My time at EGX 2017

So I went to EGX again this year. This would be the point in the article where, if I’d have been a real journalist, I’d have given a brief background into EGX. But I honestly can’t be bothered to make that kind of effort right now. All you need to know is that it’s a big video gaming and culture convention that take place in the West Midlands of the U.K. for 4 days a year.

It’s the third time I’ve gone in as many years and it’s pretty standard fare as far as these type of conventions go. A bunch of developers, large and small, show up and pedal their wares, so to speak. On top of that there are plenty of other attractions. People selling niche and retro merchandise based on video games, or other things the type of people who go to this type of event will probably like.

What I’m going to do it basically break down my day as it went and talk about the things worth noting at EGX and of course, what I saw in terms of upcoming releases and what I’m looking forward to.

The first thing I spent any major time at was the Virgin Media presents the Destiny 2 booth. Which was, quite frankly, hilarious. It’s not as funny as last year where Virgin had obviously also paid for a huge space to push Destiny, except Destiny was a two year old game at that point and why they needed to be there with such aggressive force was beyond me. The fact that it seemed to work and was a very busy booth was beyond me.

This year was a little different. There were loud and obnoxious, but strangely non visible, commentators hyping up the two groups of people who were playing both crucible and strikes, (using characters pre generated mind you, not their own.(For a game that’s already out.)) competing for the best time for some ill described grand prize. It was cool getting to see real life recreations of guardian armour and certain in game weapons though.

It was nice to see a game I am mostly enjoying being enjoyed by so many others though. Even if there two hours wait times to play it. (Again. A game that’s been out for three weeks already!)

That does bring me to my main sticking point with the day, just how long the waits were. The event was busy, but it was still a large enough space that I never felt cramped. But every single one of the big AAA or hotly anticipated games at the convention had a two to three hour wait to try them out. Maybe this is the old man in me, but I flat out refuse to wait two hours to play anything at an event like this, especially considering how much of a known quantity these games tend to be.

Let’s break down all the biggest queues of the day shall we. Assassin’s Creed Origins; Okay, it’s been a few years since the last one of these. But how different has one of these titles been from the next: Marginal at best. You mostly know what you’re going to get. If I could have waited 20 minutes and played it, sure I’d have done that. But when it comes to sacrificing a significant portion of your day I refuse on principal.

Then there’s Far Cry 5; again, it looks like more Far Cry, it’s hardly groundbreaking stuff. Call of Duty, Battlefront 2, Forza. They’re all games I feel I don’t need to put hands on to understand, and yet they were all amongst the longest queues of the day. There were a couple of games I am a little bummed I didn’t get the chance to try as a result of my self restriction though.

One of which was Mario Odyssey. I’m sure you can make the argument that Mario games are all essentially the same and it contradicts my prior argument. But there hasn’t been a true 3D Mario platformer since Mario Galaxy on the Wii, plus have you seen that thing? It looks nuts. I’d rather play a new Nintendo made Mario game than the biggest shooter of the year every time. I mean, have you seen that T-Rex with a moustache?

The other game I wanted to try was Sea of Thieves. The Xbox exclusive from Rare is something totally different and I was really curious to try it first hand. A multiplayer based game where you and other players work together to run a ship and complete other wacky assorted pirate based tasks. It looks like a really open and creative game. I was really surprised though that the game had a multiple hour wait to play it. I felt like most people would gravitate to the the big budget franchises, this game was getting a lot of attention and it makes me all the more excited to finally try it out upon release.

So if I would’t wait in any queues, what did I do with my day. Well having more time to explore meant I could spend more time discovering the lesser known and indie titles that were on display by the truckload. I ended up enjoying myself far more in the indie developer sections of the convention in comparison to the Ubisoft, Sony and Microsoft sections.

I got to try a number of little games, the standouts of which included an augmented reality tank game by the name of Smash Tanks, which was surprisingly really fun considering how early in development it was. It’s a game where you control a number of tanks on a surface in front of you, as seen through the lens of a tablet computer. You think it’s going to be a game similar to angry birds before you realise you’re flinging around the tanks themselves. It was good fun and I’ll keep an eye out in future.

The other game that really sticks out in my memory is called Phogs! I was drawn in straight away by the image above the single screen showing the game.

A strange game where two people share a side of a single controller, both moving one head of the.. uh. Phog. It’s a puzzle game where your verbs are biting things and making your body longer, or snapping it back to its original length. It was very charming, despite the small amount of time I spent with it and had me and my brother randomly saying Phogs! at one another for the rest of the day.

As well has having the large indie section, there were a lot of middle ground types of booths there too. Games that were much bigger than the tiny indie displays, but nowhere near big enough to get a giant stare of a drake made for them.

One of the main things I was real excited about at the con was that I finally got my hands on Dragonball Fighter Z. Dragonball fighting games have been a very mixed bag over the years and Fighter Z looks like it might be the best honest fighting game to come from the series. I’m sure the game is full of complexities that fighter experts could describe better than me. But as a total beginner I managed to pick it up and just mash it out. I was rewarded with a very pretty looking game doing very cool things on screen pretty consistently.

I tried to get hands on Cuphead, a game that has been shown at these events for years now and never seems to actually want to come out. There were only two screens playable and being lumped in with a lot of Microsoft’s other smaller titles, there was nobody to keep the queue moving along. The game looks like Contra, but has a very striking visual style. The game looks like a cartoon from the 1950s and draws your attention straight away. The game started out as a boss rush, but after demand to make it more of a platformer, the title was delayed for several years to meet that demand.

