Gamers’ Guide to Isolation: alone but together

Welcome back to the final part of the Gamers’ Guide to Isolation, a short series here at Later Levels put together to help you through the current time of social distancing. After three weeks being indoors, it’s important we continue to look out for each other.

On Monday we looked at releases to make you feel like you’re outside even though you’re indoors, ones which give you the chance to stretch your digital legs and take a long hike, gentle stroll or relaxing bike-ride. Then on Wednesday, we discussed games you can play even while you’re meant to be working from home – because let’s face it, we all need something to give us a few minutes’ break from looking at spreadsheets or listening in on conference calls that go on for far too long.

So what have we got lined up for the last day of the series? With the help of my awesome blogger-friends, we’ve put together a list of titles to make you feel as though you’re hanging out with friends even though we’ve all been told to stay at home. The isolation part of dealing with COVID-19 is perhaps the hardest part for a lot of people and there’s no need to go through it alone! If you fancy some company, grab one of the following games and let’s hang out.

Don’t Starve Together

Suggested by Dan from nowisgames.com

Don’t Starve Together is the multiplayer version of Klei Entertainment’s glorious and hugely irritating Don’t Starve. An unforgiving and incredibly rewarding experience of crafting, surviving, fighting off giant badgers while you harvest honey. The amount of content they’ve made available over the years is staggering. The game takes this joy a step further, allowing you to survive and gather resources with your friends. I’m not sure what the current player limit is, but it used to be six. There’s spelunking, mystery, danger and cries of ‘What the heck was that noise!?’ throughout.”

Insaniquarium Deluxe

Suggested by Quietschisto from RNG

“The objectively correct answer, of course, would be to go online and actually play with your friends! But I don’t have any friends like big multiplayer games, so we have to look for an alternative. Also, social gatherings are forbidden, for now, so let’s take a look at games I have played with friends – offline.

Insaniquarium Deluxe. Yes, it’s just a stupid little clicker game, but it’s a stupid little clicker game I hold dearly. At some point, both of my sisters played it (probably their only video game ever), and my brother-in-law (he was still one of my sisters’ boyfriend back then) played it too. The four of us would constantly race to unlock all the pets, grow our virtual fish tank (which was done in ‘real-time’ over a couple of weeks) and to find all the pets’ backstories.

“I also played all three Dark Souls games for the first time alongside two friends, who were veterans. So I would struggle throughout the games, while they’d be in NG++, and sometimes watch via the Steam broadcast to mock me or give me some hints. But let’s be honest here, they usually mocked me.”

Mass Effect

Suggested by Solarayo from Ace Asunder

“You’re never alone with friends by your side and video game characters can absolutely feel like real friends. If you’re looking for some fine virtual friends I can say Commander Shepard and Pathfinder Ryder know how to attract the coolest companion life forms! BioWare’s Mass Effect series is the absolute pinnacle of perfection when it comes to companion character creation. You will get to know all the characters like family throughout the expansive space story. The beloved Mass Effect buddies will always stay by your side no matter what horrible fate is befalling the galaxy, all while cracking sarcastic jokes and probably flirting with you. If that’s not true friendship, I don’t know what is.”

Mass Effect (again)

Suggested by The Gaming Diaries

“There are plenty of times that you can play games with your friends through online multiplayer, however you can also make friends with the characters in game. The characters can become your friends and make you feel a part of something bigger, or just part of a family that you didn’t know you needed to find. A series of games that have made me feel like is Mass Effect. Throughout the trilogy and Andromeda, you meet fascinating characters who become a part of your crew and so much more than just teammates. You have the characters like Liam who try to keep the spirits up, Garrus who is your buddy, Joker who is always there to make you laugh, Mordin who brings the science and the songs, Tali who is a bit of a dreamer and wise beyond her years and so many more. Each of them becomes a member of the Shepard / Ryder crew but they start becoming their friends and yours along the way. I formed such attachments to these characters, gained a bit of understanding to the ones I didn’t like as much, but I wouldn’t want to be without them. Sometimes you don’t need real world people to make you feel like you are together. Sometimes the characters on screen can make us feel like we are hanging out together as well.”

Miencraft

Suggested by Dale from UnCapt

“The simplicity of being able to leave a realm up for your group to join and leave as they want to is a perfect remedy for the loneliness. Working on projects or simply surviving with friends is fun enough, but within my group, things go south quickly and everyone becomes pranksters. With how open and freeing Minecraft is, you can truly express your personality in what you do. Talking to and playing games with your friends is one thing, but watching them play something as they want to and work on what they enjoy is a reward in itself!”

