Thursday, 26 July 2012

GUIDE: So you wanna be a TF2 pubstar?

Team Fortress 2 is one of a few games that I am really, really good at. When I lived back in Australia, I played in a competitive team in ladder and league matches. These days, I still find myself coming back to it every once in a while because it’s just so damn fun. A ‘pubstar’ is a little joke we have in the competitive community, which describes someone who performs well in a public server, IE, the servers publicly available for anyone to join. It’s a joke because the difference between competitive and public TF2 is like night and day. There are skills, items, and play styles that will allow you to dominate a public server but would just be embarrassing if used in a competitive match. Today, I aim to teach you some of these ‘pubstar’ strategies and item combinations, so you too can make free-to-play n00bs suck it down.

The Soldier:

Note: 'I cast magic missile' is a re-named black box
Primary: The Black Box 
Secondary: Shotgun
Melee: The Escape Plan

Why the Black Box? Let me run some (made up but relatively accurate) statistics by you. At least 70% of games you play won’t have a medic. 20% will have a medic that sits behind a single heavy for the entire game and 9% will have just plain terrible medics that don’t understand survivability and will die before building an uber. That means you will have a competent medic in exactly 1% of the games you play. Many of these loadouts include a way to self-heal in order to offset the fact that you probably won’t have a medic. The Black Box is one of the best self-heal items in the game, as it is a passive self heal that happens every time you deal damage. If you are careful and spam a lot, you can easily get yourself back to full health after skirmishes. The vanilla shotgun is necessary as with the smaller clip on the Black Box you really need a quick way to do a bit of extra damage, and the Escape Plan is a no-brainer even after its damage nerf.


Never rocket jump without a fully reloaded launcher unless you absolutely have to escape somewhere. If you are in a fight and run out of ammo, 9 times out of 10 it is much more efficient to switch to your shotgun to finish them off than try and reload. Try to keep an eye on your ammo - if you are spamming it can run low pretty fast. Lastly, only ever use your equalizer to ESCAPE. Never try to run in and hit people with it.

The Scout:

Primary: Shortstop
Secondary: Mad Milk
Melee: Vanilla Bat/Holy Mackerel

Poor scout. For whatever reason, a good chunk of his unlockable weapons completely suck. Fortunately, the milk man, an item set released fairly early in TF2’s item lifecycle, is one of the best. The shortstop is slightly more forgiving than the scatter gun as it has a tighter spread meaning you can engage targets from a greater range, and it fires shots in very rapid succession meaning that you’ll probably hit at least one shot per clip. The mad milk is another great little self heal that can also help out your entire team if you manage to soak a big bunch of enemies with it. If you have them, using the holy mackerel and the milk man hat will give you an extra 25 HP. Props to Valve for making completely balanced set bonuses…

Pro-tips: Never stop moving. As a scout, movement is your best weapon. Learn the limits of your double jump. Most maps have many areas built with double jumps in mind. If you learn them, you can get places even faster. Don’t be afraid to disengage. If you come across a heavy that is spinning up his minigun, for the love of god don’t try to fight him. Be exceptionally careful of sentries. Even a mini-sentry can make life extremely difficult for a scout. Listen for their telltale beeps to avoid coming round a corner and getting gibbed.

The Heavy:

Primary: The Tomislav
Secondary: The Sandvich
Melee: The Gloves of Running Urgently

This is what I like to call the ‘stealth mountain’. The heavy’s biggest weaknesses are his immense size, slow speed, and the noise he makes when spinning up his minigun. When you have a competent medic, these aren’t so much of a problem, but playing solo will often see your enemies avoid you, chip away at your HP with hit-and-runs, or ambush you. This build lets you turn the tables and ambush them! First, use the GRU to get to places fast. Make sure you switch them out a few moments before arriving at a battlezone, as they will debuff you to take extra damage while being used and for a few seconds after switching. The tomislav does less damage than the heavy’s other miniguns, but it makes no sound while being ‘spun up’. Use this to your advantage! So many times I have used the GRU to quickly get to a choke point, then spun up my tomislav and absolutely eaten through anyone that came through, as they didn’t expect a heavy to be so close so fast. The sandvich, even after the nerf that stops you from picking up your own sandviches, is still a very viable self-heal.

