Dauntless either has terrible timing or brilliant timing. Indie developer Phoenix Labs had one of the largest booth at PAX South to show off their free-to-play monster hunting game. The booth lie in the shadow of the even larger Capcom booth, whose gigantic Rathalos statue beckoned people to play one of the biggest releases of the year: Monster Hunter: World. Dauntless offers a much more streamlined – and more importantly free alternative to the niche hunting genre.
“We’re big fans of the hunting genre,” said Reid Buckmaster, combat designer for Dauntless. “We wanted to bring together elements of games we all enjoyed to build the ultimate co-op game that we at the studio always wanted to play. We’re using elements from Monster Hunter, but also gameplay loops from Destiny.”
After several crashes on the demo PC I finally loaded up into a mission with a group of three other hunters, called slayers. Four weapon loadouts were available, and I chose the war pike.
Dauntless uses an easy to understand combo system with two attack buttons, as well as a special attack that varies depending on the weapon. My war pike could focus a laser beam, while the dual blades could either be hurled to close the distance, or used to vault away from a monster to avoid danger.
Combos are quickly accessible from the pause menu, teaching me basic strategies for getting the most out of my weapon – button mashing only gets you so far.
“We want to push players to switch between the weapon types,” said Buckmaster. “Players should want to feel like they have a main weapon, but be able to quickly switch out depending on their party composition or the encounter.” There are five weapons currently available: sword, hammer, axe, dual blades, and the war pike. A sixth weapon is being planned for open beta.
The four of us landed on a floating island to begin our hunt. The islands are relatively small zones and contain a number of gatherable resources and plants, which can then be used to craft potions and items back in the hub town of Ramsgate.
As in Monster Hunter we were given a time limit to hunt the monster. “We’re shooting for an average hunt time of about 15 minutes,” said Buckmaster. “If you have the right gear and really know your way around, you could finish one as quickly as five minutes.”
We stuck together and soon found our prey: Skarn. Skarn was a large four-legged dinosaur monster equipped with giant plates of rocky armor. It could knock the armor off and use it as a weapon, or slam the ground and cause rocky spires to jut out and impale us. The four of us surrounded it and began hacking it up, getting knocked around in the process. A big part of the strategy is learning to read a behemoth’s attack patterns and weaknesses, and a live demo on the show floor isn’t the ideal way to tackle it.
Skarn retreated to a different area, giving us some breathing room to apply healing before chasing after it. There were some glowing blue outcroppings on the ground we could activate for an additional healing font. We also came equipped with several healing potions. If someone went down we could revive them, provided someone else distracted the monster away.
Sadly the behemoth ended us before we could take it down, though we gave it a valiant effort. Monsters scale with the number of players, and Skarn represented a Tier 2 behemoth. Normally it would not be the first monster you face.
Skarn is one of 18 behemoths currently available in the closed beta, spread out over five different difficulty tiers. The starter monsters at Tier 1 are easier versions of other behemoths, while a few later behemoths repeat the base monster designs but with different coloring and attack patterns.
Fighting behemoths is more than just trying to kill them. Targeting specific body parts and destroying them will nullify some of the monster’s attacks, as well as rewarding you with that body part. Body parts are used to craft more powerful weapons and armor, which in turn allow you to hunt more dangerous prey.
Dauntless is currently in closed beta, with an open beta arriving this summer on PC. Since it’s going to be free to play, Phoenix Labs admits that the open beta will essentially be a soft launch. “For open beta we’ll have the outline of our campaign,” said Buckmaster. “The goal is to have a full story campaign with voice acting and cutscenes. It’s not unlike Destiny where the 10-15 hour campaign shows you the ropes and gets you into the universe. Beyond that you’re grinding out for better stuff and going for the top accolades.”
Phoenix Labs promises the game will remain free to play, with no pay-to-win elements. “We are very firmly against pay-to-win type mechanics,” said Buckmaster. “You won’t be able to purchase anything that will affect your gameplay. The only things available to purchase will be cosmetics, like designs for flares and armor.”
