The month of Easter and a few new additions to the backlog this month, from discount and sales on PSN and Xbox Live.
New game pickups
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag & Season Pass (PS4)
Borderlands: The Handsome Collection (PS4)
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (Xbox One)
I picked up Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag again. A game I’ve picked up before; free on PC and Games with Gold. And back in 2013 I actually purchased a version of this with my launch PS4 but never played it and sold it on. Given it’s one of the most highly regarded Assassin’s Creed I think it’s time to right that wrong. Also in a flash weekend sale, so just over £12 for the whole package (Season Pass unlock everything apart from ‘time saver’ packs).
I also picked up Borderlands: The Handsome Collection for PS4 for £8.99 (reviewed here), and in the Xbox Live Easter sale and grabbed Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Although I’ve barely played Origins this discount was too much to pass up the opportunity to play the latest release in the long running series.
Started this month where March left off. The Elder Scrolls Online has been running regular (Jester’s Festival, 5th year anniversary) events for tickets and double XP which has meant logging on for daily quest and playing the game. However I have now reached Champion Points 211 and completed the main original storyline.
Amongst the other games I have been playing are Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel. The games are still as fun as ever and I’ve easily had £9 of entertainment from the The Handsome Collection.
Completed, Abandoned & Shelved
Crackdown 3 (Campaign) I abandoned, and Abzû I completed. So that’s 2 games played and finished with this month. Unfortunately neither were on the backlog as both were via Xbox Game Pass.
If I can clear Wolfenstein: The New Order (getting closer to the ending but it seems to be the umpteen month I’ve been planning to play this one!) then there are a number of games on my radar that I’d like to put some serious time into.
For a moment Crackdown 3 had me. Even after a very short time running around the city, I was quickly addicted to collecting orbs and taking out locations on the map. However what quickly set-in was the realisation I was playing the same game again and despite 12-years passing nothing had really changed. Still immense fun though.
I have fond memories of the original 2007 Crackdown videogame. It’s one of the first times I remember watching friends virtually jump from new release to new release every Friday. Something that was quite new with the Xbox 360 as you could seeing what your friends were playing via the dashboard. Although I never played Crackdown in multiplayer I did progress the campaign through to the end and enjoyed the nice twist as part of the story. And hunting down agility orbs never got old.
That said a lot of open world games have come and been in the last 12-years. And Crackdown 3 has left a quick impression on me no matter how long I’ll play this game for. I don’t personally believe a reviewer or critic needs to complete a game or have played it for hours on end. Whilst games can often change mid-way of fall off a cliff after the first few missions I generally feel that you get a good feeling for a game early on, depending on the game type of course. That said I haven’t played this game for long at all barely totalling three hours but I feel that’s enough.
Crackdown 3 is, well…Crackdown. Again. Essentially the same game as the 2007 original but with a new lick of paint. Nothing has really changed. As you jump around you slowly level-up various aspects of your character unlocking new abilities and moves. So you can jump higher, move in mid-air, fire with more precision etc. Just like the original game. You still fight enemies with weapons or melee combat and feel like a superhero jumping around in a comic book town. The sense of progression is both addictive and memorising as you watch, literally in front of your eyes, your foot soldier transform into a superhuman law enforcer.
‘Time to collect those orbs agent!’
The game does look quite nice in 4K on Xbox One X (Crackdowngrade 3 aside) although very bland and sparse with a lack of detail about its futuristic city setting. Much in the same style as the original. Cutscenes are relatively short and the game has the feel of a limited budget production rather than triple AAA videogame with lots of comic book style, 2D style cutscenes. What ever they had though was certainly spent on the intro and the rendition of Terry Crews. As it is superbly accurate.
I haven’t tried or played any of the multiplayer as this doesn’t interest me, although I love the fact you can choose whether to download the campaign or multiplayer parts of the game separately. Bravo Microsoft on this Xbox One feature.
If I’m honest I probably wouldn’t have tried this game if it wasn’t on Xbox Game Pass and again is a great example of the strength of the subscription service. Although still a fun game it might actually be better for those that missed the original. This is a simple update of the first game but without adding anything to really improve or change it. And it that sense as more of the same, it can feel like a disappointment. Which is a massive shame.
Sorry another The Elder Scrolls Online update. I’ve finally completed the main campaign from the original game and I just had to write about it! On top of the recent reaching Champion Points 160 (i.e. Endgame) it feels like another major milestone in the game has been checked off.
Without sounding like a broken record but I think I have come to conclusion that the progression system just might be one of the best I’ve ever encountered in a videogame. Certainly the best in an MMO in my opinion. The vertical and horizontal progression in this game is immense.
