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My BackBlog - Week 5: January Recap and 'Sleeping Dogs' Review

Man, it's already February! One month down, eleven to go, and not a single urge to browse the Steam sales. I'd say this resolution is off to a banging start.

January Recap:

Games Completed:

  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn
  • Pyre

Games Shelved:

  • NieR: Automata (though I did beat Route A)

Other Games Played:

  • Overwatch (ugh...)
  • Heroes of the Storm (ugh...)
  • Divinity Original Sin 2
  • Cuphead

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Sleeping Dogs Review

“You look like you could use a pork bun!!”

It’s moments like that where I had the biggest smile on my face while playing this game. I went in expecting a somewhat serious crime-noir action game set in Hong Kong, yet I walked away experiencing something quite…different.

But y’know what? Overall, I dig it.

I will admit, I think the game lacks a coat of polish that bigger-budget and more modern open world games have, and honestly, I think some people give the game a bit more credit than it’s worth. During my play through (Definitive Edition on Steam), I encountered a plethora of bugs and glitches, some voice acting that’s questionable at best, cutscenes that start and end so abruptly and driving controls that I still haven’t gotten a hold of after ~15 hours of playtime.

If you can dig past all those things though, there’s a Hong Kong sandbox buried beneath just waiting to be punished with your fists of fury.

The game stars Wei-Shen, a young cop born in Hong Kong, but raised in San Francisco. The HKPD hires Wei because his hometown childhood friends have grown up and are now integral parts of various Triad gangs. They hope Wei can utilize his connections from the past to take down the Triad gangs from within. While an interesting, albeit somewhat trite, plot at face value, I can’t help but notice some gaping holes that break my investment in the story. Wei left Hong Kong at the age of 10 and made no contact with anyone back in Hong Kong, yet they welcome him right back in like he’s never left? There also seems to be no motivation for Wei to take on what’s a rather life-endangering mission. Why go back to Hong Kong? What does he gain from any of it? Would such a brilliant cop really get sucked that hard into the gang lifestyle while undercover?

But fuck it…I could use a pork bun! Once I accepted the plot holes for what they were (I mean it is a video game after all), I had a blast dropkicking folks in the face, stuffing punks in the trunk of my car, and buying the craziest outfits I’ve ever seen sold in an open world game (I got a set of Samurai Monkey armor that comes with a motorcycle floating on a golden cloud…’nuff said). And this is where Sleeping Dogs shines. Through the grime-soaked alleys of Hong Kong, to the bustling vendor squares filled with fish balls and meat skewers, the city itself is a fun canvas for you to paint with blood from your flying fists of fury.

Where GTA V is a crime-noir masterpiece with lackluster combat, Sleeping Dogs is the opposite in every way. It’s a one-note story with more than serviceable combat. Yes, it is ‘the batman combat’ for those that are sick of that system, but it does some fun things with the combos and every impact with a fist or foot just feels soooo crunchy and satisfying.

Sure, it’s not the most complex fighting system, but it’s a game whose length doesn’t need some in-depth system to keep you going for hours on end. I think most players will agree that it is an ‘in and out’ kind of game.

When I initially started the game, I was that asshole that opened the in-game map, zoomed all the way out, and scrolled around to see how big the world is compared to other games. I had found a map that was underwhelming at size, but as I progressed through the game a bit…I found myself actually appreciating what Square Enix has done with Sleeping Dogs. The length of the story caters itself well to this map size and it never overstays its welcome. In a day and age where every game is striving to be some grandiose, 80+ hour, Witcher 3 wannabe, it was a breath of fresh air to start and finish an open world game in under 15 hours.

Would I recommend Sleeping Dogs to a friend? Absolutely…but I’d certainly recommend it to those that aren’t looking for an overly satisfying story. If only Square Enix could have saved some of the money and divvied it up a bit more on voice actors, rather than blowing it all on 5 lines of dialogue from Lucy Lui and Emma Stone. It’s the one thing that holds this back from being a masterpiece open-world game. L

TLDR:

The game has satisfying combat, fun bits of Hong Kong to explore, and is overall enjoyable. It’s just held back by a lackluster plot and some really shoddy voice acting at times.

Final Score: 7/10

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And now...I'm off to start something else. Keep an eye out for a poll in the message boards. I have a handful of games I know I want to start. Now it's up to you to decide which.

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My BackBlog - Week 4

Hiya folks,

So this week has been a bit crazy with work, so I apologize for what is both a late and short blog entry. With that in mind, I will keep this short, sweet and to the point.

