Zeit’s Picks at Steam Next Fest (February 2023 Edition)

I’ve been stoked for February’s iteration of Steam’s cheerfully curated collection of demos that is Next Fest since I received a wee email from Weather Factory (the fine folks behind the card-based game of apocalypse, yearning and management Cultist Simulator) to inform me that their latest title, Book of Hours, is launching its first playable demo as part of Steam’s Next Fest! So, without further adieu, let’s get wired in!

It’s time to put my unique talents for the organization of paperwork to good use in Book of Hours. Developed and published by Weather Factory.

Book of Hours is a beautiful, peaceful little game. That’s the best way to introduce it. A roleplaying game that invites the curious to explore its card-based mechanics, interact with the world and its characters, and exchange resources such as your health for currency, favors, or further resources to aid your development of the Hush House and in your role as Librarian of said house. It’s important to note that your influence isn’t restricted to the halls of Hush House either, with visitors coming to your door and a wealth of secret histories to explore, the past and the future are yours to write.

Clearly, the two-person team that’s developing Book of Hours have poured a lot of love and heart into this passion project, little details to really anchor you in the world you’re playing in, from the currency being in Crowns, Sixpence, and Shillings (Yes, Old money!) to little flourishes in character’s speech such as the Fisherman offering to “take ‘ee” work to build this foreign, skeptical village you’ve been washed up into.

There’s very little you can’t love about Book of Hours. The music delicately plays in the background before swelling at an important moment or as an event concludes, the old font akin to something you’d find on a typewriter or on the display of an old, mechanical till even down to the sharp, colorful art gracing the cards and icons making everything you need to identify at a glance a doddle. The only issue I had with the demo was the icons being misplaced or misaligned in some places, seeming to be going on little wanders but that can be easily forgiven and seems to be an easy fix.

I cannot recommend this enough. Wishlist this! It’s at the head of the article for a reason and is absolutely worth nabbing when it releases in June this year!

Next up in this roundup is I Am Future, A Cozy Apocalypse survival title developed by Mandragora and published by tinyBuild.

Waking up on the roof of a skyscraper is no joke, finding the sprawl of Cosmopolis now lying in ruins, flooded and overgrown with curious vines and pulsing purple flowers only makes it worse. Add to that you can’t remember much and you have a recipe for disaster, or a great combination to start your own comfy little home from scratch. I Am Future invites you to do just that!

I Am Future starts with an immediate, refreshing change from other post-apocalypse, survival titles: the color palette. It’s bright, beautiful, and inviting as opposed to the drab, depressing dreariness of other titles. A vibrant array of colors grace the world as you potter about, dismantle old devices and gather raw materials, crafting parts, and build and repair equipment on your rooftop that’ll aid you in your quest to reach further out into the sprawl of Cosmopolis to figure out what happened to lead the once fine city into this state.

There is plenty to love about this charming wee game and I cannot help but highly recommend this wee cracker of a game. There’s a surprising amount of depth to be found in the demo alone. I’m in love with the design of the world, and the vibrancy of the in-game advertisements for competing companies UNILIFE, Unilife, and others, it’s very clear what can and can’t be harvested and the idea of your cybernetic hand being all your tools is a cracking idea.

There’s plenty to tinker with and explore in the demo so I implore you to go give it a download and give it a go, you won’t regret it and if you do, you can just blame me. 😛

I Am Future is scheduled for release on the 18th of May this year. You can find its Steam page here. Now how can you say no to the wee drone mush on the left there? You’re not heartless, are you?

Now, for something completely different. Necronomnomnom: Eldritch Horror Dating. Developed and Published by the fine folks at Pixel After Pixel.

First of all, let me take a moment to introduce you to my date for this evening. Meet Lil’y. She is a deep one of undefined, indeterminate age with endless, void-grey eyes who loves romantic, tentacle-in-tentacle walks on the beach…oh, and she’s a big fan of knitting. In particular, crochet. She makes really nice crochet tentacle hats that look stylish AND terrify the children!

This is exactly what it looks like. It’s a dating sim/visual novel but you’re trying to woo an old one. It is exactly as daft as it sounds and it’s hysterical. Answering questions and working your way into the heart of your date while maintaining your sanity. All the dialogue is wonderfully written, almost humanizing these eldritch abominations and injecting a great sense of humor and some truly abyss-mal puns!

Unfortunately, this hysterical little title doesn’t have a release date as of yet but is available for adding to your wishlist. So it is best that you pop it on to keep an eye out for any updates in the future.

After our dip into madness, it’s time to kick back with Cardboard Town. Developed and published by our friends at Stratera Games.

