It’s that time of year again, folks: PAX time! Can you feel that in the air? That electric feeling of thousands of gamers converging upon a single place to celebrate the culture! Something more of a festival than a convention, PAXAus offers a not-quite-literal smorgasbord of games, vendor booths, chillout areas, cosplayers and more. Paddy and Nick are this year joined by Ellis, with the three of them roving the expo floor in search of digital goodness. Between them, they’ll be talking about the best bits of the show (in their humble opinion) for the duration of the con, starting with…
Created by Chris Yabsley and Ed Sheldon, dungeon league is a party-style local multiplayer dungeon crawler currently in early access on Steam. Wait. Hold your proverbial horses. Dungeon League. Ring a bell? In the words of Illy, ‘you’ve heard it all before?’
Well, unbeknownst to me, Paddy selected this game as his pick last year at PAX. Curses. Or maybe not? The fact that this game can stand out in two separate fields of indie games speaks volumes about it. And now I’m going to write a certain volume of words about it.
“Tower fall sort of has the same vibe as Dungeon League- you have a series of really quick, erratic games and it’s a lot of fun,” says co-creator Ed Sheldon, “I also relate the game to Mario Party. You get to team up with friends and play mini games, and each game is great with a beer in hand!”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a beer in hand or a couch to sit on (Ed assures me that this is the perfect competitive couch game) but after being thrown into a first to three, 2v2 dungeon league contest at PAX, it is easy to understand what Ed was getting at.
Beneath the pixel art exterior (a passion of Chris Yabsley) and quick and easy pickup game feel, lies a model that allows for a strategic metagame. You can make skill tree investments, equipment purchases and character selections based on your friends’ (mortal enemies for the duration of the 10 minute first to three series) decisions. Each round the game mode is randomly generated (from 1 of 10 modes- including death match, king of the hill, capture the flag, obelisk and race), so the ability to predict which level will appear next is a useful skill as well.
What has changed since last year? “The local multiplayer has really been fleshed out since last year,” Ed explains, “and now we want people to be able to experience the full game even if they don’t have a group of friends around, so after PAX15 we will be working on getting an online multiplayer up and running.”
This is a fun brawl-like/ hack and slash multiplayer game that is easy to pick up but has a huge scope for mastery (it strikes me as a more customisable version of smash brothers). I highly recommend checking out this game on steam!
Kieru immediately caught my eyes because of its striking visuals, and I was blown away at how integral the visual style was to gameplay. You play as a black or white ninja, capable of jumping ridiculously high and dashing forth from the shadows to decapitate your unsuspecting foes. The trick of the game is that everything – from the environment to your swords – is either black or white, so you’ll perfectly blend into surroundings of your colour. So long as you remain unseen, you’ll have an advantage, but you’ll need to go into the enemy’s colour to slice them up, and once you do that, you’re wide open.
There’s no blocking, and after talking with the devs, there never will be, so the element of surprise is your most valuable asset. This means that the visuals don’t just look awesome, they play a fundamental role in gameplay. It’s rare to see games focus so heavily on the visuals as the main aspect of the game, so it’s awesome to see Kieru gate crashing Screencheat’s one-man party. It’s still in pre-alpha too, so stuff like shurikens and colour changes could still be put in, but it’s easy to see the potential that such a simple mechanic offers.
The best thing about what I saw was that it wasn’t just 1v1, it was teams of ninjas against teams of ninjas. At this point, the environment doesn’t force you to cross your opponents’ colour to make your way around the map; a 1v1 would be a turtle match of endurance hiding. In teams, though, you can never know how many friends your opponent has with them once they attack. Maybe they’re alone, maybe they brought backup, but either way, it’s you or them. The colour mechanic lends itself to ambushes, sneaking, and everything else a ninja can do. Once there’s wall running and smoke bombs in the game, I don’t see how this won’t have the potential to sneakily take up all my time.
If you’re a long-time reader, you might recall that I was quite the fan of Bethesda’s Battlecry at last years PAXAus. A 3rd person MOBA of sorts, it pitted teams of highly trained warriors against one another, fighting for King (or Tsar, whatev’s) and country with rad technology. It seems that kind of game is my jam with my first pick of this year being Battleborn, an FPS MOBA of sorts from Gearbox. While the two might sound interchangeable, if only for the name alone, they’re vastly different in terms of gameplay. Battleborn feels like Smite met Borderlands, did some crack, had a baby, fed it steroids and then sent it out in a sci-fi apocalypse with high powered weaponry.
Set after a universe-wide cataclysmic event, several surviving species have gathered at one of the few remaining stars to beat the piss out of one another. (I assume the star also has an importance of some kind but, really, that’s not actually all that important right now.) This game had already been a large-ish blip on my radar for some time, and when I saw that there was going to be a playable version at PAXAus, I was beside myself with joy. I lined up with anticipation and watched on as teams of five players wrecked each other mercilessly, which only served to strengthen my already engorged nerd boner. When my group was called forward – I was ready.
The game was brief, maybe fifteen minutes in total though it was enough to leave me wanting more. The range of characters are quite diverse in all aspects, the gameplay is fluid and fast, and it was incredibly easy to pick up and learn. Controlling your character and learning their abilities will quickly become second nature for anyone with even a passing familiarity with FPS or MOBA titles. Borderlands fans, especially, will feel right at home with the quick paced combat and the bizarre but awesome powers that these guys wield. Rath is also now my homeboy, forever. A whirling dervish of chaos and destruction, he and I sprinted through the battlefield leaving nothing but death and flesh bits in our wake.
Even if I hadn’t won (which I did, by a country mile – the team may have helped), I still would have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Battleborn. This is one I’ll be watching with a lot more interest in the months to come.