Six Features that Should be Standard for Multiplayer Shooters

shooterfeatures

Everybody’s got that competitive itch down in there somewhere. We can only mow down endless hordes of mindless AI mobs for so long before we crave the blood of our fellow gamers. And that’s where multiplayer shooters come into play. There’s a special twisted satisfaction in knowing that the guy you just no-scoped was being controlled by another gamer who is likely raging at your awesomeness.   

As the genre has evolved, many features have been added collectively and many different franchises have contributed to its growth with new ideas. But even as the esports scene gathers momentum, the discrepancy of features that set our favorite shooters apart may also be what is holding back some of them from being all they can be.

Imagine if the NBA didn’t use replays or the UFC didn’t bother with match highlights anymore. Some features should be standardized to ensure that players are getting the best experience for their buck and that all AAA shooters are worthy of our cash and the attention that they will inevitably get as a representative of one of gamings’ premiere genres. Here are the six I’d like to see.

Highlights

It’s actually really surprising that it took until Overwatch to implement the concept of a post-match “Play of the Game”. Shooters have long celebrated multi-kill achievements and now that so many have had the satisfaction of seeing their most glorious moments projected on the screen for everybody else to bask in (or rage at), it’s going to be hard to go back.

It may seem cosmetic and unnecessary, but Blizzard really tapped into something with this feature. It inspires players to really reach for that brass ring during matches in hopes of achieving the honor and invests players in their own performance using nothing but their own pride and the promise of a brief moment of public glory. Expanding this feature into a brief showcase of a few impressive feats rather than just a single play would be even better, and inspire gamers even more.

Free Maps

Remember back when you paid through the nose every few months just to get a few more maps to shoot people on? Remember how they were usually just maps from older games with a new coat of polish? And you couldn’t play with your friends anymore unless you bought them all? Remember how much that sucked? Oh, sorry Call of Duty fans. You still go through all of that. No wonder everybody looks down on you.

Most shooter franchises have seen the light here and stopped gouging and dividing their customer bases by charging them for something so insubstantial, instead honoring their purchase and dedication to the game by offering new maps for free. But there is still at least one big holdout. In a perfect world, all non-story DLC would be free except for maybe premium cosmetics customizations to show your wealth off to more frugal gamers, but at the very least, new multiplayer maps should always be delivered free of charge.

Emotes

There was a time when teabagging was an art. The careful and concise skill of lining up your crotch to your downed opponent’s face during the heat of a match and delicately lowering your undercarriage onto it knowing that their in-game camera was still on their body and they were helpless to stop the desecration of their corpse held a special kind of satisfaction. Then it spread.

Soon, every scrub in every game would celebrate every kill with a “victory crouch”, even if they weren’t on or even near your body. Every match now looked dumb because even in fighting games the other player would knock you across the screen in a KO and start crouching and uncrouching without even understanding why this was a thing. It disgusts me.

Enter Destiny, Bungie’s fully multiplayer integrated Halo successor and Battleborn, the unfairly maligned Borderlands-ish Overwatch competitor. Destiny offered up emotes usually associated with MMOs that included the ability to literally dance over your fallen opponents’ corpse, while Battleborn’s greatest multiplayer innovation was a taunting mechanic where if you performed it immediately after getting a kill, the downed player’s camera would zoom in on your character with full audio so they could not possibly miss your celebratory middle finger or sneer and one liner. No more half-assed teabagging or victory crouching. This should be the future of virtual douchebaggery. Embrace it.

Integrated Tournaments

When is a competitive shooter not competitive enough? When scrubs and noobs are playing the same playlists as hardcore players. A lot of online shooters already have ranked and unranked matches, although certain kinds of hardcore players who aren’t feeling up to a real challenge prefer to prey upon casuals in the unranked matches and clueless losers still inflict themselves on decent players in ranked.

There should be more rewards for playing ranked and succeeding. In fact, there should be regular online tournaments. With esports becoming more and more a thing, wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a piece of that action from home? Giving out virtual currency and in-game prizes for players performing well in ranked online tournaments would give a lot of players incentive to git gud, form teams, communicate, and play competitively rather than the current climate where a bunch of randos run around like headless chickens getting picked off by players who were lucky enough to be matched with competent players or smart enough to bring friends.

This would also help with differentiating skill levels and maybe help cut down on the needless slaughter and driving off of noobs by pro-tier players. Persistent integrated tournaments could help separate the wheat from the chaff and keep hardcore and casual gamers from screwing up each others’ games. There’s nothing that drives off new players like getting hopelessly massacred in every match and with this level of separation, perhaps the quality of life for both kinds of gamers could improve.    

Theater Mode

Halo is the only franchise I’ve played that is fully on this boat, and that is really surprising, because its Theater mode is a true gift to gaming. The ability to go back and review your recent matches in their entirety is fantastic and should be considered indispensable to competitive gaming. The current DVR system integrated into modern consoles to record your last hour of gameplay isn’t good enough.

Finding yourself woefully overmatched when the entire enemy team decides to pursue you across the map while the objectives are still somehow not getting fulfilled by your enemy-free teammates inevitably begs the question “what the hell is my team even doing?” In Halo, you can go back after you’re done and find the match to watch the entire thing with fully controllable camera and even movie-making tools if you want to capture a particular moment. If your teammates were off camp-cowering or waiting to respawn, at least you can ease your mind that the game itself wasn’t out to get you.

And obviously, as a tool for strategic study, Theater mode is fantastic. It baffles me every time I buy a shooter and this feature isn’t included. For pro-tier gamers it’s invaluable for formulating and refining strategy, for aspiring Youtube stars it’s a fantastic video creation tool, and for everyone else it’s still really cool to have.

Co-op Challenges

Just like gamers need to test themselves against each other in the online arena after battling endless mobs, sometimes after that competitive drive has been driven and the wheels are falling off, you need to unwind a little, but still keep killing stuff. Probably more than anything else, co-op modes is what kept me coming back to my favorite shooters and its absence is what kept me from coming back to Overwatch. Gears of War has Horde, Call of Duty has Zombies, Halo has Firefight, Destiny has Strikes and Raids, and at this point I feel like every AAA shooter needs an equivalent to these to really win me over and keep me there.

PvP scratches a major gaming itch, but any way you look at it, it’s pretty intense. The highs of victory and the lows of defeat tend to create strong emotions and prolonged exposure to those….well, you’ve seen what gamers tend to be like online. We don’t have the best reputation. Frankly, we need to lighten the hell up.

I find that unwinding with a cooperative game and working together with my fellow gamers relieves a lot of the stress that battling them tooth and nail accumulates. The chaos of PvP matches can be nicely balanced by pre-planned raids where you have specific goals to work towards and/or waves of enemies to blow away with friends and strangers instead of team after team of spawn-camping, lag-switching, trash-talking teens and fratboys to contend with. Designated co-op modes done right give shooters legs like no other feature does.     

A Week in the Life of ARK: Survival Evolved – Part One: The Taste of Noobs

arkweek

Okay, so if any of you are old school Gamemoir readers (do we have those? Is that a thing?) you might have noticed my enthusiasm for the long-delayed PlayStation 4 release of Studio Wildcard’s prehistoric survival sim ARK: Survival Evolved. The early release game took Steam by storm, earning allegiance from millions and a truly outstanding collection of entertaining user reviews filled with insane and captivating stories. It currently resides in the top ten most-played games there, occasionally surpassing even the mighty Grand Theft Auto V. Not bad for a game that isn’t even finished and has been largely ignored by the gaming media.

The months of waiting for a game PC and Xbox One players had been playing ate at me, as did the cancellation of the free-to-play multiplayer mode Survival of the Fittest, but suddenly word came down that ARK was coming to my console of choice in three days. The wait was over. As a dinosaur fanatic with MMO aspirations, I was on cloud nine. But even with all of the word-of-mouth hype and anticipation, I was not prepared for the first week of this game. The following is the first half of a journal of the first seven days of my life after ARK: Survival Evolved happened to it.

Day One: You Died

Today I woke up with the knowledge that soon I would be playing my most anticipated game of the year. I love that feeling. 2016 has had a distinct lack of truly great games, and I had a feeling about this one. That feeling did not do it justice. ARK combines the best and most addictive elements of games like Minecraft and Elder Scrolls with the infinite promise of an MMO. Oh, and Dark Souls in single player. Because if you don’t die almost constantly in this harsh and horrible world at first, you’re doing it wrong. Plus, you can get all your stuff back off of your own corpse if you can make it back.

Unable to get online right at the start (something I haven’t had an issue with since the aforementioned GTAV), I settled for learning the ropes in single player. What I learned is that this game just doesn’t give a damn. It’ll spawn you in the pitch black dead of night right in front of the jaws of a gang of predators just to say “tough luck there, buddy”. While From Software is a vengeful god who crafts worlds distinctly to misdirect and harm the player, Wildcard is an uncaring Lovecraftian elder god. Our petty needs and concepts of fairness are nothing to them. The world of ARK simply is and whether we live or die in it is none of its concern.

