Review: The Elder Scrolls Online Beta

I am a big Skyrim fan. Out of all the games I have ever played, I have probably spent the most total gameplay hours playing Skyrim. It is the kind of game that has immense replay value, I have started new characters multiple times and I’m sure I will create another one in the future. So it’s safe to say I was very excited to receive an invite to the beta of The Elder Scrolls Online. I spent a few hours over the weekend playing through the beta and here is a summary of the game and some of my thoughts.

ESO

The Elder Scrolls Online takes place roughly 1,000 years before the events of Skyrim. Tamriel is in a period of instability and Molag Bal, the Daedric Prince of corruption and domination, has taken the opportunity to try and drag all of Tamriel into his realm of Coldharbour with the use of devices called Dark Anchors. You begin the game in one of the realms of Oblivion, locked in a cell. You have been captured and Molag Bal has stripped you of your soul as a sacrifice. Your task (along with every other player) is to escape from Oblivion and reach Tamriel, where the game truly begins. And from here you, the Soulless One, can choose to take on the main quest line or meet up with a bunch of friends and take on quests together. Every decision you make affects the fate of Tamriel.

There are three major factions in The Elder Scrolls Online. Those factions, made up of the different races found throughout Tamriel, are the Aldmeri Dominion, the Daggerfall Covenant, and the Ebonheart Pact. The race you choose effects which faction you will be a part of. Altmer (High Elves), Bolmer (Wood Elves) and Khajiit are make up the Aldmeri Dominion, Orsimer (Orcs), Bretons and Redguard are the Daggerfall Covenant and the Ebonheart Pact consists of Dunmer (Dark Elves), Argonians and Nords. Other factions, some of which will only be available after launch, include the Fighters Guild, Mages Guild, Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood. I spent my time playing as a Wood Elf. Thankfully, your choice of race and (lack of choice of) faction doesn’t affect your choice of class. Templar, Sorcerer, Nightblade or DragonKnight are the choices at hand. My Wood Elf was a Nightblade because I enjoy playing stealth with a bow. Feedback from the in game chat described the Templar as a very powerful class. Templar is without a doubt the most diverse class, with the ability to tank, partake in crowd control or act as a healer. If you enjoy the role of a mage in other MMOs, then Sorcerer is the choice for you. Dragon Knight can dish out some serious damage, so that class would be your first choice if you enjoy being in the middle of the action. Each have benefits for different purposes and different players.

TESO feels very familiar to anyone who played Skyrim or Oblivion. You still have your stamina, health and magicka bars along the lower section of the screen and the compass along the upper section. The screen isn’t cluttered with a bunch of another windows or boxes like in other MMOs. Bethesda did this on purpose, to simplify the experience and replicate the look of the previous games. Another thing that makes TESO feel more like an RPG than an MMO is that the player feels like the chosen one, not just another citizen with nothing special going for them. The only downfall is that every player is the protagonist, the Soulless One destined to stop Molag Bal, so when you think about that the entire story has a big hole in it. Molag Bal is screwed! But if you overlook that, you can carry one happily and keep on questing. None of the early quests feel like simple, mindless quests, straight away what you are doing has some form of importance. You’re stopping a bunch of crazy guys from summoning a typhoon and investigating some skooma dealers. Unfortunately the third quest I attempted had a bug that stopped me from deactivating some traps so I was never able to complete it.

My time with The Elder Scrolls Online was fairly limited, due to only having access to the Beta over one short weekend. I certainly had a lot of fun, but I didn’t get to explore as deeply into the game as I would have liked so it’s difficult to pass judgement on more in depth aspects of the game, like skills and levelling. But for the most part, The Elder Scrolls Online just made me miss Skyrim. I think at this point in time, I would rather replay Skyrim again than play $15 a month to play The Elder Scrolls Online. There is a possibility that I may warm up to The Elder Scrolls Online, but I don’t think I’ll be pre-ordering it. I would really like to give it a try on the PS4 and I’d love to play it with friends, but only time will tell.

Bethesda Softworks and Zenimax Online Studios bring us the next chapter in the Elder Scrolls saga in April on the PC and Mac and later on in June on PS4 and Xbox One. Will you be picking up a copy?

Kobo Aura HD Review

The details: A 6.8 inch screen with a super clear 1440 x 1080 display, no glare Pearl E-Ink touchscreen, a front light for reading in the dark, wifi and 4GB of internal memory and a micro SD card slot for even more storage, up to 32GB.

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Kobo Aura HD is the only premium eReader on the market. Designed for the discerning reader, Kobo Aura HD offers a completely immersive reading experience and the most paper-like E Ink display*. Get lost in your favourite eBooks thanks to Kobo Aura HD’s advanced, high-resolution, extra-large screen and elegant, inspired design. For readers who want the best, Kobo Aura HD is your eReader of choice.