FUCK THIS GUY!

No Caption Provided

Seriously...I took nearly 2 weeks playing nothing but this boss, before finally besting him. It was honestly quite frustrating and not something I enjoyed in the least bit. Between the RNG elements (cloud platforms spawning at random locations) and controls/weapons that did not seem to quite line up with his hitbox, it was an absolute nightmare.

I can't help but feel like I have similar feelings as Brad and Jeff on this game. It looks reallygreat, but the art style can only take it so far. There's something about the controls that rub me the wrong way. It's almost like they're too precise. If I had a dollar for every time I used my super in the wrong direction because I nudged the thumbstick a quarter of a millimeter the other way...well I'd have at least 18 dollars...and that's 18 too many for me.

In other news, I'm seeing through Sleeping Dogs faster than I thought. It certainly lacks the polish modern and bigger-budget open world games haves, but the game continues to throw bits of charm and surprises my way that make it so much fun. I have 4 more missions left in the game, so I expect to beat it tonight or tomorrow. Keep your eyes peeled for a more in depth review as well as another 'what game next?' poll in the forums soon!

Finally, Divinity OS 2 continues to amaze me. Yes, I will most certainly be playing this game for a chunk of my lifetime as it seems neverending...but y'know what? I'm okay with that.

OH - call me crazy, but I also tried DOTA 2 this week. I was one of those rare folks that actually enjoyed and actively played Paragon, so this week's news has really disheartened me. I've been dabbling in Overwatch, but outside of class-based hero selection, that's obviously a different type of game. So I'm on a mission to find a replacement moba, and man...I really don't think DOTA 2 will be the one. Maybe someone can convince me otherwise...but woof, the shop mechanics, tutorials, and just about everything about that game do everything they can to keep newcomers away.

Cheers!

-Chris

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My BackBlog - Week 3: Pyre Review, Divinity OS 2 is still amazing, and Sleeping Dogs is fucking whacky...and I love it

Week 3:

The wife was away for Saturday of week 3, and you know what that means? Lots of games, pizza, and beer. Going into the weekend, I knew Pyre was close to completion so that was my primary focus (review below). I also focused a lot more on Divinity OS 2 and a new game picked by the awesome Giant Bomb community (Sleeping Dogs)! Beyond that, Overwatch continues to have its hooks in me, so that is, admittedly, distracting me from putting my entire focus on the backlog games listed below.

Games Completed:

Pyre

SOME SPOILERS BELOW, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED

For a game that dips its toes into a handful of genres, some of which I would never have considered my cup of tea, I walked away from this game joyfully surprised. Between the amazing soundtrack, tantalizing art design, and a core gameplay mechanic that I ended up really digging (I mean, who can resist celestial orb b-ball!?), I was able to not only tolerate but at times enjoy the text-heavy parts of the game.

Super Giant Games do a lovely job crafting characters that are both visually and narratively engaging and these are ultimately the main draw to me from a narrative perspective. It’s often something developers fumble – creating characters I actively want to know more about. Seriously, how often do you open up the biography section within a game’s menus? I know I usually don’t. Yet each time I got that notification saying a new note was added to someone I liked, I would happily pop in, learn a bit more about them, and then carry on with my space dunking.

And boy is the space dunking fun. For those unfamiliar with Pyre’s story and gameplay, it revolves around a cast of exiles who must successfully fight their way out of Downside and back to their homelands in the Commonwealth. To do this, they must successfully compete in a ritual known as the Rites, which entails class-based heroes making sick trick shots and space dunks on an adversary’s flame (i.e the goal). Overall, it’s a really cool concept, with some really fun mechanics. It must be stated though that I think the developers at Super Giant Games do themselves a disservice in how they’ve crafted the difficulty ramp in the game. The core gameplay is a fantastic concept that offers a lot of interesting mechanics late-game, yet it stumbles in two ways. One, I rarely encountered a foe that offered any real challenge to me. In fact, the only match I lost was the final one (I’ll come back to that in just a bit). Two, they layer on the mechanics too slowly. This results in the first rounds of the Rites being too simplistic, and then, by the time some complexity is introduced, I already had a firm grasp on the AI’s patterns and was able to successfully take on any challenge they threw my way. All that being said, I can’t stress enough how fun it is to make a leaping Michael Jordan-esque jump from half court with one of your heroes to weaken your opponent’s flame.

