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Listen to me, no one needs a robovac of any kind. Whether it’s a Roomba, an EcoVac, or a cheap Anker like what I’ve got—they’re nothing more than infant-sized metal-and plastic turds that push small piles of dirt around and scream when they cannot figure out what “rugs” are. They are inefficient, wasteful annoyances that enable laziness and poor cleaning habits.
With the holidays here, you may be tempted to purchase a robovac for someone who you imagine is in need of help cleaning—your overworked mother (who wouldn’t be so overworked if you went home and visited every so often), your messy roommate (the Roomba will not fix your passive aggressive apartment problems), or even yourself (just…buy a regular vacuum).
Look, I get the theoretical appeal of a robovac. It’s the Crockpot of cleaning. Let the machine do the work for you! But whereas the Crockpot presents you a finished product (ideally a hearty chili or tender pork roast) after five hours, a Roomba leaves you with dusty molding and a desire to just put the poor thing out of its misery.
I’ll admit, I was once charmed by the robovac craze, I thought I needed one too. My roommate brought a Anker T2100 home one night and I laughed in delight! “How cute!”“Look at its tiny brushes!” “You’re my new best friend!” I even named it. What a fool I was!
It became quickly apparent that my new “friend” was nothing but a con artist. We set it to “clean” the living room, a simple enough task, and one I can achieve in 15-20 minutes if I’ve had a motivational beer. As I sat down to relax, I could hear it whirring across the Room. Not five minutes later do I hear CLICK CLICK CLACK CLACK CLACK. It was stuck under the coffee table. Still content to help the little guy out until he gathered his bearings, I righted him and set him on his way once again.
(10 minutes later)
CLACKACLACKCLACKCLACKCLACKACKACKACKACK. I quickly found out the robovac does not like rugs with fringe. I reluctantly got up and moved it to the kitchen, hoping it could handle the few square feet of tile. It could not. I watched in anger as it got stuck in the same routine. Bump into a wall, turn to the right, go for a minute, bump into a wall, turn to the right. On and on. Occasionally it’d get lucky and accidentally stumble across a dusty lentil. An hour later my apartment was no cleaner.
And while my Anker doesn’t make the best robovac out there, no matter how well any shitvac knows the ins and outs of my home, it’s still bested by odd corners, steps, any spill with more water content than a soggy Pringle, or the ever-present MacBook charger on my floor.
Perhaps most importantly, you should be aware that your house is not clean just because your floors are slightly less dusty. The purchase of a robovac will lead you to believe your home will be spotless each morning, and ignores the fact that every other surface in your home is dusty and stain-ridden. You’ll be tempted to let your house get dirtier and dirtier with the thought that the robovac will just take care of it. But can it dust in between my venetian blinds? Can it wipe down the caked-on matter ringing the rim of the toilet? Can it scrub my hot sauce-stained countertops? No. Good cleaning habits dictate that you clean from the top to the bottom — moving dirt and dust to the ground as you go. And robovacs are mere bottom-feeders. Don’t let them lull you into a false sense of cleanliness. You can run that thing around your house every damn day and it’ll still be a sty.
Plus, they don’t even clean well! If I drop a globule of masaman curry onto my carpet, there is no scenario in which I’d turn on a Roomba, place it in front of the mess, and say “get to it, old chap.” Twenty minutes later it’d still be dragging streaks of curry across the room!
Say you do spill a box of breadcrumbs (or something this thing is supposed to be good at cleaning). Wouldn’t you rather just grab a broom and sweep it up in an instant instead of watching the bot tepidly scrape 4-inch wide strips for 30 minutes before becoming so embarrassed for the little guy you have to leave the kitchen??
And if I’m not home, I’m not making any mess, so what is there for this thing to do? Wander aimlessly waiting for dead flies to fall? You don’t need to sweep or dust daily so long as you take off your shoes upon entry like any civilized person.
Robovacs are also like $200!!!!! Minimum!! If someone really needs help keeping tidy, that same amount of money will get them a cleaning service for a few months (after which, they should have learned enough to do it themselves).
Don’t encourage this style of 21st-century laziness with frivolous stopgap technology. Clean your home properly, and you’ll be rewarded with feelings of accomplishment, rather than anger at the tiny robot that has one again died beeping in a pathetic heap under the bookshelf.
