Weekly News Recap – Week of October 27, 2014

I want to do this week’s news post a little differently, mainly when we get to talking about Call of Duty. But first, there are a couple other stories worth hitting.

Destiny The Dark Below

Bungie this week formally announced the first DLC for Destiny, The Dark Below. It’ll be coming out on December 9, for all the platforms. The expansion will contain a few new Story missions, given to players by a new character at the Tower; a new Raid on the Moon called Crota’s End; new weapons, gear and armor; two strikes (sort of); and the Light level cap is raised to level 32. I qualify the strikes because one of the strikes will only be available on the Sony platforms – Xbox players will only have access to one new strike.

Evolve Cover

I talked a bit about my initial impressions of the Evolve Big Alpha that started for Xbox One yesterday, but the full load opens up today, with PC and PlayStation players able to join in the hunt today. The Big Alpha shows off a good chunk of what we can expect in the full game, with a big exception being an upcoming, yet to be announced third Monster. If you’ve gotten a code, you really should get the Alpha downloaded and get playing, it’s a really fun experience.

As they do every year, Activision released the Live Action trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare in advance of the Monday/Tuesday launch. While that alone isn’t really anything out of the ordinary, I do want to touch on an article I saw from Joystiq this week talking about the franchise’s sales numbers. The article predicts that the decline in sales numbers will continue in the future. To me, this seems like crying wolf a bit. Sure sales numbers have gone down a bit, but when you have multiple games that broke all time sales records, you’ve got to put any decline in that context. Sales for Ghosts were down from Black Ops II, but that’s really not a huge surprise – not only was Black Ops II, at the time, the largest entertainment opening ever (until GTAV), but Ghosts also had to deal with the launch of the new consoles, splitting the market up. I’m not going to predict that Advanced Warfare will get back on to Black Ops II numbers, mainly because the shooter market is stacked this year, but I think it will do better than Ghosts did. And as for the future of the series, I think that next year, whatever Treyarch brings us, whether it’s Black Ops III, or some new sub-franchise; that sales will be strong, as the current-gen install base grows, and the market isn’t quite as crowded.

Evolve Big Alpha First Take: My First Journey Into the Hunt

Evolve CoverThe Big Alpha for Evolve came out today and runs through this weekend for those players lucky enough to have gotten a code. What that really amounts to is that people that signed up got the codes, no real criteria other than that. I played around a little with it today, after the Alpha went live at noon eastern, and since it’s my first experience with the game, I thought I’d put down my thoughts on the game.

Evolve is the new game from the team behind Left 4 Dead, and as such, there are a lot of similarities. Even though it’s a competitive game, in reality, Evolve is really a co-op game. The four hunters need to work together in order to bring down the Monster, and that really amounts to each hunter playing their role over trying to attack. Support and Medic players need to focus more on helping their team, while the Trapper should absolutely focus on keeping the Monster contained. That will free up the Assault to really pound the Monster with attacks. I’ve gotten some time with the Support class, and I’ve got to say, it’s actually a lot of fun. I’m not usually a huge Support class player – I’m more often the Tank/Nuker – but playing as the Support is a ton of fun. It’s also a really great way to explain how the game works. Each class has four items – assigned to the X, Y, RB, and B buttons on the Xbox One – and each has some degree of cooldown. It’s important to use the right item at the right time – as a Support, you should have the shield generator out most of the time. Once that Monster shows up, that shield will be super important – and using the Cloak is a great way to pull back and heal up after a battle, as well for revives. The other nice thing about Support is that they still have good offense options – there’s their laser cutter, which is their primary, plus they have an Orbital Bombardment, which is awesome to use against the Monster after the Trapper throws down the Mobile Arena.

