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Review

Whilst certainly on a roll from the past two episodes, it’s now the time of the tricky third album. Can Telltale pull it out the bag and expand on the ever intriguing storyline?

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Brothers, but for how long?

Of course they can, once again; as soon as the infallible intro music has run its course, you’re in for another couple of hours’ worth of relentlessly capturing gameplay. Whilst of course the mechanics haven’t been altered, it still feels like fresh new content, mostly in part due to the addictive narrative styling of the writers. As is evident from the teasers, and the previous episodes ‘next time on…’ section, one of the first few sequences pits you up against a fabled dragon in another of Asher’s well-choreographed action scenes. Not only are there choices aplenty, but several have meaningful consequences that you might well not have the foresight to see.

As per usual, each of the Forrester’s storylines are intertwined with excellent pacing and depth. No sooner have you reached yet another inevitable stumbling block for the poor House Forrester, when the arch twists and turns before presenting another character embroiled in their own plight. The focus on this episode seems geared much more towards the potential of intertwined goals from each member than before. Characters will reference one another’s tasks whilst not so subtly implying that the outcome of which will have meaningful consequences on one another.

Whilst there are still the infamous QTE fight scenes, they’re handled with much more respect to the action this time around. It admittedly helps that the fights you engage in are often with characters that are much more meaningful than generic guards. Emotions will be high as you stick up for friends and attempt to follow vows, even they do contradict what you might be feeling at the time. The developers have also done an excellent job of making the QTE’s less arduous and seemingly more related to what’s happening on screen. A lunge for a blade feels a lot more natural this time around for example.

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Surprise!

It’s not only the conversations that embed problematic decisions anymore either. Several times during one of the excellently composed fight scenes, you are presented with an opportunity to decide where on your opponent to strike, do you show them mercy, or are the atrocities they’ve committed too large to ignore?

Opportunities to explore your surroundings appear to be less and less available as the season progresses, but whereas before this might’ve been a problem, now it simply help the game flow and lets it dictate its own pace. There’ll be the odd section where you can have yourself a little wander and muse about the surroundings, but for the most part, it’s all about the brutal conversations and their dreaded repercussions.

Without trying to give too much away, things are still dire for House Forrester. The injured Rodrick steals the scenes most often with his dwindling grasp of Ironwrath due to the invasion of the Whitehills; humility and self-preservation being the forefront of his set of decisions. Asher and his companions still struggle with regards of finding an army who’ll answer the call and Mira gets progressively fleshed out as she interacts with members of the Lannister family; inevitably becoming torn between the obvious two powerhouses. Gared continues his goal of searching for the mythical North Grove at the bequest of the fallen, and of course has numerous interactions with a certain Mr. Snow. You get the feeling that this is certainly the midpoint of the season due to all the trails being fully explored and realised; whilst this does come at the cost of potential newer narrative arch’s, it does bring aboout the plight of each characters struggles sinking in.

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A tree worthy of nightmares

Despite the ever enjoyable writing and story-lines, the technical side of things isn’t nearly as polished. The brushed art style looks discernibly great at times, whereas in others, it’s starting to show its age. Some character animations are a little stiff and aside from the fight scenes, it can look a tad awkward. The frame rate can suffer at times too, as can the lip synching, it’s not a huge problem, but it’s certainly noticeable.

The amounts of difficult and thought-provoking choices are definitely a forte of the writers and there’s no sign of them slowing down anytime soon. Episode three continues the trend of the series and shows once again that great writing alone, can make a great game.

With the giant void left by the undeniably disappointing city builder that shall remain unnamed (*cough* Sim City *cough*) I for one was left with an itch to scratch. Luckily the lovely people over at Colossal Order have just the answer for us. Moving forward from the great Cities in Motion games they decided to have a go at a fully fledged city builder. All be it winner of the ‘Most Awkwardly Named Game 2015’ award.

Taking your first steps into a city can be an intimidating experience, particularly if tutorials are over intrusive or under developed. There’s a lot of tools and a lot to learn. Across the bottom of the screen is a toolbar that contains all the stuff you need to create your city. Initially there is only a limited selection for you to play with. As your population grows more tools become available and the pacing is just perfect.

Features like global policies that can reduce power consumption or increase fire safety are introduced at a rate that never feels like a bombardment. The same goes for buildings and services. Rather than a sit down and read endless pop-ups style tutorial features are gradually introduced so that only small explanations are needed at each stage. It really lets you get hooked even during those often tedious early learning stages.

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Another reason Skylines is so fun straight from the start is that each and every tool you use is so effortless. From square one I created a dual carriageway with streets set to one way traffic, a junction and a satisfyingly freeform residential block. I didn’t get stuck or have to continuously remove and relay sections of the road. I just clicked on the tool and started building. I did all this in the first 5 minutes of gameplay.

There’s a zone system used that is very similar to everyone’s favourite Sim City game. But again the tools are there for you to make your life easy. Streets come ready equipped with grids attached that you can either paint one square at a time, use a paint brush tool or even a fill tool to create entire blocks easily. Then waiting just a little time everything comes to life as buildings are erected and citizens go about their daily lives.

Linking up electricity and water facilities is satisfyingly simple too. Once you’ve created your water pump each property will need connecting up with pipes. Once again in the interest of user friendliness pipes have a decent sized radius around them and any areas within it will have sewage pumped away and fresh water in. Pylons too are needed to connect each area to your power plants but it is assumed that cables come included to transfer the power locally so you don’t need to spend hours connecting every single building. In fact my little town had power, water and sewage needs sorted within minutes. Even 20 minutes in I had a decent little town starting to thrive.

All this simplicity isn’t to imply that Skylines isn’t complex. Underneath the user friendly interface there are a set of menus and tables that reveal some of the numbers that lie beneath. Finances, happiness, healthcare, education, crime and transport are all detailed enough to make Skylines worthy of any city building fan. That swing meter balancing act is calculated just as well as the intentionally paced introduction of tools.

