All posts by Kim Secker

Kimberley Secker

EA Access

EA Access has been running on Xbox One since August 2014 and while it was immediately met with a healthy dose of suspicion it’s now widely regarded as one of the better gaming-related deals on offer. So what is it exactly and what makes it so good?

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For £3.99 a month you get access to everything EA Access has to offer. This includes early access to the latest EA games and a whole host of AAA games in the ‘vault’. The early access has worked on Dragon Age: Inquisition and Battlefield Hardline, allowing anyone with EA Access (you do not need to have the game pre-ordered) access to some or all of the content for ten hours before the game launches. For example, in the latest Battlefield you could only play the first hour or so of the campaign, but you could play as much of the multiplayer as you wanted for ten hours in the week before launch. You don’t need to have subscribed for a certain amount of time, as soon as you sign up and pay your four quid, you have access to it all, so if there’s an EA game coming out (Battlefront anyone?) you can just pick it up for that month and enjoy all the perks.

The list of EA Access games that you get complete digital access to is ever expanding, and unlike PS Plus or Games with Gold, they don’t seem to be taking old games off the list. So far we have:

  • Battlefield 4
  • Madden NFL 25
  • FIFA 14
  • Peggle 2
  • Need for Speed Rivals
  • Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare
  • EA Sports UFC
  • NBA Live 15
  • Madden NFL 15
  • NHL 15
  • FIFA 15

One of the hidden perks of this program is that if you do the trick where you set your home Xbox to a friend’s, and have them do the same to you, only one of you needs EA Access to get the complete library available to you both, to play at the same time together. The vault currently has some of the best multiplayer games Xbox One has to offer with Battlefield 4, Plants Vs Zombies, Madden, NHL and Fifa (we’re not sports fans but they’re all a lot of fun playing with someone you know and can chat to) so for £3.99 between you, two of you could have access to a huge amount of gameplay.

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Considering the somewhat mercenary business practices EA has indulged in over the last decade, it’s surprising to see how generous this program is, but while it’s here we say pick it up and make the most of it before they come to their senses and start charging more!

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Ultratron Review (Xbox One)

The other day we reviewed Project Root and lambasted it for being a bare bones tedious shooter that doesn’t really set out to achieve anything, or succeed in any way as a result. To make our point even clearer, we received a review copy of Ultratron so we could see how a simple game can get things right. It really gets things right.

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Full disclaimer: we really like Puppygames. From the stellar Titan Attacks (which we once won a competition in) and the infuriatingly addictive Revenge of the Titans and Droid Assault, everything they put out has a sense of cohesion. Whether it’s the neon purples and greens, the upgrade menu after each mission, or the deceptively polished and interesting 8-bit sounding noises that punctuate every action. If you’ve played and enjoyed a game by them before, you’re sure to love Ultratron.

A twin-stick shooter through and through, Ultratron is set up around a single mode (although co-op is available too) where you appear in an arena and kill all the enemies until they’re gone. You then spend money you’ve collected to buy upgrades, and rinse and repeat through 40 levels, with a boss every 10. There’s the odd bonus mission where you can rack up some more coins for upgrades and if you finish the whole game, you go through it again but it’s even harder to account for your upgrades. The very first time we played it, we finished all 40 missions and shot up to the top of the leaderboard (admittedly there were only 14 people on it at that point). We also had 51% of the achievements, and yet despite feeling like we’d accomplished everything it had to offer, we immediately loaded it up to have another go (after taking a screenshot to prove we’re the best). That’s how we know how good Ultratron is, that without the incentive of a higher place on the leaderboard or a new ending, we just wanted to carry on playing. It’s a rare thing in recent generations.

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A lot of it is down to the careful balance of risk and reward that permeates every aspect of the game. When you’re fighting, destroyed enemies drop coins. You need to go hoover these up, but that often means going closer to the edge, where enemies might spawn and take away some of your precious shield. Of course even when you get that gold what do you spend it on? Expensive shield recharges or a more powerful weapon that will last forever? How about some adorable robot minions who will follow you around and shoot lasers and rockets and things? How about an upgrade to increase the range from which you can pick things up? It’s got that same agonising strategy of upgrades that made Rogue Legacy so addictive and while there’s a broad range of upgrades, it never feels insurmountable. If you wanted to do a playthrough where you max out the weapon, that’s not too difficult. Or how about filling your shields constantly but fighting with no upgrades whatsoever? Equally viable.

