PAX East Indie round-up: This year we looked at quite a few indie games, here are a couple that caught our eye.
The Dwarves is a tactical RPG being developed by KING Art Games and coming for the PC, X-Box One and PS4. Based on the novel written by German author Markus Heitz. The game follows and expands on the events of the book, with the player playing the part of Tungdil Goldhand, a young dwarf, and also includes many of the characters from the book. Ultimately the player will gather three companions from a possible twleve, and engage in tactical battles against the enemies of the Dwarves, like orcs and dark elves. The game completed a successful Kickstarter last year, and the early gameplay is a lot of fun, using pausable real-time tactical combat, and once you have more than one character to control in a big fight, you'll need that pause button, because the fights are rather frenetic, with the Dwarves being vastly outnumbered more often than not.
Being based on a successful novel means the game is deeply story-driven and the backstory is very detailed and rich. The designers tried to mix up the gameplay a bit, interspesing world map travel with set pieces battles and exploratory zones where you interact with the charcters of the world. These various types of maps keep the player from being burned out on the frantic combat, and allows for lots of investigation of the world, and the story is advanced through cut-scenes and interactions with the characters that live within it.
The Dwaves has an interesting and attractive graphic design, colorful and brooding at the same time, and really suits the subject matter. Each character you conmtrol in combat has several abilities and special moves the can use, each with a short timer to prevent players from spamming the best ones, along with a basic attack that can be used at any time. Controls were a little loose while I was playing, and it took me a few minutes to catch on to the layout, but not jarring enough to stop me from completing the intro battles that I got to play through.
I think for players familiar with the books, which have been fairly popular in their native Germany, I think the chance to explore the world and expand on Tungdil's adventures will be very appealing, and any gamer looking for a deep story and with a fondness for the Dwarven people will definitely want to check it out.
Another interesting indie find was Elex from Piranha Bytes and Nordic. Elex is an open world, action combat RPG, with a Science-Fantasy background, allowing for both medieval-style weapons and armor, as well as technological gimmicks, like lasers and jet boots. In the world of Elex, a new element has been introduced to the world, called Elex. Consuming Elex does a couple of things, firstly, it makes the consumer develop and strengthen magical powers, but it also deadens the consumers emotions. This combination, as you might think, makes exploitation inevitable, and results in a ruling class whose only goal is to amass all the Elex for themselves, the Albs, to the point that they conquer and enslave people to drain as much Elex from them as possible.
Your character is a renegade from this ruling faction, and as his Elex fades away, he experiences emotions for the first time, and he recognizes how villainous his people have become. He vows ro do his best to stop them, and topple their empire, and the game is full of moral decisions and introspective speculation of what it is to be human. Pretty deep stuff for an RPG. Movement and combat are typical of most third person RPG, using the W,A,S,D to move about, right and left mouse clicks to initiate actions, and hot keys for special abilities.
The gameworld is seamless and awfully big, allowing for a great deal of verticality, and players can use their jet boots to access rooftops, ledges and other locations that are located above ground level. The game also has a full day/night cycle, one nice touch was the time it takes for your characters eyes to adjust to the darkness as he passes from brightly lit locations to dark ones. All the NPCs have a daily routine that they follow, jobs to attend to, places to be, and people to see, so they aren't just standing around as if they were waiting for your character to show up in their neighborhoods.
Overall, I will be keeping an eye on this game, to see where it goes from here. I liked the mix of high and low tech, as well as the promise of a truly open world to operate in. I did not get a chance to see the crafting system, but the devs assure me that it will be robust and immersive, so I am holding out hope for this one.