Like Shmee and Daniel, I too have returned from PAX Prime 2014 and lived to tell the tell. You can read their excellent wrap-ups here and here. My own experience was a little more wandering this year and like Shmee, I found the Expo Hall feeling a little less inviting than in years past. In fact it wasn’t until Sunday that I even saw the smaller hall where Arena.net, Sega, and The Behemoth were setup. Throughout the expo hall the crowds were heavy, the lines long, the atmosphere a confusing mix of sights and sounds, and the ever present pressure of the crowd giving you little time to take it all in. The exception was the 6th floor where more indie games could be found, the booths were less flashy, and the crowds were manageable – additionally the games were often unique and innovative beyond the AAA franchises and sequels of the main hall.
The diamond in the rough here was Fortified!, a pulpy ’50 Science Fiction co-op shooter/defense game that had a fantastic art direction and vibe in addition to enjoyable gameplay that ramped up in difficulty so smoothly you hardly noticed the fly saucer destroying your base atop all the other madness.
Also on the 6th floor I found something for my Christmas list, the ergonomic pillow from Glomtom. I just walked up to the booth, sat down, they told me to relax and just play after setting the pillow on my lap. Now I don’t power game like I use to, but this pillow made even the ten minutes I played Diablo III very comfortable. Plus the built in storage would be a great place for me to hide my controller from grubby children fingers.
Three exceptions to the otherwise avoidable Expo Hall were Massive Chalice, Screen Cheat, and Dreadnought. Shmee is a big fan of the studio Double Fine, so he made sure he played Massive Chalice on the show floor. I’m glad I tagged along because the game has great potential. It’s a turn based strategy game like XCOM, but then you can retire your heroes, marry them to another hero, and wait nine months for their combined genetics to make your next fighter. It’s a cool concept. Screen Cheat was in the indie booths on the main floor and brought me back to the good old days of multiplayer when you sat right next to your opponent and cheated by looking at their screen like the good Lord intended. Screen Cheat adds the wrinkle that your opponents are invisible on your screen so you have to look at their screens to know where they actually are in the world so you can hunt them down – again as the good Lord intended. The last one I didn’t actually get to play, but that was Dreadnought a multiplayer game where instead of fleet soldiers or maneuverable star fighters you command ungainly capital ships. The line grew for this game each day, so it obviously captured a lot of people’s attention (or they had good swag?).
Finally, if you are going to play one card-based action-adventure RPG make sure it’s Thornwatch. Developed by Penny Arcade’s very own Mike Krahulik you and your fellows play members of the Thornwatch deep in the Eyrewood, a vast magical forest. People call forth the Thornwatch by tying specific knots to birch trees asking for aid or protection. I was able to playtest the game on Saturday and found the experience to be super fun. The way the cards are designed it really plays into teamwork or synergy as the game calls it, meaning you’re part of the action the whole round not just your turn. The artwork and theme are fabulous as well. There’s no firm date on what it will reach the masses but you too can sign up for chances to play or stay up-to-date on the website.
Of course with a show like this there is so much to actually talk about that this post could go on forever. Instead I’ll just give you the list of honorable mentions in no particular order with links you can explore yourself: Pathfinder, Fortnite, the Valiant RPG, XCOM: The Board Game, Fantasia: Music Evolved, Slap .45, Shadow of Morder, Shadowrealm, World of Planes, Towerfall, Hero Forge, and Evolution.