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Another major victory for Skylines is the potential size of your city. At first appearance it looks to be OK. Nothing special but probably about the same size as Sim City allowed. But, and it’s a giant unmissable BUT, Skylines allows you to expand and include multiple city-sized tiles in one giant city. So once you’re city is big enough, you can expand and make it bigger. Rather than be forced to stop and never play again.

Once your city grows the districting tool starts to become very important. It allows you to paint an area, select the relevant policies and even allows you to select an industrial specialization. For example, you can make an industrial zone agricultural or just leave it general. Each area is automatically given a realistic sounding name and referencing different parts of your city by districts adds a nice layer of realism.

The only thing that some may not like is the slightly sandbox style, especially later in the game. Once the learning curve and introduction of tools is done with there are very little objectives to give you direction. If you’re quite happy developing a city and have enough self motivation to keep going then Skylines will not be a problem. It definitely provides you with enough space and tools to create whatever city you like. But those looking for an objective driven experience may be left wanting. For many the sandbox way will be a plus point but everyone else optional objectives to follow wouldn’t have done any harm.

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Skylines knows what other games have done wrong and pulls no punches in getting it absolutely right. Colossal Order also have more than their fair share of experience working with Cities and know how to use that experience. The ‘miniature village’ style is gorgeous and intricately detailed. You can even see people leaving houses, getting in cars and driving around. There’s a real eye for detail that you can see in Skylines if you’re willing to look. Another big winner is the size of the city. Knowing that you can keep expanding at least for five entire city sized tiles is relieving.

But there’s no doubt at all that the key to Skyline’s success is in the design of its interfaces and tools. Every element of the interface is simple and fun. I didn’t need to remove and relay roads or demolish incorrectly placed pipes. It didn’t take painstaking hours to hook everyone up with water and power. Every tool is just a joy to use. Making sure the tools you’re given to build the city with are accessible and fun to use was no mistake and Skylines gets it right every step of the way.

 

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As Quadcopter filming becomes ever popular, more and more companies are providing their own consumer level videography solutions.

One such company is Yuneec Inc, who have come up with a potentially game changing all-in-one hardware offering that seems to give a great balance of both in the air AND on the ground filming that could turn the “Pro-sumer” on it’s head.

To find out more, Moobit caught up with Yuneec at their Gadget Show Live stand to get an exclusive glimpse of their upcoming Go-Pro Hero action camera compatible “Pro-Action Steadicam Grip” – due to release later this year – whilst also getting a product tour of their existing proprietary camera toting “CGO Steady Grip” – both of which are compatible with their brilliant “Typhoon Q 500+” Quadcopter which brings you an “all in one box solution” by letting you swap out the 3-axis camera and gimble attached to the Quad Copter and then attach it to the relevant Steadicam Grip – using your own smartphone as a viewfinder!

Look out for a full tech review of this videography solution by moobit in the coming months. In the meantime, further information can be found at the Yuneec Website.

Our favorite Fezcam wearing Freelancer returns with another report straight from the Gadget Show Live expo floor – This time we bring you a multiple product review of the latest in Smartphone Pico projector technologies from Apitek.

The i55 and i60 are both an “all-in-one” solution for your iPhone 5s and iPhone 6 respectively, with the A5oP bridging the gap for Android OS devices. Also featured is the top spec A100W Pico projector, which as you’ll see is packed full of features!

MORE INFO:
Aiptek Website
Aiptek Facebook Page
Aiptek Twitter Feed

 

MUSIC BY (and used with permission of): TeknoAXE

Our resident Daddy/Daughter tech team, Moobit and his Daughter CheekyParrot bring you another hilarious and honest (C.P, like every 7 year old tells it as she sees it!) review – this time it’s the turn of the Philips Screeneo HDP1590 Short-throw Projector.

This cool piece of technology runs on Android OS and gives you a 100inch+ screen from only around 40cm away from the wall – perfect for gamers and Man-Caves with limited space.

Moobit will follow this up with a shorter “pro-shoot” video review of the Screeneo right here on CDW in the coming weeks, but for now, please enjoy this fabulously entertaining pair giving a hilarious twist on the usual generic “un-boxing” video:

More from Moobit and CheekyParrot:
*Screeneo at Gadget Show Live: CDW Report
*Moobit Vs Cheeky Parrot: Super Smash Bros live
*Alton Towers Haunted House 2015 Updates: DUEL

PROUD TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH: http://www.specialeffect.org.uk – Make a donation NOW and change a child’s life – GAME ON FOR EVERYONE!

MUSIC BY (and used with permission of): TeknoAXE

If you have a large TV that you want to wall mount, you might want to read our review of the Sanus VLF311-B2 TV Mount.

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The SANUS VLF311 Super Slim full-motion mount places 37″ – 84″ TVs just 1.36″ / 3.5 cm from the wall, yet still allows full-motion capabilities. With its cable management guide, the VLF311 keeps loose cables organized, creating a clean appearance without compromising TV movement. A cutting-edge gliding system makes ideal TV positioning effortless—TV can easily extend away from the wall and shift left or right on the wall plate. The VLF311 always has a finished appearance with a decorative cover that conceals assembly and mounting hardware.

Features

  • Conceal exposed hardware with decorative cover
  • Conceal unsightly cables
  • Easily adjust your TV without tools
  • Enjoy a great picture no matter where you watch
  • Expandable TV brackets ensure a perfect fit
  • Hardware included
  • Levelling adjustments allow TV to be perfectly positioned after hanging
  • Position your TV as close to the wall as possible
  • Slide TV side-to-side for perfect positioning on the wall
  • Swivel your TV left and right for the perfect view
  • Tilt your TV for perfect viewing from the couch or floor

Specifications

Specs

Who are Sanus?

According to their website, Sanus “Designs and builds a broad variety of home AV furnishings, TV and speaker wall mounts, speaker stands and accessories.”

What’s in the Box?

The box contains the mount, an instruction manual and a useful wall template.

