The new Stalker cloak

In late July, DBG made a performance pass on the infiltrator cloak based on movement states.  Here’s a link and the relevant notes:  https://forums.daybreakgames.com/ps2/index.php?threads/game-update-7-23.230253/

  • Infiltrator cloaks now have additional states based on movement.
    • Crouching no change
    • Crouch walking is now much less visible
    • Standing is now less visible
    • Running is slightly less visible
    • Sprinting, no change

What does this mean for players?  A lot more than I had initially thought to be honest.  But the short answer is that stalker cloak is much MUCH more viable than it ever has been.  Crouch walking and standing are very difficult to see and allow for a clever stalker to control engagements and gain the upper hand in combat and base disruption.

The stalker cloak has been in the game for over 1 1/2 years now.  When it first came out, I was pretty excited about it, hoping to finally be able to maintain a presence behind enemy lines, hacking terminals and softening defenses in advance of my squad or platoon.  And while this worked to an extent, the reality was that infiltrators remained partially visible, whether due to how they appeared on low settings or the fact that if you moved even a slight bit, you left “deep cloak” and were easy to spot.  I had some fun with stalker and the crossbow, but found myself mostly camping terminals for cheap kills and dying in frustrating ways behind enemy lines with no easy way to get back into that position.

But since the release of stalker, we’ve had several changes to the game which have all added up to a new paradigm.  First, EMP grenades have been buffed several times – they now remove deployables, disable engineer turrets and sap heavy shields, medic regen and LA jetpacks.  One good toss will soften up a whole room of infantry, allowing your sidearm to be as deadly as a Betelgeuse.  The crossbow, while a nice attempt at a sidearm designed for the stalker, has some serious shortcomings when you have nothing else to fall back on.  However, the need for a midrange secondary was fulfilled this year with the release of the NS-44 Blackhand.  It’s basically a Commissioner with a 4x scope and 4 rounds per reload, which finally gives stalkers the ability to kill at mid range without putting themselves in significant danger.  Lastly, we saw the addition of the OHK knifes – The Carver, Lumine Edge and Ripper.  These babies, while somewhat flawed, allow you to silently (relatively) cut through infantry in a single hit – perfect for that moment when you have patiently waited for everyone to look away.

One last mention – implants.  It’s hard to remember that far back, but we didn’t actually have implants back when stalker first came out.  Say what you will about them – but there are a few very nice choices for stalker that further enhance your ability to remain undetected and efficient behind enemy lines.

But lets get back to the cloak.  What exactly has the recent changes done to improve upon the initial shortcomings of stalker cloak?  Well, I had all but discarded stalker as a gimmick for the last year or so, until recently giving it another try just for fun.  What happened was… actually shocking.  If you are crouched and stationary, PEOPLE DON’T FIND YOU.  It’s amazing.  I have been crouched out in the open without cover, with enemies running right past me – with not a single player seeing my shimmer. I can crouch walk into position, right next to enemy players, undetected.  I can stand up to line up shots over cover without being picked off.  In other words, I can control my engagements, ambush players at will, and have more control over WHEN I am detected.  This is a massive paradigm shift for stalker – all of a sudden, all those sidearms you have become much more interesting when you know that you will get the first shot off.

I have been going behind enemy lines with great success – lying in wait until the time is right.  I can do more than camp terminals – I can move around the base and hack various objects, ambush snipers and engineers and be in position to drop a beacon and bring the rest of my squad in at a moments notice.  It’s everything I dreamed of when stalker initially came out and more.

There are a lot of ways to equip a stalker infiltrator.  I’m still toying with various combinations – and I have always had a somewhat different take on sidearms than most (favoring the TX2 Emperor over the Repeater and revolvers).  That being said, since I spend most of my time on VS these days, I’ve been using the beamer, underboss and blackhand primarily.  The beamer is accurate, very fast firing and perfect for landing damage after an EMP toss due to its generous magazine and extremely fast reload.  The Underboss shines as a 1v1 sidearm – I can pretty much guarantee a kill if the target is moving in a straight line or stationary based on when I decloak.  The Blackhand is self-explanatory, great for those longer range shots.  I have been having so much success with stalker that I started using the ammo belt simply because I was outliving my supply.  I’ve always been a medkit chugger, and it’s really hard to give up, even though you could make a compelling case to give up the medkits for mines + regen implant.  I run the Lumine edge, it’s so freaking hilarious when you bust it out and cut through 4-5 clueless nerds in a row and disappear into the darkness again.

