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Josh Smith

Josh has been interested in video gaming and technology since the early 80’s. Growing up in Maine has proven difficult, but he’s found ways to gain access to hardware and software not typically seen in rural parts of the country. Now living near the coast, Josh is happily married with two young children and is teaching them the ways of the Force. Unfortunately, it’s the Dark Side.

We review Magic Duels:Origins

Magic the Gathering’s digital platform could use some work

Each year Wizard’s of the Coast releases Magic the Gathering digitally on a number of platforms, mobile and console, but this year it’s different. With the success that Hearthstone has had in the digital space, Magic needed to take a stand and take back some of the players that it has lost, and Magic Duels: Origins is that attempt. Despite no gameplay changes — you can’t change the core of the game — it still employs some new features that are bound to get you excited. Not so fast, because before you jump on that bandwagon there’s some things to know.

In previous releases, Magic the Gathering featured a “closed system,” meaning as you progressed in the story, you unlocked cards that you could use in pre-made decks and, in later games, in custom-made ones. This year it’s entirely different, because the game itself is free, shedding the $14.99 price that typically accompanies it. This year Magic is implementing microtransactions that allow you to purchase in-game currency, used for buying booster packs. Spending real money to potentially get some amazing cards is what draws people to the tabletop version of Magic, so the logic is that it would work the same digitally.

Well, yes and no.

One booster pack costs 150 coins, which equates to $1.99. While that is cheaper than purchasing an actual pack to play the tabletop game, it also yields less. One pack purchased digitally yields six cards: three common, two uncommon, and one rare (with a chance at a mythic rare). Granted, as you make their way through the game’s story, you’ll unlock coins and cards to help complement the decks you’re creating.

The unfortunate side of this is that for those who are trying to build a particular deck, like the ones you’ll face during the story/training, you’re going to have to get real lucky or spend some significant in-game money. It’s not as if the coins are difficult to come by, either. You can play online versus real people or against AI with varying difficulty, but it also with varying rewards (less coins for easier AI). You’ll be able to open a new pack of cards fairly often, but the odds of getting cards that increase your particular deck are slim. Instead, your best bet may be to simply have three or four different decks active to play at different times.

For years the fans of Magic the Gathering, myself included, have been clamoring for a digital version of the game that allows players to create their own deck and buy their own boosters. We finally have it, but it’s not quite buttoned up to where it needs to be. The online is fairly consistent, despite a rough launch, and there’s always going to be players available, but it’s still not ready to take down Hearthstone.

The art has always been magnificent for Magic, but the game is darker and more serious than the competition’s, which might be a negative. The UI hasn’t changed significantly in years and, where Hearthstone releases DLC packs, there’s no telling what Magic Duels: Origins has planned. They’re on the right track with this year’s installment, though. It’s certainly the Magic we know and love, and it’s just a few tweaks away from being a legitimate contender in the digital space.

Overall Score: 6.5 out of 10

You will also like: A Guide to Magic the Gathering

Rare Replay: A review on the nostalgic collection

Microsoft’s game development company gives you a taste of the past with their game collection

Back in 2002 Microsoft purchased a company that had made a name for themselves in the world of game development. Rare, known for titles like Banjo-Kazooie and GoldenEye 007 was well-established and beloved to many. For a time, Rare was cast aside and used exclusively for what seemed like “busy work”. Despite Microsoft’s promise that they were being used appropriately, many felt that the studio that once pumped out hit title after hit title were wasting away.

Under Microsoft, Rare released games that scored well and were fun to play, Grabbed by Ghoulies and Viva Pinata for example, but titles sold poorly considering how well they were made. In 2010 the developer was restructured and, again, set aside, used for Kinect titles and the Xbox Avatar system, introduced towards the end of the Xbox 360’s era.

At E3 2015, Microsoft stole the show with exclusivity for popular titles, incredible announcements for their console, and announcements for new titles. Of those titles, one of the most exciting was Rare Replay, a collection of 30 games from the famed developer spanning from 1983 to 2008.

After spending a significant amount of time with the collection, it’s hard to say whether I like it or not.

The easiest breakdown of the collection is that it should be viewed in three segments: early-Rare, 90s-Rare, and modern-Rare. The earlier games, covering 1983-1994, don’t hold up. There are some exceptions, RC Pro Am for example, but largely the games during that period weren’t necessarily marvels of wonder anyway. For the most part, you’ll be playing these for achievements or for a feeling of nostalgia. Games like Battletoads really take advantage of the “rewind” feature, something you’ll find yourself using over and over, as games during this era were drastically harder than they were today. Not because gamers were better back then, but because arcades still existed and they wanted to take your money, not let you finish the game on one quarter.

