Games With Gold: March 2016 – Borderlands

BorderlandsNext month’s Games with Gold were announced a couple days ago, and I was really excited to see the second 360 title: Borderlands. It’s heading to the marketplace in the second half of the month. With that in mind I thought I’d write up a quick refresher/prep guide for one of the best games of the last generation.

Borderlands is a FPS/RPG that’s built around four-player co-op. There are four different playable characters, each with a different unique ability. It’s got a real strong emphasis on random loot – enemies drop random guns, shields, grenade and class mods, as well as rewards from quests and chests. Gearbox and 2K like to say that there are “bazillions of guns” in Borderlands, and I believe them. If you’ve come into hybrid shooter/RPGs recently, say with Destiny, you have a good base to get into Borderlands, just expect more RPG than shooter. Also, expect a hell of a lot more variety in weapons and loot. When they say random loot, they really mean random loot.

The big selling point for me with Borderlands is that it has a simple, but effective story that is full of actual humor. A lot of games try to be funny, but most fall a little short or feel forced. Borderlands actually is funny – the writing is great, it’s got some heady humor mixed in with silly sophomoric stuff too. I’ve played through the full game twice already – once solo and once with a buddy. It’s a game that is definitely more fun played with a group though – we actually had started a four-man run right at the end of the 360’s run – now we’ll be able to finish it.

Borderlands Handsome Collection

What I would recommend if you’re interested in Borderlands, since it’s going to be free, is also looking in the DLC for it. There are four packs to get – each one is a little different. One is horror themed, one is based around arena battles, one is built around the main “bad-guy” faction from the main story and the final one is all about Claptrap (the best character). Now I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen when the game goes up with Games with Gold, but I would bet that the DLC will be marked down at least a little bit. The other option could be if they make the Game of the Year edition – that includes all the DLC. Regardless I do really recommend grabbing the DLC – it’s all really good. The new levels make it easier to go about building your character, each DLC added in new unique and legendary items that are really cool, and honestly they all help tie together the story of the first game.

One last point I want to make is that since it’s now going to be backwards compatible, you’ll be able to play all three Borderlands games with the Handsome Collection as well. If you picked up that set on XBox One, now is the time to fill out the collection with the original. It’s a fantastic example of co-op gameplay that also works as a solo game. It’s got great humor, pretty perfect action, and a really good loot system that keeps grinding from being boring. If you missed it when it came out in 2008, this is absolutely a perfect time to pick it up. The series is still going strong with the Tales From the Borderlands games, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a full third game coming our way soonish.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: Aurelia Overview

Borderlands Handsome CollectionWe’ve finally reached the end of our journey through all the playable characters available in Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. Each games’ six playable characters all have their own feel that helps make them all totally different. I’ve tried to keep these posts relatively high-level, that way there’s still plenty for you to discover. Today with the last character we’ll be looking at Aurelia, the Baroness. She’s Sir Hammerlock’s sister, and is all about using the new Cryo element.

Aurelia is the last DLC character available in either of the two games. Her action skill, Cold as Ice, tosses out a frost diadem, which will seek out enemies and cause frost damage over time. It continues to seek out enemies after it kills them, until its time is up. As such, you don’t need to go out of your way to find cryo guns, since you always have access to frost damage. Of course, depending on how you move down her skill trees, you still might want to keep your eyes out for certain weapons.

Borderlands Aurelia

Her first skill tree – THE HUNTRESS – is the one that’s going to have you focusing on specific weapons. In this case, you’re looking for sniper rifles, which is nice, since there really isn’t another sniper-centric character in The Pre-Sequel. The skill tree isn’t solely focused on the rifles though, you have gun bonuses that apply across the board. If you do focus on sniping, then you’ll really like Long-Range Killer, which does extra damage based on how far you are from your target. There’s another distance based skill in here too – Magic Bullet. Critical Hits regen health, but the big thing is crits from snipers generate healing novas, with more health healed based on how far you are. And the capstone skill for this tree is really nice – Custom Loads. When you zoom in, a wheel spins with the elemental effects available, firing will apply that effect to any shot until you descope. Add in that critical hits generate novas of that element, and you have a super versatile skill.

