Highlights of Steam Next Fest - June 2023

There were some really nice surprises in this round of Next Fest. Below are a few of the demos that I enjoyed the most. Unfortunately, as always, most of these will release into Early Access first, so it could be another couple of years before we actually get to play them.

En Garde! (Demo)

I describe this as feeling like you're playing Puss in Boots in a Shrek film. It's a light-hearted Spanish sword fighting game, but I think it really has to be played to describe it. You play through a short introduction to the mechanics which involve sword fighting, parrying, kicking and throwing environment objects at enemies, kicking enemies at other enemies. The controls and movement were excellent, it looks like a Pixar film, lots of attention to detail. Everything came together really well to make me excited about playing the full game.

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The Invincible (Demo)

This is a first person sci-fi adventure game, looks like a pretty high budget. The game itself is gorgeous (although it's a barren desert planet) and there were some really nice touches that made it feel much more immersive. Rather than key/button prompts, there were small indicators to let you know what to do, such as moving forward slightly to climb a ladder, or pressing the side of a tablet to move a slideshow along. The experience was fully voice acted, and it guides you through a short section of the game trying to discover what happened to a missing convoy. It looks like this should be really worth paying attention to when it comes out.

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Escape From Mystwood Mansion (Demo)

This was just the right amount of clever for me. The room in the demo is a traditional escape room puzzle; codes all over the place, padlocks, cryptic patterms etc. Slowly you work out what goes where, and solve each puzzle, unlocking a piece of something you need for another puzzle. The contained space means you know that the answer is within reach, which makes it very digestible. There's also a good amount of physics freedom, like you can put the objects you need for clues next to the puzzle. Good thing there are hints though, because there were a couple of puzzles I REALLY didn't get, even after I read the answers.

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Jumplight Odyssey (Demo)

This looks to be a cross between a sort of colony sim, Star Trek, and FTL. You're on a capital ship fleeing the destruction of your home planet (ala Battlestar Galactica). Your ship has multiple decks, crew members, power, water, schedule management, alarm levels and room building. Oh and "away missions" where you can send crew out on shuttles to find resources. After an amount of time, you're forced to jump to the next star to avoid being caught. It looks like it could be really nice, as long as crew management and building are done well.

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Wizard with a Gun (Demo)

Looks a bit like Don't Starve in terms of a 3D world with 2D sprites on it. You're a wizard. You collect materials and make guns (pistols, carbines, revolvers etc) that shoot spells (elemental bullets) or build furniture. You're at the end of time and need to collect materials to use a magic wheel to rewind time to find out what caused the end of everything, and stop it. You have a central hub where things you build are permanent, and you go out on expeditions to find materials. Each time you find a new cog for the magic wheel, you can rewind time a little further. There's a scanning mechanic, crafting stations, upgradeable spells and elemental combat. It looks excellent.

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Gord (Demo)

From the good people who all left CD Project Red, Gord is a village builder (a bit like Thea?). You start with half a dozen people, all with names and specialist skills, and you build a circular village (Gord) in the middle of what looks very much like Witcher country. There's already cut scenes and voice acted quests, and it looks like the game is going to be mission based (only 10) rather than open ended survival. The combat, exploration and story worked really well, but I'd be interested to see if it has any replay value when it comes out.

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Laysara: Summit Kingdom (Demo)

This is a city builder, with the twist that you're building on a steep mountain. From what I saw in the demo, it's already highly polished, and the limitations of space and altitude come together nicely. Houses work similarly to Anno; there are several classes of citizens, and they all have desires that need to be met to upgrade their houses. It looks like in the full game, much of the gameplay will revolve around causing, avoiding and mitigating avalanches. Interestingly, buildings had no cost in the demo - so every time you needed more of something you just plonked down another building. I'm not sure if that's going to be updated at release or if it's part of the design.

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SteamWorld Build (Demo)

I was SO excited when I saw the announcement for this. I was recently wondering what the next SteamWorld game would be, having played through both Dig games again. I was intrigued to see them branching out in to yet another genre, having already done mining, card based battler and turn based tactics game, now they're adding city builder to the list. This demo is beautifully executed, runs well, looks gorgeous, and is a joy to play. The UI is really well done, and they're demonstrating yet again that they can take an existing genre and add their own unique, high quality spin to it. This initially feels like an Anno clone, but quickly turns into a unique city builder / mining experience.

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