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AMD Athlon 5350 (Kabini) Review

AMD Athlon 5350 (Kabini) Review

Manufacturer: AMD
UK price (as reviewed): £40.72
US price (as reviewed): $63.99

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There was some interesting news regarding AMD recently. Financially, it recorded some significant losses throughout 2013, which can arguably be traced all the way back to Intel’s launch of its Core architecture and AMD’s somewhat ill-fated Phenom. However, while it hasn’t really clawed back any significant ground in the high performance desktop CPU market, the APU arena is a very different story.

The case for budget gaming systems is pretty strong, and Kaveri and Richland (think A10-7850K and A10-6800K) have strengthened the idea that there are playable frame rates to be had below your typical budget CPU and cheap discrete GPU setup.

AMD has seen enhanced sales of GPUs thanks to cryptocurrency mining (not forgetting that the company is also in a fairly equal fight with Nvidia when it comes to frame rates too), and it also has fingers in plenty of next-gen console pies. Its Q1 2014 net income of -$20m is actually a lot better than what we’ve seen recently – the same quarter last year, for example, saw its net income at -$146m.

Things are arguably looking up for AMD, then, and with Intel’s inferior but ever-increasing graphics performance on its CPUs, with Kabini, AMD’s latest APU, it is looking to cement its dominance at the extreme budget end of the market, and fend off competition from budget Intel CPUs.

AMD Athlon 5350 (Kabini) Reviewjpg" alt="AMD Athlon 5350 (Kabini) Review" />
So where exactly does Kabini fit in? Well, AMD wanted to be clear here – this isn’t a 1080p gaming setup, nor is Kabini going to be competing with Pentiums or Core i3′s in 2D performance stakes either. It’s not even really a cut down version of Kaveri – Kabini is essentially a low power desktop version of its latest mobile and console-based silicon sporting up to four Jaguar cores along with a Radeon GPU portion – more on the technical side of things over the page.

As we reported here on the day of launch, Kabini is essentially AMD’s answer to Intel’s Bay Trail, which is found in some low-power Pentium, Celeron and Atom-based systems including NUCs amongst other things. Steam OS, HTPCs and generic budget systems all come into play here, especially as Kabini APUs also sport Radeon graphics, and this market is precisely what AMD is aiming at.

AMD Athlon 5350 (Kabini) Review
It’s certainly lucrative given the sheer volumes involved, especially in the home/office PC side of things. However, something that’s really raised some eyebrows is the cost of the APUs and indeed their counterpart Socket AM1 motherboards. The latter are currently available for as little as £20, and the top-end APU that we’re looking at here today, the Athlon 5350, only costs £40 with the low-end Sempron 2650 retailing for just £24. Throw in a budget PSU, 4GB of RAM and a mini-ITX case such as Cooler Master’s Elite 130, and you’re looking at a complete base unit price of no more than £150 – something Intel simply cannot match, at least if you’re buying up-to-date gear.

AMD has cited a need from developing countries for a low-cost offering and price-wise it’s certainly met that, but where the new Socket AM1 also surprised us when we first heard about it, is that it’s socketed – not embedded like its predecessors. The reason for this, again according to AMD, is to offer a modicum of future proofing for the new socket but also to allow some flexibility when it comes to hardware choice, even if at launch there are only four models to choose from.

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Novena laptop gets new stretch goals

Novena laptop gets new stretch goals

Andrew ‘Bunnie’ Huang has added stretch goals to his crowd-funded Novena laptop, including GPIO break-out boards and software defined radio modules.


Andrew ‘Bunnie’ Huang has announced new stretch-goals for his crowd-funded Novena open hardware laptop project, currently approaching 80 per cent of its $250,000 goal with 24 days left on the clock.

First unveiled in December 2012 as a very early prototype, and given the name Novena in January this year, the project aims to produce an ARM-based laptop with features designed to appeal to the hobbyist. With a fully open hardware design and running entirely on open source software – no binary blobs required to boot, Bunnie has promised – the design includes a quad-core ARM chip with a Xilinx Spartan 6 field-programmable gate array (FPGA) as a co-processor.

