Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lilith Character Builds

Welcome to the second installment of Borderlands Character builds. This week's guide will focus on the Siren, Lilith.

In terms of sheer sex appeal, Lilith blows all other video game vixens out of the water, but that is not what makes her bad-ass. Lilith has the ability to Phasewalk. This does two things. First it allows her to move much more quickly allowing her to move to within striking range of an enemy fast. Second, and arguably, most importantly, it turns her invisible. So that enemy that she just ran up to no longer sees her. This ability allows Lilith to be a deadly melee assassin if that's your style. In fact, Assassin is one of her skill tress, as is, Controller and Elemental (thanks again to Gearbox for making a skill tree available online at http://bit.ly/RoUSiF so I didn't have to create one myself).

Like all of the character classes in Borderlands, you can tailor Lilith's skills to suit your play style; sniper, melee fighter, gun-toting bad-ass mama, whatever. However, also like the rest of the classes, the designers built the skill tree so that you can maximize her inherent power, Phasewalk. In my opinion, tailoring your build to complement the inherent power is the most effective no matter what character class you choose.

Upon selecting Lilith, I immediately saw the potential to create a killer ninja-like character, so that is what I went with on my initial playthrough. Her Assassin skill tree offers the best skills to both complement her Phasewalk ability and to buff her melee attacks. The main skill you want to acquire from the Assassin group is the tier 4 Phase Strike ability. You should be able to acquire this skill by level 25. This skill increases Lilith's melee damage up to a massive 800% when you attack from Phasewalk. Couple this with a bladed revolver that adds up to 200% melee damage and you have a character that can easily kill or significantly weaken a foe with one hit and without firing a weapon.

Again, I believe it is best to get to your chosen tier 4 power as fast as possible. Therefore, my progression through the Assassin skill tree went something like this:
  1. Slayer to level 5 (character levels 6-10) - Slayer increases critical hit damage up to 25% regardless of whether or not Lilith is in Phasewalk mode or not. While critical hits are a piece of cake with a sniper rifle, they can be tricky with melee attacks. However, since Phasewalk turns you invisible, you can take a little more time to aim your melee attack at the head when you sneak up on an enemy.
  2. Hit & Run to level 5 (character levels 11-15) - This skill gives your over all melee damage a 35% increase AND increases the duration of Phasewalk by 4 seconds when fully leveled up. The extra time comes in handy for lining up those critical melee hits and the damage boost doesn't hurt either.
  3. Blackout to level 5 (character levels 16-20) - By level 5, the Blackout skill reduces your Phasewalk cooldown by 6 seconds per kill, allowing you to enter Phasewalk more frequently. This becomes extremely important when faced with multiple enemies. Early on you will still have to take cover after exiting Phasewalk, but it is possible with the right combination of skills to immediately re-enter Phasewalk (don't worry, I'll show you how this is done).
  4. Phase Strike to level 5 (character levels 21-25) - As mentioned before, Phase Strike increases your melee damage up to 800% (in 160% per level increments). For foes of the same level or lower, this amount of damage is crippling if not lethal.
Now, with Phase Strike fully leveled up, you might consider working on Silent Resolve, which increases your damage resistance for a few seconds after Phasewalk. This is tempting considering that if you are using your melee attacks, you become very vulnerable after attacking from Phasewalk when faced with multiple enemies. However, I would prefer to have the ability to re-enter Phasewalk more quickly, so I saved those five points and invested them elsewhere.

So after acquiring level 5 Phase Strike, my skill progression went like this:
  1. Spend 5 skill points on either tier 1 skill from the Elemental group or split the five points between them if you wish. It really does not matter because they both are only effective when using weapons. Since we are focusing on a melee fighter, these five points are essentially being sacrificed so that we can acquire:
  2. Radiance up to level 5 - This skill is important to have if you want to re-enter Phasewalk immediately, here's why. Remember the tier 3 Assassin skill Blackout I had you power up? The thing with that skill is that it reduces the cooldown rate by 6 seconds regardless of whether you are in Phasewalk or not. You just have not noticed this because up to this point you have only been able to make a kill by attacking thus terminating Phasewalk. What Radiance does is continually cause electrical damage to nearby enemies while you are Phasewalking. Even though enemies are taking damage, they are still unaware of your presence while you maintain Phasewalk. So the strategy here is to remain Phased as long as possible and if there is anyone alive when you are almost out of time, hit them with a melee (preferably critical) before Phasewalk ends. Shock damage from radiance only has a base of 1 hitpoint per second per skill level (i.e. Radiance fully leveled up causes 5 hp per second of damage). However, that is just a base and the actual damage increases as your character levels up. Damage per second can increase as high as 17 hp/sec. It is also important to note that this electrical damage can continue for a very long time even after exiting Phasewalk. Not only that, it spreads easily to other enemies who get too close to one of their buddies who is under this effect. With lower level foes, your Phasewalk will have been reset by the time you exit allowing you to immediately re-enter because the shock damage killed enough to reduce it enough. Since at this point the cooldown for Phasewalk is 36 seconds, it only takes 6 deaths to completely reset it. This is doable in many scenarios. Now, from here you can go one of two ways. Initially, I stayed in the Elemental tree and buffed up my damage potential by investing in:
  3. Venom up to level 5 - Venom adds up to 25% damage plus a chance to corrode an enemy (continual acid damage over time).
  4. Phoenix up to level 5 - Upon killing a foe, this skill deals fire damage to all those around you. This fire damage, like shock and corrode, can cause damage over time and is based on the character level (same base and damage structure as Radiance and can spread from enemy to enemy). It also adds up to a 25% chance to have shot's fired not cost ammo for a few seconds. With Phoenix coupled with Radiance coupled with Blackout, it is highly likely to be able to continually re-enter Phasewalk as long as there are enough enemies around.
Now there were a couple of disadvantages to this build that I discovered after a while. First, Radiance and Phoenix will both set off barrels that are nearby thus inflicting damage (sometimes severe) on yourself. This is especially troublesome when you get in a tight situation with little health and are trying to run for cover only to find that the nearest cover has two explosive barrels right next to it. In addition, all elemental enemies are resistant to elemental damage of the same type. When I intially leveled up radiance, I found that completing missions in The Secret Armory of General Knoxx was very difficult if there were Shock Troopers in an area and in the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, entering Phasewalk while battling Tankensteins does nothing but heal them. Those suckers are hard enough to beat without you helping them out. In fact, most of the mission in the Knoxx story arc involve fighting Shock, Chemical, and Pyro Troopers, often intermingled, making those missions very difficult for the Elemental Siren. With Phasewalk out of the question in many situations, you are effectively crippled because the Phasewalk is where most of your damage power comes from.

