Xbox Series X: A Deep Dive and a Review

If you were to ask anybody if they play games, you will very likely get an affirmative answer. Everybody has played at least one game in their lives. It may not be a video game, but it is a game of some sort. Gamers are simultaneously the same and unique. We are all the same because we have all had triumphs and heartbreaks, while playing a game. We have all felt the anticipation of a new game, and the let down when a game did not live up to our expectations. We have all been frustrated and elated all while playing games.

Even though we have all felt those experiences, none of us have had the exact same overall experiences when it comes to games. We all have different favorite types of games, games we have played, and even when, where, and what games we had access to and played.

I have played games on a range of devices and consoles. Over my life I have played games on a wide variety of devices, ranging from the Apple II/e to the Xbox Series X. The entire list includes:

  • Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
  • Sega Genesis
  • Sega Game Gear
  • Nintendo 64
  • Sony Playstation 2
  • Microsoft Xbox
  • Nintendo Game Cube
  • Nintendo Wii
  • Microsoft Xbox 360
  • Sony Playstation 3
  • Xbox One
  • Sony Playstation 4
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Xbox Series X

I have also played games on Microsoft DOS, Microsoft Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, and even on the Mac, iPhone and iPad. The games that I remember most will always be ones that I enjoy playing. These games are ones that I have undoubtedly purchased multiple times. Some of these include Super Mario Bros 1, 2, and 3, Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, and Sonic & Knuckles, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, the entire Half-Life series, Duke Nukem 3D, and a bunch of other games.

I have purchased a new iPhone each year since its original introduction in 2007. Having purchased a new iPhone each year, I have been able to figure out what areas I need to cover in each review that I post about the phones. 

Having owned an iPhone for so long I have played a bunch of games on the iPhone, as well as the iPad. While I do not play that many new games on the iPhone, there are four games that I play almost daily.  Given that I spend so much time with my iPhone, you would think I would spend more time playing games on there, but I do not. For the last seven years worth of iPhones, I written a review. 

Even though I have played many games, across the various consoles, I have never actually written a review of a gaming console, as far as I can tell. So, this is somewhat of a first for me. I have written about the Xbox One and Playstation 4 in two separate e-books, but never a full review.. But I will give it a go. With that, let us dive into various aspects and my thoughts on the latest Microsoft console, the Xbox Series X, starting with a bit of history of gaming.

Brief History of Gaming

When you look at the tech industry in general, you will see a new phone being released at least every month, sometimes even every week, and that is just from a single manufacturer. There are some manufacturers, like Apple, who release their new phones only once a year. There is one industry that makes even Apple look like speed demons when it comes to releasing new products. There are some types of devices that do not get new releases every year, or even every few years. One type of device that meets this definition is. gaming console. 

When new phones are released, they are typically generally incremental changes from the previous versions. That is not to say that they do not make leaps from time to time, they certainly do, but they are just not nearly as significant of shifts.

The same cannot be said for gaming consoles. Typically, console manufacturers tend to release new console generations every five to seven years. The primary reason for such a long time span between console generations is due to development times. One of the factors that contribute to the time is that the entire platform may change. This has happened more than once in recent history. Another factor is that console manufacturers must get game developers on board and developing for the new system in order to have titles available at the launch of the new console.

While console manufacturers release new console generations in longer spans, there are typically incremental versions of the console that are released at some point between the generations. Typically, these incremental versions include additional storage, smaller designs, and other internal refinements. Some of the recent incremental consoles include the Xbox One S, the Xbox One X, the Sony Playstation 4 slim, and the Playstation 4 Pro. The question becomes, what defines a “console generation”?

Console Generations

Depending on whom you ask, a console generation can be defined in a number of different ways. However, there has been some consensus of what each console generation is. The early console generations were marked by significant advances and included things like hardware changes. For instance, in the first five generations we go from the original Pong machine, all the way to the Sony Playstation 1. These generations include going from 4-bit consoles, to 8-bit to 16-bit, or 32-bit to 64-bit consoles. This also includes going from 2D graphics to 3D animated graphics. The first five console generations spanned from 1972 to 1999, while the sixth to 9th generations span from 2000 to now.

Each console generation has its own iconic consoles, below are the big names for each generation.

1st Generation

Original Pong

2nd Generation

  • Atari 2600
  • Intellivision
  • ColecoVision
Atari 2600 Console
Atari 2600 Console

3rd Generation

  • Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
  • Commodore 64 Gaming System
  • Sega Master System
Nintendo Entertainment System Console.
Nintendo Entertainment System Console.

4th Generation

  • TurboGrafx-16
  • Sega Genesis
  • Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
Sega Gensis Console.
Sega Gensis Console.

5th Generation

  • Sega Saturn
  • Nintendo 64
  • Sony Playstation 1
Nintendo 64 Console.
Nintendo 64 Console.

6th Generation

  • Microsoft Xbox
  • Nintendo GameCube
  • Sega Dreamcast
  • Sony Playstation 2
Original Xbox Console.
Original Xbox Console.

7th Generation

  • Microsoft Xbox 360
  • Nintendo Wii
  • Sony Playstation 3
Nintendo Wii console.
Nintendo Wii console.

8th Generation

  • Microsoft Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Nintendo Wii U
  • Sony Playstation 4

9th Generation (Current) 

  • Microsoft Xbox Series X|S
  • Sony Playstation 5
Playstation 5 Console.
Playstation 5 Console.

As time has gone on, the number of distinct consoles being manufactured has been dropping to only a few manufacturers. The first generation saw 888 different consoles, whereas the last four generations have only had three or four consoles being released.

The reason for such a precipitous drop is that a change happened with the second console generation. Instead of having a device being dedicated to a single game, the consoles become platforms with the ability to play multiple games. A significant number of consoles utilized cartridges. These hard plastic cartridges were durable and allowed you to use swap them out easily.

Stating with fifth generation, games began switching from cartridges to using CDs, or DVDs for their games. The reason for this was storage density and the need to be able to store more information than a standard cartridge could hold. 

Another shift happened with the seventh generation of consoles. That change was the ability to download games to your console and not need a physical item to be able to play your game. This had the advantage of allowing you to re-download your games again, as well as allowing updates to games. 

Nintendo has typically done its own thing, and continues to do so by going back to using cartridges for their Nintendo Switch system. There are two reasons for this shift. The first is that the Switch is meant to be portable, so having a spinning drive is not possible. Secondly, the storage space available on cartridges has increased to the point where they can put games on cartridges. The Nintendo Switch does support digital downloads, so you do not need to use a cartridge, but you can if you would like.

As you can see there have been three major manufacturers, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, for the lsat three generations. Each of these manufacturers have their own line of consoles. It is possible that another console manufacturer will enter into the market, however, it does not seem likely.

As mentioned above, gaming consoles are not released every year, there are typically refinements released at about half-way through a console generation’s lifetime. This has been true with the release of smaller versions of each of the most recent consoles.  When there is a revision released, it is typically smaller, or in the case of Nintendo, a bit more powerful, or a different form factor. 

When it comes to console gaming, I primarily play games on the Xbox. I do have a Playstation 4 and a Nintendo Switch, so I can play games on those as well. I typically only play console-exclusive games on those devices. 

Because I primarily game on the Xbox, I was excited to hear that Microsoft was releasing a new console this holiday season. Unlike so many others, I was able to get a console for launch day, although I did have some trouble. You can read about the problems I had here.

Now, that we have covered some history, let us get to the review of the Xbox Series X by starting with the unboxing.

Unboxing

Xbox Series X in its box

There are a slew of different unboxing videos of the Xbox Series X available. Like this one from What’s Good Games, but here are some pictures of the unboxing of my Xbox Series X.

I have watched a few different unboxing videos, so I knew what to expect. When you open the The Xbox Series X packaging, you are presented with the Xbox console right up front. It is nicely wrapped in a soft wrap to protect the console.

Behind the console is a box that contains the power cord, an HDMI cable, and the included controller. In order to setup the console you need to take it out of the box. The Xbox Series X console is HEAVY, at 9.8 pounds or 4.45 kilograms.. The console is not unwieldy, but it is dense and would be problematic to cart around. So, it is a good thing that it is designed to be stationary. This compares to the Xbox One, which was 7.7 pounds, or 3.5 kilograms. Therefore, this newer console is 27% heavier than the original Xbox One.

Ports on the back of the Xbox Series X
Ports on the back of the Xbox Series X

The Xbox Series X has a number of ports on the back of the console. The ports include:

  • Two USB 3.1 gen 1 ports, using the USB-A style connector.
  • One gigabit ethernet port
  • One power cord plug
  • One HDMI out
  • One dedicated proprietary storage expansion port.
  • One Kensington lock port

The layout of the ports for the Xbox Series X are pretty good. Each port has its own shape, so they are easily identifiable by sight. There is a nice touch that many users may not need, but it can be vital for a certain segment of the population. There are unique bumps beneath each of the ports. This is designed for those who may have visual issues and need to identify a port by touch. 

The USB ports have 3 single dots on them. The ethernet port has two dots, the power port has a single dot, the HDMI out port has a long bar, and the storage expansion port has four dots beneath it. These will allow you to easily identify the ports should you need to be able to identify the ports without looking at them.

As mentioned above, the Xbox Series X includes a gigabit Ethernet port. While some will end up using this port, many will likely use the wireless connection instead. The included wireless is dual-band the 802.11ac. This means that it can support 802.11b,g,n,a, and AC, at 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. This all sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, and unless you are steeped in wireless connectivity it may not mean much. To make things easier the Wi-Fi working group has retroactively re-named some of these using straight numbers. The Xbox Series X supports Wifi 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. It does not support Wifi 6, which would be 802.11ax. Even though it does not support the latest wireless connectivity, 802.11ac should be sufficient for most everyone. 

All of these ports are on the back, now let us flip it around and look at the front. There is one port on the front as well, another USB 3.1 gen 1 port that uses the USB-A style plug. There are three buttons on the front of the Xbox. There is the disc eject button to remove physical discs. Close to the disc eject button is the Power button. In the opposite corner from the power button is the controller synchronization button.