The 90s-Rare, which we’ll extend up to the year 2000, includes fewer titles, but all of them are packed with content, deliver solid gameplay, and are recent enough that you can still enjoy what you’re playing. Banjo-Kazooie is the game we all remember, complete with the humor and lack of seriousness that made it popular. On the other hand, Killer Instinct Gold is a wonderful trip down memory lane, especially for those playing Killer Instinct on Xbox One. Thinking you’re going to go into this game and breeze through is incorrect, the game is harder than I remember.

The most recent era of Rare games features the aforementioned Grabbed by Ghoulies and Viva Pinata (both of them), as well as additional Banjo-Kazooie titles, Perfect Dark, and more. These games were on the original Xbox or Xbox 360 and if you didn’t keep them when you bought them, it’s nice to get them all in one pack.

Overall, expect the same games that you remember, but remove the rose-colored glasses that you see them through. Battletoads, for instance, is a title that I’ve been pining for since 2009, only to find that the game itself isn’t exactly the gem I remembered. A remake would still be great, but the original had some serious flaws. You’ll find that with most titles, as well, yet it’s still a nice trip down memory lane.

The most important thing that Rare Replay accomplishes is the simple fact that it’s an homage to a wonderful developer. With added history about the studio and the games they made, it’s nice to see Microsoft acknowledging what they have. Purchasing the studio for $375 million surely is a way to acknowledge that, but with many of the staff from that time having moved on to create their own studio (complete with a Banjo-Kazooie-inspired title, called Yooka-Laylee), there may exist some bad blood. That’s entirely speculation though.

Overall, the collection of games is well-done, is forgiving thanks to additional features, and gives everybody a chance to see where Rare came from, how they evolved, and, hopefully, what we can expect in the future. At $29.99, the price is perfect and will give hours of enjoyment, albeit not all at the same time. It’s a nice escape from what we have now and scratches that vintage itch that we all sometimes have.

Overall score: 7 out of 10

PDP AG7 Review: The Headset of the future

We review the much anticipated PDP AG7 wireless headset

It’ll be two years in November since the Xbox One hit retailers to welcome in the current generation of console gaming and, since that time, we’ve been waiting for the inevitable wave of gaming headsets to be released into the wild. In June, at E3 2015, an array of companies discussed their gameplan for getting their product into the hands of consumers, one of them being PDP, which announced its Afterglow AG7. As the first “true wireless” headset, meaning no cables are required, it’s common to expect a high retail price or poor quality. Thankfully, for those of you on a budget, neither of those are true.

Being “true wireless” can be a curse as much as a blessing, because if a headset is designed poorly, audio is laggy or lost altogether. After plugging a USB into the Xbox One, the system automatically recognizes the new headset as the primary audio device after a quick, simple sync. Surprisingly, despite no cables running even to the controller, the audio experienced no loss or lag whatsoever. Even after walking to the bathroom, about 15” from the console and through two walls, audio was still streaming and accurate. Through three walls and 20” though, audio dropped, as expected.

The outer portion of the earcups lights up green, showing why the Afterglow series earned its name, but nowhere near the brightness that is shown on the box. With the headband, the AG7 fits snugly against each side of your head which is normally what you look for with a gaming headset. Unfortunately, the earcups are made with a sort of faux-leather, which is to its detriment. They’ve got an over-ear design, which helps cancel outside noise, but because the cups make such a great seal over your ears, you’ll find yourself getting warmer than is comfortable. A cloth design would have worked better to complement the “snugness” of the headset.

After a full charge, you can expect to get a solid 14-16 hours of use out of the headset, an impressive length. Often you’ll find reduced battery time because of bigger drivers, or smaller drivers to help reduce drain. It’s not a massive battery drain when using 50mm drivers, which the AG7 has, versus the common (and often disappointing) 40mm drivers, but it’s enough to be mentioned. There are two audio modes, one for bass boost and the other for “pure audio.” Each isn’t particularly different than the other, but it’s slightly noticeable. Your best bet is to find which you prefer and just stick with it.

The audio itself is clearly defined, whether you’re focused on game audio or voice chat. To turn either up takes just a turn of a knob on the back of the left ear and can be finely tuned so you can hear your friends loudly with the game audio in “behind.” For those expecting to use the AG7s for professional gaming, I have some bad news: they’re not good enough. In games where directional audio is important, Call of Duty or recent free-to-plays like Smite, you’ll hear a skirmish that sounds like its behind you, causing you to turn, only to realize the audio was coming from directly in front of you to begin with. It’s frustrating, easily ignored, but opens you up to attacks from behind — a frustrating experience in any game.