There are ways to overcome the difficulties presented by the Elemental Siren, but those lie beyond the scope of this article. Perhaps another time or maybe we can discuss it in the comments section. And as always, respecs are relatively cheap, so just respec if you plan to go up against the Lance (or Tankensteins). I bought a respec and went with the Controller tree to augment my Assassin skills.
  1. In tier 1 of the Controller set you could go with either skill (Diva or Striking). Striking gives you a chance to Daze enemies, which slows and decreases their accuracy, but Diva gives you higher shield capacity. Both are good powers and are fairly equal in the advantage they provide, it's just that Striking is offensive and Diva is defensive. So pick the one that suits your natural play-style the best. I played with both, but tend to favor Striking.
  2. Same thing goes with tier 2 skills. Dramatic Entrance gives you the chance to Daze multiple enemies upon entering Phasewalk, but Inner Glow restores your health while Phasewalking. In my experience, I found Inner Glow to be more useful (and yes I did try them both out).
  3. Hard to Get up to level 5 - Hard to Get reduces your Phasewalk cooldown by up to 16 seconds. This means that at level 5 your cooldown is only 20 seconds. This almost (but not quite) offsets the advantages that Radiance and Phoenix give you against SOME enemies, the advantage being that the benefit works regardless of what type of enemy you are fighting.
The tier 4 Controller skill adds an advantage to using a gun and does not really complement Phasewalk or melee damage, so if you are working on a melee character invest future points into other skills that you find useful.

Excluding battles involving elemental enemies, the Elemental/Assassin build offers great advantages even at lower levels. One common scenario is against normal bandits. Imagine as you Phasewalk up to an enemy, the shock damage will take down their shield (if they have any) and deal Shock damage. As you attack out of Phasewalk you get additional damage from Slayer (if it's a critical hit) and Phase Strike, and at the same time, Venom has the chance to add continuous corrosive damage, which a) continues to damage the enemy over time and b) adds bonus damage to subsequent attacks. This combo is almost always an instant kill for enemies of the same level and even for enemies a few levels higher than you, you can usually finish them off with a few more attacks. Meanwhile, Blackout is diminishing your cooldown with every kill. Rinse. Repeat.

Aside from the obvious drawbacks versus elemental enemies this build has a couple other drawbacks. Since you will be dealing your primary damage through melee attacks, you are most definitely going to take damage in a lot of scenarios since there is rarely a way to take cover immediately while your Phasewalk cools down. Shields with quick healing properties are preferable. While you can get by with a stronger shield that heals slowly, your best bet for this build is to find a quicker healing shield even at the sacrifice of less protection. In addition, you must be very aware of your surroundings, especially in regard to damaging barrels. Maximizing your Phasewalk duration and reducing its cooldown is vital and having a healing skill like Inner Glow is highly beneficial.

The Controller/Assassin build holds less disadvantages, but the damage potential and the possibilities of immediate Phasewalk re-entry diminish greatly. Using respecs before key battles can be used to efficiently correct character deficiencies giving you the best possible chances for a favorable outcome.

As always I welcome your comments and ideas. I would love to hear (and try) any killer Lilith builds that you may have come up with. This is what makes Borderlands such a great game. The combinations of powers and creative ways to use them is almost endless.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mordecai Character Builds


Last week I did a review on the game Borderlands. As I was writing it, several times I found myself wanting to share my techniques for playing the game. I would by no means call myself an expert at the game, but I have played it several times including on Playthrough 2, so I have built up the characters of each class so that they can successfully complete the challenges that the game throws at them. It was with this in mind that I decided to share my character building advice with everyone.

