Monday, September 12, 2011

Another stop gap

Remember these guys?
About to start on the battle report from Thursday, for real this time, but as with the last mention it may not be ready for today.  To tide you over, some more Space Marine.  Today I'll look at the class that makes my heart sing: Assault. If you're reading this blog you already know what an Assault marine is, so I won't do the baseline explanation thing. 

Where else to start but the jump pack?  It took me a couple minutes to get used to the thing, and oddly the learning curve was better in multiplayer than the campaign.  Having put in enough time now to become proficient, the feel in the video game is a perfect translation of how the unit works on the table.  The jump pack is a two-stage affair, the first pulse shooting you along a low arc, and the optional second stage giving you real altitude.  As with double jumps in most games, you have to engage the second stage before you start descending.  The deadline may actually be sooner than that as I've had little luck delaying my second blast, but that could also be due to the low arc of the first jump.  You can cover a lot of distance with the double jump, crossing most stages in two or three jumps from edge to edge.  The stages themselves are a good representation of what a Cityfight sort of battle would be: dense, multi-layered, urban ruins with few long fire corridors.  There are lots of high perches and floors to jump around to, though you run into invisible walls if you try and get too creative.  Building roofs are also off-limits.  You can maneuver a little during your jump, enough to subtly change direction or make sure you hit a ledge, but once you've blasted off your course is mostly set.  This is a weakness of the class, but I'll address that in a bit.

Weapons are a bit limited compared to 40k.  Your melee options (in Imperial terms) are chainsword, power axe, Thunder Hammer, and power sword.  The power sword requires you to complete the first level in Kill Team to unlock, which is a bit of a pain as I've already played Kill Team through a couple times on other systems and don't really want to play it again, let alone drop the $10 on it.  I'm also not convinced that the power sword is anything more than a different skin for the chainsword, though it does feel more powerful.  As swing speed goes up, power goes down.  The power/chainsword is the fastest and the Thunder Hammer the slowest.  The TH in particular is painfully slow and I've yet to have much success with it, though it can one-shot most anyone in any situation.  Provided you connect of course.  I've been leaning towards the sword over the axe as speed if often more important than hitting power.  Melee attacks are combo based, so more hits means more damage.  Targetting is a little wonky, though I'm getting better at it, so quick reaction time from my weapon is important.  Melee is chaotic: combatants rocketing in and out, Tacticals rolling around like circus bears, Devastators standing back just enough to shoot you without getting hit in return, grenades and jump packs exploding all over, and the constant threat of flanking.  Getting the first hit in often means victory, hence my preference for the sword.  Pistol options are bolt and plasma.  The plasma pistol has a slight edge in power, but the heat buildup requires manual venting which can be easily forgotten in the rush of jumps and combat.

I dabble with Crimson Fists occasionally.
There are a few more perks to unlock, but I have access to the majority now.  They're split into two groups: class perks and weapon perks.  The first are unlocked while leveling, while the second are tied to particular weapons.  I only how two of the latter: Chainswordman's Zeal and Axeman's Zeal.  Both heal you (health, not armor/shield) per hit.  The healing is substantial, easily refilling your bar from near death after slaughtering a single opponent.  The class perks are a bit more interesting.  Furious Charge boosts your charge attack damage, but the charge attack is less efficient than just starting up a combo.  Sure Strike "increases the efficiency," I'm not sure of the exact wording, of the stun/interrupt (triangle on PS3) attack.  I'm not sure what this one does.  I don't use the triangle attack much as it's a single attack that resembles the maligned charge attack.  The text implies that you either hit more or faster with the perk.  Limited testing has given me no impression at all.  Impenetrable gives damage reduction against ranged attacks, and as an Assaulter you will get shot a lot.  Blast Off does aoe damage when you engage your jump pack which can be very useful in the right situation.  Final Vengeance causes your jump pack to explode when you die.  I feel bad taking this one because it's so situational and only works when you die, but the results are hard to argue with.  My current record for enemies slain with a single exploding jump pack is six.  Typcially I'll pick from Final Vengeance, some flavor of Zeal, Impenetrable, and Blast Off.  Blast Off and Vengeance support a play style where you charge into the largest cluster of enemies you can find and jump around like a kangaroo.  While satisfying, you don't live too long.  In the objective based game type, Seize the Objectives or something like that, it's a good combination as people are clustered around the objectives.  In the deathmatch type, Annihilation, I don't like using it because each death counts against your team, so I lean towards Impenetrable and Zeal to maximize survivability.  There are a couple more that I either haven't unlocked or have forgotten about.

There's a final equipment slot for grenades.  You have three options: frag grenades, blind grenades, and combat stims.  Combat stims increase your melee damage done and decrease your melee damage taken, while the other two do what you'd think.  Blind grenades are too effective for me.  Their radius is huge.  If you throw them from far enough away to not be blinded by them, your victim has recovered by the time you're in melee range.  I think I'd like the combat stims if I could manage to remember I have them and not grenades, but typically I'll try to lob them while jumping in and then wonder why my grenades aren't exploding.  If I've done my job here it will be no surprise that I use frag grenades nigh-exclusively.