Aurelia’s second tree – COLD MONEY – focuses around cryo damage, as well as Cold as Ice. Early on in the tree you have two skills that impact cryo damage right away. Avalanche is a stacking skill that increases your cyro damage and freeze chance, based on stacks, which you gain by dealing cryo damage. Bitter Riposte has you firing out ice darts at any enemy that damages you while your shield is fully charged. My favorite pick for Cold as Ice upgrades goes to Polar Vortex, which has your frost shard draw in nearby enemies whenever it latches on to an enemy. And then we get to the capstone skill – Winter Tide – which is a kill skill. Whenever you kill an enemy, all of your non-cyro guns deal cryo damage in addition to their usual damage, and your cryo guns do even more cryo damage.

Her final tree – CONTRACTUAL ARISTOCRACY – is the one that’s a little interesting. The whole focal point here is getting your teammates to sign contracts, making them your servants. When you get a servant, they gain increased shield capacity, and the contract only ends when either of you die. A lot of the skills here focus on getting bonuses for you and your servant. There are also a couple – especially in tier two – that keep you both alive. It’s hard to point to one specific skill and say that it’s the most important one to take, just because if you’re using this tree, you’re playing co-op and you’ll want as many skills in there as possible. The capstone skill though is pretty cool – A Backhand to Remember – which is a melee override. You backhand enemies, which has knockback and cryo damage, as well as providing movement speed and reload speed buffs for your allies.

Aurelia is a pretty straightforward character when it’s all said and done. Even though the contract mechanic is a little out of the norm, it’s essentially just turning you and an ally into a two-man team. She’s a great option for crowd control thanks to the focus on cryo damage, and pure damage thanks to the extra sniping skills. For a DLC character, she is actually a really strong option to add in to any party. Of the four DLC characters, I think that Aurelia and Gaige have the most effectiveness overall, with Jack close behind and Krieg being a bit more specialized.

And that brings us to the end of our Borderlands: The Handsome Collection coverage. It’s a fantastic way to experience two of the best games in recent years. It’s fun to play solo, but it’s hands down a better experience co-op. Grab some friends, pick your characters and dive in.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: Jack Overview

Borderlands Handsome CollectionWe’re nearing the end of our coverage of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – at least until there’s any future DLC. Today and Monday we’ll wrap up the playable characters available in The Pre-Sequel. After we’re done with Borderlands I want to look back at some of the news that I haven’t really had time to go into yet. But before we get there, we need to look at the first DLC character for The Pre-Sequel – Jack.

The first DLC character in The Pre-Sequel was a bit of a surprise. After all, Jack is already an NPC in the game, and we know him as the villain of the second game. Of course, it’s not actually Handsome Jack that you’re playing as – instead “Jack” is actually a body double, who had intense surgery to look just like Handsome Jack. His action skill takes that a step further with two digital copies of himself that continually respawn while fighting enemies.

Borderlands Jack

His first skill tree – THE HERO OF THIS STORY – is focused around making your action skill, Expendable Assets, even more effective. Some skills just help keep the Digi-Jacks around longer – whether through kills (Best Foot Forward) or keeping them protected (You Have My Shield). You’ve also got skills that increase your effectiveness with grenades – in particular I like Jack’s Cache, kills grant you stacks of Cache – once you have four of them, when you throw a grenade it takes away the stacks instead. The capstone skill here, Promote the Ranks, you’ll spawn a Badass Digi-Jack. That Digi-Jack has extra health, and can also fire off a powerful missile barrage. It just makes the Expendable Assets skill even more effective – even at higher levels.