Over the next few weeks I will be posting suggestions on building killing machines for each of the character classes in Borderlands. This is not going to be a be-all and end-all character building guide. There are many different styles and tactics to use when playing Borderlands and you can build a capable character no mater what your playing style. I'm writing this guide mainly to illustrate the diversity of the character skill system and to share what has worked for me and my style of play.

When it comes to first-person shooters, I try not to put myself in a box. I like to try different things and different ways to approach situations and missions. Obviously with these games, the designers often throw in missions that take specific tactics. While there is some of this in Borderlands, most of the missions are just free-style combat. Therefore, it was nice to have the variety of different skill options available in in Borderlands that I mentioned in the review.

Now even though I do like to try different styles, I do tend to gravitate toward the sniper. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I like to take my time and enjoy the game, or showing that I have the patience to sit with my sights on one spot waiting for that guard to come around the corner for the third time, or maybe it's just because I like to watch, nice and close, while my foes' heads explode (let's just call that last one a nasty little habit I picked up from the GTAIII
code). Whatever the case may be, I like to snipe.


Now, in all fairness, you can build a sniper out of any of the character classes if you choose. The game really is that flexible. HOWEVER, Mordecai the Hunter is intended to be your go-to guy for sniping. That being the case, this first build guide is going to focus on him.

ROGUE

Leaning towards the sniper class as I do, Mordecai struck me as the character I wanted to play right off the bat. He has three skill sets; Sniper, Rogue, and Gunslinger. Each set has seven skills. You can see Mordecai's Skill Tree HERE. If you hover the cursor over the skills you can read about what benefits each one provides (thanks goes out to Gearbox for creating a Flash Skill Tree so I didn't have too). As you can see the sniper set is the first set if looking at it from left to right and I thought that this would be the branch I would focus on. However, Once I got Bloodwing, I liked the dynamic of it and so I focused on the Rogue branch instead. I found it refreshingly unique for a first person shooter.

Now, I have to say that I was only interested in the Bloodwing skills in the Rogue branch, especially the Bird of Prey skill. I could have went either way with my auxiliary skills (Sniper or Gunslinger) But I figured that since I was focusing mostly on Rogue that I'd make my ancillary skills Gunslinger. I figured the bird was going to give me away while sniping anyway Not to mention Bloodwing has a limited range. So my first build went like this (I took the skills in this order as I leveled up):
  1. Swift Strike level 5
  2. Out for Blood level 5
  3. Now tier 3 is open you can either work Aerial Impact to level 5 or go back to tier 1 and work Swipe up to level 5 (on my Mac Hunter I went with Swipe and on PS3 I took Aerial Impact. Swipe provides more and better loot when Bloodwing attacks, but Aerial Impact makes Bloodwing's attacks more powerful. I give AI the edge since there is no shortage of loot in this game, but either way once you have one of them powered up you will open the tier 4 Bird of Prey skill, which is vital if you are focusing on the rogue style.)
  4. Bird of Prey level 5 (note: that I took the shortest route to maxing out Bird of Prey. This should be done regardless of what branch of the skill tree you take. Get to the tier 4 power as fast as possible.)
  5. Now that you have all the important Rogue skills you can grab ancillary skills from the other trees. In my opinion, Gunslinger skills are the way to go since Bloodwing can only attack from mid-range anyway. In addition, of the two Bloodwing skills offered by the other trees, the Gunslinger Predator skill beats out the Sniper's Carrion Call since you do not have to do anything to increase Bloodwing's cooldown. However, Carrion Call does reduce the cool down for every hit with the sniper rifle, so if you can just blast hip shots off quickly you can have Bloodwing ready to go in no time. For me though, I went with Predator. I just feel that the closer range skills are more important since Bloodwing cannot attack from sniper rifle range. Therefore, I took this path from here: Deadly level 5 (you could do Gun Crazy, but to me this just rips through ammo too fast.)
  6. Lethal Strike level 5
  7. Predator level 5
At this point you will probably be close to the end of the game. If you have not played any of the DLC you might not even make it to Predator before finishing the game, but That's what is great about Playthrough 2, you can just continue on your chosen path. On playthrough 2, I went for Carrion Call in the Sniper group leveling up Caliber and Killer along the way. After maxing out Carrion Call I went ahead and leveled up Trespass too since it negates enemy armor for any gun and not just sniper rifles.

Also, something I forgot to mention in the Borderlands review is that there is a level cap of 58 meaning that you can accumulate a total of 54 skill points to spend (remember, you don't start collecting skill points until level 5 and then it's 1 point per level). Now, if you purchase and install The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC, it will increase your level cap to 69 giving you 11 more skill points. These additional skill points make it possible to gain all three tier 4 skills, not that I would actually worry about doing that, it just brings that to within reach if you choose to do so. Personally, I'd rather spend the points on other buffs.

Now, something that the game allows that makes it fun to try other styles of play is re-specifying of the character skills. You can do this by going to any New-U Station and buying a respec (Reset Skill Points on the New-U menu). This gives you all of your skill points back so you can reapply them differently. This is actually not that expensive especially if you do it at the beginning of Playthrough 2.