Dauntless is planned for a PC launch initially, but Phoenix Labs are eyeing console releases for the future, though no consoles have yet been announced.
Can Dauntless survive now that many hunting fans are knee deep into the recently released behemoth of the genre, Monster Hunter: World? “The hunting genre has been pretty niche and sometimes difficult to get new players into,” said Buckmaster. “That’s something we wanted to do focus on with Dauntless – having a really inviting game that has depth, but easy enough to jump into and start hitting buttons.”
The future of the toys to life genre may look bleak, but PlayFusion has a few cards up their sleeves to remain optimistic. Their Lightseekers cross-media brand had a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, and began releasing last year. But it’s the collectible trading card game I checked out at PAX South 2018.
The Lightseekers Trading Card Game is no mere tie-in or side project, this is a fun, full-fledged card game with unique mechanics and 386 cards, each of which becomes an augmented reality card when scanned into the Lightseekers mobile game.
“Lightseekers is a really fun game that’s easy to learn and difficult to master,” said Willie Wilkov, Chief Marketing Officer for PlayFusion. Wilkov was kind enough to run through a full demo of the game for me at PAX, surrounded by an ongoing Lightseekers cash-prize tournament and numerous play stations.
The card game, like the digital game, revolves around heroes – the Lightseekers. Every deck must contain a single hero, which is set in front of each player. This hero provides the player’s health bar, a unique Hearthstone-like ability, and determines which type of cards you can play. I played with the Mountain Starter Deck and the hero Dolo the Mighty. Each hero has access to three elements, which in total make up each of the six Orders. Mountain has Fire, Earth, and Crystal.
Each deck is made up of five combo cards and 30 action, buff, or item cards. Combo cards are more powerful, but require a certain combination of elements in your hand. For example, to play my Stream of Tantos combo, I’d need to also have Fire, Earth, and Crystal cards in my hand. I spend those cards by shuffling them back into my deck and play the combo.
Action cards simply do their action, and can be played up to twice a turn depending on the hero’s preferred element. This is in stark contrast to many CCG’s which often involve summoning creatures to battle one another. In Lightseekers it’s the heroes themselves doing the battling, and each player is playing cards to do instant damage, heal, or defend against incoming damage.
The bulk of the strategy seems to be about timing. The main way to draw cards is to not play cards, so there are odd times of both players passing back and forth as they build up their hands, hoping to unleash a powerful combo while setting up defenses.
Healing and damage mitigation were quite prevalent in both my Mountain deck and Wilkov’s Nature deck, causing our health to fluctuate back and forth during the relatively quick match. Not having to worry about multiple creatures on the board with individual health bars help streamline the entire experience and made Lightseekers feel unique.
The other unique factor were the nifty rotating buff cards. “There’s a rotating buff mechanic where the cards at the start of your turn rotate 90 degrees, changing the value of the cards,” said Wilkov. “A lot of players really like that and it’s where a large part of the strategy comes into play.” Buffs are cards are placed in front of you with ongoing effects. Most have numbers in their corners, and they’re designed to rotate at the beginning of each of your turns, possibly changing how effective the card is, or setting up some cool traps.
I played a Prism Cannon, which rotated on my next several turns. It did damage according to the number at its current rotation, but this was a patient trap. The first three numbers were ‘X’, doing nothing, but at the fourth rotation it would blast my opponent for eight damage, provided they didn’t find a way to get rid of it first.
The rotating buffs mesh well with the idea of planning for big turns. At that same time my Prism Cannon went off, I had a second buff, the Colossi Ritual Site, rotate from its ‘X’ position to ‘3’, increasing all damage I dealt by that amount. It boosted my Prism Cannon’s damage from 8 to 11, perfect timing!