Kotaku regular Devin Smith, aka End of Line Designs, is back with another custom video game controller redesign, this time turning a DualShock 4 into something Batman would throw at a bad guy’s face.
This pad has a retractable “cowl” for the touchpad, a busted-up finish to match Batman’s battle damage and some trademark spiky armguards (though those are just for show, they can be removed to actually use the controller).
It comes in two versions. The regular version ($50) is just a book. The Collector’s Edition ($170) is the monstrosity pictured above, which comes in two enormous cardboard boxes and aside from the book also includes two small versions of C&B’s fancy prints.
It’s all incredibly lavish, and for FFXV superfans it might be worth it, but you know, the book is fantastic on its own, so regular folks might just be happy with that. It’s heavy on full-width environment art, pencil sketches and carbon paper chocobos (there are even recipes for the game’s cooking), and I’ve loved going through the whole thing even though I care very little for the game itself.
If you’re the kind of person who watches WWE matches on 75% speed, WWE 2K18’s Switch port may be for you. For others, not so much. Released today, the port has fansbegging for a framerate patch.
WWE 2K18 is about 23 gigs on the Switch. That’s 10 gigs bigger than Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Like other third-party Switch games, it’s a big ol’ clonker, but firing it up, it’s hard to say why. It doesn’t look great:
Since the port’s release this morning, fans have been questioning why entrance cut scenes are in slow-mo. When I played the game, at first I thought the wrestlers were putting on a show of being extra, extra intimidating. But no—AJ Styles wasn’t jumping up and down in an anti-gravity wrestling chamber. Frames were just dropping.
In response, fans have been posting critical videos of the Switch port. In one video, titled “Don’t buy WWE 2K18 on Nintendo Switch,” YouTuber Michael Does Life sarcastically commends the game’s “spectacular slow-mo entrances,” “broken” commentary and “slow-mo matches.” In another, YouTube personality Games and Wario! says, “Wait for a patch before you purchase this game.” He notes that although the game was delayed for a few months, “it looks terrible. The graphics look really, really bad. They move like robots. The AI is running into the stage.”
Neither 2k nor Blind Squirrel Games, who helped with the port, responded to requests for comment.
Switch ports might not have the mind-blowing fidelity the Xbox One X is touting, and we give them some leniency because, well, the Switch is handheld—but this one looks pretty bad. As the self-described “the most realistic WWE game ever,” we hope publishers are referring to some previously unknown form of space wrestling.
Mesh routers have, uh, routed the rest of the Wi-Fi industry over the last couple of years, and the popular Luma system is on sale for an all-time low $150 for a pack of three routers with promo code 20OFFLUM.
Rather than relying on a single base station to fill your entire home with Wi-Fi, Luma uses three of them to create a dense mesh of connectivity, making dead zones a thing of the past. Plus, they include some neat software for parents like automatic content filtering and daily time limits for specific devices.
Now is the time to get the hell outside, mainly because the weather is mild, but also because our president is hellbent on getting rid of public lands and you may not be able to hike anywhere by next year. So, REI is helping you get outside with an extra 25% off all their sale items, no code needed.
RTIC also makes our readers’ favorite coolers, and all three sizes are on sale for about $18-$25 less than usual, in a variety of new colorways. I have the 20-can model, and yes, it really does keep ice frozen for days on end.
#6: zelda encylopedias
Have any Nintendo fans that you need to cross off your shopping list? Both the Legend of Zelda Hyrule Historia and Art & Artifacts hardcover books are down to their best prices in months right now. Both are less than $20, and include hundreds of pages of exclusive Zelda art, lore, and fan service.
Blunt umbrellas feature rounded safety tips to avoid poking anyone in the eye, include a special pocket for a Tile device tracker, and most importantly, can withstand winds of up to 72 mph (in the case of the standard model, others are lower). For reference, tropical storms become hurricanes at 74 mph, so if your Blunt ever succumbs to the wind, you probably have bigger things to worry about. You can see it in action in the video above, which personally left me slack-jawed.
Note: Make sure you’re buying from the BLUNT USA listing, not the Amazon.com listing, or else the code won’t work. You’ll still get Prime shipping.
These umbrellas hardly ever go on sale, but this week only, you can save 20% on either size, and in any color, with promo code 97CBRENE. The most popular models are the Classic and the smaller Metro:
Beyond those, you can also choose the Blunt Lite (which features a curved leather handle) or the Blunt XL, which is just a bigger version of the Classic. Any of them would make awesome gifts.
