More PAX East coverage - there are always tons of things to see and do at a PAX show and early on I had a chance to try a fantastic small game called Ape Out and a few other games that could be big hits once released.

Enjoy the continuing coverage I put out while attending the show for Blogcritics.org

PAX East 2017 Preview: Ape Out

Sometimes a game comes out of nowhere and surprises you with it’s sheer playability, intelligent design and dynamic systems, at PAX East that game for me was Ape Out by Gabe Cuzzillo and published by Devolver Digital. I was walking through their booth looking at other games and Ape Out kept grabbing my attention. Featured a good deal of the time on their large screens it attracted constant crowds and people lining up to try it.  Ape Out is a simple game at face value but the graphical style, dynamic musical beats and striking animation made this a game I came back to multiple times despite the hundreds of other options on the show floor.

At it’s heart it is a frantic smash ‘em up about primal escape, rhythmic violence, and frenetic jazz that has you playing an Ape escaping from some sort of facility full of guards.  Each level is procedurally generated meaning you will never escape the same way and guards roam the halls trying to stop you. Thankfully you are a massive Ape and can grab, through and smash everyone you meet, take too much damage though and the level will end. The game does have numbered levels and if you fail on level 2 or 3 as an example you continue from the start of the level you died on, so at least the game does not push you right back to the start.


PAX East Preview: Elite Dangerous PlayStation 4

Elite Dangerous is not a new game; it has been around for a few years on PC and Xbox One, but the team at Frontier Developments is constantly evolving the game and their next big step is launching the title on the PlayStation 4 in line with the upcoming 2.3 update to the game.  At PAX East I had a chance to chat with the development team and find out what Elite Dangerous is all about, why update 2.3 is a big deal and what to expect when the PS4 version is launched.  What struck me most when chatting with the the team (both on the show floor and socially later at an event) is how passionate they are about their game and the community members that play it.  They have a genuine interest in delivering a better product each and every day and work with the community to tweak, change and add features with every version they release.

For those who have not experienced Elite Dangerous it is a space adventure, trading, and combat simulation video game set in an open world 1:1 scale galaxy modeled after the Milky Way and set thousands of years in the future.  You start the game with a small ship and the galaxy is yours to explore at your whim as you trade, battle, escort and try to thrive in the dynamic and complex world Frontier Developments has created.  The truly interesting thing about Elite Dangerous is how you can choose your path in a truly customized way. If all you want to do is be an intergalactic trader you can do that, if you want to be a bounty hunter that is an option as well, a space courier, feel free to go that path as well.  In Elite Dangerous there are so many options it can often feel overwhelming, but if you stay focused and work with the community resources a very compelling experience is at your disposal. Despite the game being quite complex the developer has expertly translated it to a console experience on the Xbox One (and soon PS4) as well as a hardcore Space Sim option with Joystick controls on the PC.


PAX East 2017 Preview: Dauntless

Dauntless made a big splash when it’s trailer debuted at the Video Game Awards but many were left wondering just what the game is all about.  I had a chance to visit the team and try out the game at PAX East and, while I still have some questions, I at least know that Dauntless is something fairly unique in the PC multiplayer shooter world.  At first I thought Dauntless was going to be like the ill fated Evolve (which also had huge pre-release buzz) but in fact it is more like Evolve meets Monster Hunter with a little Dark Souls mixed in. It was quite fun to play and has a visually striking look that inspired thousands of fans at the show to line up for their chance to check out the game.

Dauntless is a co-op action RPG set in a fantastical world were giant beasts called Behemoths have risen up and are terrorizing the world.  Your characters are called Slayers and you take contracts to destroy the Behemoths and save the world.  The game will be free to play, which always concerns me, but the developers were quick to assure me that the free to play mechanics will not hinder solo or non-paying players, instead they will add options and customizations to make the game more unique to your play style.  Regardless of how they go the game itself looks and plays great with a striking art style and quick gameplay.


PAX East Preview: Hob

Runic games made a huge splash in the gaming industry when it released the original Torchlight game.  This team composed of some ex-blizzard devs seemed to go places Diablo would not, and fans came in droves to experience the game and it’s sequel Torchlight 2.  These were both excellent games and the world was expecting a third title in the series, instead the team at Runic surprised us with the announcement of Hob, an adventure game set in a changing dynamic world and featuring no dialogue or exposition.  This is a bold step for the team, but after my visit with Runic at PAX East, where I had a chance to try the game out, I can say Hob is another great experience from this talented group of developers.

Hob is set in a dynamic changing world that is influenced by your actions; as mentioned the team is presenting the story as a Wordless Narrative, meaning all lore and story will be communicated by the actions and set pieces as you explore the world.  It is a bold choice, especially after the narrative heavy experiences of Torchlight, but one that is executed in a very satisfying way.  At various times as you play through Hob the camera will pan out and show vistas, transforming bits of the world or autonomous creatures going about their business.  It reminded me of scenes in Starbreeze studio’s brilliant title Brothers where they would pause for a moment and enjoy the vistas.  In this age of instant gratification and screen filling explosions, it is a nice change of pace to just experience a game and scene instead of flowing through it without a thought.


