PAX East 2018: Day Three

Hungover. It’s an early day due to checkout. Andrew and I are waiting in line for the con to open. Andrew wants to hit up Due Process with me first thing on the con floor.

“Hey, want to play some Splendor on my phone?”
“Yea, sound goo-…”

What was that feeling? Oh shit, that’s vomit.

“Andrew, I am not feeling so good.”

Come on, Matt, you’ve been through college. You can hold it down.

The line finally opens. We are literally stepping on to the con floor.

“Dude, I need to go lie down.”

And with that, the first two hours of Sunday are spent sleeping on the very comfy beanbag chairs in the mobile gaming lounge. Way too much Harpoon last night. And I warned myself two years ago to not drink so hard at PAX East! To their benefit, the Amazon folks running the gaming lounge never bother me once throughout my bottle coma. They literally just let me pass out in the middle of a crowded con. These people are saints.

I wake up a little past noon, dazed but feeling somewhat more stable. Though I am sorely tempted to spend the entire day sleeping, I figure sitting through a panel won’t tax me too sorely. Starting in ten minutes: “How To Make Your Straight White Male Protagonist Not Suck”. Hmmm, sounds a bit SJW-ish, but maybe it’ll be entertaining. Alright, let’s check it out (after buying a very stale pretzel to settle my stomach).

Actually, the panel is extremely entertaining. Basically, it makes fun of male protagonist tropes in video games:

  • Anti-hero? Check.
  • Getting revenge on his dead wife/child/family? Check.
  • Military rank? Check.
  • Brooding anger? Check.

And you know what? I think we can all do with some better writing than that. Strangely enough, I think that people enjoy deep video game characters more than overused clichés.

Is it time for the con floor yet? NOPE. Time to slack off more at the Jackbox lounge, where I chill and play a round of Trivia Murder Party. Actually, I nearly come in first by a hair. Next year.

Alright, I think I’m ready for the con floor now. I pass the Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn booth (Andrew: “We live in a world where Shaq Fu got a reboot”).

Something that catches my eye is Heaven’s Vault, which is a story-driven archaeological adventure where you are putting together the story of what happened to a long-lost alien race on some distant moon. No combat, but it looks incredibly atmospheric.  I kind of want to buy it when it’s released, but their animation looks jarringly bad. I talk to the dev – releases January or February next year. We’ll see what happens.

And…. what’s that? Detroit: Become Human is here!? Holy shit, this is something I need to see! Heavy Rain is one of the best PS3 games I’ve ever played. And it looks like there’s no line, you just queue up behind a monitor and wait for the person playing to finish up. Yes, I am going to play this.

It looks like Sunday was not a complete loss after all – Detroit: Become Human is definitely my pick of the con. I am a sucker for branching narratives, and David Cage’s games are my ambrosia (never got interested in playing Beyond: Two Souls though).

Andrew calls me. Literally passes me four times at the Detroit booth before he finds me (I got the good ending in the demo by the way). Are we nearly ready to get the hell out of Dodge? Nearly, but we have two stops left.

First, it’s off to see Chris and Grace at the BYOC area. They were up visiting family in New Hampshire this weekend, but managed to make it to the con on Sunday. Chris was not as impressed with Detroit as I was. Good to see you guys, see you in Philly in two weeks!

Lastly, I go say hello to Frank DiCola showing off Where Shadows Slumber in the Indie Minibooth (congrats on that honor, by the way!). Glad to see Stevens repping some indie game dev at PAX East. Frank says the game is in crunch time mode (welcome to game dev, guys), but I know they will get it done and ship things in time. Just remember me when you’re famous, Frank and Jack!

And now it is finally time to say goodbye to Boston. This is the first year in a while that we aren’t stopping by Boston South Station for a bite to eat before we go, but somehow I don’t think I’ll miss McDonald’s.

Con Picks:

  1. Detroit: Become Human
  2. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
  3. Tough call… maybe Doorkickers: Action Squad just because it was a lot of fun to play with Andrew.
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PAX East 2018: Day Two

The elevator is playing the Curb Your Enthusiam theme right now. This hotel is so strange.

