iPhone XS camera ranked #2 by DxOMark: ‘one of the best mobile cameras’

iPhone XS camera ranked #2 by DxOMark: ‘one of the best mobile cameras’

DxOMark is out with its full review of the iPhone XS camera system. Coming in with a score of 105, the latest flagship iPhone beat out the camera performance of all other smartphones except for Huawei’s P20 Pro with its triple-camera setup. Read on for all the details.

Whoosh! Screen Cleaner

DxOMark evaluates cameras based on a combined score of photo and video performance. The total score is not out of 100. With that it mind, the iPhone XS Max that DxO tested scored notably higher at 105 than the iPhone X, which earned 97 last year. The company notes that it only tested the XS Max, but more or less expects the XS to perform the same, since they have the same camera systems.

DxO notes that while the few hardware upgrades to the XS camera system are valuable, the software changes are more noticeable.

On the software and image processing side of things, the improvements are more obvious. During still image capture, the camera continuously captures a multi-frame buffer at different exposures, allowing for simultaneous zero shutter lag and HDR processing, something that is unique to the new iPhone at this point.

Still photos

For the photo portion, DxO called out that the iPhone XS Max could have better zoom performance, but it still scored an impressive scored 110.

Overall, however, still image quality is very good, and the iPhone XS Max achieves an excellent Photo score of 110 points. In addition to capturing great image quality in bright light, the iPhone XS Max camera is also very reliable, consistently capturing good results shot after shot. The autofocus system is among the best we have tested, and images recorded in Apple’s Portrait mode show very good subject isolation.

iPhone XS camera

Video performance

For the video portion of the testing, iPhone XS Max scored 96 with indoor white balance instabilities being one of its weaknesses. Great video performance in bright conditions was one of its key strengths.

The Apple iPhone XS Max achieves an excellent Video score of 96 points, thanks to an outstanding performance in bright light conditions. The overall score is derived from a number of sub-scores in the same way as the Photo score: Exposure (88), Color (88), Autofocus (91), Texture (58), Noise (75), Artifacts (84), and Stabilization (94).

While this doesn’t factor into its scoring system, DxO notes how the sensor readout is better on iPhone XS than compared to other smartphones.

thanks to improved sensor readout speed, the rolling-shutter effect that can occur when panning is much less intrusive than for some rivals — for example, the Google Pixel 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. You can see that vertical lines are much more “leaning” on the latter two devices in the sample clips below.

For a complete looks at how the XS camera system performed and more side by side comparisons with other top smartphones, read the full DxOMark review here.

Also be sure to take a look at our coverage of the iPhone XS camera system:

Check out 9to5Mac on YouTube for more Apple news:

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Wi-Fi Alliance Simplifies Things With Version Numbers

Wi-Fi Alliance Simplifies Things With Version Numbers

Credit: Casezy idea / Shutterstock.comCredit: Casezy idea / Shutterstock.com

Most people don’t bother to learn the differences between Wi-Fi standards. Those who try are greeted by nonsensical designations like 802.11 a/b/g/n and the like. These monikers have meanings, sure, but it’s not easy for the lay person to grok at a glance which is better. The Wi-Fi Alliance announced a new system that uses good-ol’ numerals to differentiate between the varying communications protocols and make it easier to know which is the newest.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is a non-profit that certifies products using the various wireless communications protocols developed by IEEE. Companies that want to use the Wi-Fi branding for their products have to go through the group. Most do. “Wi-Fi” is something like Kleenex or Q-Tip for wireless standards. Not everyone knows what Bluetooth is, or how NFC works, or what their cellular network is capable of. Wi-Fi is equivalent to “wireless” for them.

This new versioning system reflects the relative disinterest people have in learning about the differences between 802.11a and 802.11ac or any of the other standards available. The Wi-Fi Alliance said that 802.11n will now simply be known as Wi-Fi 4, 801.22ac as Wi-Fi 5 and the upcoming 802.11ax will be Wi-Fi 6. (Apparently with Wi-Fi, much like the original Star Wars trilogy, you don’t need to worry about what came before versions 4-6.)

Here’s how the Wi-Fi Alliance explained the reasoning behind this new versioning system in its announcement:

“For nearly two decades, Wi-Fi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest Wi-Fi,” said Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance. “Wi-Fi Alliance is excited to introduce Wi-Fi 6, and present a new naming scheme to help industry and Wi-Fi users easily understand the Wi-Fi generation supported by their device or connection.”