For £7.99 Ultratron is the finest slice of arcade-style action we’ve seen in a long time, and we heartily recommend it to you all.

Verdict 9

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DiRT Rally Early Access Preview

We haven’t played a rally game this exciting since at least Rallisport Challenge 2, it’s been a long while since we played any racing games that was this good, and this is only Early Access. DiRT Rally is a return to pure Rally driving for the DiRT series, forgetting about the Gymkhana and Rallycross distractions of the last few mainstream games, instead creating a real Rally simulator with realistic rules, physics and vehicles.

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You can reset on the track when you inevitably go thundering down a cliff or get stuck behind a wall, but it creates a time penalty, like in real Rally. You can fix damage to your car between races, but each repair you do will cost you a certain amount of time. Different road surfaces and weather conditions affect your grip and handling in realistic ways and even the weight distribution of the car just feels right as anyone who has driven too fast down a country lane will be able to tell you.

Thankfully Codemasters Racing Studio have avoided the temptation from many recent racing simulators to go into a hyper sterile and serious environment (see Gran Turismo 6) in order to make it seem authentic. The menus are snappy and look good, you earn credits at the end of each race (more if you resist the temptation to restart) and you can spend these on a range of different vehicles from early champion cars all the way to the most modern vehicles the sport has to offer. In your races there’s no minimap, just a co driver shouting instructions about the next turn and an arrow on the screen to give you an idea of what’s coming up. You can choose a third person view, but really this is all about the helmet camera view and throwing yourself around a corner with only blind trust in your co-pilot to let you know what’s happening next.

In the Early Access version there’s three environments and only the bare Rally mode (no Hill Climb yet) but there are 36 separate stages (a couple are going down the same route backwards) and a full campaign mode and regularly changing challenges. In our eyes, this is well worth the money already, with the promise of more content to come it’s simply a no brainer.

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Rune Factory 4 Review (3DS)

With Rune Factory 4 we see a return of the popular farming/dating sim/ dungeon crawler RPG hybrid from the makers of the Harvest Moon series. The Rune Factory series is similar to Harvest Moon in the respect that a lot of the game is involves farming, giving gifts to NPCs and looking for a spouse. Unlike Harvest Moon Rune Factory also  includes dungeons which you can enter to fight monsters which can be tamed and used to do farm work etc.  Unfortunately this is likely to be the last installment of the popular series due to the closure of the studio who made it.

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The game begins on an airship and you are giving the option of saying whether you are enjoying your time flying ‘I’m flying high buddy’ or if you are scared. Choose the former and you are assigned a male character, and a girl for the latter. This was an annoying start to the game as to play as a girl I had to choose the scared of flying option which felt like an unnecessary reinforcement of gender stereotypes. You fall off the airship and land in a town in which you are mistaken for roylaty and asked to take on the role of a princess and take charge of the town to help improve its tourism. This monarchy system is new to Rune Factory but didn’t really add anything to the story. Being a monarch allows you to make various changes to the town, or your own property and s limited to this. Unfortunatley you cannot use your royal status to get help with your farmyard chores or errands. The storyline is pretty weak and unravels through various cutscenes throughout the game. This is not a massive problem though as the addictive gameplay more than makes up for the lack of story.

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Just like in Harvest Moon, or games like Animal Crossing, everyday chores, like running errands and weeding, are made addictive. Growing crops, fishing, cooking are so much more fun than in real life, and harvesting a crop that you have carefully tended and watered is very satisfying. Like in the previous games doing tasks uses up Rune Points so you have to use your time wisely each day and prioritise what you want to achieve.

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The title has been out for several years in Japan so we were pleased to find that it hadn’t dated. Like all Rune Factory games it is beautiful to look at with characters and scenery that look like they are hand drawn. We also found ourselves using the 3D option on our 3DS quite a bit which we not bothered using on games for quite a while.