My inner heretic loves these jump packs.
I've found three effective play styles as an Assault marine.  I will, however, first cover the most obvious and least effective style: the berserker charge.  The undiluted joy of blasting off towards the closest foe is hard to deny.  I like to think of it as the Black Rage.  Like a Death Company charge in 40k, the initial results are remarkable, provided you're good enough at how melee combat works in this game to kill someone.  Also like a DC charge, once the initial momentum is expended there's often a second wave coming in to blast you to pieces.

That's a great segue into the first viable style: second wave.  The game actually supports this to a degree by giving you extra points for Revenge kills, where you kill an enemy that has just killed a teammate.  This style is pretty easy to adapt to as it just requires you to wait a second before charging in.  Once the enemies are engaged, you can leap in from behind and start mopping up.  Of course there's always the third and fourth wave to consider, but with Zeal and some luck you can hack through a number of foes before dying.

But dying sucks, doubly so in Annihilation games, so avoiding it is a good idea.  This leads to the second style: hit and run.  Find an enemy, descend from on high with death in your hands, then get out of dodge when the deed is done.  While the berserker charge, and second wave to a lesser extent, are about getting stuck in and taking as many enemies down with you as possible, hit and run is about staying alive.  Enemy reinforcements coming in?  Time for a tactical withdrawal.  Instead of picking big clusters of enemies, you're looking for solos or pairs.  Anything past two opponents is a death sentence if you don't have backup.  This is my preferred style at this point, jumping around on the flanks and behind the lines to harry the enemy when possible.

Finally there's the counter-charger.  Thus far games have been about establishing a firebase while attacking the opposing firebase(s) with Assaulters.  Having an Assault marine of your own lurking amongst the Devastators is quite the boon.  Devs can typically handle their own defense just fine, but if multiple Assaulters pounce at once then things will go poorly.  Having that counter assault element gives you a very strong base.  The downside of this approach is that you do a lot of standing around and waiting for someone to make it to your lines.  On the plus side you rarely die with all that support around you, provided you play smart.

If only you could use Lightning Claws...
There are a few counters to watch out for as a jumper.  As I alluded to at the beginning it's pretty easy to figure out where your jump will end, which means it's also pretty easy for an opponent to leave a grenade there waiting for you or have a headshot lined up for when you land.  There isn't a whole lot you can do about this other than be smart about when and where you jump.  You'll also attract a lot of fire while in the air, but you can use the slam/mid-air charge (square on the PS3) to drop like a stone.  When you hit you'll be stuck for a second during the animation, but it's better than a long, slow arc into heavy bolter fire.  Final Vengeance is a constant threat but makes a distinct beeping when the bearer is slain, so if your jump pack is ready and if you're not stuck on some piece of terrain you can jump out easily.  Tacticals are mobile enough to dodge your initial attacks, and they have a melee perk that can make them dangerous in hand to hand, but generally once you get them in your combo they're done for.  Provided they don't have a meltagun that is.  Those provide a simple, hard counter in the form of rolling away from your landing and meltaing your face off.  I've found no counter to this aside from killing the Tactical before he kills me.  Devastators are the hardest nut to crack.  They're the most durable class, have the most powerful guns, and can pick from an array of defensive perks that will ruin your day.  The two biggest threats from them are the heavy bolter and the stomp.  The heavy bolter is an amazing gun in Space Marine (it works like I've always wanted it to in 40k) that will tear you apart if you find yourself in front of it.  I've landed a pace or two in front of a Devastator and been mowed down without getting a swing off many times.  The answer here is mobility: land behind the Devastator and use your jump pack to stay behind them once you're engaged.  The stomp is harder to deal with.  It's fast enough to hit before you can swing if your opponent times it right, and can be made faster with a perk, and is powerful enough to cripple or kill if you're already dinged up, and again can be made better with a perk.  It also has a big radius that can, say it with me now, be made bigger with a perk.  The saving grace here is that if the Dev loads up on stomp perks he can't also take any heavy bolter or armor perks.  Devastators are by far the toughest opponent for an Assaulter, but good play will see you to victory.  Note that "good play" means that if there are two Devastators not standing right next to each other or close to some LoS blocking feature then it's time to find a new target, or call in the cavalry.

I love Assault marines, both on the table and in the tv.  The playstyle fits my natural inclinations and the jump pack actually makes jumping in and attacking viable in this game, unlike Halo or Gears of War.  The high altitude of the jump allows you a variety of approach angles and access to isolated perches from which to drop on the enemy.  I skipped the playstyle where you jump to a spot inaccessible without a jump pack and blast away with your pistol because I find it more boring than counter charging and a poor fit for the nature of the class.  The class is noob friendly to an extent.  Dropping in behind someone and slicing them up is pretty easy to pull off, while the jump pack gives you a great "oh shit" button when you're under heavy fire.  There's a big gap between jumping in with chainsword screaming and playing well though, so there's enough depth to the class to keep it engaging.  The jump pack itself is wonderful, so much that I get killed occasionally because I'm off jumping onto some little projection or trying to land on a roof while ignoring the battle around me.  The Assault class fits my expectations and inclinations so well that after the first few games with it I thought I'd never need another class again.  Then I played a Devastator and all that changed, but that's a post for another time.

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