Formerly known as PAX Prime, PAX West falls on the first weekend of September every year. Many developers bring their current and best projects that they are working on. E3 and other conventions are purely for the developers and press, but the best part about the series of PAX festivals is that they are for the people.
“PAX” stands for Penny Arcade Expo. It was created by the two original authors of the Penny Arcade in 2004. Such an event celebrates the culture of gaming as a whole, all the way from PC and console gaming to tabletop.
While there are various locations the event is held, Shelley Walter (streamer, podcast co-host) and I had the opportunity to attend the event and represent Geeks Under Grace. We spoke with many developers and got the chance to check out some of the video games they are currently working on. The games we saw are in various stages of development, some very recently announced while others are currently in early access for everyone to play. Rather than writing a separate preview piece for each title, we decided to celebrate the event by rounding all of them up into one big preview.
Here is everything we got to see and play at PAX West 2017!
Sonic Forces (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch)
Sega’s demo of Sonic Forces included three ways to play that will surely please all types of fans. Shelley stepped into the shoes of the Blue Blur as both classic and modern versions of Sonic. Modern Sonic sped through a city that was under seige while using the familiar homing attack to defeat enemy robots and make it out safe. Classic Sonic was playable during a boss fight against Dr. Eggman and one of his deadly machines, a scenario built for older Sonic fans that definitely feels nostalgic. Kudos to Shelley for getting an S rank during that boss fight! All of that seems very familiar, because Sonic Forces is heavily inspired by the success of Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors.
Sonic Team did choose to slightly deviate from the formula and let us create a character in the Sonic universe for the very first time. I had the honor of lacing up the shoes of the wolf player-avatar we’ve seen in the trailers. His stage was set in the classic side-scrolling era with many traps and enemies that tried to subdue me. The character had a homing attack like Sonic and some melee attacks which felt inspired by Knuckles. It took some time getting the hang of his play style, but I look forward to seeing how customizable the character is in terms of appearance and abilities.
We didn’t hang around long enough to play the Tag Mode which had the player-avatar teaming up with modern Sonic. My hope is that this mode feels something like Sonic Heroes, which I happen to be a fan of. Sonic Forces looks to be a promising entry into the the franchise, but until it releases on November 7th we can only speculate if it will see the same level of success as Sonic Mania.
Total War: Warhammer II (PC)
Another title we got to see at the SEGA booth was Total War: Warhammer II. Players have the chance to control four races that make their debut in this sequel: Dark Elves, High Elves, Skaven, and Lizardmen. Shelley and I are not very experienced in RTS games, but I knew enough about the Warhammer franchise to be interested. What I thought was going to be a full campaign mission was only a battle scenario, so I came away feeling a bit more confident when I first walked into the appointment.
The demo offered at PAX included two different scenarios scenarios that showcased each featured race. I experienced a battle between the Dark Elves and High Elves that took place on a volcanic lava-filled battlefield while Shelley witnessed a war between the ferocious armies of the Skaven and Lizardmen in a forest that looked rather beautiful and majestic. Luckily, my limited RTS skills got me what was labeled as a “close defeat” rather than an absolutely terrible performance.
It looks like the armies from the previous entry will not be playable this time around, but the developers are working on a method to connect each entry which will one day be a trilogy. Each race will have their own fully fleshed out campaign and a morale system. This system will also be affected whether a battle is won or lost—meaning a win isn’t the only way to progress in the campaign.
Players can get their hands on Total War: Warhammer II when it releases soon on September 28th.
Dragoball FighterZ (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
We missed out on the chance to check out Marvel vs Capcom Infinite, but we did not miss out on seeing the new Dragonball Z fighting game. Developed by Arc System Works, it caught everyone’s eye during E3 when it was revealed during the Microsoft press conference. We each picked up a controller at the Bandai Namco booth and threw down for one round of the visually stunning Dragonball FighterZ.
I picked Piccolo, Android 16, and Krillin as Shelley chose Teen Gohan, Vegeta, and Frieza. Piccolo and 16 seemed to be close range power focused characters whereas Krillin was more agile and felt more like a trickster. What stuck out to me was a button that was mapped for ranged blasts; each character’s ranged attack was different in how it kept the opponent at a distance. The bombardment of blasts I was facing from Frieza required me to get in close in order to put a stop to the madness.