Pro-tips: Always, ALWAYS eat your sandvich with your back to a wall. A heavy eating a sandvich with his back exposed is a spy’s wet dream. Jump around corners. While in the air, you don’t suffer from the movement speed slowdown of spinning up your gun. This means you can jump around a corner, and have your gun spun up and ready to fire as soon as you land. This is amazing for ambushing.

The Demoknight:

Primary: Grenade Launcher
Secondary: Chargin’ Targe
Melee: Eyelander

This is the perfect example of a loadout that will get you laughed out of a competitive TF2 game, yet can absolutely melt public servers. The problem with most demoknights is they tend to think of their swords as a primary weapon. Don’t do that. Use the grenade launcher as your primary, and only switch to the sword to finish them off. If you are careful, you can easily collect four heads and then be an explosives demon. I still like the Chargin’ Targe better than the Splendid Screen, as it’s a bigger damage reduction versus the Splendid Screen’s extra charge damage, which like I said is not something you should be using too much.

Pro-tips: Scouts will eat you alive. When fighting a scout, it’s incredibly hard to hit them with grenades, so this is the only time I’ll allow you to use your sword as a primary. Don’t be afraid to use your targin’ targe to escape. If you’re low on health, rather than smashing into the enemy in a last ditch attempt to kill them with your sword, consider just charging the fuck out of there, especially if you already have 3-4 heads collected.

The Sniper:

Note: 'The frying pan' is an alternate skin for the kukuri
Primary: The Huntsman
Secondary: Jarate
Melee: Own choice (Bushwhacker/Tribalman’s Shiv/Vanilla Kukuri)

Ahhh, the bow sniper. The bow sniper was the first time many TF2 fans thought ‘what the hell is Valve thinking?’ Nicknamed ‘the lucksman,’ the huntsman is incredibly effective in heavily populated public servers. Try joining a payload/payload race game and just flinging arrows in the direction of their cart. You’ll be top of the scoreboard in no time. Jarate helps you with assists, and also with anyone who tries to engage you in close range. Melee is own choice – I personally prefer the Tribalman’s Shiv as the bleed damage can help with those pesky spies - but the others choices are just as good.

Protips: There are none. Just fling arrows towards where you think your enemies are. This build is as brainless as it is effective. That said, it’s a lot more effective on maps where the teams tend to clump up, like payload and CP. It’s not as good on CTF. If I see you using the razorback I will hunt you down.

The Medic:

Note: 'IDDQD' is a re-named medigun
Primary: The Blutsauger
Secondary: Vanilla Medigun
Melee: The Ubersaw

Hold on, you want to play the MEDIC in a PUB? You’re braver than I thought. The only thing worse than being a competent heal target with a terrible medic, is being a competent medic with a terrible heal target. But if you do come across a server with players that warrant healing, feel free to try this build out. The Blutsauger and ubersaw are there because you don’t trust your heal target to protect you from scouts and spies. Most pub spies are dumb as hell, meaning that they will try and kill you and instead just give you 50% to your ubercharge thanks to your ubersaw. Scouts are pretty easy to take out with the blutsauger, and bad pyros will hilariously try and chase you while you can just backpedal and pummel them with needles. The vanilla medigun is still your safest bet for those ‘oh shit!’ moments, as the kritzkrieg really only shines when you have good communication with your heal target. The quick fix is terrible.

Pro-tips: Ditch everyone at the first sign of danger. Holding onto your ubercharge percent is more important than keeping your target alive 90% of the time. Make sure you constantly switch targets to keep all of your teammates overhealed. When deciding who to pocket, you can actually use hats to tell who warrants it. Avoid pocketing anyone with the Ghastly Gibus or Treasure Hat. Anyone with the Primeval Warrior badge has been playing this game since beta and you should probably throw them a heal.

