All posts by Thomas Souter

Teacher, editor and writer. Get in touch at contact (at) TPReview (dot) co (dot) uk

Destiny 2 Vanilla Review (PS4)

I think I’m finally in a position to review Destiny 2. I’ve spent 100 hours in-game, got the platinum, completed the raid, finished the prestige nightfall, went flawless in Trials of the Nine, and got all three characters to max level (only one is 305 but they’ll get there). Just like Destiny 1, I think I’ve burned through all the content within a month of launch, and I’m still not entirely sure how much I enjoy it.

Clearly I’ve got my money’s worth, 100 hours is a ridiculous amount of time to spend on a game I only paid £40 for and I would easily recommend it to anyone with any kind of passing interest in FPS games; but still there’s a nagging feeling that it should have been so much better.

For those who have been avoiding the pages of Eurogamer and have no experience with Destiny as a franchise, it is a new breed of FPS from Halo-developers Bungie. Freed from their Microsoft overlords they embarked on a mission to create a multiplatform FPS that fuses some of the best elements of MMOs and FPS games together, and they largely succeeded with the first Destiny. It wasn’t perfect and took a few patches and expansion to realise the dream, but they created a new genre that was definitely appealing and addictive. You play through a standard FPS story mode with some open world aspects then group up with other players to work your way into the ‘end-game’ made up of typical MMO tropes of dungeons, raids, and PVP. In return for beating the various challenges you get gear that increases in power, and thus begins the familiar MMO treadmill of getting better gear to be able to take on harder content in order to get better gear and so on.

The first Destiny did a fantastic job of introducing raid mechanics with the Vault of Glass raid and proved that FPS games could work with raid mechanics and large group strategy. While the game didn’t really find a proper voice in terms of story and progression until the later expansions, that first raid really hooked a certain type of player and we were all looking forward to the sequel to see what they could do next. Then Bungie decided to take a step backwards.

While Destiny 2 is an incredibly accomplished game, it moves backwards in nearly every respect to be closer to what the original game was before the DLC. The horde modes, sparrow racing, reputation grinds and even sparrow horns are all gone. Raid and strike gear has lost the interesting perks that made them unique to that part of the game. PVP has a very limited pool of maps and only three playlists to choose from. The Patrol zones (open world areas where you can complete various objectives for rewards) all feel strangely lifeless with the exception of the excellent EDZ.

That’s not to say what’s there is bad in most respects, it’s a beautiful game, the music is hauntingly memorable and evocative, the gunplay is as satisfying as ever, the strikes and raid are nearly faultless (with the exception of one strike that happens to be this week’s nightfall) and the campaign is much more effective and interesting than its predecessor.

It just feels like so much is missing and no one needs to ask why, they’re keeping it for DLC. The season pass is already on offer and will clearly reintroduce much of what we’ve lost to people that pay for it, over the course of the year. I’m sure by this time next year we’ll have at least one more raid, more strikes, more exotics, more multiplayer modes and more patrol zones, but by the end of it I’m worried that we’ll just be clawing our way back to how good the first game was by the end. Bungie had an opportunity to take their awesome framework, make a huge amount of content to justify a new game, then go even further with their DLC. Instead we have a stripped back game, almost devoid of real end-game content, and an offer to pay a lot more money to get what we’ve lost back further down the line.

The issues with end-game only really manifest after you’ve put in a decent amount of time already into the game. If you’re the sort of person who’s only going to be playing for an hour or two a week, ignore this and just go get the game. You’ll have an awesome time with it and never run out of things to do. If you’re like me and want to put in 5+ hours a night, you’ll run into the same problems I have. Firstly, the maximum level is too attainable. Once you get to level 20 (around 8-10 hours in for your first character) you can only progress by getting item drops that increase your average power level. The maximum currently is 305 and this can be achieved by simply grinding any of the activities available to you at that point. You can complete public events over and over in any of the open-world areas, where you complete objectives and kill enemies, possibly with the help of other random players or your friends. These are pretty entertaining but get repetitive quick as there’s only five or six that repeat every few minutes. You could go for strikes (dungeons) but these are quite slow and inefficient, only giving you a little bit of gear at the end. You can do crucible, which is the PVP mode where currently games take too long to be a good method of grinding, but you can get amazing rewards (not for being good, just for participating).

Then there’s the weekly tasks, each week you can take on public events on a certain planet, complete a more challenge form of a strike called a Nightfall, where you’re up against a time and various other modifiers, complete the Prestige Nightfall which is even more difficult, run through the raid, or complete Trials which is a special PVP mode where you see how many games you can win before you get a loss. Get seven in a row without losing and you get a huge amount of gear and a special emblem. Every week these tasks give you a new powerful reward that will boost your level considerably, and even with three characters it doesn’t take too long to get through all of them.

Now the problem is that after two weeks of completing all of these different events, I have maxed out a character, with the other two very close. Once you get to 305 there’s very little to strive for beyond finding certain weapons (complete luck for all but a few quest exotics). There’s no reputation levels to increase or progression for the PvP system at all.

So while I’m obviously a fringe case and not everyone will spend the amount of time I have on the game, Destiny fans are voracious and lots of people are already feeling a similar way, there’s just nothing to works towards. Think of WoW’s faction grinds, Call of Duty’s prestige modes or Battlefield’s ranks. There’s always progress, always a carrot to urge you on, and that’s what’s missing from Destiny 2 at the moment. It’s an incredible game, and I’ve loved all the time I’ve spent with it so far, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that there should have been so much more.

