REVIEW: A Show For Gamers: DreamHack Anaheim 2020 Highlights and Top 5 Games

DreamHack Anaheim 2020 marks the first time that DreamHack, a gaming lifestyle festival spanning multiple countries across three continents, had a show on the west coast of the United States. I dropped by on Saturday, looking forward to seeing what DreamHack Anaheim had to offer and playing some video games, and I was not disappointed. Here’s what I thought of DreamHack Anaheim!

PLAY OF THE GAME: THE GOOD

DreamHack Anaheim was a well-built show, and these are just some of the highlights:

  • High-level Esports Competitions: DreamHack Anaheim was definitely focused on gamers, and whether you’re competing or simply a fan of high-level play, DreamHack Anaheim had you covered. The stages were well-organized with ample seating and well-placed screens, and there was always a competition running, whether it was Fortnite, Halo, Madden, or any number of fighting games. If you were there to watch high-level play or to compete, DreamHack Anaheim was your Disneyland.
  • Indie Playground: Indie games can have a tough time finding traction when it comes to getting the word out, and the Indie Playground at DreamHack Anaheim was a great way to provide advertising (and game testing) for up and coming indie titles. Between creative booth setups and and a wide, enticing variety of games, the Indie Playground is where I spent most of my time at DreamHack Anaheim, finding and playtesting new games, and it was time well spent.
  • Expo Hall: The main convention hall had one of the best setups I’ve seen at a convention in a good long while. Booths were well-placed and spaced, and walkways between booths were wide enough that they never felt congested, which is a rarity in most convention expo halls. Whoever placed the booths also knew what they were doing – putting Eat Mikey’s, Monster Energy, and Wild Bill’s Soda all within stumbling distance of each other was genius.

YOU HATE TO SEE IT: THE ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Every convention has its issues, and DreamHack Anaheim was no exception.

  • Afterthoughts: DreamHack Anaheim was focused on gaming, and that meant that its non-gaming elements fell by the wayside. The sole panel room wasn’t a room at all: it was rows of chairs in front of a stage, placed at the base of the escalators – a high traffic area – and not enclosed in any fashion, meaning panels suffered from a lot of ambient noise and conversations. The Artist Alley had the misfortune of being mostly hidden behind the Fortnite stage, and being next to the Indie Playground meant a good amount of traffic bypassed the artists entirely in favor of gaming, making the Artist Alley something of a dead zone. Despite a solid panel lineup and a bevy of fantastic artists, placement and execution made panels and Artist Alley look like something of an afterthought.
  • Silent Hill?: There was a fog machine near one of the stages that got extensive use, to the point where a good portion of the hall spent most of the day half-shrouded in haze. In a day full of looking at screens, anything that affects vision is distracting at best, and this was easily preventable.

All in all, DreamHack Anaheim was a well-built and well-executed show, minus a few hiccups. For those following the esports competitions showcased during the show, and for those competing for prizes and bragging rights or otherwise participating, DreamHack Anaheim was a full weekend of entertainment. For those not competing or not otherwise interested in esports, DreamHack Anaheim was a one-day show; that said, that day was an absolute blast, and I fully plan on returning next year.

Of course, after spending a large part of my day in the Indie Playground, this list is a necessity:

TOP FIVE INDIE GAMES FROM DREAMHACK ANAHEIM

  1. Alluris: Pitched to me as “a cross between fantasy Oregon Trail and Tinder,” Alluris is a storytelling game with simple mechanics: a card with choices is presented to you, you swipe left or right to make your choice, and each choice leads to a new card, with the end goal of eventually saving the world from the evil force attempting to take it over. It’s charming, has a fantastic sense of humor, and is easy to play, and I can’t wait to sit down and make my way through the full game. Alluris is developed and published by 562 Interactive and is available on Steam, iOS, and Android, with a Switch port arriving later this year.
  2. Family Style: This co-op mobile game makes frenetic culinary teamwork portable; it’s a bit like having Overcooked in your pocket. Players join a communal kitchen and pass ingredients back and forth in an attempt to create recipes and submit them for points, with the goal of making it to the next level. This is the perfect game for waiting with friends – twenty minutes early to the movie theater, waiting in line at a theme park, etc. – and I returned to the booth to play it more than once. Family Style is developed and published by Chef Party and is available on iOS and Android.
  3. Steamhounds: This turn-based strategy RPG takes the principles of Fire Emblem and paints over them with a pixel art steampunk aesthetic, providing multiple character classes with distinct abilities and a combat system that’s easy to learn but promises to be challenging to master. Steamhounds is in early development and won’t be available for a good while; that said, I wish their ten-minute demo had lasted an hour, because I didn’t want to stop playing. Steamhounds is developed by Stray Basilisk.
  4. Fallen Angel: Described as “Dogma without the loophole,” this pixel art bullet hell boss rush game supplies a simple premise: God has disappeared, and you, a demon, are hell-bent on taking over in His absence. Fallen Angel had one of the most impressive demos at DreamHack Anaheim  – an hour of gameplay that included four boss fights, an intuitive tutorial, and very solid mechanics – but as the game is still in development, it’ll be a while before we get to see the rest. Fallen Angel is developed by Matrioshka Games and published by Vicarious Publishing.

Interference: What if you worked at Area 51 – or someplace like it – and something went wrong? …except you’re in the security guard booth at the outskirts of the complex, so while you can affect the story, you’re not about to come face to face with anything horrifying yourself? That’s the story Interference posits, as a horror simulator that keeps the horror creeping and atmospheric and refuses to indulge in jump scares. Interference encourages multiple gameplay approaches, from turning off your radio and ignoring the situation altogether to involving yourself and trying to save everyone, allowing for multiple story avenues and encouraging replay. As the game is still in early development, we won’t get to experience the full story just yet, but this is one worth keeping an eye on. Interference is developed by Fear of Corn.

 

— Katie Cullen

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