“Should we be acting super awkward while this song is playing?”

“Yeah, that’s the only thing that makes sense, I guess.”

Day Two is a go. Andrew is ahead of me and gets to the con floor before I do, but we bump into each other by pure coincidence at the entrance doors. He wants to play some co-op games but gets lunch first.

I play Qube 2 in the meantime, which feels a lot like Portal 2 with… uh, cubes. It’s also already available to buy! Also, I tried waiting in line for Decay of Logos, but an argument breaks out over some dude cutting in line and it gets mad awkward (even the dev looks embarassed).

Andrew is back so we play Rico, which is a co-op first-person SWAT simulator with a bit of bullet time and door kicking (it’s actually pretty fun).

What’s really fun is the Doorkickers: Action Squad spin-off that is also co-op. It’s a 2D side-scrolling shooter where you have to also kick in doors, shoot terrorists, and avoid shooting hostages (we killed a lot of them though). It reminds me of a side-scrolling Hotline: Miami in a way.

Andrew’s got a panel so more wandering. Let’s go for the Lightning Round!

  • I finally give Church in the Darkness a try. It is much more stealth-oriented than I originally expected but the graphics seem really well-polished, and the voice acting is well done.
  • The Shrouded Isle is back (the human sacrifice simulator).
  • Below is also back. Andrew gave it a try but apparently it’s a little tedious for a con demo.
  • I try out Far Cry 5 at the AMD exhibit and it feels surprisingly good. Maybe it’s the advanced hardware that makes it less repetitive!?
  • I win that whack-a-mole game again, so I give the mousepad prize away to another dude.

No more walking! Need to sit. Time for Jackbox? I actually manage to get into a game of Bracketeering for once. It’s exhilarating – I actually got some claps for my answers. This is my dream. I am funny now.

Stevens crowd is in town for the con. I head down to board games to say hello. Caroline Amaba and George Blazeski are there. They’re packed liked sardines though, so I take a leak and promise to say hi later.

Speaking of which, I’ve got not one, not two, but three dinner plans tonight out of the blue. Andrew knows someone from his board game group, and I’ve got my Stevens friends meeting up at Harpoon Brewery later on. And not only that, Grace and Chris are in town for the con tomorrow and will be at Lamp Light Brewery!

So many options, so little time. I did promise the Stevens crew I’d chill though, so I’ll see you tomorrow, Grace and Chris. Also, hope your dinner went alright, Andrew.

Harpoon Brewery is pretty packed, and there’s a line to get in, so I made some friends while waiting. But it winds up being a very good night to catch up once everyone is there.

The elevator is playing the Star Wars “Cantina Theme” on the way up to the room. Wow.

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PAX East 2018: Day One

So many changes for my sixth year of PAX East. For the first time since 2012 it is just Andrew and I making the trip to Boston. Truth be told, I actually miss the company – no fancy dinners at the Barking Crab, no ridiculous Airbnb to party in on Saturday, no one familiar to bump into on the con floor (and I mean no offense to you Andrew). It’s not the same without a crew, but sometimes change means new opportunities (like not having to worry about restaurant reservations for thirteen people).

On a slightly better note, Andrew got us a hotel about two blocks from the convention center. It’s called Yotel and it’s… charming in its own sort of way. Everything is super modern, the bathroom walls are made of glass with privacy curtains, and the main light is set to pink. I feel like we’re in a Simpsons joke right now.

In order to diffuse some of the awkwardness, Andrew and I watch Silence of the Lambs and play some Cuphead co-op on his laptop.

Wake up at 8 a.m. You are now well-rested. Did I mention I left my con passes at home? Such a Neuteboom move, am I right? Thankfully Andrew ordered an extra set that he was unable to get rid of.

Con floor opens at 10 a.m. Andrew and I play an F-Zero-ish game called Antigraviator (actually it basically is F-Zero in a lot of ways, minus the cool announcer). One thing that does catch my attention is Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which is actually already out. It’s a medieval sandbox RPG set during the height of the Holy Roman Empire. I think one of the developers got in trouble for saying something mean on the Internet, but whatever, it’s still a pretty good game from the looks of it.