No More Room in Hell

Suggested by Luke from Hundstrasse

“Heck, I could have picked out one of many online games that my friends and I have played over the years, but I think the community-made No More Room in Hell takes the prize here, not only because it’s a game that (despite its bugs and flaws) we keep coming back to, but also because it’s a game that makes me really feel as though I’m hanging out with friends. To survive you really have to work together as a strong team which means constant chat, planning, inventory swapping, and keeping an eye on everyone in the group. This isn’t a run-and-gun loose collection of people all kind of doing their own thing, in NMRiH players need to plan, cover each other, co-ordinate ammo types, and oh so slowly pick their way through a bleak zombie apocalypse. It’s this constant communication mixed up with general chat in the quiet moments that shrink the miles between us all sat in our respective homes. “

The Elder Scrolls Online

Suggested by Kim from Later Levels

“I started playing The Elder Scrolls Online on my own back in December 2015 but it wasn’t long before I realised it was much more fun with friends. First, I persuaded my other-half to play and we could be found adventuring through the wilds together most evenings; then we began to play with Tim and Jake from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech. We ended up meeting up online with these guys and Phil every Tuesday during our GameBlast20 streams and it was great hanging out with them online each week.”

And that’s the final part of our Gamers’ Guide to Isolation done! Thank you so much to all my blogger-friends who took part and helped put this series together. Please do take care of yourselves and your loved-ones, and let’s keep the conversation going.

Gamers’ Guide to Isolation: working but playing

Welcome back to the Gamers’ Guide to Isolation, a short series here at Later Levels to help you get through this current period of isolation. Here in the UK, we’ve now been inside for over three weeks – but there are still plenty of video games to play to keep us occupied.

On Monday we looked at releases to make you feel like you’re outside even though you’re indoors. If you’re in the mood for stretching your digital legs and hiking through mountains, walking through forests or going for bike-rides, check out the titles suggested by my lovely blogger-friends in this post. Later this week we’ll be discussing games to make you feel as though you’re with friends even when you’re on your own, but first: what have we got lined up for today?

Many people across the country are supposed to be working from home right now, and it’s important to remember to take breaks the same as you would do if you were in the office. If you’re looking for something you take your mind off of that spreadsheet for a few moments – or keep you awake while you’re listening in on that three-hour-conference call you really weren’t looking forward to – here are some games you can play while working (and nobody need know).

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Suggested by The Gaming Diaries

“I struggled with this category as I’m not working from home and was trying to imagine something that would fit in nicely. Then I realised if you just have a little bit of time in between work or a little bit of a quiet period, a game on the Switch could be the perfect remedy. A that is so good in little sessions right now is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Ok, so I know a lot of people are spending all their time in this but I’m playing it slow and steady. I drop by and do a little fishing, or I go hunt for fossils or I catch some bugs. I look at what I can buy and I collect materials. I haven’t got the Able Sisters yet and don’t even have Nook’s shop built as I still need some of one of the types of wood. However, this has been the perfect game for little bursts for me. There is always something you could do from planting some flowers to clearing some weeds. Taking the risk of shaking a tree to see if Bells or items fall out (and quite often having an unfortunate encounter with some wasps). It’s such a nice relaxing game and it gives you options for picking it up and putting it down. You can do a lot in a short space of time so in between working would be possible and there’s nothing that needs done right away so if you end up getting an urgent work call you aren’t going to struggle.”

Civilization IV

Suggested by Quietschisto from RNG

“All variations of Solitaire. Rumour has it this game was invented by a French Noble during the French Revolution while he was waiting to be executed. If that’s not the perfect fit to describe the current situation, then I don’t know what is.