Image from Game Informer

The flow of a game is a really refreshing take on a multiplayer game. The match starts with the Monster roaming free – building up his level by attacking and eating the AI wildlife; and the four Hunters are searching around the arena trying to find him. This is where the Trapper is really important, since they can track down the Monster easier. The AI wildlife is potentially dangerous, but if you move about as a group, you shouldn’t have much trouble. It’s when the Monster is found that the action really kicks off. The Trapper should throw down the Mobile Arena, and then the real combat begins. Medics should be healing whichever character is getting hit, while Support shields whoever the Monster is focusing. The Trapper can cause some debuffs, and Assault should just pound the Monster.

From what I’ve been able to tell, it seems like it has to be pretty difficult to play as the Monster. You may have an incredible amount of health, plus multiple abilities to use (that vary depending on which Monster you are) but you are playing against four people. It’s important to pick and choose your targets carefully – in addition to getting a good first hit on them. I would say target the Medic/Support classes first, especially while you’re still trapped in the Arena. Killing them will help mitigate how well the Hunters can survive. Beyond that, I would go after the Assault to help lower the damage you’re taking, then finish off the Trapper. I will say, that’s just my impressions of it after playing as Hunters – I haven’t gotten a chance to play as a Monster yet.

All in all, even though this is just an Alpha, so there’s still a lot of content we don’t have; but the game is a really fun experience. I can really see why it picked up pretty much every award ever at E3 this year. It’s a really unique, fresh experience in the Shooter world, which is needed with how strong the market is this year. With another Beta coming to Xbox One in January before the February launch, Turtle Rock has plenty of time to flesh out the final experience.

First Person Shooters: My Journey as a Virtual Soldier

Advanced Warfare CoverThis might be the best 6 months for the FPS genre I can ever remember seeing. Between Destiny in September, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Halo: Master Chief Collection in the next two weeks; followed by Far Cry 4 and Evolve in the Spring, and Battlefield Hardline next spring as well, the genre is stacked with incredible games. That’s discounting Titanfall from this past spring, which I think really provided a major boost to the genre. With all of these great games on the horizon, I got to thinking about my history with FPSes. I thought it would be pretty cool to put down my thoughts here.

I got started with shooters back in the glory days of PC shooters – the first one I ever played was Quake II. Gamers today think of CoD Vs Halo when they think of shooters, but really the first duality of games was Quake Vs Unreal. I was more of a Quake fan, preferring Quake II over the story-based Unreal games. When I started playing online I came on at the perfect time – Quake III and Unreal Tournament were just coming into their own. The style of shooter has really changed drastically over these last 20 or so years, arcade style shooters are essentially all but gone from the market. But the skills that I learned with those games are still incredibly important, even with all the new advancements. Playing the Crucible in Destiny has really helped bring those different aspects of my particular game into focus. From the old guard, movement was so important, with jumping in particular being a key part of the game. Which really boils down to the fact that the Rocket Launcher was king back in those days, and jumping helped to mitigate as much of the splash damage. That tactic has remained in my skill-set ever since.