I will admit though, I found the story repetitious and quite tedious towards the end and my interest in the soundtrack and celestial basketball could only last so long. For instance, they foreshadow the end of the Rites fairly early on in the game, and from then on the story became nothing more than a cycle of ‘play one or two rites, liberate next hero, “stars are fading even more”, wash, rinse, and repeat’. As stated in my previous blog, midway through the game some of my favorite characters had already been liberated so I felt like I was stripping away the backbone of the games story one-by-one, causing the second half to be much less engaging from a narrative standpoint.

That being said, the end of the game offered a fun surprise I did not expect. As stated earlier, I did lose one match and it ended up being the ultimate showdown in the game. For those that don’t know, Super Giant made Pyre in such a way that there are no game over screens, and to my surprise, this includes the final match. It’s an interesting decision that I thought worked really well (particularly in my scenario). As someone that was more or less steamrolling through the entire game leading up to that point, I was left with mixed emotions following my first and only defeat. Buried within that sack of sorrow were feelings of frustration with myself, pity on the teammates I let down, and respect for the one adversary that finally bested me (I won’t give away the spoiler, but it was really fitting that that team was the one team that beat me). It ended up being a really memorable experience for me, and whether intentional or not, it felt like my ending was unique from anyone else that’s played Pyre (Or maybe I’m not so unique…maybe Super Giant games built the difficulty ramp knowing many players would have the same experience I did…who knows). Either way, Super Giant capitalizes on their decision to not rely on game over screens and as a result presented me with a very intriguing twist that forced me to make a rather tough decision. It was a nice way to reward the player despite losing the match and being confronted with so many mixed feelings of defeat and despair. It’s a bold choice by Super Giant games that ended up really working out. In an ideal world, it’d be cool if all games could abandon the concept of game over, but it wouldn’t work in most genres, and let’s be honest, most developers would probably fumble the narrative forks this would introduce. So for that, good on you Super Giant for delivering on such a lofty goal.

I don’t want to drawl on for too long with this review, so I won’t get into detail on the amazing work Darren Knob did with the soundtrack. Instead, I’ll let his work speak for himself. Seriously. I’ll even do the work for you. Here’s the link. Do yourself a favor and go listen to this soundtrack…like right fucking now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uH3Aoj1nw58

So with all that in mind, if you’ve got multiple video game itches you want to scratch all in one go, then I can easily recommend Pyre. It borrows its inspiration from so many different genres and games, and then packages it all up with amazing presentation skills on both the audio and visual front. All this in mind, there is the one standout stipulation: you have to be okay with a lot of reading, as it’s a very text-heavy game.

TLDR:

- It’s sick space basketball with a cool cast, amazing soundtrack, and good art

- The blend of genres is unique, and scratches a lot of different itches

- I found the game’s difficulty to be a bit lacking, and left me wishing it asked more from the player

- The story waivers a bit midway through the game as your cast of characters dwindles down

Overall Score:

8/10

Current Game Lineup:

Cuphead

I unfortunately did not put any time into Cuphead. I will be sure to put more time into this game next week and at the very least get through World 2 (I think I only have one or two more bosses to go).

Divinity: Original Sin 2

Oh man, Act 2 really breathers fresh life into this game. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Divinity, but Act 1 does got a bit grueling by the end. That final battle was quite tough, and I really felt like I had to seek out every last nook and cranny of the island to get any ounce of XP the game could offer.

Now that I’m off the ship and on a new island with so much to explore, I feel alive again. The world is my oyster, and that oyster is filled with poisonous fish, prostitutes that want to kill me, and amazing spellbooks that I’m finally experienced enough to use. I didn’t play nearly as much Divinity as I would have liked this week (I was so determined to beat Pyre), but the couple of hours I did put in really have me antsy to play more in the coming weeks.

Sleeping Dogs

Thank you Giant Bomb duders and dudettes for the amazing input on my forum poll. I received a whopping 200+ votes on which game to play next, and I was shocked to see Sleeping Dogs take such a resounding lead. So far, after an hour or two of playing, I’ve already annihilated a man’s face in a moving fan, bought a pork bun, and discovered this is the best open world Burnout game I didn’t know existed (seriously…car ramming? I love it).

I’m really intrigued to see where this game goes and am happy thus far with the Giant Bomb community’s game choice.

Thanks for those that are following and reading this thing. And even if no one is, it’s a great way to keep me focused on my backlog, and help tone my writing skills in the process. :P

Cheers and happy gaming!

