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PAX South: 20 Great Games to Look For In 2017

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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.

Dauntless

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

Developer: SMG Studios
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO
Release: March 14, 2017

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.

Earthfall

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.

Read my full PAX South preview of Earthfall.

Evolution

Evolution

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.

Gorogoa

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.

Hand of Fate 2

Developer: Defiant Development
Platforms: Steam PC, PS4, XBO
Release: Q1 2017

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.

Has-Been Heroes

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.

Read my full PAX South preview of Has-Been Heroes.

Holy Potatoes! We’re in Space?!

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.

Hyper Universe

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.

Read more about my experience with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in PAX South: Hands-On With Nintendo Switch.

The Long Journey Home

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.

Read more about my experience with Snipperclips in PAX South: Hands-On With Nintendo Switch.

Splatoon 2

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.

Read more about my experience with Splatoon 2 in PAX South: Hands-On With Nintendo Switch.

Trove

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.

What Remains of Edith Finch

Developer: Giant Sparrow
Platforms: Steam PC, PS4
Release: 2017

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.

Earthfall-Forest-Logo---light-background

PAX South Preview: Earthfall Could Be Left 4 Dead 3 With Aliens

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Developer: HoloSpark
Platforms: Steam PC, PS4, XBO
Release: Early 2017 (Steam Early Access)

PAX South 2017 featured gigantic alien statues beckoning newcomers to check out HoloSpark’s upcoming cooperative first-person shooter Earthfall. Earthfall draws heavily from Valve’s Left 4 Dead series, and aims to fill the co-op void left behind after Left 4 Dead 2 released back in 2009.

“I’ve been banging on my buddy at Valve for two years to make Left 4 Dead 3!” laughs Russell Williams, CEO of HoloSpark. “I love PvE. It’s much less stressful to play as the heroes where you’re not getting shot in the head half the time.”

Earthfall’s gameplay is immediately familiar to anyone who has played Left 4 Dead. You choose one of five survivors of a near-future alien invasion and start with only a pistol. You and up to three friends (or AI) journey across the alien-ravaged Northwest and find new weapons and seek out objectives while monstrous aliens continually harass you. Earthfall uses a more advanced version of the AI director that Left 4 Dead famously employed to keep the action varied and unpredictable in each mission.

earthfall gifLike Left 4 Dead the action will be broken up into multiple campaigns, and each campaign will include several maps with a variety of objectives. Aliens feature simple grunts as well as advanced units that force you to change tactics, such as volatile exploding aliens, stealthy hunters, and a massive tank-like creature that takes all four survivors to take down.

Earthfall will also feature its own additions to the genre, such as placeable defenses. Players can find automated turrets (like in the film Aliens), as well as mechanical barricades to bar doorways, allowing only the survivors to pass but blocking aliens (for a time at least). You’ll also find and power 3D printers that you can use to create weapons.

Levels will range from standard “go from point A to point B” to completing objectives in a specific area. In the PAX demo I played, we had to repair and refuel a van to get the hell out of dodge. This included finding tires in a nearby junkyard and pushing the van into the garage. Meanwhile the aliens never stopped pouring in, and we foolishly got caught outside during a massive wave.

Earthfall screenshot

Williams teased out a deeper story than this genre usually portrays. “If these aliens are able to travel between the stars, why are they running at you to eat you? There’s a reason for that. Every campaign you will learn a new piece of information.” The story in Left 4 Dead was mostly left to notes on the walls of your safe house, so I’m pleased to hear about a stronger focus on the story telling.

When asked about any PvP components, Williams remained realistic on his team’s goals. “We’re a relatively small team on an aggressive timeline. We really want to nail this experience and make it great, then we can build on that.” He teased the story again, which should make PvP easier to integrate in their future plans.

Williams was clearly passionate about what he hopes to be a new co-op franchise. “Eventually when we do Earthfall 2, we look at Alien versus Aliens. Now we’ve got rifles and we’re marines, but now there’s a million of them! But right now our goal is to make this a great game.”

Earthfall is coming Early 2017 to Steam Early Access.

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Overwatch Winter Premiere Live Finals at PAX South

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The PAX arena is a section of each PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) dedicated to competitive gaming. This year at PAX South 2017, PAX Arena will host the Overwatch Winter Premiere Live Finals. The Finals will run during the first two days of PAX South (January 27-28).

The Overwatch Winter Premiere is an open North American tournament that’s been running since December. It’s hosted by Next Generation Esports (NGE).

“The Winter Premiere was designed to highlight the best talent of Overwatch in North America,” said Andy Vander Woude, co-founder and CEO at NGE. “It’s only fitting to bring these all-star teams to the PAX Arena stage, where their efforts and talent can be celebrated by an even wider audience.”

Currently there are six teams remaining in their third week of round robin play. The six teams are CompLexity Gaming, Immortals, Kungarna, Luminosity, Renegades, and Team Liquid.

From there, a Final Four will journey to compete in the Live Finals in the PAX Arena. The teams are competing for a cut of the $100,000 prize pool. First prize awards $40,000 to the winning team.

“PAX Arena draws some of the most exciting esports events in our industry,” said Justin Dellario, senior manager at Twitch. “A keystone Overwatch event like the Winter Premiere Live Finals really demonstrates why PAX Arena will be a can’t-miss destination at PAX South.”

Over 500 teams in North America competed in an open qualifier event in December. The live PAX Arena finals will represent the last stage of the event.

“We’re very excited to be hosting the Winter Premiere finals at PAX Arena,” said Lance Fensterman, global senior VP at ReedPOP. “Having this live event at PAX South will give gamers the ultimate live Overwatch experience, both in-person and watching at home.”

If you’re not attending PAX South, you can watch the event via the Next Generation Esports channel, or the PAX Arena channel. If you want to catch up on previous matches, NGE has all the archives on their YouTube channel.

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D&D Story Designer Chris Perkins To Provide PAX South Keynote

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PAX South 2017 has announced its full schedule of panels and tournaments today, along with its keynote speaker. Christopher Perkins, the primary story designer and writer for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast, will kick off PAX South 2017.

Over the last two decades Perkins went from pitching stories to Dungeon Magazine into his current role as Senior Producer and Story Manager for Dungeons & Dragons. His incredible knowledge of the Forgotten Realms and the D&D systems helped forge the great success that has been Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition.

He’s also something of a celebrity Dungeon Master, a concept growing increasingly popular thanks to live streaming D&D games. Perkins hosts Acquisitions Incorporated, the name of the D&D group for the Penny Arcade duo of Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, along with PvP‘s Scott Kurtz and best-selling fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss.

What began as a simple podcast to help test and show off the then-new D&D Fourth Edition soon grew into a series of live shows showcased at PAX events. Last year the team ran a video series called Acquisitions Incorporated: The Series.

Although this will be the third annual PAX South event, this marks the first time that Acquisitions Incorporated will be there hosting a live D&D show. The last few years they’ve done live shows at PAX East and PAX West.

“When we held the first PAX in 2004, a show about games seemed like a pretty good idea,” said Holkins. “Now it’s this whole big thing. It’s been a lot of fun watching PAX South grow every year, and I can’t wait to get back down there.”