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.

Competition Pro Extra USB Joystick – Anniversary Edition

Purchased February 2019, £30.04 from Amazon UK

If you are of a certain age and played videogames in the late 1980s or early 1990s the Competition Pro was a very familiar sight in the UK. Particularly with the rise of the 16-bit home computers such as the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST. Along with other sticks like various Quickfire models, the Cheetah 125+ and Zipstick. You would always bump into these joysticks and the Competition Pro was just one of those popular and iconic controllers of the era.

And despite owning various arcade sticks and joypads over the years I’ve never got around to picking up any of the more modern re-releases of this classic from Speedlink. So I let out a squeal of delight this week when I accidently found on Amazon that Speedlink has released a new updated Competition Pro Extra USB Joystick. It is a perfect time and excuse to pick one up.

Competition Pro Extra USB Joystick in its box.

It has been 25 years or so since I last held and used one of the original Competition Pro joysticks. So my memory may be hazy, but essentially this feels like I’ve picked up the same joystick. The microswitched stick feels as tight and stiff as ever. And the clicky microswitched big buttons on the front of the base are still faithfully there. This is a genuine Competition Pro updated for modern USB devices.

The stick is advertised as working with Microsoft Windows and Google Android operating systems. However I’ve been using it exclusively with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ and RetroPie and it works fine (I assume it also works on Linux but haven’t had a chance to check).

Essentially a digital joystick with 4 independent buttons and an auto-fire switch. The joystick has a 1.8m (just under 6ft) USB cable. This isn’t the longest length depending on how far away you are from the computer or box you are plugging the stick into but should be enough for most use cases. This new release has an increased polling rate over earlier USB versions and to be fair it shows. I didn’t feel any lag on inputs when playing with this joystick.

The Competition Pro Extra USB Joystick in all it's black and red colour scheme glory.

My only issue is the red ‘speedlink’ logo near the back of the base behind the stick. This feels like it is in the wrong place and does spoil the overall look of the controller a little bit in my opinion. All that said hopefully there is a chance of a clear transparent and red version in the future (which is obviously the best looking colour scheme for the Competition Pro).

The quality and feel of this stick is fantastic. It feels robust and well made like it was from the 1980s. And in many ways it makes the experience of playing older 8/16-bit games much more authentic than using a modern controller, like a Microsoft Xbox 360 joypad or similar. The price of around £30 is perfect for what you get. Which also includes 20 retro-style Windows compatible games.

So hats off to Speedlink and thank you for releasing this wonderful product.

More information can be found on the Speelink website here.

Hammerwatch Review

Hammerwatch is one of a number of games I started playing this last Christmas. It has been unplayed in my Steam library for years (I purchased it New Year’s day in 2014 for just over £2). It’s an indie, pixel art, 2D overhead dungeon crawler with loads and loads of enemies to kill. And unlike many games of its ilk isn’t a rogue-like and isn’t quite a twin stick shooter, although it arguably comes close.

The game has six different classes that can be selected and do have a noticeable impact on the gameplay. Each class has a different main attack and skills. And having played the Wizard followed by the Ranger I can say that the class can have an impact on the difficulty too. I found the Ranger easier with a better range on the main attack.

Hammerwatch screenshot from the PC version.

The levels are fairly large, easy to get lost within and can take a while to progress through with big boss battles breaking up the action towards the end of each chapter. Although it’s worth mentioning that while the game has two campaigns included to play through it does also have survival and wave-based modes as well.

I think this is a game that comes alive with other people although unfortunately I only played it solo. Although it’s fun I found the core gameplay loop can get repetitive quickly as ultimately most of the enemies have either one or two attack patterns. There are upgrades and a combo mechanic that can introduce slightly new elements to the gameplay but ultimately this is a very simple kill hordes of enemies and seek keys to unlock new areas. Although there are also some cool secrets to find.