Instead of listing a bunch of products here, see the highlights in our breakout post.
#9: Card games
You know the guy that makes The Oatmeal webcomic? He does card games too, and two of them are cheaper than ever on Amazon right now.
The newer Bears vs. Babies is probably worth $21 just for the furry box, but once you open it up, you’ll find a family-friendly monster-building game that you can get through in just 20 minutes.
For an adults-only experience, Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition is down to an all-time low $16 as well. This once broke Kickstarter records, and boasts a 4.3 star review average from nearly 4,000 customers.
Elex is a terribly constructed video game full of glitches, lag, eye-sores, and confusing mechanics. I would not recommend most people go through the pain of playing this RPG. And yet, despite all of this, I am obsessed with Elex. I can’t stop playing it. In a year of incredible releases, Elex manages to be one of the best and worst.
The closest comparison I can make here is Skyrim, or perhaps Fallout: New Vegas—games that fail conventional standards of what a “good” game should be on a technical level, but still have an undeniable spark. These are the sorts of games you have to actively forgive in order to enjoy. Elex just requires you to forgive it a whole lot more.
I first heard of Elex on online forums, where players were both raving about it while also, confusingly, listing a ton of issues with the game. It’s an extremely difficult game with terrible combat, they’d say. The world seems to be kept together by glue, they’d say. It’s also one of the best RPGs of the year, they’d say. It’s made by the creators of Gothic, they’d say. It combines sci-fi and fantasy, they’d say. Curiosity got the better of me here: this sounds like an awful game, I thought, but folks still love it? How could that be? I purchased the game on the PS4 to find out.
The first thing I noticed was the long load time, which baffled me because frankly, Elex is ugly. It looks like something out of the last generation of consoles, only without a good aesthetic to save it. All of this isn’t helped by the wooden performances, bad animations, and a limited set of facial features that make many characters look almost exactly the same as one another. You can tell this game was made on a budget.
You play as Jax, a man who looks like a Commander Shepard wannabe:
Hilariously, Jax’s background kinda explains why he sounds so robotic: he’s an “Alb,” a faction known for being ruthless. In this world, a comet hit the planet long ago, bringing with it a mysterious substance called Elex. That comet devastated everything, and humanity had to start over. From the ashes arose a few different factions, all with their own attitudes on Elex. The Albs, for example, ingest Elex because they want to achieve the next stage of evolution. Elex starts to take over their bodies, stripping them of emotion and leaving behind only a hyper-rational mind. If they’re not careful, Elex can turn them into zombies. Albs risk it all in the name of power.
The game starts with Jax on his way to complete an important mission, only to be shot down from his vehicle. The Albs, heartless monsters that they are, consider this a major failure on your part—so they sentence you to death. You get gunned down, and your body falls over a cliff. The Albs think you’re dead, but actually, you survive. The problem is that once you wake up, your gear has been stolen and there’s no Elex coursing through your body anymore. You’re weak. So you need to figure out what happened to you and why. The set-up heavily reminds me of Fallout: New Vegas, which also starts with the protagonist being left for dead.
Not long afterward, you meet a character from the Berserkers, a group who eschew the seduction of technology and Elex. Instead, the Berkerers use Mana and Magic. Framing all of this are the Berserker laws, which stipulate a basic expectation of decency for all members. This faction is contrasted by the Outlaws, who only care about profit, and the Clerics, who love technology and seek wisdom—but you won’t meet these groups until much later.
At first, the opening area is overwhelming: Elex’s map is enormous, and it took me over a week just to venture beyond the first locale, Goliet. There’s a lot to explore, especially since you have a jetpack that can take you to hard-to-reach places. The game is designed to reward curiosity, so there’s a lot of incentive to fuck around and look at what’s around you. You can go anywhere and pursue most quests at any time. You can steal almost everything, as well as craft food and weapons.
