After taking a break last year, I was pretty keen to slap on my teal shirt, slip on my comfiest shoes and throw myself in the whirlwind weekend of gaming that is the Penny Arcade Expo. This was my first time attending as a member of WellPlayed and going in with a journalistic lens was both exciting and surprisingly refreshing. It gave me an opportunity to really dive deep into some fantastic games, either with the developers or the enthusiastic (and exhausted) staff that operated the various booths on the show floor. I spent hours and hours going through some incredible indies at ‘PAX Rising’, which you can read about here, but I also got some solid playtime with some upcoming bigger releases. I made sure to plan my day before going in so that I could hit up three of the forthcoming games that have got me all riled up; Ashen, Ori and the Will of the Wisps and The Division 2. Cramming as much hands-on time as I could was hard within the limited scale of PAX, but each of the games definitely left an impression.
This is one of those games that I’d heard almost nothing about, and seen even less. The developers, Aurora44, describe Ashen as an action RPG with elements of survival, settlement building and becoming a beacon of light in an otherwise dark abyss. From the first time my lone warrior stepped out of the ashes, gazing over the wind-blown world full of danger and adventure, I knew that I’d be counting the days until I could jump in for real.
The barren landscape full of neutral tones and whispering winds makes me think of some kind of weathered storybook kingdom. Even the characters within the world of Ashen seem to look like wooden dolls brought to life and forced to live a harsh existence. If you were a fan of 2017’s Absolver you’ll find the art style, and even certain gameplay mechanics somewhat familiar. At other times, it felt almost like a low-poly and stripped back version of Dark Souls, with impending doom lurking around every corner of the vast open world. If you start to feel lonely while wandering around the wasteland, your hero has the ability to recruit companions and lead them to the last bastion of hope, your settlement. Ashen will also feature ‘passive multiplayer’ which means that you could happen upon another player while scrounging for loot and invite them to join the hunt or just ignore them completely.
The demo available at PAX was fairly limited, but it definitely played like a well-built and polished alternative title. Not only that, but the developers brought along gameplay footage that showcased the kind of things you’d be doing later in the game, which made me even more excited to get my hands on it. Ashen is coming a little out of left field, but I highly recommend that you check it out, if you haven’t already.
Believe it or not but I was late to the party with Ori and the Blind Forest. Sure, I heard all of the wonderful things that everyone was saying about it, I just never actually sat up and took any notice. That was until Kieron (at WellPlayed) sat me down and almost forced me to play it and the scales fell from my eyes. If, like me, you haven’t listened to the hype and have somehow missed playing this gorgeous little Metroidvania style action platformer, stop what you are doing and go play it right now. The first Ori game was honestly one of the best and most heartfelt experiences I’ve had in gaming and made me fall in love with it almost instantly. With that in mind then, I approached the news that Moon Studios sought to make a sequel with trepidation, how could they possibly match the beauty and simplicity of the first game without muddying the water? Well, I finally got to play Ori and the Will of the Wisps on the weekend and I almost cried with excitement and joy.
The first Ori is phenomenal in almost every way. The visuals are stunning, the soundtrack is sublime and it plays like a well-tuned instrument. I was overjoyed to see that the upcoming sequel continues that tradition and, more importantly, make its own distinct impression. I won’t go into too much detail about the content that was on offer at PAX, but playing Will of the Wisps felt both fresh and familiar. The presentation of the game is just as spectacular as the first and guiding Ori around the new environments felt like I’d never put down the controller. The section that I was allowed to play featured Ori gaining a new power, one that allows them to burrow in soft sand and perform even more insane acrobatic tricks. Without trying to oversimplify the experience, it just felt really good.
Once again, if you haven’t played it, I highly recommend going back to Ori and the Blind Forest. This sequel looks to be outstanding in every way and I honestly cannot wait to put my whole heart into the experience again. What a wonderful world, and series, Moon Studios has created.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m a sucker for shared world shooters and loot grinding. The Division was held up and touted as a Destiny killer at the time of release, but unfortunately it fell prey to the same shortcomings of its would-be victim. Not long after it hit our screens, we’d blown through all of the (admittedly awesome) story missions and found our selves in a content drought, forced to venture into the broken PvP zone for further gains. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a great time with the third-person shooter RPG and even now the lure of delicious yellow loot still calls to me sometimes, but it just got a bit old a bit quickly.
Well, Ubisoft has apparently learned from their mistakes with the first game and are throwing us back into the world of secret government operatives and the collapse of society, only this time it’s in Washington DC and set during the middle of Summer. The demo that was on offer at PAX placed you and three other players in a mission to secure the site of a plane crash (maybe Air Force One?). If you were a fan of the first game you’ll be happy to know that it plays much the same, with some fantastic shoot-outs in a wide open space filled with waist-high cover. There does seem to be more of a focus on classes this time around and from what I could tell, the abilities seemed to be scaled back a little, although this could be because the action that was taking place seemed close to the start of the campaign.
To be totally honest, I wasn’t that thrilled by The Division 2 at PAX. It was fun for a little while but I was expecting something to wow me, and what I played was a little lacklustre. The gunplay just didn’t feel right and my Agent felt as though they were made of paper. I’m not expecting a super, light-powered guardian to blaze across the derelict American capital, but I definitely remember feeling slightly more solid while playing the first game. I’ll probably still pick it up when it releases next March because I’m invested in the story, and who knows, maybe things will be a bit tighter by then.
Well, those are the three bigger games that made an impression on me a PAX, even though it wasn’t always a good one. What about you, did you make it to PAX and if so, what stood out for you?