Pat Visits PAX West 2019

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Another year, another PAX. One of the perks of my 2018 move to Seattle is being able to attend this wonderful show annually. One of the perks of writing for Rapid Reviews UK is having a place to put my thoughts! Read on for some previews and impressions of some fascinating games from huge to small!

Overview

The atmosphere at the show was really positive this year, despite an awful week of horrific abuse allegations from across the industry. The PAX staff, as far as I saw and heard, did a great job making it a safe space for those who might have felt uneasy after the week’s events. This led to an accepting, celebratory atmosphere in spite of some rough news.

Of particular note was the celebration of Supergiant Games’ 10th Anniversary. Known for incredibly titles like Bastion, Transistor, Pyre, and currently, Hades, Supergiant’s 10th Anniversary celebration included a wonderful panel and out of this world concert. The concert was my highlight of the whole show, featuring composer Darren Korb, vocalist Ashley Barret, and an incredible orchestra conducted by Austin Wintory (composer of scores like Journey)

But PAX isn’t just about panels, what about the games?

Kerbal Space Program 2

The first thing I saw at the show was a theatre demo of Kerbal Space Program 2. I am an enormous fan of KSP 1, and I feel it’s the best educational game of all time. I’ve been sceptical of KSP 2 as it’s a new team, called Star Theory, (and published by 2K Games’ Private Division) but after the demo, I’m confident that the team knows what they’re doing.

The demo showed just a slight leap in visual fidelity, but a huge advancement in UI. You can now construct parts separately from a ship and save them, a huge boon to budding rocket engineers. The game also focuses on the notion of establishing colonies both on and in orbit of celestial bodies. Excitingly, you can even build you space station or colony to construct larger ships. This, combined with new theoretical propulsion methods, opens the door for interstellar travel. Needless to say, I’m very excited for KSP 2, coming to PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2020.

Phantom Brigade

Phantom Brigade is a tactics game from Brace Yourself Games, developers of the award-winning Crypt of the Necrodancer. While I’m not sure of the crossover in team members, I can say that it is quite a change of pace from that gem! Phantom Brigade casts you as the commander of a small squad of mechs, which engage in turn-based battles.

The twist? The turns are simultaneous. Instead of the classic you go, I go structure of and X-Com or Into the Breach, in Phantom Brigade you plot out your moves on a timeline. As you scrub through the timeline you can see where enemies will be. In this way, you can dial in a run to a new location, then add things like ability usage and firing to the movement. It’s a lot to wrap your head around, but when you push play you get a glorious real-time engagement that is extremely cinematic. Phantom Brigade is coming to PC soon.

Last Epoch

Last Epoch is a title I knew nothing about coming into PAX. This action RPG from Eleventh Hour Games features a unique set of skill trees tied to class abilities and a MOBAesque control scheme. I found that the game felt a bit clunky in my demo, but I’m really intrigued by the classes and the aforementioned skill trees for each ability. Narratively, you get to jump through time to different eras in the game’s world. This seems like an awesome concept that I’d like to see more of. The game is currently in Early Access on Steam now, but the developer stressed to me that you should not purchase it at this stage if you’re expecting a complete game. They are very committed to building a polished experience over the Early Access period, and its current state is very much a beta.

Shovel Knight Dig

Shovel Knight Dig is a new game from Yacht Club featuring the titular hero of indie darling Shovel Knight. I actually have never played Shovel Knight, but my time with Dig was very convincing. In this run-based game you are constantly digging down, but quickly. A mix of platforming and puzzling ensues, where you have to make quick judgements about what path to take and how to avoid enemies. The game felt very much like a combination of Steamworld Dig and Downwell, two of my favourite games from recent years. This will be one to check out, though platforms and release date are still TBD.

Destiny’s Sword

Destiny’s Sword is a very unique take on the sci-fi strategy RPG. While the game features very simple, almost mobile game style combat, it’s what you get up to in downtime that sets it apart. Each of your team members as a number of mental states, like angry, hopeful, or stressed. As the commander, you’ll need to manage these mental states through an apparently deep dialogue system, and facilities and events aboard your ship. I need to see more of this game to understand how in-depth its story and social elements are, but what I saw looked promising. Destiny’s Sword currently has a release date of March 31st, 2020 on PC.

Everspace 2

Rounding out what I was able to get my hands on at PAX was Everspace 2. This is an exciting open-world space shooter from developer Rockfish Games. Everspace 1 was a roguelike space shooter, splitting the difference between Wing Commander and FTL. By contrast, Everspace 2 is an open-world RPG. This is a really exciting change because it’s taking the excellent gameplay of the first game and putting it in a more open setting. What I played felt great, and the way the game handles travel over long distances works really well. When out of combat you hold down a button and are jumped out into the larger system. From there you can autopilot or fly freely to any location in the solar system, dropping out and into the sector when close. Based on the meaty demo that I played, I expect this will be a huge game with lots to do. Everspace 2 is coming to PC (and likely consoles) in 2021, with a Kickstarter launching October 2nd.

Conclusion

I came away from PAX very excited for the next few years of gaming. That said, the thing this show really highlighted to me were the people behind the games. As toxicity runs rampant in gaming communities, it is my great hope that developers and players will work together more and more in the coming years, instead of feeling adversarial. Coming out of PAX, I’m more hopeful for that than I’ve ever been.

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