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Mounting the VLF311-B2

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Final Thoughts

I’ve been wanting to wall mount my 50” Pioneer Plasma TV for quite a while, but I just couldn’t find the right mount for what I wanted, that is until the Sanus VLF311-B2 mount arrived for review.

The box was quite heavy, but then it did have a very sturdy mount capable of mounting a TV as big as 84”, which would put my 50” one to shame!

The mount was very well packaged, and came with both an instruction manual and also a very useful wall template, along with all the screws and bolts you need to fit it.

Now I have to be honest, I decided that I would get a professional to fit it for me rather than doing it myself, although the instructions are incredibly clear and easy to follow, I just felt happier someone else doing it. Although having watched it be fitted I realised I could easily have done it myself, I know for the next one.

Once fitted to the wall, the mount felt very sturdy and had a full range of movement, even when the TV itself was attached to the mount.

In order to keep everything looking good and tidy, there are wall plate covers and cable management provided. These were very easy to use and quickly made the entire area look neat and tidy without the need to dig holes in the wall and re-plaster, so good job there Sanus!

Once the TV is in place you can easily adjust the tilt and the level using one of the supplied hex keys all with very little effort.

As this mount provides full-motion, it is easy to adjust the position of the TV in or out, left or right or different angles. And then once you are finished you can just push it back into position neatly against the wall.

Very little effort was needed to move the TV – Sanus say it can be done with a touch of the finger, and for the most part that’s true – although I used a little more force, but the mount was brand new and the TV was heavy! I have noticed it getting easier with more use.

Overall I was very impressed with the Sanus VLF311-B2 TV mount and can highly recommend it to anyone who needs a very sturdy and secure TV mount that offers easy to use full-motion movement and can accommodate larger and heavier TVs and that looks good when its mounted.

Cost wise you are looking around £130 but as usual look around for a good deal.

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You can learn more from the Sanus website.

Amazon are about to release their Fire TV Stick and here is our review.

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Fire TV Stick connects your HDTV to a world of online entertainment. With a huge selection of movies and TV episodes, voice search that actually works and exclusive features like ASAP, Fire TV Stick is an easy way to enjoy Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, BBC iPlayer, low-cost movie rentals, live and on-demand sports, music, photos, games and more.

What’s in the Box?

The box contains the Fire TV Stick, a remote, some batteries, a manual, an HDMI extender, a USB power cable and a plug.

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A Closer Look

The Fire TV Stick is quite small as is the remote.

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Using the Fire TV Stick

The first thing you to is connect the USB power to the Fire TV Stick then connect the Fire TV Stick to an HDMI socket on your TV.

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Then switch on the TV and away you go.

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There is a 3 minute getting started movie you can watch.

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If you have an Android or iOS device you can download the Fire TV Remote App to the device. When you tap connect you need to put in a pin number that is displayed on your TV.

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Then you can use your device as a remote, including using Voice Commands.

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Final Thoughts

Most modern TV’s now internet capabilities and even apps like Netflix and Amazon built in, but what if you have a TV that doesn’t have it – what do you do then? Well that’s where the Amazon Fire TV Stick comes in. It’s a small device that connects to an HDMI port on your TV and delivers streaming content with very little effort.

The Fire TV Stick is a dual core device with 1GB of memory (that’s double what Google Chromecast or the Roku Steaming Stick has) and a dedicated VideoCore4 graphics engine. It also has 8GB of flash storage so you can store quite a lot on it.

It can stream up to 1080p HD quality TV or movies and has Dolby Digital Plus surround sound capabilities.

The Stick is wireless and connects to your home router using a dual bank (MIMO) signal ensuring the best quality you can get from the Stick – after all, when you are watching a movie the last thing you want in the middle of a major action scene is for the device to stuff buffering!

The Stick gives you the ability to connect to a variety of subscription and streaming services such as Amazon Instant Video (obviously) and Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Spotify, YouTube and lots more. There are also over 400 games you can play if you get bored of watching TV or listening to music.

The Stick was very easy to set up and within a few minutes I was choosing what to watch.

The inclusion of an HDMI extender in the box really worked for me. The TV I wanted to use the Stick on is mounted to the wall and in my case part of the mount goes over the HDMI sockets on the TV. Normally this isn’t a problem for the HDMI cables I use but the Stick is a bigger than the cables and so needs some clearance, and that’s where the HDMI extender worked perfectly.

The remote is easy to use, and if you want to add voice search you can easily do so by downloading the iOS or Android app.

There is a feature of the Stick called ASAP which stands for Advanced Streaming and Prediction, which basically means it learns what you like to watch and dynamically adapts to your viewing habits which enables immediate viewing of your chosen TV show or movie.

You can also view your own videos and photos on the Stick – you just have upload them to Amazon Cloud Drive first.

Because the Stick is so small you can easily pack it in your bag when you go away so you can view content wherever you are.

If you have a older TV or you just want the ability to watch TV shows and movies wherever you are then you should get yourself the Amazon Fire TV Stick, it delivers everything you need.

The cost of the Fire TV Stick is £35 and it can be ordered right now from Amazon.

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With the monumental cult and critical success of both Demon’s and Dark Souls, director Hidetaka Miyazaki has certainly carved out quite the brutal niche with his blend of punishing, yet rewarding gameplay that harkens back to a time when games relied much more upon skill and patience. The Playstation 4 exclusive ‘Bloodborne’ hopes to carry the established formula over to the current generation; providing yet another proving ground for those with the willingness to accept failure and learn from it.