His second skill tree – GREATER GOOD – is a little interesting. Instead of focusing around a particular stat or element, it’s more based around Fight For Your Life – and not just for you. It’s interesting in that there are skills in this tree that take effect when your Digi-Jacks die, or your teammates enter FFYL mode. You’ve got three tiers of skills right in a row that fall into that category – Teamwork, Commitment, and Accountability. Teamwork gives you extra health regen when allies enter FFYL or your Digi-Jacks die, Commitment is a stacking mechanic that triggers when allies enter FFYL, the stacks increase your fire rate and reload speed; and Accountability is a little different. As your allies and Digi-Jacks take damage, you gain stacks of Accountability, which are lost when you take damage and all are lost when you enter FFYL. The stacks also increase your fire rate and reload speed. The idea of Fight For Your Life even extends to the capstone skill, Leadership, which makes it so when your Digi-Jacks die, it counts as an enemy kill, granting you a Second Wind.

Jack’s final skill tree – FREE ENTERPRISE – is another tree that’s a little tricky. It’s more than anything built around tweaking your weapons swapping. Right off the bat, the first two skills – High Frequency Trading and Incentives – give you faster weapons swap speed, and extra fire rate through Incentive stacks. With Compound Interest, you’re rewarded for swapping weapons while attacking enemies – dealing extra explosive damage when you consume the stack. There’s a melee override in here too – Merger – giving you a shock laser attack. The capstone skill here though is really where we get some cool stuff. Based on the last gun you held’s manufacturer, you get a specific buff: Dahl gives you extra recoil reduction, Hyperion extra accuracy, Jakobs extra damage, Maliwan extra elemental damage, Scav bigger magazines, Tediore faster reloads, Torgue more explosive damage, and Vladof faster fire rate. It’s a lot to keep in mind, but if you’ve got a few favorites in your backpack, it can really help you out.

Jack is an interesting character to play as in The Pre-Sequel. His action skill can really help a solo player out, and his skills are really unique – even among the unique skills in this game.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: Wilhelm Overview

Borderlands Handsome CollectionWe’ve almost reached the end of our journey, looking at the playable characters in Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. Today we’re looking at the final default playable character available in the two games, Wilhelm. He originally appeared as a boss in Borderlands 2, much like Nisha did. Similarly, his backstory is really fleshed out during his time on Elpis in The Pre-Sequel. He’s an interesting character to play as, with an action skill that really works well in both co-op and solo play.

Wilhelm’s action skill sends out two A.I. drones, Wolf and Saint. Of the two, Wolf acts as an extra attacker, seeking out targets and engaging them; while Saint is more focused on keeping you healthy. It’s kind of similar to Mordecai’s Bloodwing skill in the first game, just a bit more in depth. It lets you keep Wilhelm safe while still dishing out some real damage. That makes his skill trees easy to pin – each has a skill tree that more or less dedicated to each of the three pillars of his characters – Wolf, Saint and himself.

Borderlands Wilhelm Splash

His first skill tree – HUNTER-KILLER – is built around Wolf. It’s not solely focused on it though, like any tree, there are other skills in there. In this case it amounts to skills that increase your effectiveness with elemental guns. What this tree does well is not dividing up the skills too much. In order to keep Wilhelm himself from wasting away, there are skills in here that both impact Wolf and himself. For example, Venom Bolts gives Wolf the chance to deal corrosive damage, while also increasing the corrode chance and damage for Wilhelm. Skills like that keep the tree from limiting Wilhelm too much. Where that isn’t exactly true is the capstone skill – Omega Strike – which is solely for Wolf, having him shoot off a missile strike periodically.