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My BackBlog - Week 2

Week 2:

My second week has come to an end and the long weekend in the States helped me put a nice dent in a couple of games on my plate. I will soon be scratching a few games off the list and will need to determine what to play next. Stay tuned on the message boards, since I plan to involve the community on this initiative by letting you all pick what game(s) I play next! I’ll be curating the options of course, so I won’t be stuck with something I don’t enjoy (or at least that’s the plan), but I think it will be a fun process to involve the community!

Games Completed:

None this week, though I put a good chunk of time into games I’m currently playing.

Games Played:

NieR: Automata

Okay, so I started Route B, and I must say, I think I have to put this one on the backburner for now. With so many games to play and a story that doesn’t really have its hooks in me that much, I think I need some time away from this game for a bit. I’ll certainly come back to it in the later the months of the year, so you can expect to see it show up in my game choice polls on the message boards, but for now…I’m scratching it off the list. Sorry Nier fans :/

Pyre

Whoo boy. I am getting so close to completion on this one. It’s been a fun ride up to this point but unfortunately I think it starts wrapping up faster than I would have hoped. Right when I had a full squad and a firm grasp on the game mechanics, the game makes you start removing folks from your squad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an interesting concept but I’m not sure I liked its execution. The Liberation Rites force you to remove a character from your squad and send them back to the Commonwealth, but that character has to be one of your best 3. I get it, they want it to be a tough choice, but it just feels like I’m being penalized for playing with the characters I enjoy the most. And at the end of it all, I’m now stuck with a handful of characters left that are my least favorite of the entire cast, so I’m losing interest in the story now. Again, interesting concept that I think was not entirely sought through and it ends up being a detriment to the games overall enjoyment.

All that aside, I’m still super happy I purchased this game during the steam sales because it is an enjoyable ride that’s easily worth the $9.99 admission price.

Cuphead

Things I have done:

  • Played one of the most annoying platforming levels in existence (an amusement park that flips gravity back and forth)
  • Completed world 1 and made it nearly 50% of the way through this game (5/6 bosses beat in world 2)
  • Gotten really pissed off at a featherless, bed-ridden bird
  • Played a co-op drinking game with a buddy and had a few too many beers due to some aggressive frog boxers

Things I have not done:

  • Broken a controller
  • Enjoyed the platforming the levels…

Divinity: Original Sin 2

I am so glad I’ve welcomed this game back into my life! Yes, it can be a time sink and the inventory management can be quite a pain in the rear at times, but when the game’s strong points heavily outweigh any negative I could bestow upon it.

The good news is that I’m finally passed Act 1! I can’t remember the last time my palms got so sweaty during a boss fight (Bloodborne or Dark Souls 3, probably…?). For those that have played it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. That showdown with Alexander really let the game flex its muscles and show off the awesome battle mechanics. I did die once or twice, but I kept getting better and always felt the losses were my fault. My successful run involved me splitting up the party so my archer and mage were flanking enemies from opposite high grounds. Yes, my mage was standing next to a giant barrle of poisonous ooze, but he has a unique trait that actually causes poison to cure him, so it was the perfect setup! Meanwhile, the warriors and battlemages came waltzing down the middle to take on Alexandar head-on. Larian does a great job of balancing this fight to make you always feel on edge though. Right when I felt like my end was near, a dark worm came bursting out of the ground to distract the enemies a bit. It was a spectacular ‘WTF’ moment and it gave me a chance to breathe and heal my party.

So now, with the worm slayed and Alexandar defeated, I am happily sailing away from the island in Act 1 and off for better shores. And yes, that means I can finally respec my party…so all those points I wasted in my mage’s single hand attribute can be reallocated to magic element traits where they belong!

And so that brings week 2 to a close (sorry for the delayed post). Stay tuned on the message boards for a poll to choose which game I play next. I think I’ve picked a healthy spread of genres so I’m really curious to see which game the community picks.

Cheers and happy gaming!

-Chris

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My BackBlog - Week 1

My first week is in the books and I already have one game completed. While I technically started the game in December of ’17, I want to start out on a good note, so I’m counting it!

Games Completed:

Horizon: Zero Dawn

It’s weird, I had a lot of gripes with this game when I think about it…yet I’d still recommend it to people???

The combat oftentimes felt forced. Sure, I could do a cool slow-motion slide to take down the canister on that machine’s belly. Or I could just pepper it with armor-piercing arrows and roll around like a buffoon because I can craft 18 bajillion arrows with all those ridgewood resources you throw my way.

