I’m currently sitting in, what was once a car park, on a wooden bench with two Dutch guys. Irritating pop is blasting from a janky radio at an expensive food stand behind me. The wind is blowing, but it’s not too cold and the sun is out. As the former car park is up high, I have a nice view of the city. I’m in Cologne, Germany, at what is now the biggest games convention in the world open to the public; Gamescom.
Overwhelming is probably how I’d describe it. The convention centre is enormous; aircraft-hanger size halls house gigantic booths with graphical effigies to the triple-A industry. Indie stalls and trade booths huddle together for warmth in the vast open spaces. Food stalls selling tasty sausage and chips and €4 bottles of water pepper each area. And the people are exceptional. Mammoth shoals of humans move in unison through wide corridors. Despite being large enough to fit 3 articulated lorries down them, the corridors still fail to contain the sheer volume of people.
It’s also incredibly loud. The PlayStation area, while otherwise wonderfully peaceful, has a SingStar stage ensuring constant: tuneless German vocals permeate your 3 hour wait to see Destiny. The larger halls, where Borderlands and Batman have made their homes, have huge stages hosted by 2K and AMD, complete with uncomfortably bouncy hosts. Constant shouting down microphones, techno music and screaming people bellowing for free stuff; it all carries across the entire hall.
I came initially to promote the game I’m working on, but due to numerous factors that took a back seat. Instead, i’ve been queuing and walking. I’ve also had the opportunity to play some games in between all the sitting and moving, so I figured after a quick change of tense, I’d tell you about some of them.
Shadow of Mordor
Day 1 was trade day and so it was bearably calm on the people front. The queue for Shadow of Mordor was mercifully short and I was playing the game after around 40 minutes of waiting. The entire demo had both German audio and subtitles, so I wasn’t able to get any of the story, but that didn’t stop me enjoying the game. Playing like Batman on steroids, protagonist Talion moves smoothly between tight stealth and effortless combat. Although the melee takes more than an influence from the Arkham games’ countering system, it benefits greatly from it. Combat is smooth and empowering, but offers a decent challenge, with Talion often being mobbed by 20-30 orcs. The stealth is also fun, although not understanding my objective may have led to a few deaths.
The much-hyped Nemesis system is surprisingly common and works very well. A milky, brutish orc cut me down in one brawl and not only did he gloat and receive praise from his fellow greenskins, I was shown an animation of how his victory moved him up the hierarchy. Later, I met him again and he was flanked by multiple lieutenants, a sign of his increased power. It’s a neat mechanic that could be the thing that makes Shadow of Mordor a must buy when it comes out 30th September for PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Lords of the Fallen
Next up was Lords of the Fallen, sitting right next to Mordor. I can sum it up in one sentence; Dark Souls, but prettier. It features almost the exact same control scheme and a very similar rhythm of combat. In the demo on show, I could choose between 2 bosses. Fighting the first one, a towering knight not dissimilar from Dark Souls 2’s Pursuer, was a familiar experience. He hit hard and fast, staggering me with each blow. His patterns were obvious, but that fact didn’t affect the inevitable outcome too much. My extremely slow hammer and severe lack of stamina did though. I got pancaked a couple of times and left. The game looks lovely and although a few frames were dropped during my opponents more flashy moves, it’s overall very clean. Although Lords of the Fallen clearly takes a huge amount of influence from Dark Souls, only time will tell whether it can carve its own niche and become more than just a gap-filler for those pining for Dark Souls 3. It’s out 31st October, so I suppose we’ll see.
