Borderworlds

Something must be in the air as recently I’ve started to think about the Borderlands videogames again. And no, this was before I found out about the long-rumoured next game being unveiled today. It was a videogame series I hadn’t really thought about after completing all the content of the second game nearly four years ago (aka True Vault Hunter Mode). In fact not only that but spoiler alert, I’ve purchased The Handsome Collection on PlayStation 4 a few days ago and have been playing it.

I still remember playing the first game upon release. It was a game I fell in love with instantly. The second game although largely more of the same did everything better and had a much more enjoyable and memorable story. Primarily due to the brilliant main villain and resurrecting notable characters from the first game. Simply put Borderlands 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. Indeed when I get around to compiling that list and publishing here as a post one day, you’ll likely see that game somewhere in my thoughts.

Borderlands 2 screenshot

Borderlands was far from perfect and the sequel very felt like a live service game before there really were live service games, i.e. mountains of DLC and add-ons sold for the sequel. However going back to play Borderlands 2 in 2019 still reveals a very solid, super fun, loot-o-rama of a first-person shooter with some wonderful set pieces. The bosses, story and humour all combine brilliantly. And no matter what level the rewards feel worthwhile with an abundance of uniquely crafted guns. Any item drop can be a potentially better weapon and upgrade your character. Borderlands even to this day has unique importance placed on its massive storylines. Unlike other loot based games where the story is more of a tutorial on the way to the endgame.

Yet that endgame is precisely one big area where a new Borderlands will need to improve upon. I don’t think replaying the whole story again is going to cut it anymore. It will need a more dynamic way of players engaging with the game after the story has ended.

Did you say Boom?

I thought about writing what I would like to see in a new instalment, but really I just want to be surprised. I would love to see the same level of innovation and execution that helped to launch the series back in 2009. 2K Games and Gearbox have released three Borderlands games that have all largely been exactly the same formula and not really changed anything from the original game. Whilst that might have worked on releases separated by a few years I do think Gearbox must do more on any future game particularly as times have moved on.

Although from a consumer point of view, that brings about probably the major worry. Will the next Borderlands be a microtransaction-riddled nightmare? As we’ve seen time and time again recently the balance between developers and publishers desire to make profits and not ruining a game’s design is very difficult to get right. Also ‘supporting’ a new game with actual new regular content and not just new events and microtransactions will be important in my view.

Either way, I look forward to seeing what Gearbox has been working on. If they can build on the uniqueness of Borderlands then it might be time to return. Vault Hunter.

March 2019 Update

Incredible that the year is nearly three months old already. I have been playing with two new toys and have some more incoming. The return of a very old classic joystick design and putting a budget gaming headset through its paces. Game wise not really much in the way of buying anything new. Anthem and The Division 2 beta/demos basically put me off both games but for different reasons. Which is good in a way as it has allowed me to keep playing some existing games.

New game pickups

  • The Elder Scrolls Online 90 day subscription
  • The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr Digital Collector’s Edition Upgrade

As already mentioned on this site I also purchased (and written my thoughts) on the:

For the second month running I’ve spend more on accessories than actual games. Although getting into The Elder Scrolls Online again has meant I’ve pre-ordered the new Elsweyr chapter for the game. I very rarely pre-order these days but this is relatively safe purchase given the state of the game.

Been playing (Grouvee)

  • Far Cry 5 (Xbox One)
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order (PS4)
  • The Elder Scrolls Online (PC)
  • Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4)
  • Crackdown 3 (Xbox One)

Used Far Cry 5 as a test for my new headphones but ended up playing the game again (a flawed game, but probably my favourite Far Cry to date). I’ve also continued with my Wolfenstein: The New Order playthrough and started playing the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider following playing the game on Xbox 360 at a family catch-up. And trying out Crackdown 3.

However most of my time has been spent in Tamriel via The Elder Scrolls Online and getting my main character to CP160+ (i.e. endgame).

Completed, Abandoned & Shelved

2 games Shelved; Overwatch and Rocket League as I’m not really playing either but will likely return to at some point.

So at the quarter stage, that’s the following video games:

  • 6 Completed
  • 2 Shelved
  • 17 Games Played, of which 9 are NEW games

Up next

Continue to try and complete Wolfenstein: The New Order, a game that has been on my playing list for far too long. And it would be nice to experience Abzu again. Beyond that I’ll probably fall into a pattern of playing some more The Elder Scroll Online.

