Hands-on: Middle Earth: Shadow of War gets more creative with Tolkien’s universe

middleearthshadowofwar screenshot1 resized+

A lot of time and effort will be spent discussing Middle Earth: Shadow of War’s improved Nemesis System between now and probably about a month after release. And for good reason—the Nemesis System was the only thing that elevated predecessor Shadow of Mordor from another me-too Assassin’s Creed clone into a technical wunderkind.

Leaning into that aspect for the sequel is probably a good call, especially since we’ve failed to see similar tech make its way through the industry. The dynamic characters that made Shadow of Mordor such a joy are still, three years on, a novelty.

But I had 20 to 30 minutes of hands-on time with Shadow of War during E3 and to be honest, the Nemesis System was the least of my concerns. There was a bit of been-here-done-that to the proceedings, sure—but more problematic is the time investment required to see the Nemesis System in action. The entire concept only flourishes when it’s your cast of characters, when it’s your army of orcs following you into battle against another army of orcs you’ve come to systematically despise.

That’s the whole premise, right?

Middle Earth: Shadow of War

Middle Earth: Shadow of War

So I captured the fortress Monolith had prepared for the demo. I scaled walls, rode the backs of various beasts, hurled poison at foes, leapt hundreds of feet through the air to assassinate an unwary foe. I captured the courtyard, then the outer keep. Lost a few commanders along the way. Killed more than a few of the enemy’s commanders. I made it to the center of the fortress, fought a monstrous troll-enemy while poison spurted from the floor.

It was very similar to the Shadow of War demo we saw back at GDC. The impression I get is still just “Nemesis System, but expanded.” And that’s fine, and I’m sure it’ll be an interesting bit of tech to watch in action when the game releases in October.

Let’s talk about the story, though. Or, rather, the risks Monolith gets to take with the story this time around. That’s what got me really interested last week.

The original Shadow of Mordor’s story wasn’t anything to write home about—it seemed like a barebones scaffolding for an extensive Nemesis System tech demo, as if Monolith came up with this amazing idea and then slapped a license on it. Shadow of Mordor could’ve been an Arkham game, a Suicide Squad game, a Justice League game, another interminable Lego adventure, or any other WB license.

But it wasn’t. It was Lord of the Rings, sort of.

GAMING
Shadow of War gameplay

And so Gollum popped up at one point, there were various bits of fan service hidden in scraps of lore around the world, and what have you. It was ever-so-carefully crafted. Almost too carefully, as is the case with many “Extended Universe”-type stories. Like Tron: Legacy or Star Trek: Into Darkness, an insistence on too-obvious callbacks mixed with hesitance to deface what came before left Shadow of Mordor feeling like a very extensive fan-fiction.

This awkward reverence was everywhere, from our hero Talion acting as poor man’s Aragorn to Marwen’s life force being sucked away by Saruman the same as Theodin’s. Predictable, at best. Boring, most of the time.

Shadow of Mordor spent so long lulling the player into a sense of complacency that when its story finally did go to some weird places—right at the end—it came as a sharp left turn. For 20-odd hours you’d been fed a generic tale of revenge, and then suddenly Monolith decided to upend Tolkien’s whole universe and create a (paradoxical) second One Ring.

Then the game ends.

Middle Earth: Shadow of War

Middle Earth: Shadow of War

The sequel sees Monolith picking up and fleshing out that story, as Talion and his ghost-elf buddy Celebrimbor struggle to take over Mordor as the “Bright Lord.” This plays into the whole Nemesis System of course, with Talion dominating orcs and forcing them to swear fealty to the Bright Lord, conquering entire regions in the name of the Bright Lord, and the like.

But it’s also indicative of a freer hand for Monolith’s writers, an impression that was reinforced when I played one of Shadow of War’s story missions. We followed some orcs into a swamp reminiscent of the book’s Dead Marshes, an eerie fog-filled nightmare full of brackish water. Normal enough for Mordor, and a typical set-up for Shadow of Mordor—take something familiar, then reskin it.