The non-profit said that the new Wi-Fi designations won’t be restricted to spec sheets and marketing materials. Companies will also be able to use them in their products’ user interfaces to let people know what kind of Wi-Fi connection they’re currently using. That can have a dramatic impact on performance–you might want to use a 2.4GHz band if you’re looking for max range, for example, and a 5GHz one if you need maximum speed.

Right now there isn’t a great way to figure out which band you’re using when you connect to a network. Having your smartphone, laptop, and other devices tell you whether you’re using Wi-Fi 4 or 5 would be an obvious improvement. That isn’t up to the Wi-Fi Alliance, though, so individual companies will have to decide if they want to make this information more readily available to their customers. Hopefully most of them decide to do so.

The Wi-Fi Alliance said this new versioning system will officially go into effect when 802.11ax (sorry, Wi-Fi 6) debuts sometime in 2019. It’s not clear if companies that want to use Wi-Fi 4 or 5 to refer to 802.11n and 802.11ac will do so before the new version comes out.

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What to Expect From Google’s Pixel 3 Hardware Event

What to Expect From Google’s Pixel 3 Hardware Event
Last year’s Pixel 2
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

In less than a week’s time Google will be holding court in New York to reveal some less-than-mysterious new hardware offerings. Those Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones might have been thoroughly leaked ahead of next week’s gathering, but what other surprises has Google managed to keep under wraps?

The event officially gets under way at 11am ET on Tuesday, October 9, and as in past years you should be able to watch it live on YouTube. Gizmodo will be there reporting on all the new hardware to find out what’s neat, what’s noteworthy, and what’s not worth your time. Until then, here’s a crash course on everything we expect to see.

The Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3 XL

This one’s basically a foregone conclusion, and that’s not only because Google typically reveals its smartphones in October and the company tagged the official invite with the #madebygoogle hashtag it reserves for hardware. For months we’ve been inundated with leak after leak after leak of the devices leading up to this event.

The first and most thorough reveal came from Russian blog Rozetked, which seemingly got its hands on a Pixel 3 XL almost two months ago. The leak appears to reveal that, at least for its larger handset, Google will also be embracing the notorious smartphone notch, while maintaining a larger bottom bezel to accommodate the Pixel’s forward-facing stereo speakers. The size of the Pixel 3 XL’s 2960 x 1440-pixel display hasn’t been confirmed yet, but the device apparently runs on a Snapdragon 845 processor and will come installed with Android 9 Pie—no surprises there.

Rozetked also took the opportunity to try out the suspected Pixel 3 XL’s camera, and the results suggest that the smartphone might once again out-perform other smartphone cameras on the market, which has been a hallmark selling point of the Pixel line in recent years.

The leaked photos also revealed the smartphone’s packaging, which included what looked like a fully wired version of Google’s Pixel Buds, but they weren’t tested to see if they worked with the company’s Google Assistant or instant translation features like the wireless versions do.

Those of you with smaller hands and pockets weren’t left out of the leak fun, however. About a month ago a bunch of photos of the purported Pixel 3 appeared in an Imgur gallery, revealing a generous but reasonably-sized 5.5-inch screen (a half-inch larger than the Pixel 2), a two-tone back panel, a pair of eight-megapixel front-facing cameras that could facilitate wide-angle selfie shots, but no screen notch up top. Instead, the Pixel 3 will have aesthetically-pleasing matching bezels on the top and bottom.

One other feature gleaned from the Pixel 3 photos is a battery with a potential capacity of around 3,000 mAh, which is not only larger than the Pixel 2’s, but also larger than the 2,658 mAh battery Apple is including with the iPhone Xs.

A Google Home smart speaker with a display

Smart speakers became more than just talking heads when Amazon upgraded Alexa and the Echo Show with a touchscreen display back in 2017. Screens are now en vogue, and a smart addition as the Lenovo Smart Display for Google Assistant proved.

So it comes as no surprise that back in August a report from Nikkei claimed Google was planning to release a smart display of its own ahead of the holiday season. A website called MySmartPrice also shared what appears to be leaked renders of the device, revealing a seven-inch touchscreen. What remains to be seen is how Google could potentially differentiate its smart display from Lenovo’s, which runs stock Android and has enjoyed a few months head start. Compatibility with smart home thermostats? Extra functionality as a smart security camera for your home? Or will cute pastel colors be enough for these to outsell the competition?

