Ten Ton Hammer's Top Picks from PAX East 2014
As the three ring circus known as PAX East continues to evolve, so too has the presence of online gaming for the fifth year of the event. The expo hall that was once sparsely populated by a sprinkling of juggernauts with plenty of breathing room in between has grown into a dense jungle of gamer bliss. The spectacle of the event has reached that arena rock tipping point to be sure.
Amidst all the glamorously packaged demos and determined developers our small team from Ten Ton Hammer did our best to seek out the best the event had to offer. Some titles all but smacked you in the face with their presence such as the massively marketed WildStar while others were content to reside slightly off the beaten path.
What we typically do during one of these events is run ourselves ragged for three days solid and attempt to crank out an inhuman amount of coverage while the event is still in full swing. For PAX East 2014 we decided to take a slightly different approach. This time around we were a bit more selective with our appointments, seeking out the best the show had to offer rather than the blanket approach of trying to cover everything but not really being able to do as good a job as wed like with specific games.
So instead of the all night, caffeine-fueled writing sessions that ultimately lead to skimming the surface of what was genuinely cool about the event, were shaking things up a bit. Much like the way well often play an MMO beta event or preview session and allow the experience to sink in a bit prior to putting our thoughts down on virtual paper for our readers, well be doing something quite similar with our coverage from PAX East 2014.
The intent here is to properly reflect upon what each individual appointment in our schedule had to offer, why we found it to be impactful enough to write about, and then do so in our natural habitats rather than while were still fighting crappy hotel WiFi (not to mention the wall of white noise news these events tend to generate for their duration), or our brains are slightly muddied from attempting to absorb too much new info in too short a period of time.
To kick things off, we put together a preview of our top picks from the event the titles that impressed us the most in some way that well further expand upon over the next couple of weeks. As a polite nod to the shift towards community involvement and an increasing amount of transparency during the development process, wed also encourage our readers to take a look through the titles previewed here and let us know if there are any specifics theyd like to hear more about in our more in-depth follow up articles.
As a final note before we dive into our Ten Ton Top Picks from PAX East 2104, the games covered here are only a cross section of what well be covering over the next couple of weeks. Each game on this list impressed us in meaningful ways, bring cool new ideas into the realm of multiplayer online gaming, or were simply a flat-out fun experience.
Guild Wars 2
What it is: The MMO that brought about a much needed evolution of the genre
What we saw at PAX: A preview of the further evolution of GW2 via the April 2014 Feature Pack
The team at ArenaNet have never been content with simply serving up more of the status quo to their players. The intent has always been to make sure that Guild Wars 2 continues to evolve, expand, and improve long after the initial game launch. While gameplay improvements and system upgrades have long been a staple of the Living World update series, the April Feature Pack rolling out this week offers the kind of substantial quality of life improvements you'd typically only see added to a game on the eve of a major expansion release (or as part of a full-blown expansion for that matter).
A few weeks ago our team was actually discussing some of our favorite design concepts for Guild Wars 2 that didn't quite make it into the launch product. Among them was one of my favorite ideas: linking the trait system to exploration and having them be something that players actively work to unlock over time.
As luck would have it, that's exactly what the sizable overhaul to the trait system in GW2 will inject into the game this week. When you combine that with the very welcome addition of the Wardrobe system, account-wide dye unlocks, and shift back to megaservers, the April 2014 Feature Pack provides a major evolution that is not only full of win for current players, but will make it an excellent point for new players to dive into the game.
We'll be posting excerpts from our discussions with Colin Johanson and Jon Peters as part of a more epxansive overview of the April 2014 Feature Pack shortly, along with our thoughts on what this update means for the future of GW2.
Guns of Icarus Online
What it is: One of the first successful Kickstarter stories in video games, not to mention a kick-ass multiplayer game.