Some orcs imprisoned in elaborate vine growths came as a surprise though, as did the relative calm of the nearby wildlife—creatures that usually attacked Talion on sight simply watched us walk deeper into the swamp.

That’s when the forest spirit approached. Dryad, nymph, or some other Lord of the Rings-centric term I don’t know, what came out of the woods was a 20-foot tall woman made from vines. She then transformed into a warg made from cast-off bark, then into a wooden troll, and finally into a massive wooden dragon, each of which we had to defeat in battle.

Shadow of War

Daniel Masaoka

It’s far more audacious than pretty much anything I saw in Shadow of Mordor. This isn’t just some retread of the films. This is an entirely new creation, a whole new force at play in Middle Earth. Sure, you could draw some loose parallels to the Ents, but the correlation isn’t nearly as 1-to-1 as the various creatures and beings in Shadow of Mordor were.

And for good reason. A Monolith developer was observing as I went through the demo, and I asked about this forest entity, why she seemed so much more creative than what we saw in Shadow of Mordor. His answer was pretty simple—with the success of the first game, the writers were given considerably more freedom this time around. Expect a more daring story, or at least more daring moments as Monolith experiments more within the Lord of the Rings lore.

That’s an interesting prospect, at least to me. If it’s bad? Well, just write it off like the first game, or like any other fan-fiction.

I’d much rather Monolith try something new though. I want a reason to play Shadow of War that isn’t just “Well, the underlying technology is cool.” Especially with the game reportedly many times the size of Shadow of Mordor, the story hook needs to actually hook this time.

We haven’t seen much yet, and I doubt we’ll see much more before the game releases in October, but I came away from the E3 demo feeling more charitable than I did at GDC. Sure, the core of the game is still just “The Nemesis System, but bigger,” but maybe this time the surrounding framework won’t feel quite so skeletal.

That’s the hope, anyway.

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Honor 6X hands-on preview: Great hardware desperately waiting for a software update

Honor is still attempting to make strides in the U.S., but is the 6X compelling enough?

You really have to hand it to Honor. Huawei’s millennial-focused offshoot is still spitting out smartphones despite the relatively tepid reception of its previous two devices in the U.S. Remember, Honor has no carrier backing stateside, which puts it at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the brood. It’s unlikely that the launch of the Honor 6X, the smartphone announced at this year’s CES, will do much to move the needle either.

Regardless, that’s not a reason to write it off. The Honor 6X is a compelling device, even though it’s not as sparkly and showy as its flagship sibling, the Honor 8. Pricing has yet to be finalized, but what we’ve previewed of the Honor 6X is a fair reminder of what Huawei’s capable of when it throws a device into the ring — and that’s offering major bang for your buck. This midrange device may run on middle-of-the-road hardware, but it really does offer more than the average smartphone in its price point (sub-$250). Now, if it only the company had the marketing to get that point across.

Honor 6X Specs

Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow
EMUI 4.1
Display 5.5-inch 1920×1080 (403 ppi)
Processor Huawei Kirin 655 Octa-Core
4x 2.1 GHz + 4x 1.7 GHz
Storage 32GB (U.S.)
32/64GB (global)
Expandable microSD card
RAM 3GB (U.S.)
3/4GB (global)
Rear Camera 12MP (main) + 2MP (secondary)
Wide aperture range f/0.95-f/16
1080p video
Front Camera 8MP
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, 2.4 GHz, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS
Network (U.S.) FDD-LTE Band 2/4/5/12/20, TD-LTE Band 38
HSPA Band 1/2/8
GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
Network (Global) FDD-LTE Band 1/3/7/8, TD-LTE Band 38
HSPA Band 1/2/8
GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
Charging Micro-USB
Battery 3340 mAh
Water resistance No
Security One-touch fingerprint sensor
Dimensions 150.9 x 76.2 x 8.2 mm
Weight 162 g
Colors Grey, gold, silver

 

 

Honor 6X Fundamentals

The Honor 6X’s fingerprint sensor doesn’t offer push-button action like the Honor 8.