SNIPER

So, let's say I just completed the game using my Rogue build (which I actually just did on the Playstation version last night) and now I want to switch to a Sniper build. Start a new game on Playthrough 2 using the same character. At the very beginning you will remember Claptrap introduces you to the New-U Station. Use this station to respec your character as follows:
  1. Caliber level 5
  2. Killer level 5
  3. Now on tier 3 you could go with either Carrion Call or Loaded depending on how you plan to play. I went with Loaded because a) I had my fill of relying on Bloodwing on my first playthrough and b) because I want to focus on being a true killer sniper.
  4. Trespass level 5. It is worth mentioning that maxing out Trespass makes enemy armor of no consequence since bullets have a 100% chance of penetrating the armor (they also get a 5% damage boost). Having this skill maxed this early in the game is a huge advantage and you will need it with the tougher enemies.
  5. Deadly level 5. As I mentioned before, as a sniper, you are constantly making head shots, which are ALWAYS critical hits. So Deadly is definitely worth the investment of points for a sniper. 
  6. Next apply 5 points to either of the tier 1 Rogue skills (Swipe or Swift Strike or both). It really doesn't matter, all you are trying to do is open up Rogue tier 2 so you can . . .
  7. Max out Fast Hands. Sniper rifles are one of the slower reloading weapons. After maxing it out abandon the rest of the Rogue tree.
  8. From this point invest skill points in the Gunslinger skill tree however you wish until you max out Relentless.
  9. After you have Relentless (if you have not capped out yet), you can spend skill points on whatever you want. It really doesn't matter because you already have all the skills that work toward making a killer sniper.
I have to mention that in my opinion the sniper in this game is better suited for multiplayer play. There is far too much close-quarter combat from the sniper to be truly effective during solo play. that is not to say that you cannot complete the game with the sniper build, but it is much more difficult. Save your sniper for multiplayer sessions as a support character. Let the commandos and berserkers take the enemies head on while you hang back and cap head shots. Also remember that you can respec your character at anytime and that it is not expensive to do so. So if you want to start a multiplayer session with the rogue that you have built up, don't be afraid to respec him to a sniper for the session and then respec him back when you want to go solo again.

I can't stress enough how this guide is merely suggestions for you to think about when planning your Mordecai character. There are so many ways to go about building the "perfect" character that I'm sure other's have their own ideas. In fact, I would love to here those ideas and maybe try them myself. If you have a killer Mordecai character build, share it in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Game Review – Borderlands



Developer: Gearbox Software (Feral Interactive for OS X version)
Engine: Unreal 3
Platforms: OS X, Playstation 3, Windows, and Xbox
Released: 2009 (2010 OS X version)
ERSB rating: M for mature

In honor of the recent release of Borderlands 2, I have decided to write a review of the original Borderlands. Right now some of you are going, "why would you write a review of a 16-bit game that came out in 1989?" No. I'm talking about the REAL original Borderlands that came out in 2009. The "original" 16-bit The Border Lands that supposedly came out in 1989 is a "demake" of Bordelands 2, a marketing gimmick created by Gearbox to promote the release of Borderlands 2. Don't feel bad, they had me fooled too.

So now some are asking, "why do a review of a game that came out in 2009?" Well, because a) I've played through it several times and on multiple platforms and b) I personally know people out there who have not played it yet, but would love it. For those people this review will provide the information they would need to decide if they want to play it or not. For those who have played it, this review might provide some tidbits that you might have missed.

PREMISE

The story of Borderlands revolves around four playable characters searching for a vault of treasure on a planet called Pandora. The characters had grown up hearing stories of this vault and became "Vault Hunters" when they matured. As the player, you can chose one of these four characters to play and are guided through the game by a mysterious woman via some strange psychic/video transmission.

Although the storyline is pretty linear, the four playable characters offer a good variety of gameplay mechanics to fit just about any style of gameplay, from the mystical/magical to the racing in with guns-a-blazin'.
There is Lilith, the Siren, who can Phasewalk (turn invisible); Mordecai, the Hunter, who has a bird that he can send to attack his enemies; Roland, the Soldier, who can place turrets to help him rip his enemies to shreds; and Brick, the Berserker, who can go into a fit of rage killing everything with his bare hands. It's important that this game have this variety otherwise you would have little reason to play the game again once you completed the story.

In addition to the four character classes, each has a skill tree with three specialties. Lilith has Controller, Elemental, and Assassin skills; Mordecai has Sniper, Rogue, and Gunslinger skills; Roland has Infantry, Support, and Medic skills; and Brick has Brawler, Tank, and Blaster skills.
What is nice about the skill tree is that you are not locked into one specific specialty once you choose a skill like so many other games that use this mechanic. Rather you can mix and match skills from different specialties to suit how you would prefer to play. This allows each character to be played in numerous unique ways, rather than just three. Couple that with the fact that once you finish the game you can select Playthrough 2 from the main menu to play the game with your leveled up character and harder enemies and, you have a recipe for a game with absolutely phenomenal replay value. I am currently on my seventh playthrough, but am afraid that I'm starting to get sidetracked by Borderlands 2.