Outside of the console, you also receive the power cable, a controller (more on that in a bit), and an HDMI 2.1 cable. This cable is a “Ultra High-Speed” cable because it needs to be able to deliver all of the data to your TV, again more on some of the new technology in a bit. Now that we have covered what is in the box, let us look at the internals for the design of the Xbox Series X.

Design

Internals of the Xbox Series X
Internals of the Xbox Series X

The Xbox Series X console is a rectangular device, that is 5.94 inches wide by 5.94 inches deep, by 11.85 inches high. When consoles are released there are generally designed to lay flat. Technically, the previous Xbox consoles, except for the original Xbox, can be placed on their side, but it is likely that many use it while laying flat.

The Xbox Series X is designed to be used in either orientation. I typically use my Xboxes with the disc drive being horizontal, where the top of the disc will be towards the top of the console. This is because it makes it much easier for me to know which way the disc is supposed to be inserted. I still buy most of my games in physical format, because I can do what I would like with the physical disc afterwards. That is not to say that I have not purchased digital games, I have, but I just prefer to get the physical games. 

Modern gaming consoles are very much like PCs, and contain many of the same type of components. What separates gaming consoles from standard PCs is that gaming console hardware is typically static and highly customized, meaning that they do not typically use off the shelf components.

The Xbox Series X is designed to have the air flow through the core of the console. In order to facilitate this, on the bottom of the console there is a foot that will allow the console to sit slightly above the surface it is placed on. This foot is on the console in order to allow enough to flow over the internals. In order to get enough airflow and to keep the console cool enough, some of the internals have been specifically designed. The biggest example of this is the motherboard.

The motherboard of the Xbox Series X is actually a unique design with two individual boards. One of the boards has the processor, graphics, and memory on it. The second board has all of the input and output, like the wireless, USB ports, HDMI port, and disc drive.  The two boards are attach to a metal chassis, which lines up the boards and allows them to interconnect so everything works well together.

Xbox Series X Split Motherboards
Xbox Series X Split Motherboards

This is very reminiscent of the 2013 Mac Pro, in that it has a unique layout, and the design of the Mac Pro had air flow over the internal core. One of the issues with the 2013 Mac Pro was that it was very limited in terms of thermals, which limited its upgradeability. Luckily, that is not likely to be a problem with the Xbox Series X, because it is not designed to be upgradeable in anyway, and typically game console generations do not change significantly, except in their size.

Internal Chip on the Xbox Series X
Internal Chip on the Xbox Series X

On the motherboards you will find an 8-core 3.8GHz custom processor and a GPU that is capable of running at 12 teraflops, or 12 trillion operations per second. To complement this is 16GB of system memory. This memory has two different speeds, there is ten gigabytes of memory that runs at 560 gigabits per second, and six gigabytes of memory that runs at 336 gigabits per second. The reason that there are two different types of memory is for throughput. Some tasks need to be able to read and write memory as fast as possible, so it would use the ten gigabyte block of memory. Whereas memory that does not necessarily need to be that fast can use the six gigabyte block of memory.

The types of items that may be stored in memory are loaded from the permanent storage, or non-volatile memory. The Xbox Series X has 1 terabyte of custom storage. This uses the Non-Volatile Memory Express, or NVME, protocol. This protocol is designed to connect directly to the CPU. This connection means that the CPU will be able to access the memory faster than going through traditional buses. This should provide faster speeds.

While the Xbox Series X comes with 1 terabyte by default, you can expand the storage in two ways, using the dedicated expansion port, or USB 3.1. Each option has its own trade-offs.

Xbox Series X Expansion Storage Port
Xbox Series X Expansion Storage Port

If you use the dedicated expansion port, you will have to get the custom Seagate Storage Expansion Card. Using this expansion card allows you to use the storage just as if it were internal storage. This would increase your overall storage to 2 terabytes. The downside to this is that it is not cheap. As of this writing, the expansion card has a retail price of $219.99, but it does match the internal storage exactly.

If you opt to go with the USB 3.1 external drive route, you can get much larger storage sizes, upwards of 8 terabytes. While these are typically cheaper, particular for a 1, 2, or 4 terabyte drive, you are not able to use these type of drives for playing games directly off of. Instead, you would need to copy the games from this drive to the internal storage. While this would be significantly faster than re-downloading a game from the xbox servers, or re-installing from disc and then updating the game, it will still take some time. Furthermore, it will take some manual management of your games.

All of these internals support the whole reason you are using the Xbox, to play games. In order to be able to see what you are doing, you need to have some graphics. The Xbox Series X can output games at true 4K, meaning a resolution of 3840 pixels wide x 2160 pixels tall, provided you have a 4K television. The Xbox Series X is capable of handling high-dynamic range, or HDR, content. 

HDR is a technology that allows more vibrant colors. For instance, lighter colors will be brighter, while darker colors will be richer. This can add more contrast to a game and can enhance your overall game play. If you have a capable television, or monitor, you can even play games at 120 frames per second. This would allow the game play to be even smoother than playing at 60 frames per second.

There are a few different types of HDR standards. These include HDR10, HDR10+, HLG, Dolby Vision, and Advanced HDR. The Xbox Series X supports HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision. These are the most common types, so it is good to have these supported.

While not all monitors can display content at every refresh rate, described using frames per second, or fps, many monitors can support multiple refresh rates. The Xbox Series X can handle the following refresh rates, 24 frames per second, 30 fps, 60 fps, and 120 fps. The various refresh rates can be used within a single game, depending on the content. For instance, if there is a video cut scene that plays at 24fps, while most of the remaining gameplay is 60fps, the Xbox Series X can seamlessly switch between the two modes, and if your monitor supports it, can adjust on the fly without you ever noticing. 

While video is probably the most important aspect of any media on the Xbox Series X, sound can be just as important in some contexts. The Xbox Series X is capable of handling Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, DTS 5.1, Dolby True HD with Atmos, up to 7.1. This is all provided that you have the proper sound setup in order to support the sound.

With all of this technology in such a dense package, it is time to actually get to to playing some games, so now that the technology has been covered, let us move onto to actually setting up the Xbox Series X.

Setup

Xbox App connected to console.

When I first turned on the Xbox, as you might expect, there was a day one firmware update. This patch was only about 800 megabytes, so not terribly large, particularly as compared to some day 1 game updates. Yes, I am looking at you Call of Duty and your 135GB of downloads, but that is a different story. This was actually smaller than I had expected, but I did expect an update to be needed. Just about every modern devices will need to be updated as soon as they are plugged in and powered on, it is just the modern way of technology.

Xbox Series X performing initial update.

It has been quite a long time since I had to set up an Xbox. There are a few different ways to setup an Xbox console. The first is to use the on screen guide, which will walk you through step by step. The second option is to use the Xbox app to help set up your Xbox. I opted to use the Xbox app on my phone. The reason I opted for this was because I have a complicated password for my xbox account and trying to enter this via the controller would be a pain to do. Combine this with two factor authentication and it would probably take 10 minutes to get past the login screen.

When you setup and Xbox, you have an option to transfer the settings from an existing Xbox, or to set up the Xbox as a new console. I opted to transfer my settings. This took a lot less time that I expected. The amount of time was short because the transfer was only for the settings and account information. It did not transfer game data, like I had initially thought. Of course, this was my own ignorance. 

The Xbox app will walk you through all of the steps needed. This includes updating the console, selecting power options (energy saving or instant on), setting up automatic updates, enabling remote features, naming the console, and then finally copying the settings from another Xbox.

There was one last thing that happened after I finished the setup. My Xbox Series X controller needed to be updated. Which is not a new thing, since my previous Xbox controllers needed updates from time to time, but I was a bit surprised to see that was immediately after finishing setup. 

There was one last thing that happened after I finished the setup. My Xbox Series X controller needed to be updated. Which is not a new thing, since my previous Xbox controllers needed updates from time to time, but I was a bit surprised to see that was immediately after finishing setup. 

Xbox Series X performing controller update

After the setup comes installing games onto the console. Let us move to that for a bit. 

Installing Games

After you have setup an xbox, you do have the option of transferring over game data after the fact. This is done via the settings. After I had finished my setup I contemplated transferring over the game installation data. However, I opted to not do this because there is a new feature for this generation of Xbox consoles.

The Xbox Series X, as well as its cousin the Xbox Series S, have a feature called “Smart Delivery”. Smart Delivery will only download the assets that are necessary for that console. Let us say for instance that you have an Xbox Series S. The maximum resolution for the console is 1440p. This means that you will not need the full 4K resolution images. Similarly, if you have an Xbox Series X, you will not need to download the 1440p assets. This means that you should be able to save some space on your console. If you have an Xbox Series S, you will save more space than the Xbox Series X, but both consoles should save some space.

Xbox Series X list of games including optimized games for the console.
Xbox Series X list of games including optimized games for the console.

Since I was going from a non 4K gaming device, the Xbox One S, to a 4K one, the Xbox Series X, I opted to get the optimized versions of the game data delivered so that I could experience the games I chose to install in their full 4K resolution.

There are two downsides to this technology. The first is that the game developer has to support this technology. I honestly do not know what it takes to support Smart Delivery. It might be as simple as tagging different assets for which console or indicating its maximum size. If a game supports Smart delivery it should indicate “Smart Delivery” on the game’s information on the Xbox console or xbox.com. Similarly, if you purchase a physical game, it will have the wording “Series X” on the front cover of the case. 

The second downside is that it will take time to download the optimized version. Game assets that use 4K will take up more storage space, so they will take longer to download, even if they are compressed. This is due to having significantly more resolution, and therefore being of larger size, than standard 1080p or 1440p assets.

On the topic of software, let us move onto the Xbox dashboard software.

Xbox Dashboard 

One of the benefits of software is that you can update, change, and adapt software over time. The software that is used to handle the non-gaming interface of the Xbox is the Xbox dashboard software. If you upgraded from an Xbox One to the Xbox Series X you should notice absolutely no difference between the dashboard of the two consoles. 

Where you would notice some differences is with the capabilities of the console. There are a couple of new options for the Xbox Series X that were not in the Xbox One S, which is what I upgraded from. These include some HDR options, which are outlined above, and another new feature supported by the Xbox Series X.

