Developer Appreciation Week: Gearbox Software

Developer Appreciation Week (or DAV) is technically coming to a close, but I thought I’d squeeze a post about the topic in nonetheless. I haven’t really been following any of the scheduled stuff this Blaugust, but as it is I haven’t really needed any help getting topics down. Having to rush and blow through several posts in a day has left me looking for inspiration though. I’m leaving to Vegas on Thursday morning, and won’t return until Sunday night. As such I’ve been writing ahead for those days to have scheduled posts, and well, here we are. From what I can recall I have written a DAV post in the past, and I believe I included a couple of developers in it. This time around I wanted to pick someone different, and with Borderlands 3 releasing just around the corner (and my own personal time spent with the series recently) I realized that I have rather enjoyed much of the content put out by Gearbox Software.

When doing some research to make sure I had my facts straight, it turns out that my relationship with the company goes much further back than Borderlands, thought that’s the IP that I’m most connected to at this point. Nevertheless, way back in 1999 Gearbox developed Half-Life: Opposing Force, the expansion to the original Half-Life. I loved that expansion and played it while still in high school. It appears that I may have touched on some other games that the company developed as well, but my relationship wouldn’t get as serious until early 2010 when I purchased my Playstation 3 and a copy of the original Borderlands. I would go on to buy all of the expansions, level up a couple of characters to maximum level along with beating the end game raids and things. I basically 100% that game before playing it over again with my best friend once he got a copy as well. By the time Borderlands 2 had released, I had it pre-ordered and also picked up the season pass. I bought most if not all of the DLC too, and in some cases it felt less than worth the money, but I didn’t care due to being obsessed with the gameplay and wanting every new experience I could get.

Games like Destiny or The Division couldn’t exist without Borderlands before it. By that note, I don’t think Borderlands would exist without RPGs like Diablo either. Nonetheless, Borderlands solidified the FPS-RPG hybrid as a viable model, something that can be monetized and of which a whole universe can expand. Unfortunately developers typically need publishers, and 2K being the evil corporation here might have something to do with some of the negative press around said monetization, though at this time it has become the norm of the games industry.

The company isn’t without blemish though. Besides the games that I’ve mentioned, they had a fiasco over Aliens: Colonial Marines, but that has been better documented elsewhere. It could also be said that they lost the battle of the hero shooter, as their game Battleborn released near games like Blizzard’s Overwatch or Hi-Rez Studios’ Paladins, both of which seem to have seen the most success (Quake Champions is the last game of this nature that I can recall coming out, and even it seems to be more successful than Gearbox’s entry).

It’s likely that we’ll see a return to greatness with Borderlands 3 though, and I fully hope for that outcome. Borderlands does the looter shooter thing right, is easy to jump in and out of with friends, has a humourous and well put together storyline and I just hope for the best for the company’s return to the series. We’ll know soon enough, Borderlands 3 releases on September 13th, which is just a couple of weeks away. You know I’ll be there from the start to dive in head first.

Quick Thoughts: August Playstation Plus Freebies

Last month, as a result of the Playstation Plus program, I spent a few days reveling in Detroit: Become Human. A new month has come, and with it more free games. Each time we get a new announcement from Sony about what titles are going to be included there are always two camps: Some folks clamor for better options, stating they’re discontinuing use of the service, while others will endlessly defend crappy selections. I fall somewhere in the middle. There have definitely been months where the subscription was well worth it; just a single game can sometimes make it worth the cost of entry. There have also been down months where I couldn’t care less about any of the games included. More recently, the PS3 and PSVita support has been pulled from the service so instead of getting between 2-4 games per month we now almost strictly get only two. Of course, people have complained about this too. I miss the cross-play titles that actually end up being pretty good. I don’t miss wasting time downloading throwaway games. I’ve still been pretty consistent with downloading nearly all of the games available (if not at least adding them to my library), and I at least try the ones I download. The free games for August were a mixed bag at first glance, and having played each for a little while I have some impressions to share.

A game I didn’t realize had even come out, the Wipeout Omega Collection collates Wipeout 2048 and Wipeout HD. I’m pretty sure HD is a remake of the original from way back on the original Playstation, and 2048 must have been a sequel at some point. Whatever the case, it’s been a game I’ve played each time I’ve seen a new version, but was never overly good at nor did it ever really hold my attention for long. I do enjoy a good racer though, and this one actually feels a lot better than I remember — I say this tepidly, because I’m sure actually difficult levels are near impossible. It looks good, much better than I remember, but I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I played a Wipeout game. From what I’ve read there aren’t any plans for new iterations either, so this might be the ultimate edition that you’ll have to settle for.