Wilhelm’s second skill tree – CYBER COMMANDO – is more based around making Wilhelm a more badass cyborg fighter. There are skills in here that actually change Wilhelm’s physical appearance, in addition to upgrading his abilities. You can upgrade his arms (Power Fist), which gives you a rocket punch; his legs (Shock Absorber) which lets you shoot while sprinting; and augment his weapon with the capstone skill. That capstone skill – Vengeance Cannon – gives you a shoulder mountain cannon that fires when your shields are depleted; it shoots incendiary lasers in tandem with your gun, and lasts for 12 seconds. There is a lot more going on in this skill tree – a lot of the skills relate around your shields, but your focus should be the cyber skills.

Finally, his third tree – DREADNOUGHT – is more about Saint. Along with making Saint a more effective supporter, there are also skills along the way that keep Wilhelm alive. Unlike the Hunter-Killer tree, his Saint skills don’t have extra aspects for Wilhelm here. I think that’s probably because this tree is already focused on keeping you alive. Your first couple tiers of skills all increase your shields and health regen rate, plus keep the cooldown on Wolf and Saint down. Then you get his tier three skill – Termination Protocols – which replaces Fight for you Life. That really can help you, since you are still able to move about and fight as usual. Like Hunter-Killer, your capstone skill here is focused on Saint – Overcharge has him overcharge the players, which makes you move faster, shoot faster, reload faster and also regenerate ammo. It’s a great skill for support play, but maybe not the most offensive focused.

Wilhelm is right up there with Claptrap for the more co-op focused characters in The Pre-Sequel. Going down that Dreadnought tree really can help out the whole party with shield boosts. Add in the fact that Wolf is part of the package deal and you have a pretty well rounded character.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: Nisha Overview

Borderlands Handsome CollectionContinuing our journey through the playable characters in Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, today we’ll look at Nisha, the Lawbringer. She originally appeared in Borderlands 2 as a boss – the Sheriff of Lynchwood. In The Pre-Sequel we find out a bit more of her background. She’s a pretty cool character – in particular her whip melee attack; and her pretty fantastic action skill Showdown.

Nisha’s action skill Showdown has her auto aiming onto enemies – you can switch from target to target with the right stick. While you’re in Showdown, you have extra gun damage and fire rate, along with reload speed accuracy and bullet speed. It’s a really awesome way to clear out full rooms of weaker enemies, and also great for dealing solid damage to bosses.

Nisha the Lawbringer Splash

Her first skill tree – LAW AND ORDER – is built around the Order stacks you’ll be generating. You have to take both Law and Order to progress down the tree – Law gives you extra shields and melee damage, and Order has you gaining stacks for every 15% of your health in damage you take. Order stacks give you a 1.2% chance to heal double the damage taken. As you go down this tree, you’ll grab skills that tie in with Order stacks, including the other stacking mechanic Wanted. Wanted is triggered by those enemies that deal Order damage – and Wanted makes those targets more susceptible to damage. It’s got some melee boosts too, which with the whip you wield as your weapon, is actually a really viable way of fighting. Which ties in perfectly to the capstone skill – Thunder Crackdown. It not only increases your max Order stacks, but also has your melee attacks unleashing a cone of lightning – which deals extra damage the more Order you have stacked.

Her second tree – FAN THE HAMMER – is more about gun damage, in particular pistols and Showdown. You have skills that change it in various ways, like Ruthless, which extends the duration of Showdown; Bottled Courage, which restores your shields when you activate it; Gunslinger, which reloads your weapons a bit when you enter and exit Showdown; and High Noon, which gives you extra gun damage the longer you’re in Showdown. Combine those with the capstone skill – One for Each of Ya – which spawns a duplicate pistol in your off-hand when you equip one, and you have a really dangerous action skill class.

Her final tree – THE RIFLEWOMAN – is more built around rifles and hip-firing than anything. You have skills that increase your accuracy and recoil reduction hip-firing (Snap Shot) and others that increase your damage and fire rate, after reloading while hip-firing (Quick Shot). The other big focus here is magazine size – there are a couple skills here that increase the number of bullets in your guns. Your capstone skill here is The Unforgiven, which has your shots ricochet between targets you hit while in Showdown. The real nice part is that any target you hit while in Showdown explodes at the end.

