Asus ROG G550J Laptop (Provided by Asus)

PC gamers have a love/hate relationship with gaming laptops. Some can see the use for them (it’s how I started PC gaming), especially when it comes to portability, but others see them as an expensive and underpowered. The Asus ROG G550J has some decent grunt to keep the most hardcore gamers happy, but still lightweight enough to take to LANs for those all-nighters.

Straight out of the box, the Asus G550J is pretty to look at. The Asus Republic of Gamers logo stands proudly among the brushed aluminium front. Under the lid, it’s all matte black and red. The keyboard is printed with red keys and has a matching red black light, which you can dim or brighten with function keys. The base is even lined with red. Since red is my favourite colour, I’m pleased with the colour scheme, but I can imagine it’s not for everyone.

The keyboard took a little getting used to, like all new keyboards do. But once I knew the positioning of all the keys, writing on the Asus G550J was a comfortable experience. I decided to re-write a couple of old reviews to get a real feel for how the keyboard would work in an everyday environment. The keys press nicely and are a nice size. One of the problems with 15.6” laptops with a full alphanumeric keyboard is the small size of the keys. Luckily, that’s not an issue with this keyboard.

The G550J also boasts enough ports to keep even the most intense user happy. With three 3.0 USB ports (two on the left side, one on the right), you can still plug a mouse in to the laptop, charge your phone and still have a port left over. There’s also a HDMI port (right side), an optical Blu-ray drive, a mini display port, an SD card slot (always handy) and a headphone jack. Something you won’t see on all laptops’ is the small yellow port near the charger, which is where you plug in the sub, which comes with the laptop. The sub looks like a small can and certainly boosts the low-end sounds of games, movies, and music.

I picked two games to test the limits of the Asus G550J with the help of a friend of mine. We took into consideration the graphical strain and how resource heavy the games would be and decided on The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and The Witcher 2.

Both games can be played on their highest settings and look beautiful on the 15.6” LCD screen with the help of the Nvidia 850M 4GB graphics card.

During the initial set up, The Witcher 2 auto-detected what settings can be best played on. The surprising (or not so surprising)        result was to play in Ultra Spec. In Ultra Spec, everything is cranked to the max. Shadow details, character details and graphical details are all set to ultra.

When I started to play The Witcher, I had a few issues in the beginning with the touchpad getting in the way and trigging some menu options (an issue I have with all laptops), but once I switched the touchpad off and got back into gameplay, it was all smooth sailing.

The same can be said about The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. While I don’t run Skyrim with too many mods (just an inventory mod and a “realistic” skin mod), it can still be a difficult game for some computers to handle. The G550J automatically ran Skyrim on Ultra where all details are played in high (or ultra, where applicable.) With the battery in high powered mode, there’s plenty of power to play both The Witcher 2 and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim in their wonderful glory.

The good thing is that I didn’t notice the laptop getting too hot during sessions of long gameplay. Having it sit straight on my desk, there was enough room for proper ventilation to keep the laptop comfortably cool.

The Asus G550J does make a lot of noise. The fan can be distractingly loud at times, even in balanced mode. While I had the laptop idling in balanced mode, it sounded as if it was playing a game in high powered mode. While it’s not a huge deal, with the noise being easily drowned out by background noise or headphones, it could be distracting while using the laptop in a quieter environment.

I could get 2-3 hours out of the battery with some general use (Wi-Fi on, brightness at max, battery on balanced). However, when playing games, I changed the battery into high power mode and made sure the laptop was plugged in. While a good habit to be in when it comes to gaming, not necessarily a great habit for reviewing.

Overall

The Asus ROG G550J could easily satisfy any PC gaming enthusiast with its looks and power. However, with the hefty price tag of AU$2,699, many gamers could find themselves resorting to cheaper options. Paying the extra isn’t without its benefits. The LCD screen performs wonderfully in all angles and all the power under the red and black colour scheme can easily play the most resource heavy games without becoming outdated too quickly.

