Early Impressions: Borderlands 3

The king of Looter Shooters has triumphantly returned. I first played Borderlands back in 2010 upon purchasing my Playstation 3 (it was actually the first game I purchased during that generation) and instantly fell in love. The 3-D but cell-shaded art direction, the sense of humor, and most importantly, the RPG progression and loot system all hooked me right in. Truth be told, I played that game more than any other in the series, maxing out my character level and completing all of the DLC, also collecting the platinum trophy. I would play through it again a second time with my roommate, and from there he was hooked too. We purchased the sequel on day one. We played through it a couple of times but I only scraped the surface of the DLC, only coming back to the game most recently to play through the added DLC that bridged the story gap between sequels. Despite Borderlands: The PreSequel being a similar type of game and one that bridged the story between 1 & 2, it didn’t hold my attention long enough to finish it, and once we had the proper release of 3, I knew I probably wouldn’t go back. Having played the newest game, I can confirm that going back to the older games would be difficult. So many quality of life improvements have me spoiled and I’m not sure I could do without them again.

Fans of the series will be familiar with the above splash screens — each time we’re introduced to a new/returning character or a boss, we’ll get these art pieces displayed across the screen for a few moments, and then either the fight or dialogue proceeds. So far, nearly every character that has existed in the series has made an appearance, outside of those that are now deceased (Handsome Jack, Scooter, etc). I picked up the game a few days after release when I got paid, and my best friend got his copy as well. Once we decided which classes we were going to play, we got down to business. The new classes are sort of a mixture of new and old ideas, where my friend is playing the Operative that is most similar to the soldier class from past games in that it gets a flying drone that functions like a mobile turret. Whereas I’m playing the Gunner who gets to summon a bad ass mech suit and blows shit up real good.

As I was speaking of quality of life improvements, one thing I really like is the fact that you no longer have to collect cash, ammo or health vials, you just have to walk close enough to them and if you have the space/need, you’ll collect these pieces automatically. That alone sells this game, as there is a lot of looting to be done and I can’t be bothered to click on each dollar bill I see. Gunplay is also improved in my eyes. This is a new engine, and despite the fact that the game looks the same as it always has (with improved visuals of course) it runs smoother and I feel that the controls are more precise. Gun fighting always felt a bit floaty in the earlier titles and it feels like that’s been tightened up. I heard complaints that the game didn’t embrace a more open world model, but I don’t think that’s an issue. It’s always been sort of an instanced shooter, with dungeons and a world that feels like some MMOs I’ve played. Fast travel is still there, but the ability to actually leave Pandora presents itself and soon enough you’ll realize you can explore places you hadn’t heard of to that point. Vehicles are back, and there are multiple varieties, but now you can customize and upgrade them which is a nice touch. Vehicles will appear in certain areas that you can steal in order to get more parts for yourself as well. Changes to the skill trees means that you get multiple ways to customize your character, and you’ll be able to further augment your ultimate ability in ways that hadn’t be available in the past.

The new antagonists aren’t as interesting as Handsome Jack was. Nor are they as funny, but they serve their purpose. A pair of Sirens that have formed a cult and feed on their followers, they seem pretty twisted but also non-threatening. We’re working for Lilith and fighting for Sanctuary, which is now our flying space ship after the city itself was destroyed. A corporate war is raging, and some of the planets you’ll go to house complexes where these corporations have weapons and armies stashed, and it’s our job to fuck shit up. We end up working for Rhys as well, but in the process are putting together vault keys on other planets. It’s not quite as engrossing, but the mechanics and gameplay are still amazing, so I’m not as keen on the story anyway. I’ve put in close to 20 hours so far, but am exclusively playing with my best friend for the time being. I think after we complete the main story I might start up some new characters, but we also know DLC will be out soon enough, so there should be more to do soon enough. I’m having a blast so far, and I haven’t been this hooked by a game in a while. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re bored with the Destinies and Divisions out there.

World War Z Impressions

I mentioned on Twitter the other day that I had pulled the trigger on World War Z, after having read elsewhere that it was likened to Left 4 Dead. I was a bit skeptical at first mainly because video games based on movies are rarely a good thing, let alone video games based on movies based on books. However, this doesn’t really correlate with the movie or the book, save for the setting of the real world being overrun by “zeke.” Yes, they went ahead and used a different word for zombie, yet again.

