This week on The Shift, Shane Hewitt and I talked about my time with the new iPhone 12, Twitter’s new Fleets feature, Dyson Canada’s plans for Black Friday, Pikmin 3 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch, Assassins’ Creed Valhalla, and my time with Sony’s new PS5 console.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has some technical glitches but I’m enjoying it anyway.
Ubisoft’s latest entry in its series about the everlasting struggle between liberty and control is Assassins’ Creed Valhalla. Despite some technical issues, the new action adventure role-playing game innovates on the series’ storytelling in interesting ways.
When I start playing a massive open world game like Valhalla, I often ignore the main quest in favour of exploring the world. It’s an opportunity to test the mechanics before my virtual life depends on it and to collect some experience and level-up my character so that I’m more powerful when I begin that narrative run.
Which is how I spent some 10 hours playing the prologue of Assassins’ Creed Valhalla,
I didn’t realize this until after a major plot point occurred and the game’s logo flashed on the screen. On retrospect, there were plenty of cues that I should have been moving the story forward instead of wandering the Norwegian fjords where the game begins. In my defence, I was enjoying my time finding a path to all of the highlighted areas on the map that indicated points of interest.
And while the animation tears far too often – the experience of a misaligned image or part of the image being missing that results from a problem with screen refresh rates – the art is quite stunning when it displays properly. (I’m playing it on a 75-inch Samsung Q60T.)
Needless to say I’m not even close to being finished because I’m the kind of person who spends 10 hours playing the prologue. I suspect I’lll be returning to Norway at some point in the game because there were some side quests that the game told me I wasn’t high enough level to complete.
But I’ve played enough to understand what Ubisoft’s development team, led by the studio in Montreal, is doing in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
The core Assassin’s Creed games have revolved around the mythology – some of it rooted in history, some an invention of the Western world – of the “hashshashin” and the Templars activity in the Middle East during the Crusades, when the first game was set.
I’m impressed with how seamlessly the Ubisoft narrative team incorporated Norse mythology into the larger Assassin’s Creed storyline here.
Valhalla continues to expand on the game’s mythology by leveraging the historical fact that people from the Middle East traveled to the Norse countries. In the game, your protagonist is introduced to the “Hidden Brotherhood” of assassins by two such visitors.
After the prologue in Norway, the story moves to England, which in this era (873 AD) consists of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, and Wessex, and it’s here that your version of Eivor – you can choose to play as male or female – becomes steeped in the struggle between the assassins and the Templars.
You’ll be responsible for going on raids to collect resources to built your settlement, and making alliances to strengthen your community in England. I chose to play the raids as opportunities for outright chaotic melee, saving the more typical Assassin’s Creed skulking for other missions, in part because the combat is more satisfying and the parkour navigation more frustrating.
As with previous games in the series, there’s a contemporary side to the story. The plot device created for the Assassin’s Creed games is that memory is encoded into our genetics, and there are machine and artifacts that permit certain people to relive the experiences of their ancestors.
While many fans of the games despise this, I enjoy the meta-narrative that layer on top of it all, and was glad that sequences set in the present day world – in the ecstasy of an apocalypse – occurred early in the game and continues to advance the larger narrative.
The technical issues in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla are frustrating but it’s worth ignoring them so you can appreciate the new context for the Ubisoft series.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is now available for PS4, PS5, Stadia, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Rated mature.
I know some people have been complaining about the look of the new PlayStation 5 game console from Sony. Not me. I like the curves and the white with black highlights; it feels futuristic to me.
And the design, I understand, is in part a way of keeping the hardware cool without needing a fan that makes the machine sound like an airplane taking off, one of the complaints people have about the PS4 Pro.
The PS5 is as big as everyone says though. I’ve got it on its side and oriented that way it’s only a bit wider than the PS4 that it’s replacing, but the new console takes up more space. But it runs quiet and the lighting highlights make it glow nicely in the dark.
It was a breeze to set up the PS5 that was provided to me by PlayStation Canada. The package for the console ($629) came with a power cable and high-speed HDMI. I had it all plugged in and was in configuration mode within minutes.