It took me a long while to enjoy that freedom. Elex, unfortunately, is balanced horrendously. The very first mission I took on after starting the game had an enemy that could kill me in three hits. I, meanwhile, barely did any damage back. I must have died 40 times trying to take this single enemy down, and each time I had to wait a minute or two for the game to load up again. This was made all the more frustrating by the combat, which is poorly explained and not very good. There are three basic attacks: light attack, heavy attack, and special attack. You can roll, dodge, and parry, all of which use up stamina—but even so there’s no real depth to this system. You experience everything it has to offer with only 15 seconds of combat. But, remembering the things people said about Elex online, I became determined to beat that enemy anyway. It took me a few hours, but I did it. I killed the guy. I remember feeling elated—only to realize every single battle was going to be like that. I was extremely underpowered. I couldn’t afford better gear because I had just started. And my stats were garbage because of Elex withdrawal.
So I learned how to cheese the game. I recruited a companion character who could act as my shield—crucially, these characters are invincible. I took pot shots whenever I could. Above all, I learned to use the jetpack to fly out of reach, at least long enough that I could regain my stamina. And I ran away a hell of a lot. Sometimes, I was running toward safety. Other times, I was kiting an enemy toward characters in the world so they’d get aggro’d. Other times, I just ran away for long enough that my companion could revive themselves and get back into the fight. Being a coward was the only way I could eke out a win against basic enemies. Learning how to break the combat like this gave me a perverse satisfaction, almost a game unto itself. Sure, every single encounter took a long time, and I often had to save before and after every single win, but I was inching my way forward. I was determined to find out if the hype was real.
Navigating my way through Goliet was, at first, slow-going. There was a lot of trial and error in figuring out what quests I could actually do given how shitty my character was. Also, Elex is designed similarly to Bioware games in that there’s a lot of lore-heavy dialog dumps, with characters explaining the motivations behind the various factions and the story behind big figures. It was hard to care, or grok why things mattered. It was only after hours of questing that a picture began to form, and I started to understand what made this game so special.
Every locale has a ton of people you can talk to, and they all have various things for you to do. One quest often leads to another quest, leading to another quest—on and on, Elex constantly balloons in complexity. As a hypothetical example: One character will ask you to kill a man. You’ll seek that man out and find out things are not what they seem. You start to help the man…except he’s tied up in a massive plot spanning multiple cities. And, as it turns out, he isn’t actually a saint. Every step of the way, you have a choice.
Do you just kill the guy outright to curry for the quest giver’s favor? Do you bribe the target for more money? Do you betray them both? Do you find some way of making everyone happy? Do you use your charisma stat to talk things out or your survival stat to get more XP from the combat encounters? Do you use your jetpack to fly over the forbidden area or fight your way through? Elex has a ton of quests where I agonized over what to do, because there are so many ways to solve an issue. There are no black and white situations where there is an obvious, correct way to solve something. You can do everything “right” and still not have it turn out the way you thought it would at all. Characters will straight-up lie to you or mislead you to get what they want, meaning that you have to deduce their motivations the entire way through. Given the way all the quests intersect with one another, the world of Elex feels alive in a way very few games do.
Most of all, I was impressed at the world-building. Every society has its own set of beliefs, and the game complicates and challenges every single one. Without spoiling too much, the Berserkers are a fantastic example of how Elex accomplishes this complexity. As I mentioned earlier, the Berserkers are staunchly anti-technology—but as you go through their quests, you realize everything is not how it seems. On the surface, everyone obeys the Berserker laws, but not everyone believes in them. After all, it’s pretty difficult to keep a culture going without some form of technological advancement—especially when your enemies happen to have airplanes and guns. As you go along, you find out the sly ways technology influences a faction that swears it doesn’t use it. People will yell at you for bringing up your HUD—it’s tech!—but they’ll still gladly accept the help that comes with it. Never mind the shady underground that crops up around outlawed tech. But, more than that, you’ll come to understand why the Berserkers are right to be so fearful of technology. And that’s just one faction. Things only get juicier as you go along.
Elex has the marker of so many of my favorite games of all time: it inspires wanderlust. I will set out to do a mission, or go to a way point, only to be interrupted dozens of times along the way because I noticed a cool landmark, a character, a new town, a new quest, a new enemy. Recently, it took me days to complete a single quest because I kept getting distracted by a cool thing that popped up, whether it was a bandit hideout, a lake infested with monsters, or a series of notes that hinted at a mysterious quest. I have to write down everything to keep myself vaguely track. It’s the best.
Does this sound like a good game? It is. It’s one of the best and most ambitious RPGs I’ve played in a long time. Oh, but also…
You will die left and right, even after getting better gear, potions, and survival strategies.