GAMEPLAY

The gameplay consists of missions that you complete for money, equipment, and most importantly experience points. The missions can be a bit repetitive (go there and kill/retrieve/destroy that), but nonetheless are fun. There is no little amount of killing in this game. It's not like Metal Gear Solid, where (if you choose), you can sneak through the entire game without killing a single enemy or like Grand Theft Auto where you can spend hours or days doing things that don't involve killing. Oh no. You will kill in this game . . . A LOT. Even though the game is somewhat open like GTA (you can go where you want and complete the available missions in whatever order you choose), there is not much else to do but kill things and practically all of the missions involve combat. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. While it can seem like it would get repetitive, it is executed (pun intended) nicely and the repetitiveness is tolerable. However, it does keep one tightly tied to the storyline. There's not much chance of getting sidetracked from the main missions in this game. Even if you do the side missions as they come up, you are forced back to the main missions to open up more of them. There's just not much else to do to keep it interesting in this respect, so if you are looking for a GTA clone, look elsewhere.

Battles can get a little boring if you level up too fast, but each mission has a threat level associated with it ranging from Trivial to Impossible based on your character's experience level, so you can easily gauge the difficulty of the mission you are about to attempt. If the difficulty is too high, there are plenty of side missions that you can complete to level up your character to make things a bit easier. However, there are some mission that even though they might be labeled as Trivial, are still quite challenging, especially if the mission involves fighting a boss.

Graphically the game is stunning. Although there is plenty of graphic violence and blood, the game's cell-shaded graphical style makes it all very cartoonish. This is a nice change from the realistic blood and guts that is usually associated with this genre of shooter. The environment and character textures are detailed and really pull you into the game despite it's cartoon-like appearance. Being a first-person shooter, you don't often see your character except for his or her hands and guns. However, the camera angle changes when you get into a vehicle, so you do frequently see your character model and of course you see your character in the status screen menu as well. As such, the design team gave us the ability to customize our characters' outfit color. Not much else changes with the model (i.e. no guns strapped to the back or anything), but it is nice to dress your goon up to suit your mood.

Speaking of vehicles . . . there are two types of vehicles in the game. A buggy that you can access early in the game and a Hummer-like vehicle that you gain access to later. Both vehicles require you to complete some missions before you can use them. In addition each vehicle is equipped with machine guns on the front that shoot straight ahead and a turret that can shoot wherever you point the camera. The turret will be either a heavy machine gun or a rocket launcher depending on what you choose when you spawn the vehicle. Vehicular combat is pretty intuitive and easy to get the hang of. Unlike the vehicles in most other games, you do not actively steer these beasts. Instead they steer to wherever you have the camera pointed. this part takes a little getting used to, but is not too hard and actually makes the battling much easier since you can always keep your eye on the enemy.

There is no shortage of armament in this game. In fact, one of the selling points that Gearbox made when they released the game was that there are over 17,750,000 variations of guns in this game. For an old-school hoarder like me, this was not good news. Many times I was faced with giving up a killer gun for one that was even more killer. The guns are randomly generated from various parts and with various characteristics like damage, accuracy, fire rate, zoom capabilities, elemental effects, and several other factors. They are also level contingent, meaning that occasionally you will find a powerful weapon that you have to wait to use. As you level up, so do the guns you find. Don't even bother trying to be a collector. You will never have enough space to keep even a fraction of the coolest weapons that you find, even if you have the storage chest that you can get if you have the Mad Moxxi's Underdome downloadable content. Just be happy with what you have and know that the next really cool weapon is right around the corner. There are also vending machines which you can use to buy new weapons, ammo, and armor, but I found that most of the time I had something better than what the machine had to offer. That said, it does not hurt to look when you come across a weapon vendor, because I have found a few gems being sold as well. The ammo vendors are nice especially if you find one fairly near or right in your battle ground. Fighting hordes of enemies can expend a lot of ammo, and while many enemies drop ammo, you will often find yourself wanting to top off your supply, especially going into a heavy boss battle. Don't be afraid to spend your dough on ammo . . . EVER. There is plenty of money to be had both by completing missions and by selling excess gear to the vendors.

The time it takes to complete the game can vary depending on how many side missions you do and whether or not you have any of the downloadable content (DLC) available. Doing all the side missions, I completed the main game in roughly 40 hours. The DLC added about another 35-45 hours on top of that. So be prepared to spend some time getting through this game. It will take more than a day in most cases.