The Spy:

Note: 'the big kill' is an alternate skin for the revolver
Primary: Vanilla Revolver
Knife: The Spycicle
Watch: The Dead Ringer

This is my ‘stealth is for pussies’ spy build. While the dead ringer has fallen from its super overpowered heyday, it’s still an incredibly viable option for anyone who thinks sitting and waiting in the same spot for the entire game is boring. The Spycicle gives you an additional layer of protection against your greatest foe – the pyro, and the vanilla revolver just plain out performs most other revolver options in a standard fight, with the exception of the ambassador, which is only a possible choice if you have godly aim.

Pro-tips: Try and put some distance between yourself and the enemy team if they pop your dead ringer, even more if they also melt your spycicle. Always wait until your Dead Ringer and spycicle are fully charged before heading back into enemy territory. If discovered buy an overzealous pyro or scout, backpedaling while firing your revolver can be surprisingly effective. When dealing with sentry nests, it’s usually best if you can backstab the engineer first, and then quickly sap his buildings. If you are right behind the sentry you should have enough time to do this before it turns around. While it is tempting to try and stab the medic, it’s usually a lot easier to just go for his heal target – especially if he is healing a soldier or heavy.

The Engineer:

Note: 'the lugermorph' is an alternate skin for the pistol
Primary: Frontier Justice
Secondary: Vanilla Pistol
Melee: The Gunslinger

This is my offensive engineer build. While it’s obviously bad in certain situations (when defending on an attack/defend or a payload map for example) it excels in most others. It’s particularly effective in maps that require you to be constantly moving your gear up, such as 5CP maps and offense on payload. Essentially, you want to put your mini-sentry down and then try and bait people to chase you into it using your pistol. If done right, you can store up a few crits with the Frontier Justice, which you can use to force yourself into more viable sentry positions.

Pro-tips: Don’t forget the teleporter! Even if your team sucks, having the cannon fodder arrive at the front lines in a timely matter means that there will be less fire directed at you. Always have at least 100 metal before attempting to push into an enemy controlled zone, so you can place a mini sentry. If you pick up an existing mini-sentry, when you put it back down it will deploy much faster than a standard deployment.

So there you have it, a set of tips and loadouts for every class that should help you out when playing in public servers. Thanks for reading, feel free to discuss your own TF2 tips and tricks in the comments.

Oh shit, I forgot about the pyro! Uhhhhh

The Pyro:


Primary: Backburner
Secondary: Whatever
Melee: Whatever

Pro-tips: W+M1

Liked this article? Check out my In-depth guide to the Heavy!

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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

OPINION: (Video) What's wrong with Diablo III?

Like thousands of other gamers, Diablo III was one of my most highly anticipated titles of all time. Now that it's been floating about for a few months, lets take a look back on why it's not as great as it could be.


What's wrong with Diablo III?

Hey guys, Steve here and today i'm going to talk a little bit about Diablo III. Diablo II was a game that was very near and dear to me, so I didn't want to rush into any harsh judgements on its sequel, and have people accuse me of looking back on D2 with 'rose tinted glasses'. Well now, D3 has been out for a good few months, and i've had more than enough time to get a feel of it, and more importantly, figure out, at least in my opinion, what's wrong with it.

By the way, what you are seeing in the background is a speed run of Act I inferno on my wizard. A link to his build is in the description, I've got pretty average gear at around 40k life and 22k damage. This is what I have found to be the most efficient way to farm Act I. Please enjoy.

Now I'm going to discuss a few things in this video but it all pretty much ties back into my one main point: Blizzard are treating Diablo III like it is World of Warcraft. While WoW certainly borrowed more than a few assests from Diablo II, it was still at its core a completely different game. After all, one was an MMO and the other was an action RPG.  I want to start by saying that the core game, the engine behind Diablo III, is fantastic. The skill and rune system is a thing of genius and it really, really captures the Diablo vibe. The game is fun to play.