Game Play

My old Xbox was an Xbox One S. I got this from my brother after he upgraded to a different Xbox One model. The Xbox One S had a 500GB spinning hard drive that ran at 5400RPM. The fact that it was a 5400 RPM hard drive did mean that things were going to take a bit longer, but should be sufficient for game play. The Xbox One S does support 4K Blu-Ray playback, but not 4K gaming. Even the Xbox One S was an upgrade from the original Xbox One that I purchased back in 2013, because that did not include any 4K capabilities at all.

The first thing I noticed with the Xbox Series X is how fast games load. This was most notable when comparing the load times on Watch Dogs: Legion. On the Xbox One S I could get up, go and grab something to drink and come back and still not have the game be loaded. With the Xbox Series X it would take approximately 15 seconds to load, which was a significant improvement.

There are two factors that allow this. The first is that there is an SSD on the Xbox Series X, and the second is the NVME storage, given that it is significantly faster than a spinning hard drive. Solid State drives, by their nature, are faster than any spinning hard drive. This is because solid state drives can read random parts of the drive, where as a spinning hard drive must seek out a specific spot and may need to make a few revolutions before finding the particular sector.

Now, let us switch to a whole new feature for the Xbox Series X, one that will make aspects of game play a bit richer. That feature is called Ray Tracing.

Ray Tracing

Ray Tracing is a newer technique that allows more accurate shadows and lighting around objects. Say for instance you have a. Desk with a light shining on it. In the past it would take a lot to render the exact lighting that would move while a character moves. You would not always be able to take into account how a player would move. Therefore, you would be more likely to render consistent lighting, so that you could have a predictable result. 

However, with todays technology this information can be computed and rendered in near-real time. This technique will allow for even better game play experiences.  Here are two examples from Microsoft’s game, Minecraft. The first one does not have Ray Tracing enabled, while the second one does hav Ray Tracing enabled.

Xbox Series X with Ray Tracing off within the game Minecraft.
Xbox Series X with Ray Tracing off within the game Minecraft.
Xbox Series X with Ray Tracing on within the game Minecraft.
Xbox Series X with Ray Tracing on within the game Minecraft.

Not every game supports Ray Tracing, but for the ones that do, there may be an option to turn off Ray Tracing within the settings of the game. This is the case for Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War. Since Ray Tracing is still new to the Xbox, it may not be optimized and may have issues. If you do experience any, it might be best to turn it off until the issues can be rectified. I have not experienced any issues specifically related to Ray Tracing, that I know of, but that is not to say that there have not been any.

Now that we have finished with the game play, let us switch to how you play games, using the controller.

Xbox Series X Controller

Xbox Series X Controller Box
Xbox Series X Controller Box

The way that you control a game depends on the platform. For desktops and laptops, you may be able to use a keyboard, mouse, joystick, or another input device. Remember the old ThrustMaster racing wheels? There are some consoles, like the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Switch that have their own unique controllers, like the Wii Remotes, and the Joycons on the Nintendo Switch. Even though the Switch and Wii have their own unique controllers, there is another controller available, the Pro controller, which has a controller that is more akin to traditional console controllers.

Some gamers are not able to use traditional controllers and instead need to be able to adapt a controller to their needs. For these gamers, there is the Microsoft Adaptive Controller. While it is not covered in this review, it is available for those gamers who need it.

If you were to just make a quick glance between an Xbox One controller and the Xbox Series X controller you might not think there is any difference between the two. However, there are some differences, but they are subtle. 

Xbox Series X Controller
Xbox Series X Controller

All Xbox controllers, excluding the Xbox Adaptive Controller, have a number of items on the front of the controller. These items are:

  • Two joysticks, one on the upper left, and one on the right side towards the bottom.
  • A directional pad on the left button side.
  • Four buttons in a diamond pattern, from top going clockwise you have Y, B, A, and X.
  • An options button on the left.
  • A start button on the right..
  • In the middle at the top is the controller power button.

The buttons and joysticks on the front are not the only buttons. There are some along the back as well. These are:

  • Two bumper buttons on the shoulders of the controller, one on the left and one on the right.
  • Two trigger buttons on the back, again one on the left and one on the right.
  • A power port between the bumpers.
  • A pairing button to the left of the power port.

There is one last port on the bottom of the controller, an accessory port. This is used to connect additional items like headsets. The Xbox Series X controller also has one additional button, that is in between the options and start buttons, and that is a dedicated share button.

The function of the Share Button can be customized through the Settings on the Xbox Dashboard. You have a few different options. This can be “Record what happened”, “Take Screenshot” or “Start/Stop recording’. Now, the “Record What Happened” option depends on your default capture settings. For 4K game captures you can capture the last 30 seconds, for 1080p, it is 1 to 2 minute, 720p is up to 3 minutes. The screenshots will be in 4K. The option for “Start/Stop Recording” will begin a record when you press it, and then stop the recording. This allows for a more customized length of video, which can save time in editing later. Even if that editing is just trimming the beginning and the end, it is still time saved.

Besides the power port, the directional pad has changed. The directional pad on the Xbox One controller is designed to allow you to more easily hit the up, right, down, and left arrows. These sit at 90 degree angles to each other. The modification with the Xbox Series X controller is that it is much easier to hit the diagonals, or 45 degrees from the standard directional buttons. This configuration can provide for more control during a game, particularly puzzle games or any other game where exact controllers or small adjustments in those specific directions are needed. This is not the first controller to have this type of configuration. The Xbox Elite Controllers have had this type of directional pad.

Having these additional directional options make playing some type of games a bit better and can make some actions a lot easier. Along with the directional pad there are some other changes, most notably to the back of the controller. This change can also allow for a better overall experience.

Increased Grip

The original Xbox One controller took the shape of the Xbox 360 controller and refined it. One of the aspects of the original Xbox One controller was that the area where you wrap your fingers around the back were smooth. While this felt nice, and provided a uniform feel across the entire controller, it could be a bit problematic. 

Imagine if you will, you are heavy into a gaming session, fighting the last boss of a game, you are low on health and barely surviving. Or maybe you are in a multiplayer match, and you are on a hot streak, going 10 and 0, and you need to keep going, or maybe you are playing a Dance Dance Revolution game and you are hitting every single beat perfectly. Because everything is a bit stressful your palms begin to sweat and with the controller being smooth it may be a bit difficult to hold onto the controller and you may end up dying or failing to hit that button at right the right moment.

Xbox One S Controller's grip
Xbox One S Controller’s grip

Microsoft took the feedback about this and with the Xbox One S controllers, as well as the Xbox Elite Controllers, and added some gripping material to the back of the controllers. This would help during those intense gaming sessions and would allow air to flow through the bumps on the controller.

Xbox Series X Controller's grip
Xbox Series X Controller’s grip

The Xbox Series X controller take this a bit further and adds just a bit more grip material. When I compare the Xbox One S controller and the new Xbox Series X controller, the Xbox Series X controller does seem to have additional grip material on it. I will concede that it is possible that the grip material on the Xbox One S controller has been worn away over time and it might have the same amount of grip material when it was new. Regardless, it does have more grip material than the original Xbox One controller, which did not have any grip material at all.

There is one last item to discuss about the controller itself, and that is the port on the controller.

USB-C

It is likely that many players use their Xbox controllers wirelessly, but that is not the only method. You can also used them wired to your Xbox as well. If you use rechargeable batteries, or the charge kit, you will need to plug in your controller from time to time. The primary purpose of these ports is to allow the controllers to be connected via a cable. 

The Xbox series of consoles have all had Universal Service Bus, or USB, ports included in them. USB is designed to allow a standard physical interface between devices. At this point USB is considered an “old” technology. It is not outdated, but it has been around a long time. USB was finalized in 1996, with the first devices coming out later in the same year. USB really is universal. While it is being replaced by new ports, it is still in use today on a large number of products, including newly introduced ones.

The original Xbox had a proprietary USB connection that was used for the controllers. Since the Xbox 360, the Xbox consoles have all had standard USB ports, available to the end user. These have been USB-A ports. 

The Xbox Series X continues to have USB-A ports on the console. There are two ports on the back of the console and one on the front. However, what has not remained the same is the type of connection on the controller. The Xbox 360 had a proprietary connector that would allow even a wireless controller to connect to the Xbox 360, and would charge the controller if you had rechargeable batteries in the controller.

While the ports are used primarily used to connect controllers, there have been some other accessories that have also used USB ports. This includes the Kinect, controllers like guitars and drums for rhythm games, and hard drives for storage. These are just a few of the many other accessories that have been available over the years.

With the introduction of the Xbox One in 2013, the port included on the controllers was a standard one, a Micro-USB port. Unlike other systems, these ports are standards compliant. Changing to a standard port would allow gamers to purchase any USB-A to Micro-USB cable to be able to connect their controller to their console. One of the downsides of the Micro-USB port is that you need to plug in the cable in a specific direction.

With the Xbox Series X, the port has changed again, but only on the controller. It is no longer Micro USB port as it was on previous controllers, but has been replaced. With a USB-C port. The fact that it is a USB-C connection is actually a good thing, for a couple of reasons. First, you longer need to worry about plugging in the power cable incorrectly. This is because USB-C is designed to be reversible. Secondly, USB-C is quickly becoming the de-facto standard for connecting most peripherals. Furthermore, if you have another USB-C cable, you can use that to charge your controller.

The thing that I am confused about is why there is not at least one USB-C port on the Xbox Series X console. I can understand needing to retain one or two USB-A ports, given that many users have existing accessories that will work on their Xbox Series X, but not having a USB-C port on the console itself does seem a bit strange. As mentioned earlier, USB-C is quickly becoming the go to standard for not just accessories, but for all other types of devices, like phones, laptops, tablets, and other gaming consoles. 

I would hope that when the next revision of the Xbox Series X comes about, if tradition holds in about in 3 to 4 years, that it would have at least one USB-C port on it, if not having all of the ports being USB-C. While it is a minor issue, it does seem a bit odd to not have a single USB-C port on the console, particularly considering that USB-C has been around long enough where there would have been time to change one or two ports to USB-C. There one last thing to mention related to the bundled-in controller and USB-C, and that is the cable.

