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Steam Next Fest 2023: Build, Survive, Fight

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Playing video games can be fun, especially if you find something that can scratch certain itches you might have. They can be even more fun when you get a group going, and sometimes elevated when you add in the factor of survival. This weekend, I survived, crafted, constructed, fought, and healed through a few demos from Steam Next Fest’s October 2023 event. 

Specifically, I was on the search for some new games to play with my friends. We play nearly every Saturday and Sunday, and we needed something fresh to keep the fun going. So I have a couple of suggestions of those that piqued my interest and kept me playing for hours. Steam Next Fest is a sort of, pre-Holiday celebration where various events happen over the week. Most importantly for the gamers/consumers, there’s the opportunity to play many demos. There are also conversations with developers and even live streams, but those are better experienced directly, so I won’t comment on those. Here are some titles I added to my wishlist.

[Note: While I am reviewing this game independently and honestly, it should be noted that keys for Enshrouded were provided to me through Terminals.IO. Warning: possible spoilers from some Steam Next Fest demos are below!]

United 1944

United 1944 was quite fun, it reminded me of the local lobbies I would create with my classmates to play Battlefield 1943. And yeah, I know, the titles are even similar but disregard that entirely. This game has all the gameplay elements of a standard multiplayer FPS (First-Person Shooter), with a WW1 setting.

Here’s where there’s a bit of a twist. It’s not simply survival, there’s an objective where the focus is to make an outpost. That required materials so we had to run around a few buildings and find a secure spot to prop it up. After a few minutes, my friend and I had taken an old school, set bear traps around the entrances, and settled into windows to keep an eye out for intruders.

While you can create a group of up to 4 players, we ran only two, since it took a few attempts to even get to the initial loading screen. Since these are demos for Early Access games, I treat them entirely differently from a fully released title. But that’s the point of these things, right? Test, test, test and submit bugs so the finalized product has the kinks worked out. We played one match that we didn’t finish since these tend to run quite long.

Crafting in United 1944 (Novarama)
Crafting in United 1944 (Novarama)

For a time, I was actually tired of the WW1/WW2 setting used in every FPS since the initial rise of them in the early 2000s heavily relied on them. So, after the last few years of ‘modern’ or ‘futuristic’ fights, it was nice to go back to something simpler.

While I appreciate the advances of gameplay with Perks (selectable boosts to your character – i.e. increased stamina/health), I’ve sorely missed the days when winning was based purely on skill. Call of Duty and Battlefield players will know what I mean, about losing firefights due to ridiculous weapon balancing or a Perk casually costing you the battle. 

It was refreshing to get a chance to run around with pistols and rifles and not worry about rocket or grenade launchers sending me to a different zip code. What really impressed me were the visuals, the graphics were gorgeous and I managed to run the game on “Ultra” settings with minimal issues. The textures aren’t pixel-perfect, it was similar to the more recently released game Counter-Strike: 2. Even so, the game ran well enough for me, although I was not able to clock how many frames I was getting.

My only real gripe with the game was the key bindings, I didn’t try to change them but I kept trying to pull up my perk menu and it was CAPS LOCK for some reason. It’s just weird. I do appreciate the tutorial, it was one of the best ones I’ve had in a video game in a while. I think a total of 4 minutes running through the course teaches you what you need to know.

Final Verdict: I intend to purchase this game if the price is reasonable – $40 or less.

Enshrouded

Do you like Skyrim? What about Minecraft? What if they met somewhere in the middle? That’s about the simplest way to pitch this game without having to convince someone to jump in. Funny enough, it didn’t actually take me much effort to get my buddies in there. Enshrouded is a mixture of survival, crafting, and combat! Some of my favorite things!

The first thing we had to do was set up a game with myself as the host. This would allow my friends to join my world and play together. So I booted it up, got past the tutorial dungeon (swiftly, I might add), and set up camp as soon as I found an open patch of land. This helped, as my friends loaded in one at a time, they could see us working down below in preparing our shelter. You can’t make stuff without materials so we spent a little time venturing until we had enough stone and plant fibers to get a small house going. Night fell and we got cold, literally, so we chopped down some trees, made a bonfire, and crowded around it. 

Enshrouded is not just the name of this game but an actual gameplay element. There are patches of a thin blue fog, as you enter the area a timer appears along the top of the screen. If that timer runs to 0, instant death. But, some of the materials, quests, and items you seek will be in these areas. It’s a bit of work to run in, fight a few creatures, and get back to safe areas. 

Enshrouded Screenshot (Keen Games)
Enshrouded Screenshot (Keen Games)

On the note of combat, while simplistic, I found the fighting very satisfying. Actually, it was easily what impressed me the most. I was prepared to get some RuneScape types of swings and hits. Instead, it was more reminiscent of Valheim which I can already see many people trying to compare that game to this one. I’ve actually never played Valheim, but after 30 seconds of a YouTube clip I think I get the picture and that comparison works for me.

Dodging an incoming bolt was brilliant and being able to close the gap between myself and the enemy was thrilling. I had to call for backup! In the end, we managed to take him down but not without having to heal tremendously. It wasn’t entirely tough but it absolutely had me on alert to not get ambushed and lose all my items. 

I’m not a builder by any means and my hours in Minecraft are probably still in the single digits. So adding a sense of survival elements where I’m forced to build, gave me something to work with. Knowing I had to accomplish some things before the night fell, and making it back to camp was a fun loop.

We would venture to a distant castle or a patch of Enshrouded to go and grind out the materials we required. After that, we were running around with Wands, Grapplers, Bows and Swords. At one point we decided to test the limitations of building, specifically in a vertical sense. Minutes later we have a stairway to heaven and gliding suits to jump off with. Next thing I know I’m flying over my buddy as he’s fighting the undead.

A little side note is that you can password-protect your server so that randoms can’t just waltz in. Half the fun is meeting new people so I permitted randoms to join and they mostly followed us around and helped us in combat. The last thing some of the undead saw was myself and three others in rags charging them with wands, one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Final Verdict: I’m buying this game and if they sell it in bundles, I’m getting a 4-pack and giving it out to my friends to join me again.

Final thoughts on Steam Next Fest 2023

I do hope these recommendations struck a chord for someone and perhaps you might even play with or against me in one of these. As a child of the late 90’s, couch co-op was bread and butter as anyone knows how much of a staple GoldenEye split-screen was back then. I’ve accepted that playing a game next to someone is becoming difficult as the perspectives of gaming have shifted. With this knowledge, I’ve pivoted my focus to titles like the ones I shared above. As always, have fun out there!

If you played any games during Steam Next Fest 2023 that were worth a shout, give me a holler at The Cosmic Circus Discord server. Will you try out Enshrouded or United 1944 at some point? Let us know on social media at @MyCosmicCircus. 

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Anthony Flagg

Howdy! I cover a variety of topics for The Cosmic Circus. My favorite topics to write about are video games, Pokemon and music. Drop me a line on Twitter! @redovah_

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