Many stats and attributes are either useless, or the game doesn’t accurately explain what they do. One stat, “Cold,” apparently influences your ending, but there’s no way to keep track of it in-game—even though specific mechanics rely on having a certain amount of Cold.
The game crashes at least a couple of times per play session.
The AI is terrible.
Things just glitch out and go out of wack. Characters will disappear, quest markers will be off, things will get stuck, your companions will forget how to move, things will float into the air, you’ll suddenly fall through the map.
The frame rate can be ass at times.
You can’t even look at your map without experiencing some lag. Setting a way point—an act that usually takes seconds—sometimes requires minutes of effort.
The game is horribly balanced.
Oh, and you’ll die a whole lot.
I’m probably forgetting half the things wrong with this game. Playing it is awful sometimes. But when it works, boy, does Elex hook its claws into me. I’m 33 hours in, and I’ve been playing it obsessively while games like Mario Odyssey and The Evil Within 2 lie in wait. There’s still so much I haven’t seen in Elex, a million quests I’ve yet to do, a thousand deaths I’ve yet to suffer. I haven’t even joined a faction yet. I haven’t even done a single main story mission yet. Somehow, I’m having the best and worst time with Elex all at once.
Five of my orcs died in Shadow of War yesterday. I callously dropped them, one by one, into the game’s new online fight pits. They didn’t make it out.
Rash Skull Bow, a feral marksman with little skulls for shoulder pads, got killed in 20 seconds after Ghash The Bloated struck him in the stomach with an axe.
Dugz The Dam, a shit-talker with a mohawk and metal body armor, retired from a three-fight win-streak—and from breathing—after he ate an arrow from Borgu the Foul.
Rug The Soothsayer and Buth Dwarf-Killer both bought it quickly, too. Az-Adar The Untouchable proved all too touchable, in the end.
I’d sent all of them into the game’s new, free online battles, which play out largely without player input. In these asynchronous online fight pits, a player first must select an orc to send into battle. The game checks the server, finds an orc of supposedly similar stature from another player’s game, puts those two orcs in the fight pit, and then lets the instigating player watch the two orcs battle for up to three minutes.
You have no control over your orc during these fights, unless crossing your fingers counts as control. You must simply hope that his skill level and his strengths and weaknesses will be sufficient to overcome those of the rival orc. If your orc wins, he (you!) gets loot. If your orc loses, he is gone from your game. There are no such consequences for the other side, and the orcs you challenge carry on in their own games whether they won or lost.
If you followed all that—or even if you didn’t—it boils down to this: you spend most of this new mode watching and hoping as the game plays things out. And if that sounds at all familiar, you might just be thinking of some very popular mobile games, which appear to be Shadow of War’s unadvertised inspiration.
While the people who played this game’s predecessor, Shadow of Mordor, have been waiting three years for some other game to copy its influential Nemesis System, the makers of Mordor seem to have spent a lot of their time cribbing from Clash of Clans. Or Boom Beach. Or name whichever other mobile game you’re aware of that is about building up an army of forces and then attacking versions of other players’ bases and forces that are pulled from a server that tracks everyone who plays the game. That’s the design idea that underpins Shadow of War’s late-game, asynchronous online fortress sieges—large-scale conflicts that render the first 15 or so hours of the game as, in some respects, the world’s fanciest tutorial.
There is nothing inherently bad about merging the enjoyable action and network of nemeses featured in 2014’s wonderful Shadow of Mordor with some Clash of Clans to make something new. Shadow of War doesn’t abandon its roots. It retains and amplifies the good qualities of Mordor, letting you control the hero Talion as he uses an expanded arsenal of attacks and jumps while killing some orcs and recruiting others to assemble them into forces that can attack and defend fortresses. I played Shadow of War when it first came out in October and found it fun but messily over-designed, offering more moves and missions than I could sort through as well as a story and game world far too dreary to make me stick with it. When I returned recently, forgetful of the plot, I found a crunchy action game that was just fun to hack through, one 20-orc brawl at a time. I liked it more and felt the constant rush of reward. Playing the game is a constant process of improvement as Talion levels up, gains an obscenity of swords, daggers and cloaks and adds more regular, epic and legendary orcs to his crew.