Andrew later points out how many games on the con floor actually are already available to buy – SuperGiant Games just has Pyre to show off. Divinity: Original Sin II is back on the floor but came out last year. Below is back but is actually not out yet (coming this summer… again!)

Now Andrew is at a panel called “Race to the Bottom”, which is about indie game development. I need a break, let’s go check that out.

I’m twenty minutes late and they’re mulling over “games as a service”, something Andrew and I were discussing on the way up.

A lot of AAA games these days are really game “platforms” – titles that offer more content through competitive multiplayer or by being open world. Companies can extend the lives of these games by adding new content mid life-cycle or selling unlockables such as skins and lootboxes. These games then continually generate money for their companies, which is quite literally needed these days to offset the costs of new games.

Games as products (ie. the single player experiences) are now mostly done by indie devs, oddly enough. And it is true, most of the single player games I’ve played within the last two years have been by indie studios: Sunless Sea, Darkest Dungeon, Cuphead, Gods Will Be Watching, etc. But even those indie titles are dominated by rogue-likes, something I jokingly mentioned at a previous PAX East. Still, there are exceptions to this rule – Doom, Uncharted 4, and Wolfenstein all come to mind, and all of those were fantastic.

Panel is over and… wait. Is that snow outside? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH BOSTON, WHY IS THIS THING HERE!?

After gasping at the weather for a bit, nothing like a quick stop at the Jackbox lounge, which is now consistently one of my favorite parts of the con. New Jackbox Party Pack 4 games on display. Tomorrow I’ll actually stop by and see if I can grab a spot in a party instead of just being an audience member.

On the floor I stop by to watch some Splatoon 2, which looks really fun (although I can’t tell the difference between it and the first one). After that it’s the indie floor. In no particular order:

  • I Hate Running Backwards from Devolver Digital is a fun litttle co-op shmup.
  • Church in the Darkness caught my eye last year and it’s back this year. Is it out yet? Maybe I should check this one out tomorrow.
  • City of the Shroud is some sort of real-time tactics game where you queue up combos.
  • Flinthook is on the floor and is also already available to buy on Steam! Andrew owns it, but he’s never played it.
  • My Memory of Us basically feels like Valiant Hearts mixed with A Tale of Two Brothers. It’s essentially a point-and-click about a man’s childhood friendship with a girl during what appears to be Nazi-occupied Europe.
  • Ancestors Legacy looks like a really gore-filled Viking RTS.
  • Revoke is a Chinese-developed VR shooter that was surprisingly fun to play, though awkward to figure out the controls.

I actually won a mousepad playing this whack-a-mole game game with three other people. I also got a raffle ticket for a few CPUs and a graphics card, but by the time of the raffle drawing there were about 200 people crowding out the booth and I didn’t win jack shit.

Con floor is closed, time for panels. Go to meet Andrew and… wait, is that a bonfire from Dark Souls. And people have their phones chargers jacked into it? Clever.

I am briefly tempted to jump into the Jackbox panel at 6:30 p.m. (god, that game is fun), but it would ruin my chances at the Giant Bomb panel at 8 p.m. (Andrew is not joking – you literally need to line up for that panel two hours early).

This has been the first Giant Bomb panel I’ve been to since I think my first year here. It’s their 10th anniversary, and their memories about their early days are pretty charming, even for someone who doesn’t follow them closely. I mean, who doesn’t get sentimental looking back and remembering past times? I think that’s a feeling we all enjoy indulging in from time to time.

Andrew’s got some games he wants to play tomorrow. In the meantime, down to the bar so I can poop without stinking up the room. Possible dinner plans tomorrow night.

The Pink Panther theme is playing in the elevator on the way up. This is place is weird.

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PAX East 2017: Day Three

We lost an hour of sleep last night, and I’m already running on fumes. The weather hasn’t gotten much better either.

We’re at the con at about 9:30, so I have time to line up for the floor opening. Andrew recommended checking out Absolver, so I head there first since it had a long line yesterday. The line is already stretching around their booth by the time I get there. A dev luckily invites me to the front of the line since I’m not grouped with anyone, so I probably skip a good 30 minute wait.