However, once you get past the numbingly easy normal mode and move into nightmare, hell, and eventually inferno, WoW's influence really starts to bleed through. First, let's look at items. Items in Diablo III are boring. While Diablo II certainly had its own share of 'junk' affixes (I'm sure we all remember light radius) the majority of the really cool affixes in Diablo III are ignored in favour of the WoW style primary stat + vitality + a stat unique to that gear slot. Gloves, for example, are almost completely worthless if they don't have a primary stat, vitality, crit damage and crit chance. Having 'best' affix combinations is both boring and frustrating. It doesn't help that items have a chance to roll multiple primary stats, which essentially just take up an affix slot.

Diablo II had some crazy on hit affixes that had huge proc rates. In D3 on the other hand, we have 1.5% chance to stun. 1.5%. What the heck is that? I mean, on WoW boss fights that last up to ten minutes, I'm sure 1.5% is a pretty big rate, but most D3 battles, as you can see from the footage playing, are lucky to last more than a minute. Legendaries are underwhelming, with standard blue magic weapons being better than most legendary weapons, and Legendary item set bonuses being  terrible. The Tal Rasha set in Diablo II gave THIRTEEN additional bonuses to offense, defence, and utility. In Diablo III? Plus 3% to fire, lightning and cold damage...

Now let's have a look at the game's post-release support. Blizzard are famous for offering a tremendous amount of post-release support for their games with patches containing game balances and additional content. One of the very first patches to Diablo III nerfed the amount of gold dropped by pots. Additional patches have systematically nerfed several viable farming spots, class ability combinations deemed too overpowered, repair costs and item affixes that they felt people were stacking due to their usefulness. These sound like reasonable patches... for an MMO. Why, for example, are farming locations being nerfed? Diablo III is essentially a SINGLE PLAYER GAME as the current end-game grind actually punishes you for playing in a group. It's simply much faster and more efficient to farm by yourself. It's not exceptionally difficult to beat the end boss, so there is no competition to gear up and beat the hardest challenges. There's also no PvP as of yet, so they don't have to worry about people getting a leg up by farming particularly good locations. So, why does it matter if some guy wants to spend the majority of his play time smashing pots in a crypt? Who cares if someone finds a wizard skill combination that works really well? Jay Wilson has actually gone back on two key quotes with this post-patch support. The first one was 'We don't mind if people find things that feel like they broke the game' and the second is 'you can find the best item in the game out of a pot'. It feels too much like Blizzard is telling us, 'you can only have fun the way we want you to have fun'

My final gripe brings us back to what I am doing in this video: farming act 1. My character is progressed well into act III and to be honest, I could probably finish the game if I really wanted to. So why am I farming act 1 over and over instead of actually trying to progress? There were two major post patch changes that brought us here. The first was the insane tripling of repair costs for level sixty gear. The second was the changing of drop rates so that the best items have a chance to drop in act 1. Sure, the drop chance in act 1 is much smaller than it is in act 2 or 3, but i can run through act 1 in a fraction of the time that act 2 or 3 takes me, with very minimal risk of dying. When I am playing act 3, if I die more than four or five times, I have actually lost gold on that run. It costs me gold to just try and progress in the game. Can you see what is wrong with this?Anyway, all of this ties back into my original argument of Blizzard trying to balance this game like it's world of warcraft. The reason for this is obvious: they want players to use the auction house. This is a no-no. While the auction house is a nice little feature to have, it shouldn't be so integral to the game. It's completely against the Diablo mythos.

Jerry Holkins of Penny-arcade summed it up best - Diablo is a piñata. You can always go to the store and buy candy, but the whole fun of the piñata is hitting it and getting the candy from inside. My solution? They should completely reverse their philosophy on nerfs. When an item, or a farming location, or a stat is deemed too overpowered, don't nerf it, buff something else. The attack speed nerf could have been easily taken care of by offering buffs to crit damage and crit chance. Farming jars for gold could have been fixed by upping the drop rate of gold on monsters. Until Blizzard stop trying to balance the game around possible abuse of the Auction house, I don't really see this game ever measuring up to the glory and longevity of Diablo II.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The blog for you and me

Video games journalists (VGJ) suck at video games.