Every card is also imprinted with a unique digital code, represented by dots on the border. “You can scan and use these cards in the action-adventure roleplaying game,” said Wilkov. “Each card grants rewards and abilities in the game. It’s a blend of the physical and the digital.” The Lightseekers mobile game (iOS, Android, Amazon) is a rudimentary free-to-play action-RPG. Most cards activate temporary buffs, abilities, or allies, while combo cards unlock permanent new skills for your heroes.
Lightseekers looks like it’s designed for standard one-on-one battles, but it actually scales for multiple people. “We’ve played in the office with up to seven players,” said Wilkov. The multiplayer rules (and the cards themselves) specifically make separate reference to targets and enemies, and uses a system of gaining victory points for eliminating your personal targets.
Each of the six orders are available as a starter deck, containing one hero, 5 combo cards, 30 action cards, and a booster pack, as well as a tuckbox for storing cards. Each booster pack includes nine cards, and always contains one hero card, one rare, and two uncommons.
I was given the Intro Pack, which contained starter versions of the Storm and Tech Orders, two fold-out paper battle mats, and a booster pack. The battle mats are a nice way to keep things organized, even though Lightseekers is already very light on card clutter given only the buffs and items remain on the board.
I have played a lot of collectible card games, and many that were aimed at a younger crowd. It’s not hard to see the instant appeal of Lightseekers. The artwork is solid, the rules straightforward, and rotating cards to access different variations is a neat system. You can build entire deck strategies around combo cards, though pulling too many from booster packs can be annoying since you can only ever include five in your deck.
I can see Lightseekers filling a nice mid-tier void somewhere between Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering. I hope it can succeed among the always competitive marketplace of collectible card games.
As one of the smaller Penny Arcade Expos, PAX South remains a great destination for indie designers and publishers. This year Capcom dominated the showfloor with Monster Hunter: World, but bigger indie publishers like 1C, TinyBuild, Annapurna, Devolver Digital, and Crytivo also drew large crowds. Microsoft’s Mixer booth proved a popular destination, with the Hunger Games-like Battle Royale Darwin Project letting onlookers vote to help, or hinder, the players.
Here are the 20 most exciting indie games we saw at PAX South 2018.
Children of Morta
Developer: Dead Mage Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO Release: 2018
“Basically Children of Morta is a hack and slash roguelike story-driven experience,” said Rufus Kubica, Community Manager at publisher 11 bit Studios. We jumped right into some cooperative dungeon crawling within the beautifully pixelated, randomly generated world of Mount Morta.
I played as the spellcasting daughter who could blast fireballs and unleash tornadoes, while the fighter-dad could slam swords down all around him. Combat was a bit faster and more dynamic than a Diablo. The full game will have six family members to choose from for up to two players to adventure together.
Developer: Fourattic Platforms: PC, PS4 Release: February 13
Stop what you’re doing and watch the above trailer. Crossing Souls is dripping with cool animated style (complete with VHS scan lines!) and 80s pop culture. The real world 80s RPG setting reminded me of Earthbound, but with a much more active action-RPG combat system. I played through the very beginning, where our blue-haired hero wakes up at home and learns how to swing a bat by practicing with this dad in the backyard. Eventually you’ll control five characters, each with specific abilities that can be used to solve puzzles and defeat enemies.
Developer: Scavengers Studio Platforms: PC, XBO Release: 2018 (End of March for Early Access)
You like the explosive new Battle Royale genre but think it could use a bit more Hunger Games viewer participation? Look no further than The Darwin Project.
The Microsoft Mixer booth was constantly drawing a crowd thanks to this game. Ten players are dropped into a snowy warzone where they must scavenge for supplies and upgrades. A game master has full control of the arena, such as being able to bestow buffs on crowd favorites or nuke entire zones that the audience has voted on. Given the popularity of other Battle Royale games, I can see this being a huge release for Microsoft later this year. A limited time open beta is coming this weekend.
Developer: Phoenix Labs Platforms: PC Release: 2018
I saw Dauntless at last year’s PAX South, and it’s making my list again this year. The free-to-play Monster Hunter-lite is much more impressive this time around. Controls instantly felt intuitive, and it was fun immediately jumping into a hunt with three other players.