I attended PAX East once again and as always it was an amazing time, the show just never gets old for me. You can browse Triple A blockbusters like Overwatch and walk 10 feet to see a small game called Thimbleweed Park in the Indie Megabooth. There are huge Tabletop areas that you can sit and join Magic or D&D rounds (as well as dozens of other game systems), you can chill in the arcade or handheld lounges, get food, attend panels and just have a glorious time.

The fact that it is in Boston is the icing on the cake, it is such a cool chill town with hundreds of years of history, architecture and amazing seafood. I attend PAX every year to represent Blogritics.org as a freelance writer and tend to write 8-10 articles about games and events at the show. I checked out a ton of games, panels and events, but I have to say Ape Out was one of my favorite items. Below is the first block of articles I wrote while attending the show this year. Enjoy!


PAX East 2017: What is PAX?


The Social Side of PAX East

I often get asked what exactly is the PAX East show?  Is it about videogames? Tabletop Games? Art and Culture in Videogames? The music inspired by videogames? A social mashup of videogame and pop culture fans? The answer is all of this and more.  For those who do not know the history, PAX is technically called The Penny Arcade Expo, a conference looking at all things game and nerd culture that came from the imaginations of the team behind the hugely popular online comic Penny Arcade.  The creators always wondered why there was no show/conference that really welcomed and embraced the fans of the video and table top gaming scene.  There are plenty of video game events, but they are mostly industry driven and not terribly welcoming to the everyday enthusiast.  The first PAX was held in 2007 in Seattle and since that time other venues popped up. PAX East in Boston, followed by PAX South in San Antonio and PAX Australia in Melbourne.  Over the past 10 years what started as an experiment has literally turned into a world spanning event that people plan months to attend.

PAX East is a three day event spanning Friday – Sunday in March or April and it is held at the BCEC conference centre in Boston, Massachusetts.  While the focus of PAX East is the expo hall, panels, and tabletop area, there is a very robust social scene that has sprung up around the conference.  Over the course of the event (as well as days before and after) there are a number of gatherings, parties, meetups, and industry events that all can participate in.  The highlights, for me at least, are a mix of industry sponsored and community run events that highlight the uniqueness of the gaming world. Every year I attend a Pokemon themed pub crawl called the Pokecrawl; this may sound like a way to just drink the night away, but it is a great community event that raises thousands of dollars for Child’s Play charities and brings people of all walks of life together. I often also join boardgame meetups – the biggest of which is in the Westin the night before PAX – the hotel gives up a lot of space and hundreds of gamers converge to play dozens of different titles.  During PAX there are a number of sponsored and community driven parties as well at pubs, bars, and hotels that give attendees a chance to mingle with developers and each other. This social side of PAX East is a truly great thing and something that is a big part of my personal PAX experience that I look forward to each year.



PAX East 2017 Preview: Elex


PAX East is a huge show with hundreds of developers and games to experience, one of the ones that caught my eye was Elex by Piranha Bytes due to its odd mix off science fiction and fantasy in a post apocalyptic open world.  Following the general trend of the Fallout series Elex is focused on a pivotal character who has a special background, in this case he is a former soldier called an Alb, and his emotions are muted by a component called Elex that gives him powers no human has. The protagonist crashes on a mission far from home and the Elex starts fading from his system, this triggers emotions to start forming for the first time in his life and sets him on a path to either save the world or destroy it.

The premise is pretty cut and dry despite the fantastical trappings but what grabbed my attention was the striking world design and staggering amount of choices.  Elex is a game that lets you play as you like. If you want to help everyone and be the hero you can, if you want to fight everything that moves and take everything not locked down you can do that as well.  As you explore the world of Elex you will encounter NPC’s factions, towns, cities, monsters and your former Alb companions.  Characters can be interacted with, factions can be joined or opposed and the towns/cities can be explored to enable quests and new information about you and the world.


PAX East 2017 Preview: Divinity Original Sin 2


Divinity Original Sin 2 looks initially to be a very similar game to the original but digging into the gameplay a bit and experiencing some of the story beats I can see where some major differences are coming in. First off the narrative experience has been greatly enhanced with all companions having major story arcs that you can hop into if they are your companions or take part in directly if you choose their archetype when creating your character. For the demo I chose the Red Prince template and was instantly enveloped in his story which revolves around the fact that he is a Prince of the new reptilian race featured in the game who was isolated due to his incredible tactical skills. He was locked away and only let out when he was needed and now he is captured and subdued with a Source collar blocking his powers. One of the cool but subtle things I noticed while wandering around as this character was that everyone of his race knows him and gives him incredible respect, a neat touch.  I also liked that even though I selected a template I could change the sex or appearance of the character, so while the story and skills were pre-selected (though skills could be adjusted too) the character is still unique to your preferences.

