I finally completed Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect Andromeda was released sometime in March of 2017. It’s August as of this writing. I took nearly 6 months to complete Mass Effect Andromeda.

Mass Effect Andromeda was one of the most anticipated video game. When it was first announced, I was beyond excited. For Bioware to bring the beloved Mass Effect franchise back to life was a bold move for them to make. After releasing three rock solid games that formed the Mass Effect Trilogy, it was certainly a tall order to meet or even exceed the standards and quality set by the first three games.

So when it finally came out, I was ecstatic. But flash forward 6 months later and it is only now that I finally get to complete the game. So why did it took so long for me to play the game in its entirety from start to finish?

Sad to say, the game fell short of expectations. When it was first launched, the game felt hugely unpolished. Numerous bugs, terrible facial and lip sync animations. It felt like a beta. Although animations can be improved through subsequent patches, (and thankfully it was improved) it is the story that ultimately fell short. The main character, Ryder, was a little two dimensional and boring. Your squadmates are no better, featuring very bland backstories and flat personalities (maybe with the exception of Peebee). At the end of the day, you don’t feel invested in spending time doing any of their character related missions or make any extra effort to gain their loyalty and unlock higher level skill set for you to level them up.

Gameplay was not bad. I had fun. Action sequences were intense and I am thankful for that. If the characters were boring and the gameplay was no better, the game would have tanked. The reviews would have come back panning the game. Bioware really came close in releasing its first ever flop. That would have been embarrassing for Bioware, masters in RPG, storytelling and world building to release an RPG that sucked for the very first time. It would have marred the entire Mass Effect franchise with the release of Mass Effect Andromeda. Generally, taking the game in its entirety. There are good moments within the story and robust gameplay mechanism. Bioware had the opportunity to truly create an epic RPG storyline within the Mass Effect universe. But it decided to squander it away.   Bioware had a blank slate to come up with a killer storyline on a new galaxy (Andromeda, instead of the Milky Way where Shepard and the rest of humanity reside in the first three games) but it squandered it away. Bioware had the opportunity to bring back that sense of discovery and exploration for gamers to experience on a totally new galaxy but it decided to squander it away. Bioware had the opportunity to run wild on a totally new set of alien species and all of its intrigues and unique characters on a new galaxy but it chose to introduce just one main alien species, the Angara (two if you consider the Kett, the bad aliens you have to fight against). In other words, Bioware missed on a lot of opportunities to elevate the franchise on a whole new level and bring a new generation of gamers to the Mass Effect universe.

Looking back, I enjoyed the game. But the reason it took me so long to finish is that I feel at times, the game to be very inconsistent in terms of the pacing and plot progression. So it was inevitable that I take long breaks before firing up the game and continue slugging it out and forcing myself to bring the game’s plot forward bit by bit over time.

MASSEFFECT-ANDROMEDA-2

 

All AMD build?

In the past couple of days, there has been a deluge of information regarding AMD’s new product offering from the CPU and GPU departments. The latest monster of a cpu, Threadripper was launched to much fanfare and I really dig the review kits AMD distributed to all major influential tech reviewers on YouTube. The review kit they received was really badass! AMD also announced their new Vega GPUs for the mainstream market and so far things are looking really promising for AMD. I have heard nothing but praises for AMD from the tech community, especially when it comes to really listening to feedback and acting on that feedback to give customers what they truly want from AMD.

Which got me wondering now about my future gaming rig. And all AMD build seems an interesting prospect. It would be doubtful for me to get the Threadripper lineup of CPUs. Those are overkill, but the Ryzen 5 or even the Ryzen 7 series is competitively priced against Intel’s CPU offerings. Having an 8-core, 16-thread CPU is a bonus. Definitely still overkill, but nice to have.

As for GPUs, I’m reserving judgment over them. Vega is an interesting product, but I am more interested in what Nvidia has to offer next year. Honestly, I am still a Nvidia fan, and their recent 10 series GPUs are nothing to scoff about. But one thing is for sure, and that it I will go for multi GPU set up for my next build. I am aiming to get 2 enthusiast level GPUs to be included in my future build. More power! It could be possible that I could go for an AMD CPU coupled with a pair of Nvidia GPUs in my future builds.

