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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More on MAG

I've been playing a pretty silly amount of Zipper's MAG since I last posted on it, and I need to preface this with the note that I'm still pretty wildly positive about the game. It's impressive how much the size of the maps and teams helps insure that you've got consistent gaming available to you - and usually pretty decent matches.

Take the recent Aliens Vs. Predator demo as a counter-example. The matchmaking is loose and seems to have troubles getting more than four people into a game together. The end result is long wait times to try the gameplay out and very uneven results in the long run.

But while MAG is something of a technical achievement, especially for the console, there is quite a bit left to be desired. Here's my short list.

Shoulder Controls
Right lower shoulder cycles weapons, left lower shoulder cycles gear, left top shoulder aims, right top shoulder fires. If that sounds like a strange mental crossword puzzle, it is - and it is complicated further by slow animations which can't keep up with what you need. Not to mention my rocket launcher (a weapon) is cycled as a gear, at the end of my gears - so if I miscount the number of shoulder clicks to pull it up ... that APC may have just driven past. You do get used to it, to a point, but even after clocking several hours I'll mess it up in the heat of battle.

Weapon Balance
While weapons across the three major factions feel balanced, the individual genres of weapons seems off. When threatened by a sniper, I don't go get a sniper rifle - I put my large machine gun on a bipod. I may not get the advantage of the best scope, but I do a lot of damage and can fire 100 bullets before having to reload. And should I need to get up and close, the LMG is still the one of the better options. It can spray, target shoot and tango - once you can respec to the LMG I don't see any reason to use any other gun in the game.

It's not that the sniper rifle or the assault rifle or poorly designed, both are good in certain situations. It's just that the LMG, properly equipped, is handy in nearly any situation. It's a little too Rambo for a modern shooter.

On the flip side, the RPG's feel wildly underpowered. OK, I get that bunker turrets should be difficult targets and it makes sense that they can take more than 3 rockets. But when I'm point blank to an APC and they don't even bother to pick me off with that big turret - and I have to go run for more rockets just to finish them off ... why did I bring it in the first place again? Not to mention that it doesn't seem you get assist points for helping finish off vehicles.

Skill / Equip Options
MAG works on experience. If you do stuff, especially, stuff your squad leader wants, you get XP. XP can be traded for better guns, gear, abilities and options. For the most part, this works really pretty well. Some of the choices, like before mentioned placement of a rocket launcher as a piece of "gear", and that it occupies a slot in and of itself ... so in other words your near future soldier can slap an RPG on his back, but not - say, another grenade.

Mostly, though, it would be nice to see the upgrade tree allow for more flexibility and versatility. It's almost, but not quite, RPGish. If you could, say, tweak the LMG to have better range by foresaking rate of fire, you would allow players to toy with their builds much more as well as potentially balance out weapons better.

Also, I would recommend a free respec for new characters. Especially with the balance issues, it is hard to know what works and what doesn't until you've tossed some XP at the problem.

Squad Leader Mechanics
OK, now we get into some real split hairs - because the squad, and the squad leader, mechanics really help MAG work as an online shooter. It's not that the system is broken, the system usually works extremely well. But there's a few faults.

First, no tutorial. So many new squad leaders just have no idea what they are doing. It is really, really not that complicated and Zipper would be well served to add a tutorial level for setting fraggos and using command abilities. It's as easy as hitting select, panning the map and clicking a few buttons. But so many start without really understanding what a fraggo even is.

Second, a better waypoint system. Many assaults would work better if the squad had a "meet point" which was secondary to the fraggo itself. It would even be nice to be able to set secondary fraggos (guard the bunker, but if someone could repair that AA...).

Third, some kind of demerit/demotion system. Some squad leaders just don't actually want to be squad leaders, or have so little clue as to what to do that the squad quickly devolves into a wandering band of mercenaries. Right now, if you say ... have a squad leader who continually drops cluster bombs on his own squad, the squad can only kick the leader off the server completely. If there was firstly some kind of auto-grief system for leaders, and secondly a way to demote a leader out of office without kicking them completely - bad leaders could be handled without much harm to the team in general (there are often situations a squad should rather not be a man down).

On a side note, though, some MAG players need to freaking cool it. I've seen perfectly good squad leaders go through kick vote after kick vote. One even kept asking what the squad thought he was doing wrong, and he never got a response. I was just on the receiving end of a similar vote recently. I was setting my fraggos, trying to move the squad up the map, and using command abilities but two players apparently didn't like my lack of cluster bombing (which I didn't actually have much control over) and decided to ignore the fraggos and constantly vote to kick me.

We ended up winning the match, not really thanks to our squad since they kept dying in random places on the map. But we did win, and I ended up on the MVP list at the of the game. If I had had my squad with me, I probably would have done even better. So to MAG players - if your leader isn't setting goals, or keeps carpet bombing you ... fine. Kick them.

If you just don't like the goals - kick yourself. Seriously, just go home. Directives might bring in some other player who isn't an asshole about it.

That's about that for now. I'm hopeful that Zipper will update the game with DLC - certainly more maps would help, and if they could add more upgrades/weapons/etc, that would be grand. I won't hold my breath for a control remapping (or at least the ability to remap individually) ... but some additions to the squad leadership concept would go a long way.


sterno said...

On the weapon balance commentary, I find that the weapons are all off by one. That is, the LMG makes a great assault rifle. The assault rifle makes a great sniper rifle. And the sniper rifle is worthless. The only benefit to the sniper rifle is availability of higher zoom scopes, but there's rarely a circumstance where you need it.

My loadouts are all using the LMG except my designated sniping loadout which has the the mid-grade assault rifle with a bipod and scope. Works perfectly for sniping and isn't horrible in close combat.

As to the point of the RPG's it's a little odd the way it works but it makes sense. Consider how long an APC lasts when it rolls up near a bunker even with the RPG being relatively nerfed. As an individual you'll never do much to an APC, but then the game's fundamental premise is all about teamwork and tactics. So it works. Defenders wouldn't ever get a damn thing done if RPG's weren't nerfed.

One other thing you didn't mention that I'll bring up is the way leadership points are distributed. You get 3 points for a loss, 8 for a minor victory, and 10 for a major victory. If you you were in a coma for the entire match and your squad did nothing you still get those points. You get no additional points for setting fraggos, or anything else that generally deem you a good leader.

To that end I discovered that the fastest way to level up in leadership points is to go play suppression. You're almost always a squad leader and you have a 50/50 chance of a minor victory. So figure you'll average 5 points per game and level up right quick. I'm now capable of being OIC thanks to that.

Josh said...

My problem with the RPG is, I'll admit - selfish. It takes up a slot/money, it takes time to use it, and time to re-arm it.

And I rarely get any XP for doing any of that. No assist, I'm basically just making it easier for the guy in the turret to do his job. And he really doesn't need it, they can take out an APC very easily.

Sniper-wise - what I find is this odd situation where the most useful snipers are offensive ones who find a really good position. But, then they don't advance with the rest of their squad - which is some ways is better. Defensive snipers can be effective on certain maps, but no more so than a good bipod I think.

And yeah, the leadership points are kinda non-sensical. There is a patch soon, apparently going to address some UI issues (which sounds good) - but hopefully more change is coming soon.

sterno said...

If you want points for taking out APC's get certed for anti-take mines. I did that and I'm clobbering them left and right. The attack paths are usually pretty predictable and dumb drivers tend to keep hitting the same approach over and over. So many many kills that way.