Although the game can be a slow grind what has finally started happening in the last month is a massive payoff after years of playing the game. And it’s something I’ve not seen in other games. These recent achievements have included; completed the faction quest line, maxed out my class and armour skill lines, hitting Champion Points 160, maxing 3 main crafting skill lines (Woodworking, Clothier & Blacksmithing), being able to straight away craft my Law of Julianos set (solid PVE endgame gear set) and completing the main storyline. And so on. All of the milestones falling in quick succession after what seems like forever working towards them. On top of all of this and I’ve finally been able to earn my first Indrik mount from event tickets only after starting to work on this recently.
Overall it feels like a wonderful time for me in The Elder Scrolls Online. And tonight I hit an EU Megaserver login queue (c.8 minutes) which is a good sign of health for the overall game. I think that this is simply my favourite MMO at the moment and my Live Service game of choice for now.
There is still loads for me to do. To start working through DLC and expansion content, try to find some proper Legendary Endgame Weapons and Gear and most of my current setup is a mix of greens, blues and purples (fine, superior and epic quality respectively). I’m also in desperate need of mats for upgrading gear, or in-game gold to buy them. And most importantly Skill Shards to keep improving my crafting attributes. And a few Alts to level. Simply loads although whatever happens I’ve certainly had value and massive enjoyment from this game.
The only negative is I just might be burned out on The Elder Scrolls Online as the third expansion (Chapter); Elsweyr lands next month (on PC). Oh well there are worse problems to have I guess.
I’m not sure if I really wanted to write about Abzû from Giant Squid Studios. A 2016 game that I knew nothing about and tried following a recommendation. It is one of those games that it is best to know little about beforehand. I said something similar in my recent review of Dear Esther and it definitely applies with this videogame too.
However after playing through this game over a few hours I realised that Abzû had me wanted to acknowledge it. It felt like something I enjoyed and really think it is worth playing. Although it is a difficult game to put into words, so bare with me if I flounder at this. Like the aforementioned review of Dear Esther, I don’t want to go into too much detail but essentially an underwater adventure game. Although I would be inclined to describe it as more of an ‘experience’ or a ‘ride’.
It is beautiful, stylised and vibrant as it is simple. Abzû reminded me of certain Legend of Zelda games, which is a massive compliment. And it definitely had further parts that made me recall other popular games and films. I think that it does very well at providing some unique atmosphere and moments that are noteworthy or memorable.
The audio is standout and as good as the visuals. Whether it be the powerful and epic soundtrack, or the simple sound effects, which are matched to the game brilliantly. Either at individual level or as a package the whole game is executed very well.
Yes, it could be criticised for being shallow or way too short, but I think it’s best to just accept Abzû for what it is. Whilst the game might be very short it can be breathtaking, endearing and unique. And that makes it worth trying out if you like this style of game. It is very well made and rarely puts a foot wrong. I enjoyed this one.
My publisher says I can’t call them ‘Bonerfarts’ after all.
Sir Hammerlock, Borderlands 2.
The above quote early on in Borderlands 2 sums up the juvenile and internet meme-ridden humour that litters that game. Indeed the first Borderlands had its fair share of humour but the sequel cranked it up to new levels. To be fair it wasn’t the only thing it changed up from the original game. Larger maps, more quests, more characters, more varied environments, better story and more guns. Borderlands 2 was more fun, loot filled first person shooter gameplay but dialled up to 11.
After completing the original and (most) of it’s DLC I purchased Borderlands 2 at release and over the years spent nearly 130 hours on the PC version. So why am I writing a review of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection years later? Well because I recently purchased it from the PlayStation Network due to being on heavy discount. And it was very timely as only a few days later the developer, Gearbox Software, would announce the follow-up. Along with a new re-release of the original and some 4K DLC for 2015’s Handsome Collection. So a fairly timely review.
The free Ultra HD Texture Pack weighs in at 15.79GB on PSN and includes a new 4K resolution on the PlayStation 4 Pro, Xbox One X and PC. Well dynamic 4K on consoles at least. The Handsome Collection runs at full 1080p and 60 frames a second on the base Xbox One and PlayStation 4 so this free update ups the resolution and improves some of the textures in the game. It’s not a night and day difference but the free update has sharpened up the visuals for both included Borderlands games. I don’t think it’s perfect as there are small drops from 60fps. However for the most part both games run smoothly. It’s worth mentioning that The Handsome Collection introduced an adjustable Field Of View (FOV) slider. Anything above halfway (70-110) can cause frame drops in certain busier moments however.
