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What we've been playing

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

A thriving city with two separate motorways, seen from above and in abstract in Mini Motorways
Image credit: Dinosaur Polo Club/Apple

11th August, 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: growing boredom, connections, and a good treasure map.

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

Diablo 4, PS5

Diablo 4.Watch on YouTube

I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about Diablo 4, and a lot of it is to do with being a bit bored. Look, I'm not all the way through the game. I'm level 42 with two characters - I'm playing one in co-op and one on my own - and because I was intentionally avoiding the story to preserve it for co-op, I had to rely on side quests and dungeon runs and world events to fill my time instead. And really, they're filler, so what did I expect? But geez did it start to feel like doing fetch-quests in an MMO.

Strongholds helped! They always seem to be fun. And because I was bored, I tried out a Legion event I saw flashing on the map - and I'm glad I did. It was an over-the-top event for loads of people in which we had to smash through waves and waves of enemies, then elites, then a boss - stuff that would be impossible to do alone, but together it was delirious, riotous fun. And I'm seriously impressed with how Diablo 4 tailors this to the level of every independent person playing. It's in moments like that I see the multiplayer vision Blizzard had.

Being bored also afforded me time to play around with character builds and experiment with the extra abilities attached to legendary items, and in doing so, I hit upon a combo that made me aggressive and almost unkillable, which I am very fond of. So I rampage around as a werewolf and werebear (I am a druid) in some very pretty environments and smash the crap out of thousands of enemies. But like the proverbial soldier after a lifetime of battles, I do sometimes sit back and wonder, 'Is this all there is?'


Mini Motorways, iOS

For years Peter Molyneux had this fantasy of games connecting with other games. I mean for years, too. Reading an old Edge mag recently, Molyneux was talking about how players might jump from their magic carpet and fall through the sky, only to land in their own theme park. You'd go from one Bullfrog game to another quite organically. I remember him bringing this up as late as the days of Fable 2.

Shortly after I re-read that old issue of Edge, I returned to Mini Motorways for a bit, a discovered thinking that feels similar to Molyneux's, but also different. Mini Motorways has recently gotten a new suite of maps that have not just cars and roads and traffic, but railways and stations.

It's a lovely touch, and genuinely feels like Mini Motorways and Mini Metro, both games by the same developer, are leaning into each other a little. But crucially, the motorways are still in charge. Trains drop passengers at stations, and you have to build the roads to connect them and take them home. It's one other thing to think about in a game that chucks a lot at you while retaining a kind of golden clarity.

And it's a reminder to me that the Mini games treat motorways and metros very differently - they see philosophical differences within them. This is baked into the way the games play: Metro is all about creating diversity, whereas Motorways is often about keeping things separate, only to discover that you can't really keep things separate anyway.

Play Motorways like Metro, in other words, and things will end badly. But in this newish update, you get a sense of connection - a touchpoint between two classic games. Peter Molyneux would be pretty happy, I think.

Chris Donlan

A Short Hike, Switch

A Short Hike.Watch on YouTube

A Short Hike has steadily become one of those games I am always playing. It's small but strangely vast, too - I can wander this little island forever.

This week I dipped back in and decided to look at a few of the treasure maps I'd collected. These are little riddles that lead you to a specific point on the island where you dig and find a chest. I probably didn't need to explain that: of course they lead you somewhere, and of course you dig. They're treasure maps.

I love this sort of thing in any game, but A Short Hike's treasure maps have always struck me as being particularly pleasing - and this week I think I worked out why. The maps, as I've mentioned, are always a little scrap of text that describes a certain place on the island. And in that description you get to revisit the island in a different way: you return to it in words, rather than as a visual landscape you fly over and race across.

To me, this is a different mode of engagement with the game. I put aside the wordless kind of way I approach the game normally when I'm just enjoying the thermals or racing over the grass, and I have to think: how would I actually describe this place? This specific point here, what is it exactly?

What you dig up is never that special, but that's absolutely not the point. For me these maps are another window into a game that I think I already know quite well. They make it new again. They feel like a process of re-exploring.

Chris Donlan

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