There are a great number of differences between this and a ‘Souls’ game; whilst not all of them are initially apparent, they certainly set Bloodborne apart from its spiritual, DNA ridden counterparts. The first similarity you’ll notice is the character creation screen; despite the sheer dominance of intimidating numbers, new players will simply do well focusing ideally on strength and endurance for the time being. Veterans on the other hand will know the relative unimportance of some stats, and how to compensate for the occasional lowly attribute. Experience, in more ways than one, is key. After you’ve struggled for half an hour googling a suitably Gothic name, you’ll be set to go; chest puffed out and determined not to be killed by the first enemy you encounter…

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You’ll quickly learn to hate these things

The bad news for you is that Bloodborne has other ideas up its sleeve. You will likely die in your first fight, mainly because you’ll be fighting an enormous hound with just your bare mitts. Thankfully, this is just one of few ‘helping hints’ from the developers to put the idea in your head early on, that you will not only die often, but that you should learn from your mistakes. If all goes according to their sadistic plan, you’ll awaken in the only safe haven in the game, the spectral realm of the Hunter’s Dream. Enjoy the peace and tranquillity whilst you can, as there’s soon no choice but to venture out into the unknown with your tail stuck firmly between your quivering legs.

Much akin to Bloodborne’s spiritual predecessors, other players can leave daubing’s of text behind in order to help, trick, or in the case of the start of the game, placate others. The starting, gloriously Gothic section of Yharnam is designed to break you. In the immediate opening of the game, enemies shamble alone or are at most grouped in twos, get past this bit however, and you’ll hit a wall. Barely 15 minutes into the game will you encounter a monolithic grouping of enemies that goes well beyond double figures. Scrawled across the floor are encouraging messages of perseverance that will likely do nothing to put your mind at ease, despite how right they are. Get past this section for the first time and you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment unlike little else.

If you do go for the manly/brave/stupid approach of slaughtering everything in sight, it’s actually a remarkably unspoken tutorial of how to intelligently take on a diverse pack of enemies. However, instead of the game helpfully explaining exactly what to do in each scenario, you’re left to your own wits and grace. Trial and error will undoubtedly be little consolation at the start, but you will subconsciously improve and get better to a point where you can comfortably get through fifteen or so torch wielding madmen in minutes not hours. Much like the Souls’ games before it, your gathered experience will be dropped on your first death and lost for good should you die again before reclaiming it too. A quick cheeky tip being that if you can’t find your stash of Blood Echos, it’s worth looking into the eyes of nearby enemies, as that may well indicate who’s wandered off with them…

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A little help can go a long way

Aggressive play is actively encouraged in Bloodborne due to the alterations in mechanics. There are no shields, armour penalties or sarcastic circle strafe bouts in Bloodborne; instead, you’re much more nimble and nippy on your feet. Where once you would be wise to play passively, it’s now much more visceral, especially taking into account that you can recover a small amount of damage taken should you attack an enemy (with a melee strike) in the following short window. That’s not to say it’s lost the rewardingly punishing difficulty it’s famed for, it’s just played at a seemingly quicker pace. Dodges, rolls and sidesteps are your best friends now. You’ll not only still have to memorise enemy attack patterns and adapt to new scenarios, but also master the new weapon and combo system too. Your chosen weapon can transform at the touch of a button to help adapt to different styles, often at the expense of speed. Wielding the shorter ranged option however, lets you also equip a gun. Before doubts arise regarding how overly powerful these are, I’ll state straight away that they’re often at their best when used to interrupt an enemy attack. You may well find and acquire more powerful variants, but their limited ammo and surprisingly useful close quarters ability ensures you won’t be performing any 360 no-scopes anytime soon.

Despite the synonymous thoughts of difficulty with a game like this, it would do Bloodborne a disservice not to delve into the architecturally fascinating world of Yharnam and its inhabitants. Whilst by no means the best looking game on the market in terms of fidelity and frame rate, the attention to detail and general artistic design more than makes up for any minor shortcomings. The layout is designed in such a way that you’re mostly funnelled along a fairly linear path, of course with many an offshoot hiding both beasts and rewards, yet without feeling constrained. The lack of checkpoints is gracefully handled by shortcuts back to previous areas, giving the feeling of both progression and it conforming to a hub-like world where everywhere is interconnected. Enemy designs, whilst rarely fundamentally unique, are always well thought out and artistically stunning; needless to say, boss designs are often the highlight.

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Something to look forward to in a Chalice Dungeon…

Whilst it may not be the longest RPG in a single run, there’s plenty to keep you occupied both before and after you’ve seen the credits roll. On top of the excellent new game plus system, there are also the somewhat undersold multiplayer offerings in the form of procedurally generated dungeons filled with bosses, treasure and hordes of enemies. These ‘Chalice Dungeons’ can be played solo, cooperatively with a few people or even competitively. The game’s invasion system returns with a risk/reward mechanic too, using a consumable, players can receive assistance from nearby others to assist with bosses and the like, at the expense of potentially allowing an unwelcome incursion from another player. Should you wish to, there’s also an offline mode to safely guarantee you’ll be playing alone.

Once more, Hidetaka Miyazaki and his development team of From Software have created another punishingly addictive piece. Yes, it’s still not going to be for everyone due to the inherent difficulty level; and it does come with a few minor irritants such as when you die, you essentially have to sit through two loading screens, but it’s worth it. Bloodborne is a game where you’ll die to frustrating circumstances, attempt to blame anything but yourself, and still look forward to trying it again. It’s designed to punish you at the start, to make you learn, adapt and struggle. Get past the beginning section a few times and you’ll struggle to turn it off.

Mad Catz have a FightStick for the Xbox One you might want to take a look at – its called the Arcade FightStick Tournament Edition 2 and here is our review.

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Fight your way to the top of the leaderboards with Mad Catz’ Arcade FightStick Tournament Edition 2 for Xbox One. Continuing the legacy of the original TE FightStick, this version builds premium, arcade-quality Sanwa Denshi parts into an arcade stick that’s both ready for competition and perfect for customization to make it your very own.

Specifications

  • Authentic Japanese-style Sanwa Denshi joystick & buttons
  • Premium-quality components with genuine arcade layout
  • Controller lock/unlock button prevents accidental button presses
  • LEDs light up your FightStick during play (LED PCB sold separately)
  • Removable ProCable for easy storage and travel
  • Internal storage compartments hold extra tools and parts
  • Intuitive top panel design for easy artwork customization

What’s in the Box?

The box contains the FightStick, a small screwdriver, some instructions and the usual set of Mad Catz stickers.