This is combat racing, so most game modes include AI competitors along with power-ups you can use to slaughter the competition. It doesn’t feel as fast paced as it did back in the day, but I’m sure that has more to do with my memory being off than actual facts. I really like the way it controls and the way it looks, even the music is pretty damn good. I ended up playing both 2048 and HD for a few races and noted that they feel pretty much the same as far as quality goes.  There is a really nice photo mode that allows you to capture some cool moments, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to take screenshots while racing as you’ll just lose position. Overall, this title was a surprise hit for me, much like Detroit: Become Human was last month. I still need to try out Heavy Rain on that note.

The other free title is one that I’m sure plenty of people would be excited about, but it ended up being underwhelming for me. The one and only Sniper Elite game I played was the second entry, and I found the slow-motion x-ray trick shot bits to be a little over the top and felt that they took away from the moment to moment combat. As such, I expected this game would be one that I’d glaze over pretty quickly. I will say that I rather enjoyed playing the Zombie Army Trilogy at a friend’s house a few years back (it’s made by the same devs) but it also didn’t focus so much on sniping and was more about killing zombies at a rapid clip.

Sniper Elite 4 takes place in Italy, and is sort of part of the side story of World War II. I imagine they are running out of theaters of war at this point anyway, but maybe not. Whatever the case, you play a lone wolf commando dude who is a badass sniper. You start off with a mission to kill some dudes, and you head off into a semi open world environment, and you’re taught how various mechanics work while trying not to get killed. From what I saw, this is just not a game for me. There is more focus on you trying to get stealth kills and remain undetected, while enemies swarm around looking for you. I hate being forced into this play pattern, and seeing people getting their insides exploded doesn’t really help it feel any better. So yeah, a hard pass for me, but I’m sure someone around here will enjoy it.

That’s all I got for today.

Reconnecting with Borderlands

When Borderlands 3 was revealed at this year’s E3, I knew it was a game I’d have to play. The best looter shooter out there, in my humble opinion at least, it’s been a lot of fun over the years and I look forward to co-oping my way through it with my best friend come September. At the same time though, a brand new DLC for Borderlands 2 was announced, called Commander Lilith & The Fight For Sanctuary. Coincidentally, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection was one of the Playstation Plus free games for that month, so it turned out anyone with a PS4 would be able to grab this DLC and play right away. It was free for a time as well, so that was an added bonus. Also, for those not familiar, The Handsome Collection collates both Borderlands 2 along with it’s plethora of DLC and Borderlands The PreSequel as well. I’ve talked about the latter, as it was a game I played a little bit but never completed — nonetheless my best friend has expressed interest in playing that one as well. I suppose that could be done before the release of the proper sequel, but we’ll see.

Another nice touch, for those of us who played the original game on Playstation 3 and can’t seem to find our save files on the cloud, you are able to create level 30 characters right off the bat in order to jump right into the new DLC. This is where me and my best friend started out. During my first playthrough of Borderlands 2 (back in 2012 I think it was?), I played Zero, while during our co-op jaunts I would play Lilith. This time around I decided to play Axton, the Commando. My friend went with the Gunzerker, and away we went. As the notice above states, this DLC bridges the story between Borderlands 2 and the new game, so you probably should have already played the other games before this. I guess that means if you are worried about spoilers, you should probably avoid reading the rest of this post as well.

The game is still running on the same engine that it always has, but it does seem to run a bit smoother on PS4 as opposed to the PS3. It probably looks a little sharper too, but my memory of the details is hazy, and that’s fairly unimportant. The storyline picks up a while after the end of Borderlands 2, where the vault hunters had found a vault key that functioned as something of a map, and you now know that they are vaults all over the universe. This could potentially make the series infinite as long as the company continues to want to make new areas and new stories. Most of the story is revealed in the game, with characters speaking to you and events happening as you play. There are cutscenes sprinkled throughout, and they tend to be a similar flavor that you’ll know and love (if you’re a fan). So far we have been introduced to a new bad guy who has created a sort of gas that transforms humans and creatures alike into these mutant plant beasts. He attacks Sanctuary and takes it over, and we have had to go and clear out another location called “The Backburner” in order to have a functional base again. Familiar characters pop up along the way, and some can be recruited to your base of operations. After a few missions, it’s clear that there is a lot to do in this DLC.