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Rune Factory 4 is essentially like all the other Rune Factory games but with the added monarch system. The gameplay is still as addictive as ever and the visual style just as beautiful. For anyone who has not played a Rune Factory game I would recommend this most recent version due to the improved graphics. For fans of the series the same mechanics that made the first 3 completely addictive are all here and if you want more of the experience than you should pick up this title.

Verdict 8

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Thor #1 Review

 Thor #1 by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson
There must always be Thor…

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After seeing that Marvel were introducing a female Thor we felt compelled to pick up the first issue to see how Marvel were going to pull this off. As people who have never read a Thor title we found this issue very newcomer friendly. Even though the issue follows on from events in the Original Sin series we did not find it a problem not having read them, but it probably would have explained some of the events within this issue and been a better experience if we had.

The surprising thing about the issue is that the new protagonist is absent throughout most of it. This issue is more about the original Thor and how his present predicament opens the way for a new Thor to arise. The story is setting the scene for events to come and we do not meet the new Thor until the final page in which there is a fantastic image of her raising the hammer, taking on her new title.

The art is nice, with a silvery palate depicting snowy Asgard and the Nords.

This issue is worth picking up if you are curious about this new title, even though it is more of a prelude and does not contain the wow factor we were expecting. The next issue promises to deliver what we were anticpating with the first as we will hopefully get to properly meet the new Thor.

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The Escapists Hands-on preview (PC)

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Over the last year we went through all of ‘Orange is the New Black’ the Netflix TV series set in a prison. While it did the job of making prison look unappealing in some respects (the mindless violence, isolation and destruction of relationships) it also managed to make all the prisoner’s little schemes and hobbies a lot of fun. While ‘The Escapists’ is set in a men’s prison the activities and intrigue contained within is surprisingly close to what we’ve seen on TV.

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Playing as an inmate serving an indefinite sentence for an unknown crime your task in ‘The Escapists’ is unsurprisingly to escape. There are different prisons but each one isn’t going to be an easy task. Constantly throughout your day you have to keep to the prisoner’s routine which leaves you precious little free time and there are guards absolutely everywhere. To help you out though many of the other prisoners need favours and there is an ind-depth crafting system that allows you to create (illegal) tools. So for example you might find from a crafting note that you can make a guard’s uniform from ink and an inmate uniform. Getting an inmate uniform is easy, you take a job in the laundry and simply don’t put one of them back. The ink might be harder, but at lunch you speak to another inmate and find they have one for sale, but it’s $20 more than what you have. You hear James wants someone to beat up Ross and will pay them $25 for it. So next roll call you beat up Ross, get taken down by the guards and accept the bruises in exchange for the $25 from James. With that money you buy the ink and then in your cell at night you can craft a new guard uniform. Clearly it won’t get you past any real guards or locked doors, but it will fool the cameras enough to allow you to sneak around at night a little more easily. Unfortunately if your cell is searched you might end up losing everything so it’s worth finding a little hidey hole somewhere where you can stash your gear. Like another inmate’s desk for instance.

For what appears as a simple 16-bit style game there’s a surprising amount of depth. There’s no multiplayer and currently there’s just one prison and 100 craftable items, but that’s plenty enough to keep you going for now and as the early access edition is only £6.99 it’s well worth the money.

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As the game progresses we’re hoping to see more meaningful interactions and relationships with other inmates and staff as well as more methods to escape. That being said we still haven’t managed to escape the first prison so back to creating candles from batteries and wires for some unknown purpose!

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Razer announces Chroma

Keyboard and mouse lighting is an odd thing. Often in the shop you’ll look at it as a box-feature and think it’s ridiculous. Then when you’re playing games and it gets late and dark you’ll suddenly realise you can’t see the keys and that lighting would have been nice. Razer solved that problem a while ago when it introduced illuminated keys to the Black Widow. Now they’ve gone one step further with Chroma. Chroma lets you illuminate every single key individually on the new BlackWidow Ultimate Chroma, even setting up responses and patterns. All the other main Razer peripherals are getting new versions that support Chroma too so you can synchronise your lighting between them. This might be vain but we think it sounds pretty awesome. Here’s hoping they don’t hike up the price because of it!