USB-C Cable

As mentioned above the Xbox One controller used Micro-USB for its connection to the Xbox One and to charge. The cables included with these controllers were somewhat unique in that they included a light to indicate the current charging status of the controller. If this indicator was orange the controller was charging and if the light was white the controller was fully charged. 

The USB-C cable bundled with the controller does include this indicator. The controller will vibrate when you plug it in, so there is some feedback regarding the controller. However, there is no easy way to see on the cable, or the controller, the current charge status. You can use the Xbox dashboard to see the current charge status, but this does require you to turn on the Xbox in order to see the information.

The USB-C cable does have another difference, compared to the Micro-USB cable provided with the Xbox One. It is much thicker. One thing I did notice over the years of using the Xbox One, and the Xbox One S, is that the Micro USB cable would eventually fray and need to be replaced. I have owned three “Plug and Charge Kits” for the Xbox One. I would either buy a new one because the rechargeable battery would not hold a charge long enough or because the cable frayed. Since Micro USB is a standard I could have just purchased or used a standard cable, but the cables included in the “Plug and Charge Kit” was always a longer one, so I could, as the name suggests, plug in the controller and charge it simultaneously. Furthermore, it had the indicator light. So both of these items kept me purchasing the cords. The good thing about having purchased so many is that I now have a number of rechargeable batteries that can be used.

The thicker USB-C cable should provide a bit more reliability and the cable should not wear out as quickly. At least that is my hope. Again, since it is not a cable with any additional features, should it happen to break in the future, I can just order a new cable in the length I would like so that I will be able to continue charging the controller while playing. It would be nice to see Microsoft come out with a USB-C cable with a charging indicator. It was a nice feature to be able to easily see the charging status.

Even though the controller has USB-C, the console only has USB-A ports. There might be another reason why there are so many USB-A ports on the Xbox Series X, and that is backward compatibility.

Backward Compatibility

When gaming consoles first came to market, you would not have any expectation of being able to play games from another console on the current one, even if the consoles were from the same manufacturer. This was the way that gaming worked until approximately 20 years ago, when the Playstation 2 was released. The Playstation 2 allowed you to play games from the original Playstation. Microsoft did not have its own gaming console until November of 2001 with the introduction of the original Xbox, so it did not have to worry about supporting older games.. 

If Microsoft had been releasing its second console in 2001 instead of its first, they might not have included support for the original Xbox, and some may have been okay with that.. However, Microsoft’s second console did support backward compatibility.

Being able to support older console games is not as simple as snapping your fingers and having it function properly. Each game console is its own platform, has its own specifications and idiosyncrasies. Another reason this is not simple is due to the underlying platforms possibly being significantly different between console generations. 

For instance, the original Xbox console was built with parts that were similar to standard PCs. This was chosen because Microsoft knew PC parts quite well having worked on various operating systems that support the PC market for 15 years at that point. Whereas the Xbox 360 used an entirely different architecture. The Xbox 360 used an IBM Power-PC architecture. You would not be able to play games from the original Xbox on the Xbox 360, at least not without some additional work being done to support the functionality.

When the Xbox 360 was released it was announced that it would support some original Xbox games. This was possible due to technological advances that were made in the four years between the release of the original Xbox and the Xbox 360. In order to be able to run original Xbox games, the Xbox 360 would need to emulate the original Xbox’s software. 

Four Star Wars Games that are backward compatible on the Xbox Series X, from the original Xbox to the latest console.
Four Star Wars Games that are backward compatible on the Xbox Series X, from the original Xbox to the latest console.

When you do any sort of emulation, you will invariable see a loss of performance. Luckily, the Xbox 360 had enough power to be able to play the original Xbox games fast enough, even through emulation, that most users likely did not notice a difference.

When the Xbox One console was released in 2013, Microsoft had made some additional changes. Amongst these was the switch back to more standard PC-like hardware. This would allow the Xbox One to more easily emulate the original Xbox games, but with the different architecture would make it a bit more difficult. This is where the second change coms into play. That change was the way that the underlying Xbox operating system architecture had been changed. 

In the intervening eight years between the release of the Xbox 360, in 2005, and the Xbox One, in 2013, a new type of technology became more viable as a solution. That technology is what is called a hypervisor. A hypervisor allows you to run multiple operating systems simultaneously. If you have ever used some like VirtualBox, Parallels, or Microsoft’s Hyper-V, you are well aware of how you can run multiple operating systems on the same machine at the same time. This is how the Xbox One console functioned. The Xbox Dashboard was run in one virtual machine, while games were run in another. In fact, the Xbox 360 operating system would effectively virtualized, albeit with modifications, to allow the Xbox 360 games to run, even though the underlying architecture were different. The same approach continues to be the case with the Xbox Series X. 

These two changes, back to PC-like hardware and the transition to using a modified version of Microsoft’s Hyper-V, allowed backward compatibility to thrive. Since the architectures between the Xbox One and the original Xbox were similar, being able to run the original Xbox games would be expected. However, since the architectures differed between the Xbox One and the Xbox 360 so much, you might expect backward compatibility for those games to not be present. 

This is where the hypervisor comes in as well as the length of time between console releases. With the eight year difference the capabilities of the hardware improved significantly. Much like the Xbox 360, the Xbox One had enough spare processing power to be able to play the Xbox 360 games without much difference being noticed by the gamer, even when emulated. All of the Xbox 360 games that I have played on the Xbox One worked flawlessly and felt just as though they wee running on the Xbox 360.

Providing compatibility for software is core to Microsoft. However, the Xbox Series X introduces a new type of compatibility, and that is with some hardware. So, let us look at that compatibility next.

Hardware Backwards Compatibility 

Gaming is neither strictly personal nor strictly communal. It can be either one, or both at the same time. It is likely that you will end up playing a game with others from around the world, however your setup will likely be unique to you. One way that you can make gaming your own is by finding just the right controller. This could be a standard Xbox controller, or possibly even one from the Xbox Design Labs, or even a third-party controller. When you find the right controller you will likely want to be able to keep using it. Unfortunately, this has not been possible with previous generation changes.

When you think of Microsoft, you may think about their operating system, Windows, even though the have de-emphasized Windows in recent years, it still may come to mind. When you think about Microsoft Windows you might think about “backward compatibility”. If Windows has anything going for it, it is that it is highly backward compatible. As an example, if you installed Windows 7 in 2009, you could run software that was originally built for Windows 3.1, or even DOS. This type of compatibility is highly unusual.It appears that the desire for hardware backward compatibility has migrated to the Xbox Series X.

Typically when you buy a new gaming console you will get a new controller to go along with it, so you can play right out of the box. However, you may have to buy an additional controller, as well as all new accessories. While some may be compatible, it is possible that some will not. As was mentioned earlier, each time an Xbox console was introduced the previous generation’s controllers would not be compatible. What this would mean is that you would have to buy all new controllers and accessories. This is not necessarily the case if you were to upgrade to an Xbox Series X, or Xbox Series S, at least for controllers.

Original Xbox, Xbox One S, and Xbox Series X controllers
Original Xbox, Xbox One S, and Xbox Series X controllers

That is right, you are able to use your Xbox One controllers with the Xbox Series X. This is easy enough to do. It is as simple as pairing any other controller. You simply perform the following steps:

  1. On the Xbox Series X console, press the controller pairing button, which is on the front near the USB port. The on/off button of the Xbox Series X console should begin blinking.
  2. On the controller tap the pairing button on the top of the controller. This is next to the power port. The one/off button on the Xbox One Controller should begin blinking.

The two devices should begin pairing and once they have paired both on/off buttons will stop blinking and become solid. Once the devices have been paired, you can begin using your Xbox One controller with the Xbox Series X console. The controllers that you can pair are not just the Xbox One S controllers, or Xbox One X controllers,, but you can even pair an original Xbox One controller. This includes any of the stock controllers, Xbox Design Lab controllers, or even the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

There is one additional benefit that this ability has. Say that you are having a gaming party, but you do not have enough controllers. Now, with backward compatibility, you can ask your friends to bring their own Xbox One controllers so you can all play with a familiar controller.

The fact that all Xbox One controllers will work with the Xbox Series X is a great change to see. This is particularly true given that some users have already purchased some expensive controllers and want to keep using them. Let us now power on through to another accessory for the controllers.

Xbox Rechargeable Battery

Xbox Rechargeable Battery and USB C Cable box
Xbox Rechargeable Battery and USB C Cable box

Controllers since the Xbox 360 have had the ability to be used wirelessly. Even though the controllers can be wireless they need to be powered. This is possible by either using two standard AA batteries, or by using some rechargeable batteries. Microsoft does sell a rechargeable battery with an appropriate charging cable. They call this the Xbox Rechargeable battery. 

The kit for the Xbox Series X contains a rechargeable battery, which fits nicely inside the Xbox Series X controller as well as a USB-A to USB-C cable, so you can use the battery in your Xbox Series X controller . You do not need to use this specific set for the newer controllers. You can use the older version of this set, called the “Xbox One Plug and Charge Kit”. 

I like the Rechargeable Battery kits because they can charge while you play, provided you plug in the controller while the rechargeable battery is inserted into the controller. All batteries will degrade over time, so it is likely that you will need to replace the battery in a couple of years in order to be able to get the same amount of gameplay as when it was new.

Battery Life of the Controller

The battery life on the Xbox Rechargeable battery is quite amazing. I have had the Xbox Series X for about a month now and I have only had to charge the controller twice in that time. That means that I get approximately ten days to two weeks of game play time before needing to recharge. I do not always play the same amount of time eery day, it varies as you might expect. This is likely due to the rechargeable battery being new, but it is nice to not have to charge the controller every few days. 

My experience with Xbox Series X has not been all fun and games, although it has been mostly that. I have run into some issues while using the console. 

Problems

Xbox Series X on its side

As is the case with just about anything these days, I have experienced problems with the Xbox Series X. The biggest problems that I have experienced, has been the Xbox Series X freezing. And when it does freeze, the entire console just shuts down. Basically, it is a hard crash. This has happened in with more than one game, therefore it is not necessarily game-specific. I have even had this happen while scrolling through the user interface. I hope this is a transient issue that is fixed with a future update. 