Earlier this month, Bunnie launched a crowd-funding drive designed to bring the first Novena models to production. With 77 per cent of the ambitious $250,000 goal raised with 24 days still to go, Huang has now announced stretch goals for the project – and they include some impressive add-ons.

First, a heartfelt “thank you” to all those who have backed our crowdfunding campaign to bring Novena-powered open computing devices to the world,‘ wrote Bunnie of the project’s success so far. ‘One excellent outcome of the campaign is a lot of people have reached out to us to extend the Novena platform and make it even better, and so we’re offering a diverse range of stretch goals to provide an even better open laptop for all walks of users.

If the pot reaches $300,000, Bunnie has promised to hire deevloper Jon Nettleton to develop fully open-source accelerated 2D and 3D graphics drivers for the Novena; $350,000 and all hardware shipments will include a general-purpose breakout board with 16 outputs and eight inputs connected to the FPGA with user-space drivers for use in Linux; a $400,000 pot will add a ROMulator breakout board, allowing the Novena to be used to capture and modify traffic from ROM chips; if the project doubles its goal to $500,000 or has more than 200 backers picking the desktop, laptop or limited edition heirloom Novena hardware, buyers will get a bundled MyriadRF software-defined radio (SDR) module.

Details of the stretch goals are available on the project’s CrowdSupply page.

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Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor project dead

Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor project dead

The most recent Banjo-Kazooie title, Nuts Bolts, was released in 2008.


A spiritual successor to N64 platformer Banjo-Kazooie has died off according to the project’s composer.

The project was revealed in September 2012 by a team of former Rare developers, calling themselves MingyJongo. The original plan was not to try and recreate the original fan favourite, but to create something new instead.

The team was considering Unity for the game’s development and was possibly going to launch a Kickstarter to support the project once it got to the later stages.

During a Reddit AMA, Banjo-Kazooie series composer and Rare veteran Grant Kirkhope mentioned that the project had fallen by the wayside and was no longer being worked on.

’The other guys actually had a secret meeting in a pub near Rare and we even got as far as having a character drawn up and a demo level type thing but it all fell to bits,’ said Kirkhope. ’Everyone’s got other jobs etc.’

Banjo-Kazooie was first launched for the N64 in 1998 and earned a sequel, Banjo-Tooie, in 2000. A third Banjo-Threeie title was teased towards the end of the second game but was never made. Both original titles also got re-released over Xbox Live Arcade in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

Banjo-Kazooie did get a third major title in 2008 with Nuts Bolts, which was released as an Xbox 360 exclusive. This game, however, took a departure from the gameplay of the originals and focused on building vehicles instead.

Do you have fond memories of Banjo-Kazooie? Are you disappointed by this project’s cancellation? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

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Fractal Design Arc XL Review

Fractal Design Arc XL Review

Manufacturer: Fractal Design
UK price (as reviewed):
£101.41 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $129.99 (ex Tax)

The Arc line of Fractal Design cases fall into its performance category. As such, having plenty of airflow is key, as is the ability to install lots of high-end components and water-cooling gear. We’ve been thoroughly impressed by the latest cases in the range, the midi-tower Arc Midi R2 and the micro-ATX Arc Mini R2. With the Arc XL, Fractal has now also seen fit to make an Arc case suitable for those with larger motherboards and components, something it has also done previously with the low-noise Define range of cases.

*Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review *Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review
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The chassis certainly lives up to the XL in its name. At over 570mm tall it’s capable of housing both E-ATX and XL-ATX motherboards, and is of a similar size to the Corsair Obsidian 750D. As expected, it sports the classic Fractal black and white colour scheme, with white PCI brackets and fan blades. It’s also very much an Arc chassis, with the hefty mesh sections on the roof and front panel along with the large, tinted side panel window ensuring aesthetic uniformity throughout the range. Build quality is of the usual high standards – there’s a little bend to the side panels but that’s just a result of them being so large, and elsewhere the plastic and steel exterior is solid and sturdy.

*Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review
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The front mesh section clips on and off with ease thanks to a pair of push pins, and as usual it’s backed by dust filtering material too. Removing it reveals a duo of 140mm/120mm fan mounts, with a single 140mm Silent Series R2 fan mounted in the top one. The design allows you to install fans here without popping off the entire front panel, which is handy. However, above this section are the four covers for the optical drive bays, which do require front panel removal to access.

The I/O panel is located on the roof, and comprises four USB ports (two being USB 3), dual audio jacks, power and reset buttons and a fan control switch, which has 5V, 7V and 12V settings and can control up to three fans. The action of the power button is fine, but the reset one is too small to use your fingers with – this could become annoying in troubleshooting situations but it does mean you’ll never accidentally press it when fumbling for a USB port or the like.

*Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review *Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review
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Practically the entire roof is formed from another mesh and dust filter combination. Unlike the front one this cannot be clipped in and out of place, but Fractal recommends simply cleaning it with a hoover while it’s still attached. Beneath it there is room for three 120mm or 140mm fans, with another 140mm Silent Series R2 fan included in the furthest back mount. This is complemented by the case’s third and final fan (the same model), which is fitted as a rear exhaust.

Moving to the bottom of the Arc XL, we find a set of feet that lift the case some way of the ground, and which are fitted with rubber rings to give it excellent grip on all surfaces. A slide out dust filter is fitted here, and it protects both the PSU and the last of the case’s fan mounts, a 140mm/120mm one on the case floor. Unlike many cases, the filter here is relatively easy to replace without having to tilt the case on its side.

Specifications

  • Dimensions (mm) 232 x 552 x 572 (W x D x H)
  • Material Steel, plastic
  • Available colours Black
  • Weight 13.8kg
  • Front panel Power, reset, 2 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, stereo, microphone, fan controller
  • Drive bays 4 x external 5.25in, 8 x internal 3.5in/2.5in, 2 x internal 2.5in
  • Form factor(s) E-ATX, XL-ATX, ATX, micro-ATX, mini-ITX
  • Cooling 2 x 140mm/120mm front fan mounts (1 x 140mm fan included), 1 x 140mm/120mm rear fan mount (140mm fan included), 3 x 140mm/120mm or 1 x 180mm and 1 x 140mm/120mm roof fan mounts (1 x 140mm fan included), 1 x 140mm/120mm bottom fan mount (fan not included)
  • CPU cooler clearance 180mm
  • Maximum graphics card length 330mm (480mm without HDD cage)
  • Extras Removable dust filters, triple speed fan controller

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Soulcalibur goes free-to-play with Lost Swords

Soulcalibur goes free-to-play with Lost Swords

Taki is one of the characters returning after an absence in Soulcalibur V. More characters are planned to be added over time.


The Soulcalibur series is dipping its toe into the free-to-play pond with Soulcalibur: Lost Swords which launches today.

Debuting on the Playstation 3, the game will take a slight departure from its previous entries in that it is a single player only title where players progress through a series of quests to gain items including new clothing or weaponry options.

A small element of multiplayer gameplay is included as players can upload their character for other players to use as an ally in their own games in exchange for ‘friend points’ which can be spent on more bonuses.

Extra bonus items are also available for players who log in to the game during its first four weeks after launch.

The Playstation Blog boasts that the game is putting some fan-favourite characters that were cut from the most recent entry to the series, Soulcalibur V, including Taki and Sophitia and that they will be adding more characters to the game over time.

Soulcalibur publisher Namco Bandai has already experimented with this sort of free-to-play formula with Tekken Revolution which it launched in June last year, also only for the Playstation 3.

The free-to-play model in arcade style beat-em-ups has also been demonstrated successfully in Killer Instinct, a remake of the 1994 cult classic and one of the Xbox One’s launch titles. The game was essentially a free demo with the ability to buy additional fighters individually.