By the way, in about 15 days or so, my current Dark Rage build will be official one year old! Time truly flies! It doesn’t feel like a year has passed. At. All. But believe it or not, a full year will soon pass since I first built my new gaming PC. It is still going strong and I have made zero upgrades to the PC since then. I just love my PC to death. I imposed a moratorium on PC upgrades for 2017 and I have kept to my end of the bargain. Reason being is that I personally feel a waste of money to make incremental upgrades to my current PC, when I can use that money and more as I save up to build an even bigger and better PC in the future, hopefully sometime in 2018.

Moratorium on PC upgrades for 2017.

As 2016 comes to a close, I am in the process of writing up my new year resolutions for 2017. One of the goals involved meeting my financial goals for next year. I am going to list two main financial goals, one of which is a milestone goal, meaning that if I achieve my first goal, then I will go on to achieve my second one. But the first one must be fulfilled at all cost. In order to achieve the second one, I will need to be more aggressive in my savings on a monthly basis.

That means, the best way possible to achieve it is to impose a moratorium on any PC upgrades for 2017. Let’s face it, I just built my first DIY PC less than 4 months ago. Its a great gaming rig. I am still watching those YouTube videos, and reading about all the new PC peripherals for the past few months. I even created a parts list for my next imaginary build that I would do if I were to upgrade my PC in PCPartspicker. All these costs a lot of money. And to be a rational person, its logical to think that there is no need for me to upgrade my PC anytime soon. I am using the latest Intel processor (until Kaby Lake chips for PCs are out in the coming months, which doesnt make a different in terms of performance improvements). I am using Nvidia’s new GPU, the Pascal, 10xx series, which will last me years technically. And just about everything else is just new and performing just as intended.

If I really really want to uprade, it would make more sense to fully utilise my current gaming rig till it breaks or underpeforms to my basic expectations. Either that, or I will wait till a newer generation of graphics cards are released to make the upgrade a little more worthwhile. It will take at least 2018 for the new generation GPUs to come out at the very earliest to make any meaningful upgrades. Which means that it would be wise to ban myself from doing any drastic, ad-hoc upgrades to my current PC and just spend a little more in getting a whole new one further down the road instead.

And that is what I am going to do. Unless something breaks and needs a replacement (which is unlikely, and even then I am covered by all the various warranties in each component) I am not going to spend unnecesarily on hardware upgrades. Even if its just a change in the case fans, or modifications to the aesthestics, its a no no for me. I am going to embrace my gaming rig wholeheartedly. Appreciate its strengths and accept its flaws (which in my eyes, there arent any). Because at the end of the day, it makes more sense to save that money and go all out in my next gaming rig, and I really mean all out. I am talking about RGB fans, LED strips, tempered glass panels, custom cables, dual GPUs, M.2 NVME SSDs and AIO coolers, with a ‘K’series chip. I am serious about it, and it will take some serious money to go all out on that rig. 2018 would be the earliest I would upgrade or overhaul my PC. I am going to keep my word.

Adieu Macbook Pro.

For years I have always wanted a Macbook Pro. What started out as an experiment, plungin myself into the whole Mac OS ecosystem many years ago starting with the Mac Mini, slowly evolved into something more powerful, more mobile to the Macbook Air. As my needs changes over the years, so does the products that are required to meet my needs.

The Mac Mini and Macbook Air are both excellent computing devices. It was the first time I felt that art and technology can coexist peacefully. Something so beautiful can be at the same time be so practical. And the design philosophy behind those two products have no equals. And for many years I believed that.

The new Macbook Pro that was recently released violently shifted my paradigm. No doubt, Apple continues to release excellently designed products. Sleek, and minimalistic with a keen eye in the tiniest detail. But sadly, the new Macbook Pros were unable to meet my needs, much less my budget. There are criticisms to the new models, and they are all valid in my opinions. Things like the lack of ports, the absurd use of mutiple dongles, the questionable usefulness of a TouchBar, and the overall price increase of those new models were all aspects that were very much criticised.