I have not been the only one to experience this issue, there are others that have. Some indicate it is due to ray tracing, but that is game specific setting. I suspect it is actually due to airflow problems. I set my Xbox Series X on its side with the disc drive at the top of the, and with what I thought was enough airflow around the console. However, after I moved the Xbox into an area with a bit more airflow the issue has not re-arisen, at least as of this writing. 

Airflow through the Xbox Series X
Airflow through the Xbox Series X

I have also experienced crashes of games. For one game it would crash and when I realized it had crashed I would try to go back to the Xbox dashboard, but the Xbox dashboard would end up freezing. Eventually the game would actually crash and allow me to start it up again. Typically, the game took a minute or two to actually crash.

I know that this issue was not related to airflow, because I have experienced this after moving the Xbox. I do have automatic updates enabled for both game and system updates, so it is possible that these have already been fixed, and that they may not re-occur.

I know that developing software is not an easy task, and that any piece of software is going to have bugs. Sometimes these bugs do not manifest themselves until they are in the hands of users. Hopefully, no major issues come up during my usage of the console and I hope that these issues were just software related and not an issue with the hardware.

Closing Thoughts

When you unbox the Xbox Series X you will notice notice that it is indeed heavy for a gaming console. It comes in at 9.8 pounds, or 4.45 kilograms and it is rectangular in shape. Inside the box are the split motherboards, central cooling. Powering all of this is custom CPUs and custom GPUs that are capable of handling 12 trillion processes per second. To help handle the gaming, you get two different speeds of memory, 10 gigabytes of faster memory and 6 gigabytes of slower memory.

In order to store your games and media you get 1 terabyte of storage standard on the Xbox Series X. This storage is a powerful custom solid-state drive. This SSD is faster than a standard hard drive, but also due to the speed of the SSD, which uses the Non-Volatile Memory Express, or NVME, memory. This memory allows the console to be fast not only for launching titles, but also allows for faster load times while playing games. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft introduces even larger storage options for the Xbox Series X in the future, which could add to the longevity of the console.

Once you get past the initial setup and update, you can then begin playing. When you do begin playing you can play the most current games, like Watch Dogs: Legion, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, or even NBA 2K21. While at the same time, due to backward compatibility, you can play games from previous Xbox generations, including some games that were only available on the original Xbox console. It is still mind boggling to be able to play games that were released nearly 20 years ago, all as if it were on the original console. 

If you are upgrading from an Xbox One, you may get the game data that is optimized for your console. This is known as Smart Delivery and can allow you to save some space by not downloading unneeded data. Once you do upgrade, for newer games, there may be some new technologies that enhance the game. If the game supports Ray Tracing, you may be able to have even better game play with improved shadows including very realistic rendering of the shadows in real-time. If you have the proper television setup this can make for more immersive games.

You will most likely be playing with a controller. You can use the included Xbox Series X controller or you can use any Xbox One controller. This backward compatibility with hardware is a great addition that can protect your existing investment in Xbox One accessories. So if you really like that Xbox One Elite controller, you can use still use it with your new console.

Overall, I like the Xbox Series X thus far. In most cases, it is not easy to spot any difference between playing on my old Xbox One S and the Xbox Series X. The place I notice the most change is with the amount of time that it takes for some games to load. It is noticeably faster than the older consoles, particularly if you are coming from a console that has a 5400RPM spinning hard drive.

The Xbox Series X is a great platform for gamers. The inclusion of full 4K gaming allows the highest quality of gaming. Once you add High Dynamic Range, or HDR, in with the games you will have the latest and greatest technology available and this will provide you with the best gaming experience that you can get today.

As of this writing it is difficult to get an Xbox Series X, but availability should improve over the next few months. If you are looking to either get into the Xbox, or upgrade an existing Xbox One, you cannot go wrong with the Xbox Series X. It should prove to be a great console for years to come.

A Review of Watch Dogs: Legion

There are a variety of different types of games available. Some of these are puzzle games, others are action games, and some are classic card games. Bringing any game to market, no matter how big or small, is a major undertaking. Sometimes the game becomes a hit, sometimes it flops.

When you have a hit, there is a possibility that it will allow further games. In some cases, the entire story is a one-off and does not warrant a sequel, but sometimes you get a new series of games. No matter if it is a new intellectual property or another game in an existing franchise every game has a lifecycle to it. It goes from concept, to prototype, to active development, to actual release, or maintenance.

If a game sells well enough there may be a sequel, once you have at least two games you have a franchise. The first game in a series was released in 2014 called Watch Dogs. Watch Dogs was highly anticipated titled and I think it lived up to the hype. 

Watch_Dogs

In Watch Dogs, you play as Aiden Pearce, a brilliant hacker and former thug, whose criminal past led to a violent family tragedy. Now on the hunt for those who hurt your family, you’ll be able to monitor and hack all who surround you by manipulating everything connected to the city’s network. Access omnipresent security cameras, download personal information to locate a target, control traffic lights and public transportation to stop the enemy… and more.

Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs was not the last in the series. In 2016 the sequel, Watch Dogs 2, was released. In Watch Dogs 2, it’s 2016, ctOS 2.0, an advanced operating system networking city infrastructure, was implemented in several US cities to create a safer, more efficient metropolis. Play as Marcus Holloway, a brilliant young hacker living in the birthplace of the tech revolution, the San Francisco Bay Area. Team up with Dedsec, a notorious group of hackers, and expose the hidden dangers of ctOS 2.0, which, in the hands of corrupt corporations, is being wrongfully used to monitor and manipulate citizens on a massive scale.

I wrote up a review of Watch Dogs 2 in 2016, so be sure to check that out. Now, four years after the release of Watch Dogs 2 comes the third in the series, Watch Dogs: Legion, which is the topic of this review and provides some twists from what was in Watch Dogs and Watch Dogs 2.

Watch Dogs: Legion

Watch Dogs: Legion goes across the pond from the United States and places you in London, England. “London’s facing its downfall courtesy of state surveillance, private military, and organized crime. Recruit a well-rounded resistance to overthrow the wankers ruining this once-great city. The fate of London lies with you.”

Basic Story

The game starts off with you playing as Dolton Wolfe who is working with London’s branch of DedSec. DedSec finds that there are explosives set to go off at multiple places in London, including the Houses of Parliament. Wolfe tries to disable the bombs that are set to go off, Guy Fawkes style, and discovers that those trying to set off the bombs are part of a group calling themselves “Zero Day”.

Due to these bombs, the British government allows a company called Albion to take over and restore order to the streets of London. DedSec are being blamed and held responsible for the bombings, and therefore they are being targeted. It is your job to rebuild DedSec and help the city rise up against Albion, the criminals, and the government, and take back the streets of London.

Team

Team in Watch Dogs: Legion

When you start a Watch Dogs: Legion, you are able to pick your character from a selection of characters. Along with this you also get to choose a mask. The mask is what the character will don when they are either in a restricted area or in a fight. 

The original Watch Dogs game allowed you to hack anybody to obtain information about them and steal their money. This was not nearly as prevalent in Watch Dogs 2, but has made its way back to Watch Dogs: Legion, but with a twist. Instead of hacking someone to steal their money, you hack someone to see if they might be useful for your team. Each individual that you hack has some abilities, some may be good for your team, while others may not be as useful.

For instance, a character that I had allowed uniform access to Albion sites. This is great, except he would get hiccups, so this made him a bit more noticeable by others. Similarly, there are some characters who have gambling addictions and may randomly gamble ETO. ETO is money in Watch Dogs: Legion. Yet, other characters may be public figures so they will be noticed in public. There are even characters who will randomly die. I am not sure what happens if you have perma-death enabled, because I did not play with perma-death enabled, but more on that in a minute.

List of potential recruits in Watch Dogs Legion

Along with being able to find people throughout the city, some may be recommended recruits. When someone is recommended it is because you may be able to use them in an upcoming mission, or they may have one aspect that can help the team overall. This may be something like faster healing or reduced jail time.

Because you are able to recruit just about anyone, no two people will ever be able to play the exact same game. Yes, the missions may be the same, but the experiences will never be the exact same between two people due to the variety of teams, the team’s talents, and the approach they take to the game overall. There is one setting that was mentioned earlier that may change your game play experience, and that is a setting called “perma-death”.

Perma-Death

When you start the game you have a choice to make besides which character to choose. You have to choose whether or not enable a feature called “perma-death”. When enabled “perma-death” will cause any of your team members who are killed to be dead, permanently. This means that the player cannot be revived and cannot be played again. Once enabled, this cannot be disabled. similarly, once you have chosen to disable it, it cannot be re-enabled later.

Enabling perma-death can add an interesting twist on the game, but since you are able to recruit anybody, you can always recruit additional individuals should one of your characters die. I did not enable perma-death when I played through the game, but if I go through and play again at some point in the future, I may enable it.

Game Mechanics

Watch Dogs Legion has many similarities to the previous games in the series. One aspect of game play that continues within the game is needing to unlock areas by turning electrical lines. This has always been one of my favorite aspects of the Watch Dogs series and it continues in Watch Dogs: Legion. Although, it is not nearly as prevalent as in the previous games, but they still are present.

One detail that you might not think about for a game is the driving. Not that a developer would not take into account such a large aspect of a game, they would, but there has been careful attention paid to driving within Watch Dogs: Legion. Each different type of vehicle has its own driving and handling characteristics. Here is an example of driving a car.

For instance, a motorcycle handles differently than a luxury car, which handles different than the iconic double-decker bus (yes, you can drive one), and all of these handles differently than an Albion police car does. This attention to detail is a nice touch and choosing the right car may be able to to get you out of a sticky situation. Next, let us turn to a large aspect of the game, hacking.

Hacking

The biggest aspect to the Watch Dogs series is the idea of “hacking”. What you are hacking depends on the game. The original Watch Dogs game had the ability to hack people for their money, you could hack cameras, cars, and many other elements. The same held true in Watch Dogs 2. However, in Watch Dogs: Legion you are able to hack a lot more within London. You can hack people to recruit them, as mentioned above, however you can also hack other items.