And the world that everyone seems to be so enamored with never really clicked with me. Yes, the backdrop, lore, and story intrigued me (that was ultimately what pushed me through to the end), yet I never enjoyed traversing the landscapes Guerilla crafted. Maybe I’m jaded from the Witcher, or maybe I’m just feeling open-world fatigue, but my favorite moment in Horizon was when I get the infinite fast travel pack. Is that bad?

Finally, I’ve never seen a game with such bipolar voice acting and dialogue scenes. One minute it is top-notch AAA quality, and then other times it is questionable at best. What I found to be most jarring were very bizarre camera angle cuts during dialogue which would always throw me off momentarily.

I hate to rag on the game, because, as stated before I’d still recommend this game, but all of its standout features are apparent to new players right from the get go– gorgeous graphics and an interesting premise. Unfortunately the nitty-gritty details of this game are where it gets a bit hairy.

Games Played:

NieR: Automata

Rotue A crushed...but I guess I can’t say it’s a game I completed yet? I don't know, I’m finding it hard to push through Route B of that game when I have so many other games to play. Hopefully this is as good as some folks are making it out to be because ending A seemed a bit trite to me. Though I suppose I did witness: robots doing it; a mechanical humanized robot form into a ball; an opera singer robot hack into my system; a creepy robot orb clown face thing sell me stuff from his car; and more...

Pyre

Alright…now I get all of the folks bringing this game up during Game of the Year deliberations. The story really has its hooks in me right now (I just beat my 6th or 7th Rite, and met Sandalwood). The celestial basketball wasn’t grabbing me initially, but it’s really starting to show some depth that I’m appreciating a lot more now. Looking forward to seeing this game through.

Cuphead

Things I have done:

    • Walloped an angry carrot.
    • Blew Gjimmy the Genie to smithareen-ies.
    • Nearly broke a controller because of a flying waffle.

Things I have not done:

    • Broken a controller

Divinity: Original Sin 2

I had put this game on the backburner to run through Horizon and NieR. Time to pick it back up. I’m 25 hours in and still on the First Act. It may seem like that’s a knock towards this game, but quite the opposite. There’s so many nooks and crannies crammed into this little island, and so many obscure sidequests I’m stumbling my way through. I can’t wait to put in another 30 hours only to realize I built my party/characters all wrong and restart the game (*sarcasm…I’ve heard there is a respec option somewhere in Act 2*)!

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My BackBlog - Introduction

It's 2018! That means gym memberships are being renewed for 3 months (before being dropped faster than the LBs themselves). It means no more sweets, no more treats, and time start being a better human being.

Oh, you thought I was including myself in that paragraph above? Nonsense. While all those healthy folks are off being better people than me, I swear by my mother’s grave that I will do no more than be a game-binging slug for the next 12 months. That’s right, it’s time to chip away at a backlog that’s haunted me for far too long now. People laugh when I mention my resolution. “You plan to play more games? That’s your resolution?” Sure, it may not have the seeming glory or impact of a health-related resolution, but it’s a bad habit of mine that I really need to kick. Before I jump into my list though, I think it’s important to mention the motivation for this resolution.

The primary driver for the growth of a backlog is the never ending barrage of Steam sales and Humble Bundles. “I can get the entire Mass Effect trilogy for 5 bucks!?” Who hasn’t had that thought before? And I can't blame or fault anyone for falling down that rabbit hole (seriously...Mass Effect for 5 bucks is a great deal). To combat this, I plan to unsubscribe from all promotional emails. I know it’s not much but it’s a start. It’s at least a quick, easy way to stop the constant carrot-dangle that eats away at me while I'm at work, browsing the phone, etc.

The other key contributor to game accrual is FOMO (sorry…I hate that term, but it’s so applicable in this instance). Being an avid Giant Bomb podcast follower and frequenter to garbage video game message boards (a guilty pleasure of mine), I always have this urge to pick up the latest and greatest games on their release. What’s stupid is that it’s less so out of fear of spoilers, and more in the desire to feel included. Podcasts are enjoyable enough, but they’re so much better when relatable.

Beyond this, I have two key factors of motivation that I hope will push me through the next 365 days of gaming.

The first facet of motivation being financial gain. Here are the last 2 years of Steam spending totals:

2017: $630.46

2016: $502.19

This is not including Humble Bundle purchase. This is not including purchases on GOG. This is not including Steam Wallet purchases (which were most likely gifts during the holidays, though some of it was probably personal money as well). And the craziest thing of all – I’ve probably played less than 30 of those games and beaten less than 20!