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Full press release below:

RAZER GOES FULL SPECTRUM COLOR WITH ALL-NEW CHROMA FEATURE
Chroma to be available for selected 2015 through 2016 Razer peripherals offering more than 16 million color options, synchronizable across multiple connected devices; SDK available for developers to customize advanced lighting effects for games
GDC, COLOGNE, on Aug. 13, 2014: Germany – Razer™, a world leader in connected devices and software for gamers, today announced the all-new Chroma feature that allows full-spectrum, color-customizable lighting for enabled Razer devices. The Chroma feature also allows multiple devices to sync lighting colors and patterns and comes with an open SDK that enables game developers to integrate advanced lighting effects that are customizable on a game-by-game basis.

Razer will be updating its 2015/2016 range of peripherals starting with the BlackWidow Ultimate keyboard the DeathAdder gaming mouse, and the Kraken 7.1 headset with the all-new Chroma feature – fully customizable, full spectrum lighting with inter-device color synchronization via Razer Synapse. Each of these devices will now come with the option of 16.8 million customizable colors and a range of effects through Razer’s cloud-based hardware configurator Razer Synapse.

“Our new range of peripherals that feature Chroma customizable backlighting is another step towards full personal customization and to interconnect our gaming tech,” says Min-Liang Tan, Razer co-founder and CEO. “Chroma represents more than just multicolor, it opens up limitless personalization options for gamers to play with and we even have a Chroma Software Developer Kit for game developers to integrate their games to provide even more customization in the future.”

All Chroma enabled devices come with distinct lighting effects that are designed to synchronize perfectly with each other, with the following lighting patterns available for selected enabled products:

  • Spectrum cycling: Slowly cycles through the entire spectrum of colors for a subtle yet visually stunning look.
  • Breathing: Gently pulses in a color of choice every 7 seconds, replicating the steady breathing pattern that is distinct to all Razer mice.
  • Static: Pick any color from the selection of 16.8 million options to illuminate the ear cups on your Kraken 7.1, the scroll wheel and Razer logo on your DeathAdder or each individual key on your BlackWidow Ultimate Chroma
  • Custom (For BlackWidow Ultimate Chroma only): Effortlessly set the color for each individual key on your Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Chroma through Razer Synapse with your mouse cursor, and create your own kaleidoscope of colors that is unique to you.
  • Custom – Preloaded Templates (For BlackWidow Ultimate Chroma only): Preloaded custom lighting templates optimized for FPS, MOBA, MMO and RTS games that give you the unfair advantage regardless of which game you’re playing.
  • Reactive (For BlackWidow Ultimate Chroma only): Lights up upon actuation and stays lit in short, medium, or fast mode for a trailing effect, that makes the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Chroma brighter the faster a user types.
  • Wave (For BlackWidow Ultimate Chroma only): Animates all colors in a continuous wave of rainbow lights, for a truly energetic and vibrant display of constantly changing colors.

 

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Razer Ouroboros Review

Mice are adapted to suit different purposes. The Naga boasts a huge number of programmable buttons, the Rat is incredibly customisable, but what happens when you just want something that is good at pointing and clicking? Enter the Ouroboros.

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The Ouroboros is a slightly customisable wireless gaming mouse that combines Razer’s trademark precision and accuracy with ergonomics and aesthetics. It’s certainly a good looking piece of kit and Razer knows it, selling it in a clear plastic cube on its charging stand. With sheek black curves and bold straight lines the Ouroboros is quite the looker, but it has been designed with the shape of your hand in mind first so it’s effortlessly comfortable no matter which grip you use. There are optional little sections on the side and parts of the mouse can be extended so even if you have giant hands you can still make it the way you want.

The sensor is ridiculously precise, 8200dpi to be exact, but that’s not really a number that means anything. Basically it’s incredibly sensitive and if you want to ramp up the sensitivity you can and you’ll be flying all over the screen. There’s a trigger clutch button on the side which is a feature we’ve seen on a couple of mice lately. It lets you dramatically reduce your sensitivity while it’s held, allowing you to make precision shots in games but freeing it up for broad movements afterwards. It’s a really nice feature and if you get in the bait of using it long distance shooting in FPS games becomes much easier.

