After a busy start to the gaming year, things are starting to slow down a little. Which means it’s the perfect time to delve into our backlog. Here’s what we’re playing this week.
Joe – Editor & Lead Writer
Slay the Spire
Playing on PS5
As I said back in February, I’m not usually a big fan of the deck-building genre. That was until I played the wonderful Inscryption and now it seems I’ve got the bug. Thanks to Sony’s latest PlayStation Plus offering, subscribers can download the game for free until 3rd May. And I’d highly recommend you do.
Slay the Spire is not dissimilar to Inscryption. In fact, the gameplay loop is remarkably similar to that of Inscryption’s first Act (even down to the map design). The similarities end there, though as Slay the Spire is a straight-up rogue-like deckbuilder without any of the magical meta madness. But that’s not to say it isn’t any good. It’s great. So great I’ve become addicted to sneaking in a run or two between breaks at work (if my boss is reading this, it’s good for my well-being).
Your challenge is simple – make your way up each floor of the Spire and reach the top. Of course, there are numerous baddies along your path, ready to make your life a misery. Rather than vanquishing them with a thwack of a sword, you instead battle each enemy by playing a card game. At the start of combat, you’re dealt a random selection of cards into your hand. Some cards deal damage, some boost your defences and others provide stackable buffs or de-buffs to you or your foe. You’ll need to choose carefully though; each card costs a certain amount of energy to play.
Aside from combat, your map marks other points of interest, from merchants and treasure chests to campsites and mysteries. The mystery tiles may provide you with a rare, powerful relic that boosts you throughout the run. Or instead you may be cursed by an angry statue and die whimpering in a corner. Every run has a different layout which is what makes Slay the Spire so moreish. It won’t win any awards for art design but it’ll keep you muttering ‘just one more go’ until the early hours.
Death Stranding Director’s Cut
Playing on PS5
I first started playing Death’s Stranding right at the beginning of the pandemic. And to be honest, it wasn’t doing it for me. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best time to delve into a game full of death and solitude. But then Tom, our Lead Writer played through the whole thing and absolutely loved it.
So last week, I picked it up again, taking advantage of the £5 upgrade to the PS5 native Director’s Cut edition via the PS Store.
And I’m really glad I did.
Many people have said this in a much more eloquent manner but Death Stranding is special. As I’m meandering down a mountainside at the start of the game, the camera suddenly pans out as a sombre song starts playing. I’m a speck against a vast, empty landscape. These moments seem to cross the boundaries of one medium into another – from video game to cinema and back again. It’s truly remarkable.
Death Stranding, somewhat predictably, has been derided by some as a walking simulator. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In delivering packages and rebuilding the country, there’s inventory management, stealth, combat, traversal, crafting, driving and not to mention the bonkers yet irresistible world that Hideo Kojima has created.
I’ve got a long way to go yet, but I’m glad this package has found its way back to me, in the end.
Tom – Lead Writer
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
Playing on PS5
I consider myself a lapsed fan of Star Wars. In recent years, though, my enjoyment of the franchise has been diluted by the sheer volume of new movies and TV spin-offs. There’s something to be said for the power of scarcity; without the years or even decades that used to pass between new Star Wars movies, it just doesn’t feel as special anymore.
But I was poorly over the weekend, and found myself in need of familiar comforts. Stuck on the sofa, I decided to treat myself to Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. I bought the very first Lego Star Wars game on day 1 back in 2005 and played it to death. I’ve played and enjoyed many Lego games since then, but much like Star Wars itself, there has been a veritable glut of them. Over the years, decades of similar games have resulted in a very familiar formula.
The Skywalker Saga is the first Lego game in a few years, a welcome break that might not have resulted in a total change to that formula, but has allowed for some important refinements. The structure will be familiar to anyone who has played a recent Lego game. There are five levels for each of the nine mainline Star Wars movies, with multiple vast open areas filled with side missions in-between. The variety of environments is staggering, all beautifully rendered in Lego form. The side quests and puzzles aren’t exactly challenging, but they’re enjoyable and well-written.
The gameplay itself hasn’t undergone a radical transformation either, but there have been some smart changes here too. The camera stays a lot closer to your character, even switching to an over-the-shoulder view when you pull out a blaster and start shooting; you can even take cover behind pillars and chest-height walls like most shooters from the last decade. Hand to hand combat now involves countering and pulling off combos, rather than only mashing one button. It’s no Gears of War or Dark Souls, of course, but it does feel like a much more modern third person action game.
Through it all, there’s the same irreverent comedy present in all Lego games, finding the humour in Star Wars’ sillier moments. The cutscenes feel a lot more like The Lego Movie, with more cinematic framing and a slightly jerky, stop-motion look to the animation The game seems a little afraid to poke the same amount of fun at the Disney-era films as it does the original movies, though; Oscar Isaac’s infamous ‘Somehow, Palpatine returned’ line from TheRise of Skywalker is repeated verbatim with no attempt to mine it for laughs.
My partner watched me play for stretches of time and would ask me questions about what was going on. Which kind of alien is that? What’s that ship called? What happened between those two films? I was stunned not only at the amount of useless information I’d retained in my head for decades, but also by how much I enjoyed talking about it. Dozens of warm, fuzzy memories of Star Wars movies, video games, books and comics came rushing back to me. It was lovely, and just what I needed. There has been an awakening in the force for me, and I have Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga to thank.