And the second piece of motivation is the acquirement of knowledge and opinion. For too long have I had to naively stand aside while others argue about what’s the best Final Fantasy, or whether Mass Effect 3’s ending truly was a total bungle. It’d be nice to finally tackle some key games in gaming history. It will allow me to formulate my own opinion rather than echo opinions I’ve just acquired through internet trolls and shills. It helps me have a better grasp on the roots of gaming. When I play the 8k VR version of Final Fantasy 20, I may still be able to see a resonance of the originals despite its new coat of paint.

So enough is enough, I say! It’s time to kick this dirty habit before it’s too late. So without further ado, I bring you ‘My BackBlog.’

Each Week I will highlight the games I’ve completed and played. For games I complete, I will give a brief review and my overall thoughts, and all other games will include a quick check-in on where I’m at with the story/campaign.

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Hook, Line and Tinker (or how I discovered I'm a PC Gamer at heart)

Hook, Line and Tinker

So Holiday season is upon us, and a part of my New Year's Resolution is to finally start some sort of blog. This in turn means you shouldn't get too connected, because like most resolution's my commitment will probably die down sometime around, oh I don't know, saaay March 14th.

Nevertheless, my creative juices are flowing and it's time to start writing again.

I'm starting a blog series called "Hook, Line and Tinker." Over the past 3 or 4 years, I've become obsessed with PC Gaming. Many of the 'negatives' you read online about PC Gaming are part of the reason I've come to love PC Gaming. Whether it's tweaking settings to get a game running just right, or it's upgrading a computer piece by piece over the course of a year, I'm always content doing it. I don't really know why I like the tinkering aspect of PC Gaming so much, and hopefully this blog will help me figure that out.

So without further ado, my first blog entry will be a short piece on my first HTPC build. Something I've had an itching to do for quite some time, and finally got enough courage to start building (though the Christmas season Newegg giftcards certainly helped kickstart the endeavor as well)!

Let the building - BEGIN!

Parts List:

  • Processor: i3-6100 3.7 GHz
  • Cooler: Noctua NH-L9i
  • MoBo: MSI B150I Gaming Pro ITX
  • Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws DDR4-2133 (2x4 GB)
  • Storage: Samsung 850 EVO 500 GB SSD
  • GPU: Asus Strix GTX 970
  • Case: Fractal Node 202
  • PSU: Corsair SF 450W
  • Fans: 2 NF-F12 Static Pressure Fans (for GPU chamber), 1 NF-S12A Fan (for main CPU chamber)

For months now, I've been itching for a travel sized gaming rig. It would primarily sit on my bedroom TV center shelf for Saturday morning gaming in bed, with the occasional LAN party at friends' houses over the weekends. I've built a handful of ATX rigs for myself and friends now, but diving into something so compact was fairly new to me.

That craving is now a reality.

The parts are slowly trickling in this week as my various purchases via Christmas gift cards to Amazon and Newegg get delivered. While the 202 was slightly bigger than I was initially hoping for, it's still an impressive little case. It is slightly bigger than an Xbox One (one of the larger consoles to release), but it still fits in a shelf on my TV center, so it's really not a big deal. There's no external power prick to wrestle with either so that's a plus! ;)

On Wednesday morning, I was still missing memory, a processor, and peripheral fans, but my inner-child couldn't take it any longer. Work was breathing down my neck, and the thought of my vacation days winding down by the hour was too much to take. I was going to start the PC build whether I had all the parts or not.

I'll be damned if I don't start and finish this before vacation is over!
I'll be damned if I don't start and finish this before vacation is over!

The case itself, like all other Fractal cases I've used/seen, is very sturdy (though not too heavy). If there's one thing I hate about many case manufactures, it's that they skimp on quality to make something flashy. Fractal strikes a fantastic balance between elegant, sleek, and effective. The screws don't strip during assembly (one of my biggest pet peeves), the material feels solid, and everything detaches easily.

Turns out, I was glad I decided to start tinkering with the parts even if I was missing the most crucial pieces. As someone who's only recently gotten into PC building (3 or 4 years ago), I never appreciated how easy large-case ATX builds are until I started something like this. Laying out the PSU and MoBo and becoming familiar with the nooks and crannies of the case was extremely beneficial (pics below on cable management solutions).

