PAX West 2022 was a return to form for the convention. After one year completely off (2020) and a year that was very much feeling the effects of the pandemic (2021), 2022 saw the return of big-name developers like Nintendo and Larian Studios, and the show floor was poppin’. There were substantial show pieces and larger-than-life statues, including my favorite, Miriel, the Pastor of Vows from Elden Ring. Honestly, it felt like coming home, and two weeks later, I’m still buzzing from it.
I attended PAX West 2022 with a couple of writers from Magnetic Magazine, and we were fortunate enough to get hands-on, behind closed doors demos and developer interviews with some of the biggest games in attendance. Below I sit with Tanner Little and Ryan Oberg to talk with them about the five games that left the biggest impressions on us, along with an honorable mention from each of us. Let’s get stuck in.
Adam: System Shock was extremely impressive to me. After following its development hell, it was honestly refreshing to sit down with it and come away thinking that we might have a certified hit on our hands next year. A few things stuck with me: The visuals. And the care and attention paid to keeping the hardcore DNA of System Shock intact, while modernizing it. The world of System Shock is painstakingly recreated and updated to a modern engine. Still, there is an almost low-fi quality to it that is really, really unique and works exceptionally well for me.
System Shock was one of the first games I remember sitting on my miniature computer chair while my dad played it. I must not have been older than 6 or 7, but I was enamored with it. I would scarf down my dinner so that we could return to it. Looking back on it I’m lucky I didn’t understand the story, or I might’ve been terrified. But what strikes me most about this remake is how modern it feels without putting training wheels on the game. You’ll still have to search for clues, manage your inventory, and deal with a deadly set of enemies. I imagine this will be a game that PC Gamers sink their teeth into.
Ryan: I never played System Shock, which is a shame because it’s incredibly iconic. My 90’s library of games was largely dictated by what my friends had at the time. There’s a reason why most games that get remakes/remasters are only 5-10 years old.
The amount of work that must go into a project that recreates a nearly 30-year-old game while still staying faithful to the source material must be arduous. As someone who’s played all of the spiritual successors, being the Bioshock series, I can’t wait to go back in time and experience a classic that largely influenced some of my favorite games.
Tanner: Like Ryan, I never played the original, but we were lucky enough to have a little interview with one of the lead developers while looking at the game. It was a fascinating conversation. This game’s process of making it to that showroom floor was a bit of a rollercoaster. Still, due to the dedication of the developers, many gamers who have been around long enough will get to enjoy those sweet member berries that will appear when they get their hands on this. It’ll be quite an experience for newcomers like myself and Ryan too.
Company of Heroes 3
Ryan: There was a time when I thought both Age of Empires and Company of Heroes were dormant franchises, never to see the light of day; I’ve never been happier to be so wrong.
The last time I played COH3 was during the pre-alpha multiplayer test about a year ago. Playing the current build on the showroom floor of PAX has shown that Relic has put a lot of polish and optimization in since the last build. We played on a North African map; lots of deserts, few opportunities to take cover, and we got wiped. Tanner was my teammate; I blame him. Graphically things looked great.
Combat feels essentially unchanged from COH2, which is a good thing. I can’t wait to play more shortly.
Adam: I am the least familiar with these games, so when I jumped in and the dev team told me I could tactically pause the action to get my bearings and issue commands, I was instantly intrigued.
It seems like such a welcoming feature for newbies like me and might allow me to cut my teeth and eventually hop into a match with you a lot. We were lucky enough to get an interview with the systems designer, and hearing his passion and excitement for the game also excited me.
Tanner: Ryan, I will blame us for getting obliterated during our 20-minute hands-on co-op match against the AI. Not my best showing, but in my defense, I was too distracted asking the booth workers about the subtle new features they are adding to COH3.
Like Adam, I was particularly excited about the “real-time with pause” addition, which will help break down the difficulty barrier for anyone intimidated by RTS games but who wants to jump in and learn. Things like that are what will help keep the genre alive.
Lies Of P
Adam: I still can’t process that Lies of P was at PAX West on a corner of a booth. We walked right by it the first day. For me, a longtime Souls fan and someone who holds the original Dark Souls AND Bloodborne both in their top 5 favorite games of all time, playing Lies of P was quite a rush of emotions. Its world is exciting and the concept is wickedly cool.
It is almost impossible to get a real feel for how combat will play out in a 15-minute demo where you are dropped into the game without speccing your build, but from what I played I think we might have a Soulslike that can stand on its own. The weapon designs are great and, hopefully, show a large variety in your combat approach.
Attacks felt weighty, and a system similar to Bloodborne allowed you to regain some of your health if you were aggressive enough to get a few attacks in on your enemy after taking damage. I felt like comparing it to Bloodborne in more ways than just the combat system. There was a lot of verticality in the city that reminded me of the initial areas of Yharnam.
One way that Lies of P felt more in line with Sekiro than Bloodborne was in its use of special tools. You start equipped with a grappling hook of sorts. When I first used it I expected to use it just to close the gap on an enemy, but to my surprise, I vaulted off the enemy and performed a heavy attack with quite the flourish. Very cool and I’m excited to see what other tools we may come across in the final release.