There is a lot of content here and I do think the game has plenty of fun moments. The controls could be better though. This might just be the PC version but I tried both the Steam Controller and a Wireless Xbox 360 Controller. Essentially you have to use Right Trigger or A button to fire your main weapon, whilst using the left stick for movement and right stick for aiming. When you combine this with the extra skills that are on the front facing buttons (by default) it can make it overly complex to get everything working quickly as the gameplay requires. This felt like a game which is crying out for twin stick support. So shooting with the right analogue stick as well as aiming direction. I do think this change would immeasurably improve the gameplay albeit make the game slightly easier.

As an aside I’ve said recently the Steam Controller works well in certain games. Although I didn’t feel this was one of them. With the dual haptic pads, instead of sticks, I was often struggling to aim the 8 directional fire as easily as on dual analogue sticks although there is an almost unlimited customisation for the Steam controller to improves things.

I don’t currently score games as I generally just write up my feelings on the game in question but this would be a hard one to score overall. It is a simple fun old school 2D shooter which has a neat visual style, nice audio, and great ending mechanic to ensure replayability and different modes to enjoy. However it does get samey, repetitive and feel overly simple. However the developer has continued to support the game years after release on PC which is to be commended. I would have personally enjoyed this game more with a better control scheme and I suspect this is more fun when played with someone else. However even just playing on my own I still played through to complete the campaign which is a sign that I had fun with this game.

Played the PC / Steam version.

Creative Sound Blaster X7 Review

Not that long before setting up this website I purchased a Creative Sound Blaster X7 (June 2018). I always meant to draft a few words on it but in a very short space of time it has quickly blended into my setup and become a fairly inconspicuous piece of hardware that gets used all the time. So my thoughts are based on seven months of heavy usage.

For a long time audio to me was TV speakers, mainstream PC sound cards and basic headphones. Over the years I purchased a few cheap headsets and never really got the best from my audio setup. Buying cheap Creative 5.1 Surround speakers was something I did a couple of times with my earlier PC builds. And I remember one time many, many years ago buying a Speedlink Medusa 5.1 headset which was really horrid because it was prone to interference through its breakout box and seemed to always provide a hissy sound. So I suppose like a lot of people audio was an afterthought.

Fast forward to 2012 and I suddenly decided to start investigating much better sound solutions. I ended up buying high-end PC sound cards (an Asus ROG Phoebus that quickly became a Creative Sound Blaster ZxR sound card), Sennheiser HD 598 headphones, A FIIO E3/E7 external DAC and AMP combination and a Astro A40 and MixAmp 5.8 set. I also went through some Philips Fidelio X1 headphones as well. What all of these did was give me a serious appreciation for better sound particularly where games were concerned. I had heard good AV/HiFi setups but not many great videogame audio solutions. Over the course of a few months I now had access to reasonably good sound quality and headphones. Indeed even though not an audiophile it even inspired me to completely re-encode all of my music CDs that were once an iTunes library into lossless FLAC file format.

Last year as I started to think about needing to simplify my audio setup. Whilst having all these individual components was great spending money on one device made more sense. I wanted something that I could use with my PC and videogame consoles. I deliberated on whether to buy an external DAC and AMP like a Schiit stack. In the end I settled for the Creative Sound Blaster X7 because I realised that as a gamer first, virtual surround is still incredibly important to me. And therefore for the same money whilst better quality audio solutions might exist for music, I could trade off some of that quality to give me a great setup for gaming.

Creative Sound Blaster X7 in its box sitting on top of my old desktop PC.

The Creative Sound Blaster X7 has been out for a while now, being released in 2015. However it remains relatively unique in terms of its feature set. It’s main strength is it is a multi-platform, multiple input DAC/AMP that can work with almost any device and supports both Dolby Digital and Creative’s own SBX surround enhancements. There are much more detailed write-ups, particularly around specifications and audio quality, within one of the many Head-Fi reviews from when the device was released.

