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Killing Floor 2's Return of the Patriarch update is worth the wait

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It takes a Viking to handle TWO OF THESE

Last week, Tripwire Interactive came under scrutiny when they introduced cosmetic microtransactions to Killing Floor 2. Many people who had purchased the Steam Early Access title felt that this showed Tripwire's true money-grabbing intentions: why would a game that sorely needed more content and balance updates get microtransactions before content?

While it remains to be seen whether or not this will all go down in flames and the community will truly abandon the game like so many are threatening, the Return of the Patriarch update is going to breathe new life into the game. With a new boss, a new perk, new maps, and Steam mod and workshop support arriving, good luck sticking to that boycott you might have been planning.

Killing Floor 2 (PC [previewed], PlayStation 4)
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive 
Release date: April 21, 2015 (Steam Early Access)
MSRP: $29.99

I wish I had a video to show you, but I ran into problem after problem when it came to recording my time with Return of the Patriarch. If I can iron out those problems in the coming days, I'll upload some footage of a playthrough on Suicidal difficulty. In terms of perk balance and weapon damage, keep in mind that everything I describe here is in regards to solo play on Suicidal.

In the first Killing Floor, the Sharpshooter perk used both long-range weapons (rifles, a crossbow) and dual pistols, utilizing highly-damaging headshots to kill the bigger Zeds. In the sequel, dual pistols have found their home in a new perk: Gunslinger. This is a natural transition since Sharpshooter had entirely too many guns and dual-wielding is nuanced enough for it's own perk. Having two separate handfuls of metal feels more fleshed out in Killing Floor 2, and the class's perk skills lend it a few different styles of play.

The first perk skill choice is between moving faster while aiming down the sights (with reduced weapon sway) and faster weapon switch transitions. I generally opted for the second one, since once you get the feel for shooting without iron sights, you start to ignore them. Next, you have a choice between 20% more damage for Gunslinger weapons or a headshot multiplier. This largely determines your playstyle but both seem completely viable so far.

Choosing the headshot multiplier is about careful selection of targets, running far enough away to find some breathing room and determine which melon to burst first. Each headshot fills an increment on a bar that appears on the screen, and a sound effect plays, intensifying with each Zed you shoot in the head. Once you reach seven headshots, a triumphant noise happens with each additional popped skull that is supremely satisfying every time. It sounds annoying when I describe it, but it doesn't feel that way in action. Each consecutive headshot adds 5% to your damage, capping off at 75%, but if you miss a shot beyond seven, it'll go back to seven. If you miss again, it'll go down one increment with each shot. I initially thought that one missed shot would bring the counter to zero, but I much prefer this system. Get ready to hate the invisible Stalkers when they block one of your perfectly lined up shots.

Using the flat damage increase is much more reliable, but not quite as fun as the multiplier. Pulling off consecutive headshots and then being rewarded with an ultra-powerful damage bonus against a Scrake feels skillful and makes Gunslinger more unique. Flat damage is a sure thing, and I'd be lying my ass off if I said I didn't enjoy sprinting away and then unleashing a hail of bullets while the Zeds charged me on Hell on Earth difficulty. I'm not yet sure which perk skill high level players will choose yet, since they both have their uses. I'm glad to see choices that aren't as clear cut as past perks.

Back to the other perk skills! The third tier is faster reloading or the ability to penetrate an additional Zed with every bullet. This is another hard choice, even though I would have thought reloading would be the way to go. All Gunslinger guns already pass through bodies into the monster behind them, and since Zeds tend to stack up behind one another, extra penetration helps you clear out hordes rather quickly. My feelings on this are clouded by the fact that in the build I was playing, you could reload cancel immediately after one of your two guns was reloaded. If that's patched out by the time the update is live, increased reload speed will probably be the overwhelmingly popular choice.

I reached level 16, so those are the only skills I was able to try first-hand. Fourth tier is between increased stumble chance when shooting chests or increased knockdown chance when shooting sprinting Zeds in the legs. The fifth tier is limitless firing without reloading/ the ability to fire as fast as you want in Zed time (slow motion to those unfamiliar). I'd probably choose the second option for both of those, but I won't know until I play with them. Passive abilities include bullet resistance, weapon damage, move speed, and recoil reduction.

You probably want to know about those sweet, sweet guns you'll be firing (I promise I'm only a gun nut when it comes to Killing Floor). The starting weapons are a pair of 1858 revolvers, nail bombs (fun for close-quarters!), and a bowie knife. While the 1858s seem a tad weak at low level, once you acclimate to their penetration, they can be effective. In a cool little touch, if you drop one of them, your free hand will fan the hammer and your rate of fire will increase. I came up with a fun little trick: when you activate Zed time, toss one gun up into the air, fan the hammer to neutralize the oncoming threat, catch the gun, and continue blasting. You will feel like a big ol' badass.

Even though the 1858s can be fun, I almost always sell them immediately to get the M1911s. Their combination of speed, capacity, and stopping power make them my favorite Gunslinger weapon to use. Darting around and launching lead with these 'lil fuckers is some of the most fun I've had with the game so far. Though they aren't as powerful as the higher tier weapons, they're prone to knocking down Zeds. There were numerous occasions where I thought I had killed something, but I had simply knocked it on its ass. 

Next up are the Desert Eagles. Now we're getting to the bigguns, and that's reflected in their damage potential. With the Desert Eagles, you can feel how powerful they are with both the small ring of fire that appears with every shot and the THOOOM sound effect that happens with each click. Using these, you have a chance against both Scrakes and Fleshpounds (especially with that headshot multiplier!). 

