Day three of PAX East 2023 has come and gone. All that remains now are thoughts to think and words to type.
But enough with the Frost-isms. Saturday gave me my best look yet into all that PAX East 2023 has to offer. And now I offer you, dear reader, my impressions.
From small indies to AAA behemoths, these were the eight best games of the day:
What it is: Forspoken, but it’s actually good
Who’s making it: Deck13 (developer) and Focus Entertainment (publisher)
Why it’s great: When I requested my Atlas Fallen appointment, I did so simply because it seemed like one of the few “high profile” games present at the show. And while I came in with few expectations, I left with far greater possibilities on my mind.
Atlas Fallen is an open-world action RPG that’s made headlines with its sand-based exploration. As I traversed a sprawling desert landscape, I glided over dunes, dashed over chasms, and battled sand critters with a whip-and-hammer arsenal. As I explored, I encountered all the typical “open world-isms”: Waypoints, quest givers, and upgrade benches abounded.
On paper, it’s standard fare, but several things stood out to me. Traversal feels as good as it looks, with a Forspoken-esque sense of speed and agility. Unlike Square Enix’s latest, Atlas Fallen brings the goods with its writing, voice acting, and technical prowess. Combat, though a bit “floatly,” is flashy and responsive. (Think Kingdom’s of Amalur over Devil May Cry.) And while my time was limited, the quests I did all felt unique and worth pursuing.
Don’t be mistaken: It’s not the next Witcher 3. But Atlas Fallen stands to carve out an intriguing niche when it launches later this spring.
When it’s coming out: May 16, 2023
Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles
What it is: An open-world city builder with hints of real-time strategy
Who’s making it: Tomas Sala (developer) and Wired Productions (publisher)
Why it’s great: As solo developer Tomas Sala walked me through his PAX build of Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles, I couldn’t help but admire his vision. An open-world city builder, Bulkwark lets players make the world their canvas, Bob Ross style. With a vast map, minimal interface, and “no mistakes” mantra, Falconeer Chronicles invites players to make happy accidents and create the world of their dreams.
The magic of Bulkwark extends beyond building. You can harvest resources, recruit various factions, and do battles with enemies over sky and sea. Layer on a gorgeous aesthetic, and Falconeer Chronicles shows plenty of promise. Best of all, there’s a demo available now, which Tomas continually updates in a refreshing “behind the curtain” gesture for fans.
When it’s coming out: Targeting late 2023/early 2024
What it is: A wonderfully poignant and remarkably gorgeous narrative adventure
Who’s making it: Un Je Ne Sais Quoi & UMANIMATION (developers) and Focus Entertainment (publisher)
Why it’s great: Dordogne is a marvel of French animation. The game tells the story of Mimi, a young woman who has returned to her late grandmother’s home in Dordogne, France, to rekindle lost memories, resolve family mysteries, and find the closure she seeks.
From its crisp, watercolor visuals to its “show, don’t tell” narrative, Dordogne dazzled me as I played through its opening chapters. It empowered me to be my own storyteller, letting me record photos, poetry, and soundbites in Mimi’s journal. (Curiously, this exact same mechanic is used in fellow French indie SEASONS: A Letter to the Future. Maybe French studios share notes?)
Regardless of how Dordogne came to be, I’m thankful. It’s shaping up to be an absolute classic.
When it’s coming out: Spring 2023
Final Fantasy XVI
What it is: I’ll wager $100 you don’t need me to explain this one
Who’s making it: Square Enix (Creative Business Unit III)
Why it’s great: Final Fantasy XVI is one of 2023’s most anticipated gaming releases, and I’m cheating a bit by including it on this list. No, the game wasn’t playable at PAX. But it was shown off in real-time by producer Naoki Yoshida during a live-stream panel. And the more I see, the more excited I get.
Yoshi-P used his panel to address some burning fan concerns surrounding the game. Yes, it has linear sections, but it also has sprawling areas with plenty to see and do. Yes, it has quick-time events, but they’re used sparingly and won’t overstay their welcome. No, Final Fantasy XVI isn’t turn-based, but it has plenty of accessibility features to ensure fans new and old can appreciate the action.
