PAX East was held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center this weekend for the first time since March 2020. Developers, gamers, and publishers returned, not in droves, but with temptations. Despite vaccine and mask requirements at the convention center, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over and its impact on the event was unmistakable. Major publishers like Sony, Nintendo, Bungie, and Square Enix were absent, and even the biggest presentations in the main theater, like The Gearbox Show, had plenty of empty seats.
Although a considerably smaller show than previous years, PAX East 2020 was refreshingly intimate. Without the major spectacle and opulence, the show was able to get back to basics, in a sense. This weekend was dedicated to discovering new independent games. It wasn’t the most exciting year at PAX, but it was everything PAX is supposed to be.
It was certainly hard to ignore how many of the usual suspects were missing. Gearbox had one of the biggest booths, and the only games it demonstrated were games that were already available, like Tiny Tina’s Wonderland, Tribes of Midgard, and Have a Nice Death. Larian Studios had an elaborate booth for Baldur’s Gate 3, but the demo that was available to play didn’t have any new content that isn’t currently available in-game. Devolver Digital was there to show off Cult of the Lamb and Terra Nil , among others.
Tiny Build had the biggest booth, with games like TinyKin, Hello Neighbor 2, Potion Craft and Rawmen on display. Focus Home brought Evil West to show for the first time, while YSBRYD brought World of Horror to show for the umpteenth time. Thunderful’s booth featured LEGO Bricktales, and Apogee brought their new boomer shooter, Turbo Overkill. If you were looking for the big blockbusters of 2022 like Saints Row, Starfield, Pokemon Scarlet & Violet, Gotham Knights or God of War Ragnarok, you’re not going to find them.
Without big triple-A games, there weren’t many big concentrations of players lining up like there are usually. Large groups have formed around Tiny Build, Gearbox, and Nimble Neuron’s Eternal Return MOBA battle royale in 2020, surprisingly. For the most part, attendees were spread around all the different booths from indie developers, smaller publishers, and the PAX Rising showcase, exploring the show and learning about exciting new games.
I found a lot to like at the show this year. Horror publisher DreadXP made its convention debut this year with a selection of new and upcoming horror games that I was very impressed with. I had a blast with WrestleQuest and a classic turn-based RPG about pro wrestling, and saw some promising projects in the PAX Rising showcase, including Hostile Mars, an open-world, base-building, defense game tower that looks like a cross between Satisfactory and Dungeon Defenders. I walked to more stalls to play games I had never heard of than any PAX before, and I could tell a lot of people were having the same experience.
Another advantage of the low turnout was the almost total absence of marks. PC gaming hardware and peripheral companies like BenQ, Intel, Gunnar Optiks and PNY were there, but I didn’t see the mass of junk brands that usually clutter the living room. There were no credit card companies, no massage guns, and only one gaming chair stand (Yogibo bean bags, and they’re comfy as hell). I haven’t even seen a single energy powder for sale. The only major brand there was Excedrin, and they offered free headache medicine and hand massages next to the PAX Arena, so I’m inclined to give them a pass. There were trade stands selling retro games and boutique tabletop accessories as you’d expect, but for once PAX didn’t feel infiltrated by the capitalists.
I love a great show full of reveals and hot demos. I’m sad that E3 isn’t happening this year, and I’d love to see shows like PAX take over. I would hate to see major publishers pull out of live events and conventions altogether, because I still think in-person events have a lot of social value.
At the same time, I have to admit that, thanks to its smaller scale, PAX East 2022 was quaint, almost dated, and I had a good time. Surely some were disappointed that there weren’t more top games to play, but if you took the time to look around and see what was out there I guarantee you’ll would have found something exciting.
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