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Ark: Survival Evolved Review (PC)

So Ark is out of Early Access and is now officially released. A dinosaur based sandbox survival game, Ark sees you and your friends (or enemies) gathering, crafting, building, and taming on a tropical island (or a scorching desert in the controversial paid DLC). You go through an underpowered weakling struggling to survive on scraps of cooked meat and berries to a powerful clan with numerous complexes all over the map, mech-style gear for you and your dinosaurs and a mostly automated system of gathering so you never run out of crafting materials. But is it any fun?

My feelings towards Ark can be summed up in two brutally short stories. One evening, on an official server on the Xbox One, Naimgear and me spent five hours taming a pair of sarcosaurs (giant crocodiles) in the always-dangerous swamp. Taming involved knocking them out with a huge amount of crafted tranquiliser arrows and bolts, and then sitting by the unconcious beast while you feed it narcotics and meat for hours on end, praying that nothing from the swamp comes out to kill you. We eventually got both of them, made the dangerous swim back to our base using our very expensive saddles, and put both of them in a giant pen we had been creating for this very purpose. We logged off, satisfied that they were safe.

The next day we logged on and everything had been destroyed. The giant warehouse we kept our flyers in, the giant pen, both sarcos, everything was gone. This was because some other players had seen our base and wanted to destroy it, no other reason.

The second story was on an unofficial server on the PC with ‘TheArrow’ and Naimgear where gathering and taming was sped up to be twice as fast, making the tames and building not quite so painful. We had built up a huge metal base with turrets on top, vaults inside, and electricity to power all manner of top-tier crafting benches. We had a pet T-Rex, a Brontosaurus, a Quetzal (the largest bird in the game that is notoriously tricky to tame because it never lands) and more. While we were playing the other two had gone off to gather things from nearby mountains while I was doing some basic chores around the base, fertilising planets, filling up feeding troughs etc. Then it arrived. A gigantosaurus, the largest of the carnivores in Ark, spawned in the middle of our base. Instantly everything went crazy because it took a disliking to one dinosaur and bit it, causing every other dinosaur to attack. Suddenly the base was a flurry of tooth and claw, but the gigantosaurus was high level and was winning easily. They go berserk when they take too much damage, and this one was destroying absolutely everything with reckless abandon. The main metal base fell almost instantly, along with most of our supplies and defences. The collection of dinosaurs was decimated as many of the carnivores who might have been able to help were trapped behind the herbivores and the flyers were on passive to make sure no one could kite them out of our base. Eventually I hopped on the quetzal and led the lizard away into the sea, hoping to drown it. This involved flying close enough to make it think it could bite me, then flying up and away so it missed and chased for a while. Leaving the smouldering wreckage of our 100-hour base behind, I flew out to sea. Then it bit the bird and we lost that too.

Both of these events were immensely frustrating and the reason I quit playing on each console, but then both couldn’t have been that frustrating if it wasn’t for the tens of hours I spent building up to that moment. Ark is a game that draws you in and absorbs your time, and the thrill of exploration and expansion is very real. There’s nothing like building a huge fortress with your friends and there’s always a project to be getting on with. If you log in alone you can head off to gather some rarer materials or even just expand your buildings a little. When everyone is on together you can take on a challenging tame, or explore a cave (which are unbelievably tough challenges until you have end-game gear and levelled dinos) or raid another team’s base.

Of course there are horrible disasters that will befall you, but you can mitigate most of these through your choice of server and base location. PvP servers make the game much more exciting and makes success more rewarding, but you’re constantly faced with the threat of being wiped while you’re offline because people are cowards. PvE servers are safer, but a little more boring and you end up butting against the strange building restrictions that occur when you allow hundreds of new players to build little huts everywhere but then not letting you destroy them to make space. You can make your own servers and play offline single-player or with a small group but then you’re missing out on the social aspect of Ark altogether. The point is, you have a choice and that choice is very broad. You can play Ark how you want to play it and once you get into a server you like, there’s a huge amount of things to do and fun to be had.

Sadly, there’s also a lot of annoyances in the game that will cause you problems at some point and betray the game’s lack of polish. Dinosaurs will glitch through the map and clip into rocks, you’ll be attacked by things you can’t see (especially underwater), when you’re building things will get placed in the wrong position at the last second, wasting your materials. While Ark is an impressively broad sandbox, it’s not a very refined one, and the developers have focused on introducing new dinosaurs and tech into the game without ever really fixing some of the key problems.

Thankfully on PC you can use mods and private servers to alleviate much of this, and even add in new maps and features. It really is a very customisable game and will no doubt persist for a long while after the developers stop providing new things thanks to the excellent community that works hard to create new things for people to play with – but for a game that is now charging a high retail price (£50 at the time of writing) you’re going to be getting something of much lower quality than you would probably expect.

For all its issues, Ark is an incredible game. It’s easy to spend hundreds of hours in its worlds and each time you start afresh on a new server you’ll have all of that fun all over again, but despite it coming out of Early Access, do be aware that you’re very much paying £50 for something that feels like a work in progress.

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