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Darkest Days, Dorkest Ways

I had quite a few fun days with Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead.

My current martial artist character can pretty much take on anything without a ranged attack in a fist fight, expertly deflecting their blows.  He can be overwhelmed if he's swarmed, by aside from that his homemade carapace arm bands allow him to absorb as many blows as he needs to.  Some particularly grabby or powerful enemies can stop him from blocking momentarily, but he'll ultimately get out of that fight without losing to much health.

There have been some pretty close calls... usually because I did not notice I was not wielding my deadly karate fists when confronting enemies, resulting in a failure to block that almost killed this character.  However, I survived and it finally culminated with my crowning achievement, the assembly of a solar powered, electric-engine car. 

Yet, this victory is bittersweet, as I now am not entirely sure what there's left to do in the game.  As I mentioned before, there's no Amulet Of Yendor to be found here; there's no MacGuffin you can recover in order to "win" a game of Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead.  Being only version 0.2, an ultimate goal may be in the works for future versions.  Consequently, the only way to differentiate a win from a loss in the game right now is based upon whether or not you are surviving.

My current martial artist character has pretty much aced survival, just so long as he's willing to play it safe.  He lives fairly close to triffids, nasty plant creatures that they are, but this is actually somewhat advantageous because he simply brawls a few to death and butchers them for their tasty, tasty plant marrow whenever he needs to stock up on food.  He also lives fairly close to sources of water (usually toilets in abandoned houses, but he could also go a bit further to a river if he had to).   He has unlimited food and water, and the evac shelter he started in works out just fine to live in, so survival is pretty much assured.

I suppose I could build a nice base... but that's just an extension of survival, is it not?  I can explore, take risks... that's about all there's left to do now, and that's sort of a pity because the only way to "win" the game is to survive and, if I push my luck exploring far enough, I'm sure to fail along those lines.

Speaking of fail...

Oh, Planetside 2, I have such a love/hate thing going on with you right now.  I love that you're a massively multiplayer first person shooter that is free to play, a gorgeous game, and the Battlefield 3 balance is growing on me even if I do find the visibility model a bit prone to rewarding underhanded tactics.  However, I hate your "pay to win" balance, and how I am perpetually the bitch of the players who have paid, right down to my diminished resource gain rate that leaves my infantry points bottomed out enough that I am sometimes unable to spawn with a grenade.

I have spoken about this before, but recently SOE has released a patch that let me visit a virtual reality training center that has all the gear and vehicles unlocked.  Having played with aircraft rocket spam, skyguard turrets, nimble vehicle chassis, or any-gun-but-the-one-you-start-with, I have only had my fears confirmed, and am somewhat disgusted with how SOE has implemented an "easy mode" for the paid-to-win players.  For example, flying around in a Mosquito with rocket pods and a advanced flight chassis seemed like a really far-too-easy way to get some cheap kills.

One particular artifact of pay to win that I think bears mentioning is the new engineer turret, the anti-vehicular MANA turret.  What bothers me about it is that it's supposed to be an anti-vehicular weapon, but it's pretty much good against everything in all sorts of unexpected situations.  Against infantry, a direct hit with one results in a one-shot kill, which is normally no mean feat to pull off, but I have seen players abuse this by setting it up in a hallway or other confined area and milking a free kill from whatever poor sucker tries to enter that door.  On top of that, this turret is laser-guided and has an extremely long range, allowing engineers to siege bases from a distance without much fear of reprisal.  The laser-guided rockets are not too shabby against aircraft, either.  Ultimately, this anti-vehicular mana turret is a does-everything monstrosity that strikes me as a really unbalanced gimmick to get people to dump money on it.  SOE will probably nerf it after the initial cash grab dies down, but should have nerfed it well before it was released so that it was a strictly-anti-vehicular alternative to the default MANA turret..

I am bothered because it seems as though the extent in which SOE has gone to get players to dump money on this game actually threatens the integrity of the game balance, thereby cheapening the game for everyone.  Some people are going to feel this less keenly than others, of course, but I've played too many games not to get a real feel for that.  In all fairness, though, I should mention that it's not like any of these unlocks (except for the faster resource gain) cannot be gained by simply playing the game, completely free.

So is it really a "pay to win" scenario?  From my personal experience, I would say yes, and that's because the level of time investment needed by a free to play player to become adequately powerful exceeds a reasonable assumption of human patience.  Of course, lacking insider statistical data that only SOE has, I can only speak for myself.  I may dislike grinding, but I procrastinate on my computer more than most people, so maybe that balances out?  However, outside of unlocks, there is at least the increased rate of resource point gain to be found in paying players, and that, at least, is definitely a paid-player unbalanced playing field advantage.  That, and that camouflage actually works and is a paid item only.

Having seen what I am missing out on in the simulator (and having been on the receiving end of paid player enemy aggression) I will not deny I have been sorely tempted to succumb to SOE's unspoken demand to fork out for Planetside 2.  However, the principle of subscribing to a "pay to win" game rankles a bit.  Do I really want to vote with my wallet for such an unabashedly unbalanced playing field, a game that gets off on abusing F2P players so much?  No, I really don't.  I understand that SOE wants me to pay them for their game, they're not running a charity here, but they're just going to shoot themselves in the foot by alienating F2P players like that.

Another major source of hesitation to invest in Planetside 2 is that weird bug with the vanishing terrain once again appeared when I thought I was in a pretty excellent position behind a turret where I could deal some real damage to the enemy.  There's a possibility it's related to that timing glitch I ran into earlier, in which case it's no "secret cheat packet," just bad luck on my part.  I just find that timing really suspicious and, in a way, not being sure if I am being deliberately victimized or not makes me feel victimized in another, more sinister way.  Until this bug is gone for good, I really do not want to be in a position to know I have spent money on this game only to have that happen to me.


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