Dragonball FighterZ speaks for itself on the visual front. It looks absolutely stunning during both the character intros and during a fight. Previous Dragonball video games have always been very successful at capturing the look of the television show, but I find myself unsure on how the visuals can get any closer at this point.
There are various closed betas happening for players to get their hands on the game, but most will have to wait until it reaches is final form in February of 2018.
SteamWorld Dig 2 (Switch, PC, PS4, VIta, Linux, Mac)
Image & Form has been one of my favorite indie companies since my brother introduced me to SteamWorld Dig on PS4 in 2014. I had the opportunity to sit down and have a talk with Brjann Sigurgeirsson who is the CEO of Image & Form. Unfortunately the audio was lost due to technical difficulties. I did get to go hands on with SteamWorld Dig 2 and experienced a more ambitious SteamWorld that matches up to everything that the developers have promised their fans.
Players take control of Dorothy, who happens to be in search of Rusty—the main protagonist of the first entry. The demo featured the starting level, and Image & Form brought in a talented level designer rather than leaving that up to procedural generation. Within these stages are plenty of secrets for players to find. At one point they led me to a crack in the ground that led to a secret room and a collectible. The final moments of the demo included a boss fight, which there weren’t many of in the first game.
My experience felt like more SteamWorld Dig, which is a great thing.The presentation is much more detailed and polished than the first time. I am a huge fan of everything Image & Form creates, SteamWorld Heist was actually one of the first reviews I’d ever done for Geeks Under Grace. During my chat with Brjann, I did ask him if they would ever consider putting the rest of their games on the Switch. His response was obvious in explaining how they are focusing on porting Dig 2 to other platforms right now, but he then proceeded to tell me that they are working on a big new project that everybody is going to love.
Nintendo Switch owners are first to break ground on September 21st followed by a PC release on the 22nd. PS4 unfortunately have to wait a few more days to strike gold when it comes to PS4 and Vita on the 26th.
Immortal: Unchained (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
One our favorite games of the show actually happened to be behind closed doors. We got to see Immortal: Unchained, a new hardcore action RPG from Toadman Interactive. Heavily inspired by the Dark Souls series, it includes all the tropes of this popular “souls-like” genre. The major twist however, is that Immortal: Unchained is a third-person shooter set in a sci-fi world. What was originally meant to be a third-person cover shoot now aims to break and mislead the player in any way possible.
In a world fallen into chaos, players take control of a freed prisoner who has been liberated by a warden who sees no point in keep him there. Players have a wide range of weaponry to equip and upgrade ranging from assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, and much more. That includes weapons for those pesky enemies that like to get in close. Every opposing force aims to outsmart and destroy the player with big bosses being an addition to that threat. If players want to survive, they’ll need to watch their ammunition along with their stamina which is also affected every time the trigger is pulled.
When watching the demo for Immortal: Unchained we couldn’t get over how beautiful this world was. From the frozen snowy mountains, we started in all the way down to an underground labyrinth of metal. We found the visuals to be very stunning through its dark tone. Another aspect we really loved was the boss fight; it was amazing to see such a big fearsome enemy staggering when he took enough damage. We later found out that this boss would become a regular enemy throughout the game.
Players will need to wait until the first half of 2018 to be freed from their shackles. Remember to bring all the ammo you can carry.
Brawlhalla (PC, PS4)
Brawlhalla from Blue Mammoth Games has been a hit with our Twitch team. Our team was able to meet up with at PAX West 2016 and were given cosmetic item codes that we way gave away on the stream. Brawlhalla has been out for a few years on PC, but is finally making its way to PS4 in open beta this fall. We had a follow up meeting with Blue Mammoth this year, and were able to get an update on what is in store for PS4 players.
For those not familiar with Brawlhalla, it is a fighting game heavily inspired by Super Smash Bros. Players take control of various characters based on myth, legend, and fiction. We may have already been familiar with the game itself, we did get to try some new content which was not public at the time. We saw a new color palette and had the new dash ability available for use. These additions are already live for everyone to experience.
The founders pack can already be purchased on PS4 to gain early access and unlock all of the characters. It will be free to play this fall. PC gamers can already grab it for free via Steam.
Tunic (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
The Legend of Zelda has inspired gamers and developers alike for decades. I went deeper into the topic with a piece I wrote on the best Zelda-like video games. Another indie game we saw at PAX looks like it really wants to be on that list, known as Tunic. Finji is publishing this project from Andrew Shouldice.