Nisha doesn’t really have a ton of co-op focused skills in there, but still can excel in both solo and co-op games. She’s a good party member to have mainly because of the sheer damage she can dish out – and it tends to be damage that’s not elemental based, which means she’s not restricted with weapon choices. She’s a lot of fun – if for no reason other than her whip.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: Claptrap Overview

Borderlands Handsome CollectionAfter a little break over the weekend for some family and college friends visits, I’m back with more of the Borderlands: Handsome Collection playable characters. We’ve reached The Pre-Sequel, so we’re getting away from typical RPG archetypes. Today, we’ll look at the character that breaks all the rules – Claptrap. He’s the series mascot, but became playable with the most recent game, perhaps being the most popular character in the series. Playing at him is both a fun time, and can be a little annoying, depending on your feelings with his dialogue.

Claptrap’s action skill is a perfect example of his entire character – pure insanity. VaultHunter.exe runs a random subroutine that’s based around the current combat situation. Sometimes that’s a little Blightbot that deals corrode and fire damage, or it could just be that your entire party is constantly bouncing. Sometimes it’s really helpful, sometimes less so – that’s just how Claptrap is.


His first skill tree – BOOMTRAP – is, surprise, focused all about explosives. There are a couple skills that impact guns, and there are also a couple that add-in extra sub-routines to VaultHunter.exe, but in general, you’re looking at explosions galore here. The hard part here is that the first two skills have negative aspects to them, which you need to take to move on – one reduces your accuracy after reloads (Drop the Hammer) and the other drains your shields after kills (Killbot). The downsides do balance with nice positives, but it does also mean you need to pay a little more attention. I use this tree, mainly for the two additional subroutines you can get. I Am Rubber, You Are Glue – which gives you the chance to reflect bullets after kills, also adds the Torgue Fiesta sub-routine, which makes you just toss around grenades randomly during VaultHunter.exe. The other one is tied into the capstone skill – Livin’ Near the Edge – which gives you increased fire rate and reload speed; but also adds in Pirate Ship Mode, which turns Claptrap into a pirate ship basically. He shoots off his four cannons to the tune of the 1812 Overture, doing serious explosive damage. It’s useful, and on top of that, it’s pretty funny.

His second tree – I LOVE YOU GUYS! – is all about co-op bonuses. A lot of the bonuses you get here either directly impact the team, or transfer when you do something particular. A good example is Through Thick and Thin, which makes your action skill cooldown faster, until you activate it, which transfers the bonus to your teammates. You’ve got two more sub-routines in this tree as well, Clap-in-the-Box and Gun Wizard, both tied to skills that really help out in co-op play. But for me, the real fun skill here is the capstone skill – HIGH FIVES GUYS. Holding the melee button asks for a high five – if your teammates give you one, you and them get extra gun damage, fire rate and health regeneration; if they don’t give you one, than you get the gun damage and health regen. You’ve got a 30 second cooldown between high fives, but it’s another skill that I think just perfectly suits Claptrap.

Finally, his last skill tree – FRAGMENTED FRAGTRAP – is the one that’s a little complicated. It’s built around using subroutines – weapon and shield ones – to change the bonuses you get. You have to take the two skills that turn on the subroutines – All the Guns and Safety First – in order to progress down the skill tree. Ultimately, using the tree just means you have to be flexible. In particular All the Guns means you really should have a couple strong weapons of each weapon type. You’ve got other ones scattered in there – a melee one (Rope-a-Derp) and an elemental one (Element of Surprise) – and the other skills generally are just straight bonuses. The VaultHunter sub-routines in this tree are also pretty cool – One Shot Wonder empties your clip when you fire while it’s active, which is tied to the Tripleclocked skill. The other one is tied to the capstone skill Rainbow Coolant, which triggers a huge Rainbow Nova when you start a new subroutine. The VaultHunter sub-routine here is Laser Inferno, which summons up a disco ball that constantly emits lasers dealing fire, corrode and shock damage.