I left my hands on, itching to play more. I hope it makes a 2023 release because I’m always up for a Soulslike that delivers.
Ryan: One of the most demanding challenges developers face in the Soulslike landscape is getting the art design and world-building to feel just right.
FromSoftware has set the bar incredibly high over the years, and this is the first time in recent memory that another developer has gotten this close to hitting that mark. Everything I saw on the showroom floor during Adam’s play session looked incredibly good while visually standing independent from other games in the genre.
Tanner: Soulslike games in general, can be a polarizing subject. FromSoftware created somewhat of a movement within game design and many devs have tried to stand on their shoulders. Some with more success than others.
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What defines a great Soulslike experience is not what it copies, but what it adds to the genre. Lies of P seems like an excellent example of that concept.
While watching Adam play, I noticed that there seemed to be an element of weapon customization wherein you can attach different blades to different hilts of swords you find in the world. That alone adds a whole new layer of excitement to looting and exploration.
No Place For Bravery
Ryan: I’m not particularly good at rogue-lites/likes (20+ hours for first Hades run), but I enjoy them quite a bit. Luckily for me, No Place for Bravery seems a lot more forgiving than most other games in the genre.
The art style is gorgeous, the sound design is nice and crunchy, the combat feels tight, and the OST is excellent. There’s an execution feature that is super stylish and gross, I liked that. I even got a little pin from the dev team for my lanyard for beating the demo boss.
Adam: No Place For Bravery stuck with me after the show.
We even listened to some songs released from the OST on the way back home from PAX. I’m excited to see how the Soulslike combat shakes out throughout a full game and what skills you can unlock to keep growing as a warrior. The thing that intrigued me the most about the game was the world.
That vista of your city inside the ribcage of a giant’s skeleton was a site to behold and makes me excited to see the other areas of the world.
Tanner: What interested me about No Place For Bravery during our 30-minute behind-closed-doors demo was the presenter’s emphasis on the developers and the themes they wanted to explore in the game.
The Developers, Glitch Factory, are Brazilian, and not only does the game explore some themes from Brazilian folklore, but also themes of toxic masculinity that are still prevalent in Brazilian culture.
No Place For Bravery launches September 22nd on PC & Switch. Read our review here.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Ryan: The three of us have been chugging through Divinity: Original Sin 2, and wow. Baldur’s Gate 3 looks like someone gave the team three times the development budget and told them to go hog wild. BG3 also won PAX West 2022: Coolest booth of the Show award, we got to demo the game inside a castle.
Adam: Yeah, that booth was fantastic, but honestly, nothing can top the 20 minutes we spent with the game. It’s taking everything in me not to purchase the Early Access build and play the first act, but I know it will be more rewarding to play the full game together. Larian Studios has gone all out with this one.
Zooming in on the battlefield and following your character through the overworld, combined with the new conversation camera, takes that roleplaying immersion to another level. And from what we saw, the voice acting remains top-notch. Combine that with the new combat flourishes, and we are in for a truly cinematic CRPG experience.
Tanner: I watched Adam and Ryan play co-op for their 20-minute demo and act as the communicator since their monitors were back to back and the showroom floor was busy and loud. I saw probably the most visually impressive party-focused turn-based RPG experience.
Hilariously, you actually see DnD 20-sided dice roll as a move gets checked. It’s almost like a little reminder that, yes, you’re still playing this awesomely nerdy RPG even though visually it looks more grandeur than a majority of titles from any genre of the last five years.
This game took the show for me.
Adam: A game I am looking forward to after the show is Wanted: Dead. We were lucky enough to get a behind closed doors game demo, which impressed me. You could tell there were still some bugs to work out, but the game looked genuinely pretty and the combat was gory, kinetic, and fun.
It seems like the devs put a lot of care into making your band of mercenaries have quite the over-the-top personalities. The loading screen was a play on a popular meme that garnered a laugh from all 3 of us at the table.
Ryan: While we didn’t get a lot of time during our closed-doors hands-on, Dust & Neon looked and felt very good. It’s a twin-stick western shooter with rogue-lite elements and a beautiful cell-shaded aesthetic. The catch is that it has a more thorough “active reload” system, a la Gears of War. Instead of just nailing a perfect reload, you’re tasked with chambering each individual round into the gun that you’re using. For each weapon in your arsenal, your reload style will be different, forcing you to become familiar with the reloading and firing of each gun. It felt like a left-brain right-brain sort of exercise as you slide into cover, trying to survive while juggling everything else on the screen.
I’m looking forward to more Dust & Neon in 2023.
Tanner: A game that I didn’t think a lot of while playing but that has stuck in my mind ever since is Paper Ghost Stories: Third Eye Open. This is the next installment in a point-and-click horror anthology inspired by Malaysian myths.
The game is presented in a 2.5D format with the art style making everything look as if it was made out of paper to mimic the famous Chinese and Malaysian paper theaters. The game even has the voice-over done using slang terms and dialects used in those regions with asterisks explaining the meaning of a word that might not make sense in context to a westerner.
The game is very intriguing, and I can’t wait to dive deeper into it.