7 Indie Games That Crushed It at PAX West 2016

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There were a lot of really great demos at PAX West this year. We've already counted down a few of the demos that blew us away, but we also wanted to turn the spotlight onto some of the awesome indie titles that stole our hearts on the show floor. 

Between the Indie Megabooth, the PAX 10, the Nindies, and many more programs aimed at helping indie developers get their games out there, there were lots of non-AAA games exhibiting everything they have to offer. And from Viking-inspired point-and-clicks to genre-bending mashups, the lineup was pretty impressive. Here were some of our favorites. 

State of Mind

Daedalic Entertainment

German developer Daedalic, which was previously well-known for its point-and-click games, showcased this sci-fi thriller alongside games like Long Journey Home. Deeply influenced by the concept of transhumanism, State of Mind grapples with the idea of consciousness -- particularly consciousness that has been uploaded and tampered with by futuristic technology. 

You play as protagonist Richard Nolan, who is suffering from memory loss after a failed consciousness upload. As you try to piece together your own memories in a dystopian future, you eventually come across another version of yourself -- one who is also incomplete, but living in a more utopian virtual world. As he tries to renegotiate these two selves and reunite with his family, Richard learns that his quest is much bigger than himself, and may impact the future of all mankind. 

While chatting with developer Martin Ganteföhr -- who has created many adventure games before and is intrigued with the possibilities of a well-written, interactive narrative -- I learned that State of Mind is heavily focused on its narrative decisions, which will deeply impact gameplay at every turn. 

With a fractured, angular art style that matches the shattered psyche of its protagonist, State of Mind is shaping up to be a fascinating cyberpunk adventure that will make you re-think the idea of memory and self when it drops early next year. 

Diluvion

Arachnid Games/Gambitious Entertainment

With the rise of space exploration games like No Man's Sky, many developers are creating games that explore another sort of uncharted territory -- the deep blue sea. While many games, like the recently released Abzu, are focused on a more ethereal, relaxed exploration of the underwater world, Diluvion takes a more stylized approach. 

You and a customizable crew must pilot a steampunk-inspired submarine through beautiful and often treacherous aquatic depths. Led to each quest destination by a school of luminescent orange fish (reminiscent of the glowing Fable guides), you must improve your submarine and its weapons, and explore this new frontier of human civilization that's been driven underwater by a great flood. 

Diluvion is a blast to play, and even more fun to look at. Even its darkest depths are illuminated with colorful accents, and the mixture of gorgeous 3D environments with more stylized 2D interior cells works brilliantly. Just don't let the aesthetic distract you too much -- because that seemingly innocuous ridge could be a giant spider creature waiting to swallow your submarine whole. 

Death Squared

SMG Studio

This hella-fun couch co-op puzzler already made an appearance on our recap of favorite PAX demos. But it's so enjoyable (and so addictive) that it's worth mentioning twice. 

Death Squared aims to facilitate an aspect of gaming that has gotten lost in the rise of online multiplayer -- the simple fun of LAN play. Designed to get people talking to each other and requiring a fair amount of cooperation and strategy to complete levels, this game was one of the few that I visited more than once during my rounds on the PAX show floor. 

It's cute, it's challenging, and it's set for release later this year on PC and consoles. If you're looking for a great game to play with friends, family, or that significant other who just can't get into first-person shooters, you should definitely keep Death Squared in mind. 

The Frostrune

Grimnir Media/Snow Cannon Games

Though you may not expect to hear this about a point-and-click, The Frostrune is a beautifully designed game. Heavily inspired by Viking mythology, this mobile adventure has you unraveling the mysteries of a Norse village steeped in legend and lore. 

The developers at Grimnir Media carefully crafted this game to be as faithful a recreation of the Viking age as possible. Almost every detail is painstakingly based in historical evidence, and the amount of care put into this game's creation is apparent from the moment you enter its world. Each painting-like environment drips with a sense of magic and intrigue. 

Only a little while away from its full launch, The Frostrune will be coming to both PC and mobile devices -- the latter being a vastly underused platform for point-and-clicks. But the game has been optimized wonderfully for touch screens, so it'll be a great game to pick up and play during those few free moments you have during bus rides and bathroom breaks. 

Hand of Fate 2

Defiant Development

Hand of Fate 2 was hands-down (ha!) one of my favorite indie demos at PAX this year. This sequel to the well-received Hand of Fate (2015) mashes up deckbuilding, old-school RPG elements, and a great battle mechanic to make a memorable game. 

A mysterious card dealer arranges a series of cards which will decide what encounters you face during each level. You may end up recruiting a new companion, selling/buying items at the store, or facing enemies to come closer to completing your quest. Each dungeon is procedurally generated, so no two encounters will be the same. 

The combat in this game is reminiscent of games like the Batman: Arkham series or Shadow of Mordor -- and that's a great thing. It's fluid, fun, and fits in perfectly with the game's RPG and card game elements. I picked it up pretty quickly, and actually looked forward to battle encounters just so I could keep hacking and slashing my way through. 

Hand of Fate 2 is set for release in early 2017, and should definitely be on your wishlist if you enjoy genre-bending games that are pure, addictive fun. 

ChronoBlade

nWay

ChronoBlade is an action RPG that has been out for a while in Eastern countries. But now nWay is bringing this fast-paced mobile game to the Western market as well. 

Like most mobile RPGs, ChronoBlade uses an energy system that requires you to spend certain amounts of energy to explore each dungeon. There are microtransactions included for those who want more energy, powerups, less grind, etc. But it's 100% possible to play without ever paying a dime. 

Designed to bring a console-like game experience, complete with all the nuances and depth that consoles offer, ChronoBlade is packed with features and uses a control scheme that will feel like second nature to console players. (During my demo, CEO Taehoon Kim actually pulled out a physical console peripheral and played the game that way, making a seamless transition between the two.) 

There's loads of customization, weapon upgrades, and more available to players. The combat is fast-paced and levels move by quickly, making it an easy game to pick up and play for a bit when you have a few spare minutes. 

Tunnels & Trolls: Naked Doom

MetaArcade

Tunnels & Trolls is RPG legend. Originally a tabletop game -- and actually the second RPG ever published -- this IP from designer Ken St. Andre is getting a digital facelift as the development team at MetaArcade brings it to mobile devices.

This choose-your-own adventure title is a welcomed return to what made RPGs so great. You're free to pick from a number of branching paths that will ultimately lead you to great success or a horrible demise. (I got eaten by a Balrog. And eviscerated by bats. And drowned in beer...) Accompanied by a rich narrative and hand-drawn images, Tunnels & Trolls: Naked Doom is a great game for anyone who wants the DnD experience without sinking hours into minimal progress on a campaign. 

This is also the first title that's being published on MetaArcade's Adventures platform -- a build-your-own RPG maker geared toward people who want to make great narrative games without needing any tech knowledge. When it's released for public use, creators will be able to write their own stories, choose their own art from a wealth of genres/styles, and eventually publish their games for the world to enjoy (with a nice slice of the profits, too). 

This is definitely a game I'll be keeping an eye on when it makes its full release, and I look forward to creating some of my own masterpieces through the Adventures platform as well. 

That wraps up our list! What were some of your favorite indie games at PAX? Let me know in the comments below!

Published Sep. 8th 2016

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