Bad Influence

Twitch has helped to bring about a revolution in the way we can keep up with video gaming. It’s easy to watch very skilled players, eSports tournaments or learn about new games. It has given options to those fed up with videogames being ignored by mainstream media. And along with YouTube makes it exceptionally easy to watch videogames.

For older gamers it seems clear to me the success of Twitch is sometimes met with confusion. That success is certainly quantifiable in cultural impact and it’s clear some people wonder why streamers receive donations just to ‘play games’. Ironically not comprehending that Twitch (along with Discord and Reddit) are for many younger gamers the new videogames forums. People are just as likely to engage in the community than be on Twitch for the streamer.

The news that Ninja was paid $1 million by EA for advertising Apex Legends, has again really brought home just how MUCH money people are making from Twitch. Likely a fraction of what a more mainstream celebrity would be paid but nevertheless raises eyebrows. Whether people are earning too much is definitely a popular debate that keeps being raised whatever your view.

As I have found myself using the service more and more over the past few years I have started to think about the impact. On the plus side it is an easy way to find out about new games and very quick to engage with a new community of videogame fans through Twitch chat. I have often found that I have been able to easily ask specific questions about new games.

However it seems to come at a price. Firstly, I am very aware of what a time sink it can be. It’s so easy to spend more time watching a livestream than a video on demand but this might not be the biggest issue. Perhaps the most obvious negative is that games are spoilt. The sense of surprise and discovery taken away. In addition I have noticed it’s also common for other popular media to be spoilt as well. It seems many don’t think about spoilers when blurting out the ending to the latest movies in chat. Which can make watching Twitch the equivalent of a game of chance when it comes to avoiding spoilers in popular media.

Also I don’t want to watch paid adverts. There arguably needs to be much clearer warning than having ‘#ad’ in the title. And I am not convinced these streaming sites are doing anywhere near enough to police their own users.

Twitch definitely has some unique content and it can be a fun platform. Not just watching games being played but also real life events. However more and more I am conscious of the negatives. And that’s the point I’m at with this blog post.

So with this in mind I’ve started to make a concerted attempt to stop using Twitch. Overall it feels like it will be a more worthwhile use of my time and may help playing my actual games instead.

Six months with a gaming laptop

Last year I decided that it was time to relook at PC gaming. With steadily rising component prices and new pricing tiers being introduced I realised that I wanted to get off the high-end PC gravy train. And use it as an opportunity to downsize my big desktop gaming PC. So last August I purchased a ASUS Strix GL703GS Scar Edition laptop. Ideally more than I wanted to spend but I wasn’t quite ready to give up on PC gaming, even if this was a downgrade on what I had before.

Since getting my first PC in 1996, I’ve always owned desktop PCs for gaming. And therefore I thought it might be interesting to note my thoughts on the transition from desktop to laptop after using this gaming laptop for just over six months.

Well the negatives first. It’s mostly the NOISE! A ‘gaming’ laptop like this is packing a high end Intel i7 CPU with a full size desktop GPU. And unfortunately that creates heat. Lots of it and in a small space. This means the ASUS laptop relies on 3 fans to cool the machine (2 connected via heat pipes). For normal desktop use it is bearable, however play a game and the thing will ramp up the fans immediately. It’s here the ASUS Strix can give a PS4 Pro or original Xbox 360 a run for its money in the ‘hairdryer’ noise stakes. This thing becomes very loud. Although I suspect there are quieter gaming laptops out there most will generate noise given the heat and small form factors involved.

That said the laptop hasn’t seen many hot days. With my old PC sometimes in the summer heat waves I’d take the side panel off the case to help it run cooler. Hopefully that isn’t something I need to worry about here, but we will see.

The ASUS Strix has a poor battery life. I can get over 2 hours from it but if you attempt gaming then even that will reduce. The battery is also an additional cost that has to be factored in one day as it will likely need replacing. The trackpad is OK but nothing as nice a MacBook or more business oriented laptops.

However you are no longer the main support for the machine. If something goes wrong you can’t fix it and have to send back under warranty. You also can’t upgrade anything bar the memory or storage. Although in some ways these last two points can be seen as benefits.

So what have been the positives from owning the ASUS Strix? The main one is obviously portability. Even tied to plug socket the machine is able to be used away from home. I recently spend a weekend with family and it was a boon being able to play The Elder Scrolls Online whilst away from home. Furthermore I can easily decamp to elsewhere around the house.

It is also easy to use as a desktop. I’ve kept my old ASUS monitor and Corsair keyboard to use with the laptop. A cheap laptop cooling pad and a 10-port Anker USB 3.0 hub act as my cheap docking bay solution. This even gives me a second screen if required.

