A day at EGX 2017

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It’s 5am on a Thursday morning, my alarm has just pinged, instead of hitting the snooze button I’m awake! My wife thinks I’m crazy but this is like Christmas for me, I’m excited! It’s EGX day!

I’ve been going to EGX for a long time now, since the early days when it was hosted in London at Earls Court. It has become somewhat of a yearly tradition for myself and the merry band of misfits that I frequent the event with, so seeing it evolve over the years and how the gaming landscape has changed has been a pleasure. This year promised to be a good one. Xbox beating the war drum with the imminent launch of the X and showing off its upcoming titles in dazzling 4K, Sony with major floor presence showcasing major upcoming 3rd party titles on the PS4 Pro, a resurgent Nintendo with its enviable first party line up and a strong PC showing backed up by ESL Premiership events and VR! Literally all persuasions were promised to be catered for…plus all that lovely swag and loot! It was time to go.

 

We arrived at the Birmingham NEC early. Anyone that has ever been to any event like this will tell you that the queues can literally be a killer, especially on the major titles. So having paid for an hours early access we got into the fast track queue and managed to make it near the front, result! The plan was set, hunt down a major upcoming title and get on it before the horde descend. All we had to do was wait with our anticipation levels building…come on 10am!

“The Show floor is now open” booms over the speaker system, a cheer erupts from the crowd, the doors open, the rush begins…

Being predominately an Xbox and FPS guy I knew where I was heading first. The Phenomenon that is Player Unknown Battlegrounds or PUBG to the cool kids. Having heard a lot of people wax lyrical and seeing those record-breaking concurrent player numbers on Steam I had to experience it. After a short wait of 30 minutes (early access paying off) I was on. “You have 10 minutes or until you die” the cheery rep tells me. “No pressure then, I think to myself as I pop the headphones on and pick up the pad!

 

I’m assigned a random avatar and after a short load screen where you familiarise yourself with the buttons, I’m flying over the map, looking for a place to parachute in. I can see other players descending, I need to make my move, otherwise I’ll be a sitting duck. Hitting the button I’m away, plummeting to the ground while desperately looking for a safe place to land. I choose a wooded area with a few small buildings, no other players in site. A perfect place to familiarise myself and then launch an offensive. Cautiously I make my way to the first building and slowly enter. Fantastic! A 9mm lies on the floor with a red dot site, I’m now armed. In the corner of the building is a bathroom, I enter and find a shirt and energy drink, these will come in handy late, I muse while pocketing them. Then a sudden realisation dawns on me. I’ve left the front door open, what if I’m being tracked? I slowly close the bathroom door, brush up against the wall and listen….

Soon enough the faint sound of footsteps can be heard in my headphones. The bathroom door opens, a head pops in, he doesn’t see me. An opportunity has presented itself, the hunter has become the hunted! I crouch and slowly exit the room after him. Bang, bang, bang, a few shots to the back of the head put my assailant down, my first kill…my heart is pounding.

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Deciding to move to the next building I find myself trying to recon the area without giving my position away. In the corner of the screen I can see the player count going down. 80 remaining, 70 remaining… A warning flashes on the screen “in five minutes move to the circled game area” I need to go. Making my move across the open field I find I’m congratulating myself on my previous cunning and then…Pop! Pop! I’m down…..I hadn’t done a good enough job of scouting the area, my killer joyfully coming over to loot my corpse. My jubilation was turned to humiliation in a heartbeat…I was dead. My colleagues all had similar stories of success and failure to tell.

This cruel world is PUBG and it is utterly fantastic!

Exiting the booth we all agree to scope out the Xbox One X display, it was something we had spotted while in the last queue and best of all, they were giving away swag!

 

While waiting in the swag queue we are treated to upcoming Xbox One X game footage, delightfully displayed on high end screens. Gears 4, Anthem, Assassins Creed, Shadow of War all flash by looking absolutely beautiful. Display cases show upcoming products as well as previous Xbox lineage. It’s a powerful message while you’re waiting for that glorious loot and it’s one we eventually saw many times throughout the day, realising that we could farm the reps for additonal swag and game passes.

The next major title was Assassin’s Creed Origins. A chance to play on the new Xbox one X and handily located close by. My friend, Stu, an absolutely massive Assassin’s fan is excited. After another short queue we are both in and playing the short gameplay slice that many gamers have seen before (E3 and Gamescom.) To say it was breathtaking on the X1X was an understatement. The game world literally felt alive with little flourishes of detail, such as sand kicking off the heels of NPC’s, tree’s swaying in the breeze, absorbing you into Ancient Egypt.

They have completely changed the mechanics” Stu tells me as he proceeds to show me how how the combat is new, the button mapping is different and the character progression tree now more closely resembles an RPG.

Ubisoft have literally gone back to the drawing board with Origins and it shows. It feels fresh, it feels new. It almost doesn’t feel like Assassins Creed. Dare I say it, it could be the best in the series since Black Flag!

