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Computing

Zenbook Fold 17 vs. ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2: foldable fun

Are you looking for innovative, experimental tech that’s pushing the industry forward? Well, look no further than laptops with foldable screens.

We now have two out in the wild: the Asus Zenbook Fold 17 and the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2. The two devices share a lot in common, even beyond the fact that they both have a screen that can fold in half. But which is the best representation of what this form factor can be?

Specs

  Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 Asus Zenbook Fold 17
Dimensions 6.9 x 10.87 x 0.68 inches 14.90 x 11.32 x 0.51 inches
Weight 4.19 pounds (including keyboard) 3.31 pounds (including keyboard)
Processor Up to Intel vPro with 12th-generation Intel Core U9 i5 and i7 Processors Intel Core i7-1250U
Graphics Intel Iris Xe Intel Iris Xe
RAM Up to 32GB LPDDR5 16GB LPDDR5
Display 16.3-inch (2024 x 2560) OLED, 600 nit HDR/400 nit SDR 17.3-inch, 2560 x 1920 OLED, 500 nit HDR
Storage Up to 1TB PCIe 4 SSD 1TB M.2 PCIe 4.0 SSD
Touch On-cell Touch with Pen support Yes
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4, 1 USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, Nano-SIM card tray, 3.5mm combo audio jack 2x Thunderbolt 4
3.5mm combo audio jack
Wireless Wi-Fi 6E 802.11 AX (2×2), Bluetooth 5.2,  5G Sub 6 (optional) Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5
Webcam 5MP RGB+IR, with Intel VSC option 5MP with IR
Operating system Up to Windows 11 Pro Up to Windows 11 Pro
Battery 48 watt-hour (optional additional 16-watt-hour configurable) 75-watt-hour
Price $2,500 $3,500

Two forks in the road

The Zenbook Fold 17 in laptop mode.

The Zenbook Fold 17 and ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 both build upon the design of the original ThinkPad X1 Fold. They both have larger foldable displays, a wireless keyboard, a kickstand, and multiple modes for using it.

But the two devices take different paths in terms of the form factor and design. The Zenbook Fold 17 actually shares more in common with the original ThinkPad X1 Fold, using a similar faux-leather “binding” to cover the hinge. The X1 Fold Gen 2 has an entirely new look, with woven fabric on the outside and a more streamlined look. We prefer the X1 Fold Gen 2, which doesn’t try as much to resemble a folded-up notebook.

Also, the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 has a completely removable kickstand this time around rather than building it right into the device itself. This also allows it to lay completely flat on the table, which is impressive. The Zenbook Fold 17 still can’t quite do this.

The 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold in landscape mode attached to a keyboard.

Both the Zenbook Fold 17 and ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 can be used as tablets, albeit very large ones. They can also both be used in desktop mode, where the screen is held up by the kickstand and the keyboard is removed. You may prefer to use the devices like this, as it allows you to take full advantage of the larger, unfolded screen.

Both devices also support a laptop mode, where the keyboard magnetically attaches to the bottom half of the folded screen. The Zenbook Fold 17 has a slightly larger screen, though, which comes in handy in both modes. One of the issues with the original ThinkPad X1 Fold was the small screen, which made this laptop mode feel pretty unusable. But now, both the Zenbook Fold 17 and the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 feel like capable laptop replacements, regardless of which mode you’re in.

The ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 in portrait mode.

The ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 benefits from an additional portrait mode, largely thanks to the odd aspect ratio of the device. Portrait mode might look strange with the keyboard connected to it, but it gives you a vertical view of your content that could be handy for those wanting to stack multiple screens, or just to get a taller view of your spreadsheets, websites, or word documents. It’s not the most practical thing in the world, but it is a neat addition to what this device can already do.

Of course, the detachable keyboard comes bundled in with the device in both cases. And fortunately, they’re both quite good. We’ll need to spend more time with the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 to get a final verdict on usability, but both keyboards feature full-size layouts that most people will be comfortable with.

The Zenbook Fold 17 did suffer from some issues with the touchpad, though, which is something we’ll be looking to test more on the X1 Fold Gen 2 when we get it out for review.

Display

The ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 unfolded on a table.

The size is the most obvious difference in displays between these two devices. The Zenbook Fold 17 is a full inch larger diagonally, and Asus managed to do that without adding too much extra weight to the overall package. That makes the benefits of having a foldable device even more noticeable, allowing for an excellent screen to work on when out and about. That extra screen real estate really does feel wonderful to use.

We haven’t tested the screen of the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 in detail yet, but I’d expect the two screens to perform quite similarly. They’re both using a version of LG’s FOLED (foldable OLED) panels, which bring excellent contrast and color to these devices.

The screens themselves both have a protective layer that makes the display look cheap. They’re highly reflective and have a different texture to them than what you’re typically used to, which was something we noticed particularly on the Zenbook Fold 17, especially in comparison to foldable smartphones. Impressively, though, the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 does a better job of hiding the crease down the middle of the screen, whereas it can still be seen on the Zenbook Fold 17.

Performance

The Zenbook Fold 17 in desktop mode on a table.

You’re going to see very similar performance from both of these devices. They both use a low-wattage 12th-gen Intel processor, up to a Core i7. In both cases, they should represent a significant step up from the original ThinkPad X1 Fold, which suffered from using a low-powered Intel Lakefield chip.

These two new foldables are capable laptop replacements, even if they’re on the slower end of the spectrum. Interestingly, the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 is fanless, which means it’s completely silent. The Zenbook Fold 17, on the other hand, has an active cooling system with fans that spin up. How will this impact performance comparisons? We’ll have to wait and see until we can test the X1 Fold Gen 2 out more.

The other main difference is that the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 comes in a vPro model, which comes with specific business-centric features and security enhancements.

The X1 Fold Gen 2 also has more configuration options, letting you opt for up to 32GB of RAM down to lower storage options. The Zenbook Fold 17, on the other hand, only offers a 16GB model with 1TB of storage.

We haven’t tested the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 in full yet, but the Zenbook Fold 17 has a larger 75-watt-hour battery. The result was OK battery life, but certainly nothing to write home about. The ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 has a smaller 64-watt-hour battery, with an even smaller 48-watt-hour battery in the base configuration.

Foldables are heating up

Open Asus Zenbook Fold 17 seen from the top down.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Zenbook Fold 17 is a great step up from the original ThinkPad X1 Fold, most notably due to the extra size, improved keyboard, and significantly better performance.

The ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2, however, feels more like a true second generation of this product design. We’ll wait until we spend some more time with it to make a final verdict, but it seems to use some improved display technology that irons out some of the wrinkles that still made it into the Zenbook Fold 17.

It also comes in many more configurations, allowing for a cheaper starting price of $2,500. That makes it feel like a more accessible product for those who want to give these foldable laptops a try.

Neither laptop is available for purchase at this exact moment, but both should be available in the coming months.

Editors’ Choice




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Game

‘Saints Row’ developers promise that the reboot will still be fun

It was last August that Saints Row developer Volition . The new title was intended as a swerve away from the series’ trademark preposterousness and juvenalia. Now, , the team would like to clarify that just because it’s grounded, doesn’t mean it’s not going to be fun. Saints Row hasn’t suddenly become a po-faced exploration of organized crime, and it remains just as cartoonish as you may expect, it’s just a bit more grounded in its cartoonishness.

Last year, Chief Creative Officer Jim Boone and Lead Mission Designer Jeremy Bernstein said that the Saints Row series had burned out its narrative runway. After all, when your character has conquered the Earth, descended into Hell and fought a hair-rock opera duel with the Devil, street-level crime is going to feel like a big comedown. “I’ve been wanting to clarify that!” said Creative Director Brian Traficante, “I believe you can continue that runway […] but we didn’t want to.”

“In terms of going back to the grounded tone, it took some time,” said Traficante, as the team sought to analyze and define “what is Saints Row?” That series-defining formula seems to focus on meshing fun gameplay, silly jokes, cartoonish violence and a hefty dose of reference gags. “At times, it’s a gag for a gag’s sake, but there’s a consciousness of making sure that it’s exactly what we want to do, and it’s the right time to do it,” he said. There was a focus on ensuring that there’s plenty of light moments to balance out the times in the story when things go dark.

Writer Jennifer Campbell said that the team abides by “the rule of making sure that you’re punching up, not punching down.” Campbell added that “we’re exploring a more diverse group of characters so it gives us a lot more avenues to explore, anyway.” Traficante said that the developers created “internal mechanisms” to help ensure that a broad group of people could weigh in on some of the edgier gags in the game. He added that the team wanted to craft jokes that would enable “everyone [to] be a part of the joke.”

Saints Row’s use of parody reached a fairly extreme level during the fourth game, where it ran a series of relationship-simulation sequences in the vein of Mass Effect. (Except, of course, the camera wasn’t cutting away as quickly when two characters decided to spend some alone time together.) These parodies are “definitely in the recipe,” said Traficante, but that they aren’t “front and center” in the new title, so players will need to hunt out the nods.

A pair of friends dance along inside a Cowboy-themed bar.

Volition

And players will spend a lot of time being encouraged to hunt through the world of Santo Ileso in pursuit of storytelling, gameplay and entertainment. The team has laced the city with randomly spawning discoverables, like a security fan loaded with cash, for you to find as you walk around. Traficante said that it takes testers around a week, playing full time, to work their way through the bulk of the title, which is vast and ever-growing.

As well as the breadth of the city, Volition also wanted to emphasize the depth of features like character customization. Users can expect a level of tweaking that looks to be beyond the level offered in, say, Cyberpunk 2077. You’ll be able to customize your appearance, voice and clothing, as well as the looks of your cars and weapons. And none of these features will be pay-to-use, mercifully, with everything instead unlocking the further into the game you progress.

Interestingly, the new title has a little less narrative freedom than some of its predecessors as a consequence of this richer, deeper world. This, says Jennifer Campbell, is to help imbue the game with a greater sense of purpose and meaning, bolstering the story. “We were really focused on keeping a causal chain, because you’re doing things in response to something,” she said. “You’re shooting at things because you did something earlier in the mission to elicit a response from an enemy faction,” she added, with the aim of putting “reason behind the things that we asked the player to do.” Players will feel that “their actions are affecting the game state.”

Having now seen around 45 minutes of gameplay footage, I can say that the new title focuses on a narrower definition of silly. You can melee an opponent, stick a grenade down their throat and then throw their body over to a group of enemies to blow them up. Or you can ask a friend in co-op play to pick up your car with a helicopter’s trailing electromagnet and drop you off at a mission location. There are piñata guns and footballs that stick to people hurling them up into the air, as well as a new wingsuit mechanic that enables you to bounce off a pedestrian to give yourself more flight time.

Certainly, the arrival of this Saints Row game feels like it’s going to be more of an event than it did previously. The enduring success of GTA Online’s ever-present crime simulation sandbox has sucked so much air out of the genre that having a new alternative should be a big deal: We haven’t had a true “GTA-like” game since 2016’s Watch Dogs 2. The one risk is that Saints Row is looking to perfect a game that users have now moved on from.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Game

All Of Jackbox Party Pack 8’s New Games Ranked By Fun Factor

October 14 saw the release of The Jackbox Party Pack 8the latest in the long-running party game franchise. Jackbox is best described as a more adult Mario Party. The compilations contain trivia and word-based games that are designed for several players who write, draw, or make guesses based on other players’ entries and the game’s ridiculous situations. The series is unique in that players don’t need to use controllers to participate:W hile Jackbox‘s main action takes place on the big screen, players send in their decisions and answers through their phones. Observers who aren’t actively participating can join the “audience” and influence the outcome of the games.

Jackbox was one of the game series that got my friends and I through the pandemic. While it doesn’t have true online play or any sort of matchmaking, we got around that by having one person stream the main game through Discord and partying up in voice chat. I spent my birthday last year quarantined in my bedroom, drinking beer, and playing The Jackbox Party Pack 7 virtually with a big group of friends, and it brought a lot of levity to what was otherwise a rough situation. When Party Pack 8 released last week, it was an instant buy for me. After playing through each of its party games with different friends, here’s how each new game stacks up in terms of fun factor.

Note: I’ve found that Jackbox games generally work best with at least five main participants. Your experience may differ if you have less than that.

5. Weapons Drawn

Weapons Drawn is probably the weakest of Party Pack 8‘s games. The premise is that each player is a masquerade guest who is also a murderer. Players must illustrate their murder weapon, each of which contains a letter from their chosen player name. They must then choose another player’s party guest to murder in secret, after which comes a meeting where players communally choose which murders to pursue, review the murder weapons, and guess who did it. The game also involves persuading other players not to pursue your murder, guessing which guest came with which player, and cracking unsolved cases within a certain period of time.

Confused? I was, too. While Weapons Drawn has an interesting premise and trying to conceal letters in my drawings was a lot of fun, there’s just too many layers to the whole thing. It wants to be like the board game Secret Hitler, where players yell at each other and accuse one another of ill deeds and double-crossings, but in practice, my friends and I were so busy trying to figure out the rules and procedures that we ended up staying mostly silent (which is too bad, because I love games that let me yell at my friends). If we played several more rounds, we probably could’ve gotten the hang of it, but it was so convoluted that we just went back to some of Party Pack 8‘s other games.

4. Drawful Animate

Drawful Animate is a new spin on Drawful, an existing Pictionary-style Jackbox party game where players must guess what a drawing is. In addition to simply guessing the phrase that inspired the drawing, though, players must also create fake phrases to mislead other players into choosing the wrong phrase. After everyone has seen the drawing, players vote on which one they think is the real descriptor. Drawful Animate follows those exact lines, but allows players to “animate” their art by drawing two images that the game then alternates between. Drawful is a pretty beloved Jackbox game, and Drawful Animate is the “next generation.”

Players choose the correct phrase in a round of Drawful Animate.

It’s fun, but it’s something we’ve seen before. Jackbox Games has been known to include new versions of its most popular party games, like Quiplash, alongside new games in Party Packs, and they’re almost always crowd-pleasers. Drawful Animate includes some good quality-of-life options, like being able to choose between a few colors and slowing down or speeding up your animation, but other than that, you’re really just making two drawings instead of one. A couple of times, my friends and I didn’t really know what to make for the second drawing, so we just redrew the first frame but made it slightly different. Drawful Animate is good, but not an instant classic.

3. Poll Mine

If you’ve got a huge group of participants and audience members, Poll Mine is a game you’ll definitely want to check out. At the beginning, players are divided into two teams. The game then presents silly and absurd polls to each player, making them rank things like the most desirable roles in the middle school play about the methane cycle. After each person votes, teams must work together to choose the average rank of each item from the poll. For example, if everyone said that a pile of cow poop was the No. 1 most desirable role in the play, the team that guesses its rank correctly gets a point. Teams must do this for every item on the poll. It’s better witnessed than explained — try watching a YouTube video of a group playing it.

Players choose teams in Poll Mine.

While it was a lot of fun and the polls were appropriately dumb, you really need a big group to enjoy it. We played with five people, which wasn’t enough to truly mix up the rankings. We’re all good friends and we had a good idea of what each person would pick, which made the game easier than it should have been. If I were to play with seven or eight people, particularly people I don’t know as well, it would be a lot more challenging. Even if your team is doing poorly, though, you can still win at the end, which makes it hard for one team to get a no-contest victory. I want to give Poll Mine another shot with more people, because it’s definitely a great idea.

2. The Wheel of Enormous Proportions

Trivia is a classic party game, and Jackbox Games knows this. Most of the Party Packs contain some sort of trivia-inspired party game and The Wheel of Enormous Proportions is Party Pack 8‘s requisite trivia adventure. Guided by a silly, fast-talking wheel, each player must answer trivia questions to obtain wheel slices. After three questions, players place their slices on the wheel and take turns spinning it. If the spinner lands on a place where someone placed their slice, they get points. There are a variety of slices with other effects, like ones that take points from one player and redistribute them to others. Once any player reaches 20,000 points, they can spin the Winner Wheel, which grants them victory if they land on the correct slice. If they don’t, the game continues until someone lands on the right spot.

Players spin the Wheel of Enormous Proportions.

I’ll admit it: I love trivia. I watch Jeopardy and do New York Times crossword puzzles for fun. My brain is full of random knowledge that probably won’t ever be useful. As such, my friends usually hate playing trivia games with me, but they still really enjoyed The Wheel of Enormous Proportions (as did I!). That’s because you don’t have to be a trivia buff to win. Answering questions correctly grants additional slices to be placed on the wheel, but who actually gets points — and wins — is based more on the random wheel spin than any one person’s knowledge. It’s a great way to alleviate the powerlessness that some people feel when playing trivia, and it does make the game feel more fair, if a little frustratingly random at times.

1. Job Job

Before I wrote this article, I asked my friends which game they liked best. Job Job was everyone’s favorite, hands down. Under the guise of a job interview, players must type in their answers to a series of questions, like in Quiplash. However, once everyone has submitted their answer, the words from each answer are scrambled and presented to a different player, who must then use only words from other people’s answers to answer a new question. Though my English major brain was slightly miffed at the random capital letters and not-so-grammatical sentence structures of everyone’s answers, the sheer fun and absurdity of the game more than made up for it.

Players choose words in Job Job.

The key is to have each person answer the first few questions as absurdly as possible to give future rounds a variety of words to work from. The answers don’t always make perfect sense, but when someone somehow got enough words to string a coherent sentence together, my friends and I literally rolled on the floor laughing. Players don’t get to see the initial questions until the end of the game, which keeps everyone guessing as to how someone could possibly use “toothbrush,” “wallpaper,” and “poop” in the same sentence. It’s a ton of fun with any number of players and is absolutely worth playing — we kept wanting to go back to it instead of trying other games.

The Jackbox Party Pack 8 is available now on all major consoles and several online storefronts and will be coming to Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV soon.

Editors’ Choice




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Game

Pokemon Unite review: Big fun, big concerns

If you thought that Pokemon Unite would be a lackluster attempt at a Pokemon-themed MOBA, you definitely aren’t alone. Pre-release trailers didn’t do the game any favors, but now that it’s here, the people who gave it a chance are finding that it’s actually a lot of fun to play. Not only that, but Pokemon Unite could potentially serve as a good introduction for MOBA newcomers, turning an entirely new generation of people onto a genre that often feels like it’s winding down.

Unfortunately, the realization that Pokemon Unite is actually a fun game comes with some other, less wonderful revelations. While Pokemon Unite offers a good time, it has some clear issues with balance. Those balance issues can be fixed through player feedback and patching, though. What’s particularly concerning about this game is the sheer number of currencies – both paid and free – that it offers, and the fact that those who are willing to pay can get gameplay advantages over those who are not.

MOBA-lite or something greater?

On balance, it’s tricky to write a review of a game like Pokemon Unite. First of all, we have the fact that what I’m reviewing today probably won’t be the game that people are playing in a couple of months thanks to changes in the meta, the introduction of new Pokemon, and even the possibility of new mechanics being added. More concerning to me, though, is the tricky dichotomy between the fact that the game really is a lot of fun and the fact that TiMi Studio Group (the game’s developer and a subsidiary of Tencent) and The Pokemon Company have no issue with putting pay-to-win mechanics in a game that’s not only competitive but also one that children are sure to play.

Gameplay in Pokemon Unite can be best summed up as “MOBA-lite.” As in more complex MOBAs like League of Legends, Dota 2, and Heroes of the Storm, Pokemon Unite pits two teams of five players against one another. Pokemon Unite‘s map has two lanes with four scoring zones – two for each team – along with a fifth scoring zone for each team, located where the two lanes meet in front of each team’s base.

The goal is to defeat wild Pokemon dotted around the map, and the Pokemon on the opposing team, to collect energy, which you then take to one of the opposing team’s goal zones to score. When you die, you’ll be taken out of the game for a set amount of time that gets longer as the game goes on, making late-game deaths much more severe than those early on. You’ll also drop a portion of the energy you were carrying, allowing other players to potentially pick it up and add it to their own score.

As you play through a match and defeat opposing and wild Pokemon, your own character will level up, gaining more health and attack damage along with new and upgraded abilities at certain levels. Each Pokemon has a basic attack, two regular abilities on short cooldown timers, and an ultimate ability on a long cooldown timer. Using these abilities at the right time is often key to winning fights, and dodging skillshots from your opponents can be the difference between winning a fight and losing one.

Pokemon Unite streamlines a lot of the MOBA experience. Matches are only 10 minutes long, and no minion waves are marching down lanes at regular intervals like they do in pretty much every other MOBA under the sun. Goal zones replace towers and, while they give defensive bonuses to their team’s players and are destroyed after the enemy team scores 100 points at them, they don’t fire at enemies like traditional MOBA towers do.

While there are items that give stat boosts, they’re part of an account inventory and are equipped before a match even begins rather than purchased during a match. Instead of having players buy items during a match to upgrade their characters, abilities are upgraded automatically at certain levels, becoming stronger or, in some cases, changing entirely. Players are even given a choice between upgrading into two different skills at certain tiers, which gives each Pokemon some build variety and the ability to switch it up between matches.

I quite like the leveling system Pokemon Unite has to offer. I’m a bit of a casual MOBA player as I’m coming from Heroes of the Storm, so I’m not used to buying items throughout the course of a match anyway. However, Pokemon Unite‘s changing abilities are somewhat reminiscent of Heroes‘ talents, so I feel right at home.

The gameplay in Pokemon Unite is fast-paced and unexpectedly addictive. There’s less focus on macro play, but knowing when to rotate in-between lanes to keep the pressure on the enemy team can certainly help. While it’s tempting to just run down a lane and fight the opposing players as often as possible, defeating wild Pokemon is how you’ll get a level lead in the early game, and a level lead then can help your team snowball to a victory.

Teamfights in Pokemon Unite are often a dazzling display of abilities. Pokemon are split into five different types: Defender, Supporter, Attacker, All-Rounder, and Speedster. Defenders are the tanks of Pokemon Unite; they have a lot of HP to soak damage and often have some type of crowd control that can help damage dealers line up kills. Attackers are pretty self-explanatory, as they’re squishy characters who die quickly when they’re out of position, but they can really pile on the damage with their ranged attacks.

Supporters can heal or buff teammates, hinder opponents, or perform some mix of both. Speedsters are the junglers of Pokemon Unite, and they excel at clearing the wild Pokemon from the middle of the map before rotating into lanes at the right time to help their teammates secure kills. Finally, we have All-Rounders, who are the Pokemon that don’t seem to fit into any other group particularly well. These Pokemon are typically the melee damage dealers, and they tend to have more health than their ranged Attacker counterparts.

While MOBAs typically want you to have a balanced team, you can often get away with playing the role you want in Pokemonm Unite, at least in lower levels. Of course, at higher levels of organized play, you’ll benefit by having a Defender, Supporter, and Speedster on your team, but I’ve won plenty of matches where most of my team was comprised of Attackers, All-Rounders, and a single Supporter or Speedster.

I was completely caught off guard by how fun Pokemon Unite is. I went in expecting very little, but Pokemon Unite managed to impress. I wonder about Pokemon Unite‘s longevity considering its more streamlined matches, but for now, at least, I’m having a ton of fun with this game.

Everybody focus the bird

That said, there is one glaring issue with how Pokemon Unite matches often play out. While most wild Pokemon in the game don’t do anything outside of awarding experience and points when they’re defeated, some wild Pokemon grant major bonuses. These buffs can range from strong to outright game-changing, but there’s one boss Pokemon that I have issues with specifically: Zapdos.

Zapdos spawns in the middle of the map when there are two minutes left in a match. When defeated, Zapdos gives the player who performed the last hit 30 points and everyone else on that player’s team 20 points. Zapdos also gives the team that defeated it an instant score buff that lasts for 30 seconds, meaning the team with that buff can just walk into their opponent’s goal zone and score by pressing the X button. There’s no wind-up necessary, so once they’re in the goal zone, there’s no realistic chance of stopping them from scoring.

This is problematic for a couple of reasons. For starters, in the last two minutes of the game, all scoring is doubled: the team that kills Zapdos can swing the score heavily in their favor in a span of seconds. I don’t have a problem with comeback mechanics, but as the meta becomes more defined in the coming weeks, you’re going to see most games revolve around the last two minutes of play and that Zapdos buff.

I like the idea of upping the stakes in the final minutes of the game and giving the losing team a chance to come back because it’s never fun to be on the losing end of a blowout. The problem is that having Zapdos award 110 points to the team that beat it and leaving all enemy goal zones defenseless during the last two minutes of the game where all goals are doubled is too much. If Zapdos is going to be that game-changing, it really feels like scoring should not double in the last two minutes of a match.

I also really hate the last hit mechanics for wild boss Pokemon. I understand that last hitting is a core mechanic in MOBAs, and I think it works for other wild Pokemon, but for boss Pokemon, the buffs that the game is doling out are too powerful to be determined by last hits.

Personally, I’d far prefer it if boss Pokemon created a capture point that needs to be occupied by only one team for a few seconds before they’re granted the buffs and bonuses. This way, you still encourage fights over the boss Pokemon, and one team still has a chance to steal those boss buffs, but they have to commit to a proper team fight to do it rather than sending in a rogue ranged attacker to land the final hit and run away (or indeed die).

The currency and pay-to-win problem

So the gameplay is fun, but there are some major balance concerns with the structure of matches and the fact that Zapdos is so powerful. That stuff can all be fixed in patches if TiMi Studio decides that matches are too frequently being decided in the last two minutes, so I’m not as concerned about those. However, I am concerned about this game’s free-to-play structure because it’s downright appalling for a game that’s primarily targeted at children.

Depending on how you want to classify currencies, Pokemon Unite has no less than five of them. Only one of these currencies – Gems – can be purchased directly with real money. You’ll use these currencies to buy pretty much everything in the game, from cosmetic items to new Pokemon (you’ll need to purchase a Pokemon’s Unite License before you can use it in matches) to entire outfits for both your trainer avatar and your Pokemon.

There are four other currencies that you’ll get as you play the game: Aeos Coins, Aeos Tickets, Fashion Tickets, and Holowear Tickets. In the beginning, it’s pretty easy to rack up decent stockpiles of each currency, as the current launch promotions tend to send a lot your way. You’ll also get new items and currencies by increasing your trainer level, which happens naturally through playing the game, or by leveling up your Battle Pass, which has both a free and a paid version that can be purchased using Gems.

Once these launch promotions and the trainer level track end, though, it seems that the rate at which you earn currencies will slow to a crawl. The hope is that TiMi Studio will keep the events rolling after we get past all of these launch promotions because otherwise it seems like the flow of currencies is going to slow dramatically for free-to-play players – and that’s especially true when you consider that you’re limited to earning a max of 2,100 Aeos Coins per week from battles, which considerably slows the rate at which you can obtain new Pokemon if you aren’t going to pay for them with Gems.

Then we have the pay-to-win elephant in the room. There has been much debate over whether Pokemon Unite is pay-to-win, and we’re going to settle that now. As far as I’m concerned, this game does have pay-to-win mechanics, and that’s a big shame considering that kids are probably going to flock to this game en masse.

The problem stems from held items and how they’re upgraded. Every held item grants Pokemon stats and special perks. Those stat bonuses increase as you level up those held items, which can only be done using Item Enhancers. The game gives you a decent amount of Item Enhancers by leveling the battle pass, working your way through the trainer level track, and completing event challenges, but not enough to upgrade all of the held items you’ll probably want to upgrade. When you run out of the free Item Enhancers, you can purchase more from the in-game shop using Aeos Tickets.

So far, this is fine because Aeos Tickets are a free-to-play currency that you can’t buy. However, once you run out of Aeos Tickets, the game reveals that you can purchase more Item Enhancers using Gems, the only currency you can buy with money. That means those willing to pay their way can upgrade held items much faster than free-to-play players, giving them a larger advantage in-game.

This is a pay-to-win mechanic, full stop. I’ve seen arguments that claim this isn’t truly pay-to-win because free-to-play players will still be able to max out items, albeit on a longer timeline, but frankly, that’s nonsense. The timeline for a free-to-play player to max out items is quite possibly months-long, but at the very least, it’s far longer than someone willing to pay to upgrade all their items now. I define pay-to-win as a mechanic that gives paying players an advantage over free-to-play players, and that’s precisely what this does.

I’ve also seen arguments that claim the stat boosts from items are not that significant, but in a MOBA like this, a few percentage points can make a huge difference between equally matched players. Let’s look at the Muscle Band, a held item that most Pokemon who do physical damage will want to equip.

The Muscle Band grants Pokemon a flat attack boost and a percentage boost to basic attack speed. At level 0, the flat attack boost is +1, while at max level (which is level 30 and takes a huge number of Item Enhancers to reach), it’s +15. That’s not very big in the grand scheme of things, but the real kicker comes in with the attack speed boost. At level 0, the Muscle Band doesn’t grant an attack speed boost at all, but at max level, it increases basic attack speed by 7.5%.

Anyone who has played a MOBA before will tell you that a permanent 7.5% attack speed boost is a big difference-maker, particularly between even-keeled players. It may not make a huge difference when you’re in a lopsided game, but in the close games where every stat boost and percentage point counts, it could absolutely be the deciding factor in a head-to-head fight. I am incredibly disappointed to see this kind of pay-to-win mechanic in a game like Pokemon Unite, and the fact that Tencent and The Pokemon Company seemingly tried to hide it makes things even worse.

Pokemon Unite Verdict

This is a tough game to judge. I really enjoy playing Pokemon Unite and, were I judging the gameplay alone, it would get a solid 8 or maybe even a 9. It’s a ton of fun to play, and each Pokemon feels unique. So far, I haven’t had a bad time playing, even when I’m losing a match, and there’s a part of me that’s very excited to see what kind of Pokemon get added in the future and how they shake up the meta. I am completely astounded by how much I enjoy playing, frankly, because I was ready to write off Pokemon Unite before release.

However, I can’t in good conscience give Pokemon Unite that high of a rating when it has so many problems outside of the game (and even a few inside it). Furthermore, there is no excuse to put the kind of pay-to-win mechanic I described above in a game that will be marketed to, and played by, children. Attaching such a mechanic to a children’s brand is gross, and Nintendo and The Pokemon Company should be embarrassed that they allowed a franchise as popular as Pokemon to be associated with tactics such as this.

Even if there weren’t a pay-to-win mechanic hidden away in the depths of Pokemon Unite, the fact remains that there are too many currencies in this game. I understand that a free-to-play game needs to have some way to make money, but we honestly should just have one paid currency and one free-to-play currency – Gems and Aeos Coins. There is no reason to have one paid currency and four free-to-play currencies unless the goal is to confuse players to the point where it’s easier just to bust out a credit card and buy what you want directly (which I suspect it is).

It really is a shame that Pokemon Unite has been monetized to hell and back because it’s so much fun otherwise. I really hope that The Pokemon Company reconsiders what kind of game it has its name attached to here and prompts some kind of change – I’m guessing that TiMi Studio isn’t going to do it on its own. Until that happens, though, I can only give a tepid recommendation to adults who understand what they’re getting themselves into.

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Tech News

Armored Brigade is even more fun with this fantastic WWII mod

Matrix Games today announced the launch of a World War II mod for Armored Brigade. I’ve spent a little time checking things out and there’s a lot to be excited about here.

Armored Brigade is my favorite war game. It has a unique playability that both consistently challenges me and makes me feel really smart. But I’m not a huge fan of the Cold War era. For my money, there’s no setting quite like World War II.

Luckily for me, AB 1943, as the mod is called, converts the Armored Brigade experience into a WW2 game set in the Eastern front.

Players can choose from the Red Army, Red Army Guards, and the Wehrmacht where they’ll command hundreds of historically accurate units in clashes representing some of WW2’s greatest battles.

The mod was developed by popular modder “KarlTaco” and, though it’s not an official expansion, Matrix games has supported it by featuring information about it on the company’s website.

I had a chance to check the mod out and, so far, I’m having a blast. There are tweaks all over that make the game feel a bit more “WW2-ish.” These include making infantry a bit faster and squishier and making tanks a little more beastly. I look forward to diving all the way in and seeing what kind of campaigns I can generate from both sides.

I highly recommend this mod for any AB fans out there. It’s free, so if you don’t like it you can just unsubscribe.

If you do like it, however, you’re in luck. It looks like we can expect some updates and expansions to “AB 1943” as time goes on.

Per the mod’s Steam entry by KarlTaco:

From the recapture of Stalingrad in February 1943 until Germany’s surrender in May 1945, the Wehrmacht, Red Army, and Red Army Guards are the current playable factions.

Future updates will aim to expand everything. In the long term I might expand the timeframe to begin earlier, depending on the popularity of the mod.

Immediate goals include refining balance and sprites based on your constructive feedback. As every unit, weapon, formation etc must be researched and a sprite/s created, progress is slower than in my previous mod.

You can get the “AB 1943” mod free on Steam.

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Game

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury Review: A ton of fun, but it still costs too much

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A huge multinational company launches a game platform that’s an abject failure, drops it after just four years on the market, and then launches a new console that turns out to be a huge success. It takes all of the old first-party games it released on that previous console, which all had very limited audiences thanks to poor console sales, and re-releases them on the new, much more successful console for full price despite the fact that they’re all years old at this point. There is no punchline.

Bringing old Wii U games forward to the Nintendo Switch has been Nintendo’s modus operandi since shortly after the Switch launched, with Nintendo kicking things off with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has gone on to be one of the best-selling games on the Switch (and, in fact, before Animal Crossing: New Horizons came around, it was the single best-selling game on the Switch), and from there, the classics just kept coming forward.

Pokken Tournament, New Super Mario Bros U, Pikmin 3, Hyrule Warriors, and Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze are all included on that list, and in addition to all being Wii U games, the thing they have in common is the fact that they all cost $60 on the Switch. In most cases, these games didn’t add a significant amount of new content, but often we’d see DLC bundled in with the base game for their Switch releases, if there was any DLC to speak of.

Now we’ve got Super Mario 3D World, which was one of the Wii U’s flagship games. It has arrived on Switch with an entirely new expansion called Bowser’s Fury, and it still unsurprisingly has that $60 price tag. Is it worth it? That ultimately depends on how much you like Mario, and maybe more importantly, whether or not you owned a Wii U.

Super Mario 3D World

Even though this new game is titled Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, Super Mario 3D World makes up most of the content in this package. To my knowledge, this is more or less a straight port of the game as it appeared on Wii U, save for a few quality of life changes and other tweaks to make up for the fact that there’s no touchscreen or microphone on the Switch controller.

For those who haven’t played Super Mario 3D World before, it’s probably best explained as a cross between traditional 2D Mario games and the newer 3D Mario titles. The game is broken up into worlds and stages just like a 2D Mario game would be, and while some of the stages have side-scrolling elements, many of them are designed in 3D. Super Mario 3D World is the successor to Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS, which was a very good game in its own right.

Super Mario 3D World can be played solo or multiplayer with up to four players, and when you’re playing the game with three other people, it’s almost always a hectic time. The vast majority of my playtime was spent playing the game solo, and I have to say, I love almost everything about it.

I have a hard time finding any significant flaws with Super Mario 3D World. I think the cat suit – introduced as this game’s signature power-up – is fantastic, as it has you running through stages on all fours, swiping at enemies with your claws, and climbing up walls to discover secrets. You’ll put that cat suit to good use too as there are three green stars and a stamp to find in each level.

If you want to 100% the game, you’ll need to not only find those stars and stamps, but you’ll need to hit the top of the flagpole at the end of each level as well, something that the cat suit makes so much easier as cat Mario (or cat Luigi, cat Peach, or cat Toad) will climb up to the top of the pole – but of course, that requires you to make it to the end of each level with you cat power-up intact.

From a level design standpoint, I think Super Mario 3D World is wonderful. The levels are varied, compelling, and boast some of the strongest designs we’ve seen in any Mario game bar none. Any touchscreen segments that were present in the original game have been replaced with gyro controls, and though those take a little while to get the hang of, eventually they won’t be any issue. Gyro segments are few and far between, too, so it’s not like you’ll have to use motion controls all that often – good news for people who loathe motion controls like me.

Super Mario 3D World is a beautiful looking game too. I really enjoy everything about this game, and as someone who didn’t really dig into it back in the days of the Wii U, it’s nice to have this one come forward to the Switch.

On the whole, I think Super Mario 3D World might be a little easier than some of the other Mario games out there, but there were still plenty of later levels that claimed life after life from me. I also think that the controls in Super Mario 3D World are a little more floaty than I’d usually prefer, but after playing through a few stages, you’ll quickly get used to them.

Beyond those very minor observations, I have no problems whatsoever with Super Mario 3D World. It’s a fantastic game from start to finish, and I intend on going back and collecting the stamps and goalposts I missed to 100% complete this game. If that isn’t a glowing recommendation, I’m not sure what is.

Bowser’s Fury

Then we come to Bowser’s Fury, an “expansion” of sorts that feels like it belongs more in Super Mario Odyssey than in Super Mario 3D World. Or, at least, it would feel that way if literally everything in Bowser’s Fury weren’t cat-themed. If you love cat Mario like I do, you’ll probably love playing through Bowser’s Fury, where you get to collect cat tokens as you do battle with cat Goombas, cat Koopas, and cat Piranha Plants. It’s a cat lover’s dream game, in other words.

Bowser’s Fury is an open world adventure that will last most players 3-6 hours and actually sees Mario teaming up with Bowser Jr. to stop Bowser, who has become a giant, corrupted, and particularly ruthless version of himself. You’ll progress through different areas of this in-game world as you play, collecting cat tokens and occasionally going one-on-one with Bowser himself, growing to his size through the use of the Giga Bell. Those battles definitely have a Godzilla feel to them, as two titans who dwarf everything else in the world square off.

There are a number of stages to explore in the open world of Bowser’s Fury, and each one has a lighthouse that progressively gets more powerful as you complete challenges and collect cat emblems. You only need to complete a handful of relatively easy challenges to finish Bowser’s Fury, but completionists will find a fair amount of difficulty in each stage’s later challenge.

I really enjoyed Bowser’s Fury; I think the stages are fun, the open-world design is fantastic and offers a nice alternative to the structure of Super Mario 3D World, and the challenges you’ll encounter are creative with the right amount of difficulty. The only real issue with Bowser’s Fury is that it’s clear the open world is pushing the Switch to its limit, as even in docked mode, the Switch can’t hit the resolution it achieves in Super Mario 3D World.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury verdict

Really, my major gripe with this game comes down to price. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: the Wii U ports need to be priced at $40, not $60. I understand that Nintendo, more than any other company out there, tends to overvalue its IP, and here it can also claim that it’s basically a new experience to the many of us who never owned a Wii U. That doesn’t change the fact that Super Mario 3D World is turning 8 years old in 2021 – paying $60 for an eight year old game is outrageous whether you played it the first time around or not.

Bowser’s Fury, as fun as it is, is a relatively short expansion too, and it doesn’t make this pricing acceptable. It’s nice that we’re getting some kind of bonus content considering that most of the Wii U ports don’t typically offer anything new outside of previously-released DLC, but I would have really liked to see this package priced at $40. This is my one consistent criticism of these Wii U ports, and I will keep complaining about it as long as Nintendo keeps pricing them at $60 (though, at this point, it’s running out of games to port over from the Wii U).

I feel like I’m shouting at a brick wall here, because some of these Wii U ports have turned into major hits on the Switch. At this point, all Nintendo needs to do is look at the success of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for reason to keep pricing these games at $60. Let’s not kid ourselves here: no matter how much I complain about it, Nintendo isn’t going to stop charging so much for these games, which is a disappointing realization to come to.

It isn’t as if this is a bad game, either. In fact it’s quite the opposite, and I think if Mario fans can handle the price tag – a bitter pill though it may be – most of them will love Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury. I don’t often get the drive to chase 100% completion in the games I play, but I will definitely be returning to Super Mario 3D World to see what secrets await when I collect all of the stamps and gold goalposts (I already made a point of collecting all the green stars I could on my initial playthrough).

Bowser’s Fury is just icing on the cake considering how fantastic Super Mario 3D World is, but more than anything, it makes me wish we had a follow-up to Super Mario Odyssey coming down the pipeline. Still, there’s no denying that this is a fantastic package where the only real sticking point is the price, so even though it hurts a little to say it, it deserves a spot in every Switch library even if it costs more than it should to put it on your shelf.

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Tech News

DJI’s new FPV drone goes 87 mph and looks stupid fun

DJI today announced its first real entry into the first-person view (FPV) drone category — and it’s quite different from any of the company’s other drones. Capable of going 140 kph (87 mph) but still offering many of the smart features available on the company’s other drones, the DJI FPV looks like a fun option for experienced drone pilots and newcomers alike. It’ll cost you a pretty penny though, at a starting price of $1,299.

For those not familiar, FPV drones are basically immersive drone-flying experiences, involving a headset akin to VR goggles (although they rarely feature a 3D effect). FPV drones are often used for drone races and other high-speed theatrics. Unlike other DJI drones, which have emphasized the filming and photography experience — and which therefore prioritized convenience and obstacle avoidance — the FPV appears aimed primarily at those who like the flying part of drones.

While FPV drones have traditionally been an enthusiast corner of the market, DJI’s take hopes to capture the fun of FPV flights while making them more accessible for newcomers.

Most notably, the drone comes with multiple flight modes aimed at different skill levels. If you’re not familiar with FPV drones, for instance, you might not realize that they don’t usually hover in place on their own. But in DJI’s Normal mode, the drone will do just that, as well as use its various sensors to help the drone slow down (although not stop altogether) when approaching obstacles. It essentially works the same as other mainstream drones, except you’re using immersive goggles instead of a phone display.

There’s also Manual mode, which allows the drone to maneuver in all sorts of ways, but disables all the crutches. No sensors, no hovering — you’re on your own. But then there’s the unique Sport mode, a step in between the Normal and Manual. It offers much of the maneuverability of the Manual mode, but will still try to slow down upon detecting an obstacle.

Another neat touch: The drone’s controller also includes an emergency brake and hover button — which also works in Manual mode — helping prevent expensive crashes.

The FPV Goggles themselves claim to outperform competing goggles, despite using digital technology. Most high-end FPV goggles are analog due to latency issues, but DJI manages to keep latency under 40ms, while enabling a 1440 x 810 resolution at 60fps. Meanwhile, the ‘Smooth’ mode decreases latency to 28 ms, and bumps up the framerate to 120fps. Lastly, an ‘audience’ mode lets you bring up to eight others along for the ride through additional goggles.

The camera itself films at 4K and 60 fps or 1080p at 120 fps. It also uses DJIs RockSteady stabilization to minimize shaking and rolling shutter, and distortion correction software helps cut down on the typical fish-eye distortion in FPV lenses. DJI’s transmission technology goes as far as 10 km, and sends video at up to 50Mbps.

The DJI FPV is also designed to be more repairable than DJI’s other drones; the gimbal camera, landing gear, and top shell are easily replaceable. Battery life, meanwhile, is rated at 20 mins.

It’s worth noting that the DJI’ FPV’s performance specs are by no means revolutionary in the world of FPV drones — I’ve seen faster speeds and lower prices. Still, there isn’t anything out there I’m aware of that quite mates FPV drone performance with DJI’s accessibility and sleek software.

The drone is available starting today for $1,299 — including the drone, controller, goggles, and one battery. For $299 more, you can get teh Fly More Kit, which offers two extra batteries and a dedicated charging hub.

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Published March 3, 2021 — 01:31 UTC



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Tech News

Google Assistant gets some fun and useful features for Super Bowl LV

If you use Google Assistant on your mobile or own a Google smart device, you can use the company’s personal assistant to get facts and fun details about Super Bowl LV. The event will take place this Sunday with most fans watching from home. Who will win? No one can tell you, but Google Assistant is willing to give its best guess.

If you can’t decide which team to root for, you can ask Google Assistant, “Hey Google, who’s going to win the big game?” Equally fun for those who aren’t too into sports but want to participate in the party is the command, “Hey Google, help me talk like a football fan?” Users can also ask for football facts.

Google also points out that its Assistant can be used to help manage the day, such as using the timer function to keep track of snacks that are cooking or set reminders for when kickoff is about to start. If you’re on the Google ecosystem, you can also use Chromecast to stream the big game, assuming you don’t have cable.

CBS is the network broadcasting the game this year, which means CBS All Access subscribers can directly access the game through that platform. If you’re not a subscriber, you can also watch the game for free using the CBS Sports app or the CBS Sports website.

If you don’t have cable or any means to stream the game, you can also take the totally free and old school route of using an over-the-air TV antenna to watch the game on your local CBS broadcast channel. Coverage will start before the game, but kickoff won’t take place until 6:30 PM Eastern Time.

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