Thursday , May 23 2024

PAX East 2023 – Day 2

The second day of PAX East is when the reality of the show truly sinks in. Friday tends to be a busier day but the large show floor is full of overlap spaces and tons of fun booths to explore.

I started the day by wandering through the merch section buying some tidbits for my kids and maybe a few things for myself. After that I wandered through the tabletop section and watched a few games getting demoed. It is always enjoyable to see people experiencing some new games; I even tried out a new one I will discuss later on.

Back to the main expo hall I wandered, marking some games I wanted to check out over the next few days, and then moved on to the demos I had scheduled for the day. These included some interesting experiences, ranging from a high-concept musical stage and a gorgeous light-filled action game to a steampunk RPG with a focus on dialogue, story and card-based combat.

Sovereign Syndicate

This game was a highlight of my PAX East experience as it hit all my buttons. Victorian steampunk? Check! Integrated dialogue and skill system similar to Disco Elysium? Check! Gorgeous world and RPG mechanics? Check!

Sovereign Syndicate is an original game set in an open world Victorian steampunk setting and will feature three characters, only one of which was playable in the demo I tried. The game has a focus on approaching scenarios multiple ways: combat, magic or persuasion.

In the demo I played as Atticus Daley, a minotaur magician with a weakness for anything with alchohol in it. The demo gave me a good look at the world, combat, stealth and dialogue systems. The dialogue system in particular was great as responses, actions or bluffs tweaked stats that I could later use to upgrade Atticus in interesting ways.

Actions are based purely on skills, from picking or forcing locks to bluffing my way past some nosy guards. As a scenario dictates, a pool of tarot cards are drawn and the chosen card augments the skill to determine success or failure. As in the aforementioned Disco Elysium, failure is not always a bad thing as it could augment certain attributes.

I had a blast exploring the underbelly of this city and learning the core systems. The team at Crimson Herring studios have created something special here and I look forward to the full release later in the summer. So far it is set to arrive on PC via Steam.

Road 96: Mile 0

This prequel to the critically acclaimed Road 96 caught my eye as I wandered the show floor and I was lucky enough to chat with the developer as I tried the demo. Set as a prequel to the original game, Mile 0 is focused on the characters of Zoe and Kaito showing us what led them to the events of the original game.

The developer cautioned me that this demo would be a very different experience, as it focuses on the internal monologues of the characters and is far removed from the reality of the game. In the full release the game will be a narrative-adventure game with a musical component; this demo just focused on fast music and action sequences.

Off the bat I was incredibly impressed with the look and feel of the game. The art style is amazing and the licensed music was used exceptionally well to showcase what the demo had to offer.

It was a short experience, with two music levels showing the inner thoughts of the characters, but it was fun and I could tell it was highlighting the motivations and larger thoughts in the story. The sections were fun, fast and creative and my only regret was that we were not shown any of the main game’s components.

Thankfully Road 96: Mile 0 is coming out very soon, April 4, on PC via Steam as well as PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/X/S and Nintendo Switch platforms.

Strayed Lights

On of the most stunning games of PAX East for me was Strayed Lights by Embers. Thankfully it was also incredibly fun to play. This game is a story of a tiny being of light on its path towards awakening. During the journey it gains powers to fight back against the world trying to destroy it.

On top of being a showcase of art design and vibrant color palates, Strayed Lights also has an incredibly interesting color-based parry system. In order to deflect attacks you must match the color of the enemy as it attacks. Sometimes this required quick switching and parries, but the tight controls made this a joy.

Once you parry or dodge enough attacks, you can deploy energy to destroy the enemies you are fighting. As the game progresses, new skills, powers and tactics are unlocked, adding further depth to an already elegant system.

In the demo I was able to explore, traverse, battle monsters and encounter a boss who led to the end of the demo. It was a great experience with many wow moments as the gameplay clicked and I explored this great-looking title.

Strayed Lights is one to check out once it launches April 25 for PC via Steam, GOG and Epic Games Store as well as PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/X/S and Nintendo Switch Platforms.

Eschaton

In a shift from video games I checked out the dark and moody board game Eschaton by Archon Games. This one caught my eye as it seemed to have some Risk DNA merged with an end-of-the-world cult mechanic that tickled the dark corner of my brain.

In the game of Eschaton, players seek to lead the most favored cult in the final days before Armageddon. As the world crumbles, the Dark One will favor only a single unholy mass to be his Chosen in the vastness of eternity following the cataclysm. The cult with the most favor ascends at the end of the cataclysm and the rest are burned away.

Played on a map board, the game centers on deck-building mechanics. All players begin with the same basic cult (deck) and an equal presence on the realm map. As the game progresses, each player utilizes the evil Influence of their existing cultist cards to initiate new cultists into their deck as they seek to earn the most Points of Favor from the Dark One.

The game progresses with each faction gaining cultists (armies) and placing/reinforcing areas. Some areas have little army value, but give bonuses to decks or card draws. Being strategic makes a big difference as just owning the most lands will not necessarily guarantee a win; collecting relics and fulfilling omens also plays a big role.

I really liked the game as I demoed it and the folks at Archon made an effort to provide a complete experience, but they also offer upgrades and expansions for those looking for more. Cloth maps, metal marker coins and better army tokens are all available for purchase but in no way necessary to play the game.

I liked the approach the team had to enhancing the experience and their passion for the game and strategic board games in general. The game is complex and I could not play a full session at PAX East, but look forward to trying a full playthrough in the future!

About Michael Prince

A longtime video game fan starting from simple games on the Atari 2600 to newer titles on a bleeding edge PC I play everything I can get my hands on.

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