Here is a list summarising the things the Creative Sound Blaster X7 is really GOOD at:

  • High quality sound output.
  • Allows multiple inputs at the same time including Optical, USB, Bluetooth etc. So you can listen to a podcast or YouTube video on your PC or Android mobile, whilst playing a console game.
  • Capable enough amp to drive ‘up to 600 ohm’ headphones. That may not be the case but fine driving the full range on my AKG K702 (62 ohm) or Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro (250 ohm) headphones.
  • Brilliant and powerful set of options laid out on the PC Control Panel to adjust surround, calibrate speakers and so on. Will work without drivers though.
  • iOS and Android mobile app with access to the same control panel to access settings over Bluetooth, particularly useful when you don’t want to boot up your PC.
  • Dolby Digital decoder for PS4 and Xbox One via optical input (TOSLINK) but with a solid amp and SBX enhancements that give a very high quality sound. Particularly in comparison to something like the Astro MixAmp.
  • Automatically powers down after 20-minutes to save power.
  • Can work with the Creative BT-02 Bluetooth Adaptor to support wireless voice chat. So less cables! (PC and PS4 only though, not applicable for Xbox).
  • Can output to the powered 2.0 Edifier Speakers I have and automatically changes to headphones output when an audio jack is plugged in.

However like anything it isn’t without NEGATIVES. Such as:

  • Lack of physical controls. Need to use the control panel software to switch between speakers and headphones which can be annoying if you leave your headphones plugged in.
  • Cannot adjust auto standby, so the timing is always set to 20-minutes. And auto standby if Bluetooth device is connected.
  • Voice chat on Xbox can be a mess with wires required to be split in order to plug into a newer Xbox One controller.
  • No indicator on the volume dial.
  • Very minor point, but no theming on the PC or mobile control panel apps. Specifically a dark mode option.

Summary

I love the Creative Sound Blaster X7. It often gets compared unfavourably to the Schiit Modi/Magni stack however that is based on US pricing ($400 RRP). In the UK the X7 now sells for around £240 (I paid under £260) which is the same price as the Schiit Modi/Magni stack. Whilst that is likely a better choice for quality stereo sound the X7 is undoubtedly a more complete package for videogames. Particularly when it is so able at dealing with multiple platforms. And it isn’t like the x7 is bad at dealing with high quality music either. It is very capable external DAC and AMP for music and movies that happens to be great for gaming.

Since I purchased the X7, Creative have released the Sound BlasterX G6 external DAC/AMP which supports Dolby Digital as well as SBX. However because this doesn’t have outputs for speakers it would have to be paired with an headphone amp like the Schiit Magni for a similar price, or both the Schiit Magni and Modi but would cost £130 to £150 more.

The key question would I buy this product again. And whilst Creative probably have a successor on the horizon sooner than later, the Creative Sound Blaster X7 is one of my better audio purchases. A brilliantly versatile device.

FTL: Faster Than Light Review

During the past month or so I have managed to play a few of the indie games from my Steam backlog. Randomly nearly all games that were released in 2012. And of all of them this is by far and away the one I have my enjoyed the most.

Although I have to own up to a mistake. Only upon playing FTL:Faster Than Light recently have I realised I wasn’t playing it quite correctly when I first tried playing the game. At the time I realised that you could upgrade weapons, augmentations and crew members in the numerous stores found in the game. However I hadn’t realised you could actually upgrade the ship to power up things like shields, or weapons from the main screen. Therefore I thought it was a cool roguelike but a bit hard as I struggled in the latter systems. That said I was still able to reach sector 5 and unlock the Engi Cruiser ship!

FTL: Faster Than Light screenshot from the PC version.

Once you get the hang of the game (and yes, there is a basic tutorial for dummies like me) what opens up is a fantastic roguelike futuristic space games where you never know how each run of commanding your fleeing spaceship will play out. Whether this is a successful run or where one of the numerous alien ships will bring your run to a crushing end on the next jump.