The microphone is also not particularly amazing. The design itself is brilliant, as it extends out from the left ear cup for use and contains some noise-cancelling technology. However, you’ll run into situations where friends and teammates will notice that you sound much farther away from the mic than you really are. It’s not a red-flag in terms of buying the hardware, but it can’t go unmentioned.

The most accurate way to describe the PDP AG7 headset is “mediocre,” but don’t take that negatively. It looks great, the audio is clear and, priced at $99.99, if you can get past the issues mentioned, you’ll actually get a reasonable value compared to what you pay for. The wireless capability is an enormous benefit for those who are tired of cables, the battery life is impressive, and the setup is embarrassingly easy. With only a sweaty face and directional audio as the major eyebrow raisers, my suggestion is that if you’re looking for a good headset at a good price, the PDP AG7 is it.

READ: Yogibo makes sure you will be comfortable in your dorm

ALSO READ: Bluetooth Exam: Which Speaker Beats the Rest

Yogibo makes sure you will be comfortable in your dorm

We review Yogibo’s “Max”

Shopping for furniture is a drag, especially when you’re a student. Normally you have two options: shell out big bucks for some nice furniture that may end up ruined after an all night rager, or browse sites like Craigslist and run the risk of inviting who-knows-what into your house after it hitches a ride on someone else’s old, disgusting furniture. Luckily, for those of us who enjoy comfort, cleanliness, and affordability, there’s Yogibo. Yogibo is a company that specializes in comfort. More pointedly: bean bags. Sure, they do pillows, bedding, tables, and ottomans, but if you’re looking for a place to rest your rump, focus on the bean bags. Recently, Yogibo sent me their “Max(http://j.mp/1DtaBVC),” a behemoth of comfort, allowing me to catch up on most of the naps I skipped as a child. Testing this stuff is hard work, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s important to note that it’s not called “Max” for no reason; this thing is huge. It measures a little longer than six feet and, while it’s stuffing causes it to be more cigar-shaped than square, the width and height goes to about two feet by two feet, though it tapers a little bit on the ends. Standing it up is ideal for storage, as it takes up most of your floor space in a dorm. Even in an apartment, if it’s not your primary piece of furniture, it’s big. Yogibo says that their Max weighs about 19 pounds, but the design makes it feel like far less, always a good thing.

To say it’s comfortable is an extreme understatement. Based on hours of testing, I’ve concluded that the comfort comes from two particularly genius engineering ideas. First, Yogibo overstuffs their beanbags. The Max gets the aforementioned “cigar shape” from the fact that it’s got so many beans inside of it. The fabric itself is also responsible, thanks to the stretchiness, something similar to spandex or yoga pants, only you’ll appreciate the Yogibo Max’s plumpness and won’t make snide comments when it’s not looking.

The fabric and overstuffing work together to make an amalgam of awesome that is inviting of your backside. When you finally sit down on it, you’ll sink into it, but not to the point where you’re resting on the floor, which ensures you have support at all the right spots. As you move, the fabric, a sort of cotton jersey material, is constantly pushing the beans back to their original location. Most beanbags have to be readjusted every time you get up or move, but not the Yogibo. As you move, adjust, get up, and sit back down, you’ve always got something there ensuring comfort and support. It’s deliciously simple in concept, but must be painfully difficult to accomplish because I’ve yet to find a beanbag to match it.

At six feet long, most anybody can lie on the Yogibo Max and not worry about limbs hanging off of it. Even if you’re slightly taller, it will stretch a bit to compensate or complement your sitting style. If you’d rather not lie down, flip the Max on its side and have multiple folks sit on it like a couch. The more people, the better, but you’ll still not have your butt on the floor, regardless of the side you sit on. It’s not waterproof or stain proof, one of the few downsides, but aside from magic, making it so without losing the wonderful texture and resiliency of the fabric might be impossible. Additionally, the more you use it, the more the fabric tends to loosen up, losing only a little of the elasticity, but still losing it. I’m confident that it won’t get completely slack though, as my testing included two children, ages six and three, bouncing on it like a jackhammer on many, many occasions.

If it can stand up to those two little monsters, it can stand up to anything.

