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e3 2016

The Best Indie Games Of E3 2016

by Elise Favis on Jun 18, 2016 at 04:45 AM

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E3 is full of exciting press conferences and triple-A title announcements, but there are also plenty of indie games that are displayed on the show floor. Each year, we take a look at what the indies have to offer, and this year had some beautiful games on display. Here are some of the best indies from E3 2016.

Come back to this story over the weekend as we highlight additional games that caught our attention. 

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
Developer: Witching Hour Studios
Publisher: Ysbryd Games 
Release: 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac

Masquerada is an isometric RPG inspired from the likes of Baldur's Gate and Dragon Age. Battles are played out in either real time or you can pause combat to plan out your tactics. In the Venetian city of Ombre, class is distinguished and segregated by those who wear masks, and those who do not. These masks hold an ancient power, and Cicero wields some of these masks to unleash special attacks. You play as the investigator and hero Cicero who was exiled because of a crime he committed five years ago against the government. Now, he's been called back to uncover what happened to the diplomat Razitof Azrus, who has mysteriously been kidnapped. This leads him to an even larger conspiracy, and sets him in opposition to a guild known as Masquerada who hope to possess all masks for selfish gain.

As you progress, you form a party of members who help you solve the case. The story is intriguing, and the voice cast is phenomenal with talent such as Jennifer Hale and Matthew Mercer. The beautiful art style also helps this title stand out. - Elise Favis

Absolver
Developer: Sloclap
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release: 2017
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC

Each time we revisit a list of franchises we'd like to see revived, one game stands out: Bioware's Jade Empire. We don't know if that series will ever get another chance, but developer Sloclap is scratching that strategic martial arts itch with the upcoming Absolver.

In a lengthy demo, we got a chance to learn more about the complex systems underpinning one of the best E3 surprises. Absolver takes place in the fictional Adal Empire, where mask-wearing Absolvers are a tyrannical regime's enforcers. 

The masks not only grant the power to resurrect, but also brainwash their wearers. The protagonists have broken free of the mind control, but that puts them at risk.

At its heart, Absolver is a challenging experience that borrows a bit from the Souls franchise. Attacking, blocking, and evading deplete a stamina meter. Surviving combat isn't about button-mashing, but instead requires studying enemies and waiting to strike when the opportunity is perfect. 

But Absolver isn't a Souls clone with a kung fu vibe. As we mentioned, it blends in the multiple martial arts style approach that made us fall in love with Jade Empire. However, it goes much deeper than Bioware did.

Players can configure four stances that can be easily swapped in the heat of combat. These are made up of three basic moves and a powerful strike. Every move ends in a specific stance, so you may find yourself with access to different power strikes during a chain depending on when you decide to trigger it. 

In addition to the stances, Absolver features different styles, each with its own special ability. One allows you to evade attacks. The one we used features a parry that opens foes up to counter attack.

You can also bait your opponent into blocking or parrying at the wrong time by activating a feint. This is as simple as tapping the block button in the middle of a move animation. It's an extremely deep system that becomes intuitive quickly and gives players the opportunity to define how they fight. 

Because some moves may appear as random drops (though the details are still being finalized), players will have the ability to teach one another new skills. There are resurrection altars throughout the game, which also make a great place to spar with friends. 

Sloclap is planning to implement a mentorship feature that allows moves to be learned through sparring. Being defeated near an altar doesn't have any penalty right now, making them ideal locations to test your skills against friends.

Absolver borrows from Journey for its matchmaking, putting players together based on in-game location and progression. However, you'll be able to make friends within the game after you figure out who is willing to assist and which players are only in it to give others a hard time. You can team up with two other players for cooperative play. You'll also be able to fight in one-versus-one and three-versus-three matches.

Thirty minutes was enough time to get the basics, but Absolver already feels like a deep experience that will take much longer to master. We're eager to dive back in at the next opportunity.

For a first hands-on opportunity of a newly announced game, Absolver is already shaping up quite nicely.  - Mike Futter

Abzû
Developer: Giant Squid
Publisher: 505 Games
Release: August 2
Platforms: PS4, PC

Every time I see Abzû, something new catches my attention. The game has received acclaim for its beauty and simulation of the teeming sea, but it's certainly more than a diving simulator.

Developer Giant Squid isn't divulging much on the title's story, but rest assured it has one. I played the newest demo at this year's show, and while the swimming and exploration feel as great and alluring as ever, I was introduced to a new area called the secret world. While the game's oceanic world is home to plenty of mysteries – from mechanical portals to glyphs and statues you can meditate on – the secret world is practically another dimension. It's almost like a dream world where the water itself is below you and temples of light beckon in the distance.

The secret world is a hub for the game, and not only will you return to it throughout, but its portals of light rejuvenate the sea life back in the normal game environment. If it has this kind of wondrous power, what else is it capable of? I can't wait to find out, and I'm sure Abzû has plenty more surprises in store. - Matthew Kato

Manifold Garden
Developer: William Chyr
Release: TBA
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, Linux

William Chyr's mind-bending puzzle game drops players into a surreal, M.C. Escher-like world and gives them the freedom to shift gravity as they see fit. Players can walk up to any perpendicular surface, and with a quick press of the button, the entire environment flips 90 degrees. Once you get accustomed to walking up walls, ceilings, and the undersides of staircases, gravity cubes add an extra wrinkle to navigation. These colored boxes must be picked up and moved to floor plates to activate switches and doors, but they can only move when you are orientated to the correct surface, and will fall when their gravitational plane is activated. Navigating the world can be a bit dizzying, but Manifold Garden's stark visuals offer up some remarkable landscapes. - Jeff Marchiafava


Thimbleweed Park
Developer: Terrible Toybox
Release Date: January 2017
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, iOS, Android

Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick are masterful pioneers of the adventure genre. Their hit Maniac Mansion from 1987 became a cult classic. The oddities and quirky storylines return in Thimbleweed Park, which is a throwback, old-school adventure game. It uses the verb system that was widely used in older adventure titles, but from what I played, Thimbleweed Park doesn't have as obtuse puzzle solutions as the genre is known for – which is a good thing.

