Forgot password?


Password reset

Please enter your e-mail address and new password.

Expo Experiences – EGX 2015

By WskOsc29-09-2015

Last week we travelled to the NEC, Birmingham, UK to do our journalistic duty at the Eurogamer Expo, otherwise known as EGX. As my first time going to an expo, or anything of that style, I decided I'd write about my experiences there. Sadly we got a bit distracted by all the shiny lights and forgot to take a bunch of pictures (also, our phones had barely any battery charge left) so here's a bunch of words instead.

I was with Simon, otherwise known as StuntmanLT, the owner of Pixel Judge who is far more experienced with these type of events but going into the NEC was still an overwhelming experience. On the concourse there was a handful of people milling about but after we received our press passes and got through the main doors it was like walking into a wall of sound and people. It's a weird feeling being in a gigantic room with thousands of people, none of whom you know personally, but to have the knowledge that you've all got something in common – a love of uh... games. Yeah.

Having a walk around the hall to get a feel for the place made two things apparent to me; I can get lost absolutely anywhere and an expo is a very complicated layout. Secondly, I'm still a gamer, not journalist, at heart and it was like being a kid in a candy store. The whole day there was me trying to contain my rampant childish enthusiasm because we were there to do a job and covering the games was the goal, not indulging myself with hands-on time of everything within reach.

Perhaps naturally our first stop was the hands-on booth for Battlefront, mainly because of our personal scepticism about the title but partly because how could we start the day with anything but Battlefront? We valiantly defeated the Leviathan-like line with our trusty press wrist-whatevers and the help of an awesome EA employee by the name of Alice who stood and talked with us for quite a while – actually providing the highlight of our people interaction (at least for me) for the entire day. Unfortunately that charming conversation couldn't go on for the rest of the day as the previous group of players moved on after about 10 minutes.

Our time with Battlefront opened with a video briefing with a dozen other players, and probably journalists, all around us. About 30 seconds into the briefing, about the time Admiral Ackbar popped up, I just wanted to play but having prior knowledge of what to do besides shoot your enemies did turn out to be useful when we got our hands on the game. Gameplay videos don't really do it justice – it doesn't feel like old Battlefront games an didn't feel like Battlefield either. The moment to moment gameplay is best described as Halo-esque – you have an aiming circle that acts as a kind of auto-aim reticle, with your shots mostly finding their mark so long as you keep the enemy in the circle.

It's also fast, you spawn near the fight and a jetpack lets you boost over about 50 feet of terrain or avoid having to mantle obstacles. Vehicles are doled out as floating icons that you collect, holding two buttons for a couple of seconds lets you teleport into that vehicle. The TIE Fighter starts in flight and allows you to instantly jump into the action, strafing ground troops and inevitably crashing into a snowdrift or one of Hoths many weapon emplacements. Aircraft mainly engaged each-other, shifting power from engines to weapons and back again with their simple throttle/power management combo controls that lets you automatically power up your weapons as you decelerate for an attack run.

Battlefront: It's like this, just in motion.

Battlefront: It's like this, just in motion.

The AT-AT proved to be more favourable, with a choice between two different blaster types (one with a viewpoint above the head, another below) and an orbital turbolaser bombardment that can wipe out swaths rebel scum when aimed correctly. The AT-AT moves automatically, you're actually occupying one of the map objectives – the imperial AT-ATs advancing on the rebel base. Accordingly your main threats come in the form of deadly A-Wings (actually Snowspeeders - thanks Xeno) that buzz around your legs trying to trip the AT-AT. Limited head movement helps mitigate the overwhelming firepower the AT-AT can lay down and if the rebels manage to keep hold of their targeting relays in the face of the imperial advance the humongous machines fall to Y-Wing bombing runs.

Man portable weapons may lack the punch of a gigantic stomping vehicle but were equally satisfying to use – the DLT-19, an MG34 looking blaster rifle proved to be my favourite, allowing me to suppress the rebel players and tear into their defensive positions with equal effectiveness. The E-11 proved to be a more effective personal assault weapon but the DLT-19 remains my first and only true love. Blaster weapons don't need reloading in Battlefront but instead overheat with excessive usage but cool rapidly – providing an enemy a few seconds to punish you for getting carried away but not lasting so long that you feel like you're being held back by the game's systems. The lack of a reload mechanic also had another interesting effect – there were blaster shots filling the air constantly, making a rush from trench to trench feel like a proper dash through no-man's-land.