And it was from then on that it made me realise that it is time for me to depart from the MacOS ecosystem and embrace Microsoft Windows once again.

It took me a while to come to grasp, especially in finding a worthy replacement to my aging MacBook Air. Actually, I would have been fine without a laptop. I am having loads of fun with my DIY gaming rig. But because I am going back to school, I forsee that I would need a portable laptop for school assignments and also work from time to time. But buying a whopping S$3000 on a MacBook Pro, just for my part-time studies is just too much for me. It was hard initially to change my perception on the overall quality of Windows laptop. For a long while, I have held to the belief that Windows laptop are far inferior than what Mac as to offer. This actually remains true. When it comes to design, nothing beats the MacBook Pro. Design wise, it is still widely lauded and a benchmark for all other laptop to aspire to. Thinner, longer battery life, powerful. And it is only recently that certain models from certain laptop companies are slowly hitting that benchmarks. They are not exact copies of the MacBook Pro or Air counterparts, but they are close in achieving the feel and look of Mac laptops that many people just love.

So I had to spend time to have a close look at what the market was offering. It was tedious to go through so many different Windows laptop. A majority of them were still very inferior. But a handful of them was quite well design.

But the tricky part was to find a good balance between finding a Windows ultrabook that is relatively thin, light, with long battery life and packing a fairly powerful CPU without bursting my budget.

It is only then I came across the Lenovo Thinkpad 13. Out in the wild, during my search, came up Lenovo. Lenovo, best known for business laptops. Chunky by design on most models, nothing worth lauding about. Its just a business laptop. Black, plastic, nothing to wow at. But I had to be realistic here. I had to find the perfect balance between price, weight and performance. Thinkpad 13 was the best I could find. And a good find it was. At just S$930, this laptop actually pack quite a punch. Intel Core i5 Skylake, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM, 13inch IPS display, all day battery life. A middling spec of a computer but at a terrific price. The best aspect about the Thinkpad13 (and for most of Lenovo’s laptops) is the keyboard. Its an absolute joy to type on. Great travel distance and just the right size and distance between keys, typing on the keyboard is both accurate and fast. I dont think I have used a more comfortable keyboard on a laptop before.

So there you have it. It looks like a laptop from the 90s, but at least it’s cheap, reliable, sturdy enough to bring around in your bag, respectable battery life and just works.

I think Lenovo has opened my eyes to the possibilities that other laptop makers can be just as good when it comes to designing terrific laptops. I also came to realise that there are laptops out there that ticked all the right boxes for your needs, and it need not have to be expensive at all.

 

Built my second Gaming Rig (for a friend)

Today, I have successfully built another gaming rig for a friend of mine. It was hugely satisfying. I advised him on how and where to get the various parts for his new gaming PC and for how much. We set off on one of the weekend a few weeks ago getting those parts, from Sim Lim Square, Carousell sellers and online through Lazada and Amazon.

The end result; a powerful gaming PC featuring Geforce GTX 1070 graphics card from EVGA, Asus B150M Plus motherboard, 16 GB Ram, an Intel Core I5 6600 Skylake processor, all housed in a beautiful Corsair Carbide Air 240 black case. It is actually quite nice once everything is put into place. The only thing that I hope he would add are a couple of LED strips around the insides of the case to truly showcase the art that we just built. And perhaps some nice sleeved power cables for the graphics card. But all in all, its a beautiful beast and priced reasonably too. His gaming rig specs are very similar to mine and it came just shy of SGD2000, excluding monitor. Here are the full specs:

Intel Core i5 6600 Skylake CPU at 3.2Ghz

Asus B150M Plus Micro ATX motherboard

Corsair Vengence LPX DDR4 16GB RAM (2x8GB)

Cryorig C7 CPU Cooler

Toshiba OCZ 480GB SSD

Toshiba 1TB HDD 7200RPM

EVGA Geforce GTX 1070 SC

Corsair Carbide Air 240

Superflower 600W fully modular PSU (Gold Rating)

 

The final piece that fell into palce was the graphics card. We ordered from amazon about 2 weeks ago and it finally arrived on time today. I called him to come over to my house to put the finishing touches before bringing it back to his house to set it up with his new desk and monitor. Yeah, he even bought a new desk for his PC, alongside keyboard and mouse. He was using his old gaming laptop for work and gaming for the past 3 years or so and it was time for an upgrade.

