This year, PAX West continued to prove itself as the greatest celebration of video games for fans as well as the press. I played a ton of games; some of them were already released, but most of them were up and coming. The following is an overview of the most noteworthy games I checked out that have yet to hit store shelves, whether that be ones that blew me away, or those that gave me cause for concern.
It’s worth noting that a majority of these impressions are from short demos, and my takeaways are coming from playing them in the hectic, “revolving door” environment of PAX. So understand most of these opinions come from a brief 15-minute exhibition without time for heavy-handed tutorials or explanation.
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Somehow, a fighting game, a Dragon Ball one no less, continues to be the hottest game at every trade show. Bandai Namco’s booth had half a dozen stations, as did Microsoft and Sony. There were hefty lines at all of them throughout the weekend, despite how many locations had playable builds.
My time hands-on was much too short, but it was everything I could have imagined. While I didn’t have any guidance from exhibitors at the Sony booth, just button-mashing and trying to decipher the game’s inputs was a blast. I already have Android 16 as a lock on my team, and I may back him up with Piccolo’s Dhalsim-esque reach.
And beyond gameplay, what I was most concerned with for FighterZ was watchability, and the nonstop crowd around Bandai Namco’s main stage shredded any doubt I had. Members of the Marvel community hosted exhibitions, and the gorgeous, 60 FPS battles hypnotized me, despite an entire convention center full of other unreleased games. FighterZ is in a great place despite its genre limitations, and continues to maintain a healthy following after it shocked the world last June at E3.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins
This game did not demo well. For a game that’s rethinking everything players have grown familiar with for the last decade, a short demo with little to no in-game instructions was a poor way to show off Origins’ strengths.
My only guidance was a text-filled controller map below the monitor that would have taken 5 minutes out of my demo time to process. I tried to wing it, and spent most of my time fumbling around Egypt, climbing towers and mistakenly attacking the person I was supposed to be getting my quest from. My woes continued as I used my eagle to try to spot unclear objectives near a port. The UI did me no favors, and after a 20 minutes of confusion, I had to cut my time with Origins short and move on to other games.
Despite my frustrations, I think my gripes were more with the demo than with the game itself. At an event like PAX, asking players to rewire their brains for this reworked entry while barely giving any in-game tutorials is too much. I walked away unsatisfied, but I’m still optimistic for how Origins will play once players can get acclimated with its controls at their own pace.
Sea of Thieves
This was probably my favorite demo of the show. You and 3 other crew mates were given 25 minutes to find treasure, fight skeletons, or just get drunk on your pirate ship. The lines were long, but it was the perfect way to experience how the game is meant to be played.
Rare described the rules in Sea of Thieves as “plausible, but not realistic.” Most of how you interact with the world is physics-based, and unlike games like Assassin’s Creed Black Flag where your ship turns on a time, steering requires preemptive maneuvers and the help of your crew to see what’s ahead. It’s the kind of game that you can passively play by turning your brain off and just having fun with friends.
My only concerns were that the feedback when killing things wasn’t great, and a potential lack of structure could kill the game’s longevity. Without a story or progression system, sailing the high seas with friends could get boring quick. But if there’s enough there to keep people hooked, I’m confident Sea of Thieves could grow into an incredible social space to hang out and take a load off.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (Xbox One)
This was another game that didn’t demo well. During my time, ID@Xbox explained that I was playing in a lobby with other console and PC players, and I immediately became worried.
In the two encounters I had, it was clear there was practically no aim assist for console players. My first death was at the hands of someone who quickly gunned me down while I was unarmed, and my second was when I awkwardly shot at another player medium distance away for 30 seconds. I’m fairly certain he was another player using a controller, as neither of us seemed to be hitting our intended target.
This brings up an important question for Battlegrounds on Xbox. Will you be able to play with PC players? If so, are there separate servers? And if not, will both playerbases have similar aiming mechanics? If aiming in the final game is as difficult as it was at PAX, I’d be surprised it PUBG gains any traction on console.
