Every Friday Paste’s editors, staffers and games contributors share what they’ve been playing that week. New games and old, TV and tabletop, major hits and wild obscurities, action-first knuckle-busters and slow-and-stately brain-stokers: you can expect it all, every week, in The Games We Play.
Platforms: iOS, Android
Earlier this month I wrote about how those who want games to avoid politics should play mobile RPGs, because those games almost never have stories or defined characters or put forth any kind of opinion or worldview beyond “we like it when you give us money.” I had one specific game in mind when I wrote it: Disney Sorcerer’s Arena, a game I’ve played on my phone every day for the last three weeks. It is the barest suggestion of an RPG—a combat system strapped to a character progression system and nothing else. You march five Disney or Pixar characters into battle, and if your squad’s collective power rating outranks your opponent’s, you will almost always win. Strategy is negligible, luck nonexistent—it’s just bashing characters into each other and seeing what numbers spit out until one side is wiped away. Like most mobile games, it’s deeply repetitive, almost entirely mindless, bereft of all soul and wit, and interested primarily in sucking money out of me. And yet I can’t stop playing it. Leveling up is such a foundational aspect of games because it’s a simple hook that always works. I’m at the point where I try to avoid actual combat in this game as much as possible, hitting the “autowin” button whenever I can, just so I can reap whatever rewards come my way. The goal isn’t to win, but to get stronger—to boost my Captain Hook, to get my Sulley from the 28th level to the 29th level, to equip enough gear to raise Ariel to the next gear tier. It’s progress solely for the sake of progress, the equivalent of shaking a shiny object in front of my face and expecting me to fixate on it, and the sad thing is it absolutely works. I’ve largely avoided spending money on it, but if the “energy” that lets you enter fights wasn’t limited, I’d probably play this thing—idly, mindlessly, dispassionately—all day long.—Senior Editor Garrett Martin
The primary reason I played Nintendogs in 2nd grade was to get enough money to keep purchasing new cute dogs to neglect unless I was walking them, which I only did to find gifts I could sell. Agility training was difficult and obedience training, which required talking into the mic, was impossible because I would play in secret. Having recently found my DS Lite in my dad’s closet, my dogs, as always after a long absence, were “parched,” “famished,” and “filthy.” After feeding and washing, I dressed them in their finest novelty hats to throw a frisbee in the park. I played in the same unsatisfying way I did as a kid, with no volume and maximum efficiency, rarely having tried much else.—Social Media Intern Jane Song
Platform: It’s a website.
All hail roll20.net, the free online tabletop platform which has allowed my group of friends to start our first Dungeons and Dragons campaign virtually. Well, technically it’s not D&D but “Mutants and Masterminds,” which is more about superheroes (and villains) than fantasy foes. In this time of quarantine, gathering together to have ridiculous adventures that our wonderfully deranged DM has created for us has been a weekly salve. Getting to see everyone’s faces on camera from the comfort of home is actually great, as it really feels like we’re all together in one place—especially when we have over-the-top reactions or all crack up, uncontrollably, over riffed jokes that really can’t ever be repeated or explained. It’s been such a fun time, despite our terrible dice rolls, and I highly recommend diving in. There are plenty of campaigns to be found online if you need help coming up with one, and take it from us noobs—you do not need to know much about rules of D&D to start. Figuring it all out (or making it up as you go) is half the fun.—TV Editor Allison Keene
Platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch, iOS
After finishing the adrenaline-pumping, 50-hour epic that was Final Fantasy VII Remake, I was looking for something much shorter and lighter for my next game, and found just that in A Fold Apart. It’s a sweet puzzle game about navigating a long-distance relationship, and although I found the narrative to be a little too on the nose and the puzzles to mostly all follow the same formula, it ended up being the game I needed.
Only around three hours in length, I was able to complete A Fold Apart within just a couple days, and I let myself slip into a dream-like trance as I folded the paper and guided these lovebirds through their streams of consciousness.
If I didn’t have the game included with Apple Arcade, I probably wouldn’t ever have given it a chance. But I’m glad I did, since its adorable art style and characters coupled with a calming and meditative gameplay loop helped calm some of the anxiety I’ve been feeling about the world. — Editorial Intern Joseph Stanichar
Platform: PC, Mac, iOS
Looking back at the first half of this past decade, it’s clear that I fell pretty hard for the indie roguelike game phenomenon. There’s something very satisfying about working against unrelenting difficulty, repeatedly failing and improvising with the cards you’re dealt in games like The Binding of Isaac or Risk of Rain, but more than any of the others, the one that really struck a chord with me was FTL: Faster Than Light. This top-down crew management space combat game has a way of being both hard as hell but seeming ultimately “fair,” making the player feel as if their careful micromanagement of combat is ultimately more important than the procedurally generated enemies, even if the opposite might truly be the case.
Playing FTL again, what I appreciate most is how vastly different one can choose to play and spec their ship on any given run. Feel like basing your offense around overwhelming firepower? That’s always an option. But you can also become skilled at boarding and eliminating enemy crew members, or employing a bevy of defensive drones and shields, or using advanced tech to hack your way to victory by disabling enemy ships. They’re all equally valid paths, and it gives FTL a replay factor that keeps me coming back to it years later—as does the incredibly intricate micro-management afforded by the ability to issue commands while paused, making the game into a series of half-second evolving decisions. Subset Games’ 2018 follow-up Into the Breach contained some of the same spark of the divine, but it doesn’t seem to have the degree of novelty in each new run that continues to hold my interest in FTL.—Staff Writer Jim Vorel
Platform: PC, Xbox
The current state of Star Wars videogames is, uh, lackluster to say the very least. Yes, Respawn’s Jedi: Fallen Order is pretty great, but that was the first genuinely good Star Wars videogame in over a decade. For me, Star Wars games peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and they reached that peak with Star Wars: Republic Commando.
Star Wars: Republic Commando has been backward compatible on the Xbox One for a while now, and I have finally taken the time to replay one of my favorite childhood videogames. Turns out the “Rainbow Six but Star Wars” experience still holds up. It is an absolute blast to play and holds up relatively well—it grounds the player in the first-person perspective better than most games do, today. Also, the soundtrack absolutely rips and the story, while barebones, hits all the right marks. It makes the clones even cooler than they already are and builds out the story of Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. War has engulfed parts of the galaxy, and these guerilla clone commando squads are turning the tide behind enemy lines.
As someone who unabashedly loves the prequels, any excuse to envelop myself in the visual design and sound of those movies is enough for me. Plus, Star Wars: Republic Commando is only like ten bucks on Xbox Live.—Games Contributor Cole Henry