With the match's end I came in fourth on our team with the rebels soundly thrashed, just like they deserve. Having played it my opinion of the game had done a 180, from very serious concerns about it living up to Battlefront 2 and worrying about hit detection issues (ala Battlefield 3 and 4) to being very satisfied with the time we had with it and wanting more, wanting the game even.

Beside Battlefront was Mirror's Edge Catalyst which again was preceded by a briefing video before we were let loose on a time limited trial of the game with access to one small segment of the open world. As you'd expect for a Mirror's Edge game the movement was fluid and enjoyable, with the simple up/down controls of the first game making a return but with more moves than before on those two buttons – things like swinging around a corner on a drainpipe occupy the same simple controls and it works surprisingly well.

The timed demo had an introduction sequence in which Faith is freed from captivity and introduced to the criminal runner culture via a shadowy figure that outstayed his brief screen time by about... all of it. Personal dislike for characters notwithstanding the game proved to be more atmospheric and flowing than the first. There's still an emphasis on speed and momentum, with things like vertical wall runs failing spectacularly if you don't have enough momentum. Combat too still benefits heavily from momenum, with enemies dispatched effortlessly via a slide or flying kick.

Of the three tasks presented to us; a combat challenge, a timed freerunning course, and a kind of climbing puzzle it was the latter two that were the most enjoyable. The ease of movement makes exploring and climbing on things just plain fun. It's like if Assassin's Creed was first person, and didn't suck. Doing rolls and flips never felt disorienting and even a control pad was sufficient to allow us excellent control over Faith's movements. On the flip side, combat felt like a button mashing cop-out. A few taps of the attack button left Faith's enemies sprawled on the floor in a heap and your momentum broken, but that could be because the difficulty was turned down for presentation purposes so it's hard to judge just how satisfying that aspect of the game will turn out to be.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst: It's like this, but with running around.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst: It's like this, but with running around.

We decided to give the indies some love next, making a bee-line for a personal aquaintance; Matt of Skatanic Studios, working on RPG Tycoon. We didn't get to go hands on because there were some very happy looking players hogging the machines and we didn't want to ruin their joy but we did manage to grab Matt for a decent chat about the features and gameplay of RPG Tycoon.

For those who don't know, RPG Tycoon is a fantasy kingdom management game where you start with a small patch of land and build facilities, hire adventurers and defeat nasties on fantasy quest. Think Dungeon Village if you're familiar with Android/iOS games, but RPG Tycoon wasn't influenced by it, development predating the mobile game by quite some time. We also learned a little about game progression – building a library allows you to research new items via books, having to assign a set number to each item in order to unlock them.

Worried by the small amount of land we saw on players screens we asked about expanding the play area and were informed that as your kingdom continues to grow the artificial boundaries can be pushed back by purchasing extra land, allowing you to build more facilities, attract more adventurers to your tavern and shops and hire more heroes to send out on quests to improve your relations with neighbouring kingdoms all in the pursuit of increasing your kingdom level to become the number one kingdom in the land before the pre-chosen time period expires.

Still in early alpha, RPG Tycoon is shaping up to be a light but deep kingdom management and building game that doesn't really have any competition in the same genre on PC. We moved on to have a chat with Warballoon who are developing Star Command Galaxies, the sequel to a mobile game about being a starship captain.

Star Command Galaxies barely resembles its predecessor in gameplay but is instantly recognisable in the visuals and humour. Having your ship's reactor called the Chernobyl, or snarky item descriptions and just plain silly quest text is unmistakably Warballoon's style. This time I did get a hands on with the game, with the developers standing beside me talking us through the various HUD elements and new game mechanics, occasionally interrupted by my stupid, stupid questions about things that were perhaps obvious to someone who'd spent more than a few minutes with the game.