Today, after having my “Welcome…to Jurassic (P)ARK” moment watching a gigantic sauropod rumble past I was chased into my beachfront hut (a lifelong dream) by a velociraptor who then began tearing my day’s work apart. I escaped out the front door while it raged at the walls and sprinted up to a ridge where I saw the enraged predator continue smashing down my house. As I despaired the loss of my hard-won assets and my pet dodo, I heard a roar behind me and turned around just in time to see a carnosaur end my life. This is ARK’s singleplayer in a nutshell.  

Day Two: Anarchy in the A-R-K

Early in the day, I managed to get onto a multiplayer server. I was really excited to be getting in on the ground floor of an online community as it is being born. The tales of tribal cooperation and warfare on Steam are legendary. What I found waiting for me was a bunch of idiots in their underwear brawling on the beach. I shouldn’t have been surprised, really, but there’s enough to kill you in-game already I’d hoped that the multiplayer would be less PvP-ish. The baddest of the bad managed to craft axes and they felt that made them cock of the walk. Then this sheriff came to town with a spear. They literally fled from me. That’s right. Run. Run from the man with the shirt and pointy stick, you savages!

When night fell in-game, I was cooking some meat around a campfire and two imbeciles assaulted me with their bare hands. By this time I’d crafted a slingshot so I knocked one unconscious while backpedalling and then stabbed his friend to death with my spear. I finished off the unconscious one, chopped them both up and cooked them for supper. Yes. One hour in multiplayer and I’ve already acquired a taste for noob flesh. It occurred to me too late that I may have been able to defecate (there is a command for that) on the unconscious one, then pick up my own shit and feed it to him before I ended his life. I really regret not testing that out.    

After a few hours, the server disconnected and I couldn’t get back on so I decided to go back into singleplayer, where the carnosaur that killed me last night appears to have taken permanent residence in my neighborhood just to make my life miserable. I almost never see it coming until it’s too late. Once I swam out into the surf and climbed a rock where it couldn’t reach me (like The Shallows with a dinosaur instead of a shark) and began raining stones from my slingshot on it. The bastard turns around, marches straight to my newly-rebuilt hut, and begins smashing it while I scream “NOOOOO!!!!” in real life. I think it may be time to move.

Day Three: Man Plans, ARK Laughs

Down the beach there are no carnosaurs. But there are dilophosaurs, whose M.O. is to spit poison in your face and then rush you down while you’re blinded. They’re also fond of group tactics. But at least I can handle them. There’s nothing I can do about the towering monster who destroyed my home. Yet. Besides, my new goal is to train an army of dilophosaurs to do my bidding.

My first try is a success, I slingshot the smallish predator, sidestep the poison, and backpedal when it rushes me, pelting it with rocks until it’s unconscious. Then I drug it, let it gorge on dodo meat until it loves me, and then name it Phlegmy. Easy peasy. Soon, Phlegmy is joined by Loogie, and my dilo-posse is rollin’ thick. My hut is now surrounded by spike walls to deter larger predators (I’m looking at you, carnosaur!), and the scope of my ambition is taking shape. I shall be the god-emperor of the Dilophosaur Kingdom. Those who resist subjugation shall be spat upon and summarily devoured. So shall it be written. So shall it be done.   

But Phlegmy and Loogie have a bad habit of savagely murdering their own kind after I’ve knocked them out. And I want to win hearts and minds. So I tell my bodyguards to stay back as I approach my next conquest. After a few stones to the gourd, this dilo decides it’s had enough and sprints in the other direction. I give chase and am hit from the side and blinded. I run like crazy while being attacked from god knows where and find out that there’s one thing that can take out a posse of dilophosaurs: a bigger posse. As I run for my backup, I’m hit again and blinded, coming to just in time to see at least four of them savaging the species traitors as I die.

And those spike walls around my hut? Turns out dilos can squeeze in between them and get glitched between those and my hut’s walls and they can attack me from the outside. I literally ended up dying on my own spikes trying to do something about it. Screw you, irony.   

Day Four: The Lost World

Whatever the dinosaur equivalent of the internet in ARK is, I’m convinced somebody on it has been posting “predator party at Nick’s house!”, but the good news is that now the servers aren’t disconnecting anymore so I can play multiplayer. In singleplayer, I’ve hardly seen any of the island because I am constantly under assault. I tried wading through the swamp near my base and got stuck with about five giant leeches and murdered by three terrifying new species of predator at once. This was in one minute. In multiplayer, I don’t need to outrun a predator. I just need to outrun the guy next to me.

I spend hours just exploring. This game is massive. This game is beautiful. This game is amazing. The population has settled down and players are now calmly going about their business so I don’t have to constantly worry about some jerk with a hatchet killing me whenever I go into my inventory. There isn’t too much cooperation apparent, but I see evidence of some really amazing stuff. Irrigation pipelines spanning mountains watering farmland, multi-level fortresses, and the like. I really want to join a tribe, but nobody is home. Those individuals I do meet often reach for their weapons to defend their stake, but only seem willing to attack if you are aggressive. It’s progress, at least.

I end up on a beautiful river with perfect spear-fishing, ample resources, and some industrious neighbors. Also, a roving giant scorpion. I avoid that for now, although some day I would like to start a giant scorpion biker gang. But I need to build a bed to spawn at before I get too cocky. I build my nicest house yet, but the lack of wildlife is a double edged sword. I’m not constantly bein attacked by predators, but I can’t find anything non-fishy to kill to get the hides to build the bed either. I made a sleeping bag, but that’s a one-time use item. And it gets used that night when I turn around and find that scorpion standing right behind me waiting for the jump scare like Michael Myers.

An epic battle ensues where my neighbor jumps in to help and I stupidly attempt to knock the bug out to train it instead of going for the kill when it goes on the run. I pursue and corner it against my home and beat it with a club (thinking it’s almost done for) and then it suddenly turned and stung me. Funny thing. One sting from a scorp can render you unconscious and helpless. Duly noted.

When I respawn I make an amusing discovery. The massive T. rex that has been stalking the opposite side of the river and menacing our sister community has made its way over here and we’re all dead now. I respawned at a random point and then spent five hours wandering the wilderness and every river bank I could find trying to remember where the hell my home was. The in-game map is like a real map. That is to say that if you don’t already know exactly where you are it doesn’t help you. Fuck you for treating us like we’re grown-ups, ARK. Also, you’re awesome.  

My first four days playing my most anticipated game of the year did not disappoint. It was a brutal tutorial for me and plenty of other players. But through the literal dog-eat-dog gameplay, I’m beginning to make out a fantastic vision of how great this game could be, even as it kicks my ass again and again. Stay tuned for the second half of my Week One experiences playing this remarkable game next week. Same dino-time, same dino-site.

Five Reasons Why I Sold Overwatch and Kept Battleborn

bb-ow

It’s now been about three months since the MOBA/FPS hybrid Battleborn was released and then promptly kicked out of bed by the the insanely-hyped Overwatch. I owned both games. I played both games extensively. I enjoyed both games immensely. I wrote multiple articles about both games. Then I moved on for a while and played other games.

But competitive FPS multiplayer never really dies, does it? It’s an itch that occasionally needs to be scratched. It’s why Halo and Call of Duty continue to be massively successful franchises even as the single player campaigns continually degrade. It’s why Destiny is still a thing. Many of us need games like these in our lives to give us something to fight against and get better at; something that isn’t predictable like AI opponents are. Gamers like me crave the chaos that can only come from other gamers and so I feel like I always need a designated PvP shooter on my shelf.

I’ve already detailed my thoughts on things Overwatch did better than the competition as well as being released as half a game because Blizzard crafted it as an afterthought to a failed project in order to recoup expenses, whereas Battleborn was at worst a full game that was a bit light on content. When Gamestop offered me thirty dollars to sell back a sixty dollar game I felt was highly overpriced, I was actually excited at the thought of recouping my own investment in Overwatch having done everything worth doing many times over. But Battleborn? I felt like I had so much more left to to do in that game. I couldn’t part with it.

So why is somebody else probably playing my copy of the current big thing in gaming and likely Game of the Year while I continue to spend time on a game that got creamed on Metacritic and is usually laughed off in the gaming community as a nonentity? Well, I’ve got five good reasons right here…

 

The charactersbb-ow2

Battleborn has one of the best playable casts in any game ever, and perhaps the most ingeniously developed. There are characters I played for over ten hours in-game and was still hearing new dialogue from them. And there are twenty-seven of them with more on the way. Admittedly, Overwatch has possibly the best character models ever in a shooter from a visual standpoint, but beyond the pretty graphics and endearing animations they are shallow, shallow, shallow.

The quotable quotes from Battleborn’s cast could fill this article. They are routinely hilarious and each have random quips for every situation both in the campaign and in PvP. If you are 3edgy5me and are enraged by the thought of your characters actually SPEAKING in-game, you have the option to turn it off, but personally I find the vocal performances and writing in this game to be absolutely outstanding. You can infer so much about the characters, their pasts, and their relationships to each other from their in-game trash talk and observations that it’s actually staggering to think about how much care went into it. No cutscenes are necessary. You learn about them while you actively roast their compatriots or the bad guys.