Elsewhere my observations are a pretty ‘bloat free’ Windows 10 installation and a nice IPS 1080p display. 1080p is a lot easier to drive than 4K and opens up much cheaper PC options. Indeed a laptop with an Nvidia GTX 1060 is probably perfect for this resolution. Anything more powerful just gives you a bit more frame rates or headroom when playing games. The onboard audio is actually surprisingly good quality, even able to comfortably drive my Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones.

So the obvious question; would I buy a laptop PC again in the future for gaming? The answer is currently a clear ‘YES’.

Ideally a non-gaming PC laptop paired with a desktop PC for gaming is probably preferable. Although this gaming laptop fits the bill for a scenario where I only want one PC and want it to do a bit of everything, including gaming. And therefore I can definitely state that I am now a fan of gaming laptops.

Plantronics RIG 400HX (with Dolby Atmos) Review

Purchased February 2019, £37.99 from Amazon UK

I recently wrote about my headphones and thoughts on some new Beyerdynamic headphones that I purchased. However whilst I tend not to play multiplayer games that often, I very occasionally do need a microphone. Something that will work with console as well as PC. And so I recently purchased a pair of Plantronics RIG 400HX with Dolby Atmos. It is worth noting that these are the Xbox One branded variant of the RIG 400 although they will work with numerous devices with a 3.5mm audio jack. Although you may need to purchase a splitter for a separate microphone and headphone connection if you want to use on a PC.

Plantronics RIG 400HX box.

The RIG 400 is available in many different versions, including with and without Dolby Atmos. There is a slightly different looking version for PC which includes an audio splinter or a PlayStation branded version (RIG 400HS). They are all the same headphones though. However they can be purchased for under £33 at the time of writing if you don’t need Dolby Atmos.

Dolby Atmos is a code which can be redeemed on Xbox One or Windows 10 to unlock Dolby Atmos on any supported games on Xbox One or Windows App Store. The code isn’t needed for games on Steam or through other PC Storefronts (i.e. Overwatch from Blizzard supports Dolby Atmos). Dolby Atmos costs £14.24 as a one-off fee to unlock on Windows App Store and Xbox One so was another reason for considering this headset given I have previously considered buying the Dolby Atmos licence by itself.

The headset is very plasticky and light. The RIG 400 series is meant to be modular and the ear cups and headband can clip on and off, as well as being replaceable. However this means the headphones lack size adjustment beyond the three holes the ear cups can clip into and have no ear cup swivel. The extremely light weight of the headphones helps to make them very comfortable for prolonged use. The ear cups are a tad too small for my ears although the headband never once applied pressure to the top of my head. Overall they are quite comfortable and I am able to wear for long periods of time. The fact they are so lightweight being their main strength. The do have a cable coming out of each ear cup that is slightly irritating, but includes a useful mic mute switch and a very small volume slider.

Plantronics RIG 400HX

Sound quality is very flat and have quite a neutral sound with a little bit of bass. Nothing overpowering though. Sound separation and clarity is surprisingly good. This makes them suitable for gaming. Although overall I found they lacked depth and soundstage. But I was impressed with these being a budget headset. For music they are less impressive although when amped they do improve a little bit. Although they are fine watching films and TV. The RIG 400 are closed back although they do leak a lot of sound making them unsuitable for quiet environments. As a very low impedance headset they can be used with anything and I tested on my Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, PC (via the onboard and Creative SoundBlaster X7), tablet and Android mobile phone. However the over the top ‘gamer’ headset styling makes them unsuitable for using away from home, on looks alone.

I only used the detachable microphone a small amount so far but found it to be serviceable, certainly relaying my voice clearly for the recipient to hear me. That said I have read reports that the RIG 400 microphone can cause echo and feedback for other players hearing their own voice. However I wasn’t able to replicate this, but will return and update the review with further observations on the microphone, if required.

There is often a recommendation to stay away from ‘gaming’ headsets and get a set of headphones instead. And whilst I tend to agree this ignores that a headset can be more convenient in certain situations. It’s much like saying that quality is better with a Blu-ray film or music on CD. All true but ultimately makes light of the reason why these methods of consuming media are dying in comparison to streaming. And that’s what does appeal about these budget headphones. I rarely need to use them, they aren’t my main headphones, but they are more convenient. Sure you can buy a separate mic and adapter but it’s inevitably more wires and not as quick and easy to set-up. For me this budget option caters for the few times I need a microphone.