Similarities between World War Z and Left 4 Dead can surely be seen, as it is a game that is level based, and you’ll see various “special” zombies that do things differently than your standard zeke. The co-op campaign pits you and three other players against the zombie hordes, though there are objectives to complete along a fairly linear path. At certain points you’ll encounter huge waves of enemies, and these aren’t the slow plodding zombies of some games, no these guys are fast and pissed off. Specials like the “Bull” or “Stinkbag” can really put a hurting on you, with one charging in to pick you up and slam you on the ground until one of your partners guns him down, while the other releases some toxic gas when it dies, blinding you temporarily. Really, the way the zombies move and the way they climb on each other like ants to scale walls are the only similarities one can make between this game and its movie counterpart.

The game plays like a third person shooter, but does not have cover mechanics. You can attempt to use stealth by crouch-walking and using silenced weapons, but I found that it was just as effective to wade into groups and slash away with my knife. You’ll take more damage that way, but you also save ammo. Each episode is broken down into sections, so you’ll be at that particular location for a few chapters before moving onto a new part of the world. So far I’ve cleared all but the final level which is Tokyo. New York, Jerusalem and Moscow were all increasingly difficult, but we managed to clear them nonetheless. I convinced my best friend to get a copy of the game, as it was reasonably priced at $40, and co-opping our way through it has been entertaining. You would think that only four episodes isn’t really worth that price point, but we have only cleared the “starter” difficulty level (one skull) and there are a total of five difficulties. Much like Killing Floor 2 that we played quite a bit a couple of years ago, there is a progression system that allows you to eventually clear those higher difficulties.

There are two ways to progress in World War Z. Firstly, there are a number of classes that you can choose to play as, and each of them earns XP individually. This means not only is there the option to play these levels again on a higher difficulty, but also to level up additional classes. I really didn’t know what to expect from the game so I didn’t know which class would work best for my personal playstyle, but I ended up playing the “Fixer,” which is basically a support class. It starts with a scout rifle, silenced pistol, and a supply bag that you can drop for your allies so they can refill their explosive ammo. I figured playing something more supportive would mean my teams would be better balanced, and since I’m only playing with one person I know, you can’t rely on randoms to try and make a balanced team. In most of my games most players were using the Gunslinger or other more offensive classes, while my friend was playing a tanky role so we did end up fairly balanced anyway due to our efforts. As you earn experience you’ll unlock perks that can change the way your character plays. For instance, I started off with the supply bag, but eventually got access to “masking grenades” and then later put a point into a perk that makes the masking gas lethal to zombies. This allows me to contribute more to the horde fights, while most players were ignoring my supply drops. The perk tree is pretty long, so I imagine things will change up again before long.

When it comes to weapons, you will earn experience for them by killing with them. As a weapon levels up, you’ll be presented with upgrade options and can take your pick as to how you want to customize your gun. I leveled up an Assault Rifle first, and put a scope on it which gave more power and accuracy. On the Bullpup I went for an extended mag modification. Use a weapon more often and you’ll level it up faster, but having extra goodies on multiple guns is good because you don’t know what you’ll end up with. Apparently on the higher difficulties there are more zeke, they have more health and there are less supplies spread out along the map, so you’ll want to have more than one modified weapon.

Outside of the co-op campaign, there is also a multiplayer side containing several extra game modes. Things like capture the flag, king of the hill and deathmatch are present, but instead of bigger games with only players, these game modes pit small teams against each other, but throw zombies into the mix. For instance, I played a round of deathmatch and the two teams ran into each other quickly and started fighting. The goal of this mode is to get to 50 kills before the other team, but there is also a time limit — if that runs out the team with the highest score wins. After fighting for a while, a notification pops up that states “critical noise level reached,” and at this point a horde will swarm your position. You’ll have to fight off zombies and other players at the same time, but can also try and stay out of sight and let the zombies do some of the work for you. I believe if you die to a zombie the other team gets a point, but I’m not certain. That would make sense.

Looking forward, the dev team has already outlined their roadmap for the summer. All of the above updates are supposed to be free, and so far there are no microtransactions present, but I can imagine the “new weapon variants, new character skins and new character accessories” to be something they might monetize since everyone else is doing it. The new Tokyo mission is something that should have probably released with the game, as each other episode has 3 missions each and Tokyo only has 2 at present. A new special zombie is a nice add, and an extra difficulty level is probably going to be needed sooner than later. Rotating game modes are also a good idea, and I’ve heard they are also working on a wave-based survival mode as well.

Overall I’d say that World War Z is a game that feels like Left 4 Dead and Killing Floor had a baby. It mixes elements of many successful games that I’ve had a blast playing. I see this being in the regular rotation for the foreseeable future. If you’re on console, I’d recommend grabbing this immediately. If you’re on PC, you’ll have to get it via the Epic Games Store… so if you don’t have an issue with that, have at it. A worthwhile purchase for $40.