The SSD drive size (256GB) leaves something to be desired for a gaming laptop, but it boots quickly and quietly, which could be enough for some users to load their favourite games and still have room left over for whatever else they needed to store on the drive.

If I had to pick a new laptop for gaming, the G550J would definitely catch my eye. It’s stylish, easy-to-use and powerful enough to do whatever I need it to.

tl;dr

Specifications:
• 15.6” LCD screen (1920 x 1080 resolution)
• 256GB SATA3 SSD
• 16GB DDR3 RAM (2x 8GB sticks)
• i7-4700 CPU @ 2.40GHz
• GeForce GTX 850m (4GB)
• Optical Blu-Ray drive
• 1 x HDMI ports
• 3 x USB 3.0 ports
• SD Card reader

Great for gaming, SSD is a little small, very stylish.

 

 

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Meet Stacy: My GTA: Online Character

Stacy, taking bathroom selfies with her friends.

This is Stacy. She’s my GTA: Online avatar and I have a strange affection for her.

When GTA: Online first launched in October last year, it was a disaster that most users experienced. It wasn’t until Rockstar had figured out how releasing an MMO-style online experience for their wildly successful game probably needed a LOT more server support that it originally had, that everyone started to really enjoy the experience. My friends and I created a crew for our clan and rode around on the Vespa knockoffs, which we had customised in various shaded of neon colours; just to make it that much more special and it felt like our characters could actually be real; if Los Santos was a real place full of gun-toting psychopaths who rode around on hot pink scooters.

She likes selfies

Selfies with the Vinewood sign.

I wanted to give my avatar a little more life and for whatever strange reason, I fleshed her out a little bit. I named her Stacy. She looked like a Stacy to me. The story I’d picked was fairly generic; when Stacy turned 18, she got all her stuff and moved to LS to become something, not sure what that something was, but it was more than the menial job she was in at whatever small town she was leaving.

After arriving in LS and performing the first few jobs she could to raise some money, she met her friends (seen in the bathroom selfie) and despite them being the bad kids your parents warn you about, these were her people.

As someone who doesn’t really get THIS in to RPG’s, it’s funny that I’d grow so attached to Stacy. It’s like having a Barbie, but in an ultra-violent setting; I change her hair, make up and clothes regularly and make sure that she’s not too bruised up. Although, if you’ve seen the way I ride a motorbike in game, Stacy bares the brunt of it.

She’s my favourite part of GTA: Online. When it’s released on PC and my friends finally start playing again, I hope that I can transfer her across. I’d be a little upset if I couldn’t continue to play with my virtual Barbie.

 

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A Random Thought About Ocarina Of Time

Water-TempleOne of the funniest things I can say to people who know I want to write about games for a living is “I’ve never played Ocarina of Time.” Apparently, that’s some kind of slight against the gaming Gods and I’m generally a bad person.

When I was growing up, I never had the opportunity to play it. I didn’t have a Nintendo 64 and none of my friends actually owned the game. In fact, the only Nintendo consoles I’ve ever owned at GameBoy handheld consoles.

It wasn’t until I was preparing to fly halfway around the world that I picked up Ocarina of Time when I was buying my 3DS. Even now, I haven’t finished it, despite being heavily encouraged by a friend of mine.

A lot of people encourage me to play it and the only reason they ever actually give me is “It’s the best game of all time!” That’s it. Nothing else matters except that it’s the best game of all time.

I guess I can’t argue since I’ve never played it the whole way through; I can’t say they’re wrong. But when you’re trying to convince someone to play something, shouldn’t you say WHY it’s the greatest great ever. What makes it great? So far, I’m failing to see it. Maybe I don’t see the appeal because I don’t have the gleam of nostalgia in my eye and remembering the gameplay fondly.

As a responsible writer who shouldn’t discount the opinions of others, I should just endure how bored I am of it and finish it. Maybe once I’ve discovered the Hell that is the Water Temple, I’ll see it in a new light, but right now, it’s just not my cup of tea.

 

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My First Win

I remember when I was a kid and my Mum got us our first computer. It was a giant cream coloured beast. I was so excited because I could play the copy of “Age of Empires” that was the prize in a box of Corn Flakes.

