After surviving a Pokemon Pub Crawl on the Thursday Night beforehand, (Jesus Christ we drank a lot…) I rolled into PAX East, not knowing what to expect, with a group of people who’ve done this many times before. Many suggestions were thrown my way, between the showroom, showcasing easily over 100 indie games, dozens of large studio games, the free to play LAN area, the table top gaming area, the free play old school console room, and so on. I stuck mostly to the showroom floor, the table top area, and playing league of legends ARAM with the group I went with, using the free to play LAN area, which was outfitted with gaming computers/keyboard/mouse/headset set ups, using discord chat servers for communication.
One of the biggest things about this convention that I wish I had come more prepared with, and would suggest you expect to have if you ever go, is patience. There’s a lot of stuff to do, but even more people who want to do that stuff, and often times, a bunch of people who want to do the stuff that you want to do, so be prepared to wait in lines. There’s this double edged sword I was balancing on between being annoyed as shit while standing in a line, and being ridiculously happy when I got to interact with whatever I was in line for. Other than that, for the most part, the set up for everything involved was pretty god damn solid. All of the staging areas looked great, and even though navigating a crowd is never fun, I never felt that anxiety you get when you literally can’t move, as the aisles seemed to be just the right amount of size for the foot traffic. That said, I wanted to focus on a few of the games that I tried out and or watched people play while I was there, and drop a brief synopsis of them.
MageQuit: From developer Bowl Cut, this was one of the first games I saw on the showroom floor was called “MageQuit”, an early access steam game that is currently in closed beta on steam. The concept is super simple, up to ten people pick a mage, pick one spell from a set of 28 each round, and fight it out in a top down mage battle royal. The way it worked in the demo I played, was that all the mages started on a large chunk of rock, that slowly got enveloped by lava.
The goal is to be the last mage standing, chipping away at other mages health by hitting them with spells, or slapping them with your big hard stick, knocking them into the lava. The simplicity, and ridiculousness of the game really reminded me of the kind of fun games like smash brothers, or mario party that a lot of my generation played as kids. I could see this being a party game, and a solid, fun online multiplayer game.
EITR: First announced in 2015 The next game I played, was one that I have literally been waiting for, for almost three years. From Devolver Digital, the game EITR is supposed to be a Dark Souls Adjacent, isometric, pixel art death fest, where you fight your way through undead enemies, open chests, solve puzzles, optimize your weapons/armor for survival, etc. The pace is slow, and much like dark souls, the fighting is calculated. You can move up/down/left/right, as the game is pseudo top down, similar to old arcade style beat em ups like x-men the arcade game, or streets or rage. The demo didn’t explain the story at all, but the combat was very similar to the Souls series. You’ve got your attack, block, dodge, and parry buttons, fighting enemies that attack in real time. If you take damage, you take a ton of damage.
A lot of the game is about paying attention to patterns, and trying to zone out enemies into one on one fights, to avoid getting overwhelmed and destroyed in four hits. All-in-all it was actually a little disappointing. The action isn’t nearly frantic enough, as in, I was never really afraid I was doing to die, and it’s quite easy to just walk away from enemies, at least in the portion I played. Hopefully there’s more to this title that’s going on a three year, possibly more, dev cycle.
The Protagonist: The next game I looked at, was “The Protagonist” from 3Mind Games. At it’s core, this game is just another turn based, tactical RPG. But, something about how god damn excited the developer was to talk about their project, and how he hung out and talked me through everything as I tried it out, really added some charm to it for me. Some people really seemed to be in love with their project, while others at PAX seemed to be…near their projects. One of the cooler features of this game, was that you have the ability to run up to an enemy and just effing wail on them with hand to hand attacks instead of using guns, and you’re encouraged to do so.
The risk vs reward of the hand to hand attacks is pretty awesome. The hand to hand combat does a ton of damage, and through a system that didn’t seem fully fleshed out yet you were able to upgrade your hand to hand attacks and combos to do even more damage, or add effects. Of course, if you’re running up on a bunch of enemies like an asshole flailing your fists without back up though, you’re going to get stomped. I’m pretty interested to see how this game develops and what mechanics are put into play to effect their current system. As for now, its not mind blowing or ground breaking, but it’s got a solid foundation that could bring something just slightly different enough to be worth a look.
City of the Shroud: In the same vein, vane, vain…. It’s vein, it’s gotta be vein, as The Protagonist, City of the Shroud , by publisher “Abyssal Arts”, is a Tactical RPG, with two twists. First of all, it’s not turn based, second of all there is an amazing combo system for your attacks. Much like every tactical RPG ever, your characters move on a square grid, have an attack range that only extends a certain amount of grids, and can only move a certain amount of grids at one time. Typically in these types of games, moving costs action points, and attacking does as well. In this game, you can move repeatedly in real time, as the game is not turn based. Every enemy on the map moves or attacks as soon as they build up enough attack points (earned by moving onto special green squares, or by standing around long enough, as each character accrues AP at different rates over time) to do so. The coolest god damn feature though, in my opinion, is the way you attack enemies.
