In a perfect world, video games would be self-contained packages that provide everything you need to derive maximum enjoyment from the product. User guides, tweaks, mods, community gathering places - it would all just be in there, officially supported, with no need to ever punch 'how do I get gold' into a search engine. We don't live in that perfect world. But fortunately for us, there are tons of free sites out there just waiting to augment your every experience and answer your every question. Y'know, besides the awesome one you're currently browsing.
I'm talking about resources that not only enhance your enjoyment of a game - they can downright alter the way you experience it. Whether it's build guides for your favorite online competitions or vast mod repositories for enhancing solo adventures, you're bound to find something new and awesome in the pages ahead.
Dragon Age Keep shapes your Inquisition world
If you didn't fill out a Dragon Age Keep profile before you started Dragon Age: Inquisition, you missed out on one of the most downright useful tools BioWare has ever created. Rather than fret over cross-gen save compatibility, Keep lets you fill out all the pertinent choices from Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, then download your custom world state straight into Inquisition.
On the one hand, it does quell a little of the lore's magic to see it distilled into a big ol' illustrated list. But on the other hand, sitting down for a half-hour to fill the darn thing out really lets you appreciate just how mutable Thedas is by the time you reach the third game. Don't feel limited to recreating old saves, either. Ever wonder what the Inquisition is like if you killed off Leliana? Now you don't have to play the whole series again just to find out.
Gang up in GTA Online with the Social Club
Are you playing GTA Online without a crew? The lone wolf thing is kinda played out, don't you think? To be fair, it's a bit difficult to join one from the game itself. Instead, it's much easier to head over to the Social Club via a browser to join Rockstar's edgy clan equivalents. It's kind of an odd extra hoop to make players jump through, but you'll be glad you did it.
Not only is it nice to roll with a bunch of like-minded players, but belonging to an active crew can net you extra reputation points and XP. You can also adorn your clothes and cars with the crew emblem, so make sure you pick one with a nifty logo. Even if you couldn't care less about GTA Online, the Social Club still offers a bunch of nifty stats from your single-player campaign, including a big ol' checklist and a map that's indispensable for completionists.
Destiny forums and event guides respect your time
If you want to get far in Destiny, you've got to either work hard or work smart. Since this is not a well-paid job but in fact a goddamn video game, I hope you'll choose the latter. And when you do, you'll find plenty of tools to help you out - like DestinyLFG.com, which should be the first stop for people who like their 'shared world' shooters to actually involve other players. Rather than hanging out in the Tower bleating about raid groups or sitting in matchmaking just to wind up in a disjointed group, you can simply scan the forum for other players who are interested in teaming up.
You can even optimize your open-world patrols with the Destiny Public Events Timer. Pull it up before you head out and you'll be sure to arrive on time for your favorite impromptu battles. Much better than puttering around and hoping a good one pops up while you're in the area, if you ask me.
Dark Souls Wiki is a storytelling cheat sheet
Dark Souls is better known for its crushing difficulty and influential multiplayer than its narrative, but that's no mark against it. You can only get to know the many characters, factions, and regions that underlie the events of the game by paying close attention to every little scrap of info - every offhand reference from an NPC and every bit of flavor text attached to an otherwise unremarkable item. So yeah, it takes a bit more work to understand what's really going on than watching a five-minute expository cutscene.
That work includes regularly consulting the Dark Souls Wiki. Getting a baseline understanding of the events leading up to Dark Souls will make you appreciate all its characters (in particular the fierce menagerie of bosses) so much more. The rise of Gwyn, the fall of Big Hat Logan, the tragic tale of Artorias and Sif - it's all the kind of stuff you could easily miss without an outside resource, so don't be afraid to consult the Cliff's Notes version.
NexusMods makes Skyrim beautiful, mostly naked
Skyrim came out in late 2011, and if you haven't played it by now, you've missed out on some kinda international phenomenon - a true cultural touchstone. In fact, I'm just going to assume you already played Skyrim and loved it, along with the rest of modern civilization. But have you played it stuffed to the gills with mods? If not, then I have wonderful or terrible news (depending on how crippling your Skyrim addiction became with the vanilla version): your adventure is only just beginning.