We. The Revolution
A smaller indie game from Polish developer Polyslash, We. The Revolution plays similar to Papers Please. Set during the French Revolution, you play as an alcoholic judge who must hear out various cases and determine whether the accused are freed or are escorted to the guillotine. Each decision affects your standing with the government, the aristocrats, and the common-folk. One wrong move could result in your time as judge ending prematurely, with randomized events ensuring that multiple playthroughs still challenge your reasoning skills.
The demo I played was heavily guided, but showed a great proof of concept. A crowd-filled expo is hardly the place to experience We. The Revolution the way it’s intended, so I’m excited to solve a case on my own while grappling with the political and moral ramifications of my decisions in the final game.
Somewhere in the distant future, a research spaceship lands on an abandoned planet. You control a team of scientists who must maintain a base of operations in the cold, mysterious wasteland. But upon further research, you discover that everything on this planet might not be as it seems. Efficiency is pertinent to survival as factors like sleep and hunger must be juggled with productivity.
Symmetry can best be compared to This War of Mine, although much less of a downer. You still have to make difficult choices, like potentially sacrificing a crew member to be cut up, thrown in the freezer and eaten, but there’s no kids involved, which is a major plus.
This game’s story channels The Martin, so much so that a member of developer Sleepless Clinic told me they tried to get Matt Damon for the voiceover (although his replacement is a solid stand-in). And while survival is your primary objective, some unexplained fractures in the air suggest that there’s more to Symmetry’s story than one might expect.
Super Mario Odyssey
Strangely, Super Mario Odyssey was one of the least popular games at Nintendo’s booth. I’m clueless as to why, because Odyssey eclipsed everything else Nintendo was showing.
If you’ve seen gameplay for Mario Odyssey, you already know exactly how it plays. The game can best be described as Super Mario 64’s controls mixed with the LEGO games’ collectible-centered puzzles. I spent 15 short minutes in New Donk City, and I was overwhelmed in the best possible way with how many things there were to do.
My only concern for the game is Cappy. It seems like using him could become intuitive after some time with the game, but in the demo he felt tacked-on. I just wanted to jump around, freely performing acrobatics across the city, but had to be reminded to use Cappy to complete certain objectives. Of course, my time with Odyssey was short, so I imagine he’ll start to gel with the player after an hour or two.
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine
Another indie that has me excited, Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is a beautiful game about the American Dream set during the Great Depression. You travel the country and trade stories, some of them gritty and real, and others fantastically folk. As you progress, your stories will come back to you and become twisted and retold after being passed from listener to listener.
Developer Dim Bulb Games enlisted 20+ writers to pen the game’s stories. This ensures that no two tales will have the exact same tone. Where The Water Tastes Like Wine seems like an incredibly creative game that I’m eager to explore and talk about.
Also, the free swag at their booth was apples. Actual apples.
Espionage. Cold War. Turn-based tactical combat. To complete your mission in Phantom Doctrine, efficiency and careful planning is key to success. You can’t trust anyone’s as outside threats, moles, or brainwashed agents could bring your organization down for good.
The gameplay in Phantom Doctrine stays close to XCOM… maybe too close, in fact. While the mission I played was exciting and suspenseful, I didn’t see anything that separated Phantom Doctrine from its obvious inspirations. Ideally, the game’s setting and base-building outside of combat will give the Phantom Doctrine the kind of identity it needs to stand out, but I’d need to see more to say that for certain.
This was a really weird, fun and satisfying action game that handled beautifully. In Biomutant, you design your own furry warrior and let loose in a linear, post-apocalyptic landscape. The game’s mix of sword, gun, and mutant abilities give the player plenty of options to take down foes.
While I heard some compare Biomutant to Dark Souls, I think it’s a closer fit to Devil May Cry. It was the perfect degree of difficulty where I felt responsible for my deaths, and I was eager to tackle enemies again with a new strategy. Combat was flashy, and made you feel like a badass despite your avatar being an irradiated hamster. While I was only given three abilities, the brief trailer I saw following my demo showed all kinds of powers. Biomutant is much bigger in scope than I had anticipated, and I want to see what else the game can offer when it releases next year.