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What we've been playing

A few of the games that have us hooked at the moment.

23rd June, 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: Diablo, a NES classic, and Spelunky 2.

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

Diablo 4, PS5

Digital Foundry on Diablo 4.Watch on YouTube

How often do you switch builds in Diablo 4? I seem to be doing it all the time. I don't know if I can quantify exactly how often, but the other day it felt like I was pushing 10 times in one session, which seems excessive.

The reason I was doing it - the primary reason, anyway - was because I couldn't get past one particular boss. I needed to clear a stronghold (already quite challenging) for a druid questline and the content there was two levels above me, whatever level I attained. It's supposed to be hard - I think the game was encouraging me to group - but I didn't and so every time I got to the boss, I was overcome. I didn't give up, though, and eventually, after trying every permutation I could think of, I hit upon a totally different build to the one I'd envisaged when I chose the druid in the first place, and it worked. And I felt very proud of myself.

There's a lot about this that I love, but the problem with it is I can't stop bloody doing it now, changing my build. Every five minutes I get the itch to change something around. 'Oh this is not working,' I'll think, or, 'This is boring,' and switch it all up.

Some of this is definitely my problem - I'm not about to blame Diablo 4 for my mind. Character builds fascinate me and I change my mind often, and these two traits together mean I never actually get anything done in a game.

But it's not entirely my fault! One of the reasons I'm changing so often, like I mentioned, is to try and find the fun - the fun build. The one that feels like you're gleefully ripping through the world. But try as I might, I can't seem to get it. Everything still feels a bit sluggish and a bit dull. Maybe it's just the druid or maybe I need to unlock more skills - I do have most of them now, though. Or maybe I need to get to the Paragon levels. Whatever it is, it feels like it's perpetually just around the corner from where I currently am, and it's bugging me.

Here's hoping the next corner I turn will present the solution I'm looking for. If, that is, I ever leave the skill tree alone long enough to get there.


Mystery Tower, Switch

There's something about NES games that reminds me of the found footage movie from William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. People stumbling across these bits of a wider whole that seems fascinating. A certain kind of NES game feels like a found object, feels crafted to create obsession. What is this? What WAS this? What do I make of it now?

Enter Mystery Tower, on the Switch's NES collection. I've been playing on and off for a week and it's weird and brilliant. I had never heard of Mystery Tower before - I gather it was originally released with a Tower of Babel theme - and when I loaded it up it actually took me quite a while to work out what was going on. I'm glad I stuck with it.

The storyline involves climbing a huge tower, floor by floor, and you do this by lunking around these L-shaped puzzle pieces. You can use them to make stairs, or cross gaps. You can stack them and get properly stuck when you have them in the wrong place. Turning them around is tricky - and that's often part of the puzzle of a level - and you only have a certain number of times you can actually pick a puzzle piece up. Add some devious level design and you have a recipe for...

Something weird. Weird and distinct. There's so much I love about this awkward, slightly unfriendly game, from the odd items that pop up now and then to be collected, to the horrific enemies and the jaunty feather in the hero's hat. Will I keep it up until I get to the top of the tower? Unlikely. But I am so glad I stumbled upon this forgotten treat.

Chris Donlan

Spelunky 2, Switch

Spelunky 2.Watch on YouTube

I've been drawn back to Spelunky 2 this week for reasons that took a while to understand. I had a sense - a vague sense - of a certain kind of place I wished to be in, and I knew I could find that place in Spelunky.

Eventually it clicked. I've been playing the Jusant demo recently, which is a rock-climbing sci-fi game with one particular element I adored. A lot of the time you're out on the cliff face, but now and then you get to venture inwards, into these little rooms and shelters built within the rock. It's calm and dark here. You can almost feel the dip in temperature. It's an indoors in a game where I least expected one.

And that's what I was after in Spelunky 2, I think. Unlike the first game it has these moments where you can go behind the screen, as it were - a door in the rock will beckon and rather than just taking you out of the level you will be behind the scenes, with new rooms, and potentially new paths.

It's odd to talk about an indoors in a game like Spelunky. You're underground from the start - there's nothing to be had but indoors. But these moments when you go behind the scenes seem like a special kind of indoors - you're away from the main action and somewhere else. And who knows what you'll find?

Chris Donlan

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