Torchlight Frontiers: Alpha Report

The weekend before last I was invited to an early Alpha test for Torchlight Frontiers. This Alpha invitation came along with an NDA, but it was only mentioned that you couldn’t post pictures or video of the game, but they didn’t say I couldn’t write about it, so here we are.

I jumped in on that Saturday and got down to business. As of now, there were only two character classes to choose from, a mage type and a melee class that is a steam punk robot of sorts. There was the first “frontier” to explore, this one dealing mostly with Goblins. Apparently each of these frontiers will feature different mobs but also different sorts of resistances you’ll need to success, and this is where their “horizontal progression” stems from. You’ll have to gear up differently for each frontier, which means you’ll have to have different gear sets for each area of the game. Or so that’s how it’s been presented thus far.

Graphically you can tell this is still a Torchlight game, though it does seem to be more of a hand drawn art style rather than a low poly one like the original two games. I liked the look of the game, the areas were interesting and there was a decent variety of mobs. There were plenty of other people running around killing things too, and this feels like the closest thing to Marvel Heroes that we’ll have now that Marvel Heroes is gone. I wasn’t a huge fan of that particular title, but I did play it a bit and it has that same feeling of playing alone but having a bunch of other people running around the same area do similar things. I imagine there will be grouping and public events too, but we’ll see.

Server stability was the only real issue I had. When I would run into others there was some lag, but it wasn’t anything too terrible. I honestly don’t know if it was the server or my Internet, so I’m not going to knock them for it.

My overall opinion of the game is that it looks solid, but I didn’t really put that much time into it. I’m sure in further Alpha tests there will be more to check out. I didn’t really care for the classes on offer and hope that there are some more interesting ones next time. I did like the idea of your own fort where you can get new vendors and things so you have a home base of sorts. This would be optimal for storing all of that gear you’ll need for different areas of the game. It would be nice to have guild functionality as well so that you could meet up with friends and do things together with your base as a starting point. I’m sure we’ll see more developments as time goes on, but for now it looks like a promising title.

State of the Game: Couch Co-Op Time

Sometime in recent weeks there have been various sales (the store updates every Tuesday with different discounts) on the Playstation Network, and I was able to get a handful of games super cheap. None of them were games I had seen before, as it’s fairly difficult to keep up with every single game release, but also because I hadn’t really been buying too many games in the last few months. My little family has all been playing games together lately so I purposely looked for games that could be played at minimum by two players, but most of these support 4 or more players in couch co-op/competitive modes. As such, none of these games really warrant a full individual posting, so I thought I’d do a little gaming roundup as we managed to play all of these in the last few days. All of these titles were played on my Playstation 4, but I assume that most are available on Steam as well, save for the last one that is an exclusive.

This game caught my eye due to its cartoony graphics and silly nature, I figured my step-son would enjoy it. I was correct in that assessment, as he seemed to have a lot of fun killing little skeletons and gathering loot. It plays like a Gauntlet style dungeon crawl, with traps, powerups and bad guys to kill. The controls are simple enough, as are the mechanics. You pick one of four bros, and none are very unique when the game starts. You have color selection, a couple of weapons to choose from (that don’t really change up gameplay) and that’s really it. As you play through the game though, there are ways to unlock more weapons and characters and appearance gear, so you’ll be able to feel a bit more unique fairly quickly.

Gameplay consists of controlling your bros through dungeons killing bad guys, avoiding traps and collecting loot. For the most part it’s pretty straightforward and there isn’t anything super deep here, but it’s good for kids looking for a simple dungeon adventure, and being able to play with up to four players means it can get pretty hectic pretty fast, particularly because you all share the same screen! I’d recommend it if you’re trying to play with little ones.

Recently he has been playing Mario Kart on his DS, and he’s really into it. I know that Mario Kart is a game that’s restricted to Nintendo platforms, but there have been other IPs that have attempted similar types of titles. Notables are games like Crash Team Racing or Little Big Planet Karting. This is another of those types of games, though it’s not from anyone with a recognizable IP. Some generic characters drive some generic cars, and you’ll race while being able to disrupt each other with various power-ups. Sounds familiar right? And it should, because it is.

There’s nothing special here that sets it apart from other kart racers, but it’s more of the same and that can sometimes be a good thing. You’ll be able to jump right in (we were) and understand the controls and what the power-ups do. The AI isn’t too terrible either, so you’ll have to play well to win, and that’s not something that can always be said about these sorts of knock off games. Overall it’s not going to blow your mind, but it’s still appealing to kids and can be a spot of fun.

