Well, you might recall that we originally said that we were going to try out the Steam Link for this week’s Apple Arcade, but it looks like that's not happening. Thus far, it hasn’t been released for iOS, and we haven’t received beta access. So we’ll shoot for next week.
This week we’ll instead head to the land of the elves. Specifically, we’ll be running about the lush islands in The Elder Scrolls Online’s new Summerset expansion, which entered early access for Mac and PC preorderers today, and which will fully go live on June 5. We’ll have a review ready for you then—and you might recall I’ve already written a preview.
But you don’t have to wait until next month to see what it’s like. Today at 2:00 p.m. Pacific, I’ll hop on my trusty 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and show you how well Summerset performs on Mac (along with some of the sights).
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Barely a month ago the idea of playing a game like The Witcher III on your iPhone would have been unthinkable (and indeed, it’s so resource-demanding that it’s yet to be ported to the Mac). But that will change quite soon, at least in a roundabout way.
Valve’s Steam Link app is coming soon to iOS within the next handful of days, and it dropped for Android users on Thursday. (Word on the street is that the iOS version is still tied up in Apple’s approval process.) The idea behind this wonderful app is that you can stream games directly from your PC or Mac directly to your iPhone or iPad, essentially turning them into portable gaming devices like the Nintendo Switch. And it works directly through the app, so you don’t even need the $50 Steam Link device Valve sells for streaming from a PC to a TV.
For this Tuesday’s (May 22) show at 11 a.m. Pacific, we’ll be testing out the device with an iPhone and iPad along with the Steam Controller and the popular Stratus XL controller for iOS.
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We didn’t have an Apple Arcade video last week due to a couple of scheduling conflicts, but I took the time to hop in with Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery for iOS and post my thoughts about it. I, ahem, didn’t like it. There’s a clear love of J.K. Rowling’s universe in developer Portkey’s new game, but it’s walled behind an obnoxious free-to-play design that repeatedly asks you to plunk down money to advance unless you want to wait a couple of hours to keep playing.
This, of course, is standard fare with free-to-play games on iOS, but Hogwarts Mystery feels particularly punishing. Once I got past the introduction, I’d barely start playing for a few minutes on the train to work before I’d be slapped with a request for more gems to advance the story further without waiting for the energy to recharge. Worse, the gems are pretty expensive, which means you could easily end up spending more money on this than you would on a so-called “AAA” game with a single $60 price like the new God of War.
For today’s show, I’ll be livestreaming Hogwarts Mystery on our 9.7-inch iPad from scratch. Along the way, we’ll talk about the advantages of a buying a game with this model over one that asks for a single charge to unlock everything, and I’d love to hear if any of you have had a better experience with Hogwarts Mystery. We’ll see you in an hour!
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Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery for iOS reminds me of my grad school. It’s not just because of the gothic spires or the intellectual combativeness of the students, and it’s not even because our dining hall was modeled on the same Oxford dining hall that served as the Great Hall in the films. No, instead it’s because I’m reminded at every turn that the place wants me to cough up some cash.
Developer Portkey’s new game is a free-to-play adventure that Death Eaters would be proud of. It’s free-to-play of the old, money-grubbing variety; the kind that makes you suffer through hours of waiting if you don’t drop five bucks or more to bypass it all. Had I succumbed to Hogwarts Mystery’s every single request for cash to further the adventure, I doubtless would have already spent enough cash to buy a proper blockbuster game like the new God of War for the PS4. Had I played through the upcoming weekend that way, I probably could have spent enough to cover a student loan payment.
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The first chap I meet in the Summerset Isles is an elf with a Sean Penn face who gripes about how he’s missing out on a wine tasting because some local Wood Elves “offed” the vintner, because of course. This, after all, is the closed beta for The Elder Scrolls Online’s Summerset expansion ($40 on Amazon), which whisks us off to the ancestral homes of the High Elves, a magical land crammed with haughty wizards, Neuschwanstein-like villas, and flora that likely would have been at home in Eden. Whatever. This dude just wants his wine, and I can appreciate that.
The Elder Scrolls Online excels at this kind of thing. ZeniMax Online’s game may be crawling with elves and the occasional grumpy orc, but no other MMORPG feels quite so human. That’s not to say that other MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV and Star Wars: The Old Republic don’t spin a good yarn, but they’re more concerned with high drama and the oh-so-important Fate of the World.
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Folks with more coding knowledge than I have (and a greater willingness to potentially brick a $2,400 machine) have been hooking up external graphics cards to Macs for years, but the support now come bundled into macOS 10.13.4 High Sierra. In layman’s terms, Apple officially supports some graphics cards that you’d normally only find in a bulky PC tower—so long as you have a separate external chassis to stick them in and a Mac with Thunderbolt 3.
I hoped eGPU support would be revolutionary. Beyond that, I hoped it’d allow me to break with PCs entirely, as I really only use them for gaming these days. Anyone who watches Apple Arcade knows I’ve been a little frustrated with the current state of Mac gaming, and an external graphics card struck me as an easy way to circumvent the limitations of Apple’s built-in processors.
In some ways, it is. On the last show I took an AMD Radeon RX 580 graphics card and slipped it in a spare eGPU chassis loaned from the folks at PCWorld, and I watched in awe as the recently released port of Rise of the Tomb Raider suddenly looked the way it was supposed to on my 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro. Once everything was on the table, setup only took around five minutes.
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Not too long ago, running a graphically intensive game like Rise of the Tomb Raider at 60fps on a humble MacBook seemed about as likely as Steve Jobs faking his death. With macOS High Sierra, though, it’s a reality.
Apple’s latest update brought official support for external graphics processing units, which means you can now hook up a high-powered PC graphics card to your Mac and experience breathtaking textures and shadows on a machine that could barely boot the game a few minutes before. It’s potentially revolutionary, but as with so many features like this that we see from Apple, you’ll have to steel yourself for a boatload of complications.
So how hard is it to work this magic yourself? On this week’s Apple Arcade (Tuesday at 11 a.m. Pacific), we’ll show you that it’s relatively simple so long as you're using a Mac with Thunderbolt 3 ports. Even better, we’ll show you how simple it is to hook one up with just the materials we have sitting around here in the office.
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