NexusMods hosts thousands of tweaks for Skyrim that offer everything from tiny systemic tweaks to refined weapon models to entirely new followers. It also lets you add a bunch of distressingly buxom women and an inevitable assortment of nude mods, as found in the NSFW section. But even if that's not your thing, there's still a metric buttload of fun, game-changing stuff to try out.
Image by frank213
Wowhead dissects and studies all things WoW
World of Warcraft was huge when it launched. Now that it's had ten years of expansions, content updates, and tweaks lovingly plastered on top, the sheer amount of stuff it contains is absolutely mindboggling. There's no way you could experience it all without quitting your job, paying the internet bill a year in advance, and bricking yourself into a room with your computer.
That's where Wowhead comes in. It's a player-assembled directory of everything in WoW that was basically a Wiki before Wikis were such a big thing. And instead of relying on petty editors, it automatically datamines much of its info via the optional Wowhead Looter addon - so you can help document the unknown corners of the world (or at least further refine the loot tables of some weary old boss mob) every time you play.
Hearthpwn is a one-stop deck database
Hearthstone is so incredibly easy to get into! Somehow it even makes deckbuilding - a notoriously demanding aspect of collectible card games - breezy and fun, with plenty of graphs and automatic suggestions for players who may not be comfortable starting from the ground up. And that's all perfectly fine if you want to experiment on your own, and don't mind waffling around in casuals or low-ranked matches for a while.
But if you've found your progress stalling, it may be time to consult some outside help. Hearthpwn (yes, that is really its name) offers thousands of player-rated deck builds complete with the total Dust cost you'll need to build all of their cards right in the corner, along with thorough breakdowns of every card's rarity, stats, and purpose in the deck. Again, assembling your own stack of cards is a lot of fun - but if you want a shortcut to competitiveness, you know where to go.
League of Legends build guides are a great starting point
League of Legends' in-game tools and tutorials have improved in recent years, but they're still not enough to get you out of the SCRUB ZONE. Even after you get the fundamentals down, you'll still need to figure out how to build an effective champion, and choosing the right ability boosts and item combinations can get pretty damn stressful in the middle of a match. That's why I strongly recommend you start out with a guide.
It's best if you have a second monitor or tablet to keep MOBAFire pulled up, but it even helps to just commit the important bits to memory or do some Alt-Tab-fu. Yeah, a big part of the game is adapting to match conditions, and no guide can cover all the potential variations of group composition and performance. But having a good framework to fall back on makes MOBA life so much easier.
CSGOLounge is a fence and a bookie rolled into one
Counter-Strike: GO is fun enough to actually play, I guess, but you know where the real game is? Items. Trading items. Thousands of items. Every day, people barter back and forth to get their favorite guns and gear in all their favorite flavors - and the really savvy ones do it all through CSGOLounge. Trust me, you'll have way more luck posting a potential trade on the database than you will spamming match chat - and all the other players will appreciate it, too.
But trading is just half of the equation. You can also lay down bets on upcoming big-name pro matches using the very same items, with set values and odds assigned by the Lounge. Whether you win or lose, it's a fun way to raise the stakes. And who knows? You just might get lucky.
Advance Wars by Web is your new tactics obsession
Remember back when Nintendo made Advance Wars? Those were better times, when you could get your fix of cartoony tactics in a humble cartridge and maybe even find some local players to match wits against. These days, the franchise is what I would gently refer to as dormant. You're about as likely to find another person with a GBA and a copy of the game to play against in the wild as you are somebody with a PSP and Metal Gear Acid.
But now your search is finally over, oh portable tactician: Advance Wars By Web offers a lovingly homebrewed version of the series' classic multiplayer right in your browser. No downloads necessary, just sign up for an account and jump into a match set on one of countless custom maps. I love it when fans fill this kind of niche - I just hope that Nintendo sees it the same way, and keeps its Cease & Desist toting attorneys far, far away.
That's just a small sampling of all the official and player-made online resources out there. What are some sites you've stumbled on that forever altered your gaming experience for the better (other than GamesRadar+, you charmer)? Let me know in the comments below!
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