Shadow of War’s creators didn’t exactly hold things back from players in terms of moves, missions, modes and collectibles, to say nothing of notifications and readouts that appear on screen. War is about as cluttered as Shibuya Crossing, and that’s before the game’s first paid expansion added 20 more missions of yet more angry orcs to slaughter.
Some of the excess is great, as you work through the comically detailed skill tree and eventually learn that, say, the basic beast-riding skill you bought is eventually going to be upgradable to let you summon what’s more or less a dragon. But why is the game so invested in detailing every little thing about an orc from their tribe to how they react if they’re shot in the foot with an arrow? Why do I need to know what enrages the orc I’ve challenged or recruited, or what kind of minions he runs with, or whether he’s strong or weak against fire, poison or curse?
This all seems excessive when each orc can be killed or captured by a properly-leveled and upgraded Talion with some well-timed swings of the sword. Half an orc’s weaknesses won’t even come into play if the player has gone up some other branches of the skill tree or not bothered to figure out how to punch the ground in a way that sprouts fire.
If you play Shadow of War long enough, it becomes clear why some of its excesses are in there. They’re the tools for the Clash of Clans stuff. They’re the stats for strategizing which orcs to put on guard duty in a fortress in order to survive some online assault that’ll happen while you’re sleeping. They’re now also the stats for determining which orcs will fare best in the online fight pits. You pick an orc with good strengths and whichever weaknesses you think he can bear. You send him into the pit and hope for a win.
The match-ups you get are strange. Sometimes my orc and his matchmade rival had a similar numerical character level, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes my ordinary orc was pitted against a legendary orc, the latter boasting much more potent strengths than anything a vanilla orc possesses. Sometimes my orcs seemed to over-achieve. Sometimes they did not. The online orc battles can feel random, just another wheel of slot machine design making you hope you’ll be luckier next time.
As my first five orcs died in the online pits, I gradually thought more seriously about all these orc attributes I’d been ignoring in the rest of the game. Perhaps I was foolish to send an orc to the online fight pits who may always enter a fight with a few small minions but also has a temper problem that causes him to not care if he accidentally knocks them out. Perhaps I was naive to think a lowly orc who is susceptible to poison could rise up through the fight pits, though the game implies that that is exactly what the online fight pits are for.
Why else would they be structured to challenge you to have an orc win five straight battles, with a guarantee of an upgrade to epic status after win three and a boost to legendary at win five? Why else would each of the five wins deliver the player a chest with one, then two, then three, four and eventually five upgrades, each which can be used to upgrade any of your orcs, including the one in the fight pit?
All of this seems designed to use the online fight pits to raise an orc from meager to MacGregor, and yet the online fight pits sometimes match one of my ordinary orcs with a legendary in a first-round fight. That match-up ends with my orc’s skull on a spear. Something seems off, and I’d submit that legendary orcs shouldn’t be eligible to fight anything other than other legendary orcs in these pits. Patch, please.
As I sent my orcs to the online fight pits to die one by one, I eventually figured out that I should try using Ar-Henok The Crusher. He was the only semi-decent orc I even had left. You’re restricted to using the orcs you control in a region where you’ve taken over a fortress, and he was my last good option in that section of the map. In The Crusher went.
Ar-Henok’s main weakness was stealth attacks, which Talion may use in the main game, but which orcs don’t seem to use in the fight pits. That’d help his chances. He was weak against fire but soon picked up an upgrade that diminished fire attacks used against him. He was getting better! The Crusher crushed—one fight, two fights, and eventually five in a row. I couldn’t level him up past Talion’s level, but I was able to use him to pick up upgrades I could distribute to other orcs. By that fifth win, he’d been bumped to legendary status, too. I felt good. I minded those other orc deaths less.
Each orc win in the fight pit earns you a loot chest full of orc upgrades, and each loot chest can only be opened in the game’s market. That means that, if you want to keep checking your orc upgrade rewards and apply them to the orc you’re using in the pit, you must keep going to the market, where the game also happens to be offering many sweet, sweet real-money loot-box deals. Such deals are easily ignored, since the game is constantly raining orcs and loot.
