Gaming

Assassin’s Creed Origins Review: Steps back to leap forward

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After taking a year off from its annual release cycle, Assassin’s Creed is back. A newbie to the games swan dives into Assassin’s Creed Origins to see if the changes to the formula is enough to revitalize the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed is one of modern video games’ landmark series. It’s actually been a decade since the first game was released, which started off a hugely successful multimedia franchise spanning games, comics, novels, and even a Hollywood film.

Recent years haven’t been as kind to the brand, though. The annual releases on every platform eventually wore on critics and consumers, as review scores and sales dwindled after the peaks of the second and third main games. Ubisoft, the series creator, eventually gave Assassin’s Creed a one-year break before putting out this latest installment.

I mention all this because even as a games enthusiast, I went into Assassin’s Creed Origins having zero experience with the whole franchise.

Back to the beginning

For a series newbie, the setup is perfect. Origins basically tells how the Assassin Brotherhood, the secret organization that each protagonist from every game is part of, came to be. It takes place at the tail end of Ancient Egypt. The two pharaohs Ptolemy and Cleopatra are at odds over who should be the rightful ruler. Meanwhile, the threat of Roman imperial influence on the nation, spearheaded by Julius Caesar, hangs heavy over the embattled Egyptian monarchy.

Amid this political turmoil, you play as Bayek, the medjay of the province of Siwa, and the very last of Egypt’s ordained protectors. You are on a quest for revenge against a shadowy cabal planning on taking complete control of the country.

No other big budget game comes to mind that tackles this particular setting, so my interest was piqued, despite the rather messy intro. Fortunately, that interest blossomed into a mostly enjoyable 42-hour experience!

Gorgeous and gigantic

That enjoyment had a lot to do with how much I wanted to be in Origins‘ staggering simulation of Ancient Egypt. From the way sand blows in the desert winds to how sunlight gleams on the surface of the Nile; from the architectural apex of Greek and Egyptian antiquity in Alexandria to the fading beauty of Egypt’s capital Memphis; and from the artistic Hellenistic heights of Greco-Roman Cyrene to the ever-enduring mystery and majesty of the Pyramids of Giza, Origins renders it all in stunning fashion.

Even the depiction of life and culture in that age is impressive. Markets and ports bustle with merchants peddling wares and laborers working on galleys. Guards on horseback and chariots patrol cobblestone streets and escort traders across land and sea. A whole mountain village is dedicated to extracting salt for mummification, with the statue of Anubis, the jackal god of death, perched on a shrine overlooking the settlement.

So, even though I found the quests at the beginning to be worryingly banal, I sought them out just to learn more about the world. A good deal of them flesh out the overarching narrative, too, as they illustrate the villains’ tyranny manifesting in numerous, logical ways.

Likable leads

Bayek’s character shines through his interactions with the populace. I found that he could laugh at himself while still being fiercely passionate in his sense of justice and respect for tradition. Him being a father and a husband reflects on how good he is with kids and understanding of parents with family problems.

His relationship with his wife Aya is also refreshing. They are both extremely competent as warrior assassins and trust each other’s ability. While they share the goal of revenge, they each have distinct motivations that set their character arcs apart. Affection is something they don’t hesitate to show one another. They display moments of emotional vulnerability, but they deal with it maturely like you’d expect from a long-married, caring couple.

The rest of the cast doesn’t come close to this level of characterization, but this core pairing is solid enough that it made me want to see their story through to the end.

Gameplay is a grower

I’m grateful for being so drawn into the world and these two leads, as I wasn’t having a great time with Origins until I played way more of it. After unlocking more abilities, gaining more tools and weapons, and generally getting a hang of the mechanics, I eventually found the gameplay rewarding in itself.

While still having an action/stealth adventure foundation, Origins builds a light RPG structure a la Horizon Zero Dawn on top of it; you level up, get stronger, and gain access to more abilities. You can improve your gear with crafting materials you collect from hunting animals, dismantling equipment, or shopping at vendors. There’s a variety of weapons and shields with stats and unique perks, and they also have levels that determine their effectiveness.