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A Closer Look

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All of the Xbox One controller buttons and triggers are available as buttons on the top of the FightStick.

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To top also has the Xbox button along with two other buttons, an on/off/haptic selector and a locked and unlocked selector which toggles between modes to disable certain buttons as the last thing you want in the middle of a big fight is to accidently knock the menu button!

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At the front of the FightStick are the other two buttons from the Xbox One controller.

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Here is where you connect the Procable before connecting the other end to your Xbox One via USB.

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And here is the FightStick in all it’s glory.

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The underside of the FightStick contains foam padding which helps to ensure that even with long periods of use it is still comfortable to have on your lap.

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The Mad Catz button allows the top of the FightStick to be opened.

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Opening Up the FightStick

You can customise the FightStick and to do so you can open the top panel at the push of a button.

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Inside is the Procable that you will need to connect the FightStick to your Xbox One.

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You can customise the FightStick with an LED PCB and translucent buttons, although these are sold separately.

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Final Thoughts

If you play a lot of fighting games then you might want to consider buying a FightStick if for no other reason than saving your controller from eventual destruction!

The FightStick is heavy enough that you don’t feel like it is going to move or slip, and the addition of the foam on the underside also helps with the comfort factor. I used the FightStick for several hours with it sitting on my lap and I didn’t feel any discomfort. The same can’t be said for my fingers from all the button bashing!

The joystick and buttons are made by Sanwa and they are the very same parts found in Japanese arcade cabinets. The buttons make a reassuring click when you press them and both the buttons and the joystick are very responsive.

Connecting up the FightStick to my Xbox One was simply a case of connecting the Procable to the FightStick and then plugging the other end into the Xbox One.

One nice little touch is that when the FightStick is connected to your Xbox One, the Mad Catz logo glows red.

The beauty of this FightStick is that it can be customised, including LED lights and a new top panel. You can pretty much do whatever you want to it. To remove the top panel you will need a small screwdriver and that’s where the little Mad Catz screwdriver that was in the box comes in handy. It’s only a little thing but Mad Catz thought of everything.

You can even buy a carry case for the FightStick if you want to take it around with you.

Using the FightStick compared to using a standard controller is like the difference between night and day. I was certainly winning more fights with the FightStick.

The Mad Catz Arcade FightStick Tournament Edition 2 for Xbox One is available now for £139.99 and is a must have if you like your fighting games, and with Mortal Kombat X just around the corner, there has never been a better time to get one.

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You can learn more from the Mad Catz website.

WD recently released a number of new NAS devices, including the My Cloud EX4100, and here is our review.

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This is how WD describe the EX4100:

“Save all your valuable photos, videos, music and files on this ready-to-go, high-performance NAS solution for secure access to them anytime, from anywhere. Protect your content with multiple backup options, customize your NAS with a full suite of apps and enjoy peace of mind knowing that we’ve put our best in it, so you can put your best on it.”

Specifications

Interface

  • Gigabit Ethernet x 2
  • Power supply (DC in) x 2
  • USB 3.0 expansion port x 2 rear
  • USB 3.0 port with direct copy x 1 front

Drive bays

  • 4 x 3.5 inch hard drive bays, hot swap capable, tray-less design

Internal hard drives

  • WD Red NAS hard drives

Processor

  • Marvell ARMADA 388 1.6 GHz dual-core

Memory

  • 2 GB DDR3

The full specs can be found on the WD website.

A Closer Look

The front of the EX4100 has the power button, along with a information display that shows a number of pieces of information, all of which can be scrolled using the buttons to the right of the display.

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The four drive bays are also situated at the front of the EX4100 and can be easily removed by pulling on the tabs. You can also see the lights under each drive showing they are functioning. There is also a USB 3.0 port along with a backup button – you can use this to quickly and easily backup the entire contents of a USB drive without the need for a PC.

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The rear of the EX4100 has two USB 3.0 ports, two Ethernet ports and two power ports, plus a Kensington Lock.

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Using the EX4100

Setting Up

Setting up the EX4100 for the first time is incredibly easy and quick – connect up the power and an Ethernet cable then switch on. All the configuration is done via a series of webpages and within a few minutes you are ready to go.

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The Web Interface – My Cloud OS

The interface you are shown is very simple to use, as you can see below.

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There are a series of tabs across the top, such as Home, Users, Shares, Storage, etc, which each having a number of different displays and options depending on what you choose.

The Home tab displays how much capacity is on the device (this review unit is the 16TB version pre-configured for RAID5, hence 11.8TB free). You can also see how many Cloud Devices, Users and Apps are configured, along with simple diagnostics and also the firmware version.

Storage

You can easily change the RAID mode by just selecting it. Just remember though that some changes are destructive to the stored data on the EX4100 so make sure you have your data backed up.

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You can also check on the status of each of the disks in the EX4100, and even check the S.M.A.R.T. data too.

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You can even set up an iSCSI target on the EX4100 if you need to, but I think most people won’t touch this, but it’s a nice addition for those users who might want this functionality.

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Users

You can easily create and control users and groups from the Users tab.

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Shares

And the same goes for Shares. Out of the box there are three top level shares – Public, SmartWare and TimeMachineBackup, but you can easily add shares and the click of a button.

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Time Machine Backups

The EX4100 works as a Time Machine Backup drive so that you can back up your Mac to it. Just go into Time Machine on your Mac and select TimeMachineBackup – WDMyCloudEX4100 and start backing up. Depending on the amount of data on your Mac, the initial backup may take some time.

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Apps

You can install and run apps on your EX4100 – by default there are a few already installed for you to use.

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Adding an app is very simple – you just select it from the catalogue and install. For now there are not that many apps available but hopefully that will change soon!

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Settings

There are a number of settings menus ranging from the name and language settings, to enabling DLNA Media streaming and iTunes. Most of them just require enabling or disabling.

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Cloud Access

From here you can setup and manage any smartphone or tablet access to the EX4100.