So after watching a couple of dudes die for the 5th time and not give the controllers up I decided to give it up. Because believe it or not the game is actually out this week. I’ve waited this long, what’s a couple days more.

After I managed to play most of the games I really wanted to try we stuck our heads in the retro arcade section that, once again, made an appearance.  It was pretty standard fare though as it was generally the same kind of stuff I’ve seen at events like these before. Filled with old consoles, arcade cabinets and pinball machines, they seem to serve the main purpose to show children how hard we had it before you could pal GTA on your phone. There were some cool things to take away for me though. I got to try an Afterburner arcade machine out, which was cool. Depite the fact that I had no idea how to not die straight away.

The other cool story that came out of it was that I found myself playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles on an actual Mega Drive for the first time in my life. Considering I still own my old Sega Mega Drive and used to claim Sonic 3 & Knuckles was my favourite game of all time, I never played the game on its original platform before. I played it on the PC of all things. Weird. But after playing so much Sonic Mania these past few weeks, the original feels much more sluggish by comparison.

After we couldn’t get on a beanbag to play Micro Machines or Bomberman, we moved back to Sony’s stage to watch a guy from Capcom play the upcoming Monster Hunter World. I’m real excited to play this game, as are a lot of other people apparently. In Sony’s booth section there were only two screens playing Monster Hunter, and the queue was hilariously long compared to all of the others in the same section.

I got a bit fed up of playing Monster Hunter on a handheld, the game required more concentration and finesse than was easy on the small device. Plus, I couldn’t put the time I really wanted to in the device when it became painful to play after a time.

Monster Hunter World isn’t just coming to console, it’s coming to all consoles. I don’t think the series has seen a release on a non Nintendo console outside of Japan since the original game on the PS2. While it seems far more actiony and accessible than the series usually tends to be, I’m very much looking forward to trying it out. The game looks stunning and the new focus on accessibility might make it so the series finally gets as big here as it is in Japan.

It was getting towards the end of the day by this point. So we made our way to the rear theatre to catch a live orchestra playing video game music. It seemed like a cool thing to try and catch. It’s a shame the idea was far better than the execution. The theatre was a curtained off area towards the back of the hall, right next to the Cosplay stage, which was right next to the Street Fighter stage. So a lot of the quieter pieces were drowned out by cosplayers shouting at their audiences for them to cheer louder. They had to shout to be heard over the the guy getting real excited about his thousandth Street Fighter match of the weekend.

It was a real shame to be honest, and you could tell the orchestra themselves were pretty annoyed. They had to forgo the Ori and the Blind Forest section altogether because we would have had no chance in hell of hearing it. I had been looking forward to that as I always loved the music in Ori and the Blind forest. It’s probably for the best though as I would have been all the more annoyed by not being able to hear it. I’m not going to say anything was ruined here, but it felt like a bit of shortsightedness from the organisers.

By this point, the floor was only open for another hour and most of the big games had closed their lines to anyone new joining. So there wasn’t much more for us to play at this point, having missed our final chance at Sea of Thieves. So against my better judgement, I saw that the Sonic Forces booth was pretty empty and decided to give it a go.

Sonic Forces seems bad.

It feels really sad to admit that, but with what I’ve had to put up with as a Sonic the Hedgehog fan over the years, getting to play a really good Sonic game in Sonic Mania, following it up with this was somthing of a revelation.

The demo contained four stages; a classic Sonic stage and a modern Sonic stage, like we’ve seen before in Sonic Generations. It also had an “avatar” stage, the avatar being your self insert OC, and a team stage that included both Sonic and the avatar.

While the Sonic sections felt a lot like Generations, the stages involving the avatars were just plain bad. The action was much slower to make for use of the gadgets these characters revolve around, and the experience was not an enjoyable one. The platforming felt floaty and unresponsive. fighting enemies was tedious and required little effort behind pressing jump over and over.

There was one moment I couldn’t help but laugh at. As a team up attack occurred which had me mash a button for a while before the two characters started charging through the stage while some real old school cheesy rock started playing through the headphones like the Sonic Adventure era of games. It was the best thing I can say about the demo, and I only liked it ironically. I don’t have high hopes for Sonic Forces and I feel like the character might not have much of a life ahead of him outside of the retro throwbacks like Mania. Mania was both the best and worst thing that could have happened to that series.

Overall I enjoyed my day at EGX. While it would have been nice to go and play all the big AAA titles from the likes of Nintendo and Ubisoft, if you wanted to play three of them, then that’s almost your entire day gone. I can understand why some people make the full four days out of the event. But in the end I think I found a happy medium. Most of us know what these big games are going to be, and generally know if we’re going to buy them one way or the other.

The advice I’d give to someone if they’re thinking about going in the future is take your time. Absorb the atmosphere and strange costumed characters that show up to these things. Spend some money on stuff you’ll inevitably throw away. But mainly, stick to the indie sections. Chances are you’ll get to play dozens of games if you plan your day like this, and end up finding some little gems that will stay on your radar in the coming years. It’s what made me pick up Little Nightmares last year, as well as Snake Pass. And you can bet I’m going to be picking up Phogs! when it eventually gets a release too.

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