We battled Skarn, a rocky lizard monster who could slough off his rocky scales to slam into us or call up spikes of rock to impale us. My war pike had several different combos I could unleash using the light and heavy attacks, and I had to coordinate with my team to draw it away while we could revive each other when the going got rough. We ultimately fell short of slaying the monster but I hope to try again during the beta period. Open beta should be available later this summer.
Deep Sky Derelicts
Developer: Snowhound Games Platforms: PC Release: March 2018 (Available now via Steam Early Access)
Deep Sky Derelicts is Darkest Dungeon in space. Create a team of badasses and go on missions to loot derelict spaceships, along with a fantastic synthwave soundtrack and comic book panel-animations.
The spaceships act as dungeon crawls, and combat shifts to a turn-based system. Deep Sky Derelict’s unique twist is that each weapon and item you equip grants a selection of cards. Each character has a personal deck they use to attack enemies, shield allies, or apply buffs and debuffs. I want to play a lot more of this game.
Evolution: The Video Game
Developer: North Star Games Platforms: PC, iOS, Android Release: Spring 2018
The digital version of Evolution had just reached infancy at last year’s PAX South. This year I could see the fruits of their labor. The video game version is instantly familiar to veterans of the excellent tabletop game: create species, customize them with traits, and keep them well fed to earn victory points. The visuals and animation go above and beyond what I usually see in digital board game ports. Evolution is coming soon to PC, iOS, and Android and will feature cross-platform play and asynchronous multiplayer.
Developer: 11 bit Studios Platforms: PC Release: 2018
From the creators of This War of Mine comes another stark, human look at survival with Frostpunk. The world has ended, blanketed in unforgiving snow and frost. I had control of the last city, whose hub was represented by a giant reactor core that harnesses geothermal energy from deep within the Earth. From there I had to carefully expand outward, building houses and collecting resources for my survivors.
Unlike many city-builders Frostpunk is concerned with the day-to-day lives of your citizens. As in This War of Mine numerous random events will pop up, forcing you to choose how to lead your people. I could enact child labor laws for safe work, and later down the road enact even stricter and more dystopian ordinances, all in the name of survival.
Guns of Icarus Alliance
Developer: Muse Games Platforms: PC, PS4 Release: March 31 (Released last year on PC)
Guns of Icarus Alliance released last year on PC as a stand-alone expansion, adding new PvE elements to the team-based airship action. The build at PAX South was showing off the new PlayStation 4 version, which will have full cross-platform play and voice chat with the PC version.
One of the developers manned the wheel of our ship and shouted out incoming enemy airships as I and a handful of others ran around our flying steampunk zeppelin putting out fires, repairing guns, and firing on would be attackers. The level of coordination and teamwork required to succeed felt nicely challenging and fun.
Developer: Roll7 Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO Release: Early 2018
I had lots of hands-on time with Laser League during a private press meeting with 505 Games. Laser League is the clever combination of Tron’s light cycles with arena sports. Several different class roles are available, each with special abilities including stuns, cloaking, and attack. The arena is full of rotating beams of light that must be touched to change them to your team’s color – rendering them deadly to your opponents. It’s an intuitive system that rewards teamwork and quick decision-making, like any good sports match.
Twin stick space shooters are a dime in dozen, but Last Encounter’s four player local co-op is immediately exciting and fun. Within seconds of jumping in we were flying around firing our lasers and avoiding enemies. Each level was filled with dangerous hazards with keys to collect at the end, opening the way to a major boss battle against a giant ship that spawned smaller ships. Weapons and power-ups gave it a nice arcade-like feel, and the difficulty was mitigated by being able to resuscitate your downed allies.
Developer: Bishop Games Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO, Switch Release: March 2018
Light Fall comes from a long line of mysterious side-scrolling platformers. What sets it apart is the ability to create your own platforms. As I controlled the shadowy protagonist, I could create a platform underneath me simply by pressing the jump button again, up to four times. When I later ran into lasers blocking my path, I pressed a different button to summon a moveable platform above me, letting me block the lasers while I skirted underneath. I particularly enjoyed the richly-voiced old man owl who accompanies you from level to level.