Tunic is played from an isometric camera angle rather than a complete bird’s-eye view. Players take control of a small fox who eventually gets a sword and shield. Its graphics carry a low-poly style with a great attention to detail, giving it more of a diorama look rather than being cel-shaded. I was pleased to find a lock-on system that reminded me of the targeting feature that first debuted in Ocarina of Time, giving the player plenty of movement to dodge and block when needed. With a checkpoint system, I have to wonder how open the world be in-game.
We are already looking forward to the release of Tunic after what we saw from the demo. What remains to be seen is the story that is to be told. Hopefully it will be perilous and evoke some emotion from its players-my favorite kind of video game stories. Andrew had apparently left employment to work on this game a few years ago, thankfully it was picked up by a publisher and was shaped into what we see now.
We eagerly await the chance to grab our swords and shields again when Tunic makes its way to consoles and Steam in 2018.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar (PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, Switch)
Battle Chasers: Nightwar first caught our attention when Nintendo showed various titles that were coming to the Switch via a Nintendo Direct. It is based on the popular 90’s comic of the same name by Joe Madureira, also known for his work on the Darksiders series and some X-Men comics. Battle Chasers is actually a turn-based RPG, a genre more commonly adopted by Japanese developers.
This art style was right up my alley, but I was concerned whether the gameplay would be. The overworld and dungeons are presented in a typical isometric camera angle, where I spent time collecting items and pages of lore. There were a few light puzzles that were clearly there to break up the pace, but the real challenge were the enemies. A number of options are available to get the drop on my foes. This was done by changing the party leader on the fly, they each had different abilities that assisted the player in gaining advantage at the start of the fight.
When transitioning into battles I was reminded of Paper Mario. The characters stand in a line and battle takes place within a very detailed set piece. We got to see a party of characters that seemed to be inspired by classic D&D roles: Warrior, Fighter, Tank, and Mage. All of them had an arsenal of special skills and three ultimate moves, with the third tier becoming available by completing a character’s special side quest. A meter must build up across the many battles before our heroes can use some of these stronger ultimate attacks.
The dungeons of Battle Chasers: Nightwar are also apparently procedurally generated, a feature we did not get to experience. RPG fans will want to keep their eye on this on; it may look simple on the surface, but offers deeper mechanics than even I expected.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar rolls aims to roll a 20 onto the gaming industry when it released on October 3rd of this year.
Biomutant (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
This final game on our list was leaked ahead of Gamescom about a month ago, but the reveal was still a success. Biomutant is an original project from former members of Avalanche Studios who are known for the Just Cause franchise and the recent Mad Max video game. Players take control of the Biomutant in a decaying world, and this strange creature is tasked with revitalizing the Tree of Life. If the tree dies, so does the world.
Biomutant takes place in an open world in which we did not get to explore. The demo acted as a prologue and a taste of things to come. I started with customizing my Biomutant all the way from body shape to the pattern and color of his fur. This customization also affected stats as well, bringing some RPG elements to the mix. It wasn’t long after that when I learned how to run, jump, and handle myself in a fight.
The Biomutant carries a ranged weapon and melee weapons, the combat felt sort of like Devil May Cry as a result. We will need to craft new weapons in the full game, but I got to browse the various weapon types we can expect—I chose a rudimentary large sword with shards of glass protruding from the blade and a shotgun. The mutant also has a number of abilities called “mutations” that aid him in battle. He can manipulate electricity to shock and enemy or send a swarm of moths to distract them, and even manifest mushrooms that pop enemies into the air that double as a platforming element.
This strange biomutant creature is ours to control, even through dialogue trees that can shape your motivations. There will be plenty of laughs in Biomutant, an element reflected throughout the world and through the narrator of the story. The mutant actually “marks his territory” to unlock sections of the map rather than having to activate some kind of tower or beacon. The trailer and the end of the demo showed us some things we did not play for ourselves, which includes the use of mounts and mechs that will be useful in battling enemies and traveling the world.
It has been said that the Biomutant will come out to play sometime in 2018. No official release date has been given.
That was literally everything we played and saw this year at PAX West 2017. We appreciate the time that developers, publishers, and PR took out of their long days to talk with us and walk us through these projects. We look forward to what awaits us at PAX West 2018.