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Steam Next Fest Reminded Me Why I Love Games – TheGamer

Playing loads of great demos has broken me out of my gaming slump
Sometimes gaming gets you down. There’s nothing in particular that does it, but after dozens of hours pretending to be a Jedi, then slogging through a Hyrule I’d already explored, and then preparing for the next big release, I grew a bit tired. Triple-A games are too big and too long, and I was burning myself out.
Most people can just take a break at this point, pick up one of their other hobbies and let the games chill out for a little while. That’s not really an option for someone whose job it is to write about video games. Yeah, yeah, woe is me and all that, but burnout is real and when your hobby is also your living, it affects both your work and home life.
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In a way, I was glad that I don’t have a PS5 or any way to rent one so I’m forced to sit Final Fantasy 16 out. I’m vicariously living through all my colleagues’ articles anyway, so do I really need to play it? Yes, obviously I do, but I’ll wait for the inevitable PC port in a year’s time, when I will have definitely cleared my backlog. Definitely.
So I’ve been chipping away at a few games from my backlog and in early access, and writing a lot about tabletop in the runup to Warhammer 40,000 10th edition has been a nice palate cleanser, too. But I needed to get back on the gaming horse properly. I’m not even close to finishing Tears of the Kingdom, and I’m one of the biggest Zelda fans on the website. Even my go-to live-service games, FIFA 23 and Apex Legends, weren’t doing it for me. But Steam Next Fest did.
I downloaded a dozen demos based on very little at all. Some I downloaded because I’ve been following their development, some I downloaded because I like the writers’ and designers’ previous work, some I downloaded on the recommendations of friends, and some I downloaded because I scrolled past and they looked cool. There was a real mix. I’ll run you through a few quick highlights, but the important thing is that these games reignited my passion for play.
The Invincible is a game basically made for me. Old school sci-fi based on a classic book, it’s one of my most anticipated games of the year and the demo perfectly whet my appetite for more. I’ve also been following the development of Stunt Derby, albeit for different reasons. This chaotic racer is being made by a team of journalists over at NoClip, and I wanted to see their progress. Viewfinder is a spectacular implementation of a clever central mechanic that impressed me on aesthetic and technical levels.
They’re just the three games I’ve had time to write about. I played the demo for Venba, a narrative cooking game about immigration and idlis. El Paso, Elsewhere is the most stylish game I’ve played in a long time, and its combination of satisfying combat and heavy narrative beats makes me very excited to kill my ex-girlfriend Draculae when the full game releases. Beastieball is volleyball Pokemon, SpellRogue isn’t technically a part of Steam Next Fest (it’s got a beta happening at the same time) but it’s still a fun fantasy deckbuilding roguelike, and Echo Point Nova is a combination of Titanfall 2, Tony Hawk, and Doom.
I’ve played a lot over the past week, and haven’t finished anything. That’s the nature of a demo: the whole game isn’t available. But I’ve tried a bunch of interesting experiences that pull their genres into new shapes and try new things. I’ve spent too long playing stale triple-A games that I forgot what innovation looks like. I forgot how to have fun.
There’s something to be said for the fact that these demos are, by their very essence, short. I’m sure some people will diagnose this as ‘the youth today have no attention spans to play long games they’re obsessed with their TikToks and-’ but I’ll counter that twofold. One: I’m nearly 30, I don’t have TikTok. Two: demos are great, and ten short sprints of something fresh was the perfect antidote to my gaming slump.
My Steam wishlist has grown a lot this week, and as someone who’s been staring at their backlog in dismay while trying to find something to fix their burnout, you’d think that would be a bad thing. But Steam Next Fest reminded me of what makes games great. It’s independent developers trying new things and putting themselves out there. Go to Steam. Pick a demo. Play it. You won’t regret it.
Next: Pokemon Sleep Seems To Be Launching Next Month, But What Even Is It?

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Ben is TheGamer’s only Features Editor from the north of England. An award-losing journalist, his specialities lie in Pokemon, Warhammer, Apex Legends esports, and fantasy and sci-fi RPGs. You can read his work in Eurogamer, The Guardian, IGN, Kotaku, The Loadout, NME, or VICE. Or here.

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