I’m pretty sure I still have it somewhere.

After installing it and starting a new Blue civilisation, everything went downhill. I was so happy hoarding resources, I forgot I had an opponent to defeat.

Within a few ages, the Reds descended upon me. It was a massacre. Luckily, a few innocent Blues managed to escape the carnage. With all the food, wood, gold and stone I’d collected before the first downfall of my empire I rebuilt stronger and with new determination. My new purpose was to crush my foe.

This was difficult with a population cap of just 50, but my small legion of builders made me an army that made my Red opposition tremble.

With a tide of horses and archers, I rained fiery Blue vengeance on those tiny red pixel people.

“You Are Victorious” flashed on to the screen, and I had my first taste of video game victory. This innocuous silver disc, pulled from a box of cereal is what I remember as my first real video game.

It started a love affair not only with the RTS genre of gaming, but could be responsible for my drive to write about games. I have fond memories of other games, but none have the nostalgia that AoE does.

I’ve got AoE games that follow that first game, but none draw me in like Age of Empires 1. They’re still fun, but they don’t hold a candle to the woo-loo-looo of AoE 1.

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State of Decay: Sink Your Teeth In

sodState of Decay is one of those games I’d heard great things about but already felt burnt out on. The zombie genre is a favourite with developers and the market is flooded with hoards (puns!) of them. But when my lovely friend gifted me the base game and the DLC, I decided to have a go at it.

At the time of writing, I’d played almost 10 hours straight without realising it. Thank GOD for days off, right?

State of Decay is a third-person zombie shooter with elements of stealth, resource management and base building thrown in. These gameplay elements help add extra depth to the immersion for the player. You need to make sure that all your characters are at full health, that there’s ammo available and you have an escape plan to get out of any sticky situations. My problem with a lot of zombie/survival games is that it’s run and gun; there’s no strategy. But State of Decay almost encourages you to have a strategy.

As you gather up more survivors to play as, they have mood swings and rely on other members of your group to help them through. The characters have enough personality to give you someone to pick as a favourite, but are plain enough so that you can put yourself in their shoes. Although, the way I’m playing, it’s a bit like an episode of Game of Thrones; I get attached to one particular character and then BAM! Eaten by a zombie. It’s a little tragic.

Gameplay and mission can lull from time to time, making things feel a little boring and repetitive. There’s a lot of potential for a variety of missions, but it’s mostly: go here, clear out this, come back.  I’ve currently found myself going around trying to find resources, waiting for missions to spawn because I’ve completed all the available missions. The missions I have completed have a good learning curve. You can do them on your own comfortably, or take along a fellow survivor to watch your back. Although, the AI can be a little… backwards when it comes to watching out for zombies; either super helpful or a major hindrance. The more you use a particular character, the better their stats get and the more helpful they can be.

My major problem with the game are a few rather annoying bugs I’ve come across when it comes to starting or closing the game. I found the game would crash when the music was muted, and I’m not sure what’s causing my game to bug out and crash when I’m trying to close the game from the main menu. The developer forums are helpful for finding work-around solutions for these bugs, but patching them hasn’t worked as of yet. From some Googling, my problems seem to be fairly common, so I’m hoping the developers are working to patch these out.

The music and graphics aren’t astounding, but it’s not a major drawback. In a world where everyone focuses on lifelike graphics and Oscar-worthy music, it’s kind of refreshing to have something that’s “not up to scratch”. The animation is a little buggy when zombies look like they’re outside, but are actually just clipping through a wall. I’ve wasted many a bullet hitting a wall where I thought I was aiming perfectly at a zombie’s face.

For a fairly generic zombie survival game, I’m sinking a disgusting amount of time into it. It’s got its claws right in and doesn’t really want to let go. The Lifeline and Breakdown DLC have great reviews online and the friend who gifted these to me raved about them when he bought them originally on Xbox Live. If you’re looking for a time sink, some good old fashion violence and nothing too complicated, State of Decay is perfect.

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