The Fractal Node 202's interior is cleverly designed though and allows you to tuck cables away behind the PSU and even sneak some into the small chamber in the top middle that stores your SSDs. Since I only have 1 SSD installed, I was able to use the 2nd slot to snake cables through and save the precious little space I had to work with. One thing to note was that the PSU hangs out on the side of the unit and then connects to an extension that hangs out in the back of the case. This may be something prevalent in all HTPC builds and I'm showing my ignorance here, but I didn't like how this was implemented. Because of the case's design, there is no access to the PSU's power switch from the exterior. This means the PSU must always be left in the ON position. Not too big of a deal, but I am someone that gets quite paranoid and anal about switching off the PSU before unplugging and moving the PC. As an HTPC build that's suppose to also function as my travel/LAN PC, this is a small but annoying knock towards the case.

After messing around with the case, MoBo, and PSU, I took a 2 hour disc golf and dinner break. Timing was perfect, and I was greeted with the wonderful sight of a Newegg box sitting outside my apartment door upon my return. It was only 5:00 and I was hopeful that I'd finish the build and install Windows with plenty of time to sit back, crack a beer, and enjoy some time with the wife.

Installing the processor and ram was even easier than I expected. In previous builds, I always skimped on the aftermarket cooler and got the Cooler Master 212. Don't get me wrong, the Cooler Master is a great cooler for the price, but no one can argue the fact that it's a total pain in the ass to install. For this build, I wanted something of a bit higher quality. Two reasons: airflow is restricted and anything I can do to keep temps down will help; the cooler creates less noise than stock and cheap aftermarket coolers.

It may not look like it, but there's probably about 4 feet worth of cables tucked next to that PSU!!!
It may not look like it, but there's probably about 4 feet worth of cables tucked next to that PSU!!!

After 10 minutes of screwing, snapping, pasting, and pushing, the processor, ram and cooler were installed. Unfortunately, I underestimated the cable management woes that come along with HTPC builds though. Getting all the parts in isn't an issue at all, but keeping room clear for air to flow is a whole other story. Air flow in an HTPC build geared towards gaming is of utmost importance, and any lost space can make or break safe GPU temps. This is where I lost precious hours of my dwindling vacation.

But like my mom always told me, with a few zip-ties in hand and a couple courage-boosting sips of beer in the belly, there's nothing you can't tackle (full disclosure: that was a lie, my mother never told me that).

Fortunately, the case has a few clever design features that made cable management doable. In the picture to the right, you'll notice a little screwed-in bracked cross from the PSU. This is a mount for your SSDs. Because I'm only working with 1 SSD in this build (for now...), I was able to use some of that space for cable routing. There's also a couple inches of space between the SSD mount and PSU for some of the larger cables (I'm looking at you 24 pin Molex). Then there is of course, the oh-so useful zip-tie points scattered throughout the case (and Fractal is very generous with them in that aspect).

Well it was 7:00, and after some scuffed hands and beads of sweat, the cables were all tucked away in their right place. So help me good if I ever decide to grab another SSD or swap out this GPU for one that needs more than a single power cable. I'm convinced I've reached the limit on the Fractal Node 202. Don't get me wrong, it's impressive that Fractal has even managed to make an HTPC case this small that can still house an aftermarket cooler and full-size discreet GPU, but this won't be my Fractal R4 media hub sitting in my living room either. It accomplishes exactly what I need it to accomplish - a small, form-factor bedroom PC for Saturday morning gaming.

I've heard great things about Noctua fans...but why must they pick such a (excuse my elementary language) poopy color...?
I've heard great things about Noctua fans...but why must they pick such a (excuse my elementary language) poopy color...?

My vacation tasks were just about finished. The extra GTX 970 I have laying around can't be installed quite yet since the peripheral static pressure fans I ordered don't come in until Thursday. In the meantime, I can load up Windows 10 and call it a night. Oh, but right...I'm a total idiot and forgot to get a Windows 10 key. No problem, I can get one through Reddit's glorious r/microsoftsoftwareswap thread and have a key in 10 minutes, right? Wrong. Rarely has reddit let me down, but for some reason, after multiple PMs, I wasn't getting a response from users (how dare them take even 10 minutes to enjoy vacation instead of helping addicts like me get their fix)! /sarcasm

No matter, the brunt of my efforts were complete, and my work paid off. I had a bootable PC, and all signs were green. My ram was recognized, the SSD was showing up, and everything in the BIOS looked right as rain.

I went to bed happy, knowing I was only a few clicks away from having a new HTPC gaming rig in my bedroom.

The next day, I came home from work with the sight of two Noctua F-12 fans sitting at my door. Newegg got me the fans a day earlier than expected and for that I commend them. A Reddit user had gotten back to me with a W10 key that morning as well. The luck ended shortly after work though. I came home, thinking "Great, just pop in 2 fans and a GPU and we're done."

Not so fast.