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My Cloud App

There is an app you can install on Windows or Mac that gives you access to the various Shares. From here you can upload, download, delete, create, and so on.

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Final Thoughts

There are four different variants of the EX4100, for this review we had the 16TB version.

You may have noticed the number of times I used the word easily in this review – and for good reason! Everything you will want and need to do on the EX4100 is easy to do.

The My Cloud OS web front end is rather basic compared to other NAS devices on the market – that being said though everything you need to do can be done and it is presented in as simple a way as possible.

Earlier in the review we pointed out that there were two Ethernet ports and two power adaptor ports. The two power adaptor ports are used for ensuring that if one of the power supplies fails then the EX4100 will still carry on. You will need to be an additional power adaptor though as WD only supply one in the box. The two Ethernet adaptors are used for Link Aggregation, which can be configured for fault tolerance and speed improvements depending on your personal setup. What was disappointing here though was that WD don’t provide any information in either the manual or on the web front end on what each setting means, they just expect you to know. Given that some of the more obvious options have pages dedicated to them its a little surprising little is provided for a feature that can provide additional benefits.

Copying to and from the EX4100 was very quick – this was a good thing, and I initially wanted to copy a very large amount of data to the EX4100.

Setting up media streaming only involved switching it on and then all of my various devices picked up the EX4100 straight away and streaming worked like a charm. The media streaming component within the EX4100 is Twonky Media Server 7.2 in case you are wondering and is DLNA 1.5 certified

The EX4100 was fairly quiet in operation – that was good because I have used NAS devices in the past that sound like jet engines and that’s the last thing you want or need!

I was a little disappointed with the lack of available apps for the EX4100, for example there is no AV app and no surveillance app, so hopefully WD will sort this out soon as their competitors have these apps already, and for some of them for quite a while now.

You can backup your EX4100 too – options include backing up to a local USB device, another My Cloud device (local or remote), or even to the Cloud.

If you want to backup your camera images you can just connect your camera to the EX4100 and it can automatically copy the photographs off the camera. You can even set it up to move the photographs from the camera so you can have a nice clean camera card ready to use again.

Price wise, the WD EX4100 range is £359.00 for the diskless unit, £699.00 for 8 TB, £999.00 for 16 TB and £1,399.00 for 24 TB.

If you are looking for a simple to use NAS box that pretty much does most of what you need then you should look no further than the WD My Cloud EX4100.

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You can learn more from the WD website.

Polk recently released their Striker ZX Gaming Headset for the Xbox One, and here is our review.

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This is how Polk describe the Striker ZX:

“The Polk Striker ZX headset is the Xbox One solution for the way you like to game. Designed for Xbox One, the Striker ZX connects you with a high performance immersive audio experience that will take you deeper into games, music and movies.  Moreover, its world-class design combines functional style with featherweight comfort to keep you focused on gaming. Polk has developed its own wireless headset adapter that connects you wirelessly to the Xbox One™ console and gives you complete chat functionality, as well as enables you to control both your game and chat volume mix. With a retractable mic and chat loop feature you will never have to scream to be heard in game. Any way you like to game, there’s only one way to listen. Striker ZX.”

Features

  • Powered by 40 years of audio heritage and tuned for heart-pounding sound quality, the Striker ZX’s sound will elevate your gaming experience by hearing all the detail, all the subtleties in the game.
  • Stay-focused Comfort, Our ProFit Comfort system creates a lightweight headset that helps your gaming concentration, never hinders it. ProFit Comfort is a combination of a lightweight, moulded headband with a thick cushion and two-way pivoting ear cups with Protein Leather padding, enabling the Striker headset to rest easily as it conforms to your head.
  • The 40mm drivers have been created using Polk’s patented Dynamic Balance driver design process. This helps eliminate resonances and creates the Striker’s game changing high-quality sound.
  • Wireless Headset Adapter, Polk’s exclusive Xbox One design will have higher output for gaming and chat, helping create a better gaming experience.
  • Retractable, Omni-directional boom microphone, with a 7cm extension, is flexible, so it conforms to the way you like to chat and slides neatly into the ear cup when you’re done.  You can even take calls with it if you have it connected to your phone.
  • Chat loop feature listens into your mic and lets you hear your voice in the headset to avoid shouting.
  • Superior Build Quality means the Striker headset is a tool you can depend on to give you a gaming edge for years to come.
  • Strain Relief Cable connector at the ear cup ensures the 40-inch cable always keeps you in the game. Two additional split cables enable you to connect to your platform of choice.
  • More than a gaming headset; the Striker brings Polk’s legendary sound quality to your favourite movies, music and TV shows.

Specifications

Specs

What’s in the Box?

The box contains the Striker ZX headset, a setup guide, a cable and a Xbox One controller audio adaptor.

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A Closer Look

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Final Thoughts

The Striker ZX is available in Black, Blue or Orange, personally I really like the orange, it goes well with my Titanfall controller!

The headset itself is comfortable to wear for extended periods – the ear cups are cushioned as is the headband, and it is very lightweight.

The microphone is built into the headset, you just pull it out and position it however you need, and when you have finished you just push it back into the headset.

The box contains an Xbox One controller audio adaptor, this one manufactured by Polk themselves. Just plug it into your controller and connect the cable into it and away you go.

The sound quality is very good, although if you are looking for a deep bass sound you might be slightly disappointed. Voice chat works well, if that’s your thing!

My only two negative comments are that the cable that connects the headset to the controller doesn’t detach, so if anything happened to it, or it got damaged then it cannot easily be replaced. The other negative comment is that the headset feels a little plastic, however that doesn’t detract from the quality.

The Polk Striker ZX Gaming Headset is available for for under £50, so if you are looking for a good low price Xbox One gaming headset you should definitely take a look at this one.

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You can learn more from the Polk website.

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LeapFrog recently released the LeapPad3 Learning Tablet, and here is our review.

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What’s in the Box?

The box contains the LeapPad3, a charger, a cable and some instructions and guides.