The basics of Star Command Galaxies is that you are a starship captain and have a procedurally generated galaxy to explore in your ship. You don't just fly your ship from place to place but can explore planets and stations, either as a friend or enemy and can trade for upgraded items to place on your ship or new crew members as well as taking on quests or just blundering into the middle of large space battles. The battles can either be fought with ship-to-ship weapons or you can use the teleporter pad to shuffle crew members over to enemy ships, shooting your way through their interior and hopefully remembering to get them back out before the ship goes boom. I did not remember to get them out.

We didn't learn a great deal about the game, other than the fact it's still in alpha and as such its systems are in flux. We talked about the possibility of teleporting bombs onto enemy vessels to damage internal components or stealing enemy tech and items after their ship is damaged and the effects it might have on gameplay balance. At the end of our discussion the developers were kind enough to hand me a card with a free copy of the game on so I could give it another go without demoting my entire crew to red shirts. So stay tuned for more coverage of Star Command Galaxies in the future.

Riot: Social unrest has never looked so pretty.

Riot: Social unrest has never looked so pretty.

Riot was our next stop. It's a game about faithfully modelling social unrest and sees crowds of civilians facing off against police in demonstrations that can become violent in seconds. At its most basic the game is king of the hill, each side having to occupy an area for a set amount of time before they win. Complicating things is various equipment available to both sides and a morale/aggression system that can see police hesitant to advance or protesters breaking out molotovs.

Confused by our brief hands on we turned to the developers for assistance in understanding only to find that we had the information right in front of us all along – you don't get spoon fed information via status bars or words on screen but rather by the reactions of each group of units. Are police ignoring orders? They're intimidated. Are protesters starting to look more agitated? They probably are. Gameplay is as much about observation, applying knowledge of what you'd expect to happen in the real world to what you're seeing on screen.

Riot is dedicated to providing a balanced view of events, as it features real events like the Arab Spring, and as such you'll play as both sides of each conflict, ensuring that you don't see one side or the other as the enemy. A robust skirmish mode props up the campaign with the ability to customize both sides of the conflict to an impressive degree to create as much or as little challenge as you desire, or simply to experiment with the impressive reaction/mood mechanics to see what triggers a crowd to turn violent or police to break ranks.

Satisfied with the brutality of Riot we moved on to Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide for another flavour of violence. Fatshark were very welcoming and happily plonked my eager ass down infront of a PC. I have a crossbow, axe, healing kit and strength potion. I'm also a dwarf. Anyone who's played Left 4 Dead or its sequel will be immediately at home. Enemies come at you in groups and are dispatched quickly with blows that take off heads and limbs and the crossbow feels very much like the stake gun from Painkiller, a comparison I voiced to the developer beside me who seemed happy with the comparison.

As my AI party and I trudged through the dim and gloomy streets I never felt like I was lost, just taking paths at random led to new encounters and inevitable progression through the level. Enemies weren't always instantly aware of our party, sometimes catching Skaven looting parties over fresh kills or a spotter high in a building that got an axe to the back and long fall for his inattentiveness.

While playing we talked about game features; namely balance and progression. In Vermintide you'll be rewarded with loot, items your character can equip will influence how much damage you'll deal and what abilities you'll have available but are going to balanced in such a way that new players will be able to play with well equipped veterans without feeling like they're gimped. Items will also be restricted by which character you're playing, with certain weapons or items only being for certain characters. My question about whether or not we'll see a rat ogre however was met with an enigmatic “wait and see.”

Vermintide proved to be impressive even in solo play, each blow feeling meaty and each encounter a mix of calculatedly picking off targets and panicked flailing made for an overall satisfying experience.

Vermintide: Now with more rat giblets.

Vermintide: Now with more rat giblets.

Next up is Iron Fish by Beefjack, an underwater exploration and survival game in which you swim around and pilot a small submarine in search of answers to an overarching mystery. The devs wouldn't say much about the mystery itself but we did get a glimpse of a zombie-looking shark amongst the various undersea critters floating around the absolutely lovely environments. We hit a block however when attempting to surface our submersible – this is definitely a game focused on the wonders to be found beneath the waves and we were promised that the game would later delve to deeper depths beyond the 50-60 meters our small section of sea bottomed out at.

