Behind the lengthy queues and intense foot traffic, PAX West is a true mecca for gamers. Throughout the Seattle Convention Center lay enough booths to satisfy almost everyone’s interests. The major publishers, like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, had large spaces to themselves to showcase all their upcoming games, and you could play some of them if you were willing to wait more than an hour in line. Gaming peripheral companies like Logitech, Razer and Corsair had booths that sold actual products, and even Discord showed up to sell T-shirts and plushies.
Tabletop gaming was represented very well too, despite the focus on video games. Big names like Chessex and Wizards of the Coast posted up on the skybridge between the two major show floors. Even retro games got their corner, represented by Seattle-based game shop Pink Gorilla. And there was no shortage of competitive gaming to be found at various booths. There were many tournaments for games like Hearthstone, Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and even Injustice 2.
I spent only one day at PAX this year, and through the hustle and bustle, I played five notable games. Some were promising, while others were worrying. To start things off positively, let’s talk about the game that won PAX West for me: Boyfriend Dungeon.
So here’s a bit of a curveball. Boyfriend Dungeon by Kitfox Games is a game that really exceeded all my expectations when I played it. I had expected something in the vein of Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator — a hilarious, heart-warming dating sim but with transforming weapons instead of dads. Boyfriend Dungeon is all that but even more. Going on dates with these charming characters is a great showcase of the clever writing that creates oddly believable people, despite the whole turning-into-weapons thing. Dating weapons level them up, unlocking more skills for you to use in the dungeon (playfully called the “dunj”).
But here’s the thing: The dungeon gameplay isn’t some empty afterthought or a joke that was realized a little too much. While not mechanically innovative of the genre, it plays magnificently well. The isometric hack-and-slash combat is simple, with light and heavy attacks, dodge rolls and powerful spells at your disposal. It’s a recipe for addiction. Add the fact that dating weapons leads to more power in the dungeons and you’ve got a potent gameplay loop. It’s no wonder the game hit its Kickstarter goal so quickly. Boyfriend Dungeon is set for a release some time in 2019.
Bandai Namco has been building hype for its newest installment in the long-running Soulcalibur franchise, even piggybacking off the popularity of Geralt of Rivia from acclaimed RPG series The Witcher. And all that hype is well deserved. I got the chance to play as Geralt in the build they had at PAX, which is presumably close to the final build, barring any day-one patches. The way he plays in this 3-D fighter is surprisingly reminiscent of how he plays in The Witcher 3, and every swing of his sword is satisfying. The biggest worry I had was how his Witcher signs would translate to the fighting genre, but they all fit into his moveset in ways that don’t feel forced and unnecessary.
Moving on from this installment’s guest fighter, Soulcalibur VI ran pretty well on the PlayStation 4 that was set up at PAX. I didn’t see any frame drops, and the game looks as fantastic as Tekken 7, if not a little better. It’s hard to fully gauge how good the game will be considering I couldn’t really test the game for its balance among characters, but I now have higher hopes for it when it comes out on October 19.
Jump Force is the kind of game that I’ve always wanted since I was a kid: a huge crossover game featuring action heroes and villains across a variety of shonen anime. Many attempts have been made over the years, with little to middling success at best. Jump Force has a lot of promise, but the build I played gave me some concerns. While I like the artistic style the designers at Spike ChunSoft are going for, the gameplay itself felt hollow. Mashing light attack tends to do the job, with the game opting more for flashy, canned animation sequences over interactive gameplay. I didn’t feel like there’d be a meaty game to bite into, which doesn’t make the longevity of the game look great. Despite the lack of substance, the game does score very high in style. There’s something unabashedly cool about seeing these nostalgic characters like Goku and Naruto flying around and beating each other up in a fully realized realistic rendition of New York City. Jump Force is set for a 2019 release window.
THQ Nordic’s animal-based action-adventure game initially had me interested when it was first revealed last year at Gamescom. With the focus on DNA mutations loosely based on the concept of natural selection, I was hoping for a more focused and better version of Spore. After playing some of Biomutant at PAX, I can at least say it’s better than Spore, but I can’t say I’d recommend it to everyone. The combat feels like a watered-down version of Devil May Cry, which was made all too apparent with the heavy presence of Devil May Cry 5 on the show floor. Unfortunately, the game suffers from some terrible camera angles, which doesn’t help with the frantic action. Combat is broken up with some straight-forward platforming segments, and the demo ended with a sequence that put the hero in a giant mech fighting a huge beast. The camera was even less forgiving during that boss fight, making the fight unnecessarily difficult. We’re still far from the game’s release, which is set for some time in 2019, so hopefully the developers at Experiment 101 have more in store to impress me.
Darksiders III was strike two for THQ Nordic at PAX West. To put it in perspective, they also brought Generation Zero to PAX, which looks promising, but I was scared to play it because of how much my hopes dropped after playing Biomutant and Darksiders III. 2012’s Darksiders was a great title that came out of nowhere, and it’s a hack-and-slash action game that shouldn’t be overlooked. Darksiders III, however, didn’t click at all. Fury, the new protagonist, uses a whip to fight, similar to Gabriel Belmont in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Unfortunately, swinging the whip around as Fury felt hollow and unrewarding. Killing the smallest of minions felt like a chore, which doesn’t bode well for the undoubtedly larger enemies lying in wait further in the game. The saving grace to me was the setting of the game. The post-apocalyptic urban landscape was interesting to look at — well, it was interesting when it rendered in properly. Occasionally, the environment just outside your periphery would take an extra second to load after you rotate the camera. Hopefully the build that developer Gunfire Games brought to PAX was an older one, considering the slated release date is November 27.