I saw a bunch of cool games at PAX East, but most of them didn’t match up regarding both quality and intrigue when compared to what I saw from publisher Annapurna Interactive.
Since being established in 2016, Annapurna has quickly built itself a phenomenal portfolio of games that include gems such as What Remains of Edith Finch and Gorogoa. In 2018, Annapurna Interactive doesn’t only seem to be prepared to launch their best slate of games so far, but they might boast one of the industry’s best lineups as a whole.
In total, I checked out five games at Annapurna Interactive’s booth and came away with positive impressions from nearly all of them. Here’s a more detailed look at each game that I saw during my short meeting with the publisher: Ashen, Donut County, Due Process, Wattam, and Outer Wilds.
You might remember Ashen from Microsoft’s E3 press conference last year, as it was the first time we had heard from the game in quite some time. Ashen is an open-world action RPG with a bleak art style that finds you in the shoes of a wanderer who is merely looking for a place to call home.
Ashen plays a bit like a mix between Journey and — I hate this comparison — Dark Souls. Combat and movement are very much akin to what you would find in a Souls-like game, but it also boasts Journey‘s drop-in/drop-out style of multiplayer. Over the course of your adventure, you’ll run into many other players, but how you approach these folks will be left up to you. It’s this aspect of Ashen that intrigues me the most.
Ashen might be the game that I played the least out of this lineup, so it’s a bit harder for me to pass too many judgments on it thus far. I’m very intrigued by the game’s grim world and dreary art style, but I was left wanting a bit more when it comes to its gameplay mechanics. Even for a Dark Souls clone, the combat actions felt just a bit too stiff and slow.
Luckily, I was told by one of the game’s developers that the further you get into Ashen, the more your stamina meter extends until you begin to feel more like a ninja and less like someone slogging through mud. Ashen definitely has my attention and I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into it further later this year.
Out of everything I saw at Annapurna Interactive, Donut County was hands-down my favorite. This is one game I’ve had my eye on for quite some time, and being able to finally play two of its levels made me extremely happy.
While there might not be a ton of mechanical depth to Donut County, the simple act of swallowing up objects and growing in size as a hole was one of the most satisfying things I have done in a game in a good while. Each new item that I dropped into my hole felt akin to scratching a hard-to-reach itch. The longer I played Donut County, the more I found myself just relaxing and slumping into an almost trance-like state. It’s hard to explain, but man did this game mellow me out quickly.
Outside of playing a handful of levels from Donut County, I also got a peek at some of its story and characters. Much like its previous trailers, the game definitely seems to have some irreverent humor and witty writing. Assuming that these jokes land with others the same way they landed with me, there’s going to be a lot to like in the final package. Donut County is easily one of my most anticipated indie games of the year, and I really hope to play more of it sooner rather than later.
Due Process was the one game from Annapurna’s booth that I came away a bit hesitant with. Even though I had some gratifying moments in this multiplayer tactical shooter, I didn’t find it all that unique.
Due Process finds you teaming up with a group of four others to either attack or defend a procedurally-generated map. This procedural generation is one of the leading selling points of Due Process as it promises to be a new experience in each subsequent round of play. That said, I found the maps that were generated in my time with the game to be pretty underwhelming. In fact, I’m not really into the idea of randomly-generated multiplayer maps as a whole: I find that the best multiplayer maps in shooter history have always been finely-crafted levels that developers agonize over carefully to create the best possible experience.
As for the tactical part of Due Process, the game allows you and your teammates to draw on the map to plan out your attack strategy before engaging in combat. While this is a good idea in theory, I really don’t think it’s a big enough selling point to set Due Process apart from other tactical shooters.
Due Process definitely seems well-made and I enjoyed my time playing it, but I struggled to see how it stands out in the current market. Fortunately, developer Giant Enemy Crab still has plenty of time to work out the details as Due Process is one of the only games I saw that is currently not scheduled to release in 2018.
Wattam made me so, so happy. I’m almost positive that over the course of my fifteen minutes with this odd little game, I never once stopped smiling.
Wattam is from the brilliant mind of Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy, and I promise you it’s every bit as wacky as his past work. The game opens with you controlling a mayor who is all alone on an island. Soon enough though, the mayor’s loneliness ends and new characters begin pouring into this world to bring light and thrills to the mayor’s once empty island. The longer I played, new characters such as a tree, a toilet, poop, and a bowling pin started arriving in this world.
The actual gameplay of Wattam is all about figuring out how these characters interact with one another. For instance, the bowling pin character in this demo wanted me to assemble a character of equal size to itself. After I stacked four of the smaller poop characters on top of one another, I went and spoke to Mr. Bowling Pin to see his reaction. Upon doing so, this advanced me further in the game and introduced a new character to my ever-growing island.
By the time I had reached the end of my time with Wattam, I had started to see a bit more about how the game might play hours into the experience. My demo guide even briefly compared it to The Legend of Zelda which is a comparison that I find apt considering each character has a different ability that might not interact with someone else until later in the game. Learning and remembering each of these abilities and how they communicate with others is the basis of Wattam and I’m excited to experiment with them all.
I still have a lot of questions about Wattam, but if it exudes the same amount of happiness hours into the experience as it did in my brief session, then I’ll be pleased.
After going dark for a few years, Outer Wilds reemerged at PAX East and it seemed to be in a reasonably polished state. This first-person adventure game finds you in a solar system that is stuck in a time loop. Each time you die, you restart with both the knowledge that you gained in your previous life and once again set out into the cosmos.
Most of my time with Outer Wilds consisted of trying to get a bearing on the somewhat confusing controls and learning how to travel between planets in my character’s ship. After figuring out these basics, I began to venture out a bit more onto specific planets on foot to see what they might hide. Unfortunately, I died too many times in my own demo to get very far into any of the secrets that may be hidden in this universe and had to continue restarting.
Outer Wilds was hard to get a read on during my short time with it. There are some games at conventions that are simply hard to demo given the environment, and I think Outer Wilds might be one of those experiences. Outer Wilds at its core seems to be about experimentation and exploration, two things that are hard to compress into a fifteen-minute experience. This is going to be one of those games that I want to sit down with late at night and slowly sink my teeth into to learn more about all of its ins and outs.
If it wasn’t made clear already, I think the best part of Annapurna’s upcoming slate of games is that there seems to be something for everyone. From the more casual titles like Wattam and Donut County to the hardcore multiplayer experience that is Due Process, I think every gamer can likely find something in this lineup to look forward.
While they might not be the biggest name in publishing, there’s no doubt that Annapurna Interactive is on the rise and if my early (although short) time with some of these games is any indication, they’ll likely have more than one hit on their hands this year.