What we saw at PAX: A preview and hands-on time with the newest features being added to the game
Guns of Icarus Online had another successful showing this year at PAX East, offering attendees a first look at one of the major new gameplay systems that will be coming to the game this summer. If you're unfamiliar with the game, it is largely focused on team-based multiplayer matches, while this new mode changes things up a bit by providing a more direct PvE experience.
In a roundabout way, you could think of it almost like the equivalent of a well-paced dungeon crawl experience, albeit one that takes place aboard a massive steampunk airship with a few of your best mates. The encounters we experienced provided an escalating challenge that culminated in a somewhat epic battle versus a number of enemy ships that we never did quite manage to defeat before our mission timer ran out.
While it can be a bit of a bummer to walk away from an event demo experience after suffering a defeat of this sort, quite the opposite occurred this time around. The experience left me energized and excited to play more.
Our interview with the dev team and complete hands-on preview for Guns of Icarus will be rolling out later this week.
What it is: The sandbox MMO that makes you realize massively multiplayer games are going to kick even more ass than we ever thought they would
What we saw at PAX: A candid discussion with Dave Georgeson on the future of Landmark
Last year during PAX East 2013 I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dave Georgeson to discuss what makes for a fun MMO gaming experience, and why the status quo simply didn't cut it anymore. This was prior to our first look at EverQuest Next and Landmark at E3, so our discussion was very top level and focused more on overarching concepts rather than how they fit into any specific products.
This was in the back of my mind as I had the chance to meet up with Dave again to discuss the current state and future of Landmark; a game that even one year ago I had no idea I'd already be playing, let alone enjoying so much in its alpha and closed beta phases.
We'll be posting our the full interview with Dave over on our EverQuest franchise site, EQHammer.com shortly, but in the meantime it's worth noting that there was a lot of excitement in the air as we discuss the massive impact it's going to have on Landmark once some of the upcoming gameplay systems come online.
Player Studio integration is going to be a pretty big deal, especially if you've been paying attention to the incredibly talented builders we've seen in the game so far. Perhaps even more exciting is the prospect of what players will be able to create once AI comes into the picture.
What it is: A first-person mage experience that puts spellcasting and Borderlands in a blender with spectacular results
What we saw at PAX: A preview level and boss fight that showcases the multitude of ways you can approach casting spells in the game.
Even though Lichdom: Battlemage isn't necessarily an MMO by any far stretch of the imagination, we were pretty excited to check the game out during PAX East either way. When it comes to class archetypes, I'm one of those people who naturally gravitates to mage or caster classes as my first pick, so Lichdom seemed like it would be right up my alley.
Our preview of the game certainly did not disappoint, and proved to be one of the overall highlights of the event. If there's one thing I love more than the art of reigning spells down upon the doomed heads of my doomed enemies, it's thinking of all the possible ways those spells can be manipulated or warped into new forms.
This is one of the truly magical aspects of Lichdom; the loot system is reminiscent of the Borderlands games, only instead of seemingly never ending pile of guns for you to collect, in Lichdom you'll be gaining new bits and pieces that can be used to augment and alter your arsenal of available spells.
Also worth mentioning is that - even though it's a first-person experience - Lichdom will allow you to play as either a male or female mage. In fact, their stories are also interwoven in such a way that this is more than a simple choice of the gender your mage's hands are on screen while casting spells. The fact that the female mage is voiced by Jennifer Hale just makes the game even more badass.
As with the other titles on the list of our top PAX East Picks, we'll be following up with a more comprehensive preview later this week. In the meantime, you an also check the game out via Early Access on Steam via this handy link:
What it is: An amazing hybrid between video games, mineatures, and tactical squad-based combat
What we saw at PAX: An interview and hands-on session where we got to experience the beauty of Prodigy's combat in action
Prodigy is another non-MMO on our list of appointments this year, but it was well worth our time to witness the game in all its glory on the show floor at PAX East. I was already sold on the concept heading into the event, but getting a chance to play a full match definitely sealed the deal. While the game is still somewhat early in development, the existing product is already a solid, polished, and ultimately fun experience.