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HummingBoard, Banana Pi take on the Raspberry Pi

HummingBoard, Banana Pi take on the Raspberry Pi

The Banana Pi pictured, and HummingBoard SBCs offer pin-compatibility with Raspberry Pi accessories but significantly improved features and performance.


The success of the Raspberry Pi project has kick-started interest in low-cost Linux-powered single-board computers, but it has been surprisingly free of clone designs – until now.

Unlike rival development platforms such as the Olimex OLinuXino family or the popular Arduino microcontroller, the Raspberry Pi is not open hardware. Its design is locked-down and proprietary, and its principle components – namely the Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-chip (SoC) processor – not available in small quantities or without signing restrictive non-disclosure agreements. This may have contributed to a lack of compatible clones appearing on the market since its launch more than two years ago – until now, with two companies announcing Pi-compatible creations featuring considerably improved specifications: the HummingBoard and the Banana Pi.

First, the HummingBoard. Created by Solid-Run, the company behind the ultra-compact CuBox product line, the HummingBoard boasts the same features, design and layout as the Raspberry Pi – right down to the 26-pin general-purpose input-output (GPIO) header at the top-left of the board, which is pin-compatible with existing Pi accessories. Unlike the underpowered single-core 700MHz ARMv6 processor of the Pi, the HummingBoard boasts a quad-core 1GHz Freescale i.MX6 chip, 2GB of RAM – four times that of the Pi – and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Additional enhancements over the Pi include an upgrade to gigabit Ethernet, an on-board real-time clock module, and an infra-red receiver.

The Banana Pi goes a step further. Created by OSSUG Company, The Banana Pi again duplicates the layout and footprint of the Raspberry Pi and includes both the 26-pin GPIO header and the smaller P5 header of its established rival. Although its 1GB of RAM and dual-core AllWinner A20 processor can’t match the performance of the HummingBoard, the Banana Pi boasts an on-board SATA connector with 5V power output for mass storage. The board also includes gigabit Ethernet, an infra-red receiver, three on-board buttons and, interestingly, a microphone.

Thus far, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has been slow to offer an upgraded version of its award-winning single-board computer. The initial Raspberry Pi Model B was succeeded by a Revision 2 design which added the P5 connector and doubled the memory to 512MB but retained the slow single-core ARMv6 processor, while the Model A is a cut-down version which drops to a single USB port and loses the Ethernet networking chip. Its most recent product, the Compute Module, still uses the outdated BCM2835 chip – leaving the market open for Pi-compatible devices like the Banana Pi and HummingBoard that can offer buyers higher performance and more features.

Pricing for the HummingBoard has yet to be confirmed, with the Banana Pi available on import from Chinese resellers for $59 (around £35, a mere £7 more than a Raspberry Pi Model B.)

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OpenSSL forked into LibreSSL

OpenSSL forked into LibreSSL

The Heartbleed vulnerability has shone a light on the OpenSSL project, and OpenBSD developers have discovered enough flaws in its code to justify the creation of a fixed fork dubbed LibreSSL.


The OpenBSD project has announced the inevitible outcome of its recent deep-dive into the OpenSSL source code: a full fork of the project, dubbed LibreSSL, to feature a significantly improved codebase.

The OpenSSL cryptographic library made unfortunate headlines earlier this month due to the Heartbleed vulnerability, a nasty bug caused by incautious coding that allowed an attacker to steal memory contents – including, but not limited to, usernames, passwords, and even the entire private key – from any server using the software. With an estimated two-thirds of all webservers using OpenSSL for encryption, that’s a significant target base – and the attack, before it became known to the public, left no trace on the host machine.

OpenSSL is an open source project, meaning anyone can download, examine and modify the source code that drives it. In theory, fans of the open methodology claim, this leads to improved code quality and security – the ‘many-eyes’ theory. In practice, it appears, when an open source project reaches a certain size, individual contributors can become the sole controller of particular sub-sections – with the result that their code goes unchecked by their peers.

