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What we've been playing

Demons, sumo, and cryptics.

Diablo 4
Image credit: Blizzard

31st 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, sumo, and cryptics.

If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.

Diablo 4

Diablo 4.Watch on YouTube

Shortly after the Diablo 4 beta came to an end, Blizzard senior quest designer Harrison Pink took to Twitter to discuss one of the action role-playing game's cool narrative moments. I won't spoil it for you here, and I'll link to the tweets rather than embed them. But there's one thing Pink said about Diablo I wanted to dig into, having dug into the Diablo 4 beta myself last weekend.

"Humour in a game like Diablo is extremely difficult to get right without ruining the overall tone!"

Truly, Diablo 4 is not a game about making the player laugh (not intentionally, anyway). In fact quite the opposite. It's a grimdark game about the folly of faith, the pain of existence and blood. Lots of blood.

Diablo 4 doubles down on this, no doubt a response by the developers at Blizzard to the divisive Diablo 3, with all its colour and campy creepy crawlies. Diablo 4 is intentionally dour, intentionally depressing, intentionally dark and dank. Everyone you meet is suffering, every enemy desperate to make everyone else suffer even more. Even the "good guys" cause suffering, albeit under the cover of faith. At least the demons are up front about it.

Some will miss the vibrancy of Diablo 3's colour palette, miss the melodrama of its famous first act. Diablo 4 certainly starts slower in comparison, and a magnitude darker. You begin with little hope and throughout act one there's little reason to change that gloomy outlook.

Still, I found myself falling for Diablo 4's seriousness. It turns out I'm in the mood for something so morbid. This is not escapism, really. The virtual world of Sanctuary is not a place anyone would want to escape to! And yet I'm drawn to its crumbling towns and its stark snowscapes. Its corpse-filled dungeons and dimly lit churches compel me. Perhaps it's the remarkable detail around every corner, even those set within the sparsely populated settlements. Perhaps it's the satisfaction that comes from smashing it all to smithereens with a big, two-handed hammer. Sanctuary is cold, wet and windy, and it's almost always dark. For some reason, I find it relatable.

Of course, all we've seen of Diablo 4 is act one, all we've played is up to level 25 per class. Only a snapshot of the sprawling map was available to explore in the beta. For all I know, act two could be set in Sanctuary's version of Barbados.

But if it were, I'd be less into it.


Void Prison, Switch

Void Prison trailer.Watch on YouTube

Void Prison is a twin-stick shooter in which getting shot doesn't matter. Actually, that's not quite true, because sometimes it can matter an awful lot. What I should say, more accurately, is that getting shot by an enemy doesn't inflict any damage. What it does is shove you - shove you outwards. So you don't die by getting shot. You die by getting shoved into the shimmering wall of the arena. Ring out. It's Sumo with guns. Kind of.

This is a clever idea, and makes for a game with a maddening feel - simultaneously tight to control and rather slippy when you're getting knocked around. It's also that rare twin-stick that makes you rethink what best practice is here. For many games, ever since Robotron, the twin-stick has been about stirring. Get outside of the centre and do loops if you can.

Here, that will get you killed very quickly, because it's the walls that kill you and getting out from the centre gets you right into the walls' territory. So head back to the centre? Hold on, buster: the centre is still deadly. What to do?

Reader, I am still working out what to do. Working it out with every death, every restart. Void Prison is a compact game that contains multitudes. I love it. I think you'll love it too.


Cryptic crosswords

@crypticaf A new anagram indicator to add to your list: amok! 🤪 Think of the letters in SEALSRAN running here there and everywhere until they settle in their new form 🏃‍♂️💨 Also I am aware that ‘amok’ is not pronounced ‘amuck’ 😅 #crypticcrossword #crossword #everyman #fypシ #crosswordtok #foryoupage #crosswordpuzzles #anagrams #theguardiancrossword #pentok ♬ Intro - The xx

My mother was a sort of cryptic crosswords genius - she could solve them by going into a weird strain of fugue state. She'd mutter the clue, go very still, and stare at the ceiling for a few minutes. Then she'd return to us with the answer, and when we asked how she got it, she really couldn't say. We - her children - would then reverse-engineer the answer and work out why it was the correct word. I'll never understand what her mind was doing.

I am far more earthbound with cryptics. I love them, and in many ways I think they're the perfect kind of game for me. They're rule based, but also deeply rooted in ritual, in secret codes and words that act as spells, opening up whole traditions if you use them the right way. But more than that they're fiercely personal. A cryptic is a communion between the setter and the solver. The minds in play seem to touch.

And on a certain level they're frustratingly simple, too. Every cryptic clue includes a literal definition, and then wordplay that also gets you to the word in question. You come at it from two angles, then, grasping the correct word in a pincer.

I know all this, but I still struggle with cryptics from day to day. Sometimes they simply don't play their music to me. Which is why I've loved discovering a Tiktok user called CrypticAF, who breaks down clues one Tiktok video at a time. It's the friend I need in cryptics now that my mum can't do them anymore. Not that she could explain how she was doing them at the time, of course.

Chris Donlan

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