Steam Next Fest has already consumed the entirety of my week with an endless serving of incredible indie demos to try out prior to their slated releases. Hype, anticipation (and for myself, a separate bank account for the near dozen Indies I’ve had to Wishlist) have well and truly set in, so I thought I’d share a list of some of my favourites that you either need to try out before Next Fest ends, or get onto your wish-lists as soon as possible.
Planet of Lana
Planet of Lana is absolutely beautiful, and I think is the epitome of what Next Fest has to showcase to the wider gaming community. Set on a planet that used to be a paradise of undisturbed balance between humans, nature and animals, which now has transformed into something else entirely, due to the arrival of a faceless army. But this is not a story about war. This is a story about a vibrant, beautiful planet and the journey to keep it that way.
Throughout the game, you’ll explore your way through multiple puzzles and diverse challenges throughout some gorgeously designed locations. There’s also a really unique emphasis on companion based gameplay, without a really gripping story that I can’t wait to experience throughout its entirety. One image alone doesn’t do the game justice, and it’s a game that really needs to be experienced rather than just seen, so check it out while you still can.
Fabeldom feels like it was designed directly for someone like me, in the best kind of way. Set in a world where Fairytales have become reality, you’ll grow your village; spectate your citizens’ lives and watch the rise and fall of your relationships with the neighbouring kingdoms. It’s essentially a medieval town-management game, but offers some really great features around interactions with other kingdoms that I feel is a really unique feature in this genre of game.
Throughout your time ruling, you’ll explore a fairytale world filled with giants, witches, flying pigs and hidden secrets, alongside building a flourishing economy, romancing potential advantageous members of neighbouring kingdoms and defending your Kingdom against vile minions or hostile armies that have grown jealous of your immense wealth. If you’re looking for a new medieval simulation type game, with some strategy elements and a variety of ways to play – Fabledom is the game for you.
Mask of Fury
Yes, Mask of Fury is just Gang Beasts with weapons and more ‘buff’ rag-dolls, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly fun to play (especially with a few friends). For those unfamiliar with the style of game, it’s essentially a party-brawler with rag doll physics, where you’ll fight to be the last one standing in variety of unique maps in either local or online co-op (or solo against A.I). You’ll choose between 8 unique fighters with varying ‘super’ moves, and scramble to pickup weapons or boosters to gain an edge in each fight.
A unique offering from the game is the inclusion of a 15-mission campaign, which admittedly doesn’t hold a lot of depth, but is a welcomed feature nonetheless that acts as a nice introduction/tutorial of sorts. Additionally, having the option to just jump straight in against A.I’s, instead of needing a full lobby of real players is an excellent feature, despite how quirky the A.I can act at times. If you’re looking for a bit of chaotic fun with some friends and haven’t already experienced Gang Beasts, it’s definitely worth a download while the demo’s still available on Next Fest!
Void Train is phenomenal and I can’t believe that this game is still in development despite all it already has to offer. In it, you play as an engineer thrust into a strange and mysterious void where you’ll build, upgrade and protect your train from various enemies in an attempt to survive the surreal landscapes thrown at you from the new world you inhabit. It’s a co-op, FPS survival game with incredibly beautiful (and at times, terrifying) world design.
The void you inhabit is an incredibly dangerous place, and you’ll face a variety of enemies on your way: from regular soldiers to bloodthirsty sharks. You can craft and customize your weapons and equipment in an attempt to stand against multiple enemy waves in arenas, clear outposts or simply fight for your life.
My favourite part of the game is – you don’t simply expand upon a pre-existing train, but you’ll build it yourself from scratch. You start with an empty trolley and develop it into a proper train with multiple wagons, weapon attachments and an advanced engine to suit you and your companions desired schemes. For those who simply can’t wait, Void Train is already available in early access on the Epic Games store, or of course; you can try the demo on Next Fest.
Ravenbound is a fast-paced action game that combines the challenge of a roguelite in the freedom of a beautiful open world. In it, you play as a vessel to the Raven, a weapon forged by Gods who were imprisoned, and your objective is to free them and restore order to the fictional island you inhabit. There’s a heavy emphasis on permadeath in Ravenbound, as you’ll lose your vessel each time you die, but you can return as a new vessel with stronger abilities.