The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game
Developer: Fantasy Flight Interactive Platforms: PC Release: 2018
Fantasy Flight Games are one of the premiere board game developers, and now they’re bringing one of their best card games to digital form. The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game looks similar to Hearthstone, but it’s actually entirely cooperative. It’s designed for solo or up to two players to choose three heroes and battle against Sauron’s gathering forces during the early days of the adventure.
The ‘Living Card Game’ means it does not rely on random booster packs. Instead you purchase expansion packs knowing exactly which cards they will include. That is very appealing in an era where we’re being smothered in loot boxes.
Developer: Sabotage Studio Platforms: PC, unannounced consoles Release: 2018
The Messenger was one of the most impressive games I saw at the show floor. On the surface it looks like yet another retro-inspired, pixelated platformer, complete with Ninja Gaiden-style protagonist. Dig slightly deeper and you’ll discover a killer chiptune soundtrack, delightfully funny dialogue, perfect controls and level design, and a well-structured world that actually evolves from 8-bit into 16-bit, then into full on Metroidvania. The Messenger could absolutely be the next Shovel Knight in pitch-perfect retro gameplay.
Developer: Digital Sun Games Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO, Switch Release: 2018
What if Link only adventured at night, and ran a shop during the day? That’s the question posed by Digital Sun Games in Moonlighter. The dungeon crawling portions was an exact recreation of old school top-down Legend of Zelda. As I gathered treasure my backpack would fill up, prompting me to return to town to put the goods on display. There’s a deep economy system where you have full control over setting prices for each object, noting what sells and how happy your clients are. Make money, purchase better gear, and make it farther into the dungeon. Capitalism, ho!
Developer: Spearhead Games Platforms: PC Release: 2018
From the developers of story-driven action-RPG Stories: Path of Destinies comes another story-driven action-RPG in Omensight. The level design and combat felt very similar as I used mystical abilities to grab foes from afar and create a time-slowing bubble.
I traversed a temple level with my rat-woman ally, but when we reached the end I had to make a choice with how to deal with the bird priest. One choice sided with her as we took on the priest in a boss fight, while the other let me side with the priest, skipping the fight but also losing her friendship. The full game will feature numerous choices and paths as you discover how to prevent the end of the world.
Developer: CreativeForge Games Platforms: PC Release: 2018
It’s the 1980s and we’re knee-deep in spy warfare during the Cold War era. Phantom Doctrine most closely resembles XCOM with its turn-based tactical combat, but it’s all the other systems that make it interesting, from using your spies to distract guards (provided they know the language of the locals) to capturing and brainwashing enemy spies and turning them to your side with a trigger phrase.
Phantom Doctrine uses all the best bits of all your favorite spy movies, including the classic corkboard string-and-thumbtack walls where you try to decipher clues to uncover hidden plots and secrets. All these systems have the potential of buckling under their weight, but from what I played I’m confident CreativeForge Games has a firm grasp on how to create a memorable spy game.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment Platforms: PC Release: 2018
Obsidian remains one of the best RPG developers around. To say I’m excited for the sequel to my personal game of the year three years ago is an understatement. Pillars of Eternity 2 is looking fantastic, taking the tactical RPG into the pirate-filled archipelago of the Deadfire. Everything is getting nice little tweaks and facelifts, from the UI to combat. Now you can program your entire party Final Fantasy 12-style, letting you show off your skill as a tactician as you chase after a giant runaway god-statue.
Developer: We Are Fuzzy Platforms: PC, Switch Release: 2018
Sleep Tight has a noticeably kid-friendly aesthetic and theme – you’re a kid who must protect his bedroom from incoming monsters. It’s one part tower defense and one part twin stick shooter as I used my earn star power to craft super-soaker weapons and walls made of couch cushions. Don’t let its cute graphics fool you, Sleep Tight is still a challenge as you’re tasked with surviving as many nights as you can.