Halo Master Chief Collection

Which brings me to the next major game in my journey – Halo. That game sold me on the Xbox, convincing me to go out and pick up Microsoft’s first console. But beyond that, Halo may be responsible for shaping how I approach online shooters more than any other game. Strafing was so incredibly important in the first game, especially against other good players armed with that awesome pistol, that if you played Halo in any competitive way, you were all but guaranteed to get great at it. For better or worse, my first instinct in games now in firefights is to start strafing, using the same basic ideas I did way back in 2001. I also reload after every single gunfight, thanks to Halo, where you needed as many shots as possible. That’s gotten me killed more than I’d like in recent games where it’s not quite as important – especially in Call of Duty, where you only need a couple shots to kill; but it’s been ingrained in my game since then. That said, the most important skill I took from Halo was map knowledge. It’s a complex skill that has a simple tag – when I say map knowledge, I don’t just mean knowing the layout of the maps, I intend a much deeper meaning. With Halo in particular, it was key to know when power weapons would be spawning, along with the power-ups, so you needed to keep timing in your head, along with their spawn locations. Now that weapon drops are basically a thing of the past, map knowledge really boils down to map flow. I pride myself on learning quickly how players go about approaching each map – especially off the initial spawn – and using that knowledge to help keep me higher up on the leaderboard.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Which is a great segue to start talking about Call of Duty. I’ve seen a few articles this week talking about the decline of the franchise’s sales, and that they might continue through this year. I’ll talk about that a bit more on Friday during the news recap, but I really think that’s totally overblown – the series is actually I think in a pretty good spot to be. But it is a series in flux – Titanfall really helped illustrate that gamers were open to a change. Destiny, for all it’s flaws, provides players with a real unique option for competitive play. Where Call of Duty really stands out is in Pro/MLG – Destiny and Titanfall really don’t function well as a truly MLG option. There’s such a close tie with CoD and Halo with MLG that I think both will have strong upcoming rotations. As for lessons that you can learn from the Call of Duty franchise, it’s a little hard to pinpoint them. The series is so diverse from game to game, but there are a few important things to keep in mind. Map knowledge continues to be incredibly important, but what I’ve found more so is communication. In the other games I’ve pointed out, it’s pretty easy to excel while being a lone wolf. While it’s still possible to do that in CoD, especially in Team Deathmatch – playing any objective game, it’s much more important to have at least a couple teammates that you can talk with. It gets you more kills, less deaths, and a much better chance to win the game’s objective.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about shooters is that they allow me to play exactly how I want. Over the course of the last 18 years or so, since I’ve really been playing them, I’ve been able to determine what exactly that playstyle is for me. What I’ve learned is that I am a fast-paced, close range, reckless guy online. I play the objective, I like being in the thick of things. And I like to think that I’ve learned a lot over the years playing these games. They’re fun games, that tend to dominate sales every year; but still get flak online for being “fluff.” Chill out and enjoy the firefights – it’s a really wonderful time to get into shooters after all.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel – Nisha Co-op Play Tips and Guides

Borderlands PreSequelFinishing up our coverage of the four playable characters in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, today we’ll look at some tactics to use if you’re playing as Nisha in a co-op party. Depending on how 2K decides to go with DLC, we could see multiple new characters coming – there were two extras in Borderlands 2 – so we could end up with more this time around. There’s already been some clues as to the Baroness being the first upcoming character, so I expect we’ll see a couple for sure.

As for Nisha though, she’s an interesting piece of a co-op party. She’s the only character that doesn’t really have much in the way of co-op focused skills. Instead, two of her skill trees increase her effectiveness with weapons, and the third uses a stacking mechanic to keep her healthy. With that in mind, she’s more suited to playing a purely offense role. Depending on how comfortable you are with stacking mechanics, the Law and Order tree is a good balanced option to go with. Otherwise, either Fan the Hammer or Riflewoman offer solid offense based skills that will help increase your damage output, without complicating the game too much.

Nisha really stands out against multiple enemies, over the boss enemies, thanks to her Action Skill Showdown. Since the aim snaps between targets, using Showdown efficiently, especially with some of the upgrades along the way to make it more effective, can really shut down the group and clear them out. The boosts to damage mean that it’s useful against pretty much any combination, including Badass enemies in the mix. Add in the co-op factor, especially with Wilhelm’s Wolf and Saint or Claptrap’s VaultHunter.exe potentially adding in lots of extra damage, and you can see that damage is not really an issue. The concern will be with her health and shields, since she’s a little more fragile than others. This is where class mods, along with the sheer volume of shield options, can really help. Nisha is a bit more dependent on her items across the board – her skill trees are designed to boost a lot of those items, not her stats directly. Thanks to her Riflewoman skill tree, using assault rifles or SMGs is a great option, with increased magazine size upgrades, along with boosts to hip fire accuracy. But with Fan the Hammer’s capstone skill, pistols are also a really strong build option, since you will spawn a clone when you pull a pistol out.