Because Bayek’s capabilities are tied into hard numbers, I was frustrated on numerous occasions during fights and sneaking up on enemies that were just two or three levels higher than me in the early goings. I was still grasping the fundamentals of combat and stealth, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to get spotted while trying to sneak into a base, surrounded by multiple guards, and killed in the ensuing melee.

More demanding mechanics

The fighting system has been revamped, too. It’s reminiscent of Dark Souls in that you’re throwing measured strikes with your weapon while dodging or blocking incoming blows, and every button press has Bayek committing to whatever action you take. If you throw out a strong attack and miss, you will likely get punished with a counter-attack. There is no stamina to worry about though, with only slight pauses in between attack and defend animations to keep you from chaining infinite combos. You do have an “Overpower meter” that gradually fills up in combat. Once it’s full, it allows you to either do a powerful one-hit super move or speed up your every attack for a set amount of time, depending on what weapon you have equipped.

It’s not as tight and responsive as the Souls games, though. I struggled at the sluggishness of striking and the skittery enemy movements.

Going into a heavily guarded fort or bandit hideout, you have one major advantage. You can take control of Senu, Bayek’s trusty eagle companion, to fly over the map and mark locations of your quest objectives, enemies, treasure, and other items you can interact with. It’s critical prep work before entering hostile territory, but even then it didn’t feel like enough for me to confidently clear out encampments without alerting everyone in them.

But once I got comfortable with the controls and earned more abilities, the gameplay started to click with me.

Slow but satisfying surprise

Around eight hours and 15 levels in, I was better at sneaking past enemies and smarter at fighting them with fire bombs and warrior bows. 20 hours and 25 levels in, I was silently headshotting guards and slaying lions and crocodiles. 40 hours and 35 levels in, I was clearing out fortresses and palaces using sleep darts and poison traps and brutally executing entire garrisons with my assortment of legendary dual blades, spears, sickle swords, and staves.

Assassin’s Creed Origins is the perfect example of a lovingly crafted virtual world with a strong sense of place that is truly captivating, so much so that it carried me to discovering joy in seemingly simple systems. It’s a slow starter, for sure, but it turned out to be the biggest surprise for me so far in this year of stellar video games, and I’m glad I took the leap on Assassin’s Creed at the right time.

SEE ALSO: Middle-earth: Shadow of War review — System overload

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What does the GPU Turbo do to your phone?

Is it more than just a marketing gimmick?

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It’s been two months since Huawei rolled out the GPU Turbo update to its smartphones. Promised with a 60 percent increase in performance and reducing 30 percent on power consumption, a lot of fans and users were excited after the announcement.

Back then, everyone (including me) was hyped about lag-free games and longer battery life while playing. However, upon receiving the update, I began to wonder: Has GPU Turbo delivered what it promised?

What’s inside the update?

GPU Turbo was originally marketed as an improved gameplay experience, available only to PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.

The Game Suite app, which comes with the update, offers an uninterrupted gaming feature, hiding all notifications when enabled (except for calls, alarms, and low-battery alerts).

Mistouch prevention is another feature to avert users from clicking the back and home button while playing — perfect for when you want to focus on your game.

Screenshots by Miguel Pineda, Huawei Mate 10 user

To some older smartphones like the Huawei Mate 10, the Game Suite App offers three performance modes: Gaming mode, which improves game performance but increases power consumption; Smart mode, which balances performance and power consumption; and Power saving mode, which saves power but reduces game performance.

For the newer Huawei P20 Pro (which I’ve been using) and Honor Play, it only has a gaming acceleration mode to toggle on or off.

Thoughts on the reduced power consumption

Because I used the Mate 10 before and recently transitioned to the P20 Pro, I’ve experienced the GPU Turbo update in both phones and I can guarantee that they’ve delivered on lowered power consumption.

