Honoring The Call and Sailing The Stars

Welcome to Save State, where people HAVEN’T done unspeakable things to my mom in the latest Call of Duty game’s beta.

In the last couple weeks I was able to download and play the Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War beta, and actually had a great time. One of the last Call of Duty entries really impressed me (Black Ops 4), as I normally never played much of Call of Duty series instead preferring arena shooters like Unreal Tournament, Halo 3, or ones with emphasis on teamwork and vehicles like Battlefield Bad Company 2, 3, and 4. So, generally speaking, I prefer my shooters fast and insanely aggressive (Unreal Tournament) or slow and methodical, with vehicles in the mix (Halo, Battlefield). The beta for Black Ops – Cold War has shown a lot of promise with gameplay that’s extremely aggressive, with players moving relatively constantly. One feature all of the previous games have is that they reward players who control areas by aggressively moving and maintaining a high score per minute like Battlefield. The map design is pretty much sublime, with multiple paths and cover littered all around, with the desert map Satellite being a personal favorite.

Sometimes visibility can be an issue, though that may simply be due to my inexperience with the maps. Opposing factions can share operators, so there were times when I would have otherwise had an enemy dead to rights that I passed on shooting them because the exact same character was currently on my team. I’m sure this issue will pass with experience, though the Cartel map may take quite a bit to get used to with its busy foliage that people can use to easily hide.

Ardent Call of Duty fans would likely engage in rampant discussions about time to kill or small mechanics that change on a game-to-game basis, but I’m wholly unequipped to discuss minute details when my experience with the modern version of the franchise is pretty much Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops 4, and now this. One thing that was immediately noticed is that getting hit while shooting used to cause you to flinch and throw your aim off, which still occurs visually in the Cold War beta, but doesn’t seem to have any actual effect on my aiming at all, which is a wonderful change.

I basically have no idea what is good and what isn’t, but you can basically customize your class to have whatever you want in it, and you even get some reasonably detailed information on the guns as you mess about in the gunsmith. Upon hitting level 4 you get the ability to make your own class rather than use the default ones, which lets you pick your weapons, perks, a wildcard, and what equipment you’d like to use. Lethal equipment include your frag grenade, Molotov cocktail, and remote C4, while tactical equipment lets you select from a smoke or stun grenade, or a quick use heal to bring you back to full health after a firefight. There’s also field upgrades like proximity mines and field microphones, the latter of which seem really powerful as it makes enemy sounds pop up on your mini map.

You also get 3 perks to choose from, with the selection being things like Flak Jacket, which reduces explosives damage, Scavenger, which allows you to pick up ammo from dead players, Gung-Ho, which lets you shoot and use equipment while sprinting. Lastly, wildcards let you choose from a selection of useful bonuses, such as Gunfighter giving you extra attachment slots for your guns, or Perk Greed giving, you guessed it, additional perks. Your scorestreaks can also be changed, though interestingly in this beta they’re less of streaks and more of just… bonuses that accumulate over time, like ultimates in Overwatch.

Your scorestreaks no longer reset on death, it seems, so you can call in a Spy Plane or Air Strike even though you died, though the amount of points you need to accumulate seem very high. This creates a weird dichotomy in Team Deathmatch where long streaks can’t really be used. For example, a teammate was 16-0 or something like that and complained that he finally got his chopper gunner but there were only like eight kills to go. Meanwhile I had called in at least five or six spy planes that game and had died four or five times in between. From what I understand of the system, the multiplier you get per kill resets on death while the overall accumulated score does not- so a 15 kill streak will still yield a chopper gunner for the good player (or will take up to 50 or 60 kills if the streak bonus isn’t maintained), and the bad or mediocre ones can have fun calling in Artillery strikes RC-XDs (a type of remote control car with a bomb attached) by getting a couple four or five kill streaks every so often or via playing the objectives.

Speaking of objectives, there’s a variety of game modes this time around as one would expect. Regular Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Domination, and more return alongside some new modes. VIP Escort, for example, is a new mode where you escort a specific player to one of two set locations in order to win. Respawns are disabled in this mode, but you can revive a teammate before they completely bleed out to keep numbers on your side. Combined Arms: Domination and Assault are fantastic game modes, giving players access to tanks and jeeps to drive, forcing players to move about the map and capture objectives in order to earn points. In Domination, all objectives are available like the Conquest mode in Battlefield, while in Assault only one objective is available for capture (like a King of the Hill mode).

The open beta for this upcoming Call of Duty title was a great time. There are still some cases of wonky net code (an enemy that shoots you through a corner that you never saw, for example), but for an open beta that’s pretty much still to be expected. The new game modes are incredibly fun, the new maps look great (very few door-like chokepoints), and there have been some changes to make the game a little bit more accessible to newer players. Whether that actually translates into retaining long-time fans of the series will have to be seen, however, as almost every experienced Call of Duty player I ran into over the course of the beta had some awful words regarding the score streak system, time to kill, or something else. Being effectively a fair-weather Call of Duty player, however, I was basically blissfully ignorant of most of these issues and thoroughly enjoyed my time.

