We’ve already highlighted a ton of great games that we had the chance to demo at PAX West 2023, but some of the best titles at the show this year were ones that look to be experimenting with storytelling in new or compelling ways, often innovating with game mechanics too. Here are just a handful of narrative-rich games that we had the opportunity to play during Seattle’s big annual gaming expo – and if you’re a fan of particularly off-the-wall premises and presentation, you’ll have even more to look forward to.
Long Gone Days
Developer: This I Dreamt | Publisher: Serenity Forge | October 10, 2023
One of my biggest surprises from PAX West this year, this dark narrative-rich game tells a story about the traumas of war from the perspective of a soldier during a fictional European conflict. Protagonist Rourke is a sniper who was trained from birth for a future role working for The Core, a paramilitary state that resides entirely underground. The game explores his personal journey of self-discovery through the lens of a conflict that is opaque and brutal, as he bonds with the various members of his crew and interacts with civilians caught in the crossfire.
The thing that impressed me the most about my demo with the game was how effectively it sucked me into its world, which is oppressive and bleak, but feels grounded in reality thanks to the well-written characters and detailed environmental art. There’s various ways to engage in combat, too, from first-person sniping to close-quarters turn-based combat that has the player targeting specific body parts to cripple enemies. The melancholic music is the icing on the cake, and helps underscore the moral ambiguity of the world and the brutality of the conflict at hand. I can’t wait to play more of this one – if the rest of the game as good as the slice of the demo I played, Long Gone Days could be very special indeed.
World of Horror
Developer: Panstasz | Publisher: Ysbyrd Games | Release Date: Oct. 19, 2023
Released on PC in Early Access a few years back, World of Horror is a avant-garde horror RPG that plays like an old-school adventure game, with a big focus of making choices that will dramatically affect your playthrough. The game is a series of (seemingly) self-contained investigations, in which the players will investigate strange and unsettling occurrences in a mysterious Japanese town. Each story scenario has elements that will change between playthroughs, meaning that if poor choices or bad luck lead your detective to an early death, your next attempt at the story may have you encountering completely different characters and situations. You have limited actions you can perform in a day, and each path you wander down will close another route, so it feels like every choice you make in World of Horror could potentially have a dramatic impact.
The art is surprisingly detailed considering its intentionally limited style (it was, to my delight, drawn in Microsoft Paint of all things) and its very unsettling chiptune soundtrack. Combat, when it occurs, feels very D&D like with elements like skill checks and environmental improvisation. This game feels like it will be great for both pick-up-and-play and deep role-playing sessions, and I’m looking forward to playing this one on the Switch when it launches.
Ebenzer & The Invisible World
Developer: Orbit Studio/Play on Worlds | Publisher: Play on Worlds | Nov. 3, 2023
If you had told me a year ago that someone was trying to make a Metroidvania based on the characters from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I don’t think I would have believed you. But this is a real game that I played, and not only does it work, but it’s a really fun take on the genre that feels fresh thanks to its unique setting. Ebenezer will ally with the restless spirits of his deceased acquaintances to help free London “from the clutches of a wealthy industrialist,” in a journey that takes place across a large, interconnected map that encompasses multiple parts of the city. While Ebenezer will be teaming up with ghosts who have unresolved business, which naturally seems rife for storytelling as players will uncover their stories from their mortal days, their presence also affects Ebenezer’s slkillset as they grant him powerful abilities to let him traverse the world in new ways. The hand-drawn art is beautiful, and although this is a new story it seems to maintain a lot of respect for the source material. I’ll be interested to see how this game will reinvent the classic holiday character when Ebenzer & The Invisible World launches this November.
Roman Sands RE:Build
Developer: Arbitrary Metric | Publisher: Serenity Forge | 2023 – TBC
I’m not going to pretend that I know exactly what’s going on with this one, but if you like games that embrace weirdness and demand a lot of thinking to figure out what’s going on, then this one might be for you. Roman Sands RE:Build is a first-person puzzle/exploration game that seems to take place in a time loop; the experience takes place in a strange hotel that accommodates a small group of very demanding guests (who are all kinda jerks to you) as they ask you perform various hospitality services for them. There are hints that something is very, very strange about this place – is it some type of virtual simulation? Is it some weird post-apocalyptic haven for the rich? My demo had next to no answers, and the game seemed uninterested in handing them to me; this is the sort of experience where unraveling the central mystery and who all the players are is a key focus of the experience. It’s got a little bit of Suda51 arthouse strangeness to it, and while it’s all very creative, I feel like I need a lot more time with this one before I’ll be able to understand it fully.
Developer: Nautilus Games | Publisher: Ysbyrd Games | 2024 – TBC
In Everdeep Aurora, the apocalypse is nigh; the surface of the planet is being battered by an onslaught of meteors, and so this world’s population of anthropomorphic animals have settled underground. You play as Shell, a young kitten who is missing her mother; using her drill, she burrows through the caverns of this underground labyrinth, where she’ll interact with its eclectic residents, many who are also dealing with their own stresses. The underground world is filled with secrets to discover in tucked away rooms, and though you wield a powerful tool, there’s no combat to speak of. The game has incredible art direction, compelling exploration and tight platforming; if this looks even remotely up your alley, I think there’s a good chance you’ll have as much fun with it as I did.
Developer: Bad Ridge Games | Publisher: V Publishing | 2024 – TBC
A bit different than some of the other games on this list, Mirthwood is a somewhat freeform fantasy RPG that has life-simulation elements and a big focus on discovery. The game’s developers described it to me as partially being inspired by Fable – one of their goals is to simply drop you into this big world and let you carve your own path. While there is a critical path to follow if you so choose, the game also is setting up a world in which potentially any NPC could have an interesting questline to send you on if you ask them about the latest rumors around town. Smaller stories can pop up from seemingly anywhere, and like many great RPGs, your origins and background that you decide at the start of the game can affect how characters interact with you. Some of the potential backgrounds players can choose from include actor, tinkerer, and criminal, and there’s also an in-game morality system that tracks player choices. Bandits and dangerous creatures roam the wilderness outside of population hubs, and there are been survival elements at play to manage like hunger and energy. The game is attempting to do a lot, so it remains to be seen just how many of its grand ambitions it will be able to pull off, but its boldness is a big part of what makes it so compelling to me.
Which of these games interests you the most, and what makes a narrative-focused game appealing to you? Let us know in the comments!