The Swords of Ditto
Developer: OneBitBeyond Platforms: PC, PS4 Release: Early 2018
Swords of Ditto had one of the loveliest, brightest art styles of all the games I saw. The animations are equally gorgeous as my randomly generated character woke up on a beach to grab the sword and continue the 16-bit Zelda-like adventure. The catch? Dying is permanent, generating a new hero with different weapons each time. But your progress through the world is saved, creating an interesting rogue-like Zelda experience.
Developer: Funomena Platforms: PC, PS4 Release: Early 2018
Wattam has suffered through development hell to emerge as a quirky, fun little adventure puzzle game coming this year. It’s from the creator of Katamari Damacy, and feels very similar in theme as you discover the world around you through the various goofy anthropomorphic objects and characters. Analog controls, cheery music, and bright smiles help sell this as a good-feeling, light-hearted puzzle game.
ReedPop and Penny Arcade will kick off their fourth annual PAX South gaming convention this weekend, January 12-14. That’s about two weeks earlier than previous years.
Three day passes have sold out but single day tickets are still available for all three days. PAX South is hosted at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Like other PAX conventions, PAX South features an expo hall with developers presenting recent and upcoming games, a tabletop hall to check out board games from a massive library, numerous panels from industry veterans, streamers, and academics, nightly concerts, free play arcade, console, VR, and PC areas, and the D&D live adventures of Acquisitions Incorporated. PAX South will also kick off season two of the C Team, Acquisitions Incorporated’s weekly spin-off D&D show.
PAX South is smaller in attendance and scope than big brothers PAX East in Boston and PAX West in Seattle. PAX South was previously known as the board game or Tabletop-focused PAX convention, but last year introduced PAX Unplugged, a tabletop-only PAX convention that took place in Philadelphia in November.
The True Dungeon experience will return to PAX South, greatly expanded from last year’s sample offering. Tickets much be purchased separately for 2-hour time slots to experience the live-action role-playing adventure. This year the models and story will be inspired by best-selling author (and Acquisitions Incorporated member) Patrick Rothfuss’ fantasy series (image above). A free 24-minute demo will also be available to provide a sample of the adventure.
PAX South takes place January 12-14 in San Antonio, Texas.
Tickets for the fourth annual PAX South gaming convention will begin going on sale next Tuesday, July 18 at 12 pm Pacific/3 pm Eastern. PAX South 2018 takes place January 12-14 in San Antonio, Texas.
“It’s been incredible to see how quickly PAX South has grown and solidified its place in the PAX lineup, cultivating a culture all its own in beautiful downtown San Antonio,” said Jerry Holkins, co-founder, Penny Arcade. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of attendees and exhibitors at every PAX South, and this coming show will continue to up the ante.”
Single tickets can be purchased for $40 each, while a three-day badge will run $80. Special Sunday Kids Badges are available for 6-12 year olds at a discounted $10. If you want to bring your own PC for LAN gaming you’ll need to purchase a special pass for another $40.
PAX South 2018 will include exclusive branded merchandise. A set of dice can be had for $40, a pair of socks for $20, and a pack of drink coasters for $20.
The Penny Arcade Expos are among the largest gaming conventions of the year. Each PAX show features industry panels, esports tournaments, gaming booths, upcoming games, concerts, and live shows.
Earlier this year Penny Arcade announced their next annualized PAX show, PAX Unplugged. It will focus on tabletop gaming. PAX Unplugged will take place November 17-19 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tickets are now available.
PAX shows are produced by ReedPOP with Penny Arcade. The next scheduled PAX show will be PAX West (formerly PAX Prime), the original as well as the biggest of the PAX events. It takes place September 1-4 in Seattle, Washington. As usual with PAX West tickets sold out very quickly.
Media registration will be available three months before the show. PAX South 2018 takes place next year, January 12-14.