Beyond that, by completing certain milestones, you unlock lore files which can take the form of backstory details coupled with cool art or even funny little voice-recorded skits that are almost always good for a smile. My favorite so far has to be aquatic avatar Alani’s recorded message drafts as she tries to find a way to make friends on the team. In PvP you can occasionally hear her mention that she hasn’t received her invitation to the after-battle party yet and other little hints about her social awkwardness, but unlocking her outgoing voicemail really helped expand on it. Check it:

                                                                                               Beats the hell out of hearing Mei tell you that our world is worth fighting for for the millionth time, don’t it?

 

bb-ow4Multiplayer modes

Overwatch’s awesome visuals and smooth gameplay have all of the makings of a true classic shooter. It’s a damn shame it doesn’t really give you anything to do beyond stand next to a car or stand in a glowing rectangle and shoot anybody who tries to stop you. I can’t wait for Blizzard to release a sequel that makes it all it could be, but right now Battleborn not only has a substantial co-op raid campaign that is a ton of fun, but their PvP modes are far superior to boot.

Overwatch thrives on a lightning fast pace; get in, git ‘r dun, next match. Battleborn’s multiplayer has a strategic depth to its objectives that goes so far beyond that, it can’t even be seen from where Overwatch is. The pace is slower (matches routinely last for half an hour) but the pay-off is there, and more time in each match means less time in menus.

Every match is much bigger than just a simple 5-on-5 (or 6-on-6) competition. There are fortifications to build, upgrade, and destroy, armies of minions to guide to victory or obliterate to hobble your opponents, currency to collect and spend to activate your gear boosts or build with, and that’s all on top of battling with the other team towards your objective.

You level up your character in-match to unlock new buffs and abilities as you go and as you complete challenges you gain experience and currency for unlockables as well. There are so many ways to help your team beyond either basic objective-sitting or player killing. If you maybe don’t have the skill to take on pros head-to-head, you can focus on slipping past them and destroying their base’s fortifications, gathering currency and building up your own defenses, or preying on minions .

Alternatively,  you could be a harassment player using speed and maneuverability to hit enemies when they aren’t looking and then lead them away from the objective when they try to retaliate. You can focus on healing and support. There are characters that excel at all of these things.  I love the thought of a FPS where you don’t have to just kill, kill, kill to succeed. That’s the kind of depth that doesn’t get old. For me, an evolving multi-faceted battle beats repetitive objective sitting all day, every day.

 

Microtransactionsbb-ow5

Fun fact about me: I don’t do microtransactions. Not ever. Battleborn is not an exception, but at least it has made me think about it. Overwatch’s approach literally appalled and insulted me. For one thing, Battleborn gives you in-game currency for every thing you do in the game.Win a match? Kick some ass during a loss? Complete a challenge? You get paid accordingly. And you can use that to buy loot packs on top of the ones you already get for leveling up. You can also buy the new characters if you save up enough.

To their credit, Overwatch gives new heroes for free, but that’s where the good ends. All other unlocks are tied purely to chance, which with my luck means I got almost nothing but tags, weak vocal lines to repeat ad nauseum, player icons (dozens to unlock, but can only use one), and skins for characters I seldom used. In-game currency that can be used to get things you actually want is also part of this lottery, but I seldom received any. But if I was willing to pay a dollar a pop (at a two dollar minimum) for the possibility of maybe getting something I might like -but probably just more worthless crap I don’t want- well, that’s a thing. Yay?

In Battleborn, unlockables are partly tied to leveling up each character and partly tied to the lottery, which you can enter using in-game currency which, as mentioned before, is not hard to obtain while you play the game. They introduced real money microtransaction credits for skins and taunts, but guess what? YOU CAN DIRECTLY PAY FOR THE THING YOU WANT! Again, I don’t spend money on such things, but it’s genuinely pleasing to know that if I want Thorn’s middle finger taunt to blast onto somebody’s screen every time I get a kill with her, I can just pay the two bucks and get it and not spend an open-ended amount of time and money feverishly praying that the next loot pack bestows it upon me.

 

bb-ow1Community

I’ve got to say that the Overwatch community is the nastiest gaming community I’ve encountered online. From rampant fanboyism to unnecessary aggressiveness to general grossness, all negative stereotypical bases are covered. From the get-go, the fanart was full of childishly oversized T&A, the message boards were filled with arguments about whether Mei is “bay” or fat in addition to the usual screams that every single character needs to be both nerfed and buffed, and in-game chat was usually limited to people yelling at their families in the background, blasting bad music, or otherwise making terrible noises that ruin the game.   

Not that the Battleborn boards don’t have people screaming for nerfs at all times, but the game genuinely seems to have attracted a different class of player.  I actually had somebody thank me for healing him in-game. Literally, I was taken aback. He then invited me to PSN’s Battleborn Community which has built-in features making it really easy to find parties and matches and make friends, which is something I’ve sorely missed in recent years. It’s a whole different experience than playing with randoms, but I’ve met some really fun people randomly as well.

The message board discussions themselves seem to be more focused on technical discussion about the game and characters rather than how hot the girls are or how much they weigh. Plus, my search for bad sexual fan art yielded next to nothing. I’m sure it’s probably out there somewhere, but with Overwatch it’s everywhere.

But there is one thing that has been said about the Battleborn community that’s true and that is the inferiority complex that developed after the release of Overwatch. People who gave Battleborn the time of day as a general rule really love it, are pissed that there aren’t more people playing it, and are very vocal about their disdain for Overwatch. Unfortunately, this has created a rivalry they can’t win. Badmouthing a game everybody likes does not really inspire that game’s fans to want to support the one you like so much as trash it back. That said…    

 

Only scrubs don’t root for the underdogbb-ow3

Battleborn is a different beast than Overwatch. Unfortunately, they are also really similar in and came out really close together. One had a massive advertising budget that would have been better spent on in-game content, but was released with cobbled-together assets of a failed MMO project from one of the richest companies in gaming to recoup expenses from said project. The other was a smaller game from a smaller developer best known for its quirky Borderlands series.

Borderlands was never expected to compete with Call of Duty, but somehow Battleborn has been completely eclipsed by Overwatch amidst the rampant and never-ending media hype. Such hype can be purchased easily online and it carries a ton of weight among casuals. That’s just life. It’s up to the hardcore to carry the smaller titles. Sales for Battleborn have been slow, but reports of empty servers have been more dire than the situation really is, which only serves to drive more gamers away when they should be giving the game a try without fear of not being able to find a match.

Wilt Chamberlain once proclaimed that “nobody roots for Goliath”, but in this case, that’s proven to be false. It’d be a tragedy to see a game like this fade away while mainstream gamers are arguing about which Overwatch girls are the hottest. It just makes me want to play it more. If you haven’t tried it and you prefer thoughtful strategy to a lightning fast pace and personality to eye candy, do yourself a favor and give it a go sometime. If you want to wait until the price goes down, there’s nothing wrong with that either. There’s plenty of room for two hero shooters on the market and supporting both is the best way to ensure more games like them get made and supported in the future.

Exclusively supporting Overwatch as it currently is sends a message that less content and depth in a game coupled with more hype equals more success, and rest assured other gaming companies are watching those numbers. Why put the work into fleshing out your characters or work on exciting and nuanced game modes if gamers just want the bare minimum gameplay and some waifu bait? I’d rather support companies and practices that focus on making the best games possible as opposed to just the most profitable business models.

Battleborn feels like a passion project built to be exactly what it is: a multiplayer-based companion to the rightfully beloved Borderlands series. Overwatch feels thrown together to make money as quickly as possible with as little investment as possible; a teaser of what could well become the dominant shooter franchise in years to come, but still just a teaser. There’s nothing wrong with loving Overwatch as it is, as it’s a really damn fun game, but let’s not get carried away and forget that there are other games out there either that give more bang for buck.

Personally, the current iteration with its massive hitboxes and condescending feature of counting every assist as a kill to make the player feel better about their K/D lost its flavor in weeks. But I feel like I will never run out of things to achieve and earn in Battleborn and the fact that a game with so much to offer has been discounted makes it an easy choice for me. And that’s probably the biggest reason I sold Blizzard’s billion dollar afterthought and kept Gearbox Software’s spunky alternative. Gamers know what it means to be swept under the rug and treated as not good enough by the mainstream. That’s reason enough to flip off the critics and support the little guy.

Five Signs that Overwatch Came Out too Soon

overwatchsoon

Now that we’ve had a little while to live with Overwatch and ponder the latest gaming sensation that has taken over the internet it’s about time to assess it without the hype of Blizzard’s marketing machine, its game of the year-tier metascores, and fifteen-foot tall action figures. And I think a lot of gamers may be thinking the same thing at this point: is that it?

Overwatch, if nothing else, may represent the best pure PvP multiplayer experience of the year so far, but even that fantastic gameplay comes with a lot of flaws; too many to justify the scores, at the very least, when compared to its more complete competitor, Battleborn. In fact, in a lot of ways, it seems like half a game, even when sitting next to a title that even the developers admit was incomplete upon release. Street Fighter V, I’m looking at you. When that one came out, I questioned whether this was going to be the new industry standard, and with Overwatch‘s massive success to prove you don’t need to put a lot in to make a blockbuster, we’re sure to be seeing more of this.

