[REVIEW] MTG: Arena

Magic: The Gathering Online and F2P!

I’ve been playing MTG Arena since the early alpha. The addition of dinosaurs brought me back to Magic after not having played for probably 10 years. My Creator application was recently approved, so I wanted to write up a review before I got access to all those benefits. I’ve spent $20 total so far, and played over 550 games. What follows is purely a review from a normal player’s perspective.

For anyone that doesn’t know about Magic: The Gathering, the card game itself, it’s basically a strategy game. Hearthstone is actually based on MTG. You build a deck of 60 cards and fight against an opponent. These decks are based on five colors – Red, White, Green, Black, and Blue. Red for example is fire and dragons, White is knights and angels, Green is elves and animals, Black is zombies and vampires, and Blue is ocean dwellers and flying creatures. This list is not exhaustive, there are White flying creatures and Red zombies, but it should give you a general sense of each color. You can also mix the colors playing White/Green, Red/Blue, or even Black/Green/Red. Your options are endless.

The crux of MTG Arena is that it’s a CCG or collectible card game. This means that you get cards in booster packs, and it’s all randomized to a certain extent (like baseball cards). Unlike a lot of CCGs though, the randomness is somewhat controlled. Each booster pack is guaranteed 1 rare, 2 common, and 5 commons. In MTG Arena, you can only use 4 of any given card in a deck, and most cards you don’t need 4 of. In addition, there are other mechanics in place for when you get duplicates that let you turn them into Wildcards you can exchange for any card in the game. TLDR, it’s really a pretty fair system.

You get numerous pre-built decks for free, and you can construct dozens more.

Deck Building

Every player starts with access to some basic, but still really good, starter decks. These are free, and as you play the game you are awarded booster packs regularly to supplement these decks with. You acquire booster packs by leveling up your Mastery, spending in-game currency, or with gems (bought using real money).

Mastery System

For each new expansion in MTG Arena, there is a Mastery system to level up. As you level up through this Mastery system, you are awarded booster packs, in game currency, random cards, card designs, Mastery orbs, and even gems. The amount of levels in the Mastery system vary depending on how long the season will go. The Mastery Pass will triple these rewards, but I’ll get into that a little later when we talk about monetization.

Gold

Gold is earned through various things. There are daily quests, weekly quests, and of course Mastery levels that reward gold. You can earn enough gold to buy one booster pack per day if you complete your daily quest and win 4 games. You can stack up to three daily quests if you can’t play, so it’s not really a game where you are forced to log in every day. And your daily quests can be completed simultaneously, so it doesn’t penalize you timewise either.

Gems

Pretty straightforward, gems are bought using real money. Individually, booster packs cost 200 gems. Drafting, for example, costs 750 gems. Even if you lose every game, you’ll end up with 4 packs and get 50 gems back. That’s 4 packs for 700 gems. There are some very convenient ways to get the most out of your gems.

Monetization

Every F2P has it’s microtransactions, and MTG Arena is no different. What is different about MTG Arena is the value it offers. The Mastery Pass which I mentioned earlier, is probably the best example. For $19.99, you get 5 booster packs and 4 card styles (cosmetic-only alternative art for cards) every 10 levels. There have been 100 and 110 levels for the last two expansions respectively, granting you 50 booster packs, 40+ card styles, and other extras for just $19.99, along with a ‘pet’ you can use on the virtual gameboard. The fire-kitty and fae fox so far both make sounds when you click on them and can change colors if you desire. They’re more like ornaments than pets I suppose, but you get the idea.

Gems cost $4.99 for 750, $9.99 for 1600, $19.99 for 3400 gems, and up and up. Some events are gems only (Eldraine sealed for example), but most also have a gold price.

Other cosmetics include alternative art (card styles), sleeves (card backs), and profile avatars. These are all cosmetic only and range from 500 to 1200 individually, or 800 to 2500 for the bundles.

