The best games at PAX East

The long-awaited life simulator from Nintendo stole my heart, and I’ll be sharing my impressions of the game later this week. But while, to me, Animal Crossing was the main event, there was plenty to be excited about at PAX East, between Annapurna Interactive showing off a suite of impressive indies and Baldur’s Gate 3 front and center with its worldwide gameplay reveal.

Who stole the show? Launcher saw plenty of games at PAX, some better than others. Here are the ones I loved.

Maquette

Maquette, a game that is part love story and part puzzle game, was unveiled by Annapurna Interactive (creators of The Outer Wilds and What Remains of Edith Finch) at PAX East. It also has a concept we’ve never quite seen before: Puzzles involve objects that are simultaneously big and small. Confused? I was too, but it makes sense once you play.

You make your way through a garden with walls occasionally superimposed with text, telling the story of a broken relationship. In the middle of the garden, you find a diorama model of the same garden you’re in. To progress, you have to swap objects from the actual garden and from the diorama, and changes you make in one impact the other. For example, placing a key in the model garden to cover a gap makes it appears in your real garden as a bridge. I enjoyed what I saw, but it’s easy to be confounded right from the start. Hopefully Annapurna plugs in a short tutorial to get players acquainted with the concept.

Doom Eternal

Combat in the Doom series has always been fast-paced, but its frenetic action feels more polished in Doom Eternal. This is thanks to a clever evolution of your character’s mobility, like being able to nimbly swing on monkey bars and climb walls while fighting. Double jump lets you access better vantage points and dashing helps you escape enemy fire in a pinch. All these improvements make it easier to move around, which is important in a game that punishes you for standing still.

During my 20-minute demo, I mowed down one enemy after another, slicing through them with my chainsaw and executing glory kills, which are fancy finishers. Killing demons has never felt so good.

Spiritfarer

Indie darling Spiritfarer, from developer Thunder Lotus Games, is a relaxing game with gorgeous 2D graphics. You play as Stella, who operates a boat for the deceased. You travel from one island to the next, befriending spirits in hopes that they’ll join you on your ship. However, convincing them to hop aboard isn’t always straightforward. Sometimes you have to complete quests for them, like gathering materials to build their dream home on your ship.

There’s something heartwarming about Spiritfarer. You can hug spirits to improve their mood, a cute white cat follows you everywhere (which can be controlled by a second player in co-op), the islands are lush, and the boat you progressively build is eclectic but cozy, as you fill it with gardens and homes stacked over one another like towers.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker

In Hardspace: Shipbreaker, you’re at the mercy of your employer, who sends you on missions in space to salvage parts from valuable ships. It’s a dangerous job, but you have cutting edge tools to make it through. If you’re careful, that is.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker joins the popular trend of games that find entertainment in menial tasks, like Death Stranding’s package deliveries and Stardew Valley’s farming. Hardspace: Shipbreaker is surprisingly fun, too, and that’s partly because of its unpredictability. I screamed while playing the game on the show floor, because I accidentally caused a spaceship to blow up while I was inside it.

Fall Guys

Imagine 60 players tumbling through a virtual obstacle course. Some might get bonked on the head by a gigantic balloon shaped like a hammer and fall behind. Others will make it through unscathed, if they’re careful.

Fall Guys is filled with chaotic moments like these, with swarms of players competing in arenas that look more like jungle gyms or bouncy castles. I tried four different mini-games. One of these included ramming my character into a series of doors to find out which open and which don’t in order to get to a finish line, while a slew of competitors did the same. After each mini-game, a certain amount of players don’t make the cut, and when you get to the final round, only one will emerge victorious.

Fall Guys is silly and humorous in its presentation, making it a fun experience for players of all ages.

Baldur’s Gate 3

Although we didn’t get a chance to play Baldur’s Gate 3, we still saw it in action as Larian Studios founder Swen Vincke played through a portion of the upcoming RPG in a presentation. It’s an RPG with strong ties to Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), to the point where D&D veterans will recognize magic spells, creatures and dice rolls from the popular tabletop game. You can read my full impressions by heading here.

Fuser

Harmonix is no stranger to expertly blending music in its games. They’re the creators of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, after all. But Fuser does something special with impressive technology that lets you, ahem, fuse songs together. You play as a festival DJ and blend together pieces of songs (instrumentals, vocals and so on) into something entirely new. Launcher had a chance to play it at PAX East and had a lot of fun making dubious decisions, like mixing Lady Gaga with Smash Mouth.

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