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.

27th January 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: JRPG heaven, lovely days with pleasant tiles, and a search for a good phone game.

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

Chained Echoes, Switch

Cover image for YouTube videoChained Echoes - Trailer 2022
Chained Echoes. Echoes. Echoes. (Sorry.)

I'm in JRPG heaven at the moment - I'll be rattling on a bit more about it on the site over the weekend - and am currently enamoured with Chained Echoes, an outrageously ambitious spin on the Squaresoft classics of the 90s that folds so much more in besides.

There's a story that's rich with the kind of political intrigue that would make Yasumi Matsuno proud, delectable artwork that can make your heart soar and a battle system that keeps revealing new depths. I'm only about four hours in so far but already my head is spinning at the brilliance of it all.

And staggeringly Chained Echoes is predominantly the work of one developer, the gifted - and I'd imagine incredibly dedicated - Matthias Linda. I've got a couple of long-haul flights lined up over the next few days, but I'm relishing the hours in the air if I can get to spend them with Chained Echoes by my side.

Martin Robinson

Dorfromantik, Switch

Cover image for YouTube videoDorfromantik Full Release Teaser - Version 1.0 - OUT NOW!
If only every day felt as pleasant as it does in Dorfromantik.

A few weeks ago my morning runs saw me slogging through mud as the playing field where I get my laps in became a proper bog. Then, one morning, the world froze, and I had a brilliant run over crunchy grass and ice, with that lovely cole mist turning the low winter sun a warm orange. I knew it was going to be special because on my warm-up walk, on the edge of the South Downs, I looked up at one point and saw a fox stopped and still in my path. We stared at each other for thirty seconds and then they darted off. Runs at this time of year are incredible.

Proper winter - the days I love, which are cold and clear and still - never seems to last long enough, though. You get a lot of soggy winter and a lot of overcast winter, but those bright perfect days keep themselves spare. Luckily, Dorfromantik has a winter biome that captures them just so: the fields are an icy purple, the trees are a particularly chilly green, and the villages are edged with snow.

In truth, this is the only biome I ever use now in this wonderful tactical puzzle game. In summer, in winter, whatever the weather is like outside I use Dorfromantik to give me a bit of cool and clarity. What a game. Foxes, sadly, not included.

Chris Donlan

Slice and Dice, Android

A pixelated dungeon-crawling game on a phone, with character boxes on the left, enemies on the right, and dice rolled in the middle.
See, I think that's quite attractive! There are some nice touches, too, like when you level up, you get the chance to evolve a Healer, say, into a more specialised class, like the Medic I have here.

I'm trying to find a game to play on my phone. It's one of those areas I never look at, for some reason - I bought a new phone last year and it's yearning for something. I have been neglecting it. Any suggestions, by the way, I will gladly hear.

So I ended up taking a punt on something called Slice and Dice, a Roguelike dice game - my favourite kind of snack. And what's really impressed me is how easy it is to get into. Half-an-hour later, I'm into it like I've been playing it for hours. I've had to figure a few things out along the way but I'm still on my original run, which means all the learning has happened as part of that. I've never really felt like I've been served a tutorial, beyond some very basic stuff at the beginning. And I love that.

Tutorials bug me, mainly because they represent a clumsy learning period at the beginning of a game, where a game lays out how you have to go about enjoying it, and it takes a while before you feel like you can do that. But I was straight into this one without really knowing what to do.

Okay, it's a familiar set-up: roll a handful of dice and keep the ones that represent good abilities for your fantasy group, and reroll the others. But the other part of that is design - or rather, necessity of design here. Phone games can't afford to hang around because they need to impress you quickly before you play something else. Attention spans here are short and judgments immediate, so they work hard to ensure you're enjoying them immediately. And there's a lot, I think, bigger games - which take our attention for granted - can learn from that.