The game is hard. Even on easy the game will kill you a lot. Particularly to begin with. With over 12 hours of so played I’ve seen my ships get wrecked far too often. The game will let you experience a massive range of emotions and it has some fantastically tense moments where you can literally come back from near death with only one bar of ship health.

There some things the game did which annoyed me or I didn’t like. There is no auto pause on enemy encounters once you’ve clicked on the dialog options. This mean you have to press the spacebar to pause every time which gets annoying quickly. And it would have been nice to see previous runs count in a progression model, even if it was cosmetics or something simple like crew names carrying over. However some of this is perhaps over analysing the game for what it is.

And for me of all the indie games I’ve played I think this is one of the best examples I have ever played. Although not a huge fan of rogue-like games it’s hard not to appreciate how beautiful, simple yet complex and wonderfully diverse this game is. The highest compliment is that it makes me want to check out the developer’s next game (Into the Breach) even before seeing all the rave reviews that game has received.

But for now, engage warp drive…

Played the PC / Steam version.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP Review

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was first released in 2011 for iOS, although on PC it wasn’t released until the following year. A bit like Dear Esther which I reviewed recently it’s been in my Steam library since 2012 after picking it up from a Humble Bundle at some point. Also like Dear Esther it isn’t a long game, taking under 5 hours to play through.

The game can be best described as an indie 2d adventure game with some puzzle elements and a small amount of action. However some of these felt more like a rhythm action game in certain sequences. Without saying too much the story centres on one character who ventures into the mountains shortly after coming across some non-player characters in the game. The story is split into parts which you must complete.

Superbrothers: Sword & Brothers EP screenshot

Audio is an absolute strength of the game, both in the soundtrack and the sound effects. The pacing as well, being perfectly in-tune to what was going on in game. A professional musician helped with the soundtrack and it shows. There is a fantastic pixel-like style to the graphics and the whole package is just very well put together, particularly for the less than five pounds the game sells for on Steam (in the UK). It is a very pretty and charming game than made an impact with me.

That said there are two main issues I saw with the game. Firstly the controls on the PC version didn’t feel great. The biggest issue is that the touch screen controls have simply been mapped to the mouse with no use of keyboard of even joypad controls. This lack of direct control really dampened the experience for me. It plays more as a point and click game but at times I was having to click more than once because mouse clicks simply weren’t registered because of the touchscreen controls expecting you to hold down rather than press quickly. On top of this in fights I couldn’t be precise when needed to and therefore resorted to mashing the mouse button which made these parts more irritating than they should have been.

Secondly the game time-gates content to a real world clock. You can adjust your clock settings although you lose a perfect percentage score at the end. And there is an in-game mechanical for changing phases however this is broken (whether intentional or otherwise) if events have been completed in a certain order. This meant I had to wait over a week just to be able to progress the game. I’m not sure that was really necessary. Other than that some of the puzzles aren’t about logical deduction and become simple trial and error.

This is probably a game best experienced on touch screen and portable devices not just because of the controls that have been designed around a tablet but also the gameplay which is suited as a more casual experience and therefore something you can enjoy on the move. Overall a really abstract, weird and unique experience that I enjoyed for the most part.

Played the PC / Steam version.

Dear Esther: Landmark Edition Review

I purchased Dear Esther in 2012 for the princely sum of £1.74. It’s the perfect example of the sort of game that fills up my library on Steam. Anyway with a bit of time over the holidays I’ve managed to complete it. It is a very short experience and it doesn’t take much time at all to playthrough.

Dear Esther screenshot

I don’t really want to say too much about it because it’s one of those experiences that best enjoyed with as little knowledge as possible. Essentially it’s the original videogame that created the walking simulator genre that has since become quite popular. So a noteworthy videogame in that regard.

It’s difficult to summarise how I feel about it, as at times it feels too vague for want of a better word. That said it is technically well done, quite atmospheric and pretty in places. It’s also well voiced and the soundtrack in general is good. I didn’t enjoy it as much as other similar games and in that sense it’s hard to disagree with either those that don’t like it or those who enjoyed it and really appreciate it for what it is.