Games and Queues

There are a TON of game modes, and queues have always been very fast (we’re talking seconds here). There is a standard Play mode where you just play a game of Magic. There are seasons of “Ranked” (which you are again rewarded with booster packs, gold, and card styles for playing in each season). Occasionally there are special events like Pauper (where you can only use common cards) and singleton (where you can only use 1 of each card) to play in to change things up. Mostly the special events are free, but I have seen one that required Gems/Gold. There is a bot game mode where you can play against AI. After level 10, you no longer get XP or daily quest credit playing bot games, but you can use it to test out deck ideas. The AI is pretty bad, but it’s good enough to get you pointed in the right direction. There are also traditional and ranked draft, and soon Historic mode where you can play with cards outside of the current Standard rotation. There is a HUGE variety of game modes, and I haven’t even listed them all.

The “Catch”

I’ve sung the praises of the game so far, so I’ll be frank with the one big con the game has. You need a lot of patience at first, but less and less as you progress. Magic: The Gathering has been out for decades, and there are a lot of passionate and dedicated players. The game does have a ranking system, so you’re not going to be facing endless hordes of MTG Arena pros, but those players are out there. You’ll need to be patient when building decks and acquiring cards (unless you have plenty of money). You’re going to lose some games, and sometimes that’s because of skill, and sometimes it’s because of lack of cards. MTG Arena is easy to learn, but hard to master. If you’re happy to bounce in every once in a while and play a few games, you’ll enjoy it. If you want to log in and win all your games in an hour, you better be willing to put in the time. Skill will always win games; The order in which you play cards, the addition of the right amount of instants/creatures in deck building, etc. Money can put the right cards in your deck, but it can’t play them the right way.

The Wrap Up

As a free game, MTG Arena really is a first class game, especially if you’re short of funds. You can acquire all the cards with in-game currency, it has a fair monetization system if you choose to use it, and it offers plenty of fun, challenge, and variety in gameplay. I found out that all kinds of people I’ve known for a while also played MTG Arena, and have enjoyed the added bonus of playing against them. Download it for yourself, play through bot games until level 10, and then see where you stand. If you’re still standing, come play against me! I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot share, and a very enthusiastic Twitch community willing to do the same.

Breakpoint: More Tame Than Wildlands

I was so excited about the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint announcement. That’s because there are a lot of great things to say about Ghost Recon: Wildlands. I’ve said it time and again, it’s one of my favorite games. When it comes to Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, I have much less to say. I’ve participated in the Open Beta weekend, and have come away feeling very disappointed. I do have some good things to say about Breakpoint, I have more misgivings about it.

First, the good. The game continues to offer astonishing visuals. The south pacific scenery is breathtaking, and the high-tech buildings and equipment look sleek and original. The story carries over seamlessly from Wildlands, and I think that brings more immersion to the table. One of the greatest improvements is the durability of vehicles. No more street signs that will tear a chunk out of the front end of your vehicle. There is a little more realism with the physics, (at least from a vehicle perspective) and a lot of small brush and obstacles are ignored. This is a welcome upgrade in Breakpoint. Finally, I want to add that it has improved since the previous beta weekend, so problems are being addressed, and progress is being made.

I’m going to skip over the bad, and get right to the ugly. The game feels like it has a lot of low effort timesinks. It gives you busy work to do just to keep you in game, as opposed to giving you actual content.

Part of what I liked most about Wildlands was the fluidity of the gameplay. Breakpoint takes that fluidity and ties a chain around its neck. Instead of bouncing from region to region, meeting Bowman in safehouses, Breakpoint keeps you coming back to Erewhan. While you’re in Erewhan, there’s no sprinting or rushing from quest giver to shopkeeper. You just do a very mild jog around the place, which is frustratingly slow. Breakpoint also introduces actual gear that has stats, which gives it a looter shooter style timesink. Crafting is yet another new timesink that seems out of place in a game that is (presumably) focused on combat. There are materials you gather in the wild (bananas, saltpeter, etc) which you use to craft things. You’ll also need to spend time finding sources of fresh water to keep your stamina up, the abundant salt water will of course not help. While you’re looking for this water, and the crafting mats, and your loot, enemy drones fly overhead forcing you to stop what you’re doing and into hiding. Yet more waiting. Just imagine the gameplay of Wildlands, except you have to stop every 5 minutes to perform some menial task, or sit still doing nothing. There are still fast and furious gunfights and car chases, but the in-between moments are a whole lot more tedious. Suffice to say, the theme of the game is hurry up and wait. For someone like me who abhors too much stealth gameplay, Breakpoint might be my breakpoint.