But probably no new Google Home Mini

Yesterday Google revealed a new Aqua-colored version of the Google Home Mini, which seems to indicate the product isn’t going to see a refresh next week. And if the pretty affordable Home Mini isn’t getting an update this year, which is the most popular smart speaker Google sells, would the pricier Google Home be getting one? So far there’s no evidence that’s happening.

The Chromecast 3

Potentially first leaked by FCC documentation back in April, there’s now no doubt that a new version of Google’s streaming stick is en route after Best Buy sold a Chromecast 3 to a customer before the device was officially listed in the store’s system. Reddit user GroveStreetHomie shared a photo of the third-generation Chromecast they managed to buy, which, according to previous leaks, will run on a quad-core Amlogic S905X processor powered by 2GB of RAM and 8GB of storage enabling 4K content to be streamed at up to 60 frames per second.

New Pixel Buds

When Apple killed the headphone jack, it tried to make up for it with a great pair of wireless earbuds that helped fill the hole. Google followed suit with its own wireless earbuds called the Pixel Buds that were, by comparison, definitely not as great. There’s a lot of room for improvement here, and a lot of catch up needed given how many excellent wireless earbud options are now on the market. Google could start by removing the cord that tethers the Pixel Buds together, improving the functionality of the charging case, and maybe even making that fancy real-time translation functionality available on more Android phones.

A follow-up to the Pixelbook

The $1,000, transforming, Chrome OS-running Pixelbook is coming up on its one-year anniversary, which means it’s almost an antique at this point. Does Google plan to release an updated version with improved specs? There have been rumors about two successors in development code-named “Nocturne” and “Meowth” which were both apparently referenced in the Chromium source code (Google’s open-source web browser) earlier this year.

According to 9to5Google, the new Pixelbook might actually be named the Pixel Slate and will come in the form of a Chrome OS-powered detachable tablet that can separate from a backlit keyboard accessory, instead of having it just flip out of the way beneath the screen. The Pixel Slate would potentially come in a version powered by Intel’s Kaby Lake processor for better performance, or the low-power Amber Lake variant for maximizing the device’s battery life and improving its price point.

Other rumored features include a 3:2-ratio, 3,000 x 2,000-pixel display, two USB-C ports but no SD card slot, and a fingerprint sensor located on the tablet’s bezel.

But don’t expect a Pixel Watch

It would certainly be nice to see the developer of Wear OS release a smartwatch optimized for all the ins and outs of the wrist-worn operating system. But 2018 won’t be the year Google jumps on the wearable bandwagon. During a recent phone call with Tom’s Guide, Miles Barr, Google’s director of engineering for Wear OS, confirmed the company had no plans to release a smartwatch this year, and would instead focus on improving Wear OS itself.

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Witcher Author Threatens CD Projekt Red With Legal Action If It Doesn’t Pay Him More

Witcher Author Threatens CD Projekt Red With Legal Action If It Doesn’t Pay Him More
Screenshot: Kotaku (The Witcher 3)

The creator of The Witcher books, Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, has called on CD Projekt Red to pay him up to $16.1 million more in royalties following the success of the studio’s video game adaptation of the series. In a post on the company’s website, CD Projekt Red called the demands “groundless.”

Lawyers for Sapkowksi claim in a letter CD Projekt Red reposted on its website that Polish copyright law entitles him to more royalties based on the now large discrepancy between what the studio originally paid him and how much it has gone on to profit from the copyright. Citing Article 44 of Poland’s 1994 copyright law, they write, “[Article 44] may be invoked when the compensation remitted to the author is too low given the benefits obtained in association with the use of that author’s work.” The lawyers also argue that the original agreement only applies to the first Witcher game and not any others, something CD Projekt Red denies. “All liabilities payable by the Company in association therewith have been properly discharged,” the company writes.

Not much is known about the original agreement by which CD Projekt Red secured the rights to make its Witcher trilogy, which wrapped up in 2016 with the release of the Blood and Wine expansion, or its current digital card game Gwent based on the same characters. Based on reporting by Eurogamer, the studio apparently approached Sapkowski in the early 2000s about making games based on his books. “It wasn’t a huge amount of money,” CD Projekt Red co-founder Marcin Iwiński told the site in 2015.

In Sapkowski’s view, the studio’s offer wasn’t so meager. “Well they brought a big bag of money,” he told Eurogamer in 2017. Sapkowski didn’t expect the games to amount to much, so he settled for the flat amount rather than royalties based on its financial success. In hindsight he regretted his decision.