Speaking of downloadable content, there are four add-on packs available for Borderlands; The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, and Claptrap's New Robot Revolution. All of these add-ons except for Mad Moxxi, have a new story arc and plenty of missions. In Zombie Island you fight zombies and other diabolical creatures including a wereskag (you'll see) trying to find the reason why everybody on the island has been turning into zombies. In General Knoxx, you fight an army of Crimson Lance soldiers (remember the baddies in Old Haven) to find and loot General Knoxx's armory which contains a boat-load of weapons which you have very little chance of getting all of unless you cheat. In Robot Revolution you will fight a ton of fanatical CL4P-TP (Claptrap) robots and Hyperion soldiers in an attempt to defeat Interplanetary Ninja Assassin, Claptrap and quell his robot rebellion.
We interrupt this review to bring you the following special report: a mini-review of the Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot DLC . . . 
Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot departs from the mission based go-here-do-that routine and offers up arena style battles. In each arena you battle wave after wave of enemies increasing in difficulty with each wave. I swear, some of the levels are simply impossible to get through even with a high level character, but maybe you'll have better luck. The arena style battle is nice once in a while for a change of pace, or to take a break from the regular game, but it does not really offer much to me in the way of fun. However, Mad Moxxi's does offer the Bank of Marcus (or Marcus Bank, something like that). This is a place where you can "store your crap", as the bank menu says. The bank is not unlimited though. At character level 1 you get a level 1 bank account with 12 slots at no cost. At level 3 you get a level 2 bank account with 15 slots, but it costs you around $12,000. This progression of bank levels tops out at level ten, which provides 42 slots and requires the character to be level 48, having completed Playthrough 2, and costs $9,999,143. This is all fine and good, and I was excited about it at first until I realized that by the time you can really store any significant crap, you've already thrown away (read: sold) more than 42 great pieces of equipment. In addition, since the weapon drops level up as you do, why hold on to that old used-to-be-killer-but-now-it's-a-piece-of-crap (literally) level 10 rifle when you are now level 40? If you can get Mad Moxxi's for free go for it, but otherwise spend your money on the other DLC. This ends the mini Mad Moxxi review. Now back to our regularly scheduled review already in progress.
The soundtrack for the most part is typical shoot-'em-up fair. Music is actiony during actiony (I know I made that word up, so shut up) parts, moody while exploring caves, etc. The highlight in the music soundtrack though is Cage the Elephant's Ain't No Rest for the Wicked blaring in the opening sequence. Awesome! The sound effects and voice overs are quality as well. A repeater does not sound like a revolver does not sound like an assault rifle does not sound like a sniper rifle. You can hear the caliber of each gun distinctly with your eyes closed. You can also distinguish when that weapon has additional effects such as acid or flame by the sound it makes. There was a very high-level of detail given to the sound effects.

The dialog and voice acting is also top-notch. The voices fit the characters well and the actors behind those voices do a great job of giving the characters life (Scooter is my favorite character). The dialog that these non-player characters carry out is downright hilarious at times. One of my favorite soundbites is in the mission sequence that unlocks the Catch-a-Ride system and gives you access to the buggy. Scooter says, "Hey, you the one killin' all the crap when people ask? The Catch-a-Ride near Fyrestone is more busted than my momma's girl parts. Really appreciate you takin' a poke at that. The uh, system, not my mom. Hot dog down a Skag den, know what I'm sayin'?" If you don't get the hot dog down a skag den comment, you will after you play.

The only shortfall in the dialog is in regard to the player characters. The canned one-liners of the player characters are a bit lack luster and get repetitive over time. The voices don't quite seem to fit the character you are playing, but this could be in part due to the fact that we really aren't given much background info on each character to imagine how they should talk. That said, this is a very small flaw and does not degrade from the game much.

MULTIPLAYER

Another area where Borderlands shines is multiplayer mode. I don't feel that I can give the multiplayer mode a thorough review since until recently my gaming has been in short burst and I don't think it's polite to jump into a multiplayer game and then say, "See ya guys," in the middle of a battle. However, from the little time I did get to play in multiplayer mode, I loved it.

Multiplayer is co-op primarily. With you and up to four other players running through the story missions. Any combo of characters is allowed, in other words if all four of you want to be the siren, go for it. However, since the enemies are stronger and each character class has strengths and weaknesses, the best way to go about it is to get on or create a diverse team.. Having a couple of brutes that can take the foes head on with a long range sniper and medic for support, makes for a great multiplayer session. Even if you are just pairing up with someone it can be fun as long as your characters are complementary.

Vehicle combat takes on a whole new shine when two or more players get together. One player drives and the other mans the turret. This works surprisingly well. If you ever played the 1980's vector graphics game Tail Gunner, you'll have an idea of what it is like to man the turret while someone else drives.

I'm sorry I cannot say more about the multiplayer mode, like if you can use headsets to communicate (I assume so), or various other questions you might have about it. I just didn't get to play around with it enough. perhaps if I get some more multiplayer time in, I'll revisit this review and update it. Until then, here's my assessment:

SUMMARY

Overall, I think that Borderlands is a great game. It's got a bit of the first-person shooter, and bit of the RPG, and a bit of the vehicular combat genres, which are balanced just right, meaning that there is no one aspect that makes you go, "Wow. There is way too much of that!" All the pieces come together and work like a well oiled machine. It works so well in fact that you don't mind picking it up again and again to see what other directions you can take it. In total game time and replay value, the game is well worth the $39.99 (free for the Playstation 3 if you are a Plus member) you will shell out for the main game. The downloadable content is also worth the price, except for Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot, and adds a significant amount of gameplay to the game.

PROS

Enough variety to suit any preferred style of gameplay.
Beautifully detailed cell-shaded graphics
High attention to detail graphically and acoustically
40+ hours of gameplay
Good voice acting
Good downloadable content to extend gameplay
Millions of guns

CONS

Linear storyline
Repetitive missions
Too easy if leveling up too fast
Not enough inventory slots to store millions of guns

RATING

Graphics        - ★★★★☆
Sound            - ★★★★☆
Gameplay      - ★★★☆☆
Replay Value - ★★★★★

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tech Tip Tuesday - Pushing Media to Your Playstation 3

I have recently purchased another Playstation 3 (PS3). My first one gave up the ghost quite some time ago with the Yellow Light of Death (YLOD). It was one of the first generation PS3's, so it was a bit bulkier, but could play my extensive collection of PS2 games, which was nice. While I do miss that capability, I've decided that it's something I can live without since I do still have a PS2.

