What we've been playing
Demons, dice and bats.
24th March 2023
Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: demons, dice and bats.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
Gosh, Diablo 4 is lush isn't it? I hadn't seen any preview coverage of the game before booting it up for the pre-order/chicken beta last weekend, so I was shocked by how much better it looked than Diablo 3, which I'd last played on Switch. The game starts strong, with a dark, suspiciously-high-budget intro cinematic, but really kicks into high gear when you're dropped into the game proper. Snow swirls around you as you navigate a blizzard at night, the camera zoomed in close to make it hard to see into the distance, wolves coming out of the darkness to be met by the crunch of your club.
It's clear that this is a very different Diablo to its predecessor, with a more brutal, darker tone, a bigger focus on the story with beautiful cinematography, better animation work and well-voiced characters - not something I expected going into it. The whole game feels incredibly immersive to play, although I suspect that sitting in front of a 45-inch curved OLED monitor might have contributed to the feeling somewhat. Still, it's clear that Blizzard's artistry and technical competence remains intact.
It's also a much bigger world than I anticipated. You still pop into small, self-contained 'cellar' areas and larger, often multi-level dungeons as in Diablo 3, but there seems to be a greater variety of environments, even in the starting area, and exploration is far less linear. You're given free reign to travel in different directions depending on what missions you want to do or just what looks interesting, and the addition of mounts suggests that exploration is a real focus this time around.
It's an exciting time then, and I'm looking forward to the open beta this coming weekend - assuming that the servers withstand the onslaught.
Slice and Dice, Android
I'm still playing Slice and Dice. I've actually laid down a whole fiver for it now, for the full game, which means I get 20 levels and harder difficulties, which are, as they say, hard. And I'm still enjoying it. The whole rhythm of the game has settled for me now and I know what I'm looking at. And now I do, a few thoughts have emerged.
Firstly, I love the variety of character classes here. I guess because they're only tied to a die - as in, they're only differentiated by a handful of abilities spread across the face of a die - the game is freer to be quite inventive with them. And so, while they're based around a familiar archetype of healer, rogue, mage, fighter, they evolve to veer off at wonderfully weird angles. There are dabblers and hoarders - have you any idea what they do? Me neither - and vampires and even statues. The statue is brilliant by the way; it can't attack but it has loads of health. The opportunity here is to pair it with a piece of loot that then allows some of the die faces to attack.
Anyway, that's number one - I love that refreshing variety. Number two is that I love the difficulty. When you play on hard, you're forced to take a kind of curse each time you play. They do all kinds of things, from adding goblins (which hit hard) to every fight, to healing enemies a little bit each round (which is more annoying than it sounds). There are some more unusual ones, too, like adding a pain modifier to the sides of your dice such that when you use them, they harm you too. And inevitably, the thing you set out with - because it didn't seem so bad - turns out to be more of a burden than you'd realised it would be.
It's actually through these curses something else about the game was revealed to me: a kind of philosophy. I was trying to game it a bit and refresh my curses to find the least harmful one possible - I think you can do this once or twice. But as I tried to do it again, the game announced to me, in a little checkbox, that gaming the system wasn't what Slice and Dice was about. Slice and Dice was, instead, about making the best out of what you've got. That's why it randomly assigns you classes at the beginning, and randomly assigns you an assortment of curses to choose between. And I liked that sentiment a lot.
Batman: Arkham Asylum, PC
A couple of things feels ideally suited to videogames in my mind. One of them, which Bertie talked about recently, is houses. Videogames seem house-sized to me, or rather, there's a special harmony when they settle into a single house.
Another is night. I love games that take place across a single night, just like, I guess, I love films that take place in a short span of time. Anyway, in celebration of these two things, houses and nights, I've been replaying Arkham Asylum. One setting - a big house, really, although it's a hospital - and one night. And Batman.
Nobody needs to be told again what an ingenious game this is, from the way it managed to create a game-ready version of Batman based around a perfect balance of strengths and weaknesses, to the pace of the campaign that is always on the brink of giving you a new gadget, a new cameo, a new set-piece.
But man, I love the way that it feels like I'm out exploring a strange ruin on a long dark night, measuring my progress by how the sky looks, where the moon is, and how much longer I sense I have before the sun comes up. The Arkham games are all wonderful, but they've never been better for me than they were right here at the start, when they were just so focused!