It’s a known fact that Overwatch was cobbled together partially from elements of Blizzard’s scrapped MMO project, Titan -which spent seven years in development before being cancelled just prior to the announcement of Overwatch– in order to recoup the cost of Titan’s failure. And it shows. As much fun as it is, there are a lot of very unusual elements and mistakes in this game that make me feel like it wasn’t given the proper time and attention to be all it can be. Here are five examples.

Lack of Game Modesoverwatch menu

Basically, Overwatch has only two game modes: Escort and King of the Hill. These two objectives are mixed up a bit, but basically, you capture and/or hold a given area or you escort or stall a payload vehicle. That’s it. And no, I don’t count the Weekly Brawl (which seems to serve no purpose other than diminishing the number of selectable heroes) as another mode so much as a bad idea that eliminates the game’s greatest strengths. Compare this to…..oh, every AAA shooter ever. Imagine a Halo or Call of Duty game launching with only two game types. Even Street Fighter V has it handily beat on this front.  

I was actually shocked when I bought the game and it was literally the exact thing I played during the beta test. There may be an extra map or two, but the entire game was pretty much the beta.. And Blizzard is currently working on a ranked mode as well. The fact that they couldn’t manage this before release is probably the most blatant possible evidence that this game was released unfinished. I’ve played massive single player RPGs that launched with ranked multiplayer.

It’s not super hard to come up with fun stuff for gamers to do. The cast of Overwatch is awesome. We’d do anything with these characters and call it fun. But two basic modes of play is weak sauce to justify a full retail price tag. How lazy do you have to be to limit your games to “stand by this vehicle” or “stand in this square”? Capture the Flag could be really fun and strategic with this lot. Just saying. Say what you want about Battleborn, but each of its multiplayer modes are deeper by miles and there are more of them in addition to a serious single-player/co-op campaign.  

overwatch tutorial

Gee, thanks for the info…

Presentation/Features

While adding brilliant features like highlight videos made Overwatch stand out from the crowd with stylish flair, it alternates between treating its players like they’re firing up babby’s first shooter and pro-tier memorization. Right off the bat, the tutorial insults you by teaching you how to walk and move your reticule and shoot and push buttons and stuff. If you need to be told how to do these things in a hardcore online-only PvP shooter, you’re going to have a bad time.

And once you’re in the game, it doesn’t bother telling you about little things like, oh, the game types. I actually didn’t understand how the Payload objective worked for a good long while; I just busied myself shooting folk and eventually found out that the vehicle moves when you stand next to it. Seems like that may have been good information to mention while they were teaching me how to walk. And maybe some brief character tutorials for intimidated beginners?

You pretty much have to memorize which game type goes with which map if you want to choose your hero accordingly. Some characters excel on certain maps/objectives more than others, but Overwatch only tells you where you’re going, not what your objective will be once you get there so to choose accordingly, you either have to memorize the objective of each map or hurry up and rechoose your hero while you’re still in the spawn point. Either way is an unnecessary pain in the ass. Also, the inability to mute your audio-griefer teammates on the fly is crazy in this day and age.

And then there’s the lack of anything beyond hero loot. There’s a meh intro cinematic (Youtube has already done better) and almost no in-game lore or reason to keep playing aside from maybe someday earning a really cool skin or highlight intro by luck of the draw. But instead uses the scarcity of in-game currency to fleece players with microtransactions, as if we didn’t already pay full price for half a game. Come on, man; give us something. Even some unlockable fan art a la Blazblue would have been nice, but once again, Overwatch leaves gamers are left with nothing but the barest of bare bones.

overwatch lag kill ping

Overwatch: official sponsors of in-game lag.

Lag

I noticed this in the beta and didn’t solve it until a few days after I bought it, but this game gave me the nastiest lag I’ve seen since Call of Duty 2. As in the second Call of Duty. Ever. Over ten years ago. Blizzard was quite unhelpful, suggesting that maybe people need better internet service or to check their RAM, but I have overpriced broadband that can typically have Netflix and/or Hulu running while I game online with no issues and am playing on a console. This was an Overwatch thing.

After scanning several message boards and articles filled with an equal measure of complaints and non-help, I found one gracious soul who suggested that the game was too demanding for wi-fi and to try a wired connection. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me so I’ll just blame it on the fact that EVERY OTHER GAME I OWN PLAYS FINE OVER WI-FI.

But yes, the correct answer to fix the insane lag occasionally rendering my game borderline unplayable was to stretch an ethernet cable across the room and plug it into the router like we’re back in the nineties. Remember the nineties? Cool times, man. Crappy internet, but cool times. To any aspiring game developers out there, do us a solid: please optimize your games properly before you release them so we don’t have to use ancient technology to play modern day multiplayer.   

overwatch widowmaker tracer

Who needs a narrative when you’ve got ship-bait?

Story

What story? Something, something super team of super heroes doing super things, world needs us, blah blah. Why are they all killing each other over cars and small colored squares and how is it saving the world? And since when are video game stories told in cutscenes on Youtube instead of, you know, in the game?  

No, Overwatch does not have a story, and that’s okay because it only needs to kick ass and chew bubblegum. Then run out of bubblegum. Maybe that’s three things.  Still, it would be fine if it didn’t pretend to have a story that is clearly being made up as it goes along and relates not at all to anything that happens in the actual game. Ideally, you make a story first and then design a game around the story, not try to come up with a story after the game is finished.

Battleborn barely has a story either, but the characters -which are even more numerous and diverse- are all so much more well developed with a lot of their backstories becoming apparent from their in-game chatter, including opponent-specific trash talk. I max leveled characters and was still hearing new lines of dialogue after ten hours or more of playtime with them. They also have unlockable audio and text lore to flesh them out.

These are inexpensive and simple things to put in a game if you’re willing to put in the effort. How many times have you heard “it’s high noon” or “our world is worth fighting for” by the end of your first week playing Overwatch? I don’t even want to know. Come on, man, flesh these characters out a little! The little pre-round mini conversations are a nice start, but that’s all they are: a start.

Bugs?overwatch onscreen text

It’s not like bugs are a new thing in video games, but I’ve seldom run across so many in such a small first person shooter. And some are so glaring that I wonder if they weren’t deliberate choices. Overwatch may look like a million bucks, but it’s just plain janky at times. And I won’t even mention the massive hitboxes that allow you to be head-shotted from around a corner without even being visible to your enemies. Whoops, I just did.

The biggest thing that sticks in my craw is having to select my character twice. Often when you select your hero, the game will drop you onto the map with the message “waiting for players” for a few seconds or so and then bring you back to reselect your character. Or sometimes the screen just blinks before forcing you to reselect. It’s not like it’s game breaking, but it does make the game feel cheap and glitchy.  

Speaking of glitches, the fact that the text from your last match stays on your screen until your next match is pretty awful, particularly for a game that warrants screen shot and vid sharing as much as this one does. When you go to save your highlights after a particularly nice session, every character change and other in-match message displayed at the end of your last game will be immortalized along with them because they never go away until you shut the game down or start another match. Removing text from the screen is so utterly basic it makes me think this was a deliberate choice, but if it is I can’t think of a single function it serves.

And then there’s the interaction wheel. It’s a cool idea; letting players exchange greetings and slogans and emotes, if only to pass the time in the pre-game lobby. Unfortunately, it’s occasionally a crapshoot as to whether it will actually do what you want it to do. You can select your emote and end up thanking somebody or announcing that your ultimate is charging (isn’t is always?) or try to say a line after killing somebody and end up performing a lengthy emote while the enemy team casually wanders over to you and blows you away. And a decent portion of the time the command just fails to register so nothing happens at all.

It’s a bit crazy that the positive reaction to Overwatch has been so over-the-top when so many games that have launched with more content and smoother experiences have been derided for much lesser offenses of the same nature. For an afterthought of a scrapped MMO project it’s an amazing game, but with all of the unnecessary little annoyances, rough edges, and the astounding difficulty of obtaining in-game currency, it’s hard for me to be as positive on the whole as the rest of the gaming community seems to be. Fun game? Absolutely. Addicting as crack? Slightly more so. Game of the Year? Only if it’s a really slow year. Sorry. Maybe the sequel will deliver a more finished product, but for the time being: hype denied.

Five Must-Play Characters for Overwatch Beginners

overwatch

In keeping with my emergent pattern of playing the new team-based multiplayer beta, writing an article about how awesome it was, and then doing a list of characters to watch out for right before launch (as established by Battleborn), today I’m prepping for the release of Overwatch.

According to Blizzard, nearly ten million players (lifts pinky to corner of mouth) partook of the Overwatch Open Beta, practically guaranteeing the game will be a smash hit and that this list will be unnecessary since everybody and their grandmother probably already has strong opinions on victory pose bootyshots and transforming salt-powered turret bots.  

But this is video games on the internet. There is no dead horse we shall hesitate to beat, and besides, there may be some poor soul somewhere who was in a coma for the beta or sat it out  because the SJW’s had won but whose resolve is crumbling amidst friends’ tales of online glory. Overwatch is coming in hot and unlike Battleborn, every character is available from the get-go, making that first character select screen a little bit intimidating for newcomers.