These items include barriers, cars, and drones. There are a variety of different types of drones. The different types include:

  • Cargo Drones
  • ctOS Drones
  • Delivery Drones
  • Chase Drones
  • Riot Drones

You can perform a number of tasks on drones, including disabling them, hacking them, or betraying them. Disabling a drone will temporarily stop it from working. Hacking a drone allows you to take over the drone, which can be useful in some situations. When you betray a drone, it will autonomously operate on your behalf. This last option is not available for all drones, but only for those with weapons.

Along with the drones, you are also able to hack cars, causing them to go in a specific direction or just to crash so they are out of your way.

Hacking is still a major part of the game play, but it is not necessarily the primary means of completing the game. This may not be 100% true, because after a while having to hack things just became second nature again and faded into the background and just became habit.

Side Quests

Watch Dogs Legion has a main story line. Along with this, you can perform some side missions in order to obtain more items. These may be used to recruit team members or just to fill in the overall story line. 

When you hack a person to see if they might be a good fit for your team, you can save their information to recruit them later. When you recruit a person, you will have to perform a task for them before they will join your team. Some of these tasks are easier than others. Try not to fail when doing these, because the characters may hate you and then you can no longer recruit them. Luckily, since you can recruit just about anybody, you can find another similar character and recruit them instead.

There is one mission within the game that I would totally play an entire set of puzzles that were just flying the mini-drones through different levels.

Collectibles

Many games have different collectibles, and Watch Dogs Legion is no different. There are a few different types of collectibles. These include:

  • Paste ups
  • Relics
  • Text files
  • Audio files
  • Tech Points
  • ETO
  • Masks

Some of these are out in the open, while others require a bit more  ore ingenuity to figure out. Some of these items are also only available while within a mission.  None of these items are needed to complete the game, but obtaining some of them, like ETO and Tech Points will allow you to purchase items. Getting things like relics, text files, and audio files will help fill out the entire story. If you collect a relic, text file, or audio file, you can look at it in the menu.

Here is a video of what performing a “Paste Up” looks like. You can also see me do something stupid at the end of the video.

Tips

After you play a game you may find ways that you could have improved your game play. Now that I have finished the game, I have some tips for those who have not yet played it.

Tip 1: Early in the game, use auto drive. One of the things that you can do is grab a car and almost every vehicle has the ability to automatically take you to your destination. I recommend doing this early on so you can become accustomed to not only the layout of the city. Furthermore, when you drive in London, you drive on the left side of the road, not the right side. Therefore, auto drive may help you acclimate to driving on the left side oft the road and learn the rules of the road.

Tip 2: Recruit an Albion character. This will make things a lot easier during the game, particularly since many of the areas that you need to go into can be done stealthily with an Albion character.

Tip 3: Use stealth as much as possible. There are a number of tasks that do not require you to go all “run and gun” and instead, might be better completed by either hacking cameras or using a spider. Use these as much as possible.

Tip 4: Similar to using stealth, also use melee attacks as much as possible. Doing this may allow you to subdue an enemy without other enemies being alerted.  Here is a melee video as an example.

Tip 5: There is a mission where you must chase a van, get a tough vehicle, like an Albion Hummer and use that to tip the van. It will make completing the job significantly easier. Also, use the drones that attack during that mission to your advantage.

Tip 6: If the game says “you are no longer online”, quit the game and restart. Anything you do will not be saved and you will be wasting your time.

The last tip brings us to the next section, issues that I ran into while playing.

Problems with the Game

No modern software, let alone a large game, is 100% bug free. Bugs are to be expected. Even so, I ran into some pretty severe problems with the game while playing it.

The first issue that I experienced was the game randomly crashing. The game would just randomly freeze and crash. 

Of course, when a game crashed progress that I would have made would not be saved. Sometimes, this was just a minor annoyance, but more often than not, it was a bigger issue.

The biggest issue I ran across was that the game would not save my progress. I do not mean that I would die and would have to go back. What I mean is that I would do a lot of work in the game and the game would crash.

The biggest one of these was when I was working on the last main mission, literally at the end of the game, and the game froze. Not only did it not save that mission, I lost SIX MISSIONS worth of progress. I had to redo six missions to get back to where I was.

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE. Losing progress for a single mission, or one leg of a mission, is one thing. But having to redo multiple missions is just hostile. Ubisoft needs to have more robust saving system where the game is saved locally and then uploaded to their servers. If this is how it actually works, then it is absolutely broken. If not, then this is how it should work.

Besides the pervasive not saving progress issue, I also ran across some other bugs. For instance, I took down a person who had an access card, but they fell into a column. When this happened, I could not hack the access code, therefore I could not access the area that the card opened up. As proof, here is a photo of the character in the column.

Bug in Watch Dogs: Legion where a character is stuck in a column.

Another example of that is this video where I tossed a spiderbot onto a building and it got stuck.

Another bug that I ran into, literally, is where I tried to turn the corner on the balcony of a building and the only thing that happened is that I was stopped. It was like a barrier extended beyond where it should. Here is the video showing what I experienced.

Here is another bug that I ran across, a missing person that I was supposed to rescue. I was able to rescue them, but it is still odd to not have the character show at all. Here is the video for that.

These last few items were minor annoyances and did not really affect game play all that much. The inability to get the access card did cause me to have to leave the area completely and come back to that spot later on. As you can see from the video, I was able to get around the invisible barrier, but it still should not have been there.

Closing Thoughts

When the original Watch Dogs game as first announced, I was immediately intrigued. Not only because of the unique hacking of the game, which was the primary draw, but also because it was based in Chicago. 

When Watch Dogs 2 was announced and released, I knew it was a game I would instantly buy and play, because it continued the same type of game. When I heard that Watch Dogs: Legion was going to be set in London, I knew I would going to buy it, but I was a bit apprehensive because I was unsure about how the “recruit anybody” mechanism would work. 

The game is really good. The fact that it is based in London is what really grabbed me. I have only ever visited London once, but I really want to to back. Maybe one day. The Watch Dogs series of games are some of my favorites, not only for the story lines, but for the actual game play. 

If you enjoyed the original Watch Dogs or Watch Dogs 2, I would absolutely recommend you pick up Watch Dogs: Legion. The new recruitment within the game is a nice twist on standard game play, as is the ability to do just about anything within the game.

Even though there are issues with the game, like the crashing and lost progress, the game is still worth playing and an enjoyable game. All of this is before the first expansions for the game are available, so even just for the core game, it is one that you should look into getting.

Here is a group of photos taken from within the game.

A picture taken of the moon in Watch Dogs: Legion
A picture taken of the moon.
The Millennium Wheel in Watch Dogs: Legion
The Millennium Wheel
The Parliament Building with Big Ben in Watch Dogs: Legion
Tower Hill in Watch Dogs: Legion
Tower Hill
The Tower Bridge in Watch Dogs: Legion
The Tower Bridge

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: A Review

It is not often that a brand new open world action game series is unveiled, and subsequently takes the gaming community by storm. But that seems to be what happened in 2016 with a new game by Electronic Arts titled Tom Clancy’s The Division. The sequel to the best selling game has been released and having played it for a while, I thought I would give it a review. Note: There may be spoilers for the game with this review.

The Story

The basis of the Division series is an interesting one, at least to me it is interesting. To quote Wikipedia:

On Black Friday 2015, a smallpox epidemic, transmitted by a virus planted on banknotes, sweeps through New York City. The disease, known as “Green Poison” or “The Dollar Flu”, causes widespread chaos, and Manhattan is placed under quarantine. The U.S. Government activates sleeper agents in the population who operate for the Strategic Homeland Division, or simply “the Division”, to assist emergency responders, now called the Joint Task Force (JTF), in restoring order. In Brooklyn, the protagonist, a Division agent, assists the JTF before planning to depart for the Quarantine zone with fellow agent Faye Lau.

In the first game you are a Division agent tasked with finding the source of the epidemic. During your travails you need to clear out different factions whom are trying to exploit the chaos and take control of New York City. The Division 2 takes place seven months after the release of the Green Poison from the first game. This time the game is focused on Washington, D.C.

Seven months after the Green Poison outbreak, several Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) agents are defending a civilian settlement from a bandit attack when the SHD Network, the system controlling their advanced technology and communications, suddenly shuts down and they receive a Division distress call from Washington D.C. The player’s Agent makes their way to the city where the Division and the remains of the local Joint Task Force have set up their base of operations in the White House. After defeating an attack on the White House shortly after arriving in the city, the Agent is briefed on the general situation by Manny Ortega, the Division controller for D.C.

There is a lot more to the story, but you will have to play the game to learn more.

Similarities

As with any game series, many aspects of each game will be familiar. This is the case with the Division series as well. As with the first game you are a Division agent who needs to clear out factions attempting to take over Washington D.C. The game mechanics are that you need to complete missions as well as side missions to clear out the factions and take back sections of the city. Throughout the game the enemies you face various levels of enemies.

Each section has a variety of side missions, including Control Point takeovers, target training, hostage rescue, and more.

Just as with the first game, within each area there is a Safe House that must be located. Safe Houses allow you to restock your ammo, health, and armor. Located in each Safe House is your stash, where you can put equipment that you cannot carry but might want to hold on to while storing away the items you may want later.

With both of the Division games you level up your character by completing missions, side missions, finding loot, and eliminating the enemy. Some enemies will drop items upon their death. These items can include weapons, ammo, or crafting materials.

Differences

While the two games are similar in many ways, there are also some differences that create a slightly different game play with the Division 2.

As you progress through the game you earn experience points, gain Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) tech points to gain skills. Skills allow you to employ different items to assist in your quest. These were present in the original Division, but they have been changed around.

With the first game there were three broad categories, Medical, Tech, and Security skills. Now with the Division 2, there are no categories, but there are different options within each skill that can be used. You can equip two skills. Each of these skills can be one of 8 different types of skills. Instead of being a category, these are objects. These objects are:

  • Drone
  • Firefly
  • Hive
  • Launcher
  • Pulse
  • Seeker Mine
  • Shield
  • Turret

There are variants of each of these skills that have different assets. You can select the ones that best match your play style. These unlock as as you play through the game and collect SHD tech.