Claptrap is a really fun character across the board. He’s really flexible – you can build him pretty much however you like. The only real framework to think about is the character achievement, which asks you to experience every VaultHunter.exe sub-routine, including the ones in the skill trees. He has a lot more to say than the usual characters do, so if you aren’t a fan of Claptrap to begin with, you might want to turn that dialogue slider down a bit. Otherwise, let him run his mouth a laugh away at his ridiculousness.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: Athena Overview

Borderlands Handsome CollectionReturning our attention to the plethora of characters available in Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, let’s start looking at the playable characters in The Pre-Sequel. Now, I’ve written about the four default characters here in the past – but this time around, instead of going over each skill individually, I’m going to look at them just like I just did with the previous game’s characters. We’ll quickly look at the action skill, then take a top-level look at each skill tree.

We’ll start today with Athena, the only playable character from this game that appeared first in the original Borderlands. In her initial appearance, she was an NPC in the Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC. She’s changed a bit now that’s she’s playable though, so let’s dive in.

Borderlands Athena Splash

Athena is the closest thing to a tank character that this game has, thanks to her action skill. When you activate it, she pulls out her kinetic apsis shield, absorbing damage, then returning it when you toss it back at enemies. If there’s one thing that this game does with the characters, it’s avoiding traditional RPG roles. Sure, there are skills in Athena’s tree to make her more durable, and the other characters to help increase other roles, but there isn’t really any characters that fit into those boxes. Because of that, you’re really a lot more free to go about playing the characters however you feel.

Her first skill tree – PHALANX – is all about building up your kinetic apsis. This is your tank tree right here – there are skills that make the apsis stronger offensively sure, hell the first tier has a skill that increases the damage it deals. But in general the skills here increase your defenses. There are skills that even add in some medic skills – Vanguard gives your whole team health regeneration while the apsis is active. If, for whatever reason, you don’t feel like going down this tree, I really think you should at least until the tier three skill – Prismatic Aegis makes your apsis able to store elemental damage, making it that much more effective. If you do stick with it, the capstone skill is pretty useful too. With Wrath of the Goddess, your apsis will bounce between targets, making it even more useful against groups of enemies.

Her second tree – XIPHOS – is more focused around melee attacks. The big selling point is the tier three skill Rend, which adds the bleed effect to melee attacks. Essentially, bleed is a non-elemental damage over time effect. Once you’ve taken Rend, the further skills add extra effects while you have enemies bleeding. You’ve got health regen (Bloodlust), extra gun damage (Tear), extra firerate and reload speed (Fury of the Arena) and explosions on death (You’ve Got Red on You). Add in the capstone skill, Blood Rush, which lets you do a melee rush dealing extra damage, and you go from being a defensive character, to a melee machine. The problem is that this tree tends to be the most narrow focused, and thus most limited in use.

Which brings us to the final tree – CERAUNIC STORM – which is all about elemental damage. You have to take Maelstrom in order to progress down the tree – which is a stack mechanic based around dealing fire or shock damage. Each stack you have, the more elemental damage you do. Unlike some of the other stack mechanics – like Anarchy – this one doesn’t really have a downside, nor is it particularly complicated. Deal fire and shock damage, get extra elemental damage, boost later skills. There are a couple skills in this tree that tie together – Storm Weaving and Elemental Barrage – for example, so it’s worth being thorough with this tree. There are great skills in here too, Smite, which does extra damage when you attack from air; Zeus’ Rage makes your apsis create a fire and lightning storm; and the capstone skill, Hades’ Shackles, which turns your slam attack into a powerful electric damage-over-time attack.

Athena is a really well balanced character – she functions well in both solo play and co-op play. It’s hard to really go bad with her – each of her skill trees has a lot of great skills in there.