In any case, things have changed a lot since then, not just regarding the PS3's firmware, but also in my home. I now own an iMac and my PC laptop I rarely use at home anymore since I graduated (I primarily used it for school). In regard to the PS3 firmware, there is now a media server option under the Video  and Music categories on the XrossMediaBar (XMB). This was not there when my original PS3 bit the dust.

Always curious about new features, I consulted the PS3 user's guide (found here: http://bit.ly/QwMJsk) and learned that you can set up a PC to push media content to the PS3 where it can be played. This is very cool if you have movies or music on your computer and want to watch or listen to it on the devices connected to your PS3 (HDTV, surround sound system). The guide is very thorough in regard to how to get your PC running as a DLNA media server and it appears pretty straight forward as long as your PC has Windows Media Player 11 installed, so I'm not going to cover that here.

However, there were no instructions on how to set up a Mac to do this. Setting up a Mac is not that hard, but you need to have DLNA software to make it work, which OS X does not have natively. Never fear. After a quick Google search I found there are tons of third-party DLNA apps out there for the Mac. So with that said, here is how to set up your Mac as a media server.

Now I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that you have a computer running OS X, a Playstation 3, and are connected to the Internet (via wireless router preferably). If you don't and you are still reading, congratulations on your decision to expand your tech knowledge.

The first thing you need to do is download the DLNA software. Here is a good one that seems to have a focus on PS3 compatibility: http://cnet.co/QwPfz0. This software is written in Java and as such requires the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) to be installed. It's likely that you already have it installed, but in case you don't, you can find instructions here: http://bit.ly/QwPV7u.

After you have downloaded the DLNA software open the file. In the window that opens, drag the the PS3 Media Server icon and drop it on the Applications folder icon. Now that the DLNA software is installed, turn on your PS3, but don't do anything with it just yet.

Now go back to your Mac and open the media server software you just installed (it'll be in your applications folder). After a few seconds the software should detect your PS3 and throw up a picture of it on the screen. If it does not do this after about a minute or so, go back to the PS3, go to the Video category and select Search for Media Servers.

Once your PS3 has been detected, you will be ready to select the folders that you want the PS3 to have access to. Obviously, you will want these to be folders containing videos or music. To do this click on the Navigation/Share Settings (in the server software) and click on the green plus (+) icon in the lower left corner of the window. Choose any folders that you want to access from the PS3.

Now go back to the PS3 and look under the Video or the Music category and look for the PS3 Media Server icon. Your shared folders will be listed here. Now all you have to do is select the file that you want to play and the PS3's media player will load it up and play it.

I'm still playing with this at the moment, so I don't have any bugs or problems to report about it, but if I come across any I'll update this post with what I find. If you have any questions or problems, feel free to leave a comment. I'll address it promptly.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

— WTF? YouTube Snake? – Speed Post — — Tech goodness in under 5 seconds! —

Check this little gem out!

For this to be the most meaningful, you have to know what the game Snake is first. If you have never played any version of Snake, check out this version: http://bit.ly/RaoZJv  That is a very nice version of Snake both graphically and control-wise, but this game comes in all shapes and sizes from simple and crude to very advanced.

Now here is the cool thing. In every YouTube videos there is a very simple and crude version of Snake. Here's how to access it:
  1. Start any YouTube video, it doesn't matter which one, so here's one for you: http://bit.ly/RapZgF
  2. Once the video starts playing pause it.
  3. With the video paused hold down the left arrow key and then tap the up arrow key.
  4. The game will start immediately, so be ready to control the snake with the arrow keys so you don't hit the wall.
  5. Look carefully for the little dots and eat them.
  6. If you hit the wall, repeat step 3 to restart the game.
This is one of the crudest versions of Snake out there, but the fact that it is hidden in every YouTube video makes it cooler than Ranch dressing.

To all the techs out there who are just about to flame me: Yes I do realize that the game is embedded in the player and NOT the videos. It's just more dramatic to describe it as being included in every video. ;)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

— How Many Squares – Speed Post — — Tech goodness in under 5 seconds! —

So I saw this puzzler on Facebook:

How many squares are in the diagram below.
All the answers I saw at the time were way off, so I thought I'd post the solution. I put an X through each square in several pictures so you can see them easier. The intersection of the X is the center of the square.

First Set 
Total so far: 1
Second Set
Total so far: 1 + 1 = 2
Third Set

Total so far: 2 + 4 = 6
Fourth Set

Total so far: 6 + 4 = 10
Fifth Set

Total so far: 10 + 4 = 14
Sixth Set

Total so far: 14 + 16 = 30

At this point all of the squares are counted except for those that make up the two small inner squares, so let's continue with those.