High power, new interface
The new interface for the PS5 is clean and simple, providing clear access to games, and pushing the system and preference controls to the bottom of the screen, and only visible when you activate them by pushing the PS button on the controller.
There’s an ultra HD Blu-ray drive (no 3D on this machine), too.
The tech specs on the PS5 are impressive. The computer and graphical processing units were custom built by AMD and Sony and they were designed on the same chip and configured to work together to balance frequency and power.
What it amounts to is better visuals – your experience will vary depending on what your PS5 is displaying on – and faster processing. That means getting into games and switching between them quicker.
This is supported by a custom solid state drive (SSD) that can provide a read speed that is up to 100 times faster than the PS4, according to Sony’s Mark Cerny, who is the architect behind the hardware.
The PS5 internal hard drive isn’t large
The PS5 is also available in a Digital Edition ($499), which removes the disc drive, so you’ll only be able to install games you download.
The concern with this approach is that the internal SSD drive in the PS5 units is only 825 GB in size, and only 667 GB of that is available for storing games and save files.
Given that some games can take up more than 100 GB of space when you install them, there’s not a lot of room if you like to have a bunch of games ready to play. Otherwise, you’re deleting and downloading (or re-downloading).
Sony hasn’t come up with a recommendation or standard for external SSDs yet and while you can plug in more run of the mill external drives, you can’t play PS5 games from those external devices, because they can’t get information out fast enough for the system.
What you should do to get ready for your PS5
What you can have on that external drive are all your PS4 games that you want to play on your PS5, and if you’re planning on getting a new console, you can make the transition to your new machine much faster if you move your PS4 games onto a that portable drive in advance.
I did this, and all of those games were instantly available to me as soon as I plugged the drive into the PS5.
PS5 games are a bit lacking at the moment
You may find yourself playing those PS4 games for a bit while you wait for more PS5 games to be released. At the moment, there are fewer than 30 PS5 games, and many of them are games made for the PS4 but have been readied for PS5 (and some are also available for the Xbox Series S/X console, too).
Sony’s got Sackboy: A Big Adventure (Sumo Digital) and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (which comes with the predecessor Marvel’s Spider-Man), which are available for PS4 and PS5.
And there are a couple of interesting PS5 exclusives, though, including a remake of 2009’s Demon’s Souls, which birthed a sub-genre of action role playing games notable for their difficulty, and Astro’s Playroom, a shiny platformer which doubles as a tech demo for the PS5 DualSense controller.
The DualSense controller is truly innovative
In playing Astro’s Playroom – referred to by game journalist and host Marissa Roberto as an “appetizer” – you’ll get a chance to experience all of the things the DualSense controller was designed to do.
In addition to having motion sensing gyros and accelerometers built in, the DualSense has fine-tuned haptics – much more than just a rumble – that can make you feel like you’re walking through mud or skating on ice.
And the adaptive triggers give you a variable feel when you’re playing, and permit discrete control over game mechanics like thrusters, braking, and pulling the drawstring on a bow.
Aside from Astro’s Playroom, there’s not really any game that takes advantage of this technology. But the DualSense has been built. The games, they will come.
Don’t be in a rush to get rid of that PS4
You’ve got lots of PS4 games you can continue to play on your old console. And you’ll also be able to stream next-gen games from your new console to the PS4 using the PlayStation Remote Play feature.
Technological World for November 18: iPhone 12 rocks, Fleets from Tweets, Dyson's Black Friday deals, Pikmin 3 Deluxe shines
This week, hands-on with the iPhone 12, Twitter’s new Fleets, Dyson Canada’s price drops for Black Friday, and Pikmin 3 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch.
iPhone 12 is the best phone you can get right now
I’ve been using Apple’s new iPhone 12 for a couple of weeks, and it’s easily the best smartphone available right now.
I like the new form factor, which is a return to the flat edge device, and while it’s the same 6.1-inch display as the iPhone 11, the new model is thinner and lighter. The “Ceramic Shield” that is part of the display is a clear layer on top of the glass that dramatically improves the durability of the screen. (It was created by Corning, which also develops Gorilla Glass.)