Turning the game into a looter shooter is a tossup for me. There is undeniably a niche for stealth shooters, but looter shooters tend to be a lot faster paced. If you like slower paced shooters, and don’t mind spending time grinding, then this game could be for you. Or you could just go play The Division 2.

Whatever genre Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is aiming for, I can’t tell if it’s hit the mark or not. I can see the familiar Ghost Recon path to open world shooter, but it’s covered in speed bumps. It’s got these survival elements on top of looter shooter mechanics, and these two constantly pull against each other in practice. Looter shooters are fast and flashy, while survival games are slower and gritty. Breakpoint is exactly like this in rising and falling action. Brief moments of fun broken up by longer periods of frustration. I’ll be watching development closely, hoping that the old gameplay breaks out of this new mold. While Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is a game I might pick up someday, it won’t be on launch day, and not at full price either.

Infantry Field Guide for New Recruits in Hell Let Loose

Milsims are always an intense experience, that’s why we play them. As a new player, you have all the bullets and explosions to deal with, as well as the learning curve for the new game. At the heart of Hell Let Loose is the cooperation mechanic. Teams win because of squads, and squads win because their members know what to do. This guide is to bring you new players up to speed so you can hit the battlefield running.

Just a quick pep talk first: Don’t worry about being ‘good’. Focus on your job. I play Squad Leader predominantly. This means I die with my head in my map a lot. My SMG sucks for long range engagements, and I constantly hear two different voice channels talking at the same time. My personal stats are not ‘good’, BUT my squad consistently places first in two categories, and second place in the third. If you put your squad before yourself, you will go far in Hell Let Loose. Now let’s begin.

Communication is Mightier than the Sword

Communicating is almost as useful as being able to 360 no scope. Use your microphone only when relaying information. Chatter about the upcoming patch prevents someone from alerting enemy movements, or keeps your Squad Leader from hearing the command channel. When relaying positions of enemy units, use your compass bearing. Some people won’t recognize your voice, or be facing the same direction. Saying left, right or behind that tree is useless. Saying “Enemy contact bearing 245 behind the burning tank.” or “Enemy armor approaching down the road from the east, bearing 020.” is a better choice. Be specific and be short. Save the socializing for Discord and the forums. If someone’s microphone is loud, ask them to edge it down, and say PLEASE. I’ve never had anyone argue about it or get mad. Don’t keep quiet about it if they are too loud, as it will become a hindrance during firefights. I’d suggest starting with your own voice and microphone volumes at 75% and adjust from there.

Don’t be afraid to talk in game. Occasionally I meet people that are unsure about it, and I always tell them the same thing. I’ve been playing video games for decades, and I can’t remember a single time someone got made fun of for their voice. HLL has people from around the world, and you get all kinds of crazy accents. Your voice is fine, and if someone says something, just change squads. I’ve found Hell Let Loose to have a really good community in that regard.

Starting Your Career

For your first time, find an infantry squad that has a Squad Leader. You can tell by the crown icon, and they are usually top of the squad. Once you join the squad, before you choose a role, see what your squad needs. Hold (C) to talk in squad chat, and ask your squad leader what role they need. If they don’t respond, try again. If they don’t respond after a few tries, dump the squad and find a new one. A non-talking squad leader is going to mean a bad play experience.

Being flexible will make you invaluable. Battlefield conditions change continuously, and different situations will require different roles. You can have your favorite or specialty, but it might not be useful under current conditions. If your Squad Leader doesn’t need anything in particular, go for whatever. If you aren’t sure what to pick, then I’d suggest one of the following roles:

Rifleman is always a solid choice. You can drop ammo boxes that any team member can use to refill ammo. Anti-Tank and Machine Gunners will love you long time. Place them behind cover, and not in open areas. It takes a few seconds to actually resupply from the ammo boxes.

Support allows you to build supplies anywhere on the battlefield. Supplies can be used for a TON of things by various roles, and you drop enough to build at least two different things. Dropping supplies allows your Squad Leader specifically to build Garrisons, which are spawn points for the entire team.