Seventh Set

Total so far: 30 + 2 = 32
Eighth Set

Total so far: 32 + 8 = 40

And that's all of them for a total of 40 squares. With over a million comments, I'm certain many have answered it correctly by now, but I doubt they explained it as well. :) And, yes, I know this Speed Post was longer than 10 seconds.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tech Tip Tuesday - Bookmarks Anywhere

Where was that page again? I know it has happened to you. You are on a different computer than you normally use and you want to go to that site that you bookmarked the other day, but have no idea what the URL was. Sure, you could google the general topic of the site and maybe find it that way, but this does not always work. For example, type tech tips OR even better type the name of my blog (tips from the tech) into Google and see if you can find my site listed. I know I need to work on my SEO.

HINT: Put quotes around my blog name and you will find it as the second listing (how the hell did a pdf of an animal control newsletter get ranked before me?).

In any case, searching for the site you want is just inconvenient. Wouldn't it be easier to just have access to your bookmarks wherever you might be and on whatever computer you are using? Now some of you might already use Google Bookmarks (GB for brevity), but don't stop reading. There is plenty of good information in this tip that you can benefit from even if you already know all about GB.

To benefit from Google bookmarks, you need to have a Google account. Any Google account (Gmail, Blogger, Plus, Docs, etc.) will do since they are all linked. Gmail is a good choice since it is one of the best email service providers out there in my opinion, but take your pick. After you have a Google account you can go here, www.google.com/bookmarks to access and manage your bookmarks from anywhere.

Now if you are new to GB, then there is likely nothing there yet. You can add bookmarks directly on this page by clicking the Add Bookmark link. This is okay, but it's not the best way to bookmark a site. After all, to bookmark a site in your browser, it only requires clicking a bookmark icon or hitting Ctrl-B. Having to go to GB every time you want to save a bookmark is not going to sell you on using this great service. However, never fear. I would not waste my time telling you about it if I did not have an easier way of going about things. Enter the Google Bookmarklet.

The Google Bookmarklet is a small piece of JavaScript that you can use to save sites you visit to GB. This is what the code looks like if you are interested:
javascript:(function(){var a=window,b=document,c=encodeURIComponent,d=a.open("http://www.google.com/bookmarks/mark?op=edit&output=popup&bkmk="+c(b.location)+"&title="+c(b.title),"bkmk_popup","left="+((a.screenX||a.screenLeft)+10)+",top="+((a.screenY||a.screenTop)+10)+",height=420px,width=550px,resizable=1,alwaysRaised=1");a.setTimeout(function(){d.focus()},300)})();
"Well, that's just great," you say, "but isn't JavaScript part of a website? How can I use it without yet going to another website?" Well, here is the thing. You can actually save JavaScript as a bookmark! If you already know how to create a bookmark from scratch, then do so and then copy and paste the above code into the URL place for the bookmark and label it Bookmarklet or something. If you don't know how to create a bookmark from scratch, or if you just want an easier way, be sure your Bookmark Bar (Chrome), Bookmark Toolbar (Firefox), or Favorites Bar (Internet Explorer) is set to visible then drag the icon below to it.
Google Bookmarklet
This icon should now be sitting in your Bookmarks or Favorites. Now whenever you visit a site that you want to bookmark click this icon. When you do a small window to Google Bookmarks will pop up with the address of the site entered. You can alter any of the information in this window and when you are ready to add it to you bookmarks click the Add Bookmark button. The site will be added to your Google Bookmarks and you can then access them anywhere. You don't have to bookmark GB in your browser and here is why. When you click on the bookmarklet and the window pops up you will notice there is a button in the bottom left-hand corner that says See All Bookmarks. If you click it GB will open in a new tab and you can browse or select the bookmark you want to go to.

"Man, this is just not simple enough," some of you say. Well there is another method of remote accessing your bookmarks. First of all, if you are not using Google Chrome download and install it from here: https://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/browser/. Believe me it's worth it. It's tons faster and more reliable than Internet Explorer and I have found it to be more reliable than Firefox as well, but that's just my experience. In any case, it is definitely worth a try if you haven't used it yet. Once you have Chrome installed go to http://bit.ly/qlbBRo and install The Incredible Start Page. 

The Incredible Start Page (TISP) is . . . well an incredible start page for the Chrome browser. I'm not going to get into all the details of this extension, but I'll show you what it looks like:
Incredible Start Page
Now the part I want to draw your attention to is the big pane with the beautiful cloud picture. This is your main pane and it will house any bookmarks you choose. By default it shows the bookmarks that are on the bookmark bar, but you can change this and perhaps in the future I will explain the ins and outs of this great extension. What I want to say now though is that you can sync the Chrome browser with your Google account and so have uniform access to your bookmarks from any computer that has the Chrome browser. This is especially nice for homes with multiple computers or for syncing between your dektop and your laptop. 

Please note that The Incredible Start Page is not a necessary extension to sync your bookmarks in Chrome. It's just a nice way to display them. If you try this extension out for even a short period I'm certain you'll be hooked. If you choose not to use TISP you can still sync your Chrome bookmarks. Simply click on the wrench icon in the upper right-hand corner. Click settings and at the top you will see a place to sign-in to your Google account. Do this on each computer and your bookmarks will automatically sync between them.

And that's it. If you have any questions or comments about bookmarks, leave them in the comments section and I'll get to them shortly.