Skip to main content

What we've been playing - wells, late-night pictures, and the world's largest patch notes

A few of the things that have us hooked this week.

An illustration of a heavily armoured dwarven fighter in the thick of battle. They hold a shield out in front of them for protection, and their bearded face is a picture of determination.
Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

21st June 2024

Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've been playing over the past few days. This week, we drift off reading the world's largest set of patch notes, we drift off flipping through a book of late-night urban pictures, and we drift off as we drop down a well.

What have you been playing?

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

Downwell, Switch

Downwell's one of those games that seems so simple. You're dropping down a well, you have guns attached to your feet, and you shoot anything that moves below you.

But it's a bit of a university course in making the basic stuff work. The foot-guns feel incredible, powerful and metallic and capable of sending ripples upwards through your body. And the sense of connection when you hit a floor or a lurking baddie is magnificently kinetic.

I feel Downwell in every part of my arms and legs as I play. It's one of those games that might have haptic feedback and might not - it just feels like it judders and smashes and rattles away inside whatever device happens to be running it. Downwell's about one thing: impact. And it aces it.

-Chris Donlan

Dungeons & Dragons, tabletop

There are breakout videos focusing on individual class changes too. I'm very excited.Watch on YouTube

Like many people, I've been hungrily gobbling up any information this week about the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which arrives later this year. It's not a complete rule-change but there are significant changes to every aspect of the game. And it struck me while gobbling this information how alike it felt to reading patch notes. Because it is, I suppose - it's the world's largest set of patch notes.

Patch notes have always fascinated me, particularly in games you 'live' in, like MMOs. You invest so many hours in characters there, and plan to invest so many more, that naturally any changes mean significant change for you. I left World of Warcraft shortly before priests were overhauled, way back in 2005, and remember pouring over details about what promised to be seismic change. In Dark Age of Camelot, meanwhile, the community debated any changes to characters because, as a PvP-focused game, any alteration might give someone else the upper hand.

I was reminded of all of this this week. But something I'd forgotten was how exciting it can be. Possibility: that's what flooded my mind. I thought of the new ways my characters might do things and excitement ripped around inside of me. I thought of new characters I'd like to make and new fantasies I wanted to try and realise. D&D is a game that lives in the imagination, so it's not a stretch, I don't think, to call this exercise part of the game itself. Just as pouring over patch notes in World of Warcraft or Dark Age of Camelot was part of those games, part of the wider strategy. I could do it for hours.

Whisper it: maybe it's the part of games I like most.


After Dark by Liam Wong, Thames and Hudson

The front cover of the photography book After Dark, by Liam Wong. It shows a night time shot of a city alley, with an old car in it and the rear brake lights shining red.
Phwoar. After Dark. | Image credit: Liam Wong / Thames and Hudson

Liam Wong's a game designer and photographer. I've just picked up After Dark, a book of his urban late-night pictures and I can't get enough of it. The images are extra wide - super panoramic - and Wong views the world's cities as patches of light and detail amidst blackness.

Sometimes, it's hard to make sense of what an image is at first. That huge spread of blurring colour fills my vision, and I need a second to see a window, or the lights from a convenience store. Where am I in the next image? I'm high above an alleyway, looking down. Part of the image is advertising hoardings on a building, the other part stretches all the way down to the tiled street itself. I'd say it's disorienting, but I don't think that's right. Wong's best pictures are a lesson in orientation. You find out where you are and what you're looking at. It's a bit like being Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap.

My favourite picture at the moment is Paris, with the Eiffel Tower a golden beam of light in the middle of the page, and a dark city of hulking black shadows reaching out in both directions, some of them capped with those little red lights that are my favourite part of big cities at night. But this particular image has these circles of light superimposed on top of the city, almost like a series of spotlights in a nightclub. Some seem to have rubble floating in them. Or strange crumpled pieces of metal. Or...

It took me an age to work out that Wong's shooting Paris through a window and the window is covered with rain. We're looking at the city through a distorting veil of water droplets, up close and far away all at once. Magical, transporting stuff.

I like to think I would suspect that Wong had worked in games, not just because of the technological cities he reveals, but because he encourages the viewer to play along with him. Make sense of this. Make, perhaps, your own private sense of it too.

-Chris Donlan

Read this next