Combat is very fast-paced, as you’ll hack and slash your way through incrementally difficult creatures. The entire combat system feels really smooth, and as you begin to upgrade your character to suit your preferred play style, the entire experience becomes hard to put down. If it’s not clear, I’m a bit of a sucker for medieval/mythological themed games, so this one is right up my alley.
Wandering Sword caught my eye straight away from a visual perspective, as it borrows the same sort of 2.5D styled graphics you’d find in a game like Octopath Traveller, as it merges the beauty of pixel art in a beautiful 3D scenes. Gameplay wise, it’s a fairly familiar JRPG, with some unique approaches to combat and an enriching story (from what I’ve played thus far).
Combat is conducted on a tiled board with the unique mechanic of switching between turn-based or real-time combat. The turn-based mode is what you’d expect from a traditional JRPG and suited for those who want to play a slower pace, whereas the real-time mode has an emphasis on quick decision-making and on-your-feet thinking. It’s a really fun way of spicing up the traditional JRPG formula, which is further complimented by the interesting story and characters. I’m really keen to dive more into this one when it releases fully.
Sons of Valhalla
Having some previous demo experience with Sons of Valhalla, I was overjoyed to see it as an inclusion in Steam’s Next Fest. Sons of Valhalla combines side-scrolling combat with base-building strategy in a beautiful pixel-art Viking Age world. You play as Thorald Olavson, a warrior hell-bent on tracking down the Jarl who burned down his home, stole his beloved, and fled to distant England, and if that isn’t enough motivation to burn your blood, I don’t know what is.
Base-building is key to everything in Sons of Valhalla, as you’ll need to actively manage your economy and send out well-planned raids to stay afloat the ever-changing Nordic environment you find yourself in. The more money you bring in, the better weaponry you can acquire/craft, which results in increased chances of successful raids, which then steadily increases your power and renown, to draw more warriors to your cause. I’m finally living my Nordic fantasy in Sons of Valhalla, and I’m loving every second of it.
If you know absolutely anything about me, you might already be able to tell why this game consumed a lot of my time throughout Next Fest – cozy gamers, get excited! Pixelshire is a sandbox and simulation game that draws heavy inspiration from games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing with a heavy emphasis on its pixel-based visuals.Your primary objective is to develop the perfect town and farm, through physically carving the landscape to suit your needs and ideal layout. You’ll control your townsfolk actions as they farm, mine, fight or simply relax in your cute township.
The demo available only scratches the surface of what the game is going to offer at release, which includes house and town decoration, shop management, continent exploration, procedurally generated islands, variety of trades/skills, further farming options and social interactions. This is one I am anxiously awaiting a full release for, so I can experience everything it has to offer.
Dark and Darker
I can already foresee the mass-popularity that Dark and Darker is going to receive (and for very good reason). It’s essentially a medieval fantasy battle Royale meets The Division, and if that doesn’t explain all you need to know about this game, allow me to elaborate. The primary draw of Dark and Darker is that it’s an extraction looter, which acts similarly to a battle royale, except if you manage to survive, you keep the goods you leave with. I’d say this will arguably be the most popular game in Next Fest, sheerly due to the wild interactions you can have with other players.
You and up to three friends or strangers select your fantasy class, and then venture into a maze-like dungeon to defeat gruesome monsters in search of vast treasures, with the only catch being that there’s multiple other trios seeking the exact same treasure. It is the most fun I’ve had in a battle-royale type game in a LONG time (it could be entirely due to the fact that it’s medieval themed, but I think it’s more than that). I can’t really summarize it much more than I have, but I highly suggest you grab two of your closest friends and give this one a go.
Bleak Sword DX
It wouldn’t be an indie game list without a little bit of Devolver Digital now would it? Bleak Sword DX is a dark fantasy action game port for the critically acclaimed Apple Arcade version of the game, which puts you in the perspective of challenging warriors to fight their way through compact, cursed diorama battlefields. To explain it simply: it’s a brutal combat game with some RPG elements that has you fighting through masses of enemies to successfully clear each level
Each level is a pixelated diorama, with a large variety of stages and enemies. I’ll be upfront and say I played the ever-living life out of this on the Apple Arcade, and was just over-the-moon excited to see that it was getting a PC port (and from Devolver of all people). The new PC port has improve controls, three new game modes and graphical/gameplay improvements as well.