Nisha the Lawbringer Splash

Nisha shouldn’t be the core of your co-op team, mainly because her skills are more focused for building up her stats rather than the party’s. But she does fulfill an important role, dealing out lots of pure gun damage. In a four player party, you really should have a mix of each character of course; in smaller party sizes, she’s actually a character I think you can skip over. Claptrap and Athena are both more important in a co-op sense, and Wilhelm works better than Nisha, doing both damage and healing. I wouldn’t say that she’s the worst, but she’s definitely built for a specific playstyle, one that is more “lone wolf” than team builder.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel – Solo Nisha Build Guide

Borderlands PreSequelRounding out our run-through of the four main characters in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel‘s skill trees, today we’ll look at Nisha, the Lawbringer. As we’ve done with each previous character, today we’ll focus on her build and playstyle from a solo perspective. Tomorrow we’ll hit the co-op high points, finishing out this journey through the current crop of Borderlands characters. As the DLC characters are released, we’ll hit them as they come.

ACTION SKILL: SHOWDOWN – While Showdown is active, you gain drastically increased Gun Damage, Fire Rate, Reload Speed, Accuracy and Bullet Speed. The other big portion is that your aim will automatically snap to enemies, essentially acting like an aimbot.

LAW AND ORDER SKILL TREE: The Law and Order skill tree is based around building up stacks of Order and the various buffs that come from those skills.

Law: (Tier 1, 4 ranks) Law increases your Shield Capacity and Melee Damage by 5% per rank.
Order: (Tier 1, 1 rank) Every time you take 15% of your max health in damage, you get a stack of Order, which is capped at 10 stacks. For each stack of Order, you have a 1.2% chance to heal double that damage taken. Your stacks will quickly erode out of combat.
The Third Degree: (Tier 2, 5 ranks) Your next melee attack will gain extra damage after Showdown ends as well as after killing an enemy. The boosted damage effect can stack up to 5 times.
Rough Rider: (Tier 2, 5 ranks) This skill augments your butt-slam ability. It increases your Slam damage and max Order stacks by 5. When you hit enemies with your slam, you gain stacks of Order, per enemy hit.
Wanted: (Tier 2, 5 ranks) Any enemy that triggers an Order stack also gains a stack of Wanted. Attacking these Wanted enemies deals extra damage for each stack of Wanted.
Discipline: (Tier 3, 1 rank) Increases your max stacks of Order by 5. Every ten stacks restores your shields, as well as buffing your Shield Recharge Delay, Gun Damage and Melee Damage, for each Order Stack.
Due Process: (Tier 4, 5 ranks) Hitting an enemy with your melee attack boosts your Gun Damage for a few seconds.
Blood of the Guilty: (Tier 4, 1 rank) Increases your max Order stacks by 5; when you or an ally kill an enemy, you gain some health back and a stack of Order.
Jurisdiction: (Tier 4, 5 ranks) Showdown will now regenerate your health, and also boosts your Movement Speed.
No Pain, No Gain: (Tier 5, 5 ranks) Increases your Gun Damage in proportion to how low your health is.
Rarin’ to Go: (Tier 5, 5 ranks) Killing an enemy boosts your Gun Damage and Reload Speed, based on how many stacks of Order you have.
Thunder Crackdown: (Tier 6, 1 rank) Raises your Order stacks by 5. Your melee attack is also upgraded, now unleashing a cone of Lightning, dealing increased damage based on your Order stacks.

Nisha the Lawbringer Splash

FAN THE HAMMER Skill Tree: The Fan the Hammer tree is built to increase your effectiveness with guns, in particular Pistols; as well as Showdown’s effectiveness.