At $239.00, the Yogibo Max is a value. It’s reliable, the cover can be washed, and the comfort is unmatched at this price range. If you’re looking for a seat for gaming, studying, reading, writing, browsing Facebook, or just watching television, the Max is it. It should come with a warning though, “DANGER! Spontaneous napping may occur.”

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is jam packed with content

Even the nudity in this RPG is tasteful

It’s common that, when reviewing a game, it shows up a week or two prior to the release date. That’s why, when The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt showed up early, I was confident that I’d be able to power through the main story, experience some of the side missions, and get a good feeling of what the game offers in order to relay my thoughts to you wonderful readers. Unfortunately, I was wrong. As you glance at today’s date and notice that the game has been out for a month, you understand that it’s taken me this long to accomplish all those objectives because this game is massive.

Massive in terms of story, quest lines, character development, hell even the world itself is enormous. It’s so big to almost be overwhelming, but not in the negative sense. You can’t ever discredit a game for lack of content, particularly when the content is of such a caliber that every adventure is pleasurable. Top to bottom, from combat to character voices, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is magnificent.

For those who never had the chance to play the previous Witcher titles, the game is based on a fantasy book series. You play as Geralt in each game and in this installment developer CD Projekt Red does a good job of allowing players to venture down their own path, experiencing this new story without worrying about what’s happened previously. References are made to previous titles, but are done with enough explanation to fill players in, or are so superficial that explanation isn’t necessary. This time around, Geralt is on a quest to find Ciri. She’s the daughter of a king, but adopted by Geralt, and possesses magnificent abilities which have earned her the right to be trained as a Witcher, a title historically allowed only to men.

In a jigsaw puzzle of flashbacks and playable experiences, you’ll learn about Ciri, develop an emotional attachment to the strong woman, and begin to fully realize why she’s so special, both in combat and in character. She’s deadly and defiant, but beautiful. Not to the point where her lady bits are hanging out, which sometimes oversexualizes strong female characters, but her personality and convictions make her likeable. That’s not to say that some characters aren’t oversexualized; Geralt has multiple opportunities (and in my game, took some of them) to have relations with female characters which leads to graphic nudity accompanying adult language. Yes, this game is for adults only. Strangely though, even the sex scenes are done with taste and add to the plot rather than act as an opportunity for gratuitous boobs.

The world of The Witcher 3 is enormous. There are five areas, but two of them are fairly small and are used at key points in the game or as a sort of tutorial grounds. The three main areas, each of them with dozens of areas to explore. Underground caverns, towns, abandoned areas overrun with monsters, and other curiosities lie around for Geralt to explore, each of them rife with loot and new experiences. Within each town is a board where citizens can post “help wanted” ads. Instead of a summer job at $10 an hour, Geralt is instead tracking down vicious beasts or saving kidnapped children. The rewards are always modest, no Witcher works for free after all, but at times Geralt has the opportunity to haggle the price. Sometimes you’ll run into stingy negotiators, sometimes they’ll agree to your price straight away.

In any fantasy RPG you’ll place a lot of weight on gear, potions, and inventory management. In The Witcher 3 it’s no different and there’s an impressive array of items. Potions work differently than in other games you may have played. Instead of amassing an enormous stockpile of potions that you never use, Geralt will search out and find formulas to make potions and improved versions of them. You’ll have anywhere from three to five of any type of potion at one time and when you use it, it’s gone until you meditate. That rest will replenish your potions, but cancel any effects you may have active. Witcher potions are toxic to normal people and, if you drink too many too quickly, can poison you as well. It’s an easy system to understand, but if you’re not careful it’s easy to overdose, too.

 

You’ll find a massive array of items out on your travels or as rewards, but crafting is another means to upgrading your equipment. Blacksmiths can break items down to get their raw components (or you’ll find them), which can then be used to craft magical or legendary artifacts for Geralt to exploit in combat. The biggest issue lies in the inventory management system. For every potion you create or item that you want crafted, you need the components. Couple that with the ability to loot damn near every body or container in the game and you’ll find yourself running out of inventory space quickly. Near the end of the game, with the appropriate potions and items equipped, you’ll have the ability to carry nearly 150 lbs. Because of the components you have with you, you’re near that limit constantly, meaning going to the merchant is a chore to undertake every time you can. There are no containers for you to keep your unused items in, so you’re forced to sell it, drop it, or deal with the weight. It’s one of the most frustrating parts of the game, the other being the insanely long load times that plague the Xbox One version.