Engineer allows you to build resource nodes for your team, which power your tanks and Commander abilities (Bombing runs, strafing runs, supply drops). Build Munitions first, then hit TAB and see what resource your team needs next (Manpower or Fuel). Engineers also repair tanks, which is good, but remember to stay near your team.

Anti-Tank is generally always useful too. You have to be a little sneaky, and a little patient. You may stray a little far at times, so remember to always rally back with your squad. I wouldn’t start the game with this role, but the first time someone dies, it’s probably time to fill the role.

The other roles are needed as well, but these have the best defined expectations. You’ll feel more comfortable in your boots if you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.

TIP: If the game is just starting, Support and Engineer are vital to get those resource nodes up and running. Prioritize these.

Squad Cohesion

Always stay on mission. If there’s a move marker up, move towards it. Stay with your squad, and don’t wander around solo. Hell Let Loose is a team game, and it isn’t won by 50 people playing lone wolves. Playing solo while in a squad denies that squad someone that might be willing to work as a team. If you don’t see any markers, hit (T) to bring them up. If there aren’t any markers at all, politely ask your Squad Leader to use them. A cohesive squad, is a highly effective squad. It was a proud moment to hear a Commander say our squad was “…doing God’s work.”

Along those lines, listen to your Squad Leader. You may not like what your SL is doing, but you had the chance to be SL, and didn’t take it. You have no idea what orders or information your SL is getting. This doesn’t mean you can’t offer new information, or give a brief suggestion. Just keep in mind if the SL says no, arguing is literally going to make things worse. Just go along for the ride and learn what you can. If your mission fails, then you’ve learned that you can trust your own judgement a little more. If your mission succeeds, then you’ll have learned something new to help you in the future. Keep an open mind.

Suppression

Suppressing fire is hugely important. You don’t need to land kills to be effective. You are simply suppressing a particular area, and keeping their fire off target. For example, steadily firing a shot into a window to cover your squad’s approach to a building, or a corner to keep enemies from peeking around. You don’t have to spam your trigger finger, because running out of bullets or having to reload obviously ends the suppression. Fire one bullet at a time at a steady rhythm to keep any enemies from aiming at anything.

TIP: Don’t forget to lean with (Q) and (E). This makes you harder to see, and you present a smaller target to the enemy.

The Machine Gunner role is the absolute best at this, and can suppress larger areas. An example would be a gap in a hedgerow where enemies are crossing. Generally your Squad Leader should tell you where to suppress, but with some practice, you’ll learn how best to support your squad. MGs should always be in the back when advancing, and always covering the squad when approaching a building or other objective.

Examples of Machine Gunner Suppression Targets.

Dealing With Enemy Armor

Dealing with enemy armor is a multi person job, and one of them must be an Anti-Tank role. American AT has 5 shots, German AT has 2 shots. No matter which you are, you’ll want to hit the tank from the sides or rear. Try to hit the flat surfaces, avoid curves and angles. Also try to hit them from a 90 degree angle. Armor thickness is a thing. You may have to hit it more than once, so it’s going to be a hit-and-run operation. Light tanks are pretty much matchboxes, just don’t go for head on.

If you can find a Rifleman to drop an ammo box in advance, do it. You might need a refill. As for the second person, you’re going to need smoke grenades. You are the distraction/bait, congratulations. Land those smoke grenades right in front of the tank to block the vision of the crew, forcing it to move. Again, a nearby ammo box for extra smoke grenades is helpful. Everyone else should simply provide suppressing fire to cover the AT from enemy infantry fire.

Anti-Tank roles also have the option of building fixed AT guns, and Engineer roles can place anti-tank mines. These are something you’ll have to pre-plan, as trying to set them up while already under fire from enemy armor is going to be a big nope.

Destroy Enemy Equipment

Everything that you can build, your enemy can build. And that means you can also tear it down! Dismantle any enemy resource nodes or supplies you come across by pressing and holding (F). This will take a decent amount of time, so go prone (Z) and use cover if you can. Enemy Garrisons and Squad Spawns will be destroyed just by you walking near them, or with a well placed grenade. Destroying these spawn points pushes back the enemy assault, giving your team room to breathe. This is of course a double edged sword, so make sure your SL knows if your squad spawn or nearby garrison is down so you can work to place another. This also has the helpful side effect of letting you know the enemy position. Also alert your squad to any supplies parachuting down from the sky. These are supplies being dropped by the enemy Commander, or your Commander. They are most likely used to set up Garrisons, and are a great place to look for enemy infantry.