For implants, I have to say that sensor shield is really a must.  And unfortunately, you really need to get the tier 4 version.  Good luck.  The reason?  It’s simple – once you get a few kills, you will quickly find yourself surrounded by darts, motion spotters and dark lights, as anywhere from 1-20 players start looking for the SOB who keeps killing them as they try to pull a sunderer.  You have to be able to move from your position undetected – fortunately with the cloak changes this is feasible visually – but if you pop on radar, the gig is up.  Sensor shield has extended my runs many times over and I cannot endorse its use enough.

So, with all this glowing enthusiasm for stalker, when should you consider using it?  Honestly in its current state, you can use it in almost every fight – however I will help narrow things down for you (especially the KDR sensitive readers here).  Stalker obviously is great for moving behind enemy lines – do this if your PL/SL wants you to help them leapfrog to the next hex in the lattice.  Stalker is great in small/medium sized fights that have an outdoor component.  Especially bases that mix terrain and buildings such as can be found on Amerish and Hossin.  You may struggle with stalker in really large fights, where every ambush gets thwarted by someone else who is looking in your direction.  Bases that are primarily indoors give you less room for cover and escape (although it is possible if you are creative).  I tried stalker in a biolab but it wasn’t quite as fun as what I was able to do at Mani Fortress for example.

Ultimately, your success with stalker will depend a lot on YOU.  It requires patience, positioning, and a very different pace of gameplay.  While you can sustain a 100+KPH/4-5 KDR session with stalker, that is not the reason to use it.  Take time setting up your ambushes, don’t jump at every opportunity to kill someone, and recognize when it’s best to move, leave or just wait.  Take the initiative to set up a back-cap, look for chances to prevent vehicle pulls, and make your enemy completely paranoid!  I can assure you, it is a lot of fun, and I am very pleased to say that this unique style of gameplay within Planetside is finally a viable one.

Have you had success with the stalker cloak?  Any thoughts or criticisms to this entry?  Let me know on twitter @themustarde or here in the blog.  I know I rarely post here nowadays, I’ve just been so focused playing the game lately.  But I still check here and am very active on twitter and love discussing the game with other members of the community.  And keep an eye out for a stalker video sometime in the near future!

~Mustarde

I miss the old knife mechanics/damage

Knife damage used to be 650, and combined with the forgiving spread of quick-knife damage, it felt very satisfying as a finisher. Nowadays, knife combat is a frustrating gamble, and I avoid getting in close as much as possible as a result. Every time I put damage on a target and knife him only to die and see a sliver of health left on the target, I am reminded why using the knife in CQC is a foolish gamble.

This is mostly just a nostalgic vet remembering the great moments I used to have as an infiltrator with nothing but my pistol and knife (I have 7k knife kills and over 10k pistol kills on my TR). On my VS, I have about 300 knife kills and not a single pistol aurax. The knife changes make close combat much less viable and I’m better off just sitting behind cover to reload instead of charging to try and stab (and miss).

I hate swinging the knife and missing. I also miss the commie/knife combo, which was fun as hell.

Some people felt that the knife was too easy to use. But reducing its damage and changing the reliability of using it took away a play style that was really fun. I don’t see a lot of harm coming if this were reverted honestly.

My first montage, and a good example of the hilarious fun you could have with just your pistol and knife (this was with the pre-nerf repeater, almost nothing in this video is possible anymore)  https://youtu.be/nPC50diMyKw

Suggestion: Change default infiltrator weapons

Gosh it has been a long time since I’ve posted here.  I’m still active in PS2 and the community, perhaps more now than ever.  I stopped posting to this blog as I started running out of reasons to write things here that weren’t better off going on reddit.  I also ran out of interesting things to say about the infiltrator class that hasn’t already been said.  Today however, I’d like to expand upon a simple suggestion that I have had for a long time.  And after stumbling upon a thread on the official forums by a new player who announced he was quitting after having a bad new player experience, I think this is more important now than ever, as this game nears launch for the PS4, exposing this game to a lot of new players.