Another key improvement over the iPhone 11 is the Super Retina XDR display, which is OLED by another name. It’s noticeably better.
While both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are 5G enabled – Apple created custom 5G antennas for the task – whether you use 5G will depend on where you are and what your mobile plan is.
Using 5G will affect your battery and your data plan, so Apple developed a “smart data mode” so that your smartphone will automatically switch to LTE when 5G is not necessary based on what you’re doing with your device.
The other killer feature on these mobiles is the use of MagSafe to make sure that when you think you’re wirelessly charging your phone it is actually charging. The magnetic array on the back of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro make sure that when you put it on a MagSafe-enabled charger it snaps into place so the charging coils are aligned.
For most people, the iPhone 12 is the ideal device. But depending on what you want to do with your smarphone, the iPhone 12 Pro might be a worthwhile upgrade.
In addition to adding a telephoto lens to the camera system, the iPhone 12 Pro can record 4K video at 60 frames per second in Dolby’s new Vision HDR format.
The iPhone 12 Pro also adds a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensor which can be used to create depth maps of your environment, even in the dark. The LIDAR information is used by the camera system to improve detail in backgrounds, and enables “night mode” with the portrait and telephoto lenses.
LIDAR will also improve augmented reality (AR) experiences because it allows for real-time environmental rendering.
Both iPhone 12 (starting at $1,129) and iPhone 12 Pro ($1,399) are available now.
Fleets are Twitter’s new short-life posts
If you feel like you need to engage on social media but don’t want what you say (or show) to haunt you forever, Twitter has your back.
This week, the company introduced Fleets, which are ephemeral posts that auto destruct after 24 hours.
Fleets are created by sharing a Tweet and seem to only be part of Twitter’s mobile app.
Nobody noticed that LinkedIn created its own version of SnapChat/Instagram Stories last month.
That thing you didn’t Tweet but wanted to but didn’t but got so close but then were like nah.— Twitter (@Twitter) November 17, 2020
We have a place for that now—Fleets!
Rolling out to everyone starting today. pic.twitter.com/auQAHXZMfH
Dyson Canada drops prices for Black Friday
If you’re looking for some good tech deals heading into the holiday season, Dyson Canada is offering $200 off some of the company’s best products.
Black Friday pricing from the company has brought down the cost of products including the new Cyclone V10 cordless vacuum, the Dyson Big Ball Animal 2 for those with pets, the Pure Cool fan, and the recently released Dyson Humidifier.
The sale pricing begins on November 27 and will be available at the Dyson Canada website as well as in Dyson Demo stores in Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe shines on the Nintendo Switch
Pikmin 3 is a charming game that takes the mechanics of a real-time strategy game and bundles it up in a colourful and charming experience for kids.
First released for the Wii U in 2013, the adventure puzzle game has you playing three different alien characters who have crash landed on a planet populated by gregarious creatures called Pikmin.
The game has you coordinating the effort of the Pikmin to solve environmental puzzles. The differently coloured Pikmin all have unique abilities that you need to use strategically. Blue Pikmin can breathe underwater. Red ones are fire resistant. Yellow Pikmin can resist electricity. Rock Pikmin can smash things, and the pink Pikmin with wings can fly.
In porting the game for the Switch, Nintendo added an epilogue that ramps up the intensity of the gameplay, as well as split-screen co-op. That’s how my family had the most fun
Nintendo was wise to rescue this title from Wii U obscurity. Pikmin 3 Deluxe is cute and light, but provides enough of a challenge to keep you interested.
The Shift, November 11: #AppleSilicon, #IkeaCanada, #BestBuyCanada, #AsusZephyrusG15, #MassEffectLegendaryEdition, #Spider-Man, #MilesMorales
This week on The Shift, Shane Hewitt and I talked about Apple’s new Macs that are built with Apple Silicon chips, Ikea and Best Buy’s plans for Black Friday, the Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 gaming laptop, Mass Effect Legendary Edition, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Plus, I answer some listener questions about the backwards compatibility of the PS5 and Xbox Series S/X consoles.