Slowly getting on towards lunch time we decide to quickly check out Merch section and maybe one or two smaller indie titles before heading off for some well earned food and beer. On our way over we spot Dragonball Fighter Z, an upcoming 2.5D fighter from Arc Systems, best of all there is no queue, just walk up play. An impromptu ‘winner stays on tournament’ is declared and the battle begins. What immediately grabs you about this title is how strikingly beautiful it is. If you’re a fan of anime then you’re in for a real treat here as Goku, Vegeta, Frieza and cast zip about the screen beautifully. With the usual over the top special moves going off all over the place, it really does feel feels like you’re playing in an episode ripped straight from the TV show. The controls feel intuitive, responsive and fun, it feels super easy to just pick up and play. However, you can tell there is a huge layer of depth just bubbling under the surface for those fight aficionados that are willing to explore its systems. 30 minutes later, after a tense final match against my friend Josh, I find myself being crowned supreme Zen-Oh.  Trying not to gloat to much (who am I kidding!) we all walked away suitably impressed.

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A quick spot of lunch (and a sneaky couple of pints) saw us recap on the morning’s festivities. We all had our own stand out moments that we joyfully discussed, while working out a plan of action for the afternoon. Unanimously we all agreed to head to the Sony stand and check out Star Wars Battlefront II.

We must have had the force on our side (Or more likely everyone else was still at lunch) as we seemed to have timed it to perfection, with only a small queue of 45 minutes before we were in on the action and boy were we in on it! This was no demo slice, this was a full Galactic Assault game mode on the planet Naboo and that meant extended game time.

Bundled into our teams by the reps we were straight in on the action, the graphics looking absolutely gorgeous on the PS4 Pro. The fidelity being achieved here by Dice with the Frostbite engine would almost have you believe it’s a CGI sequence out of the original film. A lot of gamers will have by now seen footage of Battlefront II, but until you see it on a high end display, running at 60fps you just can’t do it justice. Every shot from a blaster, every explosion from a grenade is gloriously rendered, you really do feel immersed in the Star Wars fiction. Couple this with the tight gameplay and mechanics you would come to expect from Dice results in a very fun experience. I came away from this title suitable impressed. If they can nail the new single player campaign then I can see this being a massive hit when it releases in November.

Time wasn’t on our side now, with only a couple of hours until the show floor closed we had to make some some serious choices. We were never going to fit it all in, not in a single day anyway. So we headed back over to the Xbox stand (predominately for more loot) and chance to try the upcoming Cuphead from StudioMDHR!

 

A lot of things have been said about the 1930’s cartoon art style that Cuphead employs, but it really needs to be seen to be believed. Every frame is absolutely meticulous in its delivery, really showing a labour of love from the developers. Gameplay feels super tight with your character responding well to each input as you run and gun. If you old enough to remember Contra/Probotector you won’t be far wrong and boy do those characters need to respond well! This game isn’t for the faint of heart (some haven’t even made it past the tutorial) The developers have really captured that old school difficulty curve, with me and my friends all experiencing the “YOU DIED” screen on numerous occasions. I must stress though, even though the learning curve is steep, it never feels like you are cheated. Every time you bite the dust you feel it was your own fault and not cheap game design, resulting in that one more go’ mentality to try and overcome the level. Overall Cuphead was a fun game and it was great in local co-op. It is definitely one to watch out for if you’re a fan of the genre or just a sadist that likes difficult games.

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Rounding our day off we finally headed to the Destiny stand, Josh is an absolutely massive fan and had been wanting to go but the queues had been horrendous. Hoping to enter our fireteam for the strike challenge we approached with trepidation. Surely it would have gone down by now? I mean everyone has Destiny at home right? Not a chance! It was still over an hour deep even so late on in the day. There was a dawning realisation at this point “We wouldn’t get on” not before the show floor closed anyway. So we had to settle for just spectating and enjoying the Destiny lounge area that had been set up. Virgin Media (the show sponsors) had done an impressive job of setting up this social space, with bean bags, life sized Guardians, Sparrow models and a viewing concourse that let you observe all the Destiny action going on. It was a shame we didn’t get a chance to get to play but unfortunately this is a harsh truth for anyone who has ever been to an event like this. We did get a cool picture with the Guardians though!

 

Finally, it was time to go home. After one last loot run through the Xbox Section (hey why not? it’s free) we made our way back to the car. Another EGX adventure was over for another year. We all had our own personal highlights and lowlights that we each enthusiastically discussed on the journey home. For me, I personally loved experiencing PUBG for the first time and winning the Dragonball Z round robin. A lowlight was the absence of Wolfenstein II in playable form. Being a fan of the first, I would have loved to play before the October release, though alas, it was not meant to be.

On reflection, 2017 was a good year for EGX, with some great titles showcased. Each platform holder choosing to exibit in different ways. From the loud, grand and proud approach by Sony, to the more intimate experiences offered by Microsoft and Nintendo, all gaming persuasions were catered for. It would have been great to have been able to stay for a few further days and experience great upcoming titles like Mario Odyssey, Far Cry 5 and a plethora of others. However and unfortunately due to time constraints, massive queues and my wife potentially divorcing me, we had to settle to watching from a far (all looked amazing by the way) and hopefully enjoy them when they release later in the gaming calender.

Will I be going back again next year? Do you even need to ask?

Of course I will.