The whole package is a massive performance boost over the original console versions on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Although I only played the original Borderlands on the Xbox 360 the limited FOV made you feel like you were running around wearing binoculars. The PC is still the best platform with the potential for over 60fps and Nvidia PhysX but the gap is now much more miniscule. The Handsome Collection includes both Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Unfortunately the first game wasn’t included which is a shame as it would have rounded off the whole package perfectly.
Borderlands 2 is widely regarded as the high point of the series to date and this is something I would definitely agree with. As a refinement on the original game its story and characters were a big step up from the original games providing countless hours of entertainment. And whether you max level a character or simply play the main storylines on normal it is always immense fun. Although one of the great things Borderlands always did well was understand it isn’t about the destination, but the journey. The best loot being able to drop at any point is a great choice in making levelling seem like part of the game.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! was something I never had much time for despite owning it in my PC backlog for years. Whether slightly irrational its presence irritated me. I regarded it as a cheap and quick cash-in that 2K Australia (who no longer exists) designed whilst Gearbox worked on their new project: Battleborn. What I really wanted was a true sequel to Borderlands 2. Unfortunately it would take Battleborn being a critical and financial failure for Gearbox to return to develop the recently announced sequel.
Playing The Pre-Sequel! For the first time now and I have very quickly realised it is basically more of the same. There are a few unique gameplay additions such as new laser weapons, the need to refill o2 air tanks for most classes and limited gravity. The games feels like more Borderlands 2 DLC doing very little to differentiate itself or anything drastically new. Still for fans it is fantastic and compliments the epic second games really well. The way the new weapons are introduced is fantastic and the game clearly has a lot of Australian references and in-jokes.
Overall Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is a nice re-release and certainly one improved by the recent free Ultra HD update (even with the new pre-order Borderlands 3 ‘nag’ screens and menu adverts). Borderlands 2 is a bonafide classic and this collection was always a great way to experience the two latest Borderlands games. In conclusion in 2019 it is still immense fun being a Vault Hunter. Badass!
Played on PlayStation 4 Pro. Borderlands 2 previously played on PC.
It has been over nine months since setting up this website. I came at it with limited knowledge of blogging, website setup or content creation in general. As something I do in my spare time I thought it might be helpful to list out the tools I have found most useful so far.
This has been a fairly organic process and therefore there may be changes in the apps, software or services I use over time. It’s also worth mentioning that I don’t currently worry about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or keeping up with ‘trend’ articles to maximise hits on the website.
Obviously built on WordPress. The setup relies on very few plugins and one of the basic default themes which I really liked. So there isn’t too much to say here than other than WordPress being the king of website management systems and an industry standard. It is however very poor at managing the pipeline for future content.
Generating and creating content
OneNote Windows 10 app
There are a few different tools in this area, but for me OneNote from Microsoft has been brilliant. I was already a keen note taker and using OneNote. It’s a powerful tool for making notes and sketching out ideas. Like all of the choices here, cloud based and available across different devices. Which is a must.
Evernote is something I love and have used since 2010. Therefore this is another viable choice but I migrated away from Evernote a few years ago, simply because it’s a bad value proposition for a single purpose app if you already have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription. Although Evernote has more capable media clipping, nicer online web app and often better integration with other services. OneNote is second to none in freeform writing as Evernote text input is more like using a tradition word processor and quite limited in comparison. Both are great choices though.
Evernote web app
If I was collaborating more or needed more powerful text editing I would probably consider Google Docs or Office 365 as well.
Managing the content pipeline
OneNote (or Evernote) are great for turning ideas into content but lack workflow management. In general I’ve hated most To Do tools because the list format used doesn’t give a great holistic view. And therefore for any task management I am currently trialling Trello.
Trello web app
Trello is really meant for collaborating with others and managing tasks within larger projects. However it also works well for personal To Do lists and managing due dates etc. Mainly because of its visually appealing Kanban task view. Whether I upgrade to the Gold version will depend on a few factors but the ‘power-up’ features (addons) such as linking to OneDrive, Calendars, Automation amongst others are really appealing.
Again there is a fully featured mobile app, and a native Windows 10 app. However it doesn’t do anything the browser version won’t, and doesn’t allow extensions. Such as…
Spelling & Grammar Checks
Obviously most apps have basic spelling and grammar checking built in but I did try Grammarly. This is a powerful grammar and spell checker service that runs across a few different apps.
It didn’t play nice with WordPress when I used the Chrome Extension. It might be my configuration or technique but Grammarly only seems to work after editing text blocks and therefore missed mistakes. I’m also not enamoured on the idea of the Terms of Service and storage/ownership of everything I write. So I am still searching for something I am entirely happy with.