Although Absolver is meant to be a Dark Souls with martial arts, I’m not big on fighting games and queuing up combos to kill enemies was not my cup of tea. Maybe I’ll change my mind on it later.

Of course, if I wasn’t a fan of Absolver, then Fantasy Strike wasn’t going to fare much better (sorry Andrew!). Fantasy Strike is a fighting game created by a former Street Fighter dev. One thing I did enjoy about it is that it’s much more simplified than a standard fighter – no up/down positions, and combos are reduced to fewer button presses. Your health bar is also measured in blocks rather than a bar, so landing hits is easier to keep track of. I played against a fighting game aficionado, and he had a much better appreciation of the game’s mechanics than I did.

I pass the Devolver Digital booth and decide to give Ape Out a try. I really enjoyed this one. You control a rampaging ape trying to escape a facility as armed guards chase you down. It’s essentially Hotline: Miami but with melee combat and more of an emphasis on running and outmaneuvering your enemies. Like Hotline: Miami, you’ve basically got one or two shots before you are dead, so survival often comes down to making the right choices within a few critical seconds.

Last night, Dave and Brett recommended a game called The Long Journey Home to me based on my love of FTL. They turned out to be totally right – not just because it’s like FTL but because it’s basically a spiritual successor to Star Control II, one of my favorite games and an underrated gem.

The developer was ecstatic when I asked him about this – he confirmed that Star Control II was the game’s primary influence. He says the reason he made the game is because Star Control II has no modern analog. I agree with him, and I hope that The Long Journey Home finds a warm welcome in the modern gaming community.

At noon I head up to the game journalism panel, but on the way I bump into Randall, Chelsea, and Austin getting out of the GearBox panel (a bit of a disappointment, from what I heard). They’re heading to Danny O’Dwyer’s panel covering his new video game documentary series, NoClip. I decide to join them instead.

After the panel I grab some lunch with the crew (and brave the freezing weather to hit the food trucks). Around 1:30 I head back down to the expo floor again to do a final sweep. On the floor I bump into the last person I expect to see – my friend Kristel, whom I haven’t seen since probably college. First Chris yesterday and now Kristel today – small world we live in.

She tags along with me to try out Tooth and Tail. It’s essentially a party RTS for four players that can be played on consoles. You harvest food from windmills and use that to build spawners, which automatically create units for you to command. It reminds me heavily of Cannon Brawl. I managed to take out the green player, but blue destroys both of us with a large group of flamethrowers. He wins a free copy of Monaco – no big loss, I already own it.

Kristel and I part ways when I go to attend the Streaming 101 panel with Cathy and Matt. I’m 10 minutes late. The streamers there give some general advice – don’t worry about the perfect time to start streaming, don’t focus on numbers, make sure to interact with your audience. They also show off Beam, Microsoft’s streaming service.

I head out 10 minutes early to get to my last panel on journalism, but my attention is shot at this point so I basically chill on my phone for most of it. I also saw a lot of this panel last year, so there’s not much new info to absorb.

For the last hour of the con I do a rush of the booths to grab pins for my lanyard. I bump into Andrew, Austin, and Dave on the expo floor. We’re all burnt out and ready to go, so we say adios to the expo floor and get ready to make our way home.

It’s time to get out of this god-forsaken city (ahead of the blizzard, no less). My top 3 picks for the expo floor:

  1. The Long Journey Home –  Did I mention it’s filled with a ton of sci-fi references?
  2. Ape Out – They missed the chance to called it “Going Apeshit”!
  3. Tooth and Tail – Because I’m too dumb to play StarCraft II.

I’m going to sleep for the next 24 hours.

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PAX East 2017: Day Two

The air hurts my face today. The rest of the crew are going to a Resident Evil Escape the Room this afternoon, so I’m on my own for a while. I take a shuttle to the con for the first time in years because it’s too cold out to walk there. Good thing I have my Bruins socks to keep me warm.

The con has changed a lot since we first came here six years ago. Before, the indie section was almost non-existent. Now it’s at least half the floor, and there are actually lines even at the smaller booths. I find myself skipping several booths just because of this.

