Everything Else We Saw At PAX East

Over the last several weeks, I’ve written up a few posts for the various games we played at PAX East. I covered the games with demos you could play at home. I covered the party games. I covered the board games.

This leaves us with just one final category: The games that I don’t have strong feelings about. Here they are, in a great big list, with brief summaries, some info about release dates/status, and links if you want to learn more.

Name – Guts’N Goals
Type – Video Game/”Sports” (The Quotes are on Purpose)
Status – Released
5 Second Version – Just not really my thing. Sportssss. Kinda fun at least.
More Info – https://gutsandgoals.com/

Name – Super Marxist Twins
Type – Video Game/Platformer
Status – Released
5 Second Version – Super Mario Parody, has level creator, felt kinda wonky to play, no strong feelings.
More Info – https://type3studios.com/

Name – Stellar Seige
Type – Board Game/Card Game
Status – Released
5 Second Version – Placement Card Game, did not love it.
More Info – http://www.paw-warriorgames.com/stellar/

Name – Togges
Type – Video Game/Collectaton or Puzzler?
Status – Unreleased
5 Second Version – Just not feeling it. Maybe I’m the wrong audience.
More Info – https://togges.com.br/

Name – HOA
Type – Video Game/Platformer
Status – Released
5 Second Version – Looked very nice, but did not feel good to play. Not super interested.
More Info – https://www.hoathegame.com/

Name – Depths of Sanity
Type – Video Game/Self described Metroidvania
Status – Available in Early Access – 85% content complete according to Dev’s
5 Second Version – Didn’t play. No strong desire to honestly. May need to research.
More Info – https://bombsheltergames.com/

Name – Cuisineer
Type – Video Game/Dungeon Crawler + Resturaunt Sim I think?
Status – Unreleased
5 Second Version – Couldn’t play. Not sure on genre. Don’t have much real info on this one yet.
More Info – https://twitter.com/cuisineer Look, the twitter has more info about this game then their website. I don’t know what to tell you.

Name – KAO THE KANGAROO
Type – Video Game/3D Platformer
Status – Released!
5 Second Version – 3D collect-a-thon that appears to be in the vein of Crash/Spyro
More Info – https://kaokangaroo.com/

Name – Demon’s Mirror
Type – Video Game/The lovechild of match-3 and Slay the Spire
Status – Unreleased
5 Second Version – I can’t tell if it’s a Slay the Spire like or not, it seems like one, but the match 3 but not quite elements are throwing me off. Requires more research.
More Info https://be-rad.com/games/demons-mirror/

Name – Mythic
Type – Video Game/Procedurally Generated Roguelike MMO? The Fuck?
Status – Has a Demo?
5 Second Version – Didn’t play it. It could be good, or it could be Buzzword soup.
More Info – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1752260/Mythic/

Name – Ikonei Island
Type – Top Down Adventure/Crafting Game
Status – Unreleased
5 Second Version – Seemed like a fairly simple game for kids? Didn’t quite click for me. May need to do more research.
More Info – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1550730/Ikonei_Island_An_Earthlock_Adventure/

Name – Writers Block
Type – Video Game/Spelling Game
Status – Unreleased
5 Second Version – If you read this site, you’ve seen how I spell. Not for me.
More Info – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1841380/Writers_Block/

Name – Valley Of Shadow
Type – Video Game/3D Puzzle Game
Status – Unreleased
5 Second Version – Might be Great. Might be artsy garbage. Can’t tell yet. Might just also not be for me. At least it’s not bad.
More Info – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1414030/Valley_of_Shadow/

Name – LOVE3
Type – Platformer
Status – Released
5 Second Version – Weird. Hard. The hell did I play? They had other games as well, one looked like Bomberman with Dragons
More Info – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1604300/LOVE_3/

Name -Pathless Woods
Type – IDK
Status – ????
5 Second Version – Didn’t play.
More Info – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1726130/Pathless_Woods/
or @PathlessWoods1 on twitter presumably

Name – Back to the Dawn
Type – Video Game/RPG-Simlite?
Status – Unreleased
5 Second Version – Might count as a CRPG? All the characters are animals, and it seems like your end goal is to escape prison.
More Info – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1735700/Back_to_the_Dawn/

Name – The D.Team
Type – Video Game/Tank Shooter + platformer?
Status – Unreleased
5 Second Version – Not great yet, better then expected. A first time project by a single dev.