Nevertheless, the market visits and all the little waits and flourishes involved with opening each earned crate and applying each orc upgrade scream one thing: If this game isn’t going to take more of your money, it sure as hell is at least going to take more of your time. It, like so many modern mega-games, is designed to be the only game you’ll play this season. Don’t stop now. There are more missions to play. Don’t remove the disc. There are more orcs to kill. Don’t fret that your first three orcs each got slaughtered in these new online fight pits. Maybe you’ll succeed with the next one, and, if you’re running low, there’s a downpour more of orcs in the game world to fight and recruit.
Shadow of War is designed to be infinite. It’s here to be endless entertainment, certainly in the hope that you’ll feel satisfied with your purchase and maybe even eventually eager to pay for more, be it a lootbox or, less grossly, an expansion. Its new online fight pits currently feel a little imbalanced and a little too random, and either they need to improve or I need to understand the orc attribute system better to get better at them. But they’re a fun idea that are also designed for you to keep playing forever. It’s tempting to keep throwing orcs into them. After all, I’d like to know that the orcs I spend my time recruiting in this game can now be trusted to crush the orcs of everyone else out there. That’s an alluring system to dive into and play with. It’s something I expect from mobile games, not a Shadow of War sequel, but I’ll take it. It’s an interesting experiment, and it goes down better now that I have a better understanding of what Shadow of War really is.
Ender Dragon is Minecraft’s final boss, a serpentine collection of dark blocks that launches fireballs at the player. Minecraft speedrunners have long struggled with it, but this week speedrunners finally discovered how to bypass the Dragon altogether. It’s already led to a world record.
Part of what makes the fight against the Ender Dragon time consuming is a series of End Crystals that sit atop pillars and heal the Dragon when it flies near. However, players can also craft their own End Crystals and bring them into the final level to wreak havoc. Originally players were trying to place extra End Crystals in specific places to influence the Dragon’s path during the fight and also deal some extra damage (they can be exploded like land mines).
Recently, experimenting with this strategy yielded an even better discovery. Placing an End Crystal as soon as the player enters the Dragon’s level causes it to glitch and never spawn while still yielding the portal to the end credits that marks the completion of a run.
Placing Crystals after the Dragon has already been defeated summons a new Dragon. If this happens, the game checks to see if the end portal that spawns after the battle is already there, in which case it doesn’t create one. However, timing things right can confuse the game. By placing the crystal before the battle starts, the player is able to trick the game into skipping the fight entirely. “Because we place the crystal before the Dragon fight is fully loaded, it fails to find evidence of another portal, and so it creates one,” explained the MineCraft glitch hunter Matthew Bolan.
A player by the name of Geosquare discovered the glitch by accident while researching a tool-assisted speedrun for the fight. His findings in turn helped one of the game’s most prolific speedrunners, Illumina, to break the world record of 4:07:400, held by Joshgaming4 and which had previously stood for over two years, with a 3:12:600 run.
“It was from mid 2015,” Illumina said in an email. “It was a very daunting time to beat and that’s why it stood for so long.” Illumina thinks the run still has room for improvement.
There’s a lot of randomness in a Minecraft speedrun, and speedrunners try to find the ideal parameters for spawning a new world. In Minecraft these parameters are known as seeds. Players select a seed at the beginning of a run, and they determine what flavor of map will be generated by the game. In Illumina’s case, using the new Ender Dragon glitch meant finding a seed that would give him a world conducive to crafting the necessary End Crystal. In addition to discovering the glitch, Geosquare also helped find the best seed for executing it.
“The seed was found by Geosquare by writing a program using variables that would make the seed optimal,” Illumina said. “He ran the program for about 5 minutes and they spent a couple hours looking through the seeds that came up. There is probably a better seed than the current one as it only took a couple hours to find, but when there are 2^64 seeds, it is not easy to go through all of them.”
Illumina’s world record was specifically in Minecraft’s “seeded” category. There are other categories that prohibit both glitches and seed optimization, but Illumina thinks that misses half the fun. “A benefit from [seeds] is that it keeps the category more interesting as you never know when a new seed would be found,” he said. “Some runners said that we should just stick to one seed to make one route consistent but I disagree in doing that.”
“Every category of this game is too RNG and takes a lot of grinding to get a great run,” said Illumina who’s been running the game since 2011. “But it’s always fun to see if you will get lucky in a run, kind of like gambling. It’s definitely much different of a game to run from any other I’ve seen. Things like the Dragon skip and seed optimization programs help marry the chaos of the game to the practiced skill expert players want to bring to it.”