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The LeapPad3 also comes with the following:

• Music Player plus 10 songs
• Pet Pad Party
• Pet Chat
• Photo Fun Ultra
• 5 Utility Apps
• Choice of 1 App Download

A Closer Look

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Final Thoughts

The LeapPad3 is designed to provide a safe and fun experience for children aged 3 – 9 years old. If you had a previous LeapPad then you will notice that the LeapPad3 has been redesigned. It sleeker, lighter, has a quad-core processor and Wi-Fi and is designed to be handled by children, meaning LeapFrog have drop tested it so that if you drop it, unlike an iPad, it won’t shatter!

You get around 6 hours of constant use on the battery, and the LeapPad3 can be charged either from the charger or via USB (so you can charge it on the go).

The screen is a very clear 5” touchscreen and I found it to be very responsive.

And don’t worry about children seeing inappropriate content when surfing the web on the LeapPad3 as it uses LeapSearch powered by Zui. What that means is that only content that is appropriate is displayed, and that content has been approved by “learning experts”, so after watching that Sesame Street video you don’t have to worry about something else being shown!

There are well over 700 games and apps available for the LeapPad3, including games, eBooks and videos, so there should be something for everyone, and the games actually adapt to your child’s learning level.

You can even link up two LeapPad3’s using Pet Chat and Pet Pad Party, both of which are including with the LeapPad3, giving your child hours of fun, and you hours of peace and quiet.

There is also a 2MP front and rear camera which works well, and even the ability to record video at 480p. There is 4GB of on-board memory too.

The LeapPad3 works with both PC and Mac and is very easy to set up and use.

The LeapFrog LeapPad3 retails for £89.99 but as usual look around for a good deal. The LeapPad3 comes in either Green or Pink.

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Learn more from the LeapFrog website.

With a track record like Obsidian’s it’s difficult not to have the highest of expectations when it comes to RPGs. KOTOR II and Fall Out: New Vegas to name only two of a successful RPG packed history. But there are very few original titles in this list. So for Pillars of Eternity the company became one of the ever-increasing group of games successfully funded by Kickstarter. It’s becoming more apparent as time goes on that Kickstarter isn’t just for small projects to gain funding but has enough power to fund even huge projects like Pillars of Eternity. The fans have spoken and Obsidian has no shortage of fans. And so with an insanely successful Kickstarter behind them Pillars of Eternity was born.

There’s only one place to start with any respectably in depth RPG and that’s character creation. I remember the team being particularly proud of its efforts in this regard back when I saw the game in development in 2014. It was difficult in that short session to really grasp just how intricate the character creation was. Well I can confidently say now it is nothing short of mind blowing. If there is a class, ability or race that you want it absolutely will be here.

For example it’s not enough to ask yourself if you want to be a mage or wizard without a series of follow up questions. Sure there is a ‘standard’ mage with conventional spell based attacks but there’s also a mage who starts with all the spells he can have and has the ability to turn into a beast to attack enemies. And there’s a priest that works as a support role who has literally no offensive spells. And there’s a FFX-2 songstress like class who uses phrases of music to create ‘spells’.

In fact there are 11 classes in Pillars of Eternity. There are also 6 race types each with at least 2 sub options and some with more. Then there are 7 home regions for your character and then there are around 10 backgrounds to choose from depending on your other choices. On top of deciding between one of the two starting abilities and allocating your ability points. Needless to say it took me a huge amount of time to decide I would be a female, wood elf, ranger with wounding shot and a bear companion who hails from the Deadfire Archipelago and was previously a hunter.

The options available are ridiculous and given this freedom I wager there are very few instances of a character being the same. In fact the only choice that doesn’t effect your stats is your gender. Everything else matters.

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Getting stuck into the game after spending far too long on creating my plucky elf hunter I was presented with my first disappointment – a great big wall of text. Despite my years as an RPG enthusiast these days my heart sinks a little when I find I have god knows how many hours of text to read. But to my surprise the narrator kindly starting to dramatically set the scene and work his way through the script. And then I actually started to read everything.

I have to admit I often pay little mind to anything outside of the main quests and do as little reading as possible when involving characters like ‘lady with dog’ or whatever. But Pillars of Eternity is beautifully written throughout. The descriptive texts are at least on par with any quality novel. Suddenly I forgot all my reservations and even looked forward to reading on about the world’s intricate lore. To my surprise most of the main characters have well recorded speech anyway. Given that the writing is so good I had no problems reading but it’s still nice to have the recorded voices.

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To put it simply – the combat is tough. Pillars of Eternity has already made a name for itself as difficult and it’s well deserved. I knew this before I started and so I paid particular attention to the descriptions given to the difficulties. Airing on the side of caution I went for normal and enjoyed the challenges that I encountered. Even easy isn’t easy and I certainly wouldn’t have been overconfident. For anyone who is successful at the top difficulty, and there aren’t going to be many, there’s always Iron Man mode with the added punishment that your save is deleted if you die – which is not a rare occurrence. Ouch.

Battles are handled via a great little UI bar that takes up the usual spot a the bottom centre of the screen. It’s small but there are a surprising amount of functions available. There’s a nice big, easy to hit, pause/play button which will likely become your best friend. Pillars of Eternity uses a real time system so pausing almost all the time is a must. It’s not excessive to pause before issuing every command and arguably is the ‘right’ way to play.

Given that you can end up with quite a large group of companions pausing and managing abilities is a must, especially for the tougher fights. Leaving the AI to handle things for you might get you by for the small stuff but almost everything in Pillars of Eternity should be considered dangerous and given at least a little respect. It feels like the UI is actually there to help which stops the complex combat from becoming tedious or awkward.

What doesn’t shine is the way Pillars of Eternity looks. It’s too glaringly obvious to ignore much though I wish I could. I know it doesn’t matter as much as all the great things on offer but it really doesn’t help. Paying homage to old classics is one thing but there is no attempt at all to inject any modern effects or elements. Animations are stiff and characters don’t hold up at all. I also found the camera a little limiting and too close like the old 1024 x 768 days. I like the top down look and I’m so glad Obsidian prioritised quests, speech and in depth levelling over visuals. But rather than mimicking those titles of old Pillars of Eternity just looks exactly like them. Side by side you wouldn’t tell the difference which means Pillars looks very very old and low res.