To discuss all the nuances and subtle improvements made to the game this time around would make this review unreadable. What CD Projekt Red has done since The Witcher 2 is nothing short of incredible. Combat is more fluid than ever, quest lines are more than just simple “Do task A, get a reward,” that we’ve grown accustomed to, and the variety in the content is phenomenal. Some tasks may grow tedious, but there’s so much more to do that you’ll never find yourself growing bored. Hell, they even created their own in-game card game called Gwent. It’s fun, addicting, and poised to be it’s own stand-alone app if it chooses, though the developers have not confirmed that at all.

If you’re looking for a title that will give you a wonderful experience and tons of content, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is it. Summer is typically the slow time for gaming and, with what comes in the game, plus the free DLC packs that have are consistently released, this game could be exactly what you need to fill those gaps or to be that game you return to throughout the summer, when we’re usually outside more than not. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. Top to bottom, The Witcher 3 is fantastic experience.

Bluetooth Exam: Which Speaker Beats The Rest?

Our smartphones and tablets have increasingly become a primary source for entertainment. Video games, music, television, and movies are becoming easier to access and, with advances in screen technology, are more beautiful than ever. Unfortunately, your audio is one of the few drawbacks to your favorite device, whether it’s iOS, Android, or Windows mobile. That doesn’t mean you have to suffer with sound that’s too low or distorted though, because there are an array of options that fit every student’s needs, most importantly budget.

Each speaker was tested in the same scenario, in a closed area approximately the size of a dorm room. Every speaker was pointed at the decibel meter, which sat 12” apart, and the same song, Guns N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle,” was used to test them all, though additional songs were randomly selected to test bass and potential distortion.To be fair to each product, the speakers were graded individually and not on a curve, or against each other.

The Bang – Coloud.com – $25.00

Sound:  C-

Design: C

Battery: A

Price:    A+

The Bang is interesting because it’s small, very portable, and has a decent amount of life, around eight hours, before it needs recharging. This is partly due to the fact that it’s not a Bluetooth speaker and relies wholly on a 3.5mm connection. Along with price, one positive is the fact that you can daisy chain multiple speakers together to mimic stereo sound. The 40mm drivers don’t allow for any noticeable bass and the volume topped out at 87.1 dBA, but was very clear and had zero distortion. Having no micro-USB charging cable included is questionable, though.

Divoom – Airbeat 10 – $49.90

Sound:  B+

Design: A

Battery: B-

Price:    B

Another small speaker, the Airbeat 10 packs quite a punch considering its size. The bass isn’t considerable, again due to the size, and the claims that the included suction cup can turn “any flat surface into a subwoofer” wasn’t as impressive as advertised, despite the clear, crisp 95.5 dBA it pumped out. It comes with a clamp that fits nicely on a bicycle though, and the design allows for weather resistance, meaning you can get it wet without worrying about destroying it. The 500 mAh battery lasts slightly less than 6 hours at best, but recharges quickly on any USB power source. Thankfully, it also features a microphone and additional play button, allowing you to use it as a speaker phone.

Rapoo A600 – Rapoo.com – $99.90

Sound:  A

Design: B

Battery: C

Price:    B

The retro look, with large buttons and metal casing, makes the A600 an eye-catcher and serves as a way to enhance the overall sound. It blasted out 96.2 dBA in testing, though most impressive was the booming bass and lack of distortion, even at max volume. It has some heft to it though, and will serve you best on a shelf or desk rather than being toted around. The A600 accepts NFC connections, making it extremely easy to connect to your phone or tablet, and allows for two devices to be connected simultaneously via Bluetooth 4.0, but it’s not a feature that is particularly useful unless you own multiple devices. The battery life and recharge time was average at best, but the sound and included accessories make up for the hassle of recharging.

HexSL – 808Audio.com – $59.99

Sound:  C

Design: B

Battery: B+

Price:    B-

A great beginner’s speaker, the Hex SL plays noticeable audio cues when turning on and off, as well as when pairing the speaker via Bluetooth. The speaker is fun to look at, and while the soda can-like design makes it ideal for cup holders, on your backpack, or messenger bag, it’s bulky to carry on its own. The design does serve a purpose for sound, with 360 degrees of audio rather than directional, and it can reach extremely high volumes, topping out near 100 dBA. Unfortunately, at max volumes the sound grew distorted and caused the battery to drain significantly faster. It can last up to 12 hours on one charge if you keep the volume low, though at preferred levels you’ll get less than 10 hours, but recharge time isn’t unreasonable.