This is a bit of a generalisation, and I know some really stellar VGJs, but on the whole it's astonishing how bad someone can be at something that they literally do for a living. Too many reviews end with, or contain the phrase "I wasn't able to complete the entire game." Notwithstanding games with multi-player or additional gameplay modes, it's astounding how many reviewers simply cannot finish the single-player portion of the game they are reviewing. It is completely unacceptable for movie reviewers to write that they "only sat through the first thirty minutes of the movie, but got a pretty good feel for it" so why has it become an accepted practice for VGJs to do the same thing?

More so, playing through the entirety of the game isn't enough. You have to play it on a challenging difficulty. Breezing through Gears of War on 'casual' is not going to give you the same feel for the game as playing it on 'hardcore'. I'm not asking you to play it on 'insane', but at least play it on a setting that provides you with the littlest bit of resistance. I've read dozens of Diablo III reviews in the weeks following its release and a vast majority of them didn't even bother trying any of the three difficulty settings above 'normal'.

So, the vast majority of 'official' gaming blogs by 'real life journalist types' out there are rubbish. For us, I mean. For the average casual gamer that plays Wii on the weekend with his young family and buys indie games off steam once in a while, these reviews are probably pretty helpful. But for enthusiasts like me and you, we want more. We don't want to spend the first paragraph of the review reading about what a 'first person shooter' is and then proceeding to read about how the game plays on 'super casual fun time' setting. We want to know how it holds up to the classics of it's genre that have proved themselves. How it plays when you are playing it with the mentality of overcoming a challenge, rather than enjoying a series of cut scenes stapled together with some gameplay segments. Where can we turn to?

The answer that many of us find, is to the pros, or more accurately, 'video game celebrities,' as I like to call them. I'm talking about Team Liquid, I'm talking about Solo Mid, I'm talking about the ever infamous Elitist Jerks. These guys know their game(s) of choice better than you know the back of your hand. If you want to super heavily invest into one of these games, these guys' blogs are definitely what you should be reading. However, while the majority of VGJ's work is lost on those with more than a basic grasp of video games, the work of these pros is lost on those of us who can't dedicate every waking moment to a single game. I played Starcraft II pretty heavily when it came out, but as other games came out it fell to the wayside. I tried to get back into it recently and was amazed at how much terminology and strategy Team Liquid was using that I had no idea about. Even a few months of inactivity had put me right back at the bottom of the pecking order.

These guys do the kind of number crunching we dread having to do for our taxes, and they do it for fun.
The casuals have their outlets, and the pros have theirs. Where does that leave us in the middle? People who I like to call video game 'enthusiasts'. We fucking love video games, ALL video games. We play way too much to be casuals, but we don't invest heavily enough into a single game to become a pro. We like to play video games for a challenge, and we like to play games of all genres and styles. Look at me for example. I sunk over 100 hours into Skyrim when it came out, but I still play Team Fortress 2 on a very regular basis. When Starcraft II came out, I got into the competitive scene for a bit, but I lost interest when a friend got me playing League of Legends. I love video games and I want to play them all and play them the way that they are meant to be played - as a challenge framing a cinematic experience. Many of my gaming friends exhibit similar gaming habits, and so I created this blog, the 'enthusiasts' blog, to cater to people like us.

If you feel the same way about video games, you have come to the right place. I plan to update every Wednesday with new content, be it a review, an opinion piece, or a video. I want to provide a place where enthusiasts can discuss games on a level we feel comfortable with, way above the rabble that official VGJ blogs provide, without the high level mumbo jumbo that the professional number crunchers are known for. Welcome, and please, enjoy your stay!

(Quite accurate) Artist representation of Steve