But fear not, theoretical noobs; I’m here for you. This is my list of five characters that future pros are going to want to familiarize themselves with if they want to be the coolest of the cool. Overwatch has a fabulously charming and balanced cast to choose from, and I chose this motley crew based on style, usability, and general in-game effectiveness. With a little finesse, any kind of gamer should be able to wreak online havoc with one or all of these characters in any situation. These are five of the best Overwatch has to offer.   

D. Vaoverwatch d va

Let’s kick this thing off with the giant girly mech in the room, shall we? D. Va is just awesome. Tracer may have grabbed headlines as the face (and butt) of Overwatch prior to the beta, but it seems like most sites are leading with the pro gamer-turned celebrity mech pilot these days. And why wouldn’t they? She’s cute as a button and lethal as all hell. And did I mention the giant robot?

D. Va’s mech is equipped with dual scatterguns with infinite ammo. That makes her perfect for laying down suppressing fire. At a chokepoint, she can keep an entire team at bay if none of them has a shield. Also, she has a shield. Activating the Defense Matrix gives her a few seconds of anterior invincibility. It’s not much, but she doesn’t need much because D. VA CAN FREAKIN’ FLY! Jet boosters can be used to roadkill weakened enemies, attain better vantage points, or just close ranks with the opposition really quickly to cause some havoc.

And even if the other team whittles down the mech’s massive health bar, she’s not done. She’ll eject and become a nimble footsoldier. She may not be as effective as Tracer at this point, but her laser pistol can do serious damage so with a little hit-and-run, D. Va can still be a beast all by herself. And when you build up her Ultimate meter, she can call down another war machine and carry on as she was. When she builds it up while she’s in the mech, she can self destruct it and take out an entire team in one fell swoop and get an immediate replacement. Use while boosting to turn her mech into a room-clearing missile or even drop it on them from above. “Nerf this” indeed.

 D. Va’s personality makes her the star of every show. Her combination of geekspeak commentary and J-pop styled cuteness is as entertaining as her deathbot is awesome. Expect to see her around. A lot.

overwatch reaper poseReaper

Reaper is good at one thing and one thing only: killing every last motherfucker in the room. And boy does he have the tools for it. His backstory as a former military officer turned vengeful mercenary is somewhat mysterious, but his appeal as a playable character is not. I picked him in my very first game based on dat mask alone. He looks badass. He plays badass. He is badass.

Reaper is armed with twin shotgun pistols that are absolutely murderous in mid-to-close range. Three to four well placed shots and on to the next victim. Making it even worse for the opposition is the fact that he can teleport damn near anywhere he can see -regardless of elevation- with only a slight charging delay. He also has the ability to turn into an invulnerable wraith form, which is equally perfect for getting in close to attack or retreating when the odds turn against him. Nobody is ever safe from this guy.

Reaper can consume the souls of his victims after they go down, restoring his own health in the process. And expect to see a lot of Play of the Game highlights featuring his Ultimate attack, where he goes full John Woo and holds his weapons at arms length while twirling and spraying lead in all directions while chanting “Die! Die! Diiiiieee!” (the other team usually complies).   

Reaper’s personality as a no-nonsense evil assassin will make him a favorite among edgy teens and hardcore player killers alike. He’s a great pick-up-and-play character to rack up kills with and his teleportation skill makes him palatable to your inner strategist as well. He’s a no-lose choice.

Torbjörnoverwatch torbjorn turret pose

Because the world will never have enough cyberpunk dwarves. This Shadowrun throwback is the perfect man to defend any objective. He’s an old-school (by Overwatch standards) engineer with a distrust of AI and a knack for advanced engineering. He is among the last heroes I tried and I immediately felt like I’d been missing out. I did better with him than with any character previous.

Torbjörn is great for any situation and a major asset to any team. He can throw up a turret in seconds and given a few more, he can hammer it into killing shape. This alone wildy changes the balance of power in any area because his upgraded turrets track extremely quickly and deal out damage by the boatload. If any non-sniper character takes it on alone, I’m betting on the turret. But that’s just the beginning. His gun has both long-range and short range firing options and both are plenty deadly.

The dwarf can also salvage scrap from fallen enemies and convert it to armour packs that he can leave as power ups for himself and his team. Lastly, his Molten Core Ultimate skill upgrades both himself and his nearby turret into super mode to make them both killing machines for a short while. Neato.

Torbjörn’s personality is what one might expect from a crusty old mechanic; charmingly grumblesome and lacking in the humor department. But that’s okay because no matter how much he complains, the other team will complain much more about his goddamn omnipresent turret. Keep it up and running and watch the kills rain down like mana.

overwatch mei droneMei

Hey look, a fully clothed woman in a video game! And she’s not even wearing full body yoga pants. In a game where cute, sexy, and sassy ladies are at the forefront of the marketing blitz, Mei’s personality stands out. At first, the bespectacled Chinese eco-warrior’s ice attacks made her seem like a gimmick character because she plays very differently from most playable video game heroes, but with a little strategy, she can be one of the most fun and functional choices for any fight.  

Mei’s weapon of choice is her Wall-E-esque cryo-drone, which contains her life’s work in climatology. It may have been intended to save the world from global warming, but that makes for weak sauce in a PvP shooter, so you get to freeze people to death with it. Her gun has two methods of firing, a long-range deadly icicle projectile and a short-range immobilizing freeze spray. You can literally run circles around D. Va all day with that thing. In a pinch, she can also entomb herself in ice to recover health and get a few seconds’ reprieve from enemy attacks.

What turns out to be her best ability is surprisingly her ice wall. A match in Overwatch is largely about capturing and defending objectives, and whether you are approaching a group of entrenched enemies or buying a few seconds of cover for allies scrambling to hold onto territory, a wall of ice blocking enemies off can be a real life-saver. It can also be used to divide enemy teams and if you aim at your own feet, you can use it as an on-demand elevator to reach higher vantage points as well. Mei’s Ultimate ability sends out her drone to create a localized blizzard and freeze all enemies caught within it for a few seconds. A stationary enemy is easy pickens for any player on their worst day, and Mei has multiple ways of making that happen.  

As far as personality goes, Mei’s is as unusual for a woman in a video game as her attire is. Shy and introverted are not qualities one associates with first person shooters very often, and her demeanor makes her stand out in this game as much as her unusual abilities do. Judging from the amount of inappropriate fanart of Mei that’s been surfacing, I’d say her charms have struck a chord with the fanbase as well, for better or worse.   

Hanzooverwatch hanzo pose

I had a really tough time picking this fifth entry. I really wanted to go with a support character (Lùcio being particularly cool and unique with a good combination of team buffs and offense), but Hanzo is already such a standard that it’s hard to ignore how valuable he can be to a team. Plus: samurai archer. His mythology-steeped backstory is best explored in this official video but his combat abilities speak for themselves.

He’s got a bow. He’s got arrows. I doubt I have to spell this out for you, but Hanzo works at long range while your teammates get down and dirty at mid and close ranges. Ideally, you’ll be raining death from above and afar, and it’s easy to get a good vantage point because Hanzo can scale about any surface effortlessly. He can also fire an arrow that scatters, potentially damaging a whole group of enemies at once. Pretty basic stuff, really.

But what makes Hanzo especially valuable to any team beyond his sniping skills is his Sonic Arrow, which reveals the location of any enemies within its range to all allies across the map. In an objective based game, this kind of intel can be a game changer, particularly when paired with his Ultimate Dragonstrike attack, which sends out twin spirit dragons that can pass through structures to deliver instant death to unwary bad guys.  

Hanzo is pretty much what you see is what you get. Samurai are cool. Archers are cool. Hanzo is cool. And also really a dragon in human form, so bonus cool points to boot. And giving your entire team a strategic advantage while dealing out death by the quiverfull? Very cool. I guess what I’m trying to say is that his personality is cool, and cool players play as him.

Four Things that Set Overwatch Apart from Battleborn

 overwatchbb

It’s a bit tragic that two games so similar with no real competition besides each other are releasing just weeks apart after massive open betas. Battleborn and Overwatch are both excellent team-based sci-fi/fantasy first person shooters with massive rosters of quirky character capable of filling many hours of your life with joy. But do you have time and money for both right now? I’m guessing maybe not, because I don’t. But whichever game you choose you’re likely to pick a winner.

I’m not exactly the first (or fifteenth) person online to make an article comparing the two highly similar games, but given that the other lists of this nature I’ve read contained such obvious information that I’d assume that they just read the Wikipedia entries, I felt like I should make sure there is at least one from an actual gamer based on actual experiences with the games in question.

In spite of the fact that this is an Overwatch-centric list, I’m going to point out right now that I’m team Battleborn (on consoles, at least), largely because Gearbox Software’s game has a single player/co-op campaign to help justify its AAA price tag whereas Blizzard’s is multiplayer only and twenty dollars more expensive on consoles than on PC for some reason. I also prefer Battleborn’s MOBA-based multiplayer to Overwatch’s more traditional FPS objectives as well as its sense of humor.