Saddle Up: (Tier 1, 5 ranks) This is a kill skill, meaning you need to get a kill to trigger it. Doing so will grant you increased Movement Speed by +4% and Gun Damage by +5% per rank, for a short time.
Ruthless: (Tier 1, 5 ranks) Kills made during Showdown will extend its duration by +0.1 second per rank.
Magnificent Six: (Tier 2, 5 ranks) The last six bullets of any Non-Elemental gun deal extra bonus damage.
Bottled Courage: (Tier 2, 5 ranks) When you trigger Showdown, some of your shields will be restored. While Showdown is on cooldown, you gain lower Shield Recharge Delay and Rate.
Short Fused: (Tier 3, 1 rank) Killing an enemy gives your shots bonus Explosive damage for several seconds, closer enemies taking more damage.
Faster’n You: (Tier 4, 5 ranks) When you kill an enemy, you gain increased Fire Rate, Weapon Swap, and Reload Speed for several seconds.
Pickpocket: (Tier 4, 1 rank) Your melee attacks steal up to six bullets from enemies, loading them right into your gun.
Gunslinger: (Tier 4, 5 ranks) Reloads a portion of your gun’s magazine when Showdown begins, and also when it ends.
Hell’s Comin’ With Me: (Tier 5, 5 ranks) Reloading or topping off your gun with Pickpocket gives you a brief chance to fire twice.
High Noon: (Tier 5, 5 ranks) The longer you are in Showdown, you gain extra Gun Damage.
One for Each of Ya: (Tier 6, 1 rank) When you have a Pistol equipped, you’ll spawn an exact duplicate of it in your off hand.

RIFLEWOMAN Skill Tree: The Riflewoman skill tree, somewhat obviously, increases your skills with rifles and other guns.

Snap Shot: (Tier 1, 5 ranks) When you fire from the hip, you gain +7% Accuracy and +5% Recoil Reduction, per rank.
Bona Fide Grit: (Tier 1, 5 ranks) This is another Kill Skill – doing so grants bonus Critical Hit Damage and Health Regen for a short time.
Quick Shot: (Tier 2, 5 ranks) After you reload, you gain bonus Gun Damage and Fire Rate for a short time, while you fire from the hip.
Unchained: (Tier 2, 5 ranks) Shooting an enemy gains a stack of Unchained, with a max rate of 1 per second. Each stack grants bonus Fire Rate.
Fistful of Bullets: (Tier 3, 1 rank) This is a pure increase to magazine size on all weapons by 3.
Crack Shot: (Tier 4, 5 ranks) Firing the first shot from a full magazine deals bonus damage. If that particular shot kills an enemy, they explode, dealing AoE damage.
Impatience: (Tier 4, 1 rank) Killing an enemy grants a stack of Impatience, which increases your reload speed, per stack.
Hot Lead: (Tier 4, 5 ranks) Critical Hits with non-Elemental have a chance to deal Incendiary damage, and have a high chance to Ignite enemies.
Trick Shot: (Tier 5, 5 ranks) Bullets that hit walls or other scenery have a chance to ricochet into enemies at a reduced damage.
Tombstone: (Tier 5, 5 ranks) After you kill an enemy, all your hits have a chance to count as Critical Hits for several seconds.
The Unforgiven: (Tier 6, 1 rank) Shots during Showdown will ricochet off enemies, into other enemies, dealing 10% damage. Every enemy hit during Showdown also explodes at the end of Showdown.

In general, Nisha functions really well as a pure damage dealer. She doesn’t really have a ton of reliable health or shield regen skills, instead, she’s loaded with gun stat buffs. Her Action Skill lets her snap from target to target, dishing out the increased damage it has. From a solo perspective, this is a pretty feast or famine approach to playing. You’ll be relying on items for shield and health buffs primarily, that way you can max out the damage you deal. I would personally recommend the Riflewoman tree, then dive down the Fan the Hammer tree. Those trees will get you loaded up with strong weapon buffs, letting you run through enemies quickly. Nisha is a character that’s pretty well built for solo play, since she doesn’t have a lot of co-op focused skills; just make sure you keep her healthy and you’ll be taking enemies down.