TIP: German supplies look like a missile. Now you know if they’re your supplies, or the enemy’s.

Find Good Teammates

I want to close on this note. Cover your squad mates, watch their backs, and generally be the kind of player you want to have in your squad. Everyone started right where you are, and most people will respect that. Tell your AT good job when they scrap a tank, thank your medic for picking you up, and say ‘good game’ at the end of every match. People will remember a good teammate. Through streaming and playing, I’ve picked up a good group of people to play with, and learned a lot about the game. In fact, I got some help from them to write this guide. If you’re looking for good people, you can always start on my Discord. Pop in the text channel and let us know you’re new, and ask any questions. You can also post when you’re looking for group. The more you practice with the same people, the more you’ll get a handle on your squad’s strengths and weaknesses. Look to fill those gaps, and good teammates will find you.

Keep your head down, and good luck!

Post Scriptum vs Hell Let Loose

I first fell in love with tactical shooter gameplay playing Post Scriptum. It wasn’t love at first sight, I had to ease my way into it, but eventually I was sold. Fast forward to today with Hell Let Loose, and it took no time at all to warm up to a new kind of battlefield. Coordinating suppressing fire, calling targets for air support, and directing the squad forward are just a few of my favorite things. I got a lot of questions during my first stream from people popping in and asking: Which is better, Hell Let Loose or Post Scriptum? It’s a really hard question, because the games are incredibly similar. I’ve done some thinking though, and pulled out some of the bigger differences and highlighted them below to help decide whether Post Scriptum or Hell Let Loose is best for you.

Hell Let Loose has the numbers. Post Scriptum is 40 versus 40 players, meanwhile Hell Let Loose is 50 versus 50 players. I’ve always been a fan of more players, but honestly I can’t say I could really tell a difference. Post Scriptum does have the goal of hitting 50 vs 50 eventually though, if that matters to you.

Post Scriptum has loadout editing. This is actually a pretty big deal. In Hell Let Loose when I played as squad leader, I was only able to use an SMG. Several battlefields have quite some distance on them, making SMGs considerably less than ideal. In Post Scriptum you have a couple of weapons to choose from for every class, squad leader included. You could respawn with a new gun when pushing across hedgerows, and respawn with an SMG when the fighting flowed into a town. Hefty points for Post Scriptum in this column.

Post Scriptum

Hell Let Loose has a better spawn system. I abhorred the spawning in Post Scriptum and even Squad when I first experienced them on a free weekend. Running to the battle lines took more time than it did to get into position and die. It was a very punishing experience that almost turned me off completely. My biggest complaint is the need to consistently refresh the squad spawn point. In Hell Let Loose, it’s set it and forget it. There’s even garrison spawns that everyone can use. It definitely won me over instantly. More focus on the fight, and not the clock.

Post Scriptum is more polished. It has more vehicle types available, more maps, and overall more options. It’s more feature complete than Hell Let Loose. It’s to be expected since Post Scriptum is almost a year ahead in development time. That’s a massive lead considering Hell Let Loose hasn’t even been out for a month. Still being in Early Access of course means a lot of planned core features for Hell Let Loose are coming soon(tm).

Hell Let Loose has better graphics. The difference is pretty clear. Hell Let Loose has more colorful, detailed, and just overall better looking environments. Post Scriptum is more of what you’d expect from a larger scale multiplayer game. Not terrible, but more adequate than impressive. Hell Let Loose definitely scores high marks for visuals, especially its gritty looking mud.

Hell Let Loose

Playerbase is a big factor when deciding between the two games, but figuring it out isn’t very easy. Steam charts puts Hell Let Loose in the lead by hundreds more, but Hell Let Loose is the new shiny. Meanwhile on Twitch, Post Scriptum has more followers, but less active viewers. The games have the exact same price too, so neither has an advantage in gaining players that way. You’re kind of on your own in this regard, I don’t have any help to offer here other than to point it out as something to watch as time goes on.

