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.
PAX South 2017 hosted a large expo hall full of tabletop and video games, from wonderfully obscure indie titles to the large spectacle of the Nintendo and Capcom booths. I saw and played as many games as I possibly could over the weekend, and met with some amazing developers.
I didn’t get a chance to see everything that the convention had to offer. But here’s my list of 20 promising games you’ll want to look for this year.
Developer: Phoenix Labs Platforms: PC Release: 2017
Cooperative Action-RPG Dauntless channels the classic Monster Hunter series. Up to four players choose their weapon fighting style before being dropped into a large battlefield, facing off against a monstrous behemoth.
The PAX South demo included the four heroes shown in the trailer, as well as two behemoths. Shrike was a big owl monster that leapt at us and churned up wind blasts with his wings. Pangar resembled an armored ankylosaurus who balled up and smashed over us. You could chain attacks together to create combos, like a fighting game. I enjoyed using the warhammer’s rocket jump for a leaping strike, and turning his warhammer into a short-range shotgun blast.
The free-to-play title promises a variety of weapon styles and customization options, and promotes quickly jumping into cooperative monster slaying.
Death Squared is a delightfully charming cooperative puzzle game. The art style and theme is very reminiscent of the Portal games, as players work together to solve non-violent puzzles within a top-down arena.
Each player, whether playing solo or with up to three others, plays a different colored cube. Each cube has to reach a certain spot on the board to complete the puzzle, avoiding spikes, traps, and being knocked off the edge. Hilarity quickly ensues with multiple players, as one person moving too far could crush another with spikes. Thankfully failure and reloading is instant, and the game focuses on cooperation and a fun series of trial and error.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Developer: Larian Studios Platforms: PC Release: 2017 (Currently Available via Steam Early Access)
Divinity: Original Sin was my favorite game of 2014. The sequel is shaping up to be better in every way. The most impressive addition is that Larian has managed to double down on both single and multiplayer, including four player co-op within a massive turn-based tactical RPG. PAX South showcased the new PvP Arena Mode, which takes all the best elements of the excellent battle system. Multiple arenas were available with a bevy of delicious environmental hazards that you can manipulate using a wide variety of elemental skills and spells.
Divinity has been in Early Access since late last year to help generate feedback, bug fixes, and additional content. Recently a new “AI 2.0” update has been added. Now enemies will use their surroundings to gain every advantage against you. As a huge fan of tactical RPGs, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is easily one of my most anticipated games of the year.
Developer: HoloSpark Platforms: Steam PC, PS4, XBO Release: Early 2017 (Launching on Steam Early Access first)
I loved the Left 4 Dead games, but in recent years purely cooperative games have been sadly ignored (and Evolve mostly crashed and burned). HoloSpark aims to pick up the co-op torch and run with it in their four player first-person shooter Earthfall.
Claiming that Earthfall is Left 4 Dead with aliens is a compliment, but it also feels like a natural evolution of the co-op shooter. Up to four friends complete objectives while surviving against waves of flesh-hungry aliens. You’re given more options than just “make it from point A to point B”, like a 3D printer you can use to make weapons, as well as turrets and barricades to help form a solid defensive perimeter. Earthfall brought back all the fun memories I had playing Left 4 Dead with friends, and I can’t wait to help defend against the alien invasion.
Developer: Northstar Games Platforms: PC, Mobile Release: 2018 (Kickstarter coming in Summer 2017)
Board games have become a huge business among the geek crowd, and with the proliferation of mobile devices many make a perfect fit for digital versions. Northstar Games’ Evolution is the latest to receive the digital treatment. Despite being still being a year away, Evolution was fully playable on PC and mobile devices at PAX South, and a lot of fun.
Evolution is a 2-6 player game where each player creates a series of creatures using multiple traits. Keeping your creatures well-fed earns victory points, but you have to manage your cards between making new creatures, increasing their numbers, or adding new traits like Carnivore and Burrowing to give them the edge they need. The digital version will play up to four, and displays everything on a lovely board with the watering hold in the middle, and cards are displayed on the bottom Hearthstone-style. You can easily drag and drop to make the choices you need.
Northstar Games will be launching a Kickstarter to help create the game and add multiplayer support. Look for the Kickstarter this Summer, and the full release next year.
First Impact: Rise of a Hero
Developer: Red Meat Games Platforms: Steam PC, HTC Vive Release: February 3, 2017
VR games have a reputation of being more tech demos than full-fledged games. But First Impact: Rise of a Hero felt like an actual game. You’re a superhero wielding the powers of the four elements in a mini open-world island with its own city. Each power can be used in three different ways, from projectiles to shields and movement. Earth+Shield produces a giant wall of stone, while air+movement gives you flight.
Flying around a city shooting fireballs in virtual reality is crazy fun. The art style feels like a classic silver age comic book, and you’ll be given missions and tasks to help defend your citizens against newly powered enemies. Becoming a superhero has always been a childhood fantasy and First Impact takes the first steps towards living it out.