Name – Below the Stone
Type – Video Game/
Status – Unrelased
5 Second Version – Not sure how good it is. Enemy AI is not currently interesting. There’s potential here though. Keep an eye on it.
More Info – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1170230/Below_the_Stone/

Name – Demeo
Type – Video Game/Turn Based Dungeon Crawler
Status – Released
5 Second Version -Literally made for Kyle. Potentially good.
More Info – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1484280/Demeo/

Name – Rightfully, Beary Arms
Type – Rougelike where your upgrades upgrade your enemies as well.
Status – ???????
5 Second Version – Made by Daylight Basement. Seems weird as fuck.
More Info – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1928030/Rightfully_Beary_Arms/

Minecraft Dungeons

I spent months seeing ads for Minecraft Dungeons and assuming it was a fancy Minecraft mod. As it turns out it’s a completely different game. It uses Minecraft textures, sounds, creatures, and trappings (like the currency is emeralds), but its actually an Action RPG.

Blocky Diablo would also be accurate.

If you’re new the genre, ARPG is just a fancy name for a Diablo clone. It’s a 3rd person top down dungeon crawler where you collect loot and level up your character. As a big fan of Diablo II and a big fan of Minecraft, you might expect that this would be my kind of game… and you’d mostly be right.

I mostly enjoyed Minecraft Dungeons. While I didn’t play much endgame content or go to the much harder difficulties, I did clear the full story, and some of the postgame, and had a good time with it.

However, I have three fundamental problems with the game

  1. Lack of twangy guitar music.
  2. Consumable arrows.
  3. Map readability and collision.

While issue one pretty much speaks for itself, issue two is a bit more nuanced. Why does it matter that Minecraft Crayons has consumable arrows? To explain that, let’s talk about how the game handles skills.

Minecraft Funyons has an interesting “class” system. I put class in quotes because there are no set classes; how your character approaches the game depends entirely on what kind of gear you wear and enchantments you apply. If you want to be a rogue, you equip armor that makes you deal more physical damage. To be a tank, you equip armor that reduces the damage you take. If you want to be a caster, you equip armor that reduces the cooldowns on your artifacts (effectively your abilities), and then equip artifacts that deal damage. And if you want to be an archer, you equip armor that gives you extra ranged damage and extra arrows.

The problem is that the arrow economy is such that even with bonus arrow armor, enchantments, and artifacts, you STILL run out of arrows at some point each run. With at most 10 de facto classes, it’s a strange design choice to make one of them effectively unplayable.

My third issue was map readability. While the Minecraft style maps are very pretty, because all the elements are visually similar, I often found it hard to quickly figure out which terrain was walkable and which blocked me. And that’s a big problem when trying to make a split second decision with a million mobs following me. Hit a wall, and you’re dead.

Being pinned against terrain by a wave of enemies wouldn’t be terrible if the standard roll ability let you roll through the enemies, but it doesn’t, unlike almost every game I’ve ever played with a dodge. It also doesn’t actually dodge hits. All it does is give you a quick burst of speed followed by being slowed. Looking back, I found this design decision this most frustrating part of the game.

And there are a few other things that don’t quite make sense to me. The enchantment system seems to be built to encourage you to try out new sub builds frequently. But this never really worked. There are only two ways to get your enchantment points/levels back to try out a new item or build.

Option 1 is to salvage the original item, getting rid of it. If you do this and then don’t like your new build, you’re shit out of luck. Option 2 is go give your items to the Blacksmith, which gives you back your enchantment points, and then upgrades the item after your clear 3 levels. But again, if you don’t like your build, you’re still shit out of luck, abeit only for 3 runs. Why there isn’t just a “refund enchantment points” button is beyond me.

