This year’s PAX East was a bit of a strange experience. The last time we attended the show was just weeks before the entire country began shutting down due to the pandemic. After a canceled show in 2021, the Boston Convention Center was once again filled with gaming fans this year, though now all of them were wearing masks (with strict enforcement).
Many of the big-name publishers that were at previous PAX shows were missing this year, whether because of pandemic risks or shrinking promotional travel budgets. That left the usual mix of indie developers and publishers hanging on to their floor space—though not really expanding to fill in the gaps.
Even though the total selection of games on offer seemed smaller, there were plenty of standout titles. Here are the nine games we’ve been thinking about ever since we left Boston.
It’s almost cliché for many indie games these days to simply take two popular genres and smash them together to create a new concept. For Dwerve, though, the combination of an action RPG and a tower defense game works to create something special.
While you can attack the various foes you find in Dwerve directly, you’ll quickly be overwhelmed if you do. Instead, each battle presents a new opportunity to run around while placing various automated defenses to pester the waves of enemies flooding across the countryside.
Positioning is key to maximizing each tower’s damage potential and that of the traps that slow down your foes and ideally funnel them down a hellish path of death. But battles aren’t “set it and forget it” affairs—as the swarms take out your defenses, you have to rush to replace them without simultaneously exposing yourself to damage.
The bog-standard young-boy-goes-out-to-save-the-world story isn’t especially notable, but even that small bit of structure helps provide some shape to the seeming pointlessness of most tower defense games. And while the on-site demo barely went beyond the tutorial stage, the appeal of the core gameplay loop was readily apparent.
On a PAX show floor dominated by high-octane action games, Dordogne felt like a breath of fresh mountain air on a cool spring day. That’s an appropriate feeling for this game, which is all about exploring the countryside of rural France as Mimi, a 32-year-old who just inherited her grandmother’s cottage.
The small slice of the game we played took place well before that inheritance, though, with Mimi exploring her memories of a visit with her grandmother at 10 years old. Wandering through those watercolor memories, Mimi records sounds, takes photos, and grabs stray words from her thoughts to collect in a journal that the player puts together at the end of each in-game day.
The game’s hand-painted environments and thoughtful sound design evoke a childlike wonder, as do little touches like Mimi running around with her hands outstretched at her side like she’s about to take off in Super Mario World. But just underneath that idyllic, carefree facade are strong signs that Mimi is struggling with some traumatic changes in her life and emotions that she’s scarcely equipped to handle.
Even those who didn’t grow up in the French countryside should be able to relate to the painful process of growing up in this charming game.