Voombox Ongo – Divoom.vom – $79.90

Sound:  A

Design: A-

Battery: B+

Price:    B+

Another installment from Divoom, the Voombox Ongo is far more impressive than it’s little brother, the Airbeat 10, but also more expensive. That’s thanks to wonderful audio and impressive bass that topped out at 95.9 dBA and stayed clear regardless of the content. The battery lasts less than the advertised eight hours and takes a while to recharge, closer to four hours than to three, which is the biggest drawback to the speaker. Resistant to water, it also includes a bicycle mount, which makes it great for those who spend time outdoors, though it may be a little too big to be hauled around with you everywhere.

Touch Speaker Boombox – ThumbsUpUK.com – $39.99

Sound:  D

Design: B-

Battery: A

Price:    C

It doesn’t use Bluetooth, but it doesn’t use cables to connect to your phone either, leaving only one explanation: witchcraft. By simply setting your phone down on the Touch Speaker Boombox, any sound is amplified to an astounding 103.5 dBA. Unfortunately, when listening at that volume the sounds is incredibly distorted. Additionally, there’s no bass to be heard at any volume, making it a neat piece of tech to have, but not particularly useful considering the price. The upside is that battery is quite powerful, lasting more than 10 hours when played at a volume that doesn’t allow for distortion.

SyrenPro – iLuv.com – $129.99

Sound:  A+

Design: A

Battery: C-

Price:    A-

Of everything tested, the SyrenPro had the most impressive sound, but is also the most expensive. Topping out at 108.7 dBA, the music remained clear and enjoyable, and the bass drop was heavy enough to shake the walls. It’s a large piece of hardware, meaning it’s not ideal for taking with you anywhere. The battery life, just shy of four hours, reinforces that statement, but by plugging it into the wall you’ll have an impressive speaker for dorm life. It’s weather-resistant as well, making it nice for the beach, but it’s so large that keeping it near the pool is probably the better decision. Still, if you’re looking for top-notch audio, this is the speaker to invest in.

City-management game Cities XXL is challenging, but lacks approachability

Six years ago a city-building game was released that started as an MMO-like experience, but due to a poor response from players, it was patched into a single-player game. You’re thinking, “SIM CITY! I remember that debacle!” but you’d be wrong. The game running that gamut first was Cities XL, and despite the lack of subscribers and a change of direction, which eventually lead to the end of developer Monte Cristo, the game ended up being on the good side of fun. Last month a new developer, Focus Home Interactive, took their shot at the franchise with Cities XXL.

Unfortunately it doesn’t quite measure up.

City management has become a popular genre thanks, in part, to the liberties that each game in the genre takes. Cities XXL sprinkles in a few wonderful ideas, but the biggest hurdle is the difficulty, something that is high even for players experienced in the genre. Newcomers will find themselves overwhelmed, those who have experience in the genre will become frustrated, and those who remember Cities XL will ask what this newest installment has that the other doesn’t.

The world of Cities XXL is perhaps the most impressive touch to the game. Instead of simply choosing your location from a list, something that many titles do, XXL shows players a map of the globe, laying out each location and showing its level of difficulty. Some areas are more hospitable than others due to a number of factors like climate, resources, or accessibility, which allows players to choose their own experience rather nicely.

After choosing your location, it’s time to start planning. Having a grid-like layout is aesthetically pleasing and can be a little easier to manage, but the ability to place roads in any place you see fit can lead to some fun designs … or a headache of traffic congestion and impromptu shortcuts through residential areas. The key to Cities XXL is patience, something that is difficult to force upon yourself.

Areas can be built and zoned for specific needs, residential, office, or industrial, each with their own subsets. Building homes next to industrial zones will lead to pissed off residents, upset at the pollution. Likewise, building them too far away leads to a long commute, something nobody likes. Early on in your city, you’ll find that you don’t have enough money to create it perfectly, so playing slowly and methodically is almost a requirement, something that many will find boring.

Build too fast and you’ll see growth, but you’ll soon find that you can’t meet the demands of those living in the city. Trying to maintain a healthy rate of growth and building to meet the requirements those within the city have will lead to bankruptcy. When you hear “patience,” imagine playing the game slowly and calculated, then play it slower.

There is fun to be had, but Cities XXL certainly is a niche title. It’s not welcoming to those who have no experience or love of the genre, but it’s certainly not a terrible experience. It’s hard, success comes to slow-playing, and there are many gameplay options for those who find enjoyment. Unfortunately, for the majority of the gaming public, those finding enjoyment will be the minority.

