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What we've been playing

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

7th July, 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: second impressions, profound truths, and literal-mindedness.

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

Baldur's Gate 3, PC

Zoe's not wrong, you know - you should replay Baldur's Gate 3. A lot has changed. And a lot more will change come the full release on PC on 3rd August (PlayStation 5 will follow 5th September, and Xbox is coming but held up by Xbox Series S and getting split-screen co-op working well). How exciting!Watch on YouTube

I reinstalled Baldur's Gate 3 at the weekend, and it made me think a bit about second impressions. Because we hear a lot about first impressions, don't we, and how you can't make those twice, but we never hear about second impressions - and I'm starting to think there's something magical in them.

The first time around, you see, you're taking in everything. Primarily, you're wondering whether what you're playing is any good - you're forming an opinion on it - and everything you do in the game is in thrall to this judgement. Where's the story going and is it any good? How do the mechanics work and are they any good? Does it do Dungeons & Dragons justice? Does it do Baldur's Gate justice? And so on.

But the second time around, you're freed of that. You've already made your decision - and presumably you decided that yes you did like it, or else why would you be playing it a second time? So this time there's no need to evaluate. This time, you're freer to appreciate what's on show. And that's what I'm experiencing now.

I am, for want of a better phrase, smelling the roses. And one of things that's really impressing me at the moment is - and I know it sounds shallow so don't judge - the speaking voice of my character. These usually really bug me because, well, I'm fussy, and because the voices always seem overly dramatic. But the voice I've got this time in Baldur's Gate 3 is perfect; I'd have my character read me a bedtime story if I could.

The voice I've got reminds me of Alucard's from the Castlevania series in Netflix. Note: I also wouldn't mind being read a bedtime story by Alucard. It's a softly spoken voice, masculine but calm, and it never seems to get agitated by anything. It's borderline disinterested, even, although not boring to listen to. Frankly, I find it sultry. And I can't get enough of it.

It's just a small thing, and maybe it is a bit shallow, but it's things like this - small things - that impress me so much about Baldur's Gate 3. It's that macro-level of care you can see and feel across the entire experience. I can't wait for the full release.


Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, Switch

After spending what feels like an eternity in Stardew Valley cultivating my crops, feeding my chickens and battling with the never-ending appearance of trees, I felt ready for something different last week. Thanks to Lottie's review for Story of Seasons: A Wonderful life, I was pretty much sold on it - though going in with little knowledge of the series really did leave the door open for multiple surprises, some that warmed my heart, others that felt like I'd been knocked down at 1am.

No, I won't spoil it for anyone who (like me) hasn't played a Story of Seasons or any of their predecessors, but I really didn't expect that taking care of my farm while living a somewhat relaxed life in a small town would have such deep, thought-provoking undertones. Honestly, after beginning to plant out my crops at the beginning of a new year, I did not expect to be confronted with having to think about my own mortality and use of my time, putting extra emphasis on managing time wisely before it's gone.

That being said, it's not all dark and deep undertones (though definitely go and speak to Romana in the Villa if you want to hear something unexpected). There's plenty of light and joy in it. From consuming things that are definitely not magic mushrooms in order to visit Nature Sprites, to getting bright pink sheep that you can't help but name Candy and Floss (which was probably a bad idea now I'm reading it...) there's enjoyment to be found in the little things. Also, does anyone else get really happy when you shake a fruit tree and a whole bunch of ripe produce falls down at once?

Also, this game has a profound way of making you see that everyone around you has their own struggles, and many of them are wearing masks that only truly begin to be lifted once you take the time to get to know them. A subtle message about real life? Possibly.

However, surprising undertones aside, I can't help but feel a smile on my face each time I play from the sheer wholesome vibe and moments of elation brought on by small accomplishments, such as pulling up a perfect turnip or watching your watermelons bloom into juicy fruit. In Forgotten Valley, it truly is a Wonderful Life.

Marie Pritchard

Word Factori, PC

Word Factori.Watch on YouTube

Word Factori is one of those games that achieves wonders by being enormously literal-minded. It's a "factory sim" that resembles doodles on graph paper, in which you're fabricating letters rather than cars or tanks or submarine parts. How do you manufacture letters when your only raw materials are other letters? Well, what does a letter consist of? Lines and curves. The letter "I" is a straight line. Therefore, you can assemble any other letter by combining, reorienting and bending "I"s out of shape - or by further modifying the letters you make with the letter "I".

Tilt two "I"s by 45 degrees and flip one horizontally, and you've got two halves of a "V". Take two "V"s and spin them upside down and you have an "M". Each level in the game is about setting up production lines to complete a word or phrase, such as "ivy", with the promise of secret letter recipes and hidden word art in the final release.

It's more puzzler than factory game - if you get a huge kick out of finding and fixing logistical bottlenecks, I'd give this a miss - but either way, it's a lot of fun. There's something poetic about the game's insistence that accomplishing le mot juste is really just a question of hooking up your conveyor belts correctly. It's also quietly macabre, because you're taking a first-person pronoun and duplicating or mutilating it, but I won't belabour the point. The Word Factori demo is over here!


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