Like last year’s Honor 5X, which also debuted on the CES show floor, the Honor 6X already exists overseas. Americans will see the same-looking hardware; the main differences are in network bands and storage space. (If you’re curious, we’ve got the a comparison between the Honor 6X, Honor 8, and Honor 5X.)

Design wise, the Honor 6X isn’t a far departure from its predecessor. It sports the same hard aluminum lines, slight curvature on the edges, dual stacked rear-facing camera lenses, and a rear-facing fingerprint scanner that, again, proves the backside is the most practical place for it. The fingerprint scanner offers a few tricks, too: you can program gestures to do things like snap a photo, answer a call, or bring down the notification panel, though the 6X doesn’t offer push-button action like the Honor 8.

 

[Source:- androidcentral]b

BlackBerry ‘Mercury’ hands-on: Riding into 2017 on a phone with no name

Under the new direction of TCL, BlackBerry’s smartphone business is poised for a relative revival. It’s no big revelation to say that BlackBerry’s market share and mind share are nowhere near what they were in its prime, but at CES 2017 BlackBerry is hoping to kickstart a new direction by announcing a new phone.

And even though the company won’t actually tell us the specs, price, features, launch date or even the official name, many will recognize this smartphone as the rumored BlackBerry “Mercury.” So in lieu of a proper name, that’s what we’re calling it. The Mercury is real, that much has been established now — it’s a solid metal phone that fits the overall size mold of a modern slab smartphone, but manages to fit in a full hardware keyboard on the bottom without a Priv-like slider.

The incorporation of the fixed keyboard leaves a somewhat-awkward aspect ratio to the screen since it has to be a little shorter in order to make room — but if it wasn’t, the phone would be absurdly tall, like a Priv with its keyboard out. As it stands the Mercury is nearly the same height as the BlackBerry DTEK60, though notably narrower. The Mercury itself isn’t very thin, though the solid metal build with a nicely textured soft touch back are far more important than the actual thickness of the phone.

There’s a full hardware keyboard, but the phone isn’t particularly big or tall because of it.

As a welcomed sight for the BlackBerry faithful who may have been put off by the all-screen DTEK60, the Mercury has a full-featured and gorgeous hardware keyboard. And not only is it good for typing, but it also retains the great capacitive swiping gestures we saw in the Priv — you can swipe on the keyboard to navigate the interface, and swipe up on it during typing to help with word corrections and suggestions. Above the keyboard you’ll notice BlackBerry chose to move back to fixed capacitive navigation keys, which is a tad odd after going with software keys on the Priv and DTEK60.

The rest of the phone hardware really rounds out in a typical layout as if the keyboard wasn’t even there. You get a volume rocker and programmable key on the right edge, a power button the left edge, a headphone jack on the top and USB-C port on the bottom centered between two speaker grilles. Again we don’t know details like the battery capacity, but I was able to confirm that there won’t be wireless charging under that soft touch back.

The biggest thing that stands out about the Mercury is how decidedly BlackBerry the whole design is. After seeing somewhat simple repurposed hardware designs in the DTEK50 and DTEK60, it’s refreshing to see an altogether fresh — yet entirely familiar to BlackBerry fans — hardware design. The phone has a proper heft to it, the keyboard has a trademark clickiness and when you see it on a table you couldn’t mistake it for a phone from any other company.

This is the first BlackBerry with Nougat, and it carries on smoothly from Marshmallow.

The Mercury holds the distinction of being the first BlackBerry to be running Android 7.0 Nougat, though the pre-production software version I was able to see wasn’t final and the company couldn’t commit to much on that front. From what I was able to use it looked very similar to Marshmallow you’ll find today on a modern BlackBerry, including the messaging Hub, DTEK security suite, and productivity-focused launcher tweaks.

So where does this leave us? Well, we’re all going right back into a holding pattern to rely on leaks and speculation about the final details of the BlackBerry Mercury. TCL says that more information will be coming around the same time as Mobile World Congress, which kicks off February 27, but until then you can simply look at the photos and try to decide where this phone will fit in the big world of Android. At the very least, it has us excited about BlackBerry in 2017.

 

 
[Source:- androidcentral]