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Best of PAX East 2023: 9 Under the Radar Games to Watch

Very few AAA titles make their way to PAX these days, but it’s still a treasure trove of upcoming games–especially the ones you might not have heard about.

Carli Velocci

Mar 29, 2023

Photo: PAX East

PAX East used to be one of the big events of the year for checking out the biggest games before they release. While very few AAA games make their way to PAX these days, it’s still a treasure trove of upcoming games, including ones you might not have heard of. Whether you’re looking for the next indie strategy game breakout hit, a PvP shooter, or a casual cozy adventure, you’ll find something at PAX. 

There were a ton of games on the show floor this year, and it was impossible to try out every single one. However, we were able to check out a number of games that are set to come out within the next year or two that you should keep on your radar.


Demonschool is a spooky but darkly humorous mashup of turn-based tactics and school life RPGs where you have to investigate and defeat the demonic forces that plague your school. Unfortunately, these aren’t just simple possessions. Your school, which is located on an isolated, mysterious island, is also on top of a hellmouth, so you’ll have to deal with everything from giant beasts to demons who want to send spam emails. Just from a short PAX demo, it’s clear that developer Necrosoft Games worked hard to get all these elements to work together.

It’s wild that I’ve never seen a tactics RPG and school sim combination before. However, considering both these genres rely heavily on task management, it makes a lot of sense.

Pacific Drive

Before getting to PAX East this year, I was encouraged by some of my peers to absolutely check out Pacific Drive. The first-person, roguelite survival sim from Ironwood Studios is something special though. This sci-fi adventure is sprawling, with multiple biomes and procedurally-generated elements that want to stop your journey. And you’ll be doing a lot on here, collecting things like arc generators, crafting tech, and repairing your car from elements like radiation. Oh, and you’ll have to deal with a giant storm that will outright destroy you. 

You will die, but the game aims to be forgiving, letting you keep some of your scavenged items. It also wants to give room for different kinds of players, from pack rats who want to explore every area of the map to those who just want to play the story. I didn’t want the demo to end.

Roots of Pacha

I first checked out Roots of Pacha during Summer Game Fest last year, and it continues to be a farming sim to watch. Developer Soda Den plays into a lot of the classic genre elements, having the players grow a village by planting crops and creating tools. However, there’s a twist. Instead of being set in modern day, Roots of Pacha transports you back to the Stone Age. So instead of just crafting tools you don’t have yet, you have to discover ones that don’t even exist yet. In my original demo last year, you planted seeds, looked for escaped livestock, and interacted with the villagers. There’s even co-op, so you can work to build up the village with friends. 

I wasn’t able to check out the PAX demo itself, but after my brief time with the game last year, it was a no-brainer to recommend it here. There are a lot of farming sims about to hit the market, and Roots of Pacha’s twist on the genre will help it stand out.

Shumi Come Home

Speaking of cozy, if you want to get into that mood, mushrooms are certainly a way to do it. Shumi Come Home from SomeHumbleOnion is clearly inspired by Breath of the Wild’s bright, green landscapes and other Zelda titles, but it separates itself with a comforting 3D platforming experience. Amid the bustling of PAX, you play as a mushroom who is lost in the woods and have to get home. It feels twee at first, but it features surprising comedy, with Shumi reveaiing themselves as stoic in character interactions. But unlike other platformers, you can play at your own pace and wander through the forest to get home.

Slay the Princess

Slay the Princess’s hand-drawn style is what initially drew me to the PAX Rising section of the show floor, which gave the spotlight to smaller indies. What kept me waiting in line was the narrator’s soft voice coming from the monitor at the demo area. Slay the Princess is tough to describe. It’s like if The Stanley Parable meets Choose Your Own Adventure titles, with a dash of meta humor to create a sendup of fairy tale tropes. It’s not complex in terms of gameplay, but it creates a wholly unexpected experience. 

You’re an unnamed hero (or monster?) tasked by an omnipresent narrator to kill a princess who will destroy the world. And, of course, that’s not as easy as it sounds. You can go straight to slay the princess, or you can argue with the narrator over the morality of the situation. Regardless, you will go to slay the princess. What happens next isn’t up to you.

Sovereign Syndicate

This was another PAX Rising pick. At first, it looked like a Disco Elysium clone, with a similar interface and text-based, choice-driven gameplay. The developers from Crimson Herring Studios confirmed that this was on purpose. They were heavily inspired by how your traits were anthropomorphized and would interact with you to sway your decision-making process. 

However, instead of creating a murder mystery steeped in political theory, Sovereign Syndicate has made a steampunk, urban fantasy adventure with monsters, street rats, side quests, and class differences. Sovereign Syndicate also supports your choices with two systems. You draw tarot cards in lieu of a dice roll and upgrade your “humours” instead of typical skills. It’s a more traditional system, but the worldbuilding is intriguing enough to see where it goes in the full release.

Strayed Lights

The final PAX Rising pick on this list is Strayed Lights, a gorgeous game about light and darkness. You play a humanoid figure made of light and shadow that must fight other dark monsters, but combat isn’t straightforward. Instead of unleashing a barrage of attacks on enemies, you instead of have to whittle them down by parrying. You can upgrade your character to give them traditional attacks and stuns, but to make an impact and heal, you need to parry the enemy’s hits. There’s also a color system, where you have to change your color before parrying to do maximum damage. 

This is all contrasted, so to speak, with a visually stunning environment designed around the differences between light and dark. Our hero stands out among their dark surroundings to create a seamless contrast between purples, blues, and oranges. You just want to move forward, grow, and see if you can eliminate the darkness.

World of Horror

I played World of Horror, which is currently in Early Access, back in 2020, and it’s grown a lot since then. This horror game is heavily inspired by the works of Junji Ito and Japanese mythology, and presents a series of five adventures where you have to defeat eldritch horrors. In the demo at PAX, you had to find items for a ritual at your school to defeat the Slit-Mouthed Woman. 

World of Horror combines roguelike elements and randomness to get you to play these stories over and over again to get all the endings and the best outcomes. The game also features a custom mode where you can tailor the stories the way you want. The developers also told me that they would be introducing an endless mode in the final release where you can see how long you’ll last in a world full of awful horrors.


If you’re a fan of wrestling, specifically the heyday of WWF wrestling, you’ll want to check out Wrestlequest from Mega Cat Studios. This retro-styled RPG puts you in the shoes of toys who seek to become the greatest wrestlers of all time  — even surpassing the ultimate wrestler who is, of course, “Macho Man” Randy Savage. You build up your wrestling career in a series of turn-based battles in the ring, choosing your persona, crafting your entrance, and teaming up with other wrestlers. But it’s not just about “winning” here. Sometimes you have to throw a fight, or use one of your special moves to hype up the crowd enough to help you win. It’s an intricate system of moves that work to conjure the joy of wrestling and what makes the artform so great.

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Carli Velocci

Carli Velocci is a journalist with a decade of experience in video games, technology, and culture.


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Avenir Light is a clean and stylish font favored by designers. It's easy on the eyes and a great go-to font for titles, paragraphs & more.

Small Running Title

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Avenir Light is a clean and stylish font favored by designers. It's easy on the eyes and a great go-to font for titles, paragraphs & more.

Small Running Title

Small Running Title

Avenir Light is a clean and stylish font favored by designers. It's easy on the eyes and a great go-to font for titles, paragraphs & more.

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