Screenshot: Kotaku (The Witcher 3)

“I was stupid enough to sell them rights to the whole bunch,” he told Eurogamer. “They offered me a percentage of their profits. I said, ‘No, there will be no profit at all – give me all my money right now! The whole amount.’ It was stupid. I was stupid enough to leave everything in their hands because I didn’t believe in their success. But who could foresee their success? I couldn’t.”

In the years since, The Witcher has come to be one of the role-playing genre’s defining series, with with CD Projekt Red reporting in 2016 that The Witcher 3 had shipped 10 million copies. By the following year, the studio announced that the trilogy as a whole had sold 33 million copies worldwide.

Now, Sapkowski is trying to pressure to the company into paying him more to account for that success. While his lawyers’ letter mentions various legal arguments in Sapkowski’s favor and claims the original contracts “do not conform to even rudimentary due diligence principles,” the ultimate goal appears to be some sort of new settlement, calling for the studio to resolve things with him amicably lest either party’s reputation be damaged.

For its part, CD Projekt stated it’s also interested in keeping its relationship with the author of the source material on good terms. “It is the Company’s will to maintain good relations with authors of works which have inspired CD PROJEKT RED’s own creations,” it said in the post on its website. “Consequently, the Board will go to great lengths to ensure amicable resolution of this

dispute; however, any such resolution must be respectful of previously expressed intents of both parties, as well as existing contracts.”

It’s unclear how much of either side’s words amount to posturing, and CD Projekt Red did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the terms of its original agreement with Sapkowski and whether it would be open to some new financial settlement. The letter from Sapkowski’s lawyers give a deadline of October 19 for negotiations to begin.

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What Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Changes From Origins

What Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Changes From Origins

At a glance, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey looks a lot like last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins. Despite swapping Egyptian pyramids for Greek temples, the surface-level similarities are numerous. There are plenty of subtle differences, however.

(Note: This piece is based on the 14 hours I’ve played with the game as well as our reviewers’ 75 hours and some fact-checking we’ve done with the development team via Ubisoft PR.)

Let’s get the basics out of the way first.

What’s Not Different

Both Origins and Odyssey are third-person adventures set in vast recreations of iconic ancient time periods. Both eschew many of the trappings of the 10 major Assassin’s Creed games that preceded them. You can’t assassinate targets in a single strike by default, and there’s no mini-map to guide players. There’s little overt reference to Assassins fighting Templars, because both games precede that core of that conflict, instead showing some of the roots.

They’re math-driven, loot-heavy games, with more of an evident Diablo or Destiny influence. They dole out weapons and wardrobe options of color-coded rarity and escalating statistical proficiency, and have a skill tree for players to climb.

The ancient stories of Origins and Odyssey are both being experienced by a modern day researcher, Layla Hassan, who is using an Animus device to expire the past. And both are loaded with so much to do that they can run players 80 hours even before the roll-out of a season of downloadable content.

They also both do that thing where you have a pet eagle that works as a surveillance drone.

The Obvious Differences

Origins starred a proto-Assassin named Bayek who used a hidden blade and treks through ancient Egypt fighting the forces of Ptolemy and, later, Julius Caesar. On rare occasion, you could also play as Bayek’s wife, Aya, often in naval missions that aped the feel of the grand ship combat in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. While the game explored the origins of the Assassin’s Order, it did little with the series’ modern day lore other than to introduce Layla Hassan. It made even less mention of the First Civilization, a precursor race shown in earlier games as having somehow influenced human development.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Odyssey stars the player’s choice of Alexios or Kassandra, a Spartan who uses the seemingly magical spear of Leonidas, itself a First Civ artifact. The adventure is set in ancient Greece at the time of the Peloponnesian War, four hundred years before Origins. According to my colleague Heather Alexandra, who reviewed the game and has played more than I have, it goes deep into First Civ lore in extensive, optional sections late in the game, though early on it mostly steers clear of any of the series’ elaborate meta-narratives.

Origins’ creation was led by Ubisoft Montreal and a creative leadership who had last worked on Black Flag. Odyssey’s was handled primarily by Ubisoft Quebec, whose previous AC was 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

While Origins began to lean Assassin’s Creed into the realm of role-playing games like The Witcher, with more emphasis on elaborate sidequests and gear collection, Odyssey goes all-in with the addition of dialogue options and even the ability to sleep with numerous side characters.