With Game Suite, I can put my phone on power saving mode to further save battery. For instance, I was only able to drain the Mate 10 down to 15 percent during a 12-hour road trip despite switching between the games I play and other apps, such as Messenger, Netflix, Spotify, and taking photos and videos every once in a while. The same goes for the P20 Pro.

As a power user, I already get a lot of things done with these highly efficient smartphones and GPU Turbo; these allowed me to do more on a single charge. However, it’s a different case for gaming.

Improved gaming experience, but there’s a catch…

When I started playing games on gaming mode (or game acceleration mode on the P20 Pro), I could run Mobile Legends: Bang Bang on a high frame rate with the highest graphics setting available. Compared to how the game stuttered and lagged during 5v5 clashes, with GPU Turbo, it now runs smoothly, as if I have a smartphone made for gaming.

System notice when enabling the high frame rate on Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and the effects it may have on your gameplay

As shown above, most mobile games will notify their users about the possible repercussions of higher frame rates and using the best settings available. To prove that a smartphone with GPU Turbo can handle this, I sought out to confirm my suspicions.

After asking fellow Huawei users, I found out that after installing GPU Turbo, energy consumption is a lot faster than before. Their smartphones also heat up more easily, especially when playing games with the game acceleration mode on. This isn’t part of what was promised, and it’s pretty disappointing.

It’s not yet perfect

In my experience, GPU Turbo tries to boost performance above a smartphone’s limit hoping that users can experience better gameplay.

GPU Turbo can’t choose when to perform its best. It’s an update that is constantly running in our smartphones without any way to switch it off. We can only hope that Huawei will address these issues for the next batch of updates.

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ASUS ROG Phone receives US pricing

Last piece of the puzzle

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ASUS is certainly taking its time with the release of its one and only gaming phone. First announced at Computex 2018, the ROG Phone finally has an official price to go with its US release.

For the model with 128GB of storage, you’d have to shell out US$ 899. For the larger 512GB storage variant, the cost goes up to US$ 1,099. Both come with a high-end Snapdragon 845 processor and 8GB of memory.

Of course, there are accessories to go with it. First is the ROG Mobile Desktop Dock, which costs US$ 229; the ROG Phone Case retails for US$ 59; the ROG Professional Dock is valued at US$ 119; you can buy the ROG TwinView Dock for US$ 399; the ROG Gamevice Controller is at US$ 89; and lastly, the ROG WiGig Dock goes for US$ 329.

Those are a lot of accessories for one phone, but that’s what makes the ROG Phone a truly gamer-centric device.

As stated last week, the ROG Phone will hit US shores starting October 18, with other regions to follow soon after.

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Gaming

PlayStation’s PSN Online ID change coming soon

Full rollout coming early 2019!

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You’ll soon be able to retire your DarkWarrior1214 PlayStation ID. In a blog post, Sony PlayStation said they will soon begin testing the PSN Online ID change feature as part of their preview program.

Beta testers part of the preview program will be able to change their PSN ID as much as they want. However, once the feature rolls out to everyone, only the first name change will be free. Succeeding name changes will cost US$ 9.99 for regular users.

PS Plus users will be charged a smaller fee of US$ 4.99. The online ID can be changed through the profile page on your PS4 or at the Settings menu. There’s also an option to display your old PSN ID alongside your new one so your friends can recognize you right away.

Not for all games

The feature isn’t available for all games, though. Only PS4 games published after April 1, 2018 along with other most-played titles that were published before that date will have the feature. PlayStation also warns that changing the ID might cause some issues with some games that can be fixed by reverting to the old ID. Here’s to hoping PlayStation finds a way to address those issues some time down the line.

The planned full rollout of the feature is in early 2019. What will be your new PSN Online ID?

SEE ALSO: Sony unveils PlayStation Classic, comes pre-loaded with 20 games

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