The first game that sticks out is Kismet, a VR psychic reading sim. Like, literally sitting in front of a physic reader and having your fortune told. You can pick tarot cards, get an astrology reading, or play a game of chance. I don’t know what content the game offers besides this, but it’s still a pretty amusing application for VR.

I take a selfie with the creator of Myst. He’s at a booth for Obduction, the spiritual successor to Myst for VR. I tell him how much I loved his game as a kid – he seemed to appreciate that. The line is too long for now, but I make a mental note to return tomorrow.

Up next I try Asura, a top-down rogue-like dungeon crawler. Same old story, I know, but what makes this one interesting is that it’s based on Indian mythology. The developer is also Indian, but that’s probably pure coincidence.

And what the hell is this!? Two dudes on stationary bikes wearing VR headsets? Oh god, that one episode of Black Mirror is coming true. Sadly, it’s not much more than a tech demo, but we all knew exercise VR would happen eventually. It’s kind of comical to watch to be honest.

Lunch break. I bump into Andrew on the conference floor. He tells me to look out for Absolver. Noted.

More games in the second half of the afternoon:

  • What Remains of Edith Finch has a really cool house prop built for its booth.
  • Bounty Train is a Railroad Tycoon-like sim with more of a micro-management/adventure approach. Plus stagecoach robberies. I play it for about an hour. It’s actually a lot of fun.
  • Kona is back from last year! With a bigger booth this time. It’s a narrative murder mystery set in the wastes of northern Canada. They release on Friday, and I really want to try it out.
  • The Church in the Darkness is a stealth-action thriller that appears to involve you infiltrating a cult-like church community. Looks well-polished.
  • Someone is releasing a new game on the NES called Haunted Halloween ’86. It’s programmed in the NES assembly language (good lord).
  • A Night in the Woods was on the floor, but it’s already out on digital download. It’s supposedly very good.

Towards the end of the day I bump into my old room mate Chris Delgado and his girlfriend Amy. Considering I haven’t seen him in a few years, running into him at the con was pretty shocking. We take a selfie before parting ways.

With the con floor closing shortly, I head up to the Jackbox lounge to relax. The day has one last surprise meeting in store – Ian Noel, who’s been a PAX Enforcer for several years now. One more selfie? How could I not?

Some folks are heading to the GiantBomb panel tonight, but I’m punching out early to celebrate Dave’s birthday over dinner. It’s 15 degrees outside.

Some games I still need to check out tomorrow:

  • Fantasy Strike (Andrew)
  • Absolver (Andrew)
  • The Long Journey Home (Dave/Brett)
  • Obducted
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PAX East 2017: Day One

We have arrived in the Land of Always Winter. A foul blizzard blows in from the north. After ten minutes of walking through the cold this morning, I realize that wearing Converses without socks was a bad idea and I am forced to buy Bruins socks from a local tourist stall. I don’t even know what sport the Bruins play.

The line is peculiarly long this year. By the time we make it inside, my toes have gone numb. Miraculously, our groups show up to the lobby almost simultaneously. Together we number 10. This is the calm before the storm, the one time this weekend we will actually be together in the same area before we fracture into groups.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take long for us to split up. A quick detour to the restroom and they are gone without a trace by the time I get back. I immediately use the time to hop over to the Indie showcase.

At the indie mini booth I bump into Kyle Seeley, the designer of Emily is Away. I compliment his game and tell him I’m looking forward to the sequel. Also, I take a selfie with him.

The highlight of my day comes from the developers of BCE, a pre-historic fighter game. Unable to land a booth on the show floor, they built an arcade cabinet costume and walked around with their game on the floor itself. I picked up a controller with a fellow con-goer and fought the developers (we won). Talk about a guerilla marketing campaign. Color me impressed.

After meeting up with Matt and Cathy on the con floor, we tour the indie section and board games. Along the way we find Caroline, Jack, and Frank at Revenant Games showing off Where Shadows Slumber. Congrats again on making it to PAX East guys.