In a throwback confirmed by the dev that I spoke to at the demo, the combat system is based off of the absolutely awesome and underappreciated combat system in Legend of Legaia. In City of the Shroud, the way it works is that when you attack, a circle pops up on the screen, with four different sections (like the game simon ) that each represent an attack. Each attack costs AP, so the dream is, you run over to a green square, stock up on AP, and start swinging for the fences. You click on the attack you want, and then drag your mouse to the next attack you want. Certain combinations of these attacks create a new, more powerful attack, and it’s so satisfying when you knock a bunch of attacks out in a row, pummeling an enemy. At a certain point in the demo I was managing four characters in real time, while eight enemies we’re attacking me, it was hectic and amazing. It’s a great twist on an old formula, and I can’t wait until it comes out.
Murderous Pursuits: Murderous Pursuits, by developer and producer “Blazing Griffin”, is a game about outwitting your opponents in a bid to score points via murder. When I played it was a 10-minute, 6 person game, all of us choosing characters that looked similar to other NPC characters wandering around a party environment. The key to the game, is that the game gives you a “quarrel”, a person who you have to murder, but it doesn’t tell you who it is. You may have your own quarrel with one person, while someone completely different has a quarrel with you, making sure you stay on your toes at all times. You have a meter on the screen that fills up as you get closer to them, and when they are close it will say “nearby”, what you have to do is try to figure which character in that room is the person you’re supposed to kill.
There are weapons strewn about the party, each granting a different amount of points if you earn a kill with it (each character earns different points from different weapons), however, if you a policeman sees you, you will get arrested (wasting valuable murdering time) and will not gain the points. There are other cool mechanics, if you are being hunted by a murderer who has a quarrel with you, and you figure out who it is, you may click on them before they kill you, causing your character to punch, and stun them. This gives you a few points, as well as negating the quarrel, meaning that person has lost valuable time hunting you for nothing.
There are several skills in the game that can make it harder to notice you, reveal who’s hunting you, and so on. Hiding is as easy as it is difficult, as if you stand out in the open too long, you become exposed. If you are fully exposed, the person hunting you can see that you’re the quarrel, and the person you’re hunting can see that you’re hunting them. To stop being exposed, you simply have to enter circled areas, like the bar, where your character will blend in, doing menial stuff to move suspicion off of you. This looks to be a solid, competitive game, adding a very cool “Detective” element to a real time multiplayer experience.
The Gardens Between: The Gardens Between, by the “Voxel Agents”, is a puzzle game about time. Sporting a relaxing soundtrack reminiscent of what you’d expect from art centric video games, TGB sees you moving your characters forward to grab items, trigger various things (lanterns lighting up for instance), and trying to solve puzzles to move forward. However, when you move your characters backwards, the world around your characters moves back into the past, placing things back where they were, and so on. This mechanics is used effectively in a way that felt both challenging and rewarding once a puzzle was figured out. Personally, this game did not impress me a lot. But, understanding how popular these sorts of games tend to be, with the soundtrack and a game mechanic that isn’t complicated, while being effective, I can see this being seen as an “indie darling” game in the future.
Golem Gates: By dev and publisher, Laser Guided Games LCC, Golem Gates released just prior to PAX East, and currently sports a “very positive” on steam. Golem gates is a real time strategy game mixed with a card based game. The way the game works, depending on the mission, is that you get a set of cards that are equivalent to units. Each card costs energy to cast, throwing units onto the screen that you can control in a fashion similar to starcraft. To get energy, you need to have units on capture points that produce energy, and defend them from enemies. The whole game plays very smoothly, and god damn is it gorgeous.
Things can go from “I got this” to “Oh shit, I don’t got this!” really fast, if you mismanaged your energy reserves, or pulled some units that just don’t do the damage you need at the time. Strategy here, is a must. Some missions having you build giant badass golems, that will fight by your side once they are complete. I played the challenge they had set up for this game. If you could survive for ten minutes, you got a free copy of the game. I tell you what, I beat the challenge, and have been enjoying the game over the last day quite a bit. I would highly recommend this if you even REMOTELY enjoy RTS games.
Last Year The Nightmare: After disappearing into obscurity for a while, LYTN popped up at Pax East and put on a hell of a show. From Elastic Games, LYTN is adding to the pool of games like Dead by Daylight, and Friday the 13th. One player picks from three separate classes of supernatural killers, (One of which who is super strong and can hilariously throw characters across the room) and the other five players pick from one of five stereotypical archetypes of high school students, each with their own skill set. One of my favorite things I saw, was the geek character had an old school camera that, once cooled down, could be used to create a blinding flash that would obstruct the killers vision for about five seconds while the kids escaped.
Much like a lot of these games, the goal for the killer is to kill everyone, and the goal for the kids is to escape. Unfortunately, Elastic games has been weirdly tight about releasing videos for this, even though they had it demoed during the entirety of Pax. Let me just say, the game looks great, it looks fun as hell, and adding specific classes to the dynamic of these styles of games adds an element of strategy that I think can really kick it up a notch.
All in all I had a great time at PAX East 2018. But I think it’s worth noting that, more research will need to be done if I go next year to knock out the things I’d like to see in a more efficient and structured order. I really regret not spending time to make sure I had checked out upcoming offerings for the Nintendo Switch, as my poor dude is gathering dust currently, but I don’t regret going. 10/10 would Pax again.