What we’ve been playing
13th of May, 2022
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: campuses, lightsabers and d20s.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We’ve Been Playing,
here’s our archive.
Art Sqool, Switch
I am still so glad Art Sqool exists.
Every few weeks I reach for the Switch and fire it up. I’m not playing on a console anymore, I’m an art student attending a weird and beautiful campus in the clouds, taking on difficult assignments.
Today’s is to paint something knowing that one day it will go in a big gold frame. I wander around the campus looking for inspiration. A maze. Through a sort of mountain made of little mountains. Past a flight of steps that has a single candle at the top of it.
This is why Art Sqool is great, I think. The point it makes: you move between the world and your work, and they both impact one another. I walk and think of ideas for that assignment: this candle and staircase? The purple shipping crate I found up by the huge cinema screen?
No: the pink spiral tube. I stand inside, so it’s just my head and huge shiny eyes visible through the gap in the pink material. I fire up the art pad and start to sketch. This – this belongs in a golden frame.
Lightsabers – I had to look up the spelling – are temporarily back in Fortnite, and it’s an absolute treat.
They are stunningly over-powered, but it doesn’t really matter, I guess. In Fortnite you can drop something in for a few weeks and then just take it out again. The balance of the game is ever shifting.
And the thing about lightsabers is that they should be overpowered. They allow you to defend against incoming fire as well as finish other players off in a few swipes – to have it any other way and they’d be props rather than the real thing – and for all the game’s goofiness, Fortnite’s lightsabers are definitely the real thing.
The best part of them isn’t what they do in the moment, anyway. It’s the peculiar jolt of fear I feel when I hear another player fire one up. This is the kind of reaction you can only get if you’ve really nailed the implementation, I reckon. Lightsabers in Fortnite are brilliant, then. Bring back the balloons next pls.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, PS5
I got into Borderlands extremely late into the franchise. My friend Joe, who is a huge Borderlands fan, needed a co-op buddy for Borderlands 3. I was hooked. Borderlands isn’t an exceptional series by any means, but it makes the most of the looter-shooter genre with witty (if sometimes overbearing) dialogue and a gameplay loop that works well.
So when Gearbox announced Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, I was intrigued. I spoke to Gearbox about the project back in November, when I concluded the team were genuinely passionate to be dipping their toes outside of Borderlands with this spin-off. New elements like the Overworld and using magic were intended to dramatically change the Borderlands formula.
But stepping into Tiny Tina’s fictional world, I couldn’t help but realise how familiar it felt. Sure the environmental artists were now free to use whatever colour palette they could imagine, but the fundamentals were exactly the same: shoot, kill and loot.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps it’s because of my short exposure to the Borderlands universe, but I still have an appetite for the loot grind, and Gearbox has perfected the formula in Tiny Tina. Casting spells has so much more depth than throwing a grenade and has the added bonus if creating ever more wild enemy encounter and quests. Melee has also become a viable combat option, with new weapons dropped as frequently as firearms.
I can’t say I cared much for the story (though when was the last time anyone cared about a Borderlands story), but Ashly Burch continues to be fantastic as Tina and there are great new additions like Will Arnett as the Dragon Lord and Wanda Sykes as Frette.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands doesn’t revolutionise the looter shooter formula Gearbox popularised back in 2009, but it’s perfected it into a solid spin-off that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.