Currently, infiltrator defaults to the long range semi automatic sniper rifles for TR (99SV) and VS (Spectre).  To put it bluntly, these weapons are difficult to use well, and generally perform horribly for a new player.  There are several reasons these weapons are a poor choice for new players: most of this game takes place in close quarters, where the 6x scopes are awkward and the weapon is flat out-performed by automatic weapons by a large margin.  These weapons have a high skill floor, requiring precise headshots to be competitive (2 HS or 1HS + 1body or 3-4 body shots to kill).  With only 10 rounds and a high COF bloom, poor moving ADS accuracy and scope sway on top of it all, giving the new player this weapon at default is a setup for disaster.  If you want to participate in the long range sniping, you are forced to buy a sniper rifle.  If you want your infiltrator to play in facility and base captures, most players will feel forced to buy an SMG or auto scout rifle.

In short – the long range semi-auto sniper rifles are better suited for experienced players who will know when and how to use such a weapon.  Giving them to new players denies them the ability to participate in the long range sniping game, or move into facilities and have an effective weapon to fight in closer ranges.  I do have one criticism of the NC infiltrator starting with a bolt driver – while it allows for sniping, it also discourages fighting in bases and doing things like hacking terminals and bringing your recon darts into the fight.  And while it might not be too difficult on a new PS4 server, sniping on the PC platform is pretty difficult to do well as there are experienced infiltrators all over who will countersnipe new players standing still trying to aim their rifle with ease.

My suggestion?  Make the automatic scout rifles default for the infiltrator class.  These weapons still require an amount of precision to play well, but give a better effective range for most situations new infiltrators will get into.  This also better emphasizes the infiltrators role in espionage and hacking enemy bases.  While it won’t be easy to go up against a shielded heavy assault, your new infiltrator player will at least be competitive against other classes.  This would be a much more intuitive default loadout that would be less frustrating for new players and help give them more reason to stick with their squad and engage in base captures

Implants, tweets and negativity – breaking it down and building it up

I hope all of you had a nice holiday season this year.  I know I did, taking a week to travel back home to see the family, then spending New Year’s week doing minimal work and binging on Planetside as much as I could.  My only complaint was the distinct lack of snow in the parts of the country I visited, something I have always enjoyed about this time of year.

Unfortunately, SOE did not have such a nice holiday break.  Sure, I bet the employees enjoyed 2 weeks off of work, and quite frankly, they deserve it.  When you think about it, we as players should probably WANT our game devs to get time off – as much fun as it might be to develop video games, I’m sure that just like any job, it ends up feeling a lot like WORK.  If we want the team to have fresh eyes on their 2 year old product, and come into the new year inspired and motivated to keep making this the best game possible, then we should be understanding of their holiday break.  But a few bugs in the patch coupled with some blunders on twitter and the community had something of a meltdown while our devs were out enjoying life and rejuvenating themselves so they could return to this project with fresh eyes.

A trip to reddit, or even the official forums will give you the impression that this game is in a broken, terrible state and that the future is dim, just as the game turns 2 and approaches the PS4 beta.  This negativity propagates a feeling of low morale within the community, and also scares off new or potential players who see unhappy veterans and wonder if it is worth even beginning such a journey.  This prompts the questions: are we over-reacting?  Is the game as bad as we make it seem?  Where does SOE and the community go from here?  As with many things, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Implants: The subject alone probably deserves 2-3 entire blog posts, but I will spare myself and you by saying this: if the implant system is going to be designed and refined to drive micro-transactions, most players will not participate, be very resentful towards SOE, and harbor great mistrust over future “additions” to the game, or changes to existing game mechanics.  If implants are designed and intended to be here as a cool mechanic that adds depth to the game, then we have some common ground to make it better for both players and SOE.  John Smedley’s tweet over the holiday, followed by comments by RadarX both give the impression (right or wrong) that SOE are trying to drive micro-transactions through the implant system.  The addition of tier 4 and nerf of drop rates without much discussion, followed by those comments by SOE have rightfully given players a lot to be concerned about.  I would love to see more engagement with the community on this subject, similar to how SOE responded to the first implementation of implants.  Ultimately, this was a system we were mostly happy with until now, and while there certainly is room to expand and improve, this was not something I expected more dev time to be sunk into, nor do I think it was handled appropriately.  The community reaction is understandable, though perhaps a bit melodramatic.