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The mouse is wireless and that’s where the only problems with it lie. There’s no input lag that we could detect which is excellent, but despite the advertised 12h battery life, we couldn’t get it to hold a charge for more than about three hours of use. You can plug in a cable and use it wired (the cable is supplied) but having a wireless mouse that requires charging repeatedly in one long gaming session is very disappointing and we ended up quickly resorting to leaving it plugged in all the time. This might just be because this is a review model and people have been abusing it somehow, but it definitely seems like a significant issue.

Overall the Ouroboros would be easy to recommend if it was down to form factor, precision and features. However, with the incredibly hefty £129.99 price tag and the dodgy battery life it suddenly becomes a lot less attractive. If money is no object and you need a wireless mouse, then this is a great choice. Just be aware that there are plenty of cheaper wired mice that are just as good.

Verdict 7

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Card Games

When we started this site, we thought it’d be all about video games. We thought that’s what would be holding our interest over the next few years and while that remains true, our horizons have broadened a little bit. Since moving to London at the beginning of 2013 we went looking for a gaming scene – places where gamers meet up to play tournaments or watch eSports. We found some great venues such as Loading and Meltdown – but we never really found that kind of community. In our search we did come across a group of gamers who met up regularly and played, but they weren’t playing video games, they were playing card games.

We picked up a few starter sets for games like Magic The Gathering, Pokemon and World of Warcraft and have been collecting bits and pieces and playing as much as we can ever since. This year we’ll be expanding the website’s remit to include our reviews, news and impressions of these games as well as a plethora of board games within our new category – ‘Card Games’.

As a brief introduction here’s an overview of what we’ve been playing in the last few months.

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Magic is almost certainly the most widely-known and influential of all of the collectable card games (CCGs) out there. Sure others might be more popular with certain audiences (Yugioh and Vanguard are currently played very widely) but Magic is the classic, the archetype of this genre. You build a deck of 60+ cards out of your collection, focusing on one or two types of card from a pool of green (Forest) blue (Island) red (Mountain) black (Swamp) and white (Plains) cards. Each type have certain strengths and weakness from green’s giant monsters that grow as the game progresses to black’s ability to leech life away or kill creatures with very little cost. Once you have your deck you fight against another player, each of you starting with twenty health and trying to reduce the opponent to zero. Once you do, you win. It sounds simple but nearly every card changes things up in some way. You need land cards to create mana so you can use your creature and spell cards, some of the creatures can break the rules a little or use special abilities, some spells can break the rules quite significantly and mess up a plan entirely. You never know what your opponent has in their hand, and you never know what you’re going to get next so a fool-proof plan is impossible to achieve. The game has been re-balanced countless times and is currently on the 14th generation of cards, so it may seem a little intimidating at first. We managed to learn just by watching a few Youtube videos and chatting to people in specialist shops (Forbidden planet, Orc’s Nest and Dark Sphere are your best bets in London). Once you pick up the rules the game is fairly quick, doesn’t require all that much space and is a huge amount of fun, even collecting the cards has a lot of appeal as each one is numbered and features some beautiful artwork.

We’ll be making some videos and reviewing some of the new sets when they come out in February so stay tuned for our impressions and pulls!

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Pokemon: The Trading Card Game started alongside the original Gameboy games way back in the day, but has always been much more than a simple spin-off. With rules as complicated as any other and thousands of different cards there’s a lot of depth to the game. You can choose pokemon, evolve them, use energy to let them use their powers and even make use of special trainer abilities and items to help in your fight. Once your opponent has lost six pokemon, you win. The game is addictive and anyone with a passing knowledge of the pokemon series will get a lot of kicks out of seeing cards with their favourite monsters on them. New sets are being released every few months so collectors have a lot of work to do to keep on top of things, but it also means there’s a huge amount of variety in art styles and gameplay mechanics. One of the neat things about the Pokemon CCG is the fact thatm ost booster packs come with a code that can be used to open a booster pack in the online version of the game. It’s completely free and lets you play against people all over the world using decks you’ve created out of things you’ve unlocked. Pokemon TCG is huge and very shortly we’ll have some videos up so you can see what all the fuss is about.