That said, Overwatch is still a hell of a game and depending on what you’re looking for (PvP), it may well be your game of choice. I wouldn’t trust any of the Metacritic user reviews on Battleborn that rate that game a 0 while sounding suspiciously like an advertisement for Overwatch if I were you, but if you missed the beta due to some horrible twist of fate, I’ve got you covered. These are four features where Blizzard’s upcoming multiplayer shooter really shines in comparison to its already available competitor.

Visualsoverwatch characters

I’ll go with the most obvious advantage first: Overwatch has got the look of a winner. Not that I don’t love me some cel shading, but it’s not a visual style that appeals to everyone. But if you hear any complaints about the graphics of Overwatch, you are listening to a liar.

The animations are full of vibrancy to really bring each character to life and the overall look is full of charm and details that make the experience feel more visceral and cool. In addition to a massive and visually distinct cast, the maps represent a diverse array of settings that are instantly recognizable. You’ll be murking fools everywhere from Japan in full cherry blossom season to an Egyptian temple, historic Route 66, and even B-movie sets in Hollywood.

There’s just something about the style here that screams “love me”, so hats off to Blizzard for that. It’s not often we see a game with a distinct look that is so instantly and universally engaging, but this is definitely one of those games.

overwatch loot crateLoot

It’s kind of funny that Gearbox Software seems to have botched the loot system with Battleborn when it’s such an integral part of its predecessor series, Borderlands. Battleborn throws a ton of loot at the player, but almost none of it is worth keeping around. And on top of that, you have to individually activate each piece of gear in your loadout of choice during gameplay by spending crystals you collect in each round/level that may be better spent elsewhere. If you’re super lucky you may get a taunt or new colour palette for a random character that you could have unlocked by leveling them up anyway.

Overwatch ditches anything that could give players any advantage, no matter how small, and instead focuses entirely on what Battleborn should have focused on: swag. Each character has a huge number of unlockables ranging from new skins (not necessarily just colour palettes) to victory poses, emote animations, intros for your Play of the Game videos (more on that later), player icons, and even new lines of dialogue they can say at will. And you have to work to earn them, either by gaining currency and purchasing them or luck of the draw.

In addition to these slices of awesome, there’s something else that is really small but I kind of love that Battleborn has no answer for. You have the ability to tag your environment, and these tags make up a large amount of the loot you receive. You get to choose which character-specific tag you want to use for each and can then go about putting your stamp on the scenery. During the beta it was becoming a bit of a tradition for teammates awaiting release in the spawn room at the beginning of the match to tag up the door. It’s a small thing, but I feel like the focus on expressing yourself through unlockables adds a lot of fun to the culture of the Overwatch.

Peer Approval

overwatch mvp vote

I’m not sure if this is the first game ever to do this (probably not, but I don’t recall ever seeing it before), but there is a vote at the end of each match to determine who kicked the most ass for their team. A post-match popularity contest may seem like a bad idea and it definitely needs some tweaks (you shouldn’t be able to vote for yourself, for example), but there’s no feeling I’ve experienced in gaming quite like getting an “epic” vote (over 40% of players) in Overwatch.

I’m normally of the DGAF school of what other players think of me, but I have to admit the first time I scored five votes and was declared “epic”, my immediate reaction was clutching my controller to my chest and declaring “You like me! You really like me!” It’s like being voted homecoming queen of gaming for a match, but instead of being pretty and sociable, you were awesome at a video game.

By comparison, Battleborn has an objective scoring system, which sounds better but has its own set of problems. Some things that may be less important (player killing) are scored way higher than other things (minion destruction) in objective-based gameplay, and sometimes you can get the biggest numbers for almost everything and somehow not get the highest score. No idea how that works.

There are aspects of team-based gameplay that can’t be quantified -such as effectively shielding other players from damage- that the game may not add as a factor, but other players really appreciate. This empowers gamers to use the support classes, even if they don’t get to shred enemy players’ faces as much. In the beta you didn’t get a reward for votes, but Blizzard has hinted that this may change and I think some in-game currency and/or XP would be in order to further push gamers towards helping their teammates with support classes or playing the objective rather than just focusing on killing.

overwatch d va play of gameHighlights

This one is pure vanity, but we humans are vain creatures. Prior to the MVP vote, Overwatch shows you the “Play of the Game”, which is really damn cool. Usually it’s a triple or quadruple kill (although I’ve seen timely feats of multiple player resurrection make the grade), and the game doesn’t really have the ability to take style into account when choosing who gets the nod but it’s really nice to both admire somebody else’s well-executed kill streak or Ultimate attack and have other players see yours as well. Every game is so frenetic that it’s good to take a moment at the end of a match to see a particularly impressive slice of that action.

But wait, there’s more! You don’t have to rush to mash your share button and comb over your recent gameplay to make videos of your greatest hits. The game does it for you. Your last several impressive plays are saved complete with your intro of choice, so after a night or two of gaming you can relive your finest moments and save/share your earth-shattering badassery without all of the searching and editing hassle. Observe:

Ah, the old “throw up an ice wall, toss a cryo drone around the side, and then murder them all with icicles while they’re helplessly frozen” play.  

In spite of the lack of single player/co-op, Blizzard seems to be pushing online gaming in the right direction with Overwatch. Giving players lots of choices and unlockables to express themselves with and dozens of diverse playable characters with distinct roles to fill and not overloading them with useless loot or rewarding more experienced players with even more advantages and instead just focusing on style while offering a well-balanced multiplayer experience is something to be applauded. I may not be buying it on release day since I’m loathe to pay full price for a MP-only title, but Overwatch and I will meet again someday, and I’m betting it will have even more to recommend it by then. Looking forward to it.

 

Five Must-Play Characters for Battleborn Beginners

battleborncharacters

The launch of Battleborn is upon us and I can’t kick the feeling that some poor souls missed out on the open beta last month are going to buy it and be tossed into the fray with pros who have already spent dozens of hours learning the ins and outs of the game’s twenty-five strong army of insanely diverse playable characters. Worry not, forlorn gamers! I’ve got you covered.

The early game of Battleborn is all about acquainting yourself with the various characters, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they are best utilized in any situation en route to finding one or two special characters that suit your own personal gaming style and taste. Preferably one that lets you utterly dominate your fellow players.

I picked the following five characters based on a combination of their strength in story missions and multiplayer battles, novelty and personality, and general fun factor. And although they are among the best characters in the game when used properly, they are among the easiest Battleborn to unlock (although the methods vary so make sure you check the in-game codex), so you don’t have to wait very long before you get to play as them. These are the early game characters beyond the starting seven (who are also fantastic in their own way) you’re going to want to latch onto early to simultaneously maximize both your score and your online success.

battleborn galilea

“Only pain and death for you here.”

Galilea

This dark knight strikes fear into any online player who sees her coming. In the beta, she utterly dominated PvP exchanges and almost invariably carried the high score for any match where somebody chose her. And somebody always chose her. She’ll likely be nerfed to some extent prior to release, but her capabilities are delightfully stackable, so if you level her up right and play smart she’s going to be a threat no matter what.

Galilea’s main weapons are a sword and shield. Her melee capabilities are only rivaled by Rath, but in addition to swinging a nasty broadsword, she can use her shield like Captain America to block almost all incoming damage and throw it to damage and stun opponents. One of her upgrades allows the shield to return to her hand if she hits the target, which is awesome because you won’t have to wait for cooldown to get your defense back. But what really makes Galilea a killer is her demonic powers, which allow her to get stronger as she fights, amplifies damage done to enemies in her vicinity while healing her, and even lets her transform into a pool of pure dark energy to devastate multiple enemies at once.

The Battleborn’s backstories are filled in with unlockable lore earned by in-game achievements. Galilea’s past includes ill-advised covert operations that have led to a catty rivalry/frenemyship with Ambra and to her present terrifying abilities. Neither lady is big on personality, but if you like no-nonsense characters with a serious darkside and nigh-unlimited power or have been quietly nursing fantasies of a playing as a medieval/sci-fi sword-swinging female demonic Captain America, then your time has finally come.  

battleborn toby

“Apologies in advance for your grieving widow! I’ll send flowers!”

Toby

Out of the whole batch of available lunatics Battleborn gives you to choose from, Toby stands out. Maybe it’s his personality, maybe it’s the fact that he’s a mech pilot/mechanic or the way his helmet doesn’t fit, or maybe it’s the fact that he’s an adorable penguin cut from the Rocket Racoon mold. Maybe it’s all these things, but there’s just something really awesome about this guy.

Toby’s death machine has got some beastly combat capabilities. On top of a chargeable/zoomable railgun built into one arm, a mine-launcher on the other, a massive laser, and thrusters for serious mobility, it can project a stationary shield that blocks incoming fire while allowing for outgoing. In fact, the shield can be modified to enhance your outgoing railgun blasts to increase damage, velocity, and even split each projectile into three for some seriously devastating effects. This makes him an ideal pick for crowd control to deal epic damage to the enemy frontlines, but it also makes Toby a major target in PvP where he’s often at a huge one-on-one disadvantage, especially against melee fighters, so most gamers are going to want to stick to story missions with him unless they’ve got friends with solid teamwork.