OpenBSD is, as the name suggests, an open-source port of the BSD operating system. Designed for maximum security, the project was hit by the Heartbleed bug and vowed to examine the OpenSSL source code more closely in the future. The result has been the exposure of numerous terrifying kludges and bugs in the code – which, it must be remembered, still drives two-thirds of the web – in what has been dubbed the OpenSSL Valhalla Rampage. Having found everything from ‘temporary’ compatibility code reaching back more than a decade to a kludge which uses the server’s private key as entropy for the random number generator – potentially exposing the entire private key to any plug-in RNG used on the system, a major security hole – the OpenBSD researchers have reached a conclusion: OpenSSL can’t be trusted.

The result: LibreSSL, a fork of OpenSSL which benefits from the changes made by the OpenBSD project. Announced on a particularly spartan website – ‘donate now to stop the Comic Sans and Blink Tags,‘ its creators exhort visitors – the LibreSSL project will become the default cryptographic library for the OpenBSD 5.6 release. Initially, that will be the only supported operating ssytem; once the codebase has been cleaned of extant bugs and rewritten to improve maintainability and a source of funding secured, LibreSSL will be extended to additional operating systems.

Whether LibreSSL will improve security overall or simply divert resources that could be better used improving the cross-platform OpenSSL directly remains to be seen.

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Cryorig announces ITX-compatible C1 cooler

Cryorig announces ITX-compatible C1 cooler

The Cryorig C1, unlike its twin-fan tower predecessor the R1, is designed for space-restricted ITX systems.


Cooling start-up Cryorig has announced its second product, the top-down Cryorig C1 CPU cooler for ITX and micro-ATX systems, has entered mass production ahead of a June launch.

Cryorig entered the cooling market late last year with the Cryorig R1 twin-fan tower cooler. Founded by former employees of well-known cooling brands including Phanteks, Prolimatech and Thermalright, the company is based in Taiwan and promises considerable engineering prowess – hidden, sadly, behind a cavalcade of buzzwords and registered trademarks, from the DirectCompress Soldering technique for attaching the heatpipes to the cooling fins to the Jet Fin Acceleration System that sees the gap between the fins narrow as the air travels through the heatsink.

The Cryorig C1 is, at first glance, more of the same: the Jet Fin Acceleration System is present and correct, while the nickel-plated baseplate features six copper heatpipes connected in what the company calls its Heatpipe Convex-Align technology – another trademark, naturally.

Where the C1 differs from the R1 is in its overall design. Rather than targeting larger cases with room for tower coolers, the C1 boasts a top-down design suitable for the cramped conditions of an ITX chassis. ‘With the increase of APUs and enthusiast-level ITX mainboards and components, ITX systems are no longer limited to under-powered components like they used to be,‘ claimed Alex Wang, Cryorig co-founder and chief manufacturing engineer, of his company’s second product. ‘ITX systems now are housing high-performance, high-TDP CPUs and GPUs. Cooling these crucial components is an even greater challenge in these tight spaces.

The C1 is a mere 74mm in height, with an overall size of 144.5mm x 140mm, and comes bundled with a 13mm-thick 140mm PWM-controlled fan. As with the R1, the gap between the fins differs from the top to the bottom: a 1.8mm gap near the fan narrows to 1.4mm closer to the baseplate, which Cryorig claims accelerates the removal of hot air. Full support is promised for all common Intel and AMD socket types, with the claimed ability to cool chips of up to a 140W thermal design profile (TDP) and a six-year warranty when registered via the company’s website.

Pricing for the Cryorig C1 has yet to be confirmed, with the company planning to release stock to UK retailers in June. More details are available on the official product page.

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NZXT announces the Phantom 240 chassis

NZXT announces the Phantom 240 chassis

NZXT has only announced the white Phantom 240, but more colours are expected.


NZXT has taken the wraps off of a new chassis, the Phantom 240, and it’s the least expensive of the Phantom range.

With a mid-tower ATX design, the Phantom 240 maintains the range’s signature asymmetrical shape that has divided opinion since launch and sports curved front and roof panels. The case also features a large side panel window and while NZXT has only officially announced the classic white version, it’s hinted that further colours will be coming, so it’s possible we’ll see black, grey and even red editions too.

