10288746_858982754118172_2414255415707546786_nI was very lucky to manage to squeeze in a day at EGX 2014 in London, amidst my hectic schedule of working, writing, playing video games and claiming that I don’t have enough time to go to the gym. The event lasts 4 days, from Thursday the 25th of September to Sunday the 28th, at Earl’s Court, but I only managed to stay for the first day. I wish I could have stayed the entire time, maybe for the rest of my life, because that first day was a doozy.

I’ve never been to a gaming expo, never mind the biggest one in the UK, so the experience was pretty intense, and the mix of people was incredible, sometimes in terrible, terrible ways. But screw that, I wasn’t there to look at people, I was there to look at games, and I certainly did a lot of looking - mostly due to the queues being so long that it was hard to get any hands on time with any of the heavy hitters. The floor space at Earl’s Court was a sight to behold though, and just about every corner of the gaming industry was represented.

DOTA 2 and League of Legends tournaments were on-going, there was an entire segment dedicated to the indiest of indie games, and even Twitch had a booth set up, though why Twitch needed a booth was beyond me. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft were the big draws, each with a fantastically elaborate space, facing off against each other in a battle for hearts and minds, bathing the room in a mix of green, blue and white light. Nintendo had an impressive merchandise stand set up that I hit up for a neat Bowser kanji t-shirt, and a Luigi themed 3DS case for my girlfriend. Luckily she loves Luigi, because the case was heavily discounted over the Mario one. Sorry, not sorry.

Upstairs, the 18+ games were on display, and you needed valid ID to ride on that escalator to blood and gore and gratuitous cursing. Assassins Creed, Far Cry 3, The Witcher 3, and Evolve were the big guns up here, each with their own dedicated space and a bewildering array of monitors, and frequent glimpses of signs saying queue 2 hours from this point. We laughed at that at first, until we joined the queue for Evolve. We were informed it would be a little over two hours for us to wait to get our hands on Turtle Rock’s 4 v 1 hunter/hunted beauty. We were happy to wait, at least for the first hour, and then I desperately needed to pee.

Evolve-1With the length of the cues, we only managed to get real hands on time with two games, Bloodborne, and Evolve. There were a few others we wanted to have a go at, including Alien Isolation, Far Cry 4, and The Order 1886, to name a few. Ideally we would have played every single one of the games and roamed the floor until our hands were nothing but cramped and twisted monstrosities and our eyes were leaking tears of joy and blood in equal measure, but it was not to be. We got plenty of over-the-shoulder viewing though, standing uncomfortably close to the lucky sod who happened to be playing and whispering unsettling things into their eyes. The Master Chief Collection is a sight to behold in action, with the spruced up graphics and the constant frame rate making everything look so incredible fluid, so very next gen.

Far Cry 4 was also resplendent in its beauty and the possibilities for immense chaos. Seeing a lucky player jump onto the back of an elephant and fire their guns willy nilly as Dumbo rampaged and destroyed all about him looked fun beyond measure. Both format Smash Bros. games looked gorgeous on the screen, and Monster Hunter 4 on 3DS and on Wii U looked like a must buy for any seasoned fans. Borderlands: The Pre-sequel looked great but I still can’t help but feel it should have been released on the current gen rather than the previous. I guess this gives them time to really up the ante for the inevitable Borderlands 3 but if they still have that compulsive blend of shooting and looting down to an art form then I’ll be playing it for too long before too long. Borderlands games have a special place in my heart for being pure video game manna, nothing but looting and grinding and explosions and just sheer balls to the wall fun.

Destiny on PS4 had a surprising amount of attention, with a myriad of booths set up for multiplayer mayhem, solo fun, and a little bit of fire team action. Despite lukewarm reviews the game still seems to have captured the attention of gamers and the compulsive gameplay and excellent multiplayer seems to be propping up the undercooked story and the reams of exposition from everyone’s favourite Lannister.

We didn’t get a good look at The Evil Within, as it was closed off in a dark little booth to ramp up the atmosphere and no doubt help prevent any photography or filming, which was a disappointment across the entire event but not entirely unexpected. Some things have got to be kept under wraps until the powers that be decide it’s time for a revelation.

I was so enamoured with Evolve that I’d rather dedicate a whole column to it, so I’ll touch on my thoughts on Bloodborne here and give a rundown of my fairly considerable time with Evolve next week. We all knew that From Software’s Bloodborne borrowed heavily from Dark Souls, and it really feels like something of a spiritual successor, in the same way that Dark Souls was something of a not-quite sequel to Demon’s Souls. That gets confusing fast, but the extent to which Bloodborne emulates Souls is quite surprising. The systems are all much the same, with new additions to fit the new universe. Instead of firebombs, we have Molotov cocktails, and as a secondary weapon you have an old timey sort of pistol instead of a bow. We can assume that a myriad of firearms will replace the bows and spells of Souls, but even the system of the health bar and stamina bar are the same.