Some games we investigate while on the con floor:

  • Bulb Boy: A macabre point-and-click adventure where everything is shaped like a bulb.
  • Cat’s Manor: You’re a cat. You solve puzzles.
  • Xenno the Rogue: A basic 2D platformer with throwing axes.
  • The Shrouded Isle: A human sacrifice management sim. It’s so bizarre, we loved it.
  • BlockPocalypse: Build a tower blocks to escape rising lava. This was pretty cool because was four player co-op.
  • Ten Minutes to Kill: A logical deduction board game where you must hunt down three targets on the board while trying to avoid detection from other players.
  • Gruff: Cathy and Mate bought this (board game) but we didn’t play it yet.
  • Pit People: We somehow managed to sneak into a free spot at the Behemoth booth. Stamper’s voice is hilarious.

The floor closes at 5pm. I bump into Andrew in the hall. He recommends Fantasy Strike, which I will try to hit tomorrow. Matt, Cathy, and I head to the video game data panel at 5:30. Some interesting tidbits:

  • Female gamers account for roughly 55% of mobile gamers. It’s a little more skewed at 36% for PC. Nevertheless, a third is still an impressive number of female hardcore gamers.
  • Last year there were 7,000 digital game releases, almost all of them for Steam.
  • Lower barriers to entry for digital publishers means more cross-platform releases (which jumped significantly in 2016)
  • Men overwhelmingly tend to be heavier payers for mobile games (more impulsive I suppose?)
  • There are billion dollar premium (paid) and free-to-play PC/console games and billion dollar mobile games. But so far, no bestseller premium mobile games gave come out.
  • The top 2% of console games generate about 30% of console revenue.
  • Clash of Clans is basically dominating mobile gaming revenue.

And that’s it for Friday. Matt, Cathy, and I are heading to dinner with Alexis Holmdal (at the Squealing Pig in Jamaica Plains). The snow hasn’t stopped for hours. Tomorrow will be brutal.

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PAX East 2017: The Pre-Game

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Last time I posted, I had just reviewed Catherine back in November (still stuck on that game, actually). But with PAX East 2017 looming large, it’s time to shake off the winter hangover and get ready for three days of con coverage.

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Catherine: The Girl You Don’t Take Home To Mother

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It only took a few minutes of playing Catherine to know that I was going to enjoy it. On the surface, Catherine is a puzzle platformer with a grim premise: Climb a collapsing tower of blocks in a terrifying nightmare world or fall to your death below. Wrapped around this is a dating sim that forces you to weigh your (increasingly bleak) prospects with two competing women.

The result: A macabre game with pitch black humor and stylish animation that explores the morals of marriage, relationships, cheating, and gender politics. Oh, and death. There’s lots and lots of death. I simply love these types of games that take dark, violent gameplay and coat it with a nice layer of surreal humor. Think No More Heroes, and you’ll get what I mean.

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Battlefield 1: Nothing Is Quiet On The Western Front

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Tim mows down a trench full of soldiers from a zeppelin gunner’s nest. I blow up a plane mid-air using a tank shell. A horse gallops by at full trot, both it and its rider aflame.

These are just a handful of the “holy shit” moments Tim and I experienced within our first few hours of Battlefield 1. With the Civilization VI launch last Friday, I didn’t expect to touch a new AAA title anytime soon. Thankfully, Tim is a die hard Battlefield fan and picked it up for the XBox One, and I’m still coming down from our last game’s adrenaline rush.

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Civilization VI: O Brave New World!

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I’ll admit, I was worried Civilization VI might not turn out well. In a previous article, I wrote about my love affair with Civilization V (and my sincere disappointment with Beyond Earth). One of the reasons I was wary of Civ VI is because Civ V already does so many things perfectly: The cleverly-balanced combat, the struggle to outpace your opponent through a myriad of overlapping game systems, and an addicting sense of progress that’s interwoven perfectly with the actual historical advancement of the human race. Not to mention the charming faction leaders that were so noticeably absent from Beyond Earth.

It truly seemed to me like the series had nowhere to go but down. Sure, they could tweak a few mechanics, but would that feel enough like a new game? And if they abandoned the old mechanics entirely, would it no longer feel like a Civilization game? It turns out I was wrong on both parts, and Civilization VI is unfolding to be one hell of a game.

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