Overall Score: 6 out of 10

Free-to-play title Neverwinter hits Xbox One

After the successful release and overall response from fans, both within the Dungeons & Dragons franchise and those simply looking for a new game, the popular free-to-play MMO Neverwinter has launched on Xbox One. Nearly a week since being made available, the community is bustling, guilds have formed, and players have killed enough goblins to label it a genocide, yet as each day wears on, more and more players are flocking to the title. With no cost associated with downloading and playing, there’s only one risk, leading to the question, “Will it waste your time?”

Many of the initial points in the original PC review still remain, with much of the additions coming in the form of additional content and class balancing. The initial 2-character limit still applies, but there are ways to gather more slots, though at a cost. Because it’s free-to-play, Neverwinter hides a lot of content behind a paywall, but it’s content that’s not necessary to enjoy the game nor will you miss out on any large portions of your adventure.

Most of the “pay to play,” type additions are simply things that make your life easier. When advancing your enchantments, items used to increase the ability of a weapon or piece of armor, there’s a chance that the advancement will fail, resulting in a loss of all the materials you used, some extremely rare. Opting to purchase “wards” will result in a 100% success rate, removing a lot of stress and potential searching for the materials, a quest that can take hours.

Your companions also fall into this amalgam, with your basic ones able to be leveled to 15 before they stop gaining experience. You’ll have to spend a monstrous amount of “Astral Diamonds,” one of the game’s currencies aside from gold and purchasable Zen, in order to get their maximum level to 20, more to get them to 25, then even more to get them to the cap of 30. If you purchase a companion with your Zen, depending on the cost, you’ll see a starting cap of level 20, 25, or 30, though you’ll probably still be met with astronomical expenses in order to get your companion to be the best she can be.

There are “value packages” to be purchased, to Neverwinter’s credit. These give a combination of high-level enchantments, companions, mounts, additional character slots, or other goodies that will help throughout your adventures. There are often sales on packages or on Zen altogether as well, though there’s no indication when they will hit console nor how often players will be able to take advantage.

Perhaps the most annoying part of Neverwinter is a tactic used to lead players along. Throughout the world, as you dispatch foes, there’s a chance that they may drop lockboxes. These lockboxes can only be opened with a key that’s bought with Zen. For $5.00 (plus tax), you’ll be able to open four lockboxes, each one containing special items with the chance for some ultra-rare mounts or artifacts. Every time someone in the game receives one of these rare items, every chat box sees “So-and-so has received … “ To make it worse, the message also flashes in the middle of your screen. The tactic is understandable, a carrot-on-a-stick to get players to purchase more keys to open more boxes, but with no option to hide the message, it becomes problematic, particularly because of the game’s biggest flaw…the framerate.

To be fair, since Neverwinter’s beta period earlier this year, a lot of the major stuttering has been removed, though is still prevalent during some of the more insane combat sequences featuring many enemies or lots of animations, spell flashes, explosions, and the like. Instead of slowed FPS, occasionally the game comes to a halt altogether, which can last up to 15 seconds in some instances. In an MMO, particularly during some of the more dangerous encounters, 15 seconds can cost you your life, resulting in the enemy resetting and the battles starting anew.

Other issues, like the game crashing altogether or disconnecting players for simply changing from one zone to another, occur far too often, though they’re being investigated and hopefully will be addressed in an upcoming patch. The frustration stems from the fact that these issues existed in the beta period, though don’t seem to have been fixed.

Not releasing Neverwinter in this state would have been a bad business practice, as the amount of money spent in just six days must be staggering. I reached out to Perfect World, the company behind Neverwinter, to get an indication of how much was spent on day one, for Xbox One only, but did not get a response.

I held my own poll with random adventurers on the first day though, and the results were staggering. Players level 20 or higher were questioned about whether they had spent money in game and of the 54 people I had spoken to, 49 of them had spent at least $5.00. The most spent was more than $600.00, but the player didn’t have an exact figure, while the average money spent of those 54 players was around $72.00. Each. On the first day.

Expectations are that most money was spent on special mounts and combination packs, but 100% of the people polled who had purchased Zen bought lockbox keys to try their luck. Four of them had found a rare or legendary item. Personally, I opened 35 lockboxes and found very little of note, which tells me that the lockboxes, while fun to open, are perhaps the lowest value on the marketplace.

