Steam Next Fest 2024 is here! We'll be covering a handful of demos for games big and small that we think you should be watching closely. As with every Steam Next Fest, we encourage you to wishlist the games we cover and try some out for yourself from February 5 - 12.
Steam Next Fest is always a great barometer for the year to come. A sampler platter of indies that is entirely implausible to get through in full, but so exciting to browse throughout the week.
For me? It's a scouting period. A week-long gig where I sort through the pile to find hidden gems, and in this case, the next new game for my friend group to obsess over. Somewhere in this list of four multiplayer games is VGG's Game of the Summer, I'm sure of it. But you'll have to read on to find out which one.
Video Games Are Good got access to some of these demos prior to their official Steam Next Fest launch, and we're excited to share them to help you square up your own menu of demos to try when Next Fest kicks off. Each of these demos will be free on Steam starting February 5.
BREWS AND BASTARDS
Developer: Mune Studio
Release Date: Spring 2024
Max players: Up to 4 players (local)
Genre: Silly themed multiplayer dungeon crawler
Do you miss the era of gaming that was about bashing waves of enemies with your friends, picking up loot, and popping fun abilities? The arcade machine/PS2 era of dungeon crawlers? Champions of Norrath, Gauntlet Dark Legacy, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, that kinda thing?
Brews and Bastards feels like a worthy successor for the genre, and our brief time with the demo left us pretty excited for its boozy battling in 2024.
Developed by the New Zealand-based Mune Studio, Brews and Bastards is a local co-op dungeon crawler that blends high fantasy with a bro-y beer fest. And that combo works infinitely better than you could expect. You've got slime monsters born out of a spilled jello shot, a beer bottle with legs shooting out magic missiles, and bloated beer belly goblins shooting out globs of slime. There are wine cork spike traps, torches built out of wine goblets, and bursting spigots of liquor that push you around.
Brews and Bastards has its tongue-in-cheek theming on point and catching the little details in the nooks and crannies of the dungeons is a fun little game in and of itself. And the theming goes beyond the visuals, as Brews and Bastards finds unique ways to thread its alcoholic abstracts into the gameplay.
Spells are replaced by brews: toss a bottle of rum to create a slowdown effect, pop a bottle of champagne to do high damage at a group of enemies ahead of you, drop a "Moscow Mule" reminiscent of an iconic Worms weapon on unassuming enemies. Each of the game's three characters have move sets based on different boozy tropes. In our time with the demo, we played as Mugg, a beer bong-wielding dwarf, and Oak, a giant keg-wearing warrior.
The demo features one full dungeon and a boss fight, and the play experience is exactly what you'd expect. There's not a ton of depth here but there's promise of things to come, including a fully randomized roguelike mode and deeper RPG mechanics throughout the core game loop. But what really surprised us was what waited for us at the end.
When we entered the boss fight, we were greeted by a knight in his underwear who challenged us to a beer pong battle. In between dodging attacks and battling minions, we had to toss ping pong balls into his cups to eventually bring him down to whittle his health bar down. It was just the right amount of inventive to perk us back up, and screenshots we've seen on the game's website promise similarly gimmick-based boss battles to come. And we're all for it.
Brews and Bastards will release in Early Access in spring 2024 and will certainly be a game to watch for local co-op fans.
Developer: Preferred Networks
Release Date: March 28, 2024
Max players: Up to 6 players (online)
Genre: Automation and programming-based survival crafting
I've covered video games for nearly 13 years now, poking and prodding at these works of art, and mostly pretending to know how these miracles are put together. I've tried making a few of them over the years and always hit a wall when actual programming got introduced into the mix. I'm not a smart man, and I've never stated otherwise.
But over the years, games have come along with some kind of light programming mechanic that left me feeling like maybe — somehow — I could be that game developer as I hoped.
And Omega Crafter's unique bot-programming mechanics make its automation-based crafting game so compelling.
Developed by a Japanese tech startup, Preferred Networks, whose focus is more in robotics and manufacturing, Omega Crafter is a fascinating little project. You play as a game developer whose project is being attacked by some unknown virus that you can only handle by jumping into the game's world. You'll team up with these adorable helper bots known as Grammi, programming them to perform work routines to keep your base running even when you're out in the world tracking down the virus that's plaguing your game.
Omega Crafter is bright and colorful, using an anime-inspired aesthetic to allure people into what is a surprisingly deep survival crafting game. A lot of the systems are reminiscent of an unlikely source — I found the physics-based resource gathering and stat-boosting eating mechanic familiar from my time in Valheim, of all games. Add in an automation focus and some cute little helpers that follow where you go, and you've got Omega Crafter.
The programming elements can feel intimidating, and the tutorial may need some tinkering, but there's something so satisfying about experimenting with your Grammi's "code" and coming out with something that helps trivialize the more repetitive aspects of the survival crafting genre. Being able to program a bot to build a bunch of ammo for my bow while another bot chops down trees and brings me the wood? It feels right.
As a multiplayer game, it shines too. Over our two hours with the demo, Julie and I found a lot of fun in attempting to figure out a particularly tricky bit of code together, pitting our two personal helper bots against each other to see which one finally managed to chop down trees and bring its resources back to us. And even in an attempt to execute the exact same function, we were able to program in elements of our own personalities — having our Grammi wink, or do a silly dance, or say "Here you go, boss!" in the midst of this chop, fetch, and deliver routine.
There are a few playability things to iron out to make this a more approachable experience for gamers of all levels, but Omega Crafter has all the pieces to make it a base-building gem when it releases in March.
