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What we’ve been playing – Arthurian sandboxes, old favourites, and Connections

28th 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 drop into a new fantasy MMO that’s something of a social experiment; we go back to an old favourite via something of a Director’s Cut; and getting the obscure categories first.

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.

Pax Dei, PC

I’ve been fascinated by Pax Dei ever since it was announced. It’s a medieval MMO and the unique part of it is that everything in the world is made by players. There are no pre-built towns or settlements; it’s all built by you. The same thing goes for all the equipment in the world. What’s even more interesting is that it’s something of a social experiment. Ultimately, the game’s goal is to have players organise feudal societies. It wants them to band together to make baronies, appoint knights and go on crusades. Look at some of the player-powered stories that have come out of spaceship MMO Eve Online – developer Mainframe Industries wants that. That’s a targeted comparison by the way; Pax Dei’s creative director, Reynir Hardarson, was one of the co-founders of Eve creator CCP.

Pax Dei.Watch on YouTube

Until now, the excitement has all been based on promises and some popular playtests. But on 18th June, Pax Dei launched. However, it launched only in early access, and it’s far from a finished game. A baseline implementation is there. The focus is house-building and there are many detailed and working systems based around it. Broadly, it’s very similar to other crafting games: chop trees, mine rocks, gather things, then refine them on various machines to make what you need. What’s slightly different is how open-ended the house building is, and that there’s a sort of building integrity system underpinning it. Roofs and walls will fall down if they’re not properly supported.


This approach means houses look different in the game, and it’s nice to just walk around and see what people have made (and steal ideas about what to build in the process). Pax Dei being an MMO also means there are lots of people in the world playing, so there are lots of houses to look at. And it helps that the game world looks lovely – like a Southern French mountain dream – and that it’s realised in a peaceful summer’s evening kind of way. I’ve built high up on a mountain to overlook the valley below, and when the sun dips or rises, it’s stunning.

But it’s very grindy – the resource costs for individual pieces of houses, and for armour, are high – and there’s not much to do besides make a house. You can equip yourself in fancy-looking armour but I don’t know what there is to fight besides boar. It’s because large chunks of the game – and of this grand vision – are still missing. Mainframe is open about this; it’s said to me and it’s said to the community that the adventuring systems and civilisation systems are the next big things it will work on. But it doesn’t stop it feeling a bit like a tech demo – a very pleasant tech demo – as it is.


Beyond Good & Evil: 20th Anniversary Edition, Xbox Series X

Beyond Good & Evil.Watch on YouTube

There’s a universe out there where Beyond Good & Evil sold millions of copies. It was what Ubisoft had been hoping for: a homegrown Zelda that would blow up and become a big new franchise for the firm. Instead, this offbeat adventure earned itself a different kind of success, as an endearing cult classic.

I doubt we’d have gotten Beyond Good & Evil’s 20th Anniversary Edition in the same way had it been a barn-storming billion-seller. Alongside the original game – now refreshed with updated textures and a re-recorded score – the package includes a surprisingly detailed and frank behind-the-scenes archive, full of documents and commentary detailing its original development.

There’s an honesty here I love, especially when discussing how the game struggled to explain itself to a wider audience. Photos dated from May 2002 – when Ubisoft took a demo to E3 to show it off for the first time – noted that “‘Project BG&E’ has a hard time keeping up with the company’s other monster franchises”. A roundup of press clippings stated media coverage was “thin, but positive: journalists seem to really like the demo”. It’s a shame the coverage didn’t inspire greater sales.

But it’s a credit to Ubisoft that it persists with a series many hold dear two decades on, and that – despite the memes about its never-ending development – Beyond Good & Evil 2 is still on the cards. Like its story of a plucky hero fighting seemingly insurmountable odds, Beyond Good & Evil is still going.


Connections, iOS

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I’m not wild about Connections, but I play it some evenings with my wife, both of us trying to start at the same time and both shouting out when we lose a life or get a category. It’s one of those games which is at its most interesting when it’s obscure, or cheap, or just broken, when its categories are only categories if you’re really willing to go along with some spurious arguments.

But this has actually lead to a bit of the fun. Connections shouldn’t be about getting all the categories as quickly as possible. It should be about getting the obscure categories first, moving from the deeply silly and implausible back to the stuff that is reasonable to the point of being obvious.

Playing this way has kept the game alive a little longer for me. I still begrudge its hold on me, but I don’t begrudge it as much as I used to.

-Chris Donlan


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