Still, with the technical issues, the inability to change the interface — which includes the lack of a minimap to view — and the constant reminders of people opening lockboxes, the game is still fun. The free-to-play wave is hitting consoles and Neverwinter is the first true fantasy MMO available and is poised to make a lot of money because of that fact. The game is fun, it’s balanced, and allows console gamers to experience a world they’ve, until now, been excluded from. Bluntly, Neverwinter on PC is light years ahead of what you’ll see on Xbox One, but if you’re looking for a fun community, an enjoyable world, and a game where you’re not required to pay money to play (though you probably will), Neverwinter is it.

Play your favorite NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis games on one system with the Super Retro Trio

Lately there’s been a resurgence in retro gaming. Many are returning to the consoles and games that they grew up with, while the ones who missed it are starting to peek back at the classics. It’s not always easy to find those classic games or consoles to play them on and, as many will agree, using an emulator doesn’t quite capture the entire experience. Thankfully there’s a device that will help alleviate at least one of your problems. Introducing the Super Retro Trio, a new-age device designed to play your favorite games of yore.

The price is listed at different places for up to $99.99, but for now at least you can score it on Amazon for $59.99, a steal considering what’s included. The Super Retro Trio features three cartridge slots, one for NES, Super NES, and Sega Genesis games. It doesn’t auto-detect which slot is filled, instead relying on the user to select the appropriate system when powering the console on.

The Super Retro Trio comes with 2 controllers, both designed like the ones that came with the Super Nintendo, though they fit in the “Sega Genesis” controller slot. That’s important because on the front of the console are six controller ports, two for each classic console controller, just in case you have some lying around. Admittedly, the controllers are easier to come across for those restocking their classic game collections. Again, controllers aren’t auto-detected and are toggled via a switch on the front. Are you a fan of original Japanese titles? Many are, and thankfully the console allows for games from different regions.

The unfortunate side of the console is the output and display. Despite being a technological feat worthy of all the praise heaped onto it, the Super Retro Trio is limited to S-video and composite (Red, Yellow, White) output. If you own a newer television, and who doesn’t, the image will have dead zones on either side. Some will appreciate the classic feel of the 8, and 16-bit graphics, but it can be a jarring experience if you’re expecting to see it fill your entire screen.

Despite that small piece of nitpicking, the console is an overall delight. It doesn’t use emulator software to run your old games, it simply does exactly what your old consoles once did. It’s visually pleasing, sporting a shiny red and black finish, and when not in use you can flip up the front panel to hide controller ports and random switches. The panel is a bit of a headache to open at times, but considering how little there is to complain about on the console itself, it’s not enough of a nuisance that it will be something you bring up to friends when you brag about it.

If you’ve been thinking about restocking your collection of retro games or have even a passing interest in the hobby, the Super Retro Trio is worth every penny and will be the focal point of your entertainment center.

Warframe Impresses at PAX East

The free-to-play landscape can seem a little daunting, there’s so many options for those who want to enjoy gaming, can dedicate time to it, but can’t dedicate the money that has historically been required. At PAX East 2015, popular free-to-play MMO held a limited capacity event aimed at providing their hardcore fans with some new information. I’ve dabbled in Warframe, but I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a “hardcore” player. Thankfully, that didn’t stop the Warframe team from allowing me to experience the event.

For those who haven’t experienced it, Warframe is a third person Sci-Fi MMO. If forced to compare it to something, the best way to describe it is a mashup of Mass Effect and Destiny. If that sounds fantastic, that’s because it is. At the event, the developers answered audience questions and spoke of new updates that players could expect, including new a Warframe (the suit you wear), a new parkour system, and new dungeons for teams of 4-8 to explore. If you aren’t well versed in the game, you wouldn’t necessarily understand what was happening, but as an outsider, watching the crowd get excited achieved another effec. It made me want to play.

The new Warframe revealed at PAX East: Chroma

A tactic lots of PR uses to ensure the audience leaves with a positive experience is a well-used trick: free stuff. A grab-bag of goodies was given to all in attendance, including a T-shirt, foam glaive, rare in-game codes, and their digital currency, called platinum. While it was only a $5.00 value, players on PC, PS4, and Xbox One were bartering prior to the event, which was a sight to behold. In a matter of seconds, a market had emerged, with PC codes being the most coveted, while PS4 and Xbox One codes were a bit easier to come by. This same type of market exists in-game, though each platform has their own environment. Certain blueprints are more valuable than others, while credits, earned in game, can be sold for platinum.

After getting home, I decided to take a look a little more deeply and ended up falling into the game far deeper than I expected. A full review is coming to College News a bit later on, but for now there are lots of reasons why you should experience it for yourself. Be warned though, the game is very deep and players can get lost easily. If you have questions, rely on the community or find a friend to guide you.