Rounding out the collection is the .500 "Zed Collector," a pistol-sized cannon. These are ungodly strong, to the point where shooting a weaker Zed causes it to outright explode. I am not ashamed to admit that I cackled each time a Crawler became a meat tornado due to one of my shots. Fleshpounds are rendered toothless when you surprise them with a pair of these. Even bosses go down quickly when you have something this strong. Speaking of bosses...

Yay! The Patriarch is back! Though he is without mustache, it's good to see the old original boss back and "with some new tricks." His new form is hideous, and while I initially didn't care for him being so thick (why is everything thicker in Killing Floor 2?), it's grown on me as much as his mutations have grown on him. Fighting him is fairly similar to how it was in the first game: he'll use his gatling gun and rocket launcher whenever you try to flee, cloak to sneak up on you, and his disgusting chest-protrusion will latch onto you and pull you close. He can use his rockets to flush you out of cover, and the ensuing smoke trails are as beautiful as they are dangerous.

Fighting him as the Gunslinger can be rough, since his hump over his head makes headshots more difficult to pull off. I've taken him down on Suicidal, and he was a tough but fair endeavor. I'm not sure how it'll be with a full squad, but I look forward to a meaty challenge. Since both the Patriarch and Hans Volter have an equal chance of spawning, teams will have to be prepared for anything. This is a welcome shake to the formula, and I think everyone's going to like coming up with new tactics instead of dealing with Hans' three phase fight ad nauseam. The only disappointment regarding the Patriarch fight is that his theme (Abandon All) has been replaced with a new, faster-paced song. It's blasphemous to say, but I actually really like the new song and think it fits the theme of a quicker, more brutal boss fight. 

Two new maps bring unexpected changes to Killing Floor 2. Farmhouse is a tiny tiny tiny close-quarters map: a two-story house and barn surrounded by a cornfield makes for the perfect little skirmish. Since the area is so small, you're forced to be more mobile than previous maps, and you'll spend most of your time kiting around the yard. Since enemies can spawn in the cornfield, nowhere is completely safe, and it's a welcomely unwelcome feeling. Barricaded windows on both the house and barn can be destroyed to provide vantage points for picking off Zeds from above, giving you plenty of ways to re-enact your favorite horror films.

Black Forest is the other new map, and it's much larger. It's a brightly-lit forest where there are remnants of train tracks and an old bar, and a Horzine train recently crashed nearby. Rushing rivers cascade through the wreckage, and it's all very scenic. As waves progress, the sun goes down, reducing visibility. The bar has walls that can be destroyed by way of gunfire or overzealous Zeds, which startled the crap out of me the first time. It's hard to feel safe when even walls can't protect you. When I asked the developers if they planned to have day/night cycles and semi-destructible environments in future levels, they said that nothing was currently planned, but it's a definite possibility.

Even though that last map gets fairly dark, you'll now be equipped with a flashlight no matter what weapon you have in your hands. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet, since flashlight attachments used to be an integral part of weapon selection. It's definitely convenient to always be able to see in dark levels (looking at you, catacombs), but it remains to be seen whether this'll be a good change in the long run. 

Another welcome change is that the collectibles hidden in each level are now much less of a pain in the ass. Instead of having to find all of them, you only have to find ten per level. They still only unlock achievements, but it's more enjoyable when you don't have to scour maps for every little collectible. Plus, the new maps have themed items: little dolls in Farmhouse (a reference to the Toy Maker mod in the first game) and little Clot Mother chunks in Black Forest.

There are a host of other changes in this update as well. Audio has been re-balanced and there are more sliders to customize your sound experience. The Fleshpound supposedly has new sounds, but I wasn't able to hear them all that well (I've been having speaker problems, so this is probably on my end). Berserker has been re-balanced as well, with Fortitude giving only 75 more health instead of 100, and Smash being less ridiculous, lessening the 100% bonus to hard hits going down to 25%. The main menu has also been changed to make room for the shop tab, where you can buy either costume sets for Hayato, Mr. Foster, and Constable Briar or decryption keys to unlock crates.

As far as the item drops go, they're earned at the end of a battle in the results screen, so players won't sprint away and abandon their team to get a shiny new gun skin. In my 10 or so hours with the update, I've unlocked 7 gun skins and one cosmetic item. Of course, drop rates are probably different in the build I played than the one will go public, but it's still worth mentioning. I don't think the system was fully implemented yet as I didn't see any mention of conditions (such as battle-scarred or field-tested).

One new character also makes his debut in this update. Oisten Jaegerhorn, a big burly Swede, is a member of a Metallica tribute band called "Metalbika." Most of his little comments involve his being in a metal band, such as saying the Siren has a bad singing voice. He's especially fun when he picks up dual revolvers and says stuff like "IT TAKES A VIKING TO HOLD TWO OF THESE" in his booming, enthusiastic voice.

All-in-all, this is a hefty update that fuels my ever-burning interest to blow up Zeds in new ways. The Patriarch makes the formula less predictable, the new concepts in the maps introduce fresh ideas, and Tripwire stills knows how to make good guns go boom. The incoming map and mod support will bring even more to the plate, but I wasn't able to see them in action. I'm curious to see how the community will react to the Gunslinger, as right now, it's kind of amazing at everything. It's a trash-killing boss-murdering machine with just the right amount of friction behind every pull of the trigger. I hope that every other class gets brought up to this level, instead of Gunslinger getting nerfed. 

But then again, I haven't tried Hell on Earth difficulty with a full squad. I hope to play with you all soon (couple of weeks maybe?) when the update comes out.

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Zack Furniss
Zack Furniss   gamer profile

Liev Schrieber's little brother. Lover of horror and RPGs. Let's be best friends. more + disclosures


 


 


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