the Player vs. AI versions of the multiplayer modes is often surprisingly clever, although prone to predictable patterns in some situations. I find it fascinating in either case, as the different bots seem to have assigned behaviors. Also as they seem to also have a set of pre-assigned names (a few which are just as ridiculous as some real names I run across), you soon start to recognize some of them from prior battles. Some are notably more aggressive, others will flee a fight to find help, and some are just as cheap as their human counterparts can be. I’d love to chat with the team that worked on the AI to see how they make the magic work. In mixed AI and PvP modes, the game auto tunes the AI bots for the skill ranking average of the teams. In custom modes you can select the difficulty level of the bot AI to better test yourself as you practice for the apex predators of For Honor; the other real players.

Even in game modes like elimination where it is a series of four not-quite-isolated 1v1 duels (4v4 total on the same map), it is more or less guaranteed that as soon after the first body drops, someone will find themselves defending in a 1v2 fight, likely injured. Even though there is a scoring mechanic that gives extra points for honorable 1v1 kills, most matches center around uneven fights. A skilled player can survive being outnumbered, but in an even match the odds are definitely with the mob. This encourages some very bad tactical behaviors, and combined with working knowledge of ledges and natural bottlenecks in a specific map can turn a lot of fights into a slaughter by the better coordinated or plain dirty tricks. Class balance is arguably imperfect, specially in certain modes with characters that have easy-to-perform block breaking or body tossing chains yield a lion-vs-lamb advantage if a ledge or spike wall is nearby. An easy, legitimate counter argument may be to try and squeeze the classes into rock-paper-scissors classifications, which feels super accurate if you are playing paper against a scissors class in a 1v1 duel. Is that balanced? Maybe. For Honor treats the entire concept of dirty fighting and unfair situational advantage as the last rule of the battlefield: victory to the team that wanted it more.

Despite its glitches and numerous flaws, it remains highly engaging to play. It gets under your skin, for the better or worse. You’ll find out for yourself if you are comfortable being the plus one in an unfair fight, or if you can muster the respect to let your ally live or die on their own merit on principal alone, even risking a loss to let your opponent settle his affairs one honorable fight at a time. Or maybe you’ll cackle with glee as you finally behead the ledge kill spamming Heavy at any cost. This is a game for both types.

If I wasn’t clear, this game is a blast to play. It is easy to pick up, difficult to put down and worth hundreds of hours to master. It will definitely be a candidate for Game of the Year and is one of the more ambitious Ubisoft multiplayer games to date. With an optional season pass and another six fighter types coming in future expansions plus an innovative seasonal faction vs. faction persistent score, their intentions for this to be supported for the long haul are well entrenched.

Broken controller replacement not included.

The Division Beta Impressions and Feedback

image credit: ubisoft
image credit: ubisoft

Agent, you’ve been activated. It is time to take back New York City. After breaking radio silence on their upcoming openworld shooter RPG “The Division”, Ubisoft invited fans who had pre-ordered the game to participate in closed beta this weekend. Beta for Xbox One began one day ahead of PC and Playstation, which will run through Sunday evening. My wife and I sat down to run through it today and had a really good time of it. What follows are some of our observations, feedback and most of all; praise.

Update: Although video capture sharing is disabled for the Xbox One version of the beta, I had an opportunity to try it on PC. Here is a link to some footage: The Division PC Beta – 1080p Ultra

A well built beta experience

The new player briefing and developer commentary was specially prepared for this beta audience. It explained, accurately, that there would be bugs and more specifically what kind of bugs to expect. It also provided guidelines as to what content was not included in beta, and finally a quick guide to surviving. The result was something that seemed fully built – most of the missing features were visible but labelled as not included.

“Always On” multiplayer

Although most of the city is “squad only” multiplayer in terms of encountering other players, your friends who are playing are also shown on the map with an option to join them even if they are not currently in your squad. Furthermore, the quest hub areas and competitive PVP/PVE “Dark Zone” are dynamically filled with other players without any interaction from the player, and except for the pause when you join a squad, there are no loading screens going between these two types of game areas at all. Included is a matchmaking service, conveniently also located at the quest hubs.

Distinct factions

The two enemy factions we encountered in the beta included looters and the flame-thrower wielding “cleaners”. Promotional footage suggests at least two more major factions that are not featured in the beta. Each of the factions bring their own twist to an encounter depending on which “class” or type of that enemy are present, and if any of them are elite or named opponents with special abilities or weapons. For example, most groups of looters will have at least one melee equipped “charger”, and frequently another that is equipped with tear gas or another type of grenade. Most of the enemies that have a weapon that should be fired from cover will use cover and line of sight to their advantage (but not always). Contrast this with a chance encounter with the cleaners, where threat of sudden fiery death from their flame thrower equipped heavies requires different tactics than a shootout with lightly armored looters. From go, I found this creates a believable and engaging atmosphere.

Huge, haunting play area.

Despite beta being fenced into just one portion of the total play area, I was immediately struck by the sheer size of the environment. This is one thing really not evident in the pre-beta footage until you see it for yourself – moving around down town New York conveys an intense sense of scale and catastrophe, better than probably any other shooter I have ever played. Exploration opportunities abound, whether you choose to jog directly to your active mission marker or sweep carefully street by street, there are countless details, alleys, underground entrances and rooftop access that make the map seem even larger.

Solid RPG Shooter foundation

The Division is first and foremost an RPG in a cover-based 3rd person shooter’s clothing. All of the players skills are designed to compliment small team tactics against a variety of challenging situations. Advancement, talents, gear customization and specialization further allow the player to tailor their agent to their preferred role in a team, or survival as a lone gun. There are no classes, so one agent can technically fill any role on the fly just by changing their active skill selections and gear.

All those bullets

One caveat and constructive feedback I find in The Divisions’ RPG roots is the dramatic health scaling of difficult AI opponents, although this is a common trait to most RPG Shooters like Borderlands or Fallout. Many elite or boss opponents are tough because of the sheer amount of armor and hit points assigned to them – you’ll empty magazine after magazine into headshots against them unless you are quite over-geared for the encounter. If this has ever bugged you in another game, it’s going to bug you here. I didn’t find it to take anything away from the game or sense of difficulty, and may even make the game more accessible to fans who enjoy that pace over headshot-galleries like Call of Duty and Battlefield. Your milage may vary.

Dark Zone

Saving the best for last – we loved the Dark Zone. Ubisoft has a smoking hot recipe for a rich multiplayer challenge on their hands with how well cooperative PvE challenge and PvP mayhem blend in the Dark Zone. Every aspect of the game leads to it, and the best loot and toughest AI (and living) opponents are found there. You’re welcome to journey in alone but most of the encounters encourage or require cooperation, and the inevitable shootout between player squads ups the fun factor substantially. I found most players were helpful, specially given how frequently they may need to be revived while exploring PvE challenges or just trying to escape. Some seemed to be trying their boundaries with attacking vulnerable players, but the “rogue agent” flagging system tends to get the inexperienced griefer quickly executed. On the other hand, organized teams of rogue agents are a force to be reckoned with. Once they reach “rogue status five” for repeat aggression all nearby players get a bounty mission to kill them; they get a corresponding mission to survive for a set amount of time. The death penalty corresponds to how much “dark zone loot” and currency you’d managed to collect in that trip – you lose a portion of it when you die – and I felt it was “just right” to not feel overly punished for getting killed while still feeling the sting when you get iced right before an extract with a full pack. It’s bold and highly satisfying.

I am very encouraged by what I’ve seen so far, and look forward to the full release in March. See you in New York!

%d bloggers like this: