Sound BlasterX AE-5 Review

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The Sound BlasterX AE-5 is a sound card meant for the modern gamer. It has a few missteps, but it attempts to be a consumer card that is efficient, flashy and great sounding. It succeeds for the most part, but there are a few small hindrances that keep it just short of reaching true excellence. That being said, it’s a high-quality card that will leave most users beyond satisfied as long as you know exactly what’s required to reach its full potential.

The AE-5 is set at around $150. It features a built-in discrete headphone amplifier, hi-res 32bit/384 kHz sound, 5.1 surround/7.1 virtual surround, and a number of other extras tailored towards discerning gamers and audiophiles alike. If that wasn’t enough, it includes Creative’s aurora architecture, a feature I was fairly impressed with when I reviewed the Kratos S5 speakers a few months agoassuming you have a rig that can support it.

Installation was a breeze. The card itself installs in any PCIe port and fits nicely in medium/large size cases. Cases with less room should probably beware, this card isn’t exactly small. After the hardware installation was complete the rest of the process was as easy as installing drivers and updating the BlasterX Acoustic Engine, a suite I already had installed from my experience with the Kratos S5.

Users familiar with the engine will find they’re able to tweak any number of available options from sound levels to color outputs with Aurora Reactive. My one issue with the installation was the fact that the card requires a Molex connector in order to run RGB. I had some extra connectors available due to the size of my rig, but I can imagine this will pose a problem for many especially when people tend to save those connectors for fans.


"Gaming sessions, especially when playing first-person shooters, were fantastic. The amplified sound quality gave me an edge in titles like Counter-Strike: Global Assault, Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 4."

The AE-5 has an amplifier built-in for out-of-the-box headphone quality. Creative recognizes the fact that most gamers these days aren’t using speakers, they’re using headphones to get the most out of their gaming experiences. The AE-5 is ready to drive headphones with high resistances up to 600 Ohms.

What do headphones sound like with this card installed? The simple answer is less compressed, but the real answer is more complicated. I opted to experience the card with a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-AG1Xs, some excellent gaming headphones, over studio ‘phones and the results were immediately noticeable. FLAC files sounded much clearer with highs and lows coming through with less tin, especially when compared to my MOBO sound drivers, but don’t buy this card thinking you’re going to be getting studio quality sound at a bargain price. Gaming is where this thing really shines, not music. That being said, this is a high-quality consumer card, and the only one to my knowledge that features 32-bit sound. So, if you’re looking for an extra boost for your tunes this is actually a very good option. I should also warn you that Creative does note that in order to experience this hi-res sound users MUST be running a Windows 10 machine, unfortunately users that haven’t upgraded to the latest Windows OS will find themselves left in the cold.


"My one issue with the installation was the fact that the card requires a Molex connector in order to run RGB...I can imagine this will pose a problem for many, especially when people tend to save those connectors for fans."

Gaming sessions, especially when playing first-person shooters, were fantastic. The amplified sound quality gave me an edge in titles like Counter-Strike: Global Assault, Titanfall 2, and Battlefield 4. Any pair of headphones will let you hear footsteps coming, but when combined with this sound card I could easily tell which direction and how far, allowing me to have the one-up during my online fragging sessions. Even with RTS and MOBA titles I found it helped. These games have unique sound banks that warn players with a keen ear what abilities are being used, being able to hear it all in such good quality offered me a slight advantage as well.

Overall, the card is a worthy addition for people that have the space, money and are running on Windows 10. I think the Molex connector is an oversight that will see a lot of adopters scratching their heads, especially in these modern times, but if you’re not looking to take advantage of the digital lighting than this won’t be too much of an issue for you. Setbacks aside, this card created a noticeable difference in sound quality, especially when it comes to gaming. If you meet the requirements, you won’t be disappointed.

Review by: Palmer Sturman

B

Sound BlasterX AE-5 Audiophile-Grade Gaming Sound Card Announced

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Creative Labs has a long history of delivering remarkable audio hardware for both enthusiasts and hobbyists. With each innovative new product, the company's engineers take audio manufacturing to new levels while maintaining competitive pricing. The newly announced Sound BlasterX AE-5 is the perfect example of the company's commitment to their fans. It's an audiophile-grade piece of tech that incorporates some of the most popular features from their Sound Blaster series of headphone amps into the world’s first sound card with an integrated RGB controller powered by Aurora Reactive Lighting System.

Here are just some highlights straight from Creative's press release:

Xamp Discrete Headphone Amp
Delivering an industry-leading gaming headphone amplification experience, the on-board headphone amplifier is custom-built using discrete transistors and audiophile-grade WIMA® film/foil capacitors in a dual-amp design to satisfy the most demanding needs of today’s intense games and high-resolution audio. Experience the difference of a discrete dual-amp design as each audio channel is individually amplified to deliver pristine, uncompromised audio. Plus, the high heat resistance of the German-made WIMA capacitors greatly reduces noise and audio interference. The Xamp’s ultra low 1Ω output impedance also makes it perfectly capable of driving sensitive in-ear monitors as well as studio-grade headphones from 16Ω to 600Ω.

122dB DNR Sabre-Class DAC with Industry Leading Audio Processing
At the heart of the Sound BlasterX AE-5 sound card is the quad-core Sound Core3D audio DSP and a 122dB ESS Sabre-Class DAC that instantly boosts regular motherboard audio with up to 32 times more clarity. The premium audiophile-grade DAC with its high dynamic range indulges users with up to 32-bit/384kHz lossless playback and true audio fidelity for high-definition audio in games, movies, and music.



World’s First Sound Card with Integrated RGB Controller Powered by Aurora Reactive Lighting System
The Sound BlasterX AE-5 card is the first sound card to feature a built-in RGB controller that comes with the Aurora Reactive Lighting System. A separate RGB lighting system could set a user back by at least USD 50, but now, this is built into the card itself with the AE-5: giving users amazing value and performance for their system. This also means that valuable space within a gamer’s desktop can be saved for other components.

The RGB controller, powered by Creative’s very own Aurora Reactive Lighting System, not only lights up the card through the PCB, but also gives gamers the flexibility to build their dream gaming rig by connecting up to four LED strips to match the awesome sound with an awesome light show. The fully customizable Aurora Reactive Lighting System allows users to choose from multiple presets or program it with up to 16.8 million colors and various rhythms to choose from, using the Sound Blaster Connect PC software.


All New Scout 2.0 Feature
Scout 2.0 is an upgraded version of the Creative’s well-received Scout Mode feature – Scout 2.0 now also includes Scout Radar.

The sound card is set to release in July, 2017 and will retail for only USD149.99! As someone who has covered most of the company's products, I'm absolutely ecstatic about this release. The RGB lighting system is a nice extra, but I'm especially excited to see all the great features I've enjoyed with Creative's external amps to become a permanent, internal part of our gaming system! 

Burrow Review–The Smart Sofa for Gamers and Movie Buffs

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IKEA has been at the forefront of modularizing design and value since its foundation in 1943. They’ve proven that the traditional approach to furniture manufacturing follows archaic principles that no longer have a place in today’s modern “nomadic” society. Communities are more frequently one the move today than ever before in history, and as a result, IKEA has shaken up the industry by providing mid-century modern, easy-to-assemble products for shoppers on a budget, most notably college students and young entrepreneurs.

Today we’re taking a look at a new entrant in this rather niche industry, a company that’s tackling one of the bulkiest pieces of furniture in everyday households: the sofa. Burrow is a young startup founded by three friends who set out to adapt and expand upon IKEAs strategy by further simplifying the modular design approach and introducing a premium level of quality without the premium price tag.


"Despite its reconstructable nature, the Burrow is a high-end piece of furniture that rivals some of the finest luxury brands."

If you’re a college student or someone who resides in a tall apartment building, then you understand the frustration that comes with lugging massive sofas across diabolically steep staircases. Burrow solves this problem thanks to masterful engineering that splits the sofa into small, carriable pieces. Despite its reconstructable nature, the Burrow is a high-end piece of furniture that rivals some of the finest luxury brands. Most sofas in this category normally retail in the thousands, but Burrow’s two-seater model, the unit we’re looking at today, costs only $750!

While it doesn’t fall in the extreme budget category like certain lower-end IKEA models, you’re treated with top-quality, stain-resistant and chemical free materials, memory foam-style cushions, and a rock solid skeleton that ensures longevity across repeated assembly processes. And since Burrow ships directly to their customers, you never have to pay for the retail markup. Did I mention the Burrow comes with a hidden USB/Power charging port that lets you keep your controllers powered while gaming?


"And I’m serious when I refer to the process as pleasurable, because the assembly is as satisfying as watching Tetris pieces fall into place."

Burrow claims the sofa can be assembled in about ten minutes, and looking at my own assembly process for reference, ten minutes is all you’ll ever need. The Burrow sofa may the most practical piece of furniture that I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting together. And I’m serious when I refer to the process as pleasurable, because the assembly is as satisfying as watching Tetris pieces fall into place.

The two-seater sofa ships in three boxes. There are only four major parts necessary for assembly, not including the pillows and legs, which are added at the end. The seating area hides massive, steel rods that project near the center where the two pieces are secured together. The remaining parts are the arms, and they connect on each end in similar fashion. After the pieces click in place, they’re secured with an additional metal clip next to each corner towards the bottom.

The legs are then screwed in by simply twisting them into the couch, and there’s even an added cover piece that serves as an extra seal between the leg and the base. The final pieces, the back and base pillows, ship in vacuum sealed bags and they need a few days to decompress after opening so that the memory foam material can expand back into its original shape. In short, assembly follows a very logical process, and there is no need for instructions if following common sense.


"Did I mention the Burrow comes with a hidden USB/Power charging port that lets you keep your controllers powered while gaming?"

Beyond the skillful engineering, the Burrow sofa is incredibly comfortable and easy on the eyes. Award-winning furniture designer Leah Amick has lent her design expertise by crafting a piece of furniture that beautifully complements a mid-century modern aesthetic. If you’ve ever seen Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie houses, then you know what to expect. The Burrow is a refreshing contrast to the bulky sofa designs seen in most furniture stores today. And thanks to its stain resistant material, the sofa will maintain its crisp new look even if something like wine or coffee is spilled on the surface.

Burrow has taken their design wizardry even further, and they’ve included a secret USB charging port on the bottom of the sofa. This allows users to charge any compatible device while watching TV or relaxing, which is especially useful for gamers who can use this hack to charge their controllers while gaming without having to stretch the controller cable across the living room. If you’re a recent Nintendo Switch owner and are frustrated by the console’s cable-heavy setup, for example, the extra power accessibility is tremendously helpful.



"The Burrow sofa is a revolutionary piece of furniture that has no equal. The quick and easy assembly process combined with an unbeatable price makes the Burrow invaluable for people seeking more flexibility and value from their product."

You can use the USB hub to keep your phone powered while listening to music, you can work on your laptop while lying down without having to worry about battery life, the possibilities are endless. I never thought a sofa would be the solution to a neater entertainment setup!

The Burrow sofa is a revolutionary piece of furniture that has no equal. The quick and easy assembly process combined with an unbeatable price makes the Burrow invaluable for people seeking more flexibility and value from their product. For gamers and tech enthusiasts, this sofa is like a dream come true. But regardless of your tech needs, The Burrow is best described as the Swiss Knife of furniture. Its usefulness extends beyond the expected functions, and it’s impressive to see how practical the modular approach can be when compared to conventional furniture.

It’s always hard to say what the future holds, but the folks at Burrow are certainly on their way to change the way we furnish our homes and offices. With a single product, Burrow has simplified the moving process beyond expectations. The Burrow sofa is stylish, comfortable, affordable and actually fun to put together. When’s the last time you could say all of these things about a piece of furniture?

Discount Code: Thanks to the kinds folks at Burrow, we’re offering a $50 off discount to our readers when you use the code COZY104 at checkout!    

A+

Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition Review

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I’ve played through the original Bulletstorm campaign more times than I can remember. I adored the game’s absurd humor, explosive action and superb visuals, even if there wasn’t much replay value beyond the campaign. During my last venture on the PC version, I became frustrated with the infamous Games for Windows errors and remember begging for a potential remaster that nixes Microsoft’s cursed DRM service.

Well, here we are only a few years later, and Gearbox is bringing us a refined upgrade to one of 2011’s most frantic shooters. Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is a fantastic upgrade that brims with nifty cosmetic improvements and explosive action, but considering the game’s age and lack of substantial content, the sixty dollar price tag may be a tough pill to swallow for those who’ve already played through the original.


"There are also no Playstation 4 Pro features, nor is there HDR support, which is shocking considering that Bulletstorm has always been praised for its vibrant visuals. Furthermore, the frame rate can’t keep up with some of the frantic action scenes..."

Developer People Can Fly has taken a relatively straightforward approach when it comes to the Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition upgrade. There are notable improvements to lighting, textures, models and shading, but aside from added eye candy, this is precisely the same game we’ve seen back in 2011. Sure, there’s a new Duke Nukem DLC that lets you play the entire campaign as Duke, but it’s pretty disappointing and it actually worsens the experience. There’s also a new Overkill Campaign Mode that let’s you play through the story with no weapon and skill restrictions, but it doesn’t really feel like a substantial addition, nor does it add that much replay value. Overall, most of the additions are things you’d typically find on modding forums, and not something you’d expect from a AAA team.

Since I’ve played Bulletstorm on the PC in 1440p at 60fps back in 2011, the remaster doesn’t make the best first impression. In fact, I had to open the old release side-by-side just to see what changed, and even though the differences are obvious when comparing the two next to each other, it’s definitely not up to par with what Bluepoint Games did with the Nathan Drake Collection or Gravity Rush Remastered. Then again, very few remakes compare to Bluepoint's masterful recreations.

There are also no Playstation 4 Pro features, nor is there HDR support, which is shocking considering that Bulletstorm has always been praised for its vibrant visuals. Furthermore, the frame rate can’t keep up with some of the frantic action scenes, and the resulting fps drops and screen tearing are particularly jarring when your life is hanging on a thread.


"Don’t get me wrong, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is a damn good time! I would give it an 8/10 in a heartbeat if it retailed for around thirty bucks."

Thankfully, the gameplay remains genuinely unique, and Bulletstorm still holds its own in 2017.If you missed the original release, you’re in for a real treat. Despite my general disappointment with the lack of improvements, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is unquestionably the best way to enjoy this chaotic and colorful adventure.

Conclusion: This is a tough one….
As a big fan of the original, I am disappointed by how little this “remaster” improves upon the 2011 release, and the full price is a giant middle finger to customers. On the other hand, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is easily the best version of the game, and newcomers aren’t likely to be bothered by most of my complaints. But a line has to be drawn somewhere, and I feel that Gearbox has made an astronomic mistake by slapping a full sticker price on a six year old game. Don’t get me wrong, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is a damn good time! I would give it an 8/10 in a heartbeat if it retailed for around thirty bucks, but as it stands, it’s hard to recommend when the original release can be found for around three dollars on most online stores.

6.5

Sound BlasterX Kratos S5 Review

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The Sound BlasterX Kratos S5 is an incredibly long name to say but it sure doesn’t skimp on features. For its class, this is hands down the best speaker system I have ever encountered. I know, I know, that statement seems like it might be a lot to just take at-a-glance, but let me tell you about my near flawless experience with these speakers, and I bet you’ll be just as convinced as I was by the time I was done.

I’ve been testing the Kratos S5 for about two weeks now and I couldn’t be happier. It’s only a 2.1 system, but frankly, this thing rivals speakers that are 5.1 or better. Sure, you don’t have the full surround sound experience, but it would take an audiophile to hear much of a discernable difference in the quality of the sound being produced.

The Kratos S5 features two powerful 4” satellite drivers and a reasonably sized 6.5” subwoofer driver in lightweight wooden enclosures. It’s easy to set up with convenient USB plug in that is compatible with both PC and Mac that delivers high-quality 24-bit/96KHz digital audio. In terms of full disclosure, this review I’ll specifically focus on the PC experience, so please be aware that any part of this review could be different when considering it from a Mac perspective.


"The Sound BlasterX Kratos S5 is an incredibly long name to say but it sure doesn’t skimp on features. For its class, this is hands down the best speaker system I have ever encountered."

The device delivers in both aesthetics and quality. The speakers are well designed, low-profile, and have some really interesting features built-in that help propel it ahead of the pack. All sorts of little extras help to enhance the user experience, but one of the coolest things is its built-in dynamic lighting.

Featuring an Aurora Reactive lighting system, the speakers help provide ambient light that can be easily tweaked to work with whatever titles you might be playing. Combine this with the BlasterX software and you have a readily accessible system that can be quickly customized to meet the needs of any experience.

The BlasterX software doesn’t just give you access to lighting tweaks, it’s a full-on platform that allows even the most discerning users to mix their audio experience flawlessly. With EQ options that let you control levels of surround, bass, dialogue, and more, the software helps to ensure that users will have a fantastic, and more importantly, level experience that doesn’t make any compromises.


"Low cost, high quality materials, fantastic sound, and a customizable experience all combine to create one of the best systems money can buy right now. I cannot recommend it more, and I can’t see myself switching this speaker system out any time soon."

One of my favorite features about the Kratos S5 is its audio control pod. This circular pod measures in at around 2.5” in diameter and can sit right on your desk to allow users to quickly adjust their volumes with just a twist. What’s even more awesome is the fact that once the volume is turned off on the control pod the speakers shut down and my system automatically booted over to my Astro A40 headset. This allowed me to quickly switch out my audio experience with no need for accessing volume settings to manually change defaults. For users without a mixamp or other USB accessible headset you can always use the 3.5mm headphone jack built right into the control pod.

Creative really seems to have thought of everything with the release of the Kratos S5. Low cost, high quality materials, fantastic sound, and a customizable experience all combine to create one of the best systems money can buy right now. I cannot recommend it more, and I can’t see myself switching this speaker system out any time soon.

This is as close as it gets to a flawless experience with a 2.1 gaming speaker system, and that’s not said lightly. Praise is due when it’s due, and Creative will see no shortage of it from me when it comes to this system.

Review by: Palmer Sturman

A+

Styx: Shards of Darkness Review

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Styx: Shards of Darkness is the sequel to the criminally underrated Styx: Master of Shadows, and it may be one of Cyanide’s finest entries to date. Cyanide Studio, founded by seven ex-Ubisoft employees back in 2000, carries somewhat of a cult status among gamers who’ve grown up with PC gaming in the late 80’s and 90’s. They’ve traditionally focused on niche genres like sports management, real time strategy and old-school fantasy RPGs, but Cyanide’s Styx franchise is a more approachable title that bridges old and new trends and gameplay mechanics. Styx borrows elements from modern AAA titles and injects them with a heavy dose of nostalgia. If you’re fan of stealth classics like Thief, Hitman and/or Tenchu, you’ll absolutely love the challenges, surprises and personality Styx brings to the genre.

Styx: Shards of Darkness can be best described as a third-person interpretation of Dishonored. It appropriates a similar tone, pacing and world structure. Levels are divided into sandbox hubs that emphasize verticality and explorable interiors, and Styx is equipped with a series of Amber abilities (magical traits) that give him the upper hand during his adventure, much like Dishonored’s Corvo and Emily. But unlike the all-powerful Dishonored duo, Styx is defenseless against most enemies head-on and his special abilities are severely limited. As a goblin, he is feebler than humans, and even with his skills maxed out, he’s incapable of taking down heavily armored guards. This forces gamers to rely on sneaky stealth tactics since one-on-one conflict leads to guaranteed death.


"Styx borrows elements from modern AAA titles and injects them with a heavy dose of nostalgia. If you’re fan of stealth classics like Thief, Hitman and/or Tenchu, you’ll absolutely love the challenges, surprises and personality Styx brings to the genre."

In order to use his abilities, Styx requires a regular fill of Amber. Amber, however, is difficult to come by, as are the ingredients necessary to craft the substance. The same goes for health potions and acid fluxes used to dispose of dead bodies. Thankfully, reserving Amber abilities and tools (like throwing knives) for only the stickiest of situations ensures you’ll always have an ample supply of materials. It’s within these limitations that the game provides genuine freedom and opportunity.

Since you can’t zig zag across levels like a madman and kill everyone in sight, you’re forced to explore every corner, and experiment with each new room, hallway and piece of furniture. Everything can be used to your advantage if you know where to look. The levels feel more like playgrounds than most other open-world titles because you can’t skip over the fun parts. Most sandbox titles fail in this regard because the “toys” get more attention in terms of usability than the setting. This isn’t the case for every open world game, of course, but it’s a common symptom that I’m happy to report Styx: Shards of Darkness is entirely free from. Your tools are just that, a means to gain a slight advantage when everything else fails, but it’s the setting and its labyrinthine design that sports the most versatility in gameplay.


"All these little changes enrich the experience, resulting in a sequel that feels more technically well-rounded when compared to Master of Shadows."

If you’ve played the original Styx: Master of Shadows, you’ll be pleased to hear that the sequel fixes most of the predecessor’s greatest annoyances. Styx can finally hang off a ledge without fumbling to death every time he steps down. Now, you simply hold the right shoulder button while moving towards a ledge, and Styx will hang automatically without falling. It’s a small tweak with a big impact. Secondly, using Amber vision (a semi X-Ray view) is triggered with the R3, instead of the L2+ Triangle combo. This makes it easier to use the ability when hanging off ledges and rotating the camera. Door unlocking animations are also much faster, parrying is more fluid resulting in smoother takedowns and the UI has been revamped with a more contemporary and easier to use layout. All these little changes enrich the experience, resulting in a sequel that feels more technically well-rounded when compared to Master of Shadows.

On the other hand, platforming remains one of the game’s biggest downfalls. Styx still requires absurd precision when jumping across wide gaps, and while the platforming has been improved from its predecessor, it’s still a major detractor from an otherwise excellent experience.


"Styx: Shards of Darkness is a brilliant sequel to one of the best stealth games in recent memory. I honestly don’t understand why this series hasn’t received greater attention."

Like the original release, Styx: Shards of Darkness continues to impress with its visually rich environments and macabre tone. The depressive spirit of Styx’s world is beautifully complemented by the writers' satirical sense of humor. This results in an engrossing adventure that sucks you in from the get-go. The levels vary between grandiose and claustrophobic. It’s a thrilling ride that constantly takes players to unexpected places. Just when you thought you’ve seen everything the game has to offer, you’re greeted by an unexpected setting that completely changes the way you approach your objectives. This remains true during the entire 10+ hours it took me to complete the main campaign.

Conclusion: Styx: Shards of Darkness is a brilliant sequel to one of the best stealth games in recent memory. I honestly don’t understand why this series hasn’t received greater attention. It’s one of the few modern games that captures the spirit of old-school titles without sacrificing modern gameplay conventions most of us have grown accustomed to over the years. If you’re even remotely interested in the stealth genre, Styx: Shards of Darkness absolutely belongs in your collection!

9

Toukiden 2 Review

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As a massive hack n’ slash fan and longtime Omega Force devotee, I’ve always appreciated the developer's commitment to their niche audience. Toukiden is another franchise geared towards a smaller fanbase, but unlike the series it takes most inspiration from, namely Monster Hunter, it’s unquestionably more inviting and accessible to newcomers. Personally, I could never get into Capcom’s Monster-slaying phenomenon. The lack of narrative, clunky gameplay and derivative mission structure never appealed to me, and it’s the same reason I struggled to enjoy the original Toukiden Kiwami—it was simply too similar to its source material.

Thankfully, Toukiden 2 fixes most major complaints I had with the predecessor, and it’s a much more cohesive and enjoyable experience as a result. Toukiden 2 is a genuine attempt at expanding the basic Monster Hunter premise into an adventure that expresses greater narrative depth and a richer lore. This is still Omega Force we’re talking about, so don’t expect deep writing or complex characters, but it’s still nice to see further effort went into other aspects of the game beside just gameplay.