“You could also sink some hours into taking over the world in Sid Meier’s Civilization, if that’s more to your liking. For me, the best one in the series is Civilization IV because it offers the most freedom in organising your civilisation, and allowed for some crazy political combinations. Plus, in the German version, the technologies’ flavour texts are read by Thomas Fritsch, one of my favourite voice actors. The drawback? You might miss all of your meetings because you wanted to play just… one… more… turn…”

DEFCON

Suggested by Luke from Hundstrasse

“Despite working from home a bit (even before this whole… thing) I’m generally pretty good and don’t game on work time. So my entry here is one that I’ve always wanted, and should really try, playing over a working day. DEFCON is a tense nuclear-war strategy game presented via a cold war-room style vector graphics interface. It has a chilling edge as you watch the devastation caused by the missiles raining down in dispassionate numbers. It’s also a game with a few pretty cool game modes including diplomacy where all the superpowers start off aligned and it’s essentially a game of chicken until someone snaps and opens fire or forms a breakaway faction. The reason I picked it however is that it has a dedicated work-mode; a single eight-hour nuclear conflict that plays out real-time with a handy built in ‘hide game screen’ button for when the boss walks past – it’s not a feature I’ve seen in any other game.”

Rollercoaster Tycoon

Suggested by Dan from nowisgames.com

“Still an incredible game after 20 years, yes it has been that long! Hours will evaporate before your very eyes. I fired it up to ‘test’ the other day at 21:00, and by 03:00 the following morning I was sure it was time to stop and go to sleep. I regret nothing. Best of all, this will run on damn near any hardware these days.”

The Longing

Suggested by Solarayo from Ace Asunder

“For the record in case my boss is reading, I’ve been putting in 110% of myself into working from home the 90% of the time I can do that… honest. Okay. I’ve been trying. It’s hard not to get sidetracked and distracted by all the things that aren’t work when you’re comfortably at home. Would the boss really notice if you played a video game for a bit? If it’s The Longing that answer is probably no! Studio Seufz’s indie adventure waiting game seems designed for this purpose. Send your lonely Shade to walk to a random part of his cave complex while you endure yet another conference call with your cranky colleagues… sounds legit!”

The Longing (again)

Suggested by Kim from Later Levels

The Longing takes place over 400 days in real time so there’s no need to rush. The clock continues ticking down while you’re away from the game so you can pop back every now and again while you’re working – but don’t worry, there are different ways to tackle it and you can speed up the clock if you wish! Although this isn’t the happiest title out there, it’s a unique experience. Most of the endings are quite dark but they remind you how important it is that we look after each other, especially now.”

Viva Piñata

Suggested by Dale from UnCapt

“Viva Piñata has recently re-entered my life as a game that’s been on in the background. Well, mostly it is distracting me from my work! It is surprisingly slow-paced and leaving the game to play out on its own for a moment can work in your favour. Of course, the real benefit to the game is the lack of stress-inducing mechanics; it’s a relaxing experience watching your colourful and papery pals live in your garden. Both the combination of the music and the colours are enough to make the most stressful workloads seem redundant.”

Don’t worry: we won’t tell anyone you’re playing video games while you’re meant to be working! If you have any further suggestions please leave them in the comments below, and come back on Friday for titles which will make you feel as though you’re hanging out with friends while you’re alone in isolation. Take care, everybody!

Gamers’ Guide to Isolation: inside but outside

After the government’s address to the nation at the end of March, people all over the UK have been confined to their homes with the instruction to leave as little as possible. We’ve now been inside for over three weeks and I bet more than a few of us are climbing the walls.

Fear not though: with the help of my lovely blogger-friends, I’ll be bringing you the Gamers’ Guide to Isolation this week. This is going to be split into three sections over the next few days and will feature a range of video games to help you handle different factors of the quarantine. From titles to play while you’re pretending to work from home to releases that will make you feel as though you’re not going through this alone, hopefully you’ll find something here to pass the time.

Today we’re going to start with games to make you feel as you’re outdoors even though you’re inside. The Prime Minister may have told us that we’re allowed out for exercise once a day, but most of us would love to spend far longer out in the fresh air. So why not check out the following titles suggested by some awesome bloggers to make you feel as though you’re hiking through the mountains, walking through the forest or going for a bike-ride?

Cities: Skylines

Suggested by Luke from Hundstrasse

“On the face of it Cities: Skylines doesn’t have the characteristics of a game that should make you feel as though you’re outdoors, but sitting here trying to think of first-person titles set in vast sprawling countryside or third-person adventures in beautiful sun-drenched vistas, my mind kept coming back to Cities: Skylines. A rather well executed SimCity-type game, it’s all about zoning, managing financial incentives, and building a good public transport system, but it’s also a game that sits the player floating in the air above their own beautifully detailed metropolis. Zoomed out, at high altitudes, you can hear the wind rushing past you, but with a spin of the scroll-wheel you can be at ground level watching cars go by on a busy street, or jump over to a leafy suburb away from the traffic noise to watch citizens meander through a manicured park. For me, this ‘model village’ of a world gives me the the outdoor experience as a floating entity above my creation, breathing that virtual air vicariously through my digital citizens.”