Toby’s most endearing quality is probably his dual personality. He’s naturally super adorable, but he doesn’t want to be and is prone to flying into rages when people patronize him or treat him the way he looks and acts. But I mean, come on! The dude climbs out of his mech to fly at the bow when he goes through a man cannon like he’s going to shout “I’m king of the world!” and alternates between apologetic anxiety and cackling psychosis on the battlefield. Who wouldn’t want to cuddle him? Plus, I’m pretty sure he flirts with me during the matchmaking screen. If the game takes off, he may single-handedly launch a furry storm the likes of which we haven’t seen since Friendship is Magic debuted.

battleborn benedict

“I see lots of explosions in your future!”

Benedict

One of the most prominent faces of Battleborn, and for good reason. First, he’s a hawkman, man. Second, he’s got a bigass rocket launcher. Third, dude is crazy. And lastly, he’s a ball to play as. One of the great things about this game is the breadth of gameplay styles presented by the characters. Some characters are great at mobile hit-and-run harassment, objective completion, and resource gathering (Thorn), some are great at buffing and healing teammates (Miko), some are absolute player killers (Ghalt), and some are just really cool. Benedict is one of those.

Obviously, sporting a rocket launcher has its advantages; explodey area of effect damage and all that. But in addition, he has a special projectile that tags a target when it hits and allows subsequent rockets to home in, making them much harder to dodge, and an ultimate attack that allows players to manually guide the missile in first person and detonate it manually. But the big advantage to playing this character is exactly what it looks like: he can fly. Or at least glide. One of his skills launches Benedict skyward and by holding the secondary attack button he can remain there for quite a while either slowly floating down while raining death or actively pursuing and dive-bombing the enemy. Being the only character really capable of this give him a huge advantage in evasion and surprise attack capabilities. And, as stated previously, it’s also really fun.

Benedict’s personality is….interesting. His initial taunt is hopping from leg to leg with his hands up next to his head in a “nah nah nah-nah nah” manner, but he can also cough up the occasional spare rocket, owl pellet style. His bio claims he loves three things: himself, rockets, and himself. Personally, I’d add a fourth: more rockets. His trash talk is routinely rocket-centric and besides, who doesn’t love a good explosion?

battleborn shayne aurox

“Shayne and Aurox: Teen Detectives. Tell your friends”

Shayne and Aurox

Definitely a personal favorite of mine due to both cool factor and gameplay. Shayne is a punk kid with a talent for boomerang-slinging, and Aurox is an interdimensional demon-djinn-symbiote thing. Together they are trouble. One of the best attackers from any distance, these two have a combination of skills that make them extremely adaptable and dangerous.

As a general rule, Aurox is a melee attacker, but with Shayne’s rapid fire boomerangs as a secondary attack capable of ricocheting to hit multiple enemies, they’ve got major offensive flexibility. Plus you can send Aurox flying to physically grab a distant enemy and bring them back to your position, which is great for opponents in groups or entrenched positions trying to snipe you and it can be upgraded to steal their shield to boot. In a pinch, you can activate stealth mode, which renders you invisible either for escape or advance and deals explosive area-of-effect damage when it expires. Their Tag Team technique sends Aurox to an area of your choice to unleash hellfire while the player controls Shayne to inflict even more damage with boomerang attacks.

These two make a hell of a duo, but there’s trouble in infernal paradise that goes beyond Aurox’s indignation at being called a teen detective if you dig into the lore. It’s some dark stuff, and all the more reason to love these two. The moment I knew I was really going to love this game was the first time I taunted and Shayne and Aurox both put out their arms, shook their fingers, and shouted “JAZZ HAAAANDS!” in their young girl and monster voices together. Shayne in general is a serious trash talker and like a lot of the Battleborn, her ongoing dialogue is part of what makes the game so fun.

battleborn ambra

“Please stare directly into the flaming orb of death.”

Ambra

The character that proved the best fit for me in PvP and along with Galilea, probably the most essential character to boost your score, gain experience to unlock more Battleborn in multiplayer matches early on, and generally kick ass. Ambra is crazy powerful, easy to use, and possesses healing capabilities, so consider her a must. Praise the sun.  

Ambra’s stackable skills make her almost unbeatable in a pitched match. First off, her staff auto-targets and drains the life out of any target within range, healing her at the same time. She can also create multiple solar balls that simultaneously heal allies (and herself) and drain enemies and can also explode like mines. Now picture fighting an enemy whose attacks heal her while they damage you with no need for aiming and has multiple balls of fire doing the same. You do not want to engage this character on her own terms. Ever. Throw in her insanely powerful solar wind area of effect attack and the ability to make a goddamn meteor fall from the sky on you and you can see why she’s going to need a nerf.

Immortal, all-powerful priestess of the sun or not, Ambra has a bit of an attitude. Then again, I’d say she earned it. The woman just dominates the battlefield. I’m not crazy about her initial “Walk Like an Egyptian” taunt (kind of out of character), but I definitely loved having her make a throat-slitting motion after taking down another player knowing that the camera zooms in on it and forces the defeated to watch. Her powers may harness the heat of the sun, but she’s got ice cold killer’s blood in her veins.  

I know what you’re thinking, fellow beta testers: “where’s [insert favorite Battleborn here]?” And who am I to minimize the elegant-but-deadly charms of Phoebe, the generic space marine appeal of Oscar Mike, the lithe elvish mobility of Thorn, the C3PO-inspired snipery of Marquis and his army of mechanized attack owls, or any of the others? Well, it’s a testament to how great Battleborn is that even if I did a list of my top twenty characters, the five that I left out would probably have an army of advocates demanding to know why they weren’t included. The cast is that good, and that’s the best reason to pick this game up. See you online!

Can the Battleborn Open Beta be Called a Success?

Battleborn Open Beta_20160415120306

After ten days of intensive multiplayer madness, the Battleborn Open Beta rode off into the sunset last week, leaving a feeling of wistfulness behind for the gamers who poured hours into unlocking all twenty-five badasses and tempering them in the fires of bombastic combat. In terms of giving gamers something truly awesome at no cost whatsoever, Gearbox Software has does something really exceptional. But I wonder if this beta was maybe too good for its own good.     

Battleborn launches on May 4th, and to be fair I wasn’t even looking at it as a potential buy before the beta showed me the error of my ways. So if nothing else, the beta put a game back on my radar that I had been inexplicably overlooking despite my adoration of Gearbox’s previous series, Borderlands. That’s got be a win, yeah?

battleborn actionMaybe, but here’s the thing: I played this game for ten days straight, unlocked all twenty five characters, tried them all out in story missions and multiplayer, and generally logged in more time with Battleborn than I do with a lot of games that I actually pay for. Now release date is coming and….well…I’m kind of tired of it.

Tired of a game before it’s even released. That is a new sensation for me. Gearbox put forth such an amazing and complete beta experience that I literally burned myself out playing it. I feel a bit bad about that, like I’ve robbed them or something. Sure there are many more story missions and multiplayer modes in the finished product, but Battleborn strikes me as a Destiny-esque experience where it’s less about the actual story or level design and more about grinding to unlock and upgrade your chosen heroes. And I’ve already done that. A lot. I’m not really up for doing it all over again just yet.

Don’t get me wrong, Battleborn is a fantastic game and if you missed the beta or only dabbled in it there is a lot to recommend it, particularly if you’re a fan of Borderlands. I love that you can play the same missions and hear different dialogue almost every time, I adore the massive amount of personality each character has, and the sheer diversity of the cast is something that should be celebrated in addition to the gameplay just being really fun.

Everything from generic space marine (for the less imaginative among battleborn character selectus) to flirty penguin mech-pilot to hillbilly hawkman with a rocket launcher to senior citizen in the galaxy’s most advanced (and deadly) wheelchair is present and accounted for. Archetypes you needed in your life but never existed until now. This massive of a cast inevitably leads to balancing problems in PvP (Galilea and Ambra, I’m looking at you), but gauging issues like that before release is what the beta is for.

Any way you look at it, the game is a blast. And yet, having been given such a massive chunk of game to play for a week and a half I can’t bring myself to pre-order. At some point in time, this game and I are going to meet again without a doubt, but it’s probably going to be down the line and at a lower price point. I have very positive feelings about Battleborn thanks to the beta, but I don’t feel like buying it right away. Does that count as a success?

battleborn beta results score

I seriously wonder how this scoring system works.

On one hand, at some point I’m definitely going to be getting a game I wasn’t paying much attention to beforehand. But then again, the beta had so much content and went on for so long that I’m already burnt out on it prior to release day and I just don’t feel like re-unlocking all of my characters, skins, taunts, etc. again. I’m not sure what to call that, but I do know that I’ll have fond memories of this beta for years to come in spite of the fact that a single griefer/AFKer can stop you from advancing in story missions (seriously, Gearbox, a player booting system should be first on the agenda) and the scoring system is inscrutable at times.
As it was, it was a free preview of an awesome game that functioned like a springtime Christmas gift to gamers everywhere, possibly at its own expense. There are several things Gearbox could have done differently to make their open beta a bigger success for themselves. I feel like if they had limited the beta to five days and/or greatly diminished the available characters, or at least let your beta progress carry over into the main game I’d be foaming at the mouth to play the retail release. That or the beta should have been a few months prior to release instead of a few weeks to give us time to miss the world of
 Battleborn.