Other future tools I need to look into
Notion – It aims to offer note taking, to do list and task management which makes it extremely intriguing and a possible all-in-one replacement for OneNote and Trello in the future. Like most of the services it operates on a free and premium model so I will check out at some point. Also a very new app on the scene.
Canva – currently my main logo is something I created over 20 years ago (and it shows!). Therefore I need to look rebranding at some point and this will be something I check out.
And that’s it for now
You often see these ‘best tools’ articles that can exist to maximise search results or stealth sell something. However this is a genuine look at the tools I have used so far to help build and maintain my website. These are a relatively effective combination in my view and hopefully my experience or thoughts may help others starting out too.
Just over three months into the year and already a third set of headphones or headset in as many months. That wasn’t necessarily intended and hopefully this doesn’t set a trend and this blog is dominated by headphone reviews. I recently wrote about the Plantronics RIG 400HX headset and my need for a cheap headset for use with my consoles, PC and other devices such my Android phone. Whilst the Plantronics headset was absolutely fine as a budget option my curiosity was peaked about the Cooler Master MH751 headset after a review on the Z Reviews YouTube channel (particularly after Amazon ran a £5 off promotion recently).
There are two versions of this Cooler Master headset; the MH751 which I purchased, and the MH752. The MH752 includes a USB DAC and sell for approximately £15 to £20 more in the United Kingdom. The MH751 doesn’t include the USB DAC but does have a mute button and volume wheel on the included 3.5mm cable. Otherwise the two models are exactly the same. Given I don’t really have a need for a USB DAC I plumped for the cheaper of the two versions.
The headphones are basically a rebranded Takstar Pro 82 but with some small changes. The Takstar Pro 82’s have a bass slider with 3 presets. Cooler Master has removed these and fixed the bass response. In addition they have added a removable boom omnidirectional microphone, and the ear cups are slightly wider. The Takstar Pro 82’s are highly regarded as a great set of budget closed-back headphones that punch above their price and are exceptionally comfortable. Indeed if you only wanted a set of headphones with no need for a microphone then the Takstar’s sell for a similar price and include a wonderful carry case as a bonus.
So from a comfort point of view the MH751 are probably the most comfortable headphones I have ever tried. Perfect clamping pressure, relatively lightweight, soft ear padding and a headband with no pressure. Exceptionally comfortable. The only observation is that my ears get warmer compared to my open backed headphones but this is fairly standard for a closed-back set.
The headphones have a metal headband covered with a soft pleather material. However the rest of the headphone is mostly a rubberised plastic that feels solid and is nice to the touch. The 1.5m braided audio cable is near perfect length although it could be shorter for when plugged into Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controllers. The 3.5mm connector is also made of the same rubberised plastic. Overall the headset have a wonderful plain black look with the very simple outline Coolmaster logo which makes these headphones perfect for using outside or at an office. The ear cups and pads do a fantastic job of isolating sound and suffer very little sound leakage. Albeit there is a small amount.
One minor negative is the lack of a port hole cover for when the removable microphone isn’t attached. Although the omnidirectional microphone sounds very good here and the build quality again is good. However a simple plastic cover for when the microphone isn’t in use would have been ideal. What I can say though is that the MH751 comes with a couple of really useful accessories. Firstly a splitter cable for using on a PC again made from that rubberised plastic. And small travel pouch. Overall as a package they are impressive to behold for their price. Even the packaging itself feels more premium than the price tag.
The MH751/752 have stealth looks, removable microphone, are closed-back backed and have a relatively low impedance of 26 ohms and can be used with any device. This all combines to create a pair of headphones that can be used in an office, or on the move as well as at home. For example they are the perfect partner for my laptop when I am on the move.
In terms of audio quality the MH751’s are vibrant and cope with detail well. Not bass heavy although there is some body to the bass and as a closed-back back set of headphones they do have more impact here. However the soundstage is impressive for closed-back back headphones and they work well for multiplayer games where identifying where other players are is important. Although the headphones are ideal for gaming, I found them fantastic for music as well. Although I didn’t like them as much as my open backed headphones for watching movies on although still very good. I think this is in part due to their lack of depth even if they have a relatively wide soundstage.
Overall I really like the Cooler Master MH751. I like them a lot. For me these fit the use case of a relatively budget closed-back headset which also has the added benefit of being a set of headphones I can use away from home. It feels like Cooler Master have taken a really well regarded set of closed-back headphones and added a microphone whilst making the bass balance nearly perfect for videogames.
A bargain at the price I paid, but even at £10 or £20 more, still a brilliant and very versatile gaming headset. Would absolutely recommend.
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 4a 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 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.
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.
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:
17 Games Played, of which 9 are NEW games
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.
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.