Specializations

Once you have reached level 30, you will have the option of adding a “Signature Weapon”. A specialty is an additional weapon that will help you in missions. A Signature Weapon is a double-edged sword. With a Specialty, each weapon is extremely powerful, more powerful than standard weapons even with mods. However, with that extra power, your ammunition is quite limited. So it is best to use the Specialized weapon only when it is most needed.

There are three different Specializations to choose from, and each has its own weapon. The Specializations are:

  • Demolitionist has a grenade launcher
  • Sharpshooter has a powerful rifle
  • Survivalist has a crossbow with explosive bolts

Each of the specializations has its own attribute tree that can be unlocked. . You can only employ one specialization at a time, however you can easily swap between them at the Quartermaster within the Base of Operations.

You earn additional specialization points by finishing some missions, after you have completed level 30. You can use these points to unlock different attributes for each specialization.

There is an area of game play that also exists in the Division 2, the Dark Zone. Let us look at that one separately.

The Dark Zone

The Dark Zone is one of the areas of the first Division game that really excited players. The Dark Zone is a separate area than the main game play map. The Dark Zone is a mix of Player vs. Player (PvP), and Player vs. Enemy (PvE). Within the Dark Zone of the Division 2, you try to capture landmarks that are being held by hostile enemies.

Unlike with the first game, there is not a single solitary Dark Zone. Instead there are actually three of them. East, South, and West. Each of them have a minimum level you need before entering each Dark Zone. Each of the zones has a different type of play style.

Just like with the first game, some items that are dropped are “contaminated”. This means that they must be extracted via helicopter. If items are successfully extracted they are delivered to your stash.

There has been a slight addition to the Dark Zone, there are no exploration missions. These are missions that help you explore each of the Dark Zone areas. These provide a way to level up in the Dark Zone.

There are 50 levels for a user in the Dark Zone. This progression occurs much faster than in the main game, and it can help you earn perks that will help in the main game.

One of the differences with the Dark Zone in the Division 2 is the way that you learn about the Dark Zone. With the Division 2, there is a quick walkthrough that helps you explore each of the areas. This allows you to get familiar with the zones and provides you an easy way to gain levels.

Rogue Agents

One of the areas of the Division that some players enjoy is the aspect of “going rogue”. In the first game this was done by attacking other players, stealing their extracted loot, or by other nefarious methods. This could occur both in the primary world or within the Dark Zone. While it occurred in the main mission area, it was definitely more prevalent in the Dark Zone.

There is still the ability to go rogue, if you desire, particularly in the Dark Zone, but it is not something that I have seen as much of as in the first game. I am not sure why this is the case. It could be because there are not as many players, or it could be because going Rogue is not as interesting as in the last game.

Downsides

There have been some changes that are not necessarily for the better, at least in my opinion. The biggest of these is the way that the world tiers work in the Division 2. Once you level up to a World Tier there is no way to go back to a lower tier. You can only go up in tier. This makes it a bit more difficult should you want to do some scavenging or to complete projects.

It is still possible to do the side missions and projects, but significantly harder once you go up a tier due to the increased difficulty.

Even though there have been some changes to the game overall, they are not all downsides. With that through all of my playing I have compiled some tips that might be helpful for any Division Agent.

Tips

There are a few tips that I have learned by playing the game.

Tip 1: While most missions can be done on a solo basis, some missions cannot be completed by yourself. Do not hesitate to use match making to get additional agents involved to help with a mission. You may only be in the group for the one mission, but they can be quite helpful in completing it.

Tip 2: When taking over control points, be sure to make sure you are well stocked with ammo. Some control points will not be easy to take over. Be sure to make sure there are some allies in the area trying to take over the control point in case you die and need to get back to the control point. The allies will keep the enemies busy while you get back. At some control points there are stationary guns. These will definitely utilize these as well.

Tip 3: Use grenades near clustered enemies. If your grenade is powerful enough you could take out a group of enemies with just one grenade. This can save on ammunition should you be running low.

Tip 4: Use Fast Travel. You can fast travel between safe houses, control points, the base of operations, and settlements.

Tip 5: Do as much exploration as you want before you tackle the last mission, which is the Level 30 Stronghold on the east side of the map. Once you complete this, you will be entered into Tier 1, which as mentioned earlier, you cannot undo once done.

Tip 6: Be prepared for anything when going into the Dark Zone.

Tip 7: Use the shooting range to test out different weapons, mods, and difficulties. This will be helpful in finding out what works best with which type of enemy.

Tip 8: Make sure to listen to the audio collectibles, they fill in some of the story.

Closing Thoughts

There is a lot to do within Tom Clancy’s The Division 2. The sequel takes the best parts of the first game and expand upon them. The new Dark Zone exploration missions are nice additions. While there is still player vs. player available, it does not seem to be as prevalent as it was in the first game.

The inclusion of “Signature Weapons” adds to the game play in some interesting ways. Using one of the Signature Weapon can be a game changer at a crucial point.

If you enjoy in-depth games, you cannot go wrong with The Division 2. There are hours upon hours of game play, even after you have finished the main missions of the game, there is still more to do. If you include all of this with the expansions on the horizon, it is not likely that you will have nothing to do in the game. If you enjoyed playing the first Division game, then there it is quite likely that you will enjoy the second one.

There are multiple versions of the game, Standard, Gold, Ultimate, and Gold Steelbook editions. The first three are available physically or digitally, with the Steelbook edition only being available physically. You can buy The Division 2 today for Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC.

2017 Games Ranking

One of my areas of interest is video games. I do own a number of consoles. The list of consoles that I own includes:

  • Xbox One
  • Playstation 4
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Wii U
  • Playstation 3
  • Wii
  • Xbox 360

I do not generally use all of these. In fact, the only ones that I use on a regular basis are the first four listed. The Playstation 3 is effectively a Blu-ray player at this point.

My go to gaming console is the Xbox One. I do not buy that many games throughout the year. In fact, I generally only end up buying at most six a year. During 2017 I ended up buying more games than normal due to the Nintendo Switch being released. As a matter of fact, I only played eleven different games this year. I thought I would provide a ranking of the games that I have played throughout the year.

  1. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)
  2. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Xbox One)
  3. PCalc (iOS)
  4. LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2 Deluxe (Xbox One)
  5. Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)
  6. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch)
  7. Typeshift (iOS)
  8. Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One)
  9. Lego City Undercover (Xbox One)
  10. Super Bomberman R (Nintendo Switch)
  11. Puyo Puyo Tetris (Nintendo Switch)

The ranking that provided above is for many reasons. I will attempt to briefly give reasons for my rankings.

1. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is the best game that I have played this year. It worked flawlessly on the Nintendo Switch. It combined the best elements of classic 2D Super Mario as well as Nintendo 64 Mario, and it did this all to provide a great story and fun game play. There were only a couple of sections that I found that I could not accomplish. The new game play mechanics of using the hat did add a nice touch to the game. I hope Nintendo continues using the mechanic in another game in the future. I did not get all of the Moons, but that is okay with me.

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2. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Xbox One)

I have been of a fan of the Wolfenstein series since I first played Wolfenstein 3D back in the MS-DOS days. I have probably purchased more copies of Wolfenstein 3D than I care to admit. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was not universally loved, like Super Mario, but I enjoyed the story and the game play. You play as BJ Blazkowicz in a continuation of the story in the 2014 reboot, Wolfenstein: The New Order. The gameplay of Wolfenstein II was fun and some new mechanics added a nice touch to a first person shooter. I ran into some issues, which is why it ended up as second in my list and not number one.

To me the Wolfenstein Series, along with Duke Nukem and Doom, will always hold a special place and as long as there is another game in the Wolfenstein universe released, I will likely end up buying it.

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3. PCalc (iOS)

I do not play as many new iOS games as others do. On iOS I generally tend to stick to a couple of games, Solitaire and Tetris. PCalc is not a game, on its face. However, there is a full fledged game within the app. PCalc’s author James Thomson has been working on versions of PCalc for 25 years now. Every time a new feature in iOS is added, James attempts to include it within PCalc, if it makes sense.

Within iOS 11, Apple added a bunch of new frameworks that would allow developers to add augmented reality within their apps. James has done just this. You can play a racing game, complete with track and even achievements. With the inclusion of the game in the “About” screen, I consider it a game. If you have an Apple TV, PCalc TV is the way to really play the game. Plus, besides the game, you get a fully fledged calculator and you definitely need one on the iPad.

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4. Lego Marvel Superheroes 2

Besides video games I love legos. As a kid, I loved playing with legos. As much as I love legos, Lego sets are a bit expensive and therefore I do not buy as many as I would like; plus I do not have the space for a bunch of sets. Now, if you combine Video games and Legos, it is a no brainer for me to get those. The strangest aspect to this purchase was that I am not a Comic book fan and do not really care to see most Comic-based movies. Therefore, I do not know about most of the characters that are included in these games. However, even with all of this, I did enjoy the Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 game.

The story was interesting and did make for a different gameplay. Despite my love for lego and video games, there was not really enough new to warrant having it go higher than it’s current ranking. One of the things I try to do with Lego games is get 100% on them. However, the Lego Superhero games do not allow me to do this. The fact that it is a Lego game, is why it edged out the next game.

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5. Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Unlike the Wolfenstein series, the Zelda franchise is not one that I generally partake in. The biggest reason that I ended up playing some of Zelda is that when I got my Nintendo Switch back in March there were not many games out, particularly since Mario Kart was not going to be released until April. Therefore, in order to be able to play something I picked up a copy of Zelda.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a visually stunning game. The story really does allow you to become immersed within the world and urges you on. The open world nature of the game provides a way for you to be able to go and explore wherever you want. Eventually though, it did not hold enough appeal for me to continue playing it. For those that love Zelda, it is a great game to play and is one that you should go out and play.

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6. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

One of the things that is not easy to do is differentiate racing games. Racing games all have a common game mechanic, end up in first. It is not easy to make your game stand out, however for Nintendo it is a bit easier. This is due to having a large breadth of characters. Mario Kart has been the go to Nintendo racing game, not only for the iconic characters, but because of the very

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is not a brand new Mario Kart game, since it was available for the Nintendo Wii U, but the Nintendo Switch provided a boost to sales of the game. Mario Kart 8 is a traditional Mario Kart game complete with classic tracks as well as new ones. If you have played any Mario Kart games, Mario Kart 8 is one you should play as well.