And, most importantly: Yes, you can pet Torgal the dog.
Levity aside, it’s that first bullet point that impressed me most about XVI at PAX. Yoshi-P loaded up a save file, fast-traveled between locations, and ran around to demonstrate the size of the game’s map, all with barely any loading.
The combat looks great, the visuals are stunning, and the voice acting is the finest I’ve heard since Final Fantasy XII. If the narrative holds its weight, this should be a JRPG to remember.
When it’s coming out: June 22, 2023
Shumi Come Home
What it is: A wholesome mix of Pikmin, A Short Hike, and Breath of the Wild
Who’s making it: SomeHumbleOnion (developer) and Mooneye Studios (publisher)
Inspired by classics like Zelda and indie gems like A Short Hike, Shumi Come Home aims to deliver a short but sweet experience that’ll put a smile on anyone’s face. As the tiny mushroom Shumi, you’ll explore open-ended areas, collecting trinkets and completing Korok Seed-esque micro-puzzles. The more you explore, the more abilities you’ll unlock, from gliding and climbing to swimming and sprinting.
It’s a beautiful game that’s a joy to play. Don’t let it slip you by.
When it’s coming out: Q2 2023
The Mageseeker: A League of Legends Story
What it is: The devs behind Moonlighter put their spin on a massive IP
Who’s making it: Digital Sun (developer) Riot Forge (publisher)
Why it’s great: The Mageseeker: A League of Legends Story is a mouthful of a title, but the game itself is far more accessible.
This action RPG stars Sylas, a mage—and popular League of Legend champion—who’s been condemned by the kingdom of Demacia and sentenced to life in prison. When Sylas is freed by his teacher, he gets a chance to track down the Mageseekers who’ve wronged him—and an opportunity to overthrow their regime for good.
Across 10 to 12 hours, Mageseeker will have you slashing and slicing through foes as you complete missions and build up your own rebel cause. There are side quests to complete, abilities to earn, and spells to steal—and turn back on—your enemies.
Whether you’re new to League of Legends or know every piece of lore, Mageseeker offers a self-contained adventure that should appeal to action RPG fans.
When it’s coming out: April 18, 2023
What it is: Final Fantasy Tactics meets smoking smooth jazz
Who’s making it: Twin Otter Studios (developer) and Serenity Forge (publisher)
Why it’s great: I sampled Arcadian Atlas briefly while perusing the show floor. The game stood out to me immediately thanks to its expressive pixel art and gameplay ties to strategy RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. Obvious comparisons aside, the publisher promises a compelling story that delves into mature topics like prejudice. Arcadian Atlas also boasts a killer jazz soundtrack that sold me on the game almost single-handedly.
There’s certainly a competent gameplay system here from what I played, and I look forward to seeing how the game grows in complexity as the campaign progresses. If the gameplay and narrative end up as good as those saxophone licks, we’re in for a treat.
When it’s coming out: TBD
Mina the Hollower
What it is: Oracle of Ages & Seasons get the spiritual successor they deserve
Who’s making it: Yacht Club Games
Why it’s great: Mina the Hollower was my final appointment of the day, and the best was almost certainly saved for last. The latest Kickstarter from Yacht Club Games pays homage to top-down Zelda games—specifically the Oracle of Ages & Seasons duology.
During my brief demo, I navigated the game’s overworld and made my way through a pair of dungeons. As Mina, you can wail on enemies using one of three weapons—a flail, a pair of daggers, or a hammer—and burrow underground to evade attacks. Like any great Zelda-like, there are puzzles to solve, secrets to discover, and bosses to best.
My time with Mina was fleeting, but I had an absolute blast. The game looks and feels like the Zelda games of my childhood, but has the shine of a modern 2023 indie. Yacht Club Games clearly knows what it’s doing to make this game a success, and I can’t wait to see more as the game edges closer to release.
When it’s coming out: TBD