Divinity Original Sin was a huge success on Kickstarter back in 2013 when the platform was just starting to get some traction for crowd-funding games.  Not only did they far exceed their funding goal, they took that money and invested it into an incredibly deep and enjoyable experience when the game launched in 2014.  Not resting on their laurels Larian Studios revamped and tweaked the game and released an enhanced version on PC as well as expanding to consoles in 2015.  To say Divinity Original Sin was a success was an understatement.  Now the studio is back with the sequel funded by another successful Kickstarter campaign and while I am a backer of the game and want to stay away from playing until the game is finished I could not help but take it for a spin at PAX East.


Darkest Dungeon is one of my favorite go to games, I drop in and play the game frantically every few weeks trying to get further and further in the brutal world it envisions.  When the Crimson Court DLC was released I had to dive in and see what the developer Red Hook had up their sleeves, knowing it was going to be difficult and hopefully as addictive as the main game.  Having played through quite a large amount of the Crimson Court content I am further convinced the team at Red Hook are maniacal geniuses as they have added content that is even more punishing then the original material yet still oddly fun and addicting.
The developer added the Crimson Court as a layer to the Darkest Dungeon, one of the really cool things is that you can choose what bits of content you want instead of implementing the whole DLC.  Only want the expansion options for the settlement?  Or just the new Flagellant character?  Perhaps just the extra dungeons and town events? All these are options you can tick off in the main menu before you start the game. Regardless the content is in addition to the Darkest Dungeon experience, instead of a separate area you explore.
The material does not introduce itself right away, except when blood vials drop, which are essential to the additional content experience.  Instead the new Flagellant character, more on him later, is introduced randomly as you click on the wagon after each foray.  The extra dungeons also appear after you have explored a few times in the intro scenarios and that is when it truly gets interesting.  A plague of insects hit town suddenly reducing the effectiveness of stress relieving activities.  This is a big deal as the Hamlet is the only safe spot you have and now that is compromised.  A newly revealed dungeon called the Courtyard seems to hold the answers to solving the insects and it was labelled short so I headed in with low level characters and faced a challenge I could not beat.  Feel free to check out my fresh gameplay stream that shows some of the content.
The developer has since patched the game and the new area clearly states it is not a newbie mission, but I ran through it prior to that (and a few times since) and saw some of the tweaks from the new content.  First off there is no light meter, meaning torches do not raise your light and ward off bad effects, there is no light and you are always inducing stress due to the cursed area.  Torches give you a buff, but do not mitigate the dark.  There is a mechanic called Bloodlight that stresses the characters as you travel, some monsters add to the Bloodlight level if they hit you increasing the stress you gain; it is a cruel spiral that punishes you as you proceed.  There are also monsters that can infect you with the Crimson Curse which makes you need constant blood supplies.  These were tough to come by but now drop more frequently and Red Hook will be adding a new ‘Gather the Blood’ quest which will give a steady supply.
The Crimson Curse is the most brutal of the additions closely followed by the increased stress Bloodlight hands out.  The Crimson Curse cannot be cured (outside of special drops from a boss in the Crimson Court dungeon) and can be spread in the hamlet.  It is nefarious and adds a frantic dynamic to the game that further amps up the tension as well as strategy needed just to survive.  The added stress is a huge problem because until the insects are banished the tavern and abbey will not relieve as much stress as before giving you a roster of perpetually fragile characters.
The new character the Flagellant is a weird, weak yet nearly invulnerable character that adds a new way to play through these brutal dungeons.  The Flagellant has very little health, but that is actually good because he gets stronger the closer he is to death and he has an insane deaths door resistance stat so as long as he can be restored to 1 HP at least in between attacks he will typically never die and deal more and more damage. Playing him requires sacrificing yourself in favor of the other characters (hence the name) so you can stay strong as you are close to death.   A great character that takes some strategy to play but can keep your party venturing deeper and deeper into the Courtyard and other dungeons.
Other interesting additions is that the Courtyard does not start out fully mapped; you have no idea how big (and it is BIG) the map is.  As you explore more paths and rooms get revealed which was a nail biting experience as I was teetering on my last legs of health and sanity.  The DLC also adds some new building options called Districts which are end game builds due to their sheer cost. 
  They are worth exploring as they add class specific improvements as well as tweaks like more torches, gold, and other bonuses.  It is a nice addition that makes grinding to level and improve characters more worthwhile as you can take your spoils and further upgrade the Hamlet and district buildings.
The Crimson Court is a worthy addition to Darkest Dungeon as it continues the brutally hard but very satisfying ebb and flow of the gameplay and simulation with its added content and scenarios.  The new creatures, characters, environments and bosses are as lovingly (and creepily) represented on screen as the original content. The art style of this game is truly stunning and while the animation is simply the sheer beauty of everything is a sight to behold.  The Crimson Court is at a point that experienced Darkest Dungeon players will face a withering challenge as they attempt to plunge the depths of the content, but Red Hook is constantly tweaking and adding to the experience as a living project and I recommend any fans of the original game explore this new content, but take it slow and careful or you may fall as I did.
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