Otherwise it really is more of the same, but that’s not really a bad thing. I always enjoyed playing the Borderlands series, though I haven’t really reached the end game since the first iteration and I definitely haven’t put the time into the other games outside of completing main campaigns. I think this little foray will whet my whistle for a bit, but once Borderlands 3 arrives I can’t wait to dive in full force. My recommendation is to play this first if you’ve already completed the other games, but if you’re not a fan of the series, then carry on and have fun with your thing!

Thoughts on Battle Pass Value

Battle Passes are not really a new thing, however they have become more commonplace, particularly with games that are labeled as “free to play.” First, we should define what a “battle pass” is, in loose terminology at least. Some games will call this a subscription option, some will have some other sort of lore based name for it, but overall it ends up being a thing that coincides with a “season” of a game (lengths of which are determined by that game’s developer) and provides a way to earn more in-game loot for that particular title. For example, you’ll pay somewhere in the ballpark of $9.99-19.99 for access to a progression system that rewards various fluff items for the game. If you don’t pay the fee, you’ll still be able to unlock rewards by playing the game, but if you pay the fee, you’ll essentially get double the rewards (give or take).

My earliest experience with a system like this was with the MOBA SMITE. They had a system of adventures and things where if you paid a nominal fee, you’d get greater access to skins, loading screens, music themes, podiums and other fluff items that gave you that customized look that was far greater than those who were playing the game without spending any money. This has become the norm in games that are free to play — the company needs a way to monetize their game despite giving the base experience away for free. Skins and things that are not “pay to win” are generally favored over items that are only available for cash and adjust the power level of said customer who paid money over those who play for free  — thought it could be argued that this is the way it should be due to our capitalist nature as a country, but I digress.

In more recent years, I’ve actually participated in this sort of program with multiple titles. The newest game to introduce this sort of system was Apex Legends, where their battle pass opens up a slew of customization options that simply aren’t available when playing for free. To be fair, the game is pretty generous when it comes to currency needed to unlock new characters, along with crafting materials to make skins for characters and weapons. Where the exclusivity kicks in is with the loading screen and music theme customizations. Also, emotes that are only usable while dropping into the game. Some of the skins are “exclusive” as well, but I assume those will be craftable at some point. Whatever the case, there is a value proposition here that you’ll have to figure out for yourself. Do you see yourself wanting cool skins for your characters and guns? Are you tired of the normal theme music and want something else? Or can you deal with the fact that some people who are paying customers are getting something that you, the freeloader, is not getting as well? Honestly, it’s not that big of a deal to me. When a company is providing ethical (read: not pay to win) cosmetics in a cash shop to monetize the game I don’t have a problem with it. I also don’t have a problem throwing a few bucks at a game that I’ve gotten enjoyment out of, because companies would go under completely if no one paid for anything while playing their free to play game.

Another company that recently added this sort of system to their game was Supercell with Clash Royale. I wrote about their system called “Pass Royale” back when it first launched, and having run through that whole first season I can say that the rewards were well worth it for the $5 investment that was asked. I went ahead and paid the $5 again to play the second season with increased rewards as well. In this title, there have always been daily “crown chests” that required you to earn 10 crowns by any means necessary to unlock a chest with random rewards. That system still exists with the new Pass Royale, but if you are a paying customer, you’ll get essentially double the rewards. Instead of one legendary chest you’ll get two. You’ll also get “exclusive” emotes and tower skins, some of which were introduced solely to support this system. It still feels worth it in a game that you play regularly. I’d advise against purchase if you think you won’t play a game much throughout the course of it’s “season.”

And that’s what it comes down to. A personal assessment of whether or not you think the benefits are worth the cost. In nearly 100% of cases, these are free to play games that we are talking about, so it’s likely that you can still enjoy playing these games without spending a dime. You will be rewarded for spending money, but in most cases you won’t really benefit from these season passes unless you are regularly playing a game. This is due to the fact that most of these pass systems require you to play to unlock rewards, so I wouldn’t recommend paying unless its a game that you play regularly. In my case, I play Clash Royale daily so it was a no-brainer, especially for only $5. When it came to Apex Legends, I was more hesitant because I didn’t know if I’d make enough progress to meet a positive value, but my girlfriend ended up buying it for me and as such I have been playing almost daily just to make sure I get her money’s worth.