Developer: Jason Roberts Platforms: iOS, Steam PC Release: Spring 2017
Gorogoa wins my personal “you have to play this game” award at PAX South. Everyone I talked to I had to mention this game. I could barely even explain it properly; you had to play it to properly experience its unique and beautiful take on environmental puzzles.
The striking hand-drawn art style immediately pulled me in. The screen includes four quadrants where you drag and drop different paintings. Most pictures let you zoom in and out, changing what you see and letting you manipulate objects. Sometimes you can combine pictures in clever ways, like dragging a doorway onto a brick wall to create a new opening. The silent world teased an emotional story as you lead a young boy on a journey through the pictures. Gorogoa was one of the single biggest surprises of the entire convention.
I enjoyed Hand of Fate and with its rogue-like Action-RPG infused with tarot cards and games of chance. Hand of Fate 2 is very much a sequel, improving on everything that worked and adding more content to fit its card-based world.
The Dealer is back from his near death experience and sets out to train a new pupil. The sequel keeps the timed action combat most famously used in the Batman Arkham series while alleviating some frustrations from the first game. A big help is an AI ally who helps keep the often large number of foes manageable. The randomized chance mechanics have also been greatly improved, and now include new mini-games like rolling dice in addition to choosing cards.
Developer: Frozenbyte Platforms: Steam PC, PS4, XBO, Nintendo Switch Release: March 28, 2017
Has-Been Heroes was briefly teased during the Nintendo Switch Presentation, and at PAX South I got my hands on it. It’s a rogue-like strategy-RPG where your veteran heroes have to escort the young princesses to school. You control three heroes who each occupy a separate lane while enemies creep toward you, similar to Plants vs Zombies. Combat is designed to let you pause frequently to set up attacks and spell combinations.
It’s a unique combination of side-scrolling tower defense and action-RPG that requires you to learn a rhythm of timing your attacks and chaining spell effects together – like drenching foes in water before shocking them with lightning. Randomized map layouts, spells, and items ensure a plethora of replayability. I wanted to play a lot more of this game, and that’s always a good sign.
Developer: Daylight Studios Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux Release: February 14, 2017
With a crew of veggie-people and a name like Holy Potatoes! We’re in Space, you know you’re in for a silly adventure. But there’s a great-looking sim management and spaceship combat game here as well. You’ll need to hire engineers, researchers, and a pilot to command your massive starship. Building new facilities and weapons is simple and fun, yet there’s also a lot of tactical options in deciding which weapons to mount where and who will fire them. A procedurally generated universe should bring a hefty does of depth to the bright, cheery art.
It would be presumptuous to call this the next FTL, but fans of that indie rogue-like spaceship adventure should definitely take a look.
Developer: Nexon America Platforms: Steam PC Release: 2017
I initially rolled my eyes at the goofy art style and MOBA gameplay, but then I sat down to play Hyper Universe. I’m now prepared to declare it one of my favorite games of PAX South.
Hyper Universe is a 2D, side-scrolling MOBA. This creates an interesting combination of 2D platformer with classic MOBA gameplay. You choose from a colorful cast of characters ripped straight out of sci-fi and popular culture. In the demo I played as a squid captain, clearly a take on Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean.
Hyper Universe uses all the familiar mechanics of a MOBA, from farmable NPCs to multiple lanes and towers, but the 2D format really makes it unique, and creates an interesting arcade-like experience. It’s deliciously chaotic and colorful during massive team fights. Hyper Universe has been in beta in Korea since last year, and is hitting the U.S. for beta testing soon.
The Inner World
Developer: Headup Games Platforms: Mobile, PC (previously released), PS4, XBO Release: 2017
If you think the only kind of adventure games still being made are from Telltale, you need to pay attention to what’s coming out of Germany. Headup Games previously released their classic point and click adventure The Inner World on PC and mobile devices. At PAX South they showed off the new controller support as The Inner World heads for consoles.
The hand-drawn, cartoon graphics make The Inner World very accessible for all ages, and I couldn’t help but smile through the dialogue and descriptions in the opening area. Using a controller for an inventory-based adventure game takes some getting used to, but getting a chance to play this charming adventure is well worth it.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Developer: Nintendo Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Wii U Release: March 3, 2017
It’s Zelda. You want it. I want it. We all want it. I got to play about 15 minutes of the press demo at PAX South and it only confirmed my beliefs that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was really something special.
I’ve been lax with my 3D Zeldas. I never finished Twilight Princess and didn’t even play Skyward Sword. But Breath of the Wild is an astonishing leap forward. It’s a gigantic open world full of reactive enemies, dynamic weather, and a fully integrated crafting system. Zelda purists may actually balk at some of these changes but most of us will see them as long-awaited improvements. Breath of the Wild is set to completely redefine what it means to be an open-world game.
Developer: Daedalic Studio West Platforms: Steam PC, PS4, XBO Release: 2017
The Long Journey Home is a space exploration adventure that aims for a slightly more serious take than the other Daedalic published space game, Holy Potatoes. Your crew of four is stranded far from Earth, and will need to use their skills and the tactical choices you make to get back home.