Odyssey also restores naval exploration and combat to a full offering, complete with the options to recruit crew members and upgrade your ship. It adds an elaborate territorial control system that lets players flip dozens of regions in the game from Athenian to Spartan control or vice versa. Players do this through new large-scale battles that involve dozens of warriors fighting around your hero, as well as through a more Assassin’s Creed-like incremental system of weakening a regional leader’s control before you can assassinate them.

Other Differences Are More Subtle, But Still Meaningful

Odyssey offers a better way to explore. Origins was often too easy, in part because it removed the detective work of tracking down quest items and targets. Upon receipt of a new quest, the game would show a yellow icon or circle on the map indicating where the player should go. You’d go there, then be prompted to switch to control of your eagle Senu. Senu’s bird sense would highlight the loot or assassination target, or whatever else you were going for. After that simple extra step, you’d be back to following a waypoint on your HUD.

Odyssey puts a few creative twists on that. Those who liked Origins’ heavily assisted navigation can opt to keep it via a gameplay option called Guided Mode. However, the game recommends players try the superior Exploration mode, which does not mark the map when players get a new quest. Instead, players must rely on textual clues about where to go. They might be looking for a target who they’re told is in a forest in the western part of a specific region, for example, but there won’t be a big yellow circle indicating where that is.

In Guided Mode, a yellow circle shows the player where to go to continue a quest.
In Exploration Mode, players often need to rely on text clues alone to indicate where they should go to continue a quest.

Exploration mode is a much more satisfying way to play, though Odyssey still displays a prompt to switch to your eagle when you’re finally near your objective. You can’t turn that off, a Ubisoft rep confirmed to me, since players testing the game would sometimes lose track of their objective. Still, Exploration mode is worth at least trying. I greatly prefer it.

Ability specializations enable you to play as a sneaky assassin. Origins’ combat was biased toward players who were interested in swinging swords out in the open. There were ranged moves and stealth moves, but Bayek’s hidden blade was sometimes not a one-hit kill, which was a break from older games in the series. Guards could quickly detect Bayek and ruin any plans for a stealthy approach, and more often than not, what started as an infiltration would end as an all-out brawl.

Odyssey still lets you play barbarously, but its stealth system is more accommodating to those who wish to skulk—and remain skulking—in the shadows. Early on, players can start increasing the potency of stealth attacks that use Leonidas’ spear, which is this game’s version of the hidden blade. They can also learn how to chain assassinations and perform extra-potent assassinations that require a long button-press but dole out double damage. There are still enemies who can’t be taken out with one stab, but Odyssey is much more permissive of players trying to control their character as if they were classic AC heroes Altair or Ezio.

Odyssey gives players a load of possible melee moves, but only allows you to map four of them to the controller’s face buttons at a time. That encourages you to pick a load-out of your favored moves, and will likely encourage players to adopt and stick to certain aggressive or low-key styles of play. You can switch out active moves on the fly just by pausing, if you want.

A new weapon-engraving system also rewards focusing how you play. Perhaps to a fault, Odyssey regularly pops up alerts about things you’re doing in the game. Oh, you’ve just killed another predator animal, or another enemy with a sword. Those actions and others like them count toward goals that unlock new engravings that a blacksmith can etch into your weapon. Those engravings are basically weapon perks and they match the kind of actions that unlock them. Killing animals, for example, allows you to get an engraving that makes your weapons even more potent at killing animals, which then would make it easier to hunt and fight the game’s legendary beasts. Or, if you do a lot of stealthy assassinating, you’ll be unlocking engravings that make your weapons even more powerful when used for assassinations. Likewise if you focus on ranged combat or out-in-the-open melee.

The loading screens are different. In Origins, true to longstanding Assassin’s Creed tradition, you could make Bayak run through an endless digital horizon. In Odyssey, all you get is a non-interactive screen of a fire and an artifcat glowing. Advantage Origins!

There are more gear slots. You’re not collecting outfits one at a time in Odyssey, as you were in Origins. Instead, you’re collecting helmets, chest pieces, lower body armor, gauntlets and footwear, which is either great news for lovers of loot collection or bad news for people who don’t buy Assassin’s Creed games to spend a major chunk of their time doing inventory management.

Odyssey offers more types of quests. Origins gave players main quests, sidequests and a handful of timed events, mostly involving fighting a rotation of a few gods. It all added up to more than 180 quests, downloadable expansions included, a lot of which was fun to do.