"Thankfully, Toukiden 2 fixes most major complaints I had with the predecessor, and it’s a much more cohesive and enjoyable experience as a result. Toukiden 2 is a genuine attempt at expanding the basic Monster Hunter premise into an adventure that expresses greater narrative depth and a richer lore."

Omega Force has tackled Toukiden 2 with a more cinematic approach, breathing new life into Toukiden’s mythological world of ancient Japan. The game begins with an action-packed cutscene that sets the tone and provides a decent enough plot foundation to get players excited for the inevitable monster slaying. Character creation remains very basic, but there’s enough options to give your protagonist some personality and charm. You’re then treated to a brief tutorial where the game teaches you fundamental gameplay basics.

After the exciting intro, the game hits its first major snag that may prevent most gamers from giving Toukiden 2 a proper chance. During the opening hours, Toukiden 2 is an absolute grind. You’ll find yourself spamming the “skip-dialogue” button as you suffer through endless chatter that serves absolutely no purpose but to waste time. Even important gameplay information is difficult to absorb as it’s buried within lines of awfully written dialogue. It’s very typical of most poorly written JRPGs, but it’s especially distracting here because it diverts attention from an otherwise solid gaming experience. Fortunately, the pacing picks back up once most of the story is introduced and the game lets loose. The narrative never reaches its full potential, but at least it serves as a competent tool that helps provide missions with meaning and value.


"During the opening hours, Toukiden 2 is an absolute grind. You’ll find yourself spamming the 'skip-dialogue' button as you suffer through endless chatter that serves absolutely no purpose but to waste time."

Another refreshing addition to the sequel is the open world. You’re free to wander wherever you please, and you can tackle most missions and side activities in any order. Toukiden 2 is visually more polished than its predecessor, but it still doesn’t compare well with most modern games. Toukiden 2 looks like a title from the Playstation 2 era, and the PC port makes the lack of graphical fidelity particularly jarring. You can’t set the resolution any higher than 1080p, so I was stuck playing on a stretched 1440p display. Frankly, this is unacceptable for a 2017 release.

Monster designs, on the other hand, are spectacular. Toukiden’s creatures have always been the game’s highlight, and Toukiden 2 is no different. Their majestic appearance makes them feel both intimidating and visually exciting. Once I faced my first building-sized monster, I finally understood the appeal of Monster Hunter-style games. There’s an incomparable sense of accomplishment when you take down a creature that’s dozens of times larger than your avatar. Thanks to some neat gameplay tweaks, slaying these glorious creatures is now even more exciting. You’re equipped with something called the Demon Hand. This action works like a hook or anchor that can flip enemies, and even tear their limbs off. The Demon Hand is also used to climb walls and trees, and reach distant land masses when accessible.


"However, if you’re a fan of these types of games, Toukiden 2 is a no brainer. It’s a well-realized sequel that has plenty of potential for greatness."

The mitama systems is back, and it allows you to assign modifiers and special moves to your weapons. Some can be used to enhance attack speed or boost defense, while other can be used to summon monsters that fight alongside your avatar. Certain mitama even offer healing properties and other magic effects that can be used to flip a fight in your favor. Implementing proper mitama is especially important later in the game where any extra aid is needed to take down the truly challenging beasts.

You can also team up with other NPCs when wandering out on missions, or you can team up with online players for a more dynamic experience. Sadly, playing online removes the open-world element, so I found little reason to seek out other human players. Personally, I find the accompanying NPCs too much of a distraction. They’re oftentimes too effective for their own good, meaning they’ll steal your kills before you can even land a proper strike. The NPCs are definitely helpful when you’re faced with tougher bosses, but unfortunately, they're in the way more often than not.

Conclusion: Toukiden 2 is a notable improvement over previous entries, and probably the most accessible Monster Hunter-style game for players who normally steer clear of the genre. The emphasis on storytelling is welcome, even if the plot is childishly written and brings the introductory hours to a painful halt. However, if you’re a fan of these types of games, Toukiden 2 is a no brainer. It’s a well-realized sequel that has plenty of potential for greatness. With tighter writing and some more visual polish, Toukiden could become something truly extraordinary, and considering how much Omega Force improved since the last release, there’s plenty of hope for betterment.    
 
7.5