This title came out of left field and I happened to look at it because what the hell is going on here? I had no idea what to expect with this one, but I went into it at least knowing that I could expect a frantic top-down shooter. It’s more than that, but that is the main core of its gameplay.

You will play as Tesla (yes, that Tesla) against the author Lovecraft who leads his Cthulhu armies. You don’t actually see Lovecraft though, and it seems that Tesla’s experiments are actually responsible for opening these rifts. You’ll have to suspend your disbelief a bit to really enjoy the story, but the gameplay is top notch. Each level is limited, in that there are borders to it, along with obstacles you’ll have to be mindful of. Enemies will spawn, as will power-ups and you’ll fight until they are all eliminated. As you make kills, you’ll gain levels and each level comes with perks that improve your speed, HP, bullets, etc. Different weapons will also drop, and eventually you’ll get some pretty cool gadgets that will slow down time, allow you to teleport, or allow you to summon a limited time mech that really fucks shit up. The levels increase in difficulty as you go, but it becomes a frantic kill fest for a few minutes and it is glorious. Highly recommended for all ages.

The last title I want to touch on was another game I got during one of these sales. Alienation is from the creators of Dead Nation, which was actually one of the very first games I ever downloaded from the Playstation store on my PS3. They also created Super Stardust and I want to say Resogun as well, but regardless, I’ve played most of the games from this developer and they are all pretty damn good if not being a bit low budget. This game is basically like the sequel to Dead Nation, but instead of focusing on Zombies, it’s an Alien invasion. The game plays pretty much the same otherwise, and despite having better graphics than its predecessor, it’s still pretty simple isometric graphics. Nothing wrong with this, and it works, but it is what it is.

This one is different from games like the Tesla one above, because it has an actual campaign, more of a storyline and will eventually end (until you start up New Game +). If you played Dead Nation you’ll be familiar with the formula, and if you haven’t played it, well I’m sure it’s pretty cheap to pick up (and it was ported to PS4). I think it was free via PS Plus at some point as well, but I’m not entirely sure. Overall though this one is a little more mature but I still think it would be fine for older kids.

All of these titles were recently on sale and will likely be again. Cheap options to play with friends or loved ones in the same room are always good because we have so much online multiplayer out there that won’t allow split screen options. Nothing better than being able to give a high five to the person next to you after finishing something particularly challenging! That’s all for this post, but as always, happy gaming!

Thoughts on Antihero

Antihero was one of those random games that I discovered and had my eye on for a while, without really knowing much about it. It finally released last year, and though my initial impression was that it was sort of a 4x game, but it turns out that it’s actually a digital board game. Having had a fling recently with some video game inspired card games, I thought this would be right up my alley. My girlfriend agreed, and she actually purchased this title for us to play. We’ve been sitting on it for a couple of weeks, but we finally got around to playing it this weekend, and in short, it’s a lot of fun!

There’s a Campaign mode where you play against AI controlled opponents, and it essentially leads you through the various mechanics you’ll need to know. I played through a level of that to get my bearings, and then we jumped into a multiplayer skirmish, playing hot seat mode together. Most of the game takes place on the above screen, where you’ll move your “master thief” around the map, exploring and burglaring. You’ll earn resources like coin and lanterns, the former which you’ll use to hire goons and the latter is used for upgrades:

There are a few different trees, each of which has its own new units to unlock and abilities to grant your master thief. For instance, you start with two action points per turn, but can eventually unlock up to 5 points per turn. You can open up Urchins who infiltrate businesses, Thugs that guard areas or Gangs that can attack other NPCs and rival gangs. Truant officers will evict Urchins from a rival’s building, allowing  you to send your own Urchins in their stead.

There are several different master thief skins, though they don’t appear to have an effect on gameplay. There are also several different maps to skirmish on, but on the particular map we were playing, you had to buy bribes and deliver them to “The Agency” for victory points. There was a limited amount of them to be bought, along with two blackmail contracts that you could capture on the map.

For most of the game we didn’t interact much, but eventually it was clear that I had fallen behind, as my girlfriend managed to buy up most of the bribes while I focused on other upgrades. I moved in to take over one of her businesses, but then she retaliated by taking the blackmail I owned, which won her the game. It was close at the start but she ran away with the victory!

Overall I think it was a fun experience. It’s simple to pick up, and easy to play — no twitch skills required! You can play online in bigger matches as well, so I imagine things can get pretty hectic. I love the art design and the Victorian era themes. It’s not too expensive a title either, though I got it on sale. I’d recommend this for those who are looking for something a little different to play, particularly if you have a non-gaming partner!