This week I’m taking a look at two PC gaming peripherals from Razer, the Naga Epic mouse and Anansi keyboard. Razer has made a name for themselves producing headsets, mice and keyboards with incomparable style. Razer has worked with Blizzard, making licensed products for Starcraft 2 and featuring an add-on specifically for use with World of Warcraft.
It’s no secret that my genre of choice for the past three years has been MMORPGs. These games are incredibly demanding on PCs, as each new title attempts to one-up the competition with action packed gameplay and updated graphics. The hardcore gamer has no other choice but to keep their rig packed with hardware that allows them to experience epic games in all their glory. What seems to be looked over by some (including myself) is how much an upgrade to your peripherals can improve your gaming experience.
After a recent rebuild, my computer is finally back on top. Rift looks super-sexy on high video settings. In fact, it’s like a whole new game. This new motivation is the perfect opportunity to test out the Razer Naga gaming mouse and new MMO-ready Razer Anansi keyboard. Razer is catering to a very specific market with these two products which is why I will only be discussing them within the confines of playing MMOs.
In games like WoW, Warhammer, and Rift there are too many abilities to use, many of which are extremely situational and require precise timing. Not only does this not lend itself to mousing over the spell and pressing down your mouse button, but the 12 spaces on your hotbar can’t hold all the abilities or targeting macros you want to use. This is where third party add-ons become necessary to manage extra hotbars and macros for upwards of 30-40 abilities.
Enter: the Razer Naga. The amount of configuring that is possible with this mouse is staggering, so much so that I won’t be able to cover everything in one article. First let’s cover the basics. The Naga plugs in with a braided USB cable or can be used wirelessly. The mouse itself has a smooth, soft finish without feeling sticky or cheap. Razer includes three interchangeable grips to suit your mouse-holding preference.
The scroll wheel and thumb grid are both backlit and by default will cycle through it’s 16 million glorious colors. Through the ‘lighting and power’ tab in the menu, you can choose to display one color at all times as well as adjust the brightness.
The mouse has your standard right & left buttons and scroll wheel. The back & forward buttons are located below the scroll wheel which is awkward at first and would detract from the Naga’s usefulness if not for the 12-button thumb grid on the side. With a flip of a switch located on the bottom of the mouse, these buttons default to either the ‘1’ through ‘+’ buttons on the top of your keyboard, or the numpad on the right of your keyboard.
Combine your keyboard’s top number bar and the Naga’s 12 side buttons for 24 mapped abilities even before considering modifier keys. Add in ‘shift,’ ‘control,’ and ‘alt’ modifiers and you have 72 possible abilities to bind just using your keyboard and Naga thumb grid. There’s no game I’m currently aware of that could use that many bindings. This is assuming you could even remember what they all do.
When you install the drivers for the mouse you’re given access to a program which allows you to remap every button on it. There is a page dedicated to managing macros as well as setting up and managing separate profiles for your customized layouts.
Editing macros is as simple as typing in a name, pressing the ‘record’ button, and hitting keys in the order you desire. The program will time your key presses and releases by default and will replicate the exact timing down to a hundredth of a second. Once you hit ‘stop.’ you’re macro is set and you are able to go back and edit the timing. For people who play Rift, this is a simple example of a cast sequence macro akin to those found in WoW. I would never advocate having a macro do all the work all of the time, but god damn this makes refreshing Motifs on my Bard so much easier.
During gameplay the mouse feels very solid. It has a comfortable weight and grip thanks to the interchangeable pieces. The main right & left mouse buttons are sensitive compared to most other mice I’ve used. This is something you can quickly adjust to. Learning to fully utilize the 12 buttons of the thumb grid is a different challenge.
The Naga manual suggests the average gamer will take up to 16 hours to adjust to using the thumb grid. Razer includes two sets of rubber stickers which you can strategically place as guides to help you learn the button layout. What I quickly found is that ‘1’ through ‘6’ are the easiest buttons to reach but ‘7’ through ‘12’ require you to pull your thumb back a little too far.
Spamming any button with your thumb gets tiring fairly quickly regardless of where it’s located on the mouse. I find it much easier and more comfortable to press the shit out of the keyboard when using my main abilities. The thumb grid shines in other ways. For me, the real trick was binding less often used abilities such as those with long cooldowns. Mounts, macros role-switching and professions fit well here. Another option I tried out was mapping ‘shift,’ ‘alt’ and ‘control’ to my mouse. This worked wonders in place of having to play hand-Twister to use modifiers.
What the Naga does well is open up a world of options to gamers without complicating the process. This mouse is just as useful to the casual gamers as it is to the seasoned hardcore veteran. Whether you want to break away from old clicking habits or set separate sensitivity levels for the x and y axis, Razer’s got you covered.
Razer stays true to form with their new Anansi keyboard. Released this past yer, Razer had lofty claims about this peripheral being a world first in terms of raising MMO players’ performance. The company cites the seven modifier buttons below the keyboard, five extra keys specifically for macros, and 100+ programmable keys as their examples.
The keyboard itself has a nice design. The keys have a soft finish, similar to the touch surface of the Naga. The backlighting is just as beautiful and customizable as the Naga and the menu options are just as easy to use.
My real concern is this: the Anansi doesn’t make as much of an impact on my play-style as the Naga. The keyboard functions just fine and looks nice combined with the gaming mouse. However, after exploring what the Naga could do for me, the Anansi didn’t feel like much of an upgrade from my previous keyboard. Sure, you can do some crazy things with the under-spacebar modifier buttons, but they are still a stretch to use quickly and accurately. The same goes for the five macro buttons on the left side of the keyboard.
Razer added nice little touches like a function key which works the media buttons along the top of the board. There is also a feature that allows you to enter gaming mode, disabling the windows key so you don’t accidentally leave full-screen when that button is pressed.
It’s a nice gesture towards gamers but underwhelming when compared to other keyboards and the leap forward the Naga has taken. With the Naga I can see and feel myself improving without breaking away from the hand placement I’ve grown used to. My left hand can comfortably hover over the movement keys with easy access to tabbing and button mashing. The new modifier combination keys on the palm rest of the Anansi aren’t very easy to get used to, while the macro keys require you to lift your hand off it’s normal position. To me, this isn’t strictly an issue for MMORPGs. FPS and RTS gamers would feel the same immediate impact from the Naga.
The Anansi and Naga Epic sell for $99 and $129 respectively. The latter I would recommend to any PC gamer, casual or not. If, however, you are satisfied with your present keyboard’s functionality I can’t advise shelling out the bucks for the Razer Anansi.