Part of the beauty of Prodigy is that it blends the tactile aspects of using miniatures and cards on a custom playing surface with some exceptionally rendered on-screen graphics. Since you don't have to interact with your keyboard to play, it's easy to forget that you're actually playing a video game. While I'm sure additional layers of complexity will be woven into the gameplay system over time, I found Prodigy to be both very easy to understand and play, while retaining a distinct level of tactical depth.
As our team scampered around the expo hall and would be asked what the best thing we'd seen at the event so far had been, Prodigy was the one game I encouraged pretty much everyone to check out. The current Kickstarter campaign has already exceeded its funding goals, and still has a couple of weeks to go. If you're unfamiliar with the game, I'd thoroughly encourage you to dive into the wealth of information on the Prodigy Kickstarter page.
What it is: A MOBA that is an actual online battle arena rather than another boring DOTA clone. Think sci-fi soccer instead of lanes, towers and creeps.
What we saw at PAX: An interview with the developers and a fast-paced hands-on match against total strangers (we won!)
One of the newer trends in video game development is for the development teams to claim new levels of transparency and community involvement in the process. The folks from Spearhead Games are easily at the forefront of this paradigm shift with Project Cyber. While it's somewhat billed as a MOBA (a descriptor that initially had us somewhat unsure as to whether it would be a title we'd be interested in checking out during PAXe), Project Cyber is one of the few titles out there that actually lives up to the idea of being a "battle arena" game.
Instead of your typical tri-lane setup, matches in Project Cyber are super-powered soccer that takes place on a massive floating ship as it travels through a futuristic city. Spectators can even directly participate in matches to a limited degree by voting on a number of environmental conditions or hazards they'd like to see come into play during a match. This adds a further layer of unpredictability during the already fast-paced and somewhat chaotic gameplay.
Project Cyber is also an incredibly accessible game. While it took me a couple of minutes to get used to character movement and power usage, by the end of the match I ended up scoring 3 out of the 5 winning points for my team, and felt I had a good handle on the core gameplay. The game may be somewhat simple in this early stage of development, but at the same time Spearhead has managed to create a very fun, and fully playable experience in an insanely short amount of time.
We'll have lots more to share about our time with Project Cyber at PAX East 2014 soon, but in the meantime you can visit this page to request a Steam key and check the game out for youself.
State of Decay: Lifeline
What it is: A very worthy expansion to one of the best zombie apocalypse simulators on the planet
What we saw at PAX: A complete rundown of what makes Lifeline tick, and why it isn't just more landmass tacked onto the original game
Since the original game was released last fall, our writers have played a silly amount of State of Decay, so we were all pretty excited when the Lifeline expansion was announced a couple of months ago. Needless to say, it was also one of the games we were most excited to see heading into PAX East.
Lifeline doesn't necessarily reinvent the State of Decay wheel; instead it makes it run much smoother by removing some of the odd rough edges that many people loved to nitpick from the original game. As a perfect example of what I'm talking about here, survivors will be much more distinctive and matter more in the grand scheme of things. That's not to say that each and every one of them will have a massively deep back story and motivations to match, but there's a good chance you'll end up caring about their survival far more this time around.
You'll also spend the entirety of Lifeline focused on building up and defending a single base of operations rather than feeling pressured to seek out larger or more conveniently located places to call home. This also means Undead Labs can add layers of escalation and intensity to gameplay as you'll need to move further away from your base to continue finding resources and rescuing additional survivors.
Some other things we're looking forward to is the ability to toss resources into vehicles and transport more at once. Smaller vehicles will be able to hold two packs in the trunk while larger vehicles can hold up to six. In fact, this will not only be a new addition in Lifeline, but will also be added to the original game as well which will help speed up some of the pacing of supply runs.
State of Decay is already a kick-ass gaming experience, and we'll be drilling down into why Lifeline ups the ante in an upcoming full-length preview.