As it is, it puts some of us in a weird place where we’re asked to shell out sixty bucks for a game we just played tirelessly for free for the better part of two weeks. With the rapid-fire release schedules of modern gaming, I find it really hard to play any one game for an extended period of time because every week brings new indie titles to check out, each month brings free PS+/XBL Gold games, there’s always another AAA title around the corner, and always another sale on Steam, XBL, and PSN to catch up on games we missed out on but still want to play. We’re overstuffed.

The beta definitely made me love the game, which is kind of the whole point (along with testing the multiplayer servers and the like), but it also made me feel like I’m being asked to go buy a game I’ve already played the hell out of. Previous betas for franchises like Halo, Gears of War, and Destiny gave me just a taste of the game to whet my appetite and I couldn’t wait for the full release. The Battleborn Open Beta felt more like a mythic Roman feast and now I need to use the vomitorium.

All I can say is that if you love you some Borderlands and ever thought about what it would be like if you didn’t spend half of your time trying to decide which guns to sell, which to discard, and which to shoot stuff with or wanted to spend more time destroying other players with a trash-talking playable cast of dozens at your fingertips then this here is a game for you. If you missed out on the beta, there’s no reason at all not to snap this up, but as for me, I can’t get the call of Dark Souls out of my head right now. Thanks for the good times and an awesome beta, Battleborn. I will be seeing you around.

    

How Destiny Keeps Me Hanging On

destinyhang

There’s been a crap-ton of press and online opinions published about Bungie’s highly-anticipated MMO/RPG/FPS mash-up in the month since it’s been released and almost all of it has been negative. Yet it’s a month later and a ton of gamers still appear to be thoroughly wrapped up in it in spite of the complaints about lack of content, a weak story, recurring server problems kicking players (fuck this one in particular), resemblances to their previous franchise Halo, and a seemingly poorly-thought-out loot system at the core of the gameplay.

Usually, when a big game launches and everybody hates it, it quickly fades into the oblivion of bad memory and cautionary tale while we move on to bigger and better things. But with Destiny we’re still playing and still bitching. Why? Why are we playing a game that’s supposedly nothing but a disappointing cluster of unwarranted hype and fatal flaws? Because as much as some of us hate to admit it and contrary to all of our online training about what supposedly makes a game good or bad, we are having a really good time and a lot of the main complaints translate to “we want more”.destiny stats

In spite of some of Bungie’s rookie MMO mistakes, Destiny is a brilliantly put together game that may very well represent a new standard in the way shooters integrate multiplayer into their gameplay the way Halo redefined the basic mechanics of the FPS back in the day. And contrary to a lot of players’ perception, there is a ton of ground to cover in-game and plenty to do, provided you are not the kind of gamer who rushes through the story and then moves on or is content to sit in one spot for hours on end farming just to raise meaningless numbers rather than really experience the game. You get out of Destiny what you put in. And I’ve put a lot in.

Going in, my plan was this: I was going to recreate my female Awoken Warlock from the beta because she was cooler than my first character, a male Exo Hunter (who was still pretty cool). I was going to play through every story mission and Strike en route to the level 20 cap, kick some ass in the Crucible, and then create a new character, repeat, and move on to something else; that copy of Uncharted 3 sitting right next to my PS3 that’s been staring me in the face every day for months, perhaps. Level 20 comes up on you real quick, but it turned out that that was only the beginning of Destiny’s scheme. It’s been over a month and I’m still building my first character.

Why? All I’m doing is the same missions, the same matches, the same strikes, and the occasional patrol to farm materials and kills. Am I such a zombie to be satisfied doing the same crap over and over again? What’s the point, man? The point is that I’m getting constant rewards for my efforts, which lead ever upwards and into more rewards. The questionable logic of level 2 enemies dropping loot as good as the big bosses aside, Destiny’s exchange and upgrade system is so layered and brilliant in some ways it’s almost impossible not to admire once you comprehend it.

A lot of players whine (or is it whinge now? People type “whinge” a lot online but I’ve never actually heard that word come out of a human mouth) about all of the useless drops and the rarity of actual quality items. But the useless drops can be broken down into components that are used to upgrade your favorite stuff. And your favorite stuff doesn’t necessarily have to be the result of some random drop. There are a ton of factions offering up a variety of handsome legendary gear to suit both your playing style and your style style. Why marry yourself to a powerful shotgun that was assigned to you by chance when you’d rather be sniping? Sign up with a faction after you reach level 20, or stick with your default friends in the Vanguard and Crucible, rock their bounties, and earn those Marks and reputation to buy the loadout of your dreams.

destiny armourAnd when you get bored of mere legendary gear, keep an eye out for exotic weapon bounties (be prepared to work once you get them, though) and the black market weekend warrior, Xur, who offers weekly bargains on some of the coolest gear if you can find him on the Tower. Save up them Strange Coins and keep in mind you can only equip one exotic weapon and one exotic piece of armor. Choose wisely before purchasing.

By the time I got to this point, I was level 27 and had been playing daily for weeks. Now it’s really time to grind. Legendary and exotic gear offer some seriously tasty buffs; the kind you really want in the Crucible. But to get them, you need to level up and upgrade them. This takes materials, some of which are extremely hard to come by.

Ascendant materials are what’s going to hold you back, as the best gear needs a lot of them to max out, but by killing it in the Crucible and hitting the Strike playlist good and hard you earn more Marks. Marks you can use to buy more legendary gear, which you can break down into ascendant materials to upgrade your stuff. Participating in Public Events while out patrolling for bounties, chests, and materials can also pay dividends.Destiny Screenshot

Basically, what I’m spelling out is that while putting in over 80 hours and 17,000 kills over the course of hundreds of games in the past month I have not for a minute felt like I was mindlessly playing just to play. I was always working towards specific goals and there’s always been something demanding my immediate attention. Having maxed out my original Voidwalker subclass, I was leveling up my Sunsinger tree to get sticky grenades, then to gain the ability to resurrect myself for undead retribution on my killers (and an extra life edge when soloing hard missions), then to gain a second grenade, then to upgrade my carefully chosen gear to minimize cooldown and make me a beast.

The result: a freakin’ nightmare for high-level enemies and PvP opponents capable of sentencing most anything to death on a whim with a single well-aimed toss. And if you strike me with a full super meter, I shall become more powerful then you can possibly imagine; by which I mean I’ll wait for you to turn your back and then rise up, wreathed in flames like a phoenix with instant cooldown capabilities, and rain incendiary death from above on you and anyone else who incurs my wrath. Feels good, man.

Then there are the special events, in which you have a couple weeks to nab extra snazzy-looking gear by gaining favor with special factions. This really ups the urgency as you rush to complete as many bounties as you can to up your reputation and get that wicked armor shader or shiny accessory to proclaim your accomplishment to all who look upon you going forward. I gotta tell you, after cleaning up in the Queen’s Wrath event (although a tag-team of Lizard Squad and shitty U-verse service held me back from achieving the max level), I was royally purple and golded up with a matching auto rifle and burning sun gauntlets I got from Xur. My Warlock looks fabulous.

destiny dance gif

And ready to serve any fools at the local corpse-dancing rave.

Compulsory repetition notwithstanding, Bungie has done a great job of making the player want to keep striving for more in the game. This isn’t some Grand Theft Auto nonsense where they expect you to spend twenty hours after the story searching for some hidden collectibles to get a useless achievement (if that). Every activity in Destiny serves a purpose to advance your character and the game is designed to reward flexible gamers by encouraging them to fully explore its features.

You may be a lone wolf who resents other players taking your kills while you endlessly patrol and explore, the social type who feels lonesome without co-op partners, a compulsive achiever only interested in obtaining the highest possible numbers for your avatar, or perhaps you may just want to kill your fellow gamers in the Crucible. But to make the most of Destiny, you are going to have to step outside of that comfort zone. To maximize your rewards you need to put on different hats. For some gamers, this may be a problem, but for someone like me who wants to get the most out of each and every game he plays, it’s a great design. Yet the haters must hate.

Destiny Loot Cave

Pictured: a cheaper alternative.

Now, I’m not telling anyone how to play or what to like, but I would suggest that if you buy an online-only video game designed around a unique fully-integrated multiplayer interface with a massive world to explore and are content to spend most of your time shooting low-level enemies in a cave on the very first level, I’m not sure the game is the problem so much as the way you are approaching it.

Bungie’s latest has some very real issues -some of which have been pretty promptly patched- but it still represents an exciting new phase in console gaming; one where a shooter isn’t just a game where you rush through a campaign by yourself or with some friends in a few hours and then kill other gamers for a few weeks before getting bored and moving on.

Destiny is something that persistently gives you something cool to work towards and a variety of ways to achieve it and it’s still a work in progress. Will I be getting the DLC expansions? Probably not right away; I think that at about 100 hours I’m going to need a break. Nathan Drake is still waiting on me, after all. But that empty Warlock subclass slot is eating away at me and I have a feeling that at some point in the future I will be back to take in the rest of Bungie’s vision, and by then it will likely be a better and more complete game than it is now. And pointless story/dodgy loot system aside, that’s kind of a scary thought.