While some aspects of the game seem to have that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it feel to them, others have a complete overhaul. I only got to play a short segment, the one seen in gameplay videos since E3, of the dark, Victorian styled town with the enemies reminiscent of the Ganados from Resident Evil 4, but there are clear changes. First of all, the sheen on the game is astounding. Everything looks gorgeous, the light, the frame rate, and the fluidity of the animation are all a sight to behold. From Software have really upped the ante in their move to next gen, and it shows. Even in combat, you and your foes have startlingly life-like movement, and the usually sluggish and paced combat of Souls has given way to speedier encounters, with fantastic finishing moves, deft dodges, and a real sense that you finally have full control over your character. The speed doesn’t make things any easier, however, and moments into our little demo we came across a horde of more than ten enemies moving forward. They hadn’t seen me yet, and there was the potential for some sneak attacking and subterfuge.

bloodborne-listing-thumb-01-ps4-us-05jun14My friend is less seasoned in Souls games than I am and he charged in, hoping to take the enemies down one by one. Bloodborne is as equally unforgiving as its adoptive parents and he was quickly destroyed. I had made a note of the Molotov cocktails I’d picked up moments ago and saw a chance to cause some chaos. The item menus and the buttons were all much the same as previous Souls games making it feel like a nice return home to series fans, like getting into a warm bath, except this bath is filled with ice and rusty nails. It’s good to be home.

I managed to take down the group with a pretty display of pyrotechnics from the Molotov’s, once again highlighting some gorgeous particle effects and lighting, and showing the level of attention From Software has put into crafting their world. I broke the rest of the group up and took them down one by one, circling around a carriage to block the fire of a distant foe. Oh yes, they have guns too, and of course, their aim is absolutely perfect. You wouldn’t expect anything less. After clearing the group, a larger foe approached me, lumbering forward. Souls veterans will know that a slow foe doesn’t mean a slow attack, and I was quickly mashing the dodge button, moving around him and trying to figure out some sort of attack pattern. In the midst of this panicked dodging, I happened to roll into the flaming pile of bodies with a poor impaled chap on a pike rolling out of it. Naturally, fire hurts.

I’m genuinely surprised that rolling through boxes and benches in these games doesn’t give you a splinter or a fatal dose of tetanus. Of course, I was on fire, slowly dying, still panicking, when I ran out of stamina and was dealt the finishing blow from my hefty quarry. I was a bit ticked off because we only got one death, and then it was back to the line to wait for another hour if you wanted to try your hand at dying once more. It wasn’t really an ideal way to play such a difficult game but it fits with the mythos of From Software’s back catalogue and none of the fans seemed really that bothered. The game seems to have kept the series’ token difficulty, adding a new layer of sheen and beauty to everything, and filling away the clunky systems to make what might be the best (not) Souls game yet. I was proud of surviving close to ten minutes, though a good deal of that was spent admiring my surroundings at the atmosphere of the world. With the headphones on, the experience was completely immersive despite the hustle and bustle of EGX going on around me.

It was strange to see how excited everyone was for Bloodborne, as well. I’ve been hyped since the day it was announced but it’s always great to see that such a game has a large following. Obviously EGX attendees are seasoned gamers, but even still, the booth with Bloodborne also contained The Order 1886 and Until Dawn, two other excellent games, one much hyped, and one still something of a curiosity. Most of the people in the line were waiting for Bloodborne and anyone seeking to play the other two games got to skip ahead in the line. Everyone wanted From Software’s new slice of hell, and once they got their paws on it, it was hard to force them to let go. It’s great to see that gamers still crave a challenge.

All in all, EGX was an incredible experience that I have to revisit next year with a pass for the whole four days and a little extra money to splurge on the myriad of merch stands. If you ever get the chance to attend, you should grab the opportunity. It’s certainly not on the scale of E3, TGS or gamescom, but it’s got plenty of opportunities to play games that are a long way away yet. If you’re the type of person who loves to gloat about getting Beta or Alpha access, then EGX is heaven for you.

If flying from Northern Ireland to London for one day of a video games expo seems a bit crazy to you, then you probably shouldn’t be reading my column. Go on, clear off. But come back next week and listen to me dissect Evolve into tiny little pieces.