Long read: Who is qualified to make a world?

In search of the magic of maps.

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

What we've been playing

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

16th of July, 2021

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: Crows, Laser Quest, and samurai.

If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What we've been playing, here's our archive.

Crowfall, PC

Cover image for YouTube videoCrowfall - Glory, Wealth and Power - Launch Trailer
A montage of some Crowfall action. I'm really looking forward to the bigger fights. I wonder how many players it can handle smoothly at once.

Crowfall launched last week and it's a game I've had my eye on for a while. It's an MMO about warring with other players, which is something I've had a soft spot for since Dark Age of Camelot. Crowfall, actually, feels a bit like that era of online games. It's specialised, it's not a theme park trying to please everyone, and I like that.

What this specialisation does is cut away all the extraneous stuff and allow Crowfall space to try some interesting things. In Crowfall, for example, the worlds you fight other players on can be won. They are disposable worlds, in a manner of speaking. World wars lasting weeks or months rage across them until one side wins. Then you get rewards based on how you did, and prepare yourself to do it all again.

In between all of this you have the player kingdoms, the glue. These are areas you can have player housing in, but you can also add new land biomes until you have something resembling a county in your name. But where it gets really interesting is collaborating with other people to create actual kingdoms. When you do this, a sort of feudal hierarchy comes into play, inviting politics and strategy into the game. The motto Crowfall has used for as long as I can remember is "a throne war MMO", and it's this aspect of the game it comes from.

But I haven't had a chance to look more deeply into it yet. I'm still only a handful of hours in, in the tutorial stages of the game. These resemble a fairly standard MMO experience, fighting monsters and levelling up. But it's all geared around preparing me for player-battles later on. The quests introduce new aspects of battling or crafting - the enemies are facsimiles of players you will fight, using the same abilities - and the level cap is low (30) and easy to reach.

So far, I'm enjoying it, and I'm not even at the best bits. Crowfall seems charismatic, robust, and because it's a relatively modest production - and this will sound snobby - populated by people who care, which makes it feel like a nice place to be. I hope to report back with good news in weeks to come.


Solaris Offworld Combat, PSVR

Cover image for YouTube videoLet's Play Solaris: Offworld Combat PSVR Gameplay With Aim Controller!
Here is Ian playing Solaris Offworld Combat.

It's been a very long time since I've played laser tag and, in fact, I think the last time I did it was for a stag do about five years ago in Birmingham's Star City. Once upon a time, though, popping along to the local Laser Quest in Oxford city center with a bunch of my mates was the highlight of my month. It wasn't just the Laser Questing that made the trip special either, there was also a Mortal Kombat arcade machine there (marking the first time I ever properly experienced video game gore - ooh that spine rip!), and the chap behind the counter would sometimes let us pick a combination of flavours when we bought a Slush Puppie, rather than just giving us the normal choice of one. Weirdly the concoctions always ended up turning a muddy brown colour no matter what syrups were chosen, but hey-ho, I'm going off topic real fast...

Anyway, the reason I'm chatting about Laser Quest is because I've been thinking about it a lot recently. This is mainly thanks to Solaris Offworld Combat, a VR game that I've been dipping in and out of over the last couple of weeks on Playstation VR. Solaris is a first-person, team-based shooter where you have to capture and hold key areas on small, sci-fi themed maps. It's fast-paced with an almost Unreal Tournament feel, the gunplay works great (especially with a PSVR Aim controller), and ultimately the tight multi-level arenas bring with them an incredibly strong laser tag arena vibe.

Because VR makes you feel like you're inhabiting a space rather than watching events unfold on a screen, you're able to physically lean in and out of cover, blind fire over obstacles and even look behind and around you whilst firing forward so you can keep an eye out for flankers as you protect your capture zones - just like you would do if you were playing real-life laser tag. Hell, in Solaris I've even run into VR versions of those annoying little kids that would just camp up on the higher levels of the arena and pop off cheap shots at the people running below, rather than playing the objectives. The dicks. Honestly, all Solaris is missing is a bunch of glow in the dark, legally distinct Space Invaders stuck to the walls and an overworked smoke machine and then it might as well be a time machine.

Unfortunately for Solaris, though, just like many multiplayer-based VR games, the player count is almost non-existent these days. There's no need to phone up in advance to book a time slot here, and you definitely won't run the risk of being put in with a group of screaming 10 year-olds who've hired the place out for a birthday party. In fact, you'll be lucky to get a match at all, and that's a real shame as a full 4v4 tournament is a load of fun. Sadly, unless you join the Solaris Discord channel and try to gather some players that way, chances are you'll spend way more time sitting in the warm-up lobby than you ever will playing the game.

Still, like most people in the world, I've not been able to go out and about to any 'entertainment' centers recently. No cinema trips, bowling alleys or go-karts for me, just the same four walls, some video games and the occasional walk. Which is why I've been really enjoying reliving the glory days of 1995 in Virtual Reality. Now all I need to do is find out where I can buy a Slush Puppie machine and I'll be sorted.

Ian Higton

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, PC

Cover image for YouTube videoLet's Play Sekiro Shadows Die Twice: THIS IS GONNA HURT
Aoife and Zoe take on Sekiro.

I got about 80 per cent through the main story of Sekiro before, sadly, outside events forced me to abandon my first run. I can't say I really felt like playing a brutal combat game as the world began shutting down due to a global pandemic, so last year I swapped sword fights for fruit picking in Animal Crossing in order to simply calm down.

But recently I've returned to Sekiro, starting a brand new run in order to re-train myself, and it's been a stark reminder of just how much of this game is about knowing your enemy. I found myself clearing boss fights in one go that previously would have taken me hours of practice. I was astonished by how I could remember the move sets of bosses like Lady Butterfly, and realised I was relying on learned audio cues. Sekiro has been compared to a rhythm game in past, and the fact I can still remember the specific rhythm of sword clangs is probably testament to that.

Something I particularly appreciate about Sekiro is that cheesing - to me, at least - feels like an entirely permissible strategy. Running past Snake Eyes Shirafuji to dodge bullets on a bridge and land a stealthy deathblow on her is one such tactic. Frankly, it still took so much effort and precision that I started to wonder if I was actually cheesing at all.

Of course, it hasn't all been smooth sailing, and my second run has laid bare my weak points. Guardian Ape remains my mortal (or perhaps, immortal) enemy, and took me a staggeringly long time to defeat even when I knew his movesets. I'm determined to actually complete this Sekiro playthrough, as if I have to take on that ape again, I think I'll go bananas.

Emma Kent