The Kobo Aura HD is marketed as a luxury e-reader. This seems obvious in the fact that the Aura HD is larger and more expensive than other e-readers on the market. But the screen seems to be the only luxury. The Kobo Aura HD is made from a smooth plastic which feels nice to hold but it doesn’t provide much grip. That being said, I haven’t had the device slip from my hands during any reading session. The plastic is unfortunately a fingerprint magnet, even the cleanest of hands leave smudges and smears. The back of the Aura HD features a somewhat geometric design which slightly mimics the way a thick paperback will fold and crease down the spine. It provides a comfortable place for your fingertips to rest while reading and it feels quite natural. As mentioned above, it would be a lot nicer if it had some kind of grip to the finish.

ImageOn the top edge of the device is the power button which doubles as a sleep/wake button plus a dedicated button for the front light. The lower edge of the device has a micro USB port for charging and data transfer, a micro SD card slot to expand the memory of the device and a paperclip slot for resetting the device.

Measuring in at 6.8 inches, the screen on the Aura HD is almost an inch larger than the standard 6” reader display. This boosts the size of the Aura HD to something closer to a trade paperback which makes the reading experience feel natural to any book lover. This large screen and it’s impressive resolution – 1440 x 1080, larger than many of the tablets on the market – results in very crisp and clear text. Another advantage of the E-Ink screen that mimics the look of a printed page, the Aura HD is able to look incredible in full sunlight. A LCD screen will become all but unreadable in bright sunlight but the E-Ink screen looks fantastic in full sun. The reading experience is customisable for the preferences of the individual. 10 font faces, 24 font sizes, adjustable line spacing, margins and justification means you can set up each book exactly how you choose. The Kobo software includes a built in dictionary so you can easily check the meaning of a word without disrupting the flow of your reading. You can also highlight text, add notes and share to Facebook. Kobo also boasts a wide selection of readable file formats, including EPUB, PDF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RFT, CBZ and CBR.

ImageThe Kobo Aura HD is quite responsive and the reading experience is quick. The tap of a finger or thumb on the edge of the touchscreen is quicker than turning a page, that is without a doubt. The 1GHz processor is enough to make reading on the Aura HD quite speedy, but there is moments when the device suffers from a second or two of lag, but it’s certainly not a deal breaker. The Aura HD is perfectly quick for what it is and what it needs to do. It does it’s job well.

You can set the Aura HD up directly on the device which is great for book lovers who don’t own a computer. I set my Aura HD up on the reader itself then installed the Kobo desktop app onto my computer as browsing the Kobo Store is certainly faster on a computer than on the device itself.

Let’s talk battery. I took my Kobo Aura HD out of the box on Christmas day and started using it straight away. The battery out of the box was at 67%. I read mostly during the evenings so I read with the front light almost always on. I have read for at least 20 minutes every day since Christmas and the battery finally drained completely of any charge on the 5th of January, that’s 11 days. Kobo estimates the battery to last over one month with the light and WiFi both switched off and 70 hours with the light on. Either way, the Aura HD will easily last through a long haul international flight or a week of reading on your morning commute.

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Let their be light! Many may be mistaken for believing the light in the screen of the Aura HD is a backlight, but the correct term is front light. You’re probably wondering what the difference is. To put it simply, the front light reflects light from the surface rather than beaming it through the back of the display directly into your eyes which allows for a much more comfortable reading experience than trying to read on a tablet or smartphone with an LCD screen that uses backlighting. This allows users to read comfortably in lowlight situation while still keeping the paper-like appearance of the display and reduce eye strain. The light is adjustable from 100% all the way down to 1%. If you’re the kind of person who wakes up in the middle of the night with a bout of insomnia, the 1% brightness setting provides enough light to read in pitch black darkness.

The Kobo software is enjoyable. Your home screen displays the book you are currently reading with stats beneath the cover image, displaying the percentage through you are and how many hours of reading there is to go before you complete the book. Kobo shows you recommended books and books related to the books stored in your library, so finding something new to read is a piece of cake. Along the bottom of the home screen has links to your entire library, the Kobo bookstore and an extras section in which you can check out your reading stats (one of my personal favourite things about reading on an e-reader rather than reading a traditional book), the dictionary and Reading Life awards, Kobo’s social aspect of reading.

Having never used a Kindle or a Nook, I can’t make any kind of comparison between the Kobo and the competitors. But as a consumer, I am more than happy with my Kobo. The reading experience is exactly what I expected, I can customise my reading experience to exactly what suits my comfort and the stats are fun to keep track off. I would recommend the Kobo Aura HD to anyone looking for a reading device.