It’s worth mentioning that I played the Landmark Edition that was given away for free to owners of the original game to celebrate its release on consoles and includes a director’s commentary and was remade in the Unity engine unlike the original PC Source-engine release.

And finally just a note to say that the Steam Controller is pretty much perfect for this sort of game. I’m not a huge fan of that controller and prefer the main console controllers for multiple reasons. But here the Steam Controller works really well. Particularly the haptic pads which require less resistance to move.

Played the PC / Steam version.

2018 Review: In numbers (not that many!)

As we are coming up for the end of year I wanted to have a look at my progress against my backlog since I set this website up around five months ago. Originally my intention was to setup up a WordPress site from scratch, learn new skills, as well as being able to track how many games I own, or have access to. Sites like Grouvee are very good at logging games but generally very bad at a timeline view.

2018 in numbers

  • Backlog: Increased by 12 (264 to 278)
  • Played: Increased by 3 (192 to 195)
  • Completed = 2
  • Abandoned = 1
  • Played = 6

So overall not that many games played, or completed although as a whole I think I managed to play a total of 17 games this year. However I only set-up tracking along with this site in July, so there may be a chance that I’ve missed a game or two. However this number excludes retro games like Tetris on the Nintendo Game Boy.

There is a discrepancy in my figures on Grouvee because I’ve realised I have played 6 new games for the first time since setting up the website: Rage, Fortnite: Save the World, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, Forza Motorsport 7, Dying Light and Starlink. Everything else was either played earlier in the year or I had started playing before. I believe the discrepancy is simply that I am not regarding a game as played on Grouvee until I am done with it (i.e. Rage).

However what is clear is that I have been playing GaaS/Live Services games and when I’m not playing these sort of games I do speed-up considerably at progressing in other games. I’ve written about this before. In addition other projects such as buying a new PC, upgrading my Unraid server, house DIY and work etc. have also played their part in limiting my time playing games.

With regards to purchasing new games it doesn’t appear too bad. However some of this is rebuying games on Xbox Live or Playstation Network which I already owned on PC and therefore hasn’t increased the numbers. Also free games from Games With Gold, PlayStation Plus or Game Pass reduced my new purchasing a little bit. Although I don’t add these onto my backlog figures, overall I nearly acquired 100 new games in the time of setting up the website. Most of these will be free games.

2019: the year ahead

I suspect it going to be hard to ignore The Division 2 in late February although I would like to avoid the launch and see what the game is like first. Partly because of how other similar games like Destiny 2 went, but also to allow time for microtransactions and the overall business model to settle. There are a few games like Anthem and Days Gone that are also intriguing to me.

Beyond that I missed out on a number of big hitters from the second half of this year that are on my Wishlist. Namely Forza Horizon 4, Marvel’s Spiderman and Red Dead Redemption 2. Depending on sales these might be games I pick up sooner than later. I do have access to Forza Horizon 4 via Game Pass but am put off by not having the VIP pack (earn in-game credits 2 times faster).

I would also like to buy a Nintendo Switch but with a hardware revision rumoured in the second half of 2019 this will be put on-hold for now.

And other than that probably continuing to move away from PC gaming. I am still playing many PC games but the fact is with the sharp increase in the cost of PC components (particularly in the UK) I have therefore stopped buying as many games on PC. And this is something I intend to continue with as we see new Sony and Microsoft consoles in the near future. Dying Light, Rage and Inside are all good examples of games I purchased or played on console that previously I would have picked up on PC.

Realistic targets

It would be nice to complete or shelve somewhere in the region of 15 to 25 videogames in 2019. I think that might be hard but achievable. Certainly I would like to have played at least double the number from this year. As the first full calendar year of monitoring this will be interesting to see if I can meet this target.

Anyway an early ‘Happy New Year!’ for everyone who read this far. Thank you.