The game is also a bit buggy. While none of these are “Eat your savefile” or “Crash your machine” levels of bugs, they’re still annoying. For example, I fought a miniboss at the start of a level, and then spent the entire level listening to the dramatic boss music. Almost every chest you open spews some consumable items out of the level, entirely wasting them. Another time I rolled in the middle of combat and got stuck in a hole in the map.

Overall, I did have fun with it, even if it was somewhat simple. It honestly felt like the game was initially designed as a roguelike, but at some point they changed it to a perpetual gear chase. The addition of the Tower, a game mode that is quite literally a roguelike adds to that theory.

Minecraft Dungeons is available on pretty much every platform, and also has cross-play between all of them. So if you’re looking for a solid, but simple ARPG you can play with other folks, grab a copy, and sit back. Just be prepared to deal with some annoyances along the way. And if you’re still on the fence, you can read more about it here.

Ed Note: The post-game content is actually surprisingly extensive, and decent. I played it even if Max didn’t. It functions similar to PoE’s mapping system, in that the zones themselves are remixes of previously cleared areas with increased mob variety and specialties. It also has it’s own special gear chase with gilded items and whatnot. TLDR: Postgame good!

Elden Ring Pre-Review Views Review

A rant about Elden Ring, and the bits I don’t like very much.

I haven’t actually finished Elden Ring yet. When I do, I’ll probably do another writeup on the game. Right now, I’ve played about 70~ hours across various characters, and also a bit of the Seemless Co-Op Mod. My furthest character has about 44 hours on them, just around level 80.

I’m mentioning all of this to give a bit of context. Usually I don’t do writeups until one of three things happens:
1. I finish the game.
2. I quit the game with no intention to return.
3. The game doesn’t have an end/win condition, and is multiplayer, and I feel like I’ve played enough to give an opinion.

None of these situations are true for Elden Ring. I fully intend to complete the game, and despite bits feeling like bullshit, I haven’t quit. In addition, as the game is a single player RPG, it has an end. So why am I writing about it now?

Well, it’s mostly to get my thoughts into writing, and also provide a different opinion on the game than I see most places. The usual take seems to be that Elden Ring is a perfect masterpiece. I don’t think Elden Ring is bad, but I do think that the game feels uneven in tone, and while some parts of it are incredible, others… simply are not.

Bugs, frame drops, and crashes, oh my!

Let’s start with the easiest one to quantify. Performance, bugs, and crashes. On release, Elden Ring was plagued with a massive number of issues. After several performance patches, it is now only plagued with a large number of problems. Playing offline, the game still crashes a ridiculous amount. I was streaming my playthrough for a while. Quite a few of those streams ended when the game crashed, and I couldn’t be bothered to restart it.

If you’re wondering “How bad can it be?” here’s a horror story from a friend. He had beaten most of the game, and gotten to the gate instead of the final boss. He also recently had a kid, and decided to be a responsible parent, and do the last fight later. He went to bed, woke up the next, and found that whenever he tried to load his 60 hour save file, the game would instantly crash.

A patch did eventually fix this, but still.

Content Re-Use

When From Software makes games, they re-use assets from their previous games. This can include enemies, weapons, textures, what have you. And it’s fine, and not what I’m about to complain about here.

What I’m complaining about here is specifically the parts of the game that re-use the EXACT same boss fights. While I’ve generally tried to avoid spoilers, a large portion of the game focuses around reaching and taking down 5 larger enemies. Of these 5, four are incredible experiences, with incredible design and weight to them.

The 5th is a reskin/remix of an earlier boss in the game. It’s an incredible build-up for a massive let down.

And it’s not the only area guilty of this. There’s one mini-boss I’ve seen 3 times so far, and while the area you fight it in changes, it still feels fairly dull to reach the pinnacle of a brand new area, and see something you’ve found before. In general, I’d say the mid game area feels much weaker in this respect.

A Winding Circular Pattern

The last thing I want to quickly cover, because I’m not sure I’ll get to it in my actual Elden Ring writeup, is the general flow of the game. Having Elden Ring be open world is an interesting choice. On the one hand, it means that if you find yourself smashing your head into a wall, it’s possible to explore and find other objectives, or do something else.