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We’ve been taken back in by World of Warcraft recently thanks to the announcement of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, so we picked up a few boxes of the CCG to see what all the fuss was about. Sadly discontinued now (all you can buy is leftover stock, no new cards are being printed), the WoW CCG was very similar to Magic but had all of the lore and artwork from the game series. It even featured ‘loot’ cards that worked as a playable card but also contained a code to unlock something in-game. One of the exciting ideas about this game was the concept of ‘raid decks’ where players could play co-operatively against a difficult deck with an oversized card for a raid boss, and if they were victorious they could get some loot to bolster their deck. When you’re learning a game playing together can be more fun that always fighting and WoW TCG brought together the class mechanics and gameplay of the PC title into a CCG surprisingly well. It’s a real it’s so hard to get hold of cards for it now but some of the best ideas will no doubt be carried over to Hearthstone. Still if Blizzard are reading this and are considering bringing it back in CCG form, please do!

 

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New Raza Naga Review

Naganna lie to you, it’s amazing

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We used an old style Cataclysm Razer Naga for years while we were heavily invested in MMOs. It was a decent mouse but the inclusion of a gird of 12 buttons on the side where your thumb rests was an absolute godsend. They functioned as your Numpad keys and let you put every ability (with the use of shift and ctrl modifiers) in the palm of your hand, which meant your left hand could focus purely on movement. Over time we started playing more FPS and RTS games and ended up shifting to the excellent Mad Catz MMO 7 – a truly awesome mouse for those types of games. Razer have been nice enough to send us one of their new Nagas and we have to say, it could be tempting us back over to the green side.

While the Naga is billed as an MMO mouse, it’s really handy for pretty much anything you’d usually use a mouse for. With 12 buttons on the side, the regular two clicks, two up and down buttons under your palm, a scroll wheel that can be clicked in and tilted from left to right, you’re left with 19 buttons on your mouse. Most of the buttons are easy to get to as well, other than the two which rest under the palm of your hand, but they can easily be bound to something like bringing up a map or scoreboard in a game, where you won’t want them to get in the way too much. This kind of versatility is a boon for even simple things like word processing where you can have formatting choices bound to the buttons, image and video editing where you always need a lot of commands, or simply browsing the web where having back/forwards/refresh buttons on your mouse can be easier than using the keyboard commands. We’ve found a huge amount of use for them and the Razer Synapse 2.0 software is much better than its predecessors at letting you set up profiles that automatically load with certain programs, having an entirely different set of keybinds for whatever you’re doing. In some games (notably World of Warcraft) there are even mods specifically designed for the Naga, bringing up the grid on screen so you can make it a part of your UI. In many games you can slot game icons into the grid so you’re not going to be forgetting what is bound where.

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The build quality is fantastic as it is with all of Razer’s higher-end products, the mouse has a matte black finish that gives enough grip while retaining the sleek look associated with the brand, there’s an illuminated logo on the palm rest, the scroll wheel has a streak of neon through it and the key grid on the side has a light for every button. The cord is a rope-like texture rather than an easily breakable rubber one, and the whole things seems incredibly sturdy and stylish. The shape of the mouse too is ergonomic and comfortable, although there is no opportunity to adjust is as there is with some other mice. For people with very large hands like me it might seem a little bit too small and it’s a shame there’s no way to alter that.

Similarly there’s no customisation anywhere on the physical mouse itself, so you can’t change the weight of it and you can’t change sensitivity settings on the fly, although you can from within the synapse software. After getting used to these features with some other high-end mice it’s difficult to get used to loading up a menu in order to change anything, particularly when some games (Battlefield 4) almost require you to be able to quickly change sensitivity when you get in an aircraft.

Playing a great deal of World of Warcraft lately with the new Naga we’d struggle to back to another mouse. While there are certain other games that make better use of features not present on the Naga, for MMOs and Strategy games it’s pretty hard to fault it. Razer make some quality devices for enthusiast gamers and from looks to performance they deliver on all counts. All we’d like to see from them in future is a little more customisation!

Verdict 9

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