It ships with two 120mm fans out of the box – a front intake and a rear exhaust. These are NZXT’s FN V2 models, which were recently redesigned to provide better cooling and produce less noise.

In total, the case can house six 120mm fans – two in the front, one in the rear, one in the bottom and two in the roof (where 140mm fans are also supported). Water-cooling support hasn’t been confirmed, but we’d be surprised if double radiator all-in-one coolers were not supported, given that NZXT itself produces a range of them.

Inside, there’s also room for three 5.25-inch drives and six internal 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives, and both optical drives and hard drives can be mounted tool-free, judging by the released photos. We also see that the case has a number of cable routing holes (without grommets), a large CPU cooler cutout on the motherboard tray and reusable PCI brackets. Other features include external USB 3 ports and dual audio jacks as well as a removable HDD cage.

The suggested retail price of the NZXT Phantom 240 is $69.99. We’ve enquired about UK pricing and will update if and when we receive and official response, but our estimates (based on a conversion with tax added) puts the case at or around £55.

Does the Phantom 240 look like it could take the budget case market by storm (trooper), or is it more likely to wind up in bargain bins? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

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The Elder Scrolls Online Review

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

Price: £34.99-£54.99 plus £8.99 monthly subscription
Developer: Zenimax Online
Publisher: Bethesda
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Version Reviewed: PC

Playing The Elder Scrolls Online is the most boring experience I’ve endured since I was seventeen years old, when a series of unfortunate events led to my family moving into my uncle’s two-bedroom house. Because there wasn’t an awful lot of room to do our own things, every night we’d end up playing Scrabble. Now, Scrabble isn’t necessarily a bad game, but after six months it certainly starts to feel like one.

The Elder Scrolls Online is like six months of Scrabble, only it manages to perfectly recreate that sensation of repetitive hopelessness within six hours. What Zenimax Online have attempted is to build a halfway house between the traditional The Elder Scrolls games and the familiar MMO mechanics of World of Warcraft. The result is a game that fails to satisfy in either category. Its formulaic quest structure is recycled over and over, unconvincingly disguised with a superficial smear of “story”. Players are corralled down the same pathways in a world that initially appears free and open, but quickly reveals itself to be anything but. Your interaction with the environments are necessarily limited by the fact that ESO is an exhibit built for thousands of players to witness, rather than a malleable world crafted for the individual.

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

Your character’s life begins in Coldharbour, a prison realm overseen by Molag Bal, the Daedric prince of domination (not that kind of domination). But Zounds! You escape! Thanks to the help of a blind old man thrillingly known as the Prophet. So begins a quest to reunite a band of ancient heroes and defend Tamriel against Bal’s plans to enslave the population.

At this point, the game drops you into Tamriel proper, the specific location depending on which of the three warring factions you’ve pledged allegiance to. Rather than retread my beta steps in Skyrim and Morrowind allied with the Ebonheart Pact, I joined forces with the Daggerfall covenant, an alliance between the Bretons, Orcs, and Redguard. Previously, the game introduced players using a series of starting islands, but this meant it took several hours before you even reached the mainland. Now though, your character begins his adventures on the central continent. Except, you still have to return to the starting islands and go through that before you can get very far. Instead of removing this tedious tumour, Zenimax have moved it from the leg into the brain.

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

Regardless of whether you take a direct or delayed route through the introductory areas, it soon becomes clear that nearly all the PvE content, meaning every area in the game save for Cyrodiil, is directed specifically toward you. You’re special, you see. You’re special because you, er, don’t have a soul, which handily explains both why your character is so wilfully obliging when helping other people, and why in conversation you have all the personality of a Rich Tea biscuit. Every quest-giver you speak to, whether it’s through the main story, the Fighters Guild, the Mages Guild, or just people you encounter while wandering the landscape, specifically want your help. And that’s all well and good right up until you enter your first dungeon, where you and seventeen other unique world-saving heroes all run through the same corridors to kill the same goblin.

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