Developer: Seed by Seed
Release Date: 2024
Max players: Up to 4 players (local and online)
Genre: Multiplayer time loop RPG board game
Digitizing the tabletop experience is a hard thing to pull off. Whether you're trying to replicate the full tabletop RPG or even just recreate a board game, there's something about the experience of sitting around the table with friends that just ends up missing in the digital renditions. Games like The Yahwg and Monster Prom have gotten the closest in recent years, and our next game is even closer still.
Baladins is a tabletop RPG-inspired choose your own adventure game where players inhabit one of four titular Baladins. These entertainment-focused heroes travel the lands of Gatherac to keep people entertained. Pick between the Dancer, the firework-loving Pyro, the Cook, the lyre-adorned Bard, and the light-manipulating Luxomancer; prepare for the big upcoming festival; and then watch as a dragon eats everything you know, including time itself... before you do it all again!
Baladins has a fun time loop gimmick to its narrative and a time-management gameplay style that has you fighting against the clock to achieve smaller goals in each region before ultimately piecing together the greater mystery about how to stop the world-ending dragon from eating time and setting you back at the start of your journey again. It's a light narrative setup, but the writing, characters, and world are so fun that you don't need much more than that to kick things off.
Each of the Baladins comes with a set of stats, unique to the realm of entertaining versus your traditional RPG statistics. The Dancer has tons of points in strength, the Cook has points in creation, the Pyro in destruction. As you progress through each town and take on the game's random events, you'll have skill checks to pass (by rolling a die and adding the specific modifier needed for each task) and that's where most of the action lies. Because of the unique focus of each character, you'll have to work together to accomplish particularly hard checks by adding your modifiers together, but doing so means sacrificing the spread of your party throughout the region.
The push and pull of maximizing what you can accomplish in each turn is what makes it feel like a great board game. You get that euphoric feeling of strategizing the perfect turn with your friends and pulling it off, getting the perfect die roll, nabbing the quest item and passing it back and forth between the party to accomplish your goal in one turn.
Baladins is incredibly charming with its cute 2D and 3D visual style. Already we can see that the story is full of humor and side characters you actually want to get to know (which, of course, nails the tabletop experience of getting sidetracked from the main quest because you can't help but giddily play matchmaker in the local tavern). Baladins' inherently cooperative setup makes it an easy pick and play game for a group of friends looking for an adventure to embark on.
Baladins releases later this year for PC, PS4/5, Xbox Series S/X, and Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Deep Field Games
Release Date: May 2, 2024
Max players: Up to 6 players (online)
Genre: Half Life 1-like narrative survival crafting game
As a self-proclaimed su-cr-ba-bu lover (pronounced soo-kruh-bah-boo for survival crafting base building), I totally understand if you feel overwhelmed by the prevalence of these games. Especially in the indie space. I get it if you're over breaking things down for materials, crafting increasingly better tools and armor, and watchfully maintaining hunger meters. I do.
But trust me when I say that Abiotic Factor's take on the genre is fresh and exciting. The spending 10+ hours in a demo that only contains a sliver of the game's content kind of exciting.
Developed by Deep Field Games, the team behind the pre-Among Us alien deception game Unfortunate Spacemen, Abiotic Factor is the kind of game that wears its inspirations on its sleeve. With stiffly animated balding scientists in white lab coats working in an unmarked lab deep underground to experiment on alien life forms, the Half Life comparison is both easy and expected. Taking on the role of a scientist freshly transferred to a new workplace, the GATE Cascade Research Facility, you're introduced to the main systems with a brief tutorial which expectedly ends with shit hitting the fan and aliens being let loose across the facility.
With your team of gangly scientists and danger lurking around every corner, the confines of cubicles and break rooms become potential shelters and safe places. Vending machines full of chips and soda become all important sources of livelihood worth dying for. Any kid who grew up fantasizing about spending the night in an Ikea or a supermarket gets to live out their wildest dream and then some in Abiotic Factor.
Mechanically, what sets Abiotic Factor apart is immediately apparent when you build your character. Pulled straight out of an old-school CRPG, you get a set of classes, here broken out by different jobs your scientist would hold in the facility (Kinesiologist, Biomedical Engineer, Defense Analyst, Nutritional Advisor, and the like), each with their own boosts to specific skills and loadouts. After that, you're given the chance to add traits, both positive and negative, to help and hinder your play experience. Want to take the Thick Skinned boost to make you more difficult to hit? You might need to grab the Weak Bladder negative perk (which makes you need to hit the restroom more than others) and the Slow Learner perk to balance it out. By being so much more involved with its gameplay systems, so much more RPG-inspired than many of its contemporaries try to be, it makes for a much more fulfilling experience.
And as scientists, the actual crafting systems feel practical and plausible. As you gather resources in the world — and we're talking staplers, papers, duct tape, and computer parts — your scientists hypothesize recipes and items. And discovering those recipes isn't always immediate. You have to actually consider what would be needed to make each thing and piece together recipes via a tiny minigame, making each new item feel genuinely DIY. As you watch your crew turn pens into bolts for a makeshift crossbow built out of rubber band balls and plastic scrap, you feel like you played a part in making that happen in a way that other crafting games magic away.
Abiotic Factor might just be the one. The game of the summer that steals away hours of our lives as we explore the expanses of the GATE Cascade Research Facility and uncover the truth behind what's out there. I just know that after 10 hours with the demo — first with just Julie and I, then with another four friends we roped in — I saw the recipe for how I'll procrastinate away VGG work in the future... and Abiotic Factor is a big part of that. Thanks, science.
Which of these games sounds most interesting to you? What other multiplayer demos have caught your eye this February? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, consider wishlisting all of these games to help them out on the path to release!
Read more February 2024 Steam Next Fest demo impressions.