Despite having hands on time with Iron Fish it remains as much of a mystery now as before we'd played. It's slow and beautiful and leaves you lots of time to think about things, though that proved to be a detriment after ten minutes of swimming around picking up glowing canisters – I found myself wishing I was either faster or had more to think about besides what games I could be playing instead. That might sound damning but Iron Fish wasn't bad, it was just very very slow, something we were assured would be upgradeable as the game progresses so we very much have to wait and see what happens with Iron Fish in the future.

Closer to the end of the day we sought out an acquaintance from Deep Silver to see if we could get our hands on Homefront: The Revolution. We were in luck and managed to squeeze into the final group getting to play the game. Again it was a timed demo but featured a decent slice of what the game would actually be like.

Opening with you climbing onto an awning to prepare a jury-rigged trap of explosive barrels (of course they were bright red) for an approaching convoy built tension, watching the better equipped enemy force approaching in their armoured vehicles felt like we were about to be on the losing side of a very brief fight – not bad for a game I'd only had my hands on for two minutes. With the barrels dropped and convoy disabled, resistance fighters jumped from their hiding positions and I assisted in gunning down the remainder of the enemy infantry while they legged it with whatever supplies they grabbed from the burning wreck.

What followed was an escape sequence, sprinting through alleys and buildings on the way to a rendezvous with the resistance commander who kindly gave me a sweet motorcycle from a conveniently placed container so I could get completely distracted and spend the next five minutes doing sweet jumps and wheelies while tearing past enemy patrols who did their best to shoot the blur that just zipped by.

As enjoyable as the bike was, the guerilla tactics proved to be even more enjoyable. In Homefront: The Revolution you don't carry much ammunition and your enemies are better equipped – better guns, better vehicles, better armour, larger numbers – just better everything. As such you're often on the back foot even if you're the aggressor – luring enemies into a more favourable position or opening with an overwhelming attack so you can gain even a tiny advantage.

Homefront: Guerilla warfare actually means running away a lot.

Homefront: Guerilla warfare actually means running away a lot.

Homefront: The Revolution felt great to play, even though you were outmatched by superior opponents it never felt unfair. Quick thinking and planning were as important as quick aiming skill and the ability to manipulate the enemies into encounters that favoured your current situation proved to be more invaluable than a quick headshot. Enemy drones, snipers and search parties complicated every encounter with even more variables – do you risk the sniper to get closer for a better ambush, or do you not risk it? Do you flank and try to take the sniper first or rely on your personal skills to take him out from afar? These were the kind of things that influenced every single encounter I had in my time with Homefront: The Revolution and it was a refreshing change from the usually simplistic combat of other open world shooters.

Finally, at the end of the day we got our hands on Ubisoft's The Division. One of our three-man team ended up glitched through a wall two minutes in and our weapons seemed to shoot numbers rather than bullets. By that I mean the game felt an awful lot like a third-person Borderlands. Numbers even popped out of targets as they were hit, it wasn't a pleasant gaming experience.

The Division wasn't what we expected at all. The cover mechanics and standard third-person movement were all there and exactly what you'd expect but the PvP/PvE set-up was a bit different – spawning in a safe zone let us practice with the controls and get a feel for our weapons before we jumped a fence into the “Dark Zone” to do battle with both NPCs and players alike. Even with a man down we dispatched the first group of NPCs with ease and powered through a second with only minor resistance thanks to a deployable turret ability I had only to find ourselves outflanked and outmanoeuvred by another group of three players beside the extraction point.

The fight was over quickly, we tried to take cover but were easily gunned down by our foes and thus our time with the game came to an end. Disappointed both in the amount of time we got with the game compared to everything else and with the gameplay itself, which felt less about skill and more about which gun shot the bigger numbers.

We were amongst some of the last to filter out of the NEC at the end of the day, having barely touched most of the games on display but sadly out of time due to our need to return to our regular, non-expo lives. Still, as a first time experience, going to a EGX was exciting and not quite as crazy as I expected but twice as exhausting. It's not an experience I can recommend for everyone, but for journalists and game developers, and publishers, it's an invaluable tool to make contacts, talk games and have a good time doing it.

Comments (2)
You must be to post a comment.
Posts: 1548

There were a lot. It's unfortunate that we didn't have enough time to check them all out but games like RIOT and Star Command Galaxies really impresed me.

Posts: 207

Any word on the indies shown off?