These were the big highlights for me when I decided which was better, Hell Let Loose or Post Scriptum. Personally, I like Hell Let Loose just a little more. It feels just a tad more casual than Post Scriptum. The spawning mechanics were the main selling point for me, though the inability to swap weapons had the most negative impact on my gameplay. I hope you’ve gotten plenty to think about here. Your first battle will take place at the Steam Store pages. Good luck, and keep your head down soldier!

If you decide on Hell Let Loose, you can check out my new player guide!

REVIEW: Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II

In Battlefleet Gothic Armada II, you can purge every corner of the cosmos from xenos and heretic alike. Developed by Tindalos Interactive and published by Focus Home Interactive, Armada II had a full release on January 24th, 2019. I was granted a key to participate however as far back as the December 2018 beta. I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, even though I only touched the multiplayer. I wanted to hold off on the review due to a lack of co-op campaigns working at release. It was subsequently patched, and ready to go within a couple of months. Now that I’ve played through some of the Imperial Navy campaign, I’m ready to give you a full review of the game.

For the uninitiated Warhammer 40,000 fans out there, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II is a space RTS. You command fleets from nearly all the races and factions in the Warhammer 40k universe. It’s identical to the first Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, and the campaign resembles the Total War: Warhammer II style world map with RTS battles. It retails for $39.99 wherever Steam keys are sold. There is currently no DLC available as all races are available in the base game. A welcome improvement from the first game.

There are singleplayer campaigns available for the Imperial Navy, Necrons, and Tyranids. The game is set 800 years after the events of the first Battlefleet Gothic: Armada in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The Cadian sector has fallen, and Admiral Spire returns just in time to take control of the situation. The game is friendly to casual and more tactical fans alike. You can play versus AI on low difficulty, or turn it up and experiment with different fleet builds and skill/ability combinations.

The graphics in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II are absolutely beautiful, just like the first one. The visuals really are one of the game’s biggest draws. You can zoom in very close during battles for a spectacular view. The cutscenes are also out of this world with both cinematic and partially animated styles. The soundtrack is the same as the first one, which isn’t a bad thing. The music matches well with the game and fits the Warhammer 40,000 universe perfectly.


Gameplay consists of capital ship combat, using small escorts up to enormous battleships. Each faction has a different approach to tactics. These tactics range from brawling up close with heavy defenses and boarding attacks, to dancing around at long range with lighter defenses but faster engines, and everything in between. There is lots of variety available for different commander styles. Each RTS battle, in singleplayer or multiplayer, has a set number of points for your fleet. Smaller ships are worth less points, larger ships are worth more points. Points range from 1000 to 4000 points, and also vary by 1v1 and 2v2 queues. You can build your fleets and choose your abilities based on the situation or your opponent. Singleplayer also complements with a galaxy map that you manage fleets and resources on, and then switches to the aforementioned RTS battle for any engagements. Singleplayer progression lets you choose different upgrades for your ships, though some upgrades affect a certain class of ships (Cruisers for example), and some affect all ships. Multiplayer progression is minimal. All skills and abilities unlock from level 1 to 10, after which you win random cosmetic portraits.

The co-op campaign for Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II has one small problem. This issue centers around permissions for the players. For example, only the host can actually add ships and create fleets. Only one player at a time can look at the fleets, so it’s very clunky when deciding which ships to buy. Otherwise the RTS battles run smoothly with no hiccups and the ships are easily swapped at any time. The multiplayer initially was quite unbalanced between the factions, however balance has undergone several iterations. It currently feels like it’s in a good place, but I have seen it swing pretty wildly so it’s a bit of a wild card. Developers have been pushing balance updates regularly, so problems do seem to get addressed. Of course it always seems like it takes too long when it’s your faction that’s taking the nerfs.

This is easily one of my favorite Warhammer games. I’m a fan already of capital ship combat, and Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II sprinkles on a few Space Marines for icing on the cake. The multiplayer now has ranked queues with seasonal rewards, and a new singleplayer campaign is on the way in an upcoming free update. There’s so much in the game and planned that I wouldn’t even know what to wish for next. With less than 4 months under its belt at this point, I’m very excited to see what (hopefully) long-term plans Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II has in store.