Price – $218 at JB HiFi 

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review (PS4)

The year is 1715, it is the Golden Age of Piracy and you find yourself in the boots of Edward Kenway, a young Welsh privateer-turned-pirate who unknowingly finds himself in the middle of the struggle between Assassins and Templars.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was the first game I played thoroughly on my PS4. And I also must admit, Assassin’s Creed IV is the only game in the series that I have played comprehensively. That sentence may make some people want to stop reading right here, but stick with me. I purchased Black Flag for the pirates, a very decent looking pirate simulator, almost entirely ignoring the Assassin’s Creed affiliation altogether. But if you continue reading, you will discover whether or not this game has converted me or not.

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Throughout Edward’s journey, you explore real historic locations – Kingston, Havana and Nassau, and rub shoulders with the real mccoy of pirates – Charles Vane, Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, Benjamin Hornigold, John “Calico Jack” Rackham and Anne Bonny, making the experience as authentic as possible. Much like Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, this game romanticises the world of scallywags and swashbucklers, but I am perfectly okay with that. I will continue to live in belief that pirates were so damn cool.

The ocean is your playground. You can navigate the Jackdaw to any location, whether completing an objective from the main mission, engaging in one of the many side missions or just exploring the small islands dotting the map to find chests of gold, loot and shipwrecked survivors that you can rescue to join your crew. You are free to attack British and Spanish ships alike, which are scattered across the ocean, from tiny Schooners to gigantic Man O’ Wars armed to the teeth. You can survey them from afar to see if their cargo is worth the trouble, or you can do as I often do, and just attacked every ship within eyesight. This can become troublesome when you become wanted by pirate hunters, who become more difficult to defeat as your wanted level increases. You can reduce your wanted level by bribing dock officials or releasing captured ships. The map of the West Indies is divided up into sections and the further south you travel, the larger and more powerful the ships become. That being said, the ships also carry much more cargo so they are much more rewarding to loot. Defeating the forts that are scattered across the map unlock fast travel points and reveal more information, displaying all the collectables in the area. The Jackdaw becomes seemingly invincible as you continue to upgrade her, adding more armour and many more guns. I felt an odd sense of pride when the Jackdaw and her brave crew would send a Man O’ War to Davy Jones’ locker. Drag her to the depths, boys!

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Assassin’s Creed IV leaves no detail unconsidered. This game is beautiful. Stalk through the bushes and you’ll see individual leaves and blades of grass. The Jackdaw will creak and groan as you travel, the wind in her sails and the waves crashing against the hull. The crew will sing sea shanties. Every little detail has been taken into account. I didn’t purchase Black Flag on PS3 or X360, but the game looks fantastic on the PS4. The water was one of the most impressive aspects of the game, the way the sea would sweep across the deck of the Jackdaw as you sailed through the waves. Edward’s clothing moved as it should, whether he was walking on land, climbing the ratlines of a ship or swimming under water.

The addition of a companion app for iOS and Android is a real treat. Once connected to your console, the app allows you to connect to your game from anywhere at any time. Of course the app is limited, but you can look at the world map, study your treasure maps, check your progression tracker, control Kenway’s Fleet and look through information on the Animus Database. I particularly enjoy listening to the sea shanties I have collected through this app. It may not do a lot, but it is exciting to see this kind of app being made for games. It gives gamers something to look forward to in the future.

Black Flag features some of the best video game music I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. The album is available for purchase on iTunes and includes the official soundtrack from the single player story and multiplayer, as well as a selection of sea shanties from the game. I am a little disappointed that not all of the sea shanties are featured, a couple of my favourites aren’t on the album which is a shame, but thankfully the AC4 app fills that void.

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag was a fantastic start to PS4 gaming. I enjoyed this game immensely. Edward was the kind of character that is easy to relate to, extremely likeable and he represents what it means to be truly free. I may have completed the main missions, but the game still regains replay value with still so much to explore. I can continue to enjoy sinking ships and hunting various sea creatures and looting every last chest. I can conclude this review by stating that I thoroughly enjoyed this game, so much so that I really want to go back and play the older Assassin’s Creed games. In a way, it chronologically makes sense to play Assassin’s Creed III after IV. Or perhaps I’m just trying to make up excuses. Alas, I am converted. I am an Assassin’s Creed fan.

 Here’s a snap of my own personal AC4 loot!Image

Formats: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU and PC

Price: $79 (PS4, XBOne) $59 (PS3, X360, WiiU and PC)

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: 29/10/2013