A stark contrast to the previous title I’ve put in the spotlight for my wee roundup, Cardboard town is an adorable wee card-based city builder. Playing out in turns, you have a limited budget to spend each turn while managing multiple resources as laid out in the top right of the screen, Water, electricity, safety, and environment. Your buildings themselves are the cards you play and have a cost in dollars and at the end of every turn, your trouble meter is bumped up by one and every seven turns a disaster unfolds. It is an easy premise to grasp but in actuality, it’s a delicate balance to manage as your burgeoning wee town unfolds into a grand metropolis. Throw in the fact that some cards will have timers on them, some might cost you certain resources, and all sorts of other things to juggle and you’re in for a whale of a time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a few things the demo could do better. A tutorial wouldn’t go amiss but once you wrap your head around how the game works, you’re laughing. Every game is different and each run allows you to unlock more cards and push your high score further. It’s definitely one of the tougher games I’ve played during this Next Fest. I can easily recommend it.

Unfortunately, the only news for a planned release date we have for Cardboard Town is “2023” so definitely keep an eye on the Steam page for any further updates.

A far cry from the whimsy of Cardboard Town. Next up on my list thanks to a recommendation by fellow admin =RaggA= is The Pale Beyond, developed by Bellular Studios and published by Fellow Traveller.

The Pale Beyond is a fantastic wee demo. It had the hooks in from the very first second. The drone of the deep bass notes of the cello as the dedication text graces the screen, the initial choices you make forming the first page of your character’s diary before you begin your journey. This mood continues during your initial job interview with your captain, Hunt.

As you progress further into the demo, the soundtrack changes. You gather your crew and set sail, and the composition soon changes to express a more optimistic mood. You’re an explorer on what feels like an ill-fated expedition, but with the crew’s high spirits, things feel like they may go well. It isn’t long until we are reminded that our responsibilities as first mate (and eventually, as captain) and difficult choices are never far away and soon are foisted squarely on our shoulders.

I’m not going to go too much deeper into the demo here. The game’s very close to release and I don’t want to spoil too much but please, do yourselves a favor: Wishlist it, buy it. You won’t regret it. The Pale Beyond is a fantastic title. It is due for release on the 24th of February this year and it’s absolutely cracking. It will be a struggle, it won’t be a pleasant playthrough at times and you will make some difficult decisions, but you will relish every moment.

Now, talking about making difficult decisions. The next and final title on my round-up will need no introduction, but if a reminder is in order, the above image is one and here’s another.

To round it all off is Darkest Dungeon II, published and developed by Red Hook Studios.

It’s time, heroes. Take that last flash of hope, sign your confession, gather at the Crossroads, assemble your party, board the stagecoach, and begin your journey towards the cold peaks.

It is very clear from the get-go that Red Hook Studios have taken lots of notes and lavished this game with a lot of love. The graphics have gone full 3D while maintaining the same, foreboding, grim, cel-shaded art style I loved about the first title. For those who fancy their ears being tickled, you’ll be glad to know that Stuart Chatwood has returned to provide the score once again and if you miss those glorious, glorious quips from the Ancestor’s narration say no more. Wayne June has returned to deliver his deep tones to the role. Darkest Dungeon II’s demo just shows that the game is a labor of love through and through.

There have been a few changes, instead of trudging through various rooms and corridors of dungeons, you’re now traveling on roads and regions on your way to the Darkest Dungeon. Approaching forks in the road towards different choices and dealing with combat encounters where enemies may have blockaded the path randomly.

There is also far, far more to juggle in the demo for Darkest Dungeon II. Your party members will have their own opinions on the choices you make on your trek between Inns. Your party members will also have opinions on the encounters you come across at stops too. This will also lead to alliances forming between party members, bonds being forged and even the opposite. Some members may fall out with one another. There is plenty for you to manage.

Now, I’ll be honest. I adored the first game. There is so much for fans of the first game to love here that it won’t take much to sell them on it, but for folk who haven’t played the first, there’s plenty to entice them too: The introduction of Origin stories for each hero to allow you to form a deeper attachment to each character and unlock new skills, items and more. The Altar of Hope is a huge system of upgrades that offer up an array of strategies for each expedition. It’s truly fantastic.

Right, I’m going to curtail my gushing before folk get sick of it. Honestly, Darkest Dungeon II is wholeheartedly worth nabbing at the earliest possible opportunity. It releases on the 8th of May, 2023. Get it. Just do it.

With that, I’ll sign off, this has been my roundup of highlights from this iteration of Steam’s Next Fest. What’s been your favorite? Have I missed any gems? Please pop me a message in the discord. If you disagree vehemently with any of my pics, come and yell at me. Have a crackin’ day and I’ll chat with you again at [INSERT INDETERMINATE TIME IN THE FUTURE] 😛

Here, you wouldn’t think I’d leave an article involving Darkest Dungeon without showing the worst thing any Darkest Dungeon player can witness in any run, would you?

Well, here you go. Remember, The Darkest Dungeon “is no place for the weak, or foolhardy”. So ends your expedition…

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