Performance:  This has been a touchy subject for me as I got hit very hard back in September when the PS4 code was merged in – I was hitching, dropping FPS, and suddenly unable to play the infantry game competitively.  It was so bad that I quit for most of September and October and seriously questioned if I wanted to keep playing this game.  Fortunately, one of the many patches that came out during that time helped resolve the main issues I was having, and I resumed playing (and having fun) from November to present.  However, my story is a personal one, and when you talk with other players, it sounds like there are two main issues popping up.  The first is server-side, and I experienced this for a decent portion of the holiday – Ping on Emerald was anywhere from 200-500 even at small fights or on unpopulated continents.  For many players, this type of latency creates a whole host of problems, from issues with the infiltrator cloak to input lag and the ever-so-maddening “client side” deaths.  I think the majority of issues people are having seem to be related to server latency.  The remaining players seem to have a variety of performance issues related to FPS and hitching, and it is really hard to tell if this is increasing from the baseline or not.

What has me concerned with regards to performance is how SOE has responded – amidst the firestorm over implants, Smedley replied with a series of tweets promising to hire more coders and halt new content until performance has been addressed.  Hiring coders sounds great, and if they have the budget for it, so be it.  But halting new content… is this going to be another 3 month long drought like OMFG was?  What if, as I pondered above, the issues right now are mostly at the server level and not at the client level?  Not to mention that the devs who can optimize code or improve performance are not the same as those who create new content – will this be an “all hands on deck” or just a more beefed up “PMC” initiative?  I understand the desire to show action in the face of an unhappy customer base but I’m not convinced this is the response we need.

Alerts: If anything, the lack of alerts for the last 2-3 weeks should prove that this game is truly barren in terms of meaningful territory conquest or resources.  Alerts, while imperfect, at least provide a reason to care about territory ownership and do more than park at a highly defensible 96+ fight and work on directives.  I look forward to seeing those put back in the game and I sincerely hope that once the implant/performance drama is resolved, that we can make some meaningful changes to alerts and resources to motivate fights over territory across all continents.

I think that’s enough for now.  SOE definitely has some challenges ahead going into the new year.  But with better communication and a few small changes to how implants behave, we can hopefully get past this and focus on the areas of the game that truly need attention – alerts, the so-called “meta” and resources.  I had tons of fun playing Planetside over the last 2 months, and have enough material to make at least 2-3 new montage videos.  I even bought a few holiday camos and some lumifiber from the sales.  The game, despite its issues, has a great core and provides enjoyable gameplay that has kept me entertained for longer than any other game I’ve played.  Unfortunately the community can become engrossed with the hot button topics each week and give the impression that the game is dying and the devs are cashing out as much as they can before the ship sinks.  The reality is far from that, and if you share a love for Planetside like I do, I encourage you to avoid letting the negativity start affecting your ability to enjoy what is in my opinion, a unique and enjoyable, albeit imperfect, video game.

As a bonus for reading my blog, here’s an unreleased tower stomp from the holiday.  Yay NC!

Infiltrating in a squad/platoon

Lately I’ve been spending most of my in-game time in the squad or platoon setting, working under the orders of the PL/SL and going wherever we decide to fight as a group.  I haven’t done a lot of solo sniping from high perches or tower stomping with a TSAR-42/Ghost or SMG.  That being said, in this type of environment I’ve really come to appreciate a less used variety of weapons: scout rifles and semi-auto snipers.

