Four Intriguing ID@Xbox Games We Enjoyed at E3

By Mark Delaney, 5 months ago
We're winding down on our E3 post-show coverage. We hope you've enjoyed the many news stories and features we put out right before, during and after the show floor was open in Los Angeles last week. It's as exhausting as it is fun. If you want to catch up on all we published in the realm of E3, you can do so here in our E3 2018 Hub. We're not done yet though, and for today's hands-on feature we wanted to bring attention to four upcoming indies that each showed a lot of promise. Each of these games were shown on stage, albeit very briefly for some, and we got to see a lot more of each later in the week too. If you were curious, consider this your primer for some really cool upcoming ID@Xbox games.

Tunic

Tunic

Tunic made a name for itself when it was highlighted for a good few minutes on Microsoft's stage. Afterwards, Phil Spencer referred to it as a game made by a single developer. It turns out that's not entirely true, as that dev, Andrew Shouldice, told me he has two others helping him on the game, one doing the sound effects and one doing the music, but everything else is of Shouldice's creation from the past three years and counting.

The isometric game reminded many of early Zelda titles, and the near one-man team seemed fine with that comparison. In my demo, I noticed it also seemed as though the difficulty would ramp up quite a bit as players go along. Shouldice said he wants the world to feel as though you're going to places "where you're not supposed to be," where you "feel rebuked." That difficulty helps create that sense.

It's not just Zelda vibes coming from Tunic, but Dark Souls too. The world feels large and mysterious as you first set out, but over time you'll discover shortcuts all leading back to a central hub a la the Undead Parish. That plus the difficulty and the way respawning works feels like it's a game destined for success by building on strong systems that came before it with fantastic art, mood, and mysteries. It's got a few secrets to share, but I'll spare you those spoilers. Tunic currently has no release date but is expected this year and will be a console launch exclusive for Xbox One.

Ashen

Ashen

Speaking of Soulslikes, we've been hearing about Ashen for a few years now and this time it feels like it's nearly here. When it does arrive, it'll do so directly into Xbox Game Pass, which is a new selling point for the game, but its mechanical merits should do plenty for fans of such games. The low-poly world looks beautiful and the character creator gave me a good sense of presence in the world, which is different than a sense of belonging, mind you. Like Tunic, Ashen takes some cues from the Souls games and can be brutally difficult at times.

In my demo, I always had an AI partner helping me fend off enemies, but that didn't mean I could sit back and let them do the work for me. Enemies are often swift and agile, and when they weren't, they were massive and powerful instead. The toughest parts came when these different enemies assaulted me all at once. Having to fend off different yet equally unrelenting enemy types, paying careful attention to stamina, health, and your environment is a classic Souls scenario, and I saw it often in my 40 minutes with the game.

Where Ashen seems to diverge most from its inspirator is in how the story content is presented. It's still quieted, only now not as hidden away. Objectives will keep you mission-driven and following the plot, which is surely a missing piece from the Souls games for some. Combat and aesthetics were both memorable, and the setup of discovering what exactly the "Ashen" may be makes for a refreshing take on this now super popular style of game. I'm excited to see what else it does uniquely when it arrives later this year.

Harold Halibut

harold halibut

The first time I played Harold Halibut, I had almost no knowledge of it whatsoever. I recalled seeing its name on the big screen accompanied by the arresting claymation art style, but I knew nothing else about it. I spent a few minutes exploring the world and interacting with NPCs, trying to gauge the premise, setting, anything. I loved the look of it but frankly had no idea what I was to do. I asked an ID@Xbox rep who told me a bit more about the game. Harold is a janitor aboard a spaceship, which crashes into the ocean on an alien planet. I spent my first few minutes unsure if I was in space or underwater. Turns out both were sort of true.

It's an adventure game at heart, one where some puzzling, dialogue and exploration are all mixed in equal parts. I didn't get to see so much of the story so I can't speak to how it's coming in that regard, but the claymation is certainly special. The German studio behind the game, Slow Bros., used real puppets and had them perform the many animations you see in the game. The end result comes via a mix of typical digital programming and real-world stop-motion.

There were a lot of characters to meet on board, and as it's classically an adventure title, many more things to inspect. Harold's role as a janitor surrounded by apparently much more successful people is evident in his sad demeanor and he's a character I'm curious to learn more about. He's the antithetical video game protagonist, which is something one really only finds in the indie space, and that should be cherished. Harold Halibut arrives in 2019.

Outer Wilds

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Outer Wilds is like Groundhog Day in space. You play as an alien (we think) who dares to explore the universe and does exactly that... for 20 minutes at a time. As time expires or you die, you're inexplicably sent back to the same campfire at which you began. Why you're stuck in a loop is just one of several mysteries in the game the developer teased us with at E3.

You'll save your knowledge across each reset, so it's about making incremental advancements as you crack the codes of the universe — perhaps literally. The developer told us the game's starting area is meant to be a sort of tutorial for the game's many mechanics, like low-gravity traversal, piloting your flying saucer-like aircraft, and using a strange tuning item that helps you locate different radio signals.

The most intriguing thing about Outer Wilds is how the game is so open to player choice and not in the usual Telltale style way. Instead, the universe is yours to explore and the many mysteries within reach can be grabbed and discovered on your own terms, in your preferred order, at your own pace. Discovering more about the ancient race that preceded yours and chasing clues regarding the time loop were two I saw, though a dev told me there will be several more. Many will get to try their hand at role-playing an adventurous alien soon and for free, because Outer Wilds was announced to be one of the items given away during Xbox's MixPot stream. It arrives later this summer.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.