Eastshade

Suggested by Kim from Later Levels

“Give Eastshade a try if you’re looking for something relaxing to play. You can grab your bike and go for a ride through the pink trees of the Blushwood Forest; take a stroll across the sunny Tifmoor Bluffs; or hitch a ride in a balloon to the peaks of the Restless Reach. And if you spot a view you’d like to capture, pull out your canvas and paint a picture. This is one of my favourite games because it’s such a beautiful take on the RPG genre, accompanied by lovely artwork and soundtrack.”

Firewatch

Suggested by Quietschisto from RNG

“When I think about the great outdoors, mountains instantly spring to my mind. What better game to pick than the hiking simulator – Firewatch. In this game, you play as Henry, who tries to run away from his problems by taking an isolated job in the Yellowstone National Park. Beautiful, cel-shaded environments, excellent voice-acting, and you always keep the mandatory distance of 1km between people. What’s not to love about it?

“If you want a bit more gameplay than just walking around, you could also try The Witness. The landscapes are not quite as impressive (still, their minimalistic design is beautiful in its own) and there’s no story to speak of, but the puzzles will more than make up for all of that. Remember to pause whenever your brain starts smoking!”

Grand Theft Auto V

Suggested by Alex Sigsworth

“The environments of Grand Theft Auto V are amongst the most realistic ever. The cities are full of NPCs who have their own unique dialogue that builds the impression of a whole world beyond the player. Even the sound of the player character’s steps changes with the slightest difference in surface. Just taking a walk to the pier is an impressive experience. Everywhere I go reminds of me real places I’ve been. Exploring with no objective can pass hours on its own. There’s no place I wish were more real than Southern San Andreas. Apparently, it has a narrative too.”

Horizon Zero Dawn

Suggested by Solarayo from Ace Asunder

“People can be so damn cruel… She may be hated by her people, but I know I instantly fell in love with Aloy the starring shero of Horizon Zero Dawn. Let’s just say I connected a little too closely with her bullied outcast problems. Social distancing is even worse when it’s the kind forced on you buy a bunch of jerks who refuse to accept you for being you. Ahem. Anyway, who doesn’t love forests and nature in all of its pristine glory? The beautiful wilds of this game are simply lovely to explore, while you figure out why the heck wild robot dinosaurs are running amok in a primitive human world.”

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Suggested by Dale from UnCapt

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a game that infuses itself within nature. With its beautiful aesthetics and soundtrack, one can’t help but feel envious for Ori who gets to run through the forest. Especially whilst you are locked inside! Whilst maybe not making you feel outside, it does give you an appreciation for the forest and all who dwell there. Plus the sounds and visuals of the game help to draw you closer to nature, in a way that brings the outside to your home.”

theHunter: Call of the Wild

Suggested by Dan from nowisgames.com

“The escapism available with this game is incredible; the environments, the freakin’ sound of the wind, the overall serenity. This is like nothing I’ve experienced before. Tracking animals through the wilderness becomes a tense game of cat-and-mouse, culminating in a single shot, in some cases after an hour of tracking. Sounds incredibly dull, but when you’re slowly creeping through the forest tracking that deer, something primal happens and you’re transported away from the real world around you, even just for a little while.”

Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection

Suggested by The Gaming Diaries

“One of the games that I have spent the most time in recently is Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection. I may be inside but in this I can run around a zoo, see animals from all parts of the world, drive through the zoo in a buggy that you can call and just comes flying towards you… and all this with other people milling about, taking in the sights and sounds. No matter how dull the day is outside the window, in this game you have a bright zoo and sunny skies to keep your spirits up. It makes you feel as though you are outside in a place which in this game brings many joyful moments. I’ve had baby animals born, released animals into the wild, taken photos of chimps that are desperate to avoid the camera. Despite the fact I am playing alone in my home, I feel like I’m out in the world trying to do something and I’m learning some things as I go. It’s a bright world at the zoo and it’s brilliant to be outside in it.”

Hopefully these suggestions will give you some inspiration for video games to check out while you’re in isolation. If you have any further recommendations, please do leave them in the comments below – and come back on Wednesday for titles you can sneakily play while you’re working from home. Look after yourselves, everybody!