 

All of these weapons offer reasonable mid-range power which is great while in a group.  Your job isn’t to stand at the front with an SMG, that is for the HA’s.  There’s not a great role for long range combat in many fights once you are in the base, as it often won’t protect your squad-mates or help deal with flanking enemies.  Occasionally you will be needed for counter-sniping.  But what the semi-auto and scout rifles allow is for wide coverage of a base, enough to set up in a flanking building and pick off enemies across the way, or shoot over the shoulder of the tankier units who are up close.  Whereas bolt action rifles rely on headshots for kills, in a group setting you may only need a body shot or two to kill wounded targets that your allies have shot at.  All of these factors let weapons like the Vandal, Nyx, Artemis (and off faction equivalents) shine.

I’ve mentioned numerous times before, the other keys to good squad/platoon infiltrating is maintaining radar coverage at all times for your group.  Most of the times that is a motion spotter, but depending on the nature of the fight, recon darts can be better if you have a large area to cover or are moving often.  Always bring motion spotters to point holds if you remember it.

Hacking can be valuable, especially if you need a sunderer pulled.  Make sure to ask for some cover as terminals at newer bases are hard to access and sometimes suicidal.  I keep a shield deploy sunderer defaulted in my loadouts for quick pulls.  Otherwise, don’t think that every terminal or turret needs to be hacked – oftentimes you are most valuable on the point or near it, not off on a private mission across the base to hack that one AV turret pointing away from the action.

EMP’s are great for breaches.  My outfit doesn’t often do coordinated grenade breaches but there are plenty of times where I can tell it will be helpful.   Just do your best not to EMP friendlies and it will go well.  I don’t carry bandolier but there are certainly times when that could be very useful.  I usually save my EMP for taking out beacons or setting the stage to charge a point.  I think if you end a fight and still have your grenade, there was probably a missed opportunity to use it somewhere in the battle.

Here’s a video of some of these principles in action.  Remember that a platoon only really needs 2-3 good infiltrators – coordinate with each other and with your PL so these important roles are being fulfilled without over-saturating.   Thanks for reading, I hope to start making more posts here in the new year!

 

M

 

December updates

I am a terrible blogger.

 

“Tell me something I don’t know!”, you might say.  And indeed, this is not new information.  But I do feel badly that I have not updated any entries lately, especially since I have been back in the game full-swing for over 2 months.

 

Currently I have been playing a lot of VS on Emerald with GOKU.  They are a very fun group of players who are relaxed, yet coordinated.  When our PL gives us the next objective, everyone responds without hesitation.  It leads to a lot of teamwork and coordination, and tons of fun point holds and last minute resecures.  I am doing a bit of directive farming on VS, but trying to stick more to weapons that I like rather than repeating all the purple medal grinding I did on TR.  I really enjoy using the Ghost, ever since the scope update, as well as the Vandal and Nyx.  Especially with the Nyx, the no-bullet drop really lets you get some nice kills in the 70-120m range.

 

The game seems pretty stable from a performance standpoint.  I really have no complaints about balance at the moment… at least none that are wildly broken.  I look forward to SOE hitting the new year with new content now that a lot of the issues holding them back are (mostly) resolved.  The game will never be perfect, but they have come a long way with it and I am more focused on having fun and winning alerts than on bugs and exploits.

 

I still have this ArcheAge habit, which has eaten up a lot of the time I otherwise would spend on making videos.  I still am collecting footage so I will start working on my next one soon.

 

I hope you all have a good holiday this year, and keep an eye out for “CondimentActual” on VS Emerald.  I’m around, usually primetime each day.

A crisis of community and self – State of the Game October 2014

It has been a while since my last post, and without any explanation to you all.  For that I apologize.  The last two months of Planetside have been the most frustrating and turbulent for me, as a member of the community and as an individual player.  I hate being an overly negative person but I think it’s important to discuss both aspects of why I walked away from the game for almost 6 weeks.