Thimbleweed Park doesn't just play like a late '80s adventure game; its pixelated aesthetic also helps evoke that era. In the short demo I played, I got to know two FBI agents investigating a murder and a bad-mouthed clown who worried about his appearance in hilarious ways. The humor is often corny and slapstick; two features that I love about adventure games. When I finished playing, I only craved more. The game is planned for release in early 2017. - Elise Favis

The Long Journey Home
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date: 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

The Long Journey Home is a space exploration RPG where you manage a ship and crew after being stranded and nearly left for dead in a faraway galaxy. As you pick up the pieces, you attempt to find your way home, and on your way, you explore planets, engage with alien lifeforms, and manage resources carefully. It's a game similar to FTL: Faster Than Light with roguelike influences, where your journey will be different each time in this procedurally generated universe, and it also features permadeath. Your crew members can also die, so careful management of resources is a must. You can build upgrades or useful items for your ship by trading with aliens, completing quests, and scanning planets. Moral dilemmas are a normal occurrence, and the way you respond and interact with aliens will affect your reputation with them, making your trip home either tougher or easier.  - Elise Favis

Strafe
Developer: Pixel Titans
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release: 2017
Platforms: PC

It's not unfair to suggest that Strafe shamelessly borrows from the pantheon of FPS forefathers. During our hands-on with Pixel Titans' homage to Quake, Doom, and Unreal Tournament, the team pointed out all of the nods to the genre's formative games.

Unlike its inspiration, Strafe isn't a linear story experience or multiplayer arena shooter. It's more akin to roguelike darling Spelunky, with procedurally generated 90s-era visuals and four zones that each have their own aesthetics, room designs, enemies, and weapons.

At the start of each Strafe game, you'll choose from a shotgun, machine gun, or rail gun. This will be your main weapon through your entire run. It can be upgraded by paying collected scrap at an upgrade station, but with the exception of limited pickups, you won't be using a weapon wheel to access bottomless pockets.

Strafe plays extremely fast, with crafty enemies and hidden (but not infinite) monster closets that will punish you for backtracking or taking too long. Blood is persistent, acting like a trail of breadcrumbs as you make your way to the exit. 

Gamers are understandably starting to get roguelike fatique. The term has become as welcome as "MOBA" and "digital collectible card game." However, Strafe deviates enough from the formula, distilling the FPS genre to its most basic elements: blowing stuff up and then blowing more stuff up. - Mike Futter

Eitr
Developer: Eneme Entertainment
Release: 2016
Platform: PS4, PC

From Software's punishing Dark Souls has becoming a defining series for modern action RPGs thanks to its old-school difficulty and demanding combat. The series' influences can be felt in any number of challenging games, and Eitr is no exception. Eneme Entertainment's striking isometric RPG demands deft timing and a firm understanding of both your character and your enemies' attacks and abilities in order to survive. You'll travel through nine Norse worlds as the Shield Maiden, taking on all sorts of deadly enemies and collecting an armory's worth of randomly generated loot along the way. Eitr is an unforgivingly difficult game, but the stunning retro visuals and creative environments and enemies have us eager to adventure further. - Jeff Marchiafava    

Brutal
Developer: Stormcloud Games
Release:  August
Platform: PS4 (PC, Mac, Linux – TBA)

Brutal is a roguelike from Scotland's Stormcloud Games, and the title's visual style speaks to the studio's love of the old ASCII games.

Letters play an important part in Brutal. Not only do players make their way through 26 randomly-generated, lettered levels, but you collect them as part of the process of creating weapons. There are four characters to choose from (Mage, Warrior, Amazon, and Ranger, each with a skill tree), and the only way to make sure you don't start all the way back at the beginning if you die is by making an offering of loot to the gods at alters that appear in some levels. How much you offer is up to you, but if it's not enough the gods will spurn your attempt (the amount you donate will be saved for later alters, however).

Other unknowns confront you on your way, whether that's traps, turrets, and other level surprises; 23 varieties of enemies; or the potions you find that may be helpful or harmful. You don't know what a potion does until you drink it, and its effect changes if you die and start over.

Brutal also supports local two-player co-op as well as a dungeon editor through which you can share your creations. - Matthew Kato


Tacoma
Developer: Fullbright
Release:  2017
Platform: Xbox One, PC

Developer Fullbright is attempting to capture the quiet magic of Gone Home once again except this time in a more fantastical setting: the seemingly abandoned space station Tacoma. You play as operations specialist Amy as she boards the station in order to obtain the artificial intelligence that runs the place as well as figure out what happened to the crew. The demo we saw at E3 was filled with mystery and I came away pretty impressed and wanting to play more of the game.

You can read our full preview of the E3 demo here. - Javy Gwaltney