The choice is yours when it comes to purchasing these passes. I just thought I’d throw my experience out there in hopes that it helps someone make a decision. Happy gaming, all!

Apex Strategies

As I mentioned in my recent round-up post, I’ve been playing Apex Legends again pretty regularly. Outside of the initial complaint of there not really being enough new content to keep me coming back, there have been some decent content patches in the interim and I’ve been enjoying myself in the game. Some observations before we get to the meat of this post:

  • I’ve found that the population seems unharmed regardless of negative press and the fact that this title fell off the charts shortly after launch while others like PUBG and Fortnite continue to be at least listed on the top income charts. I didn’t have queues to begin with and I don’t now. Wait times between games are minimal.
  • While playing the game during launch I had exactly one win. It was actually the first round I had played. I didn’t touch Apex Legends at all during the first season, but have racked up 6 more wins during season two, and honestly I don’t think my play pattern has changed. Practice makes perfect and all, but for whatever reason things have clicked and I’ve been doing really well. I’m not sure if this is a reflection on the quality of players still playing on the Playstation 4, or if it’s a reflection of personal skill growth. I prefer to think it’s the latter.

This brings me to the topic of this post. I feel like my experience being at the bottom (prior to the first season) and losing repetitively but learning the core mechanics of the game has now combined with being relatively good at the game. As such I feel pretty confident sharing some tips with you that might help you to become a better player as well. So let’s get to it shall we? Here are some of my personal tips for getting better at Apex Legends, in no particular order:

Situational Awareness:

The first tip I have for you is to try and have situational awareness. You should know if you have short-range weapons equipped, so don’t fire at long range targets giving away your position. Shooting shotgun shells at someone on top of a cliff isn’t going to do anything except give away your position, and that means getting flanked by the enemy team. Perhaps your team isn’t ready for an altercation — one guy is looting a death box and another is heading in the opposite direction. Your mini-map can help with this information in split seconds. You should also be calling out enemies seen and where you are going using the game’s ping system. Sometimes it’s tempting to be a commando/hero and go it alone, but you should stick with the group. You are more powerful as a unit than on your own (despite the fact that there will be times you will have to carry your teammates). Listen to the environment for incoming threats — the game’s sound is there for a reason, and you’ll hear the enemy’s movements oftentimes before you see them. Know your enemy’s abilities! Every playable character has special abilities, you need to know how they work and how you can respond to them. For instance, Wattson’s ultimate will protect you from air strikes, but only if you’re inside its sphere of influence!

Environmental Awareness:

This comes down to being aware of escape routes, jump stations, ziplines and etcetera. Constantly check your map for your allies and for pings. Also, pay attention to where the ring is and where it’s going next. I’ve found that in my early game sessions I used to always try to be as close to the middle of the ring as possible throughout the match. Oftentimes this meant leaving teammates behind and heading off on my own, which I clearly no longer recommend. What I have found now is that hugging the edge of the ring seems to be more effective. Not only will you be able to pick off stragglers, oftentimes they will have been damaged by the ring so they are easy pickings. You also tend to see more teams trying my old strategy and being closer to the middle so you avoid some of the bigger conflicts. Staying alive is the name of the game after all.

The rest of my tips are less meaty:

  • Holster when you run long distances. This makes a huge difference, especially when trying to outrun the ring.
  • Always try to revive or respawn teammates but be safe. Don’t dive on a downed teammate immediately. Try to make sure threats are eliminated or distracted first.
  • Don’t carry items you don’t need. Give syringes and shield cells to teammates if they need them. Use the ultimate accelerants as soon as you pick them up.
  • Keep your shields and health topped off. Don’t be afraid to use these items during fights, but be aware of how/when you can do so.
  • Don’t forget to use your grenades!! I was guilty of not using my secondary equipment very often but now I try to do so every match.
  • Don’t use finishers if you only down one member of an enemy squad. You’ll get caught mid animation if you do. I believe there is a way to shortcut the animation but I’d avoid it until it is safe to do so.

That’s all I can think of for now, but hopefully these tips stick in your head and you are able to implement them. You can see me following many of these ideals in the following video, which ended up being one of my better matches in the game and one that I remembered to record.