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Pillars of Eternity is the best RPG I’ve played since Wasteland 2 and another great addition to my pile of top down RPGs. The character creation and skill trees are absolutely way beyond anything most games offer. If you want to make a fantasy RPG character you can do it here without compromise. Questing is fun and creative with backing from the best writing I’ve seen in as long as I can remember. The difficulty is tough but fare and rewarding. And there’s a good 60 hours or so of content.

Obsidian knew which boxes to tick to keep fans happy and they’ve yet again created an RPG that will be one of the greats because of it. The only thing that really lets Pillars of Eternity down are its visuals. An artistic take on the genre or some higher resolution character models would have gone a long way to making Pillars of Eternity look like something from 2015. Look past the surface and an expansive and immersive world awaits – and Pillars of Eternity does make it oh so easy to forget the looks and lose yourself in its world.

Just when you thought you’d had enough Total War Creative Assembly are back with some not-quite-full-game but more than ‘just’ DLC add on content. This time you’ll have the choice of various barbarians and scoundrels keen on taking land along with a healthy dose of pillaging and general property damage. The Romans will be shacking in their togas.

At its core Attila is very much Rome II – albeit heavily altered. The unit bar at the bottom of the screen is largely the same and most of the elements on the world map are at least the same in style. There is a slight return of menus and boxes that open and almost fill the screen which can make managing some elements much easier. Some games just won’t fit into neat little UI elements around the borders of the screen. Total War is one of them. It’s grand strategy and it needs menus and windows. Grand strategy players like menus with numbers and stats, I know I do. Rome II forgot this a little but luckily Attila has at least partially reinstated the old ways. It’s at least promising that Creative Assembly are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately organizing political influences and internal family politics is still a confusing chore. It’s very difficult to see the benefits and changing anything meaningful is difficult. Rather than feeling in control of a government you feel much more like an observer watching various power struggles within a powerful family you have little control over. I’d wager a lot of players never even see this menu. Granted it can provide some nifty bonuses but it’s just no fun to use. A deeper and more full representation of a government and transparent UI features would be welcome to Total War and I think eventually the franchise will get there, but Attila isn’t the one. However, for me at least it is an improvement over Rome II.

Managing settlements is largely the same as Rome II although with Attila’s flavour painted over everything. The new, more manageable, numbers and a heavier reliance on global elements allow your legacy settlements to carry and improve captured ones. Playing as one of the barbarian nations has a much more temporary feel that I found surprisingly welcome. You even have the ability to pack everything up and travel as a mobile band of thugs searching for a new place to call home. This ability to abandon your settlement and move on is a welcome new layer to the world map even though I rarely used it. To be honest I don’t have a problem with the progressively taking over the world style of Total War.

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Building armies still follows Rome II’s idea that an army is an entity in its own right and units must be assigned to that army. While it does offer some benefits and it’s cool when army gets a well deserved reputation I’d still rather just build units and move them into an army by joining then with a general, that general could always carry an army’s upgrades. Unfortunately I do like it when an army becomes powerful because of its successes and losses. Or when they are destroyed and you actually feel the loss of connection. It also makes the game feel closer to other grand strategies that allow you to name specific forces. What I don’t like is when I just need a single unit for repression and have to go through army creation to get one. Or when a general gets negative attributes for being stood still for 10 seconds.

New units are as well made and in depth as one would expect from Creative Assembly. The precedent set out by Rome II for available factions is still upheld and there is enough choice in Attila that no one could be disappointed. There is clearly some space made for DLC factions but there are more than enough factions included in the main game. It is still a little annoying though that some very important factions are left out just for DLC purposes.

Also following Total War’s current trend each faction feels like more than just the same units with ‘Hun’ or ‘Saxon’ written in front of it and a different coloured hat. Attila more than comfortably carries the torch and the different factions are particularly impressive. The amount of content Attila offers really would make it difficult to see everything; which is very much a good thing. Attila feels like more than an expansion and certainly isn’t just DLC churned out for the sake of it, although ironically the DLC for Attila is a little bit unjustified in this respect.

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In Battles the classic Total War idiocy still looms. I was reminded of it only a few weeks ago when I delved back into Rome II when I had the ludicrous show of my toughened Spartan warriors running around the map chasing a unit that just kept changing direction and running while I marched into their city. To my dismay when I returned my units had given up taking over the unguarded gates and decided instead to just stand on the walls.

Unsurprisingly Attila doesn’t break free of all the AI woes Total War offers but it does do a good job of trying. I would say this has definitely been the least ridiculous AI experience I’ve had from total war in a long time. But expect the usual inability of the AI to move away from your ranged units as they are relentlessly pelted with whatever your units have at hand. And on occasion I still had to chase a unit to every corner of the map for literally 10 minutes or more.

Another important change is longer route times and the tendency for units to regroup rather than flee. It means that more battles end in combat rather than thousands of enemies simply fleeing. And even then it’s possible to regroup and mount a counter attack if those units stop routing and regroup. It’s nice to see Total War take steps away from entire units running and battles ending without the satisfaction of an arduous and well fought victory or a valiant defeat.

Attila is an expansive and complete take on Rome II. It has almost enough new units to be considered a new game in its own right. Given the amount of changes and new features it’s very close to being considered as one. But at its heart Attila somehow just doesn’t push far enough away from Rome II, it is after all the same game underneath. The changes to the AI, although not a complete victory, are welcome. The UI seems to have found a better balance between function and style. And the new units are just as well designed as any other Total War title. Every change made in Attila is made in the right direction but none of them feel like enough to give Attila the authority of a full title. But Attila does provide a new way to play Rome II with enough new flavour to bring back players even if they have already spent massive amounts of time on Rome II.

 

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