Weekly News Recap – Week of October 20, 2014

As is pretty typical this time of year, a lot of the news lately has been based around the many games coming out this fall season. We’re right in the middle of a big chunk of releases – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel last week, next week is Sunset Overdrive, the next two weeks following that, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Halo: The Master Chief Collection. I do have a couple stories that grabbed my attention though.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

In a somewhat surprise announcement, Rockstar dropped the news that next week on last-gen consoles, they’ll release an anniversary version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to celebrate the 10 year mark. I can remember when they did the same with Grand Theft Auto 3, but I don’t think they ever did a similar release with Vice City, which is a shame, since I think that is the best of that trilogy of games. Still, San Andreas was a huge stepping stone in the series, showing that the formula would work with a much larger setting. There was a downloadable version on the Marketplace that mysteriously disappeared this week, and will be replaced on October 26 with an updated version, complete with achievements. As of now, this is only on the Xbox 360, not the One.

Sunset Overdrive Xbox Bundle

I mentioned recently that the PlayStation 4 was the best selling console in September, but that was before we had the Xbox One numbers. What we see is that since we’re starting to really see big name titles coming out, both consoles are starting to really move units. The Xbox One’s sales increased in September by just over 100%, not quite matching the PS4, but still showing that the “next-gen” has finally truly started. I think we’ll see the sales figures continue to be strong, especially over the next few months, as the install base grows and more big titles come out. Now is really the best time to jump in, if you haven’t already.

Super Smash Bros for Wii U

Last night Nintendo had their usual Nintendo Direct, this week detailing the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Wii U, and boy did they bring out the big guns. There was a ton of info to digest, including the announcement that fan favorite Mewtwo is coming back as a DLC character, to both the Wii U and 3DS versions. Other big points include the new 8-man melee option, new story modes, and interactive environments. They showed a bit where fighting particularly well would make Ridley (from Metroid) fight alongside you. The hype for the Wii U version was already pretty high, but this Nintendo Direct really pumps it up to a whole new level. As a person who is a huge fan of the series, this flood of info really makes me want to go get a Wii U just for this game.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel – Wilhelm Co-op Build Tips

Borderlands PreSequelYesterday I went over the skill trees for Wilhelm, the Enforcer, and put down some thoughts on how to play Wilhelm by yourself. Today, I want to go over his role in a party, when you’re playing with your friends. He’s a little different than Athena and way different from Claptrap, so depending on the role you like to play, he may or may not be your man.

Looking at Wilhelm from his Action Skill perspective, he’s your best bet to dish out damage to multiple targets. Wolf will go out and attack multiple enemies, while Athena’s Apsis only can hit one target, until you reach a capstone skill at a high level. With Saint added in, his action skill really makes Wilhelm the closest thing to a Tank that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel has. Even compared to Athena’s Apsis, which absorbs damage from the front, Saint keeps your health up by regenerating it for the duration, and depending on upgrades can overload your shields as well. Add in his Termination Protocols skill and I think it really cements his role as Tank.

Borderlands Wilhelm Splash

As for your skill points, I would recommend going down both the Hunter-Killer and Dreadnought skill trees. Whether you go down one tree then the other, or both simultaneously is up to you. With the level cap at 50 still, you won’t quite be able to max both out right now, but as the DLC comes out, and that cap comes up, you will eventually be able to. I think those particular trees are better from a co-op perspective since they get Wolf and Saint both built up pretty well, dealing more damage, while also increasing Saint’s health regen ability. Since Saint also keeps your teammates healthy, it’s pretty important to keep Dreadnought built up, but don’t neglect Wolf. Depending on your party’s makeup, you might be not only healing with Saint, but also dealing out the damage with Wolf. A balanced party shouldn’t necessarily have to worry about this, since Athena and Nisha can both dish out damage, while Claptrap and Wilhelm can focus on health and shields.

I think in general Wilhelm is actually the one piece you can leave out of a co-op party. Sure he does good damage with Wolf, and the health regen from Saint is nice, but Claptrap has an entire skill tree that’s based around buffing and healing your teammates. Athena can do a good enough job tanking with the Apsis that you can switch them out, and with multiple guns, a party really doesn’t need to worry about damage output, other than hardcore bosses. That said, it is fun to see how Wilhelm becomes the boss in Borderlands 2.