With that said, a game did actually pull itself from the grim abyss that is my backlog this last week: Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, a game that I discovered I had not just one, but two copies of for some reason. The two copies even have different cover artwork, and I don’t even know where the one with the purple box art came from, or why I have it. Could the backlog be multiplying by itself? The differences in cover art made me think that there were some differences in the game that I remembered from my childhood, so I popped the disc into the tray and one again started my journey through the stars.

(brief note: There were no differences. It’s the exact same game, Square Enix just completely changed the artwork for the Greatest Hits release).

In Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, players take up the role of Fayt Leingod, who much like Leonard Church, you will fear his laser face. The game actually begins with Fayt’s family and his childhood friend and notable best girl Sophia on the resort planet of Hyda IV, because this is a sci-fi fantasy game and resort planets sound awesome. Players will spend time getting exposition about the universe until an alien force attacks the planet, causing Fayt to be separated from his family and friend as he’s flung deep into space onto an undeveloped planet. This basically sparks Fayt’s adventure across two underdeveloped planets, battling against an alien race with seemingly limitless power.

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time features a combat system where if you touch enemies on the overworld map, you’re transported to a small battlefield in order to fight them in a real-time action system. You run around in the 3D space and can attack by performing both strong and weak attacks, skills or use powerful symbology (as with Star Ocean 2, this is delicious, magical science) to deal damage, heal, or provide other benefits. Each character’s attacks are determined by distance to the enemy- so for example a character may kick when you press the O button when close to your target, but may pull out a gun and shoot if you’re further away. Battle skills are set the same way, with 2 being for your X or O button when close, and 2 being set for those buttons but when you’re further away from your target. To do a basic attack, simply tap the button, but to do a skill, you need to hold the button for a short duration, and if you cancel a basic attack into a skill, you can get a nice damage bonus on that skill which increases the more attacks you chain into a combo, to a max of +300%.

Approaching enemies and stringing together combos using whatever attacking options are present for your characters is very important in Till the End of Time, with the combat acting very similarly to the Tales of series with a dash of Secret of Mana, thanks to the Fury meter that makes you take a brief break from button mashing attacks. The Fury meter refills when you’re not attacking, and expends when you do- it also provides some other great benefits when full such as leaving you with 1HP against an attack that would have otherwise killed you in one hit. There is also a bonus gauge that increases as you fight enemies, which can yield bonuses like triple experience gain or double the money earned from battle if you finish the battle without dying.

There are ten playable characters in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, and four of them are optional, though several characters do leave and return over the course of the adventure. Fayt is primarily an attacker, and Sophia, whom you recruit later as part of the story, can gain access to some powerful damage and utility spells as the game progresses. Some characters, like Nel, have a lot of flexibility and can perform more than one role, whether it be healing, long range damage, close quarters damage, or even primarily tanking hits from enemies while your long range attackers do their thing. While you can recruit up to ten characters, only three of them can join you in battle, with two being controlled by the AI (and thankfully you can use a button to switch from one character to another during combat).

There’s a tremendously intricate crafting system in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time that can be accessed from numerous workshops scattered across the main planet of the game. Item Creation has many steps, modifiers, and functions, and you can recruit NPCs to help you invent items, as well as creation help items that gives bonuses to different, specific types of crafting and are all found as you go through the game, making crafting great items easier. Every single playable character, as well as NPC inventor, has specific parameters that they bring to the table when crafting, and you can generate items that heal and revive the whole team with 30% health, for example, even in early game if you have the know how.

There are separate endings in the game, each giving you a brief epilogue after defeating the final boss, all determined by different actions you took throughout the game. Private Actions return in this game as a more organic system where you can talk to your party members while in town, and you’re given choices that you can answer to boost said party member’s affection for you, which can increase the odds of getting that character’s ending.

For a game that I played again just because I found a mysterious second copy, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time was a great experience. The crafting system basically requires a guide in order to understand because there are so many parameters and bonuses, as well as information outright hidden from the player, that it can be hard to craft the items you may want or need to strengthen your equipment without having some kind of foreknowledge of what to do, but thankfully there are tons of guides on the subject due to the age of this game. The combat is still fast and frenetic, enjoyable to a fault, with a fair amount of post game content in three separate multi-floor dungeons that feature a number of superbosses that can be quite challenging- practically requiring that you mastered the Item Creation system before getting this far.

With that, we’ve hit Ctrl+S on this week’s Save State. Join us in two weeks when maybe there will be some games that have a more political slant to them- if I can ever find my copy of Dumpster Fire Simulator 2020, that is!

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