Starting a new game generates a new galaxy to explore, filled with aliens that range from trade-happy to aggressively hostile. You’re given complete freedom on where to go and what to do. You can find and interact with aliens, harvest resources from planets, and make new discoveries. There’s a hefty dose of realistic space physics I saw first hand, like sling-shotting around planets and melting from radiation if you fly too close to a star. In a post-No Man’s Sky world, The Long Journey Home looks like a much more manageable and engaging space-based adventure.
Mages of Mystralia
Developer: Borealys Games Platforms: PC Release: 2017
On the surface Mages of Mystralia looks like a nice indie Zelda clone. But there’s an incredibly cool spell-crafting system that lets you modify every spell at your disposal into near infinite combinations.
Zia is a young mage just learning to use her newfound powers. Instead of gaining weapons and items to defeat enemies and solve puzzles, you’ll be given spells. Not just spells – runes to modify each spell.
Each of your four spell slots can be equipped with multiple runes that change the nature of the spell. Attaching an arrow to fire lets you shoot firebolts. Eventually you can attach several runes to create some crazy cool powers. One example I saw was dashing forward, leaving behind a decoy that then rotated around and fired fireballs at an angle. You’ll need to manage your mana levels and you’ll gain more advanced runes as you go. With a story written by Ed Greenwood (of D&D fame), Mages of Mystralia is looking like a must-buy indie title.
MetaArcade Adventures Platform
Developer: MetaArcade Platforms: Mobile, PC, Mac Release: 2017
If you’re too young to remember the old black and white Tunnels & Trolls role-playing books from the 70s and 80s you should still recall the Choose Your Own Adventure books. These stories allowed you to create your own personal role-playing story, crafted by the choices you make on each page. MetaArcade’s new Adventure Creator recreates this system, giving the tools to craft these user-friendly RPG adventures directly into players’ hands.
MetaArcade acquired the Tunnels & Trolls license, allowing them to produce the over 30 published adventures. In addition to creating these adventures, the release of the Adventure Creator will allow anyone to make their own text-based dungeon-crawling adventures. At PAX South I helped create a classroom section that rewarded the player based on three different choices. I look forward to what great story-tellers can do given this nifty tool.
Snipperclips: Cut It Out, Together!
Developer: Nintendo Platforms: Nintendo Switch Release: March 2017
I was hugely impressed with Nintendo’s little cooperative puzzle game Snipperclips. Snipperclips was designed for two player local cooperative play using the two halves of the Joy-Con.
Within the cute paper world, the two paper characters could rotate their bodies and snip each other to fit shapes and solve puzzles. Puzzles were open-ended and could be solved in multiple ways, such as creating certain shapes to push buttons and move objects. The art style and design is very kid-friendly. Snipperclips will be a very nice addition to the Nintendo Switch’s near-launch lineup.
Developer: Nintendo Platforms: Nintendo Switch Release: Summer 2017
Splatoon 2 played just like you’d expect – exactly like the first game. Two teams of four square off in third-person shooting mayhem. Your goal is to paint more of the map in your team’s colors, and you can choose from a variety of weapon types and special abilities.
The PAX South demo just showed the standard PvP mode, which didn’t have much new to offer. A new jetpack ultimate ability boosted you in the air where you could rain down rocket blasts of paint at foes. A whirlwind attack let you blast a large area right around you. If you loved Splatoon or missed out on the first one, the sequel will definitely deliver more of that paint-shooting goodness.
Developer: Trion Worlds Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO (currently in open beta) Release: 2017
Trove is a voxel-powered MMORPG, which is fancy for “it’s like Minecraft.” Trove feels like much more of a structured game, however, with a variety of character classes you can switch to on the fly. It’s an easy game to jump into and far more action-packed than Minecraft. You can still build and construct worlds, but the goal will be to jump in and go on quests and battle monsters with friends. Each server can host up to 60 people, and you don’t even need to be in a group to share experience and loot with people around you.
Trove is currently in open beta and being crafted as a free-to-play title, with player-created items, mounts, costumes, and entire zones to explore and adventure in together.
A new sub-genre of adventure games called First-Person Narrative Adventures are becoming more popular, with Gone Home being the biggest example and a champion of the genre. What Remains of Edith Finch is told in a similar vein. Edith returns to her creepy yet wondrous childhood home, where all her relatives have died. Their rooms have been sealed up but Edith finds ways inside, and relives their last moments.
That may sound like a horror game but What Remains of Edith Finch is actually much more introspective and emotional. You experience the hopes and dreams of your past relatives, and even shift to entirely new perspectives. When I explored Molly’s past, a girl that died in the 1940’s, I searched for food, eventually climbing outside and morphing into different animals as I hunted prey.
Your goal is to complete each section of the family tree and explore your home and your past. For fans of this relatively new and interesting genre, What Remains of Edith Finch looks like a definite winner.