I am glad he approached me to help with his gaming rig. Like I said, I truly enjoyed building one. To see it come to life was hugely satisfying. And again, I gained alot of experience building the second gaming rig. It not only reinforces my knowledge of building a PC but learnt a few new tips and tricks along the way, especially when you are building on a totally difference PC case, with its own design flaws to overcome.

I hope I have more opportunities in the future to build future gaming rigs and I am more than happy to provide advice on what kind of gaming rigs would be suitable for one’s needs.

 

 

 

In The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt, patience is key to total enjoyment.

I played Witcher 3 Wild Hunt on the PS4. I never completed the game. I loved the game, but for some reason, I have never had the energy or the drive to complete the game. I would start the game with great enthusiasm, but that enthusiasm fades away the longer I play. I restarted the game the second time several months later, starting from the very beginning, but that effort failed as well.

Now that I have a gaming rig, I impulsively set out to buy Witcher 3 Wild Hunt on Steam. It was a waste of money, especially when I have the exact same copy on the PS4, and it gives gamers the almost exact experience regardless of whether you play on the PC or the PS4. I literally had 2 copies of the same game.

But I went on with it and bought the PC version. As a consolation, I bought it when it was on sale, so at least there is some reason to justify purchasing the game a second time round, however weak that reason is.

So I fired up the game but before actually starting, I told myself explicitly; I am going to complete the game no matter what, do all side missions as I possibly can and I am going to take my time doing it. That last part of the statement was important. I never knew how important it is in contributing to the overall positive experience of playing Witcher 3. Taking my time playing the game, being patient, listening to every dialogue from the beginning to the end, without skipping and reading all letters, books and mission briefs. If I am going to take 10 hours to complete a string of missions from one storyline, so be it.

And what a difference does that make! For the first time in my life of playing The Witcher 3, I actually enjoyed the game by orders of magnitude. I finally understood the feeling of total immersion in the Witcher 3 universe. Apart from the superior graphics on the PC versus the console (which I must admit is a contributing factor in giving me a better gaming experience, because, let’s face it, playing Witcher 3 at ultra settings, everything looks so so pretty), being patient with the game pays great dividends. You appreciate the story being told in the game. You become more emotionally attached to the characters in the game, you understood their intentions, back stories and predicaments. The NPCs personality became three dimensional and for the first time I fully appreciated the amount of effort put up by the developers, designers, writers and voice actors in making the world of Witcher 3 fully immersive, rich and dynamic. No longer have I read ahead of the dialogue and skipping it. I understood more fully the missions, and tasks at hand and most importantly, the consequences of my actions while playing Witcher 3.

I am pretty confident that I would clock at more than 200 hours in this game and I am very excited to complete Witcher 3 from the beginning to the end, and to top it off, even clear the DLCs that have been released since then. The DLCs add hours upon hours to the core game and I am going to conquer them all.

 

 

I just love Steam sale. 

When games on Steam go on sale, they really do go on sale. I’m talking about prices of video games, some of them new and recent, others, critically acclaimed classics slashed to as much as 90% off! 

Like recently, Steam held a Warner Brothers games division sale, slashing titles from the Lego and Batman franchise by as much as 75 off the usual price. The popular Batman Arkham franchise, consisting of Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and Arkham Origins, was just 5 dollars each! I quickly swept all three games in addition to the recent Arkham Knight at 13 dollars. All in all, I bought 4 full games for less than 30 dollars! 

It’s a deal that cannot be missed. Simply irresistible, especially when you know that these are the games you will play eventually when you done with the other titles that you are currently playing. So no harm waiting patiently, adding those games to your wish list and then snapping them up when a sale is on. Just gotta love games on Steam. 

So right now while my pc rig is fairly new, and my games collection relatively sparse, I have no qualms about purchasing and downloading multiple games at one go. Hell, I might eventually face a problem a friend of mine did a long time ago; too many games, too little time to play them all!