Let me tell you, I was glad to get to Seattle a night early before the festivities of PAX 2013 started Friday morning. After the flight from east coast to west it was weird (yes, weird) to see the Pacific Ocean on the weather map on the local news instead of the Atlantic hazing on the time difference but hey, I was there for PAX so it was cool. The Penny Arcade Expo spanned the total volume of the Washington State Convention Center with exhibits, vendors and meeting rooms scattered not only throughout the place, but the nearby Sheraton for panels and another building across the street for BYOC gaming (yeah, that’s “bring your own computer”) and press.
The day picked up early – instead of taking advantage of media getting an hour early access to the floor, I opted to go across the street and check out Intel’s press event showing off some gaming laptops and mobile devices from partners that were packing Intel parts. The Razer Blade we’ve already seen, but this was the first time I got to get my hands on its rival from MSI, the GS70. The GS70 has all the bells and whistles of a gaming machine at 17″ – nVidia graphics, the latest i7 inside, 16GB memory and huge storage space – but weighs less than 6 pounds with its ultralight aluminum chassis. Before i got to play with it i picked it up and kind of moved it around in the air (under the watchful eye of the Intel folks) and can tell you the weight’s no joke. And they had it running Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which looked all sorts of candy-like delicious. The chips inside ran with Intel’s Iris graphics built in, which are reported to support 4K Ultra HD (on up to three screens) and much quicker video editing and processing than the 3rd generation i-core chips that came before. I can’t really vouch for how well my eyes can tell that precisely, but they can tell that the screens looked pretty damn good.
They were also showing off their Next Unit of Computing (NUC) devices – tiny little boxes (as you can see from the image) that pack some power and seemed to have grown since I saw them at PAX East earlier this year. Instead of Ivy Bridges, the guts of these units were running i3 and i5 Haswell core chips (with turbo) and Intel HD graphics 5000, which isn’t bad for starting at $400. The outside featured network, USB 3.0, HDMI and DisplayPorts. So what did they do after showing us the specs on these units? We got to game on them. There were a few stations there that were driven by a NUC stuck to the back of the monitor, that still provided a high-grade gaming experience that I would expect from a desktop build. They mentioned that they were going to release a Pro edition, which we’ll keep an eye out for. To be honest I’d consider using these in the enterprise too in pro mode. On a personal note, what was probably the nicest part of the Intel show had nothing to do with going over specs or gaming on their ultrabooks – it was the business card raffle from which I won an i7 4770K processor. So guess what kids? It’s build time.
S-E had a decent amount of stuff lined up for PAX goers – I didn’t check out all of them because there were a couple reruns from PAX East but there were still some things worth seeing. First and foremost we know they’re big on remakes and remasters, so there’s no surprise that Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix, Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster and Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut all made appearances at their booth. KH 1.5 and Deus Ex were reruns from PAX East, so I started by taking a look at the remasters of Final Fantasy X/X-2. The gameplay graphics are definitely sharper and a cut above how they looked on the PS2, when back then they were amazing. The CG cutscenes also looked pretty good, but not as much of an improvement from S-E’s PS2 edition of the game. Otherwise, I heard mumblings of rumors that the remaster would be delayed from this year to next. While it makes sense, I’m not going to say it’s true since I didn’t hear it straight from Square-Enix.
The other game I was glad to finally get my hands on was Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns. Having played the first and second one through, the series kind of grew on me, and Lighting became one of my favorite Final Fantasy characters of all time. I knew the gameplay on this one was going to be a little bit different than the previous games in the XIII universe, and did like what I saw. Lightning is a solo player (at least in the demo) and the overworld work that has to be done is more than just walking around and only being able to jump where there’s a flashy spot on the ground. The demo featured a slice of the game where you have to chase Snow down, of course learning the mechanics of the game on the way. Similar to paradigm shifts Lightning can switch between classes on the fly to unleash a broad range of attacks. These classes each have a different orientation – in the case of this demo it was defense/life, attack power and magic. It almost reminded me of the dress spheres in Final Fantasy X-2, just done a lot better in the combat style of the XIII universe. Staggering your opponents changes a little bit, but the core concept is similar. I for one enjoyed it, and as I am a glutton for completion, will definitely be picking it up to close out the trilogy.
They also showed some trailers for Thief, Final Fantasy XV and the Kingdom Hearts 1.5/2.5 HD Remixes in the theater section they had set up. I’m going to link you the one for Final Fantasy XV. It’s a rerun from E3, but boy is it delicious.
As for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, S-E seemed have a good (maybe?) problem, actually suffering downtime because they weren’t expecting as many western players as they have. Director Naoki Yoshida admitted this freely, that he thought players would let others give FFXIV:ARR a try first before jumping in. The server loads were supposedly spread out properly as of today, and more importantly to some, the restriction on YouTube playthroughs and videos has been lifted. Other than that, new updates will bring more Primal fights, the Gold Saucer in-game (once they get three mini games to kick it off, woot!), and maybe some new jobs and classes. On that as far as class mounts go for the hopeful, not much more information has been revealed – but if you want a unicorn, roll a conjurer.
Stay tuned for the next segment tomorrow featuring my faves from the Indie Megabooth and a gameplay review of Dying Light. Also later in this series will be the 2K roundup featuring X-COM and Borderlands 2, as well as my pick of the litter for the best of PAX 2013. And you can always find photos from the whole PAX proceedings on our IHOGeek Facebook page.