 

The community is currently in a state of crisis.  Other people are starting to realize this, although it has been brewing for over a month now.  It began after the valkyrie patch fell flat on its face and we saw the end of FNO.  It was quickly followed by the departure of many big names from the PS2 team in sequential and seemingly related fashion – Luperza, TRay, and Malorn.  Populations are declining and Emerald feels distinctly less active than it once did – several big name players such as RGuitar, most of PREY/QRY, many C00P players are taking breaks, for who knows how long.  My entire outfit, NNG, who once was a dominating force on the server and involved in the competitive scene completely evaporated – most people leaving for ArcheAge or simply not playing PS2.  It is a snowball effect that makes servers feel empty, and leads to stagnant fights and gameplay – this in turn hurts those players remaining.  We are currently in full out damage control crisis mode with the most recent patch which has introduced some bizarre bugs (giraffeside) as well as the frustrating and game-breaking hitches.  While I remain hopeful, it is not a far-fetched notion that if something isn’t done to stop this negative momentum soon, the game will indeed die and we’ll be orphaned on some singular server playing a dead game.  After all, the community surrounding an MMO is what will keep people logging in and playing for months and years to come, and if it crumbles, you will not have much of a game left.

 

Then comes my own personal frustrations.  I was one of the players affected by the PS4 code merge – constant FPS dips, hitching and memory leaks that worsened throughout the play session.  August was a great month for me personally, I was loving directives and was averaging 4-6 KDR per session.  After September, my performance started to dive and I found myself growing more and more frustrated with the game.  While I don’t like blaming my stats on system performance, it became clear that the crisp infantry combat I had once enjoyed was not happening, and each evening was a series of frustrating deaths that led to be logging out early to watch TV, or even go to sleep early *gasp*

 

I reached my wits end part way through September and submitted this post to reddit “At the end of my patience”.  Shortly following that, I stopped logging into PS2, after 2 years of nearly daily gameplay.  It was strange at first, and I found myself trying to play several times only to be quickly reminded of the terrible hitching and FPS I was now cursed with.  I updated drivers, downgraded drivers, reinstalled the game, and played with my .ini settings to no avail.  October released a patch that actually made hitching worse for a period of time, followed by a hotfix which seemed to stabilize performance (although I still had FPS dips into the teens).  My outfit left the game around that time as well, and we said farewell to the PS2 community which was very bittersweet for me.

 

Towards the end of October, I felt that performance was good enough to start playing again.  I formally joined GOKU, who I have been playing with on and off for almost a year now.  The last week I have been logging in each day, and the game is tolerable (still with FPS drops).  I have been having a lot of fun however, and most of that can be credited to GOKU who provides a great platoon atmosphere and good fights.  Some of the footage I have recorded is not high enough quality to use for a new montage, but I am starting to collect moments that will be worth putting into a new project.  So while I have had a very frustrating PS2 experience since the valkyrie patch, I’m starting to recover and get back into PS2.

 

So what does this all mean?  Well, I think it is clear that SOE needs to adjust their priorities.  Performance is the foundation for everything else in a shooter.  If people are hitching, stuttering, losing FPS because of buggy content patches, they will have frustrating game sessions which build up until that player cancels their sub and leaves.  If a prominent member of the community hits that point, they can bring an entire group of people out the door with them (Jaamaw and NNG for example).  We need to be in full-on damage control right now, focusing on refining the PS4 code integration until players feel that the gameplay experience is similar to where it was pre-valkyrie.  Our community managers (RadarX, dCarey) need to keep demonstrating enthusiasm for the game, and showing to all of us that SOE is aggressively chasing after the problems the players are having.  We need to regain the momentum that was once strong – a few months ago this game was in the best place it had been since release with Hossin, Directives, Emerald merge, continent locking and revamps to the infiltrator and medic class.  The Valkyrie was supposed to be the next big thing, and unfortunately these performance related issues (in addition to some rebalancing needed for the valk) have really hurt what could have been a great and dynamic addition to the game.

 

PS2 is a unique game that provides a blend of combined arms, infantry combat and large scale that is found nowhere else.      Despite its flaws, it has provided countless hours of entertainment for me and many of my friends.  It saddens me to see the community losing momentum, as well as my own personal enjoyment of the game suffer.  SOE has a small window to turn things around before more lasting damage is done that will make it hard for the game to recover the player base it had just a few months ago.  I sincerely hope we can get those players and outfits back.

 

M