The cables in the GPU chamber proved tougher to reroute than I initially expected. Between the 2 Noctua static pressure fans and the GTX 970, there was absolutely no room for sloppy cabling. I ended up moving the PSU's extension cable to go along the backside of the case. The HD Audio cable had to follow the same path and slip through a hole that just barely avoids blocking the GPU's back panel. A few scrapes later though, and the PC was ready to go. An hour lost, but I'm still not too far behind schedule.

Not so fast.

What's one of the most relieving sights for a PC Gamer? The BIOS Screen.
What's one of the most relieving sights for a PC Gamer? The BIOS Screen.

Hitting the power switch resulted in a totally black screen. My stomach dropped, and I felt the uncontrollable urge to punt a puppy through a window. What the hell could have changed between the night prior and that moment then? I took out the GPU since that seemed to be the only change in variables since my successful boots the day before. That didn't work, and now I really had my head scratching. Tack on another hour of my night lost and I eventually came to a solution. For some reason the ram was not fully clicked into place. Why it worked last night is beyond me, but I was just grateful I didn't have to go through any annoying RMA processes (knock on wood, but I've actually never had to deal with that in any of my builds thus far).

So my issue was fixed, and that beautiful BIOS splash screen lit up my room like a Christmas tree and I couldn't have been happier (it really is one of the most relieving best sights to a PC Builder's eyes). Fortunately, Windows installations have come a long way since there years of the mid 90s when I remember shaving years off my life from the stress of installing the OS on some crumby Gateway desktop. The OS was installed in mere minutes, and my little bedroom gaming PC was good to go.

Everyone claimed the biggest issue with the Fractal Node 202 are the temps. I wanted to test this little sucker as much as I could. To do that, I figured there's no better way than to walk Helmut Kruger down a catwalk. 2016's HITMAN is one of the more taxing games to come out this year for both the GPU and CPU. It seemed like a solid benchmark to push the PC to heat up both the CPU and GPU chambers of the case.

Temps weren't as terrible as I expected to be honest. The CPU idles between 35 and 40 degrees, and during load on HITMAN (medium-high settings) it reached 65-70 degrees. Really nothing to sweat about at all. 65-70 under load is totally within reason. The GPU stands a bit higher during idle at ~45 degrees. Under load it'll go up to 70-75 degrees. Those temps are a bit higher than I typically like to see, but it's really nothing to worry about. So long as neither component hits the 85 degree mark, I'm happy. Either way, I'll keep the RivaTuner stats up in the corner of my screen for the next couple of weeks to monitor things. It's worth noting that I did adjust the fan curves quite a bit to get the temps in these ranges. The CPU was idling between 45 and 47 at first, but the default fan curve had the damn fan spinning at 13% until it hit 50 degrees, so I tweaked everything a bit. As a result, I have a cool ITX build that, while not the quietest, is at least tolerable.

In the end, I am extremely happy with how this build turned out. I cant' recommend an ITX build to a newcomer to PC gaming. The cable management is a nightmare, the noise of the fans may be a turn off to some (though if you're coming from a PS4 (read: jet engine) then this may not bother you), and temps require fan curve manipulation which newer builders may not want to deal with.

Any who, I hope you all enjoyed the read (though it was a bit longer winded than I initially intended). Now time to go figure out why my living room PC is showing a blue crash screen after installing a new nVidia driver. The woes of PC Gaming, am I right?

Until next time - enjoy the pics of my new PC! Cheers duders.

Not sure I could have cut it any closer. There's no more than a millimeter space between the fans and GPU. Quad-fan cooling FTW!
Not sure I could have cut it any closer. There's no more than a millimeter space between the fans and GPU. Quad-fan cooling FTW!
I'm not sure what blows me away more. The amazing quality of this MoBo's onboard WiFi, or how much better Steam's download speeds are than PSN's.
I'm not sure what blows me away more. The amazing quality of this MoBo's onboard WiFi, or how much better Steam's download speeds are than PSN's.
The case comes with a stand for vertical orientation, but I don't like the look as much.
The case comes with a stand for vertical orientation, but I don't like the look as much.
I made some amazing slow cooker chicken pot pie stew while building this PC. Thought you should know...
I made some amazing slow cooker chicken pot pie stew while building this PC. Thought you should know...
The final product. Methinks I'll use this enough that there won't be dust build up like you see on the PS3. But seriously, this thing is a beast considering it's size.
The final product. Methinks I'll use this enough that there won't be dust build up like you see on the PS3. But seriously, this thing is a beast considering it's size.

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