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7. Typeshift (iOS)

There are only two iOS games on my list this year, and this is the second of them; Typeshift. TypeShift is a word puzzle game that provides you with a set of characters and the object of the game is make words using all of the characters. The catch is that the characters appear in vertical lines and have to shift each line to create the words.

While my explanation may not make a lot of sense, once you begin playing you will catch on quickly. Typeshift has become one of the games that I play daily, besides Tetris Premium and Solitaire by Mobilityware.

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8. Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One)

You may be able to tel that my primary gaming genre is the first person shooter. One of the most popular franchises is the Call of Duty series. The Call of Duty series started off as a World War II series, but eventually turned to more modern and even futuristic storylines. Call of Duty: WWII brings the franchise back to its roots with World War II, but with modern mechanics.

For me, first person shooters are the single player stories, which is the antithesis of the focus of the series for many gamers. Much like Wolfenstein II, some players did not like the single player story, but I did not mind it. It was not the best story, but you do play as a number of different characters in different scenarios which was a nice adaptation for the series.

I have only played a couple dozen online matches for Call of Duty: WWII and it is not likely that I will play many more. The online matches offer no real differentiation from pervious games and is one of the big reasons that it is number 7 on my list. If you enjoy the Call of Duty series and were hoping for it to go back to its roots, this is one that you might enjoy.

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9. Lego City Undercover (Xbox One)

This is the second Lego video game that I have played this year, however it not the first time that I have played the game. Lego City Undercover originally came out in 2013 on the Wii U. When it was released on the Wii U it heavily relied upon the Wii U game pad for interaction. Without a game pad this time, interactions had to be adjusted.

I enjoyed playing through the game again and unlike Lego Marvel Superheroes 2, I did get 100% on this one. Because I had played it did not rank up as high as other games, but that does not diminish from how fun it is. If you take the vast open world nature of Grand Theft Auto or Zelda and place it within a world of Lego characters you will get Lego City Undercover. Lego City Undercover contains hours of fun and will keep you occupied for a long time.

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10. Super Bomberman R (Nintendo Switch)

With it being the debut year for the Nintendo Switch there are a number of games that are being released for the console. One of those games is a remake of a classic Nintendo franchise, Bomberman. Super Bomberman R is a rebooted Bomberman game. I never really played any of the previous Bomberman games, but I enjoyed the story mode on this one. There are 50 levels to play through where you have to complete puzzles to defeat the robot enemies. As with most games, there are some levels that are tougher than others, but overall it is a good puzzle game that will keep you entertained. There is an online multiplayer component, but I have not played online

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11. Puyo Puyo Tetris (Nintendo Switch)

The last game in my list for this year is Puyo Puyo Tetris. Puyo Puyo Tetris takes two franchises, Puyo Puyo and Tetris and intersperses gameplay of both games into one. I originally purchased this game because it was a Tetris game. However, I was quite disappointed with the game overall. I am sure if you were a fan of Puyo Puyo as well as Tetris you would enjoy it. However, for me, it was not anything that I enjoyed.

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Final Thoughts

Those are all of the game that I have played this year. The list may not be very long but I have played all of these games for more than a cursory amount of time. The one thing that I did not expect was to have two iOS games on my list, since my iOS devices are generally where I play most of my super casual games. Typically PCalc would not be included, but everything that James has done with the app, particularly with iOS 11, warrants its inclusion. It is not likely that I will play most of these games much in 2018, excluding maybe TypeShift and PCalc. I will likely go through Wolfenstein II again once the next one is released. I may dabble in Mario Kart and Super Mario Odyssey again, but once I finish a game I typically do not go back to it.

Depending on what games are released in 2018, as well as reaction to the list, I may do another list next year.

Watch Dogs 2: A Review

In June of 2012, at their E3 conference, Ubisoft unveiled a brand new intellectual property. This one was a twist on the genre of open-world games. The game, was Watch Dogs, also seen as WATCH_DOGS. The game was a commercial success with over 10 million copies being sold in 2014. With the game being successful, Ubisoft has produced a sequel, Watch Dogs 2; which is the focus of this review. Given the high level of similarities, with regards to the mechanics, between Watch Dogs and Watch Dogs 2, let us start there.

A bit of backstory for Watch Dogs is needed. Due to a blackout in the Northeastern United States, the Blume Corporation builds a new Central Operating System (ctOS), that provides a way to have everything connected.

Chicago

The open world of Watch Dogs is based on a fictionalized version of Chicago. The game allowed variety of neighborhoods that ranged from run-down areas to the most affluent. The game included iconic sights within Chicago. Some of these included the EL, the Sears Tower, and even Buckingham Fountain.

Within Watch Dogs, you play as “The Vigilante” also known as Aiden Pierce. Aiden was seen during a robbery of a Hotel, and since he ended up leaving during that robbery, a bounty is put on him. The hit man is instructed to take out his family, if necessary.

The hitman manages to accidentally kill Aiden Pearce’s niece Lena, so he is out to get revenge. That is where Watch Dogs starts.

Gameplay

Almost everything in Watch Dogs was “hackable”, meaning that you can use your phone to hack other individuals. When you did this, you could intercept a variety of things. These may include: money, chats, or even phone calls. The money would be the most helpful, but reading chat conversations or listening to phone calls could provide an entertaining insight into each pedestrian as they innocently go about their lives.

Similarly, this means that there are some objects within the world that are “hackable”. Some examples include cell phones, cars, city infrastructure, doors, and a number of other items.

With many first person shooter games, you are limited to the actions that you can perform. The same is true with Watch Dogs, but part of the gameplay of Watch Dogs that defines the Watch Dogs games is the fact that besides being an open-world, it is also a puzzle game.

In the first Watch Dogs there was an aspect to the game where you had to turn items to be able to activate other items. As an example, you would start with a power unit with lines In Watch Dogs, this was so prevalent that the “Peephole” achievement. These puzzles continue in Watch Dogs 2, however they are not nearly as common.

Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2 takes the success of Watch Dogs, and adds to it. In Watch Dogs 2, you play as Marcus Holloway, an Oakland-based hacker trying to get into Dedsec. In order to be initiated, Marcus, also known as Retr0, must go on a mission. This is the opening mission.

Technology

Watch Dogs introduced the original mechanism of using a cell phone to hack individuals. With the advancement of only a couple of years, Watch Dogs 2 has been able to add a few new mechanisms.

Watch Dogs 2 uses some of the technology is RC. The RC Car can jump, taunt and even drop weapons against enemies. The same can be said for the Drone. The Drone is needed for some levels, as well as some collectables.

One of the technologies that have become more ubiquitous since the original Watch Dogs is 3D Printing. In Watch Dogs, you could go into a gun shop to purchase weapons. However, with Watch Dogs 2, you can now use a 3D printer to print out, and even adorn, your weapon of choice. You can even do some side missions to be able to get different paint jobs for your weapons.

Another aspect to technology that has become quite common is the act of taking a selfie, or self-picture. This is doable within Watch Dogs 2, as is explained below.

San Francisco

One of the side missions of almost any game is to collect things. In Watch Dogs, there was the “Peephole” achievement, mentioned above, where you would use hacking to peek into what others were doing to get an even richer sense of the gaming universe.

Watch Dogs 2 does have a similar side mission, but this is to get pictures of some of the iconic tourist sights in San Francisco. One of the twists with this, you can use the front-facing camera on your in-game phone to take pictures of yourself. Just like social media sites in life, characters will comment, in-game, on the pictures that you take.

The game world is not just confined to San Francisco, but encompasses the surrounding area. Some of these are Silicon Valley, Marin County, and Oakland. When you look at the map, it may seem small, but it really is not that small.

The scenery of San Francisco is spot on. Having never been there myself, it would seem like it is an accurate replication of what the San Francisco area is like. People who live in the Bay Area, or have visited enough, can verify or refute that statement.

Game Play

As mentioned above, Watch Dogs 2 implements many of the same mechanisms as in Watch Dogs. You are still able to hack phones, cameras, cars, and city infrastructure. However, the mechanisms are expanded upon. For instance, there are now two additional items to help you in the game. The first is as remote control car. An RC car was introduced in the Watch Dogs expansion, Bad Blood. However, it plays an even more prominent role in Watch Dogs 2.

In Watch Dogs 2, the RC car is necessary, not only for being able to get to through certain missions, but also in order to avoid detection. There is another mechanism, a drone. The drone is used for simliar tasks. However, it can come in even handier than the RC car can.

Just like in Watch Dogs, you come across additional characters that will either help or hinder you along the way. A number of these individuals are hackers, and assist in some ways. While others are those out stop you.

Control Scheme

The control scheme for Watch Dogs 2 is different than it was for Watch Dogs. After playing through Watch Dogs 2, and then going back and playing the first couple of missions of Watch Dogs again, it took some re-orientation to get back into using the proper controls. It is a minor thing, but something to be aware of.

Final Thoughts

After playing through the entire game. Some may think that the storyline is entirely implausible. Some aspects of it appear to be impractical. However, one thing that Watch Dogs 2 does, is make its own social commentary about not just humans, but also on technology and society as a whole.

Overall, Watch Dogs 2 is an improvement over Watch Dogs. The game play is good and the story, even with some quibbles, is pretty good. There is more to do in the game, from ATV racing, drone racing, or even grabbing bags of cash. There is plenty for all users to enjoy within the game. If you enjoy open-world games, and in particular, if you enjoyed Watch Dogs, then Watch Dogs 2 is worth getting.

Where would I like to see them go next? Maybe England, because ctOS is already, if not super close, to becoming a reality. Everything is being monitored there, so it would make for a possible candidate for future expansion.

Watch Dogs 2 is available on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC. Links below are to purchase the title from Amazon.

  Xbox One Playstation PC
Standard Disc Download Disc Download Download
Deluxe Download Disc Download Download
Gold Disc Download Disc Download Download