Dolby Atmos though is something which does elevate these headphones. As a software solution it really can help to improve videogame audio giving a really impressive virtual surround sound. I had no problem with being able to position or tell the height of where a sound is coming from. Dolby Atmos works with any headphones and is a bonus being included with these RIG 400HX’s. It would be great if more games on Xbox One made use of this software technology.

Competition wise the main competitor is probably the HyperX Cloud Stinger from Kingston. Which look more sturdy but lack Dolby Atmos in the box. Better quality closed back headset options exist like the HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset and the Cooler Master MH751 but these are both above £60, even at their lowest prices. However if I was after something to be used more often it would probably be the latter that I would consider.

Overall I like the Plantronics RIG 400HX. Apart from allowing me to experience and unlock Dolby Atmos on Xbox One they are a good budget option, particularly on Microsoft’s platform. For the £38 I paid they feel like a bargain and I would happily recommend at this price as a budget headset for gaming. Particularly on console, if you need something convenient, cheap and with a microphone.

The Elder Scrolls foretold of this newb

I’ve written about The Elder Scrolls Online before. However recently I’ve been playing the game again and have passed two milestones. Firstly I’ve hit Champion Points (CP) level 160 on my main character. And secondly it dawned on me that it was just a little over 2 years ago since I purchased the game in February 2017 (PC version).

I stumbled across The Elder Scrolls Online at a time when I wasn’t really looking for a new game. However a big discount in a sale felt like a good excuse to check it out. And part of me wished I had found it sooner because this has been of one of the most enjoyable MMO experiences to date.

Getting to CP160 is a big deal. Whilst the game has a maximum character level of 50, the reality is the whole of the game is scaled to this CP160 level. Champion Points are a bit like the paragon system in Diablo 3 and serve as an account wide horizontal levelling system where you can attribute points earned from experience levelling into new abilities that improve an aspect of your character. At certain points they can also unlock other passives. All your characters can contribute to earning more Champions Point experience once they are level 50. However all gear and weapons are locked to CP160 meaning at this point only rarity or set bonuses can improve your gear and weapon stats.

The Elder Scrolls Online PC Version. Screenshot of a dungeon in Tamriel. With lots of add-ons.

There is still a lot for me to do in the game. Indeed I’ve still yet to complete the final area and main storyline. And whilst I’ve completed everything from my faction’s questline I’ve still got the other two faction quests and zone to do. Or guilds, or the DLC. And 2 expansions I’ve barely touched. But the truth is that I can keep playing the game as a solo PVE player enjoying quests, and exploring the world, whilst still progressing my character. There are hundreds of hours worth of quests.

And that is the other thing that has struck me about The Elder Scrolls Online. Its progression system is simply marvellous. Even at endgame there is rarely ever a time when your aren’t progressing something. For example I may have levelled all my class skill lines and two staff weapon skill lines. However I have barely put any skill points into crafting. So I’ll need to earn more skill points in order to get to endgame crafting. But compared to other MMOs like Guild Wars 2 or World or Warcraft progression feels frequent and fast. In those games it can feel like ages between progressing something and even then there are no points to customise your character or obvious reward. Whilst these great games do their own thing well, even something as basic as gear can flow in The Elder Scrolls Online. Even if it isn’t useful the materials it’ll break down into or gold it will sell for are.

The Elder Scrolls Online isn’t without its issues. And chief amongst my criticisms are the lootboxes with insanely unfair and extremely poor odds. However Zenimax Online Studios seem to be in a good place with The Elder Scrolls Online right now. The yearly expansion format since 2017’s Morrowind seems to be working well. And whilst last year’s Summerset or 2019’s upcoming Elsweyr don’t have the nostalgic pull of the first expansion, sorry Chapter, the game seems to be healthy with active players. I even had to join a queue upon logon a few days ago.

Whilst many MMO’s prioritise group PVE content, I think The Elder Scrolls Online knows a significant chunk of its player base are solo players wanting to experience the lore and world. And whilst it offers lots of group PVE content (Dungeons, World Bosses & Events, Trials/Raids) and large scale faction vs faction PVP. It also tries to cater for solo PVE players at all stage of the game with solo dungeons, fully voice acted quests/storylines and dynamic zones that scale to solo players as well. And in this sense it’s great even for the more casual player.

As a reward for my recent achievements I’ve gone ahead and pre-ordered Elsweyr. I am looking forward to lots more questing and seeing more of what The Elder Scrolls Online has to offer.