Odyssey slices things up differently, with a structure that feels a shade more like Destiny or other games meant to offer players reasons to turn the game on regularly. There are main Odyssey quests, and then below those, major side-quests classified as “world” or “character” missions. Then there are numerous bounties, which are timed and usually involve having about a day to hunt down a target. And there are contracts, which involve having to do things like sink X number of boats or fight Y number of enemies. Players grab bounties and contracts from message boards in the game’s towns, and they appear to replenish frequently. There are also daily and weekly quests that dole out a special currency that can be used to obtain rare gear or to get lootboxes that randomly include such rare gear, similar to the Nomad’s Bazaar in Origins.

Among the range of side activities in Odyssey are the aforementioned large-scale battles and also a batch of “impact quest giver” quests that a Ubisoft rep clarified to me are quests that pop up based on decisions you’ve made in the game.

Quests allow for somewhat malleable outcomes. In my experience with the game, Odyssey has recognized when I’ve bungled what was supposed to be a stealth mission. Once, a quest giver asked me to keep a mission quiet, but I screwed it up and alerted several guards. When I returned for my reward, I found my quest-giver besieged by enemies. After I fought them off, I got a scolding about making too much of a ruckus and leading the enemy back to them.

Quests level up as you play. When Origins launched, it was easy to grind away at the game and become over-leveled for any early quests you skipped and then tried later. Enemies in the game’s starter regions would be weak and the game could often feel too easy. A patch enabled players to make enemies scale up in difficulty as they did. Odyssey makes that kind of leveling mandatory, though it handles it differently depending on whether you’re playing on normal or hard difficulty.

Every region on Odyssey’s map has two numbers associated with it. Those numbers indicate, in part, how leveled up you need to be to explore the region without getting thrashed. If you’re in a region and start leveling up, the quests in that region will level up with you. Enter a level six zone at character-level six and then improve to seven, and any level six quests you grabbed in that region become level seven quests, complete with tougher enemies. If you hit the max level for the region and playing at normal difficulty, then quests will keep leveling but will lag some and eventually stay wo levels behind your character, no matter how high you go, according to Ubisoft. If you’re playing on hard or nightmare, the quests will, at most, linger one or zero levels behind you

The Mercenary system is a game unto itself. Black Flag had a wanted system along the lines of Grand Theft Auto’s, which would send hunter ships after you the more mayhem you committed on the high seas. Origins placed a high-level enemy called a Phylake in many of its regions, requiring you to flee for your life if their regular patrol routes drew them near, though you could eventually level up enough to fight them, kill them and activate a quest in the course of all of that.

One of dozens of mercenaries who you can hunt or who will hunt you down. Note that this one travels with a wolf and is too high-level to take on at the moment (as seen by their power level number being red).

Odyssey combines what those earlier games did and mixes in a touch of the Nemesis System from Shadow of Mordor for an elaborate side challenge involving mercenaries. Powerful mercenaries populate the game’s world. A special pause menu interface displays more than nine tiers of mercenaries, as well as your standing among them. Most in that menu are initially masked in silhouette. Mercenaries vary in power, strengths and weaknesses. Players can gather intel on them and hunt them down. A wanted system that tracks the player-character’s own excessive violence will also trigger mercenaries to start hunting them down. Inevitably, mercenaries will confront you, barking taunts as they do. And even as you kill mercenaries and move up the tier ranking, new mercenaries will emerge. At any time, players can pay off or assassinate characters who ostensibly are putting bounties on your head, which will chill things out for a while.

As with the regional control stuff, the mercenary system is surprisingly involved, arguably superfluous, distractingly engaging and yet another multi-level means for acquiring exotic loot.

A more customizable HUD. While Origins let players switch between a few pre-set options for your heads-up-display, Odyssey lets you tick 20 options on and off. I turned the damage numbers off right away. Closing my game wouldn’t save the options I’d selected, nor would the game remember my HDR settings, but Ubisoft says those are bugs that should be patched after release.

Traversal is slightly faster. I thought Kassandra felt like a quicker climber than Bayek. Not quite. According to a Ubisoft rep, climbing is not “meaningfully faster” but moving up steep inclines has improved, and jumping down is faster. Getting up and down is therefore a shade quicker than in the previous game, though obviously not as brisk as just using a grappling hook in Ubisoft Quebec’s last AC game, Syndicate.

P.S.: There’s nothing quite like this in Origins.

There are hosts of other similarities and differences between Odyssey and Origins, including some that’d spoil the new game. These, though, are some of the biggest and some of the easiest to miss. A lot of the subtler differences help Odyssey feel like an improvement over the already impressive Origins, and help the new game stand apart as more than just more of the same old thing.

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