On the other hand, it makes it much easier to get lost, or fail to find a particular location. The in-game map is beautiful and clever, but also not always the easiest to read. And when you do get stuck, it’s hard to tell if you need to Git Gud, or Git Going somewhere else.

The end result that my Elden Ring playthrough has a pattern to it:

  1. Get to a new area.
  2. Run into a hard boss, or be unclear on how to progress.
  3. Explore more, trying to find a way to go forward.
  4. Find more roadblocks.
  5. Thrash around with multiple deaths to either hard boss, or roadblocks.
  6. Get frustrated, and stop having fun.
  7. Start trying random garbage, or run to random places.
  8. Finally figure out a way forward, or a way to beat a boss.
  9. Go back and clear areas/places from step 4.
  10. Get to a new area.

    This has happened to me about 4 times so far. But perhaps more importantly, Step 6 in this process can be a few hours long, and it’s incredibly non-enjoyable.

In Conclusion

Elden Ring is good. But I don’t like how the game seems to get near universal acclaim when there a quite a few spots that could be heavily improved. I’m willing to cut From Software some slack on things like their open world design, as it is their first open world game. But the incredibly poor technical performance, and boss-reuse? Not so much. This isn’t an inexperienced indie studio. Elden Ring is a synthesis of years of design and planning, and a literal synthesis in some cases of old ideas, and cut content from their previous games. It’s good, it’s worth playing, but it could be better.

PAX East – Dome Keeper

I was going to title this post the “Good Stuff” post. It was going to be a nice big list of everything from the show that I liked, but hadn’t listed out yet.

Then I ran into a slight problem. See, that list was a grand total of one item long. I already covered most of the games from the show that I liked in the “Games From PAX With Demos you can play at home” post.

So instead, you get a super short post about Dome Keeper, the single remaining entry on that list. So I say to Dome Keeper: congrats! And please don’t disappoint me when you actually release.

Published by Raw Fury! Who also published Atomicrops, which I loved.

So what is Dome Keeper? Well, two things, sorta. It plays like a combo of Motherload, and Space Invaders. You are a small space person, living in your tiny little dome. You can leave the dome to dig down, and gather various minerals and ores, which you then drag back to your base and deposit. Different ores are used for different types of upgrades, which range from increasing the speed at which you move, your carrying capacity, and how quickly you dig. They can also be used to upgrade your dome. And you’re going to want to do that, because there’s a timer, and when it ticks down, your dome gets a attacked by a wave of monsters.

Of course, even if you clear that wave, the next wave will be stronger. So back into the mines you go to search for more minerals. Rinse, repeat.

The demo itself was a ton of fun, and the game is supposed to release later this year. The Steam page has it listed as a roguelike, so I’m curious to see how that gets implemented, and what other features the game has.

But like I said, the demo was fun. And really, that’s the most important thing. So cross your fingers with me, and let’s hope it’s good.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue

Dungeon Defenders going rogue is undercooked and unfinished, don’t buy it.

Let me save you some time and money. Don’t buy Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue. If you want to close this article now, or perhaps just read about a better Roguelike, or a better Tower Defense game, that’s fine.

I’m writing the rest of this article because posting a writeup that’s just one paragraph long is rude. Also, spite, because I spent $15 on this junk.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue wants to be a combo tower defense game and roguelike. It’s also technically an entry in the Dungeon Defenders series. (More on the franchise’s weird history later.) If you’ve never played a Dungeon Defenders game, they were 3D tower defense games with action combat, and fairly heavy leveling/progression systems.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue, is not quite that. Here’s how the traditional loop of a Dungeon Defenders game worked: you’d pick a map to run, and a difficulty for that map. A map consists of a series of waves of enemies to fight, and potentially some form of boss at the end. Killing enemies drops mana, and you use mana to build and upgrade towers. Enemies can also drop loot, items you can equip, and whatnot. If you get to the end of the map, you unlock more maps and challenges, and if you fail, you keep the loot you had so far, but you have to start over.

All this is combined with having a permanent character, from one of the game’s classes, who you level up and such, also with mana.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue tries to take that formula, and turn it into a roguelike, but it just doesn’t do that very well.

