I talked quite a bit yesterday about PAX as an experience, but I didn’t really talk much about what I saw and did at the show.
I should probably preface all of this by talking about how I go through PAX. I tend to play very few games at the show– I’ll watch screens on a lot of them and sometimes talk to the folks at the booth, but mostly what I do is bookmark games I’m interested in and move on. Part of this is that I don’t really want to know too much about a game before I play it, so I can get the full experience without preconceived notions. I do this elsewhere, too. As soon as I see a trailer or an announcement of a game I know I want, I bookmark it and stop reading anything about it. It’s been great for keeping hype under control, and I enjoy those games a lot more than I did when I devoured every bit of info I could find and created a grand vision of the perfect game in my head.
As a result, at PAX I tend to skim games I already know I want to play. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, Dreadnought, Battleborn, Gigantic, FFXV, Fallout 3, Dishonored 2, and quite a few others had a pretty significant presence, but I already knew I wanted to play them so I checked out the booths and moved on. I’m going to play them, I don’t need to see more. What I wanted to do was spend more time with games I’d either never heard of or wasn’t convinced I’d be interested in.
Here’s a quick rundown of the games I spent a bit of time with, what I thought of them, and which of the two categories they fell into:
Sword Coast Legends: I didn’t get to play this one, because the line was insane, but it’s one of the games I’ve been the most interested in messing around with. I love the idea of a game with a bunch of players and a DM, where it actually works well for the DM to create and manipulate content as you play; it’s a really neat idea that I’d like to see succeed. The concept looks great, but I don’t know how the game itself is. Still, almost certainly picking this up unless some serious red flags crop up.
FFXIV: Not a new game, but the first time I’ve been at a convention that had a Battle Challenge. Kodra, Ashgar, Paragon (GIntrospection) and I managed to get in line for it on Friday and take on Ravana. It’s the only game I waited more than five minutes to play and it was a ton of fun. The four of us were grouped with four very new players– one who’d gotten a character up to level 30, months back, and three who’d never played the game before. We managed to win, and it was great coordinating with new folks and making sure they got a win (and a cool shirt, too!)
The Magic Circle: I’ve been following this game for a while now, and hadn’t realized it’d launched. At some point soon I’m going to boot it up and give it a shot, because I think the premise is interesting and I haven’t played a super meta game lately. The idea is that you play a character in a video game that’s been in development hell for twenty years, and you fight your way through old junk code and scrapped ideas and bugs as well as pulling from other games that the company has developed to find your way to freedom.
Shadowrun: Catalyst: This is the Shadowrun board game that I’ve heard about, and Kodra, Ashgar and I got to play a demo of it. It’s a cooperative deckbuilding game where you fight Shadowrun-style enemies and get new gear, levels, etc. It’s very reminiscent of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, just set in the Shadowrun universe with a greater emphasis on teamwork rather than exploration. I liked the demo we played a lot, and I’m interested in seeing what else the game has to offer.
The Black Watchmen: The ARG leading up to the Secret World’s launch was incredibly fun, and one of the big groups that featured heavily was called The Black Watchmen. The idea’s since spun off into its own game with similar themes, as an episodic game with fiendish puzzles to solve as a group and a compelling overarching plot. There’s a very real chance I’m going to make it the Aggrochat Game of the Month next time I have the chance, and if that doesn’t work out, I’ll at least see if I can’t talk Kodra into giving it a shot with me.
That Dragon, Cancer: Fourteen sads out of ten, and I just played what they had at the booth. This is an incredibly compelling game that I’m honestly not in a good enough place emotionally to be able to handle, but I’m really glad exists. This kind of thing is Kodra’s bread and butter, and I’m certain we’ll hear him cheerfully describe how brutally it inflicted its misery on him. Also would be a good candidate for Aggrochat GOTM except I wouldn’t be able to play it and I suspect the rest of the crew would be depressed by it. Still, for as much as I’ve commented on games needing more emotions than just “angry” and “sad”, I think this one is a good thing to have tugging at the heartstrings and making you think.
Hob: The next big thing by the Torchlight team, Hob is a metroidvania-style platformer where you play as a robot thing with a grappling hook wandering around gorgeous weird magi-tech ruins and probably other places. It still needs work, but it’s one I’m going to keep an eye on.
Ultimate Chicken Horse: This weird little game is probably my best in show, just for being pure, simple fun. It’s a co-op-etitive platformer in the now-standard Nintendo style, the one where you want to stab your friends to death at the end. It’s an incredibly simple premise: you and up to three other players are put into a mostly blank platforming level with a start and a finish. You can’t get from the start to the finish, but at the start of each round you open a party box where people get to pick objects to place in the level. At first, these are platforms, boxes, things to jump on and otherwise help you get to the finish. Whoever gets to the finish gets a point. If everyone (or no one) gets to the finish, no one gets any points. You’ll play the same level multiple times, until someone’s gotten three points, and as the rounds go on the objects become less helpful and more harmful, spike traps, projectiles, slippery ice, glue, all things to make it harder to get to the finish. As you place traps, you’re betting that you’re a better platformer than everyone else and that they’ll fall into your clever traps, so you’ll be the only one to get points. It’s a delightful party game and the most surprising and fun game I saw at the show.
I am, at this point, utterly exhausted. My sleep schedule is heavily late-night shifted, and I’ve been getting up a solid four hours before I usually do all weekend, but not managing to get to sleep any sooner. I’m good at putting a functional face on it for a while, but I could feel it slipping today. I’m going to sleep for a while.
If I didn’t catch you at PAX, I hope you had a great time, and I’m sorry I missed you!