Let’s quickly get mechanics out of the way. Like standard Dungeon Defenders, you have a hero, and you have the same sort of abilities. These abilities vary from class to class, but generally have a pattern. Each class has a basic attack, a secondary attack, a nuke, an activatable overcharge, and two tower slots. Unlike towers in normal Dungeon Defenders, these towers have time to live, and die once the the timer empties. But the cooldown to place a tower is far higher than the time a tower actually stays alive, so in practice, you can only ever have two towers up for a short amount of time. In an ostensible tower defense game, this is a bit strange.

The biggest issue I have with Going Rogue is that as a roguelike, it’s incredibly boring. A good roguelike offers a high skill ceiling for mechanical mastery (Dead Cells, Enter the Gungeon, Nuclear Throne), informational mastery (Slay the Spire, Inscryption), or preferably a combination of both (Binding of Issac, Spelunky). If your game is going to be based around playing effectively the same thing over and over, playing needs to feel rewarding, and runs need to feel different. A weaker player should have good runs where they can feel like they’re succeeding even if they don’t know everything, and a strong player should be able to salvage even bad runs.

But even if you disagree with my definition of what makes a roguelike good, I think you’ll agree that being boring is exceptionally bad in a roguelike. Every run cannot just feel the same. And that’s the issue with Going Rogue.

The way the game handles abilities and power growth is underwhelming. After you clear a level, you open a treasure chest, and the chest has a few random items in it. One of these are the game’s runes, which seem to be intended to function as value pickups. Ultimately, I find them mostly worthless, because there’s virtually never a reason to not pick them up, and they give uninteresting stat buffs, such as 5% health, or 10% movement speed. They’re numerically boring stat sticks. And most of the time you don’t even get to choose which ones you’re getting.

At end of 3 waves, when you clear a map, you get a slightly bigger chest with a special rune drop that lets you choose between 3 different runes. The problem is that the very generic runes mentioned before are still in the pool, and it’s entirely possible to roll the same one twice as one of your choices.

The weapons, trinkets, and towers suffer from a similar but slightly different issue. As a run progresses, better towers/weapons/trinkets drop from the end of level chest. And because they’re almost always net better, there’s virtually never a situation where you’d choose to keep your current item, even if it has interesting stats, over an item with more damage. Get a cool tower early on? Too bad, by the time you’re in the 3rd zone, it’ll have 1/5th of the DPS of any random trash that pops out from your end of level chest.

The end result is a system where you can’t construct a build. You can only pick up bigger numbers, and hope they’re big enough.

Perhaps this could all be ignored if combat felt good, but it doesn’t. It’s a weightless affair, where you swipe at enemies until their health bar empties, and they fall over and die. Particle effects and animations are unimpressive, and feel like greybox assets. There’s not an ounce of mechanical mastery required, and the fact that abilities have virtually no synergy does the game no favors either.

But that’s all subjective. Maybe I have bad taste. But regardless of my taste, the game is buggy. In five hours of playing, here are a few highlights of what I encountered:

Random disconnection from multiplayer for no reason, killing the run.

Items dropping with a description of “ITEM TEXT GOES HERE”, no stats, and a sell value of 9999.

Items all dropping with the exact same stats, instead of having random rolls.

So that’s Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue. A unpolished, unfinished mess. A brawler with poor combat, a tower defense game with no towers, and a roguelike with no power progression. If you took your money, and set it on fire, you’d get more value. This is because while the money would be gone, at least you wouldn’t have wasted any time playing the game.

Ed Note. So, Dungeon Defenders as a series has a bit of weird history. There was Dungeon Defenders, then a shit ton of DLC, then Dungeon Defenders 2, and presumably even more DLC. At some point, the company making it sorta shut down, then someone else bought the rights/reformed the company? I’m not 100% clear. In any case, the folks who bought the rights again wanted to make a new Dungeon Defenders game. They didn’t have any money though, so they made Dungeon Defenders Awakened. It was mediocre. Then they made Dungeon Defenders Eternity which… no longer exists. And now they’ve made Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue, which isn’t worth playing.

Ed Note 2: If for some reason you want to see actual gameplay, why not watch me play it with a friend here?