The longest queue I waited in was for Destiny. Topping out at around 2 hours, it was almost unbearable with the aforementioned SingStar stage blaring constantly throughout. Once inside the booth, we were treated to a video introducing the game, complete with special dialogue from Peter Dinklage. I was already aware of most of the information, having been one of the millions that pre-ordered and played the beta only a few weeks previous. The seating, while comfortable, wasn’t tiered so the view from the back of the room was terrible. Afterwards, we were led into a room to play a short Crucible match. Anyone who was involved in the beta has had enough experience to dominate and my team lost horribly. Although fun, the Destiny booth was a disappointment, with only a short video and one PvP match for our massive wait time. Also, the t-shirt given to me at the end was one size only. The significance of that will become clear in a moment.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
As a big fan of the Witcher series, the Wild Hunt booth was a definite stop for me. After queuing for a noticeably long time, we sat down on tiered seats. The rep from CD Projekt RED was jolly and did the presentation in English after gaining crowd approval. Another rep – I think the same one from the ComiCon panel – played a decent chunk of uncut gameplay for us on a big screen. We saw a griffon hunt, right from the first encounter to the beast’s inevitable demise. Likely the same gameplay you’ll be able to watch on YouTube very soon, it was still nice to see it in person. Although the graphics weren’t as eye-popping as the latest trailer shows them to be, it was a work-in-progress build running on a MacBook Pro and being beamed onto a low-end screen. I’m not making excuses – the game still looked lovely – but it was a little disappointing not to see it looking amazing. However, the gameplay shown was enough to convince me my Collectors Edition pre-order was a good decision. I also got a t-shirt that actually fits me because I was asked my size and 3 sizes were available. It baffles me that Activision, a company rolling in the dollar, can only offer one size shirt, while CD Projekt, a measurably smaller operation, can provide multiple sizes. Anyway, I have a new favourite t-shirt and come February 24th it’s very likely I’ll also have a new favourite game.
The Order 1886
PS4’s next big exclusive was playable in a walled off area in the PlayStation room. After a lengthy, but relaxing queue on Day 3, I got the chance to play it. Sitting in a faux-Victorian carriage, headphones on and controller in hand, it was an experience. Mainly an experience similar to Gears of War. The Order plays like a standard 3rd person shooter, but has its moments. Our boy, Sir Galahad is equipped with a gun that fires granite dust: useless on its own, but can be ignited with a flare shot. It’s nice to have this level of tactics woven into the core gameplay. What is most impressive, however, is the sheer quality of the visuals.
The Order is, without doubt, the best looking game I’ve ever seen. The work Ready At Dawn have been doing to make the game filmic has paid off in spades. It’s like playing a dank, atmospheric 70’s horror fantasy movie. Rather than relying on simple fidelity, the developers have used more inventive methods to make The Order stand out. Although enjoyable, the gameplay unfortunately didn’t pop for me. Here’s hoping the story and atmosphere is enough to secure success. The Order 1886 ships exclusively for PS4 on 20th February 2015.
My time with Bloodborne was awfully short. Any Dark Souls fan will know you can’t grasp the nuances of a From Software game in 20 minutes, but that’s about as long as I got. From what I picked up, it’s not as challenging or as methodical as Souls. Playing a pointy-hatted hunter, I got to jog around a dank village with a couple of different weapon sets. The first was the blade/shotgun combo seen in the trailer. I couldn’t block, so dodging was key. The shotgun acted as a sort of parry, stunning the enemies and giving me an insta-kill window. My opponents were as aggressive and damaging as expected, but went down a lot easier than Souls’ damage-sponges. My natural instinct was to lock on, but as enemies group together more than in Souls, it wasn’t always a good idea. Weapon transforming seemed to be a thing, with the blade snapping out into a longer sort of sickle and the one-handed axe of the second weapon set springing into a two handed one at will. This set also included a pistol of some kind that helped me do damage at range. Overall, Bloodborne was snappy, beautiful and fun. It clearly has the potential to be just as life-sucking as Dark Souls and looks to be designed to offer a more fast-paced experience. Dark Souls crossed with Devil May Cry is the best nutshell description I can come up with and that sounds damn good to me. Whenever it actually gets released.
Overall, Gamescom was an experience. For my first big game convention and my first time in Germany, it was insane and wonderful. From getting stuck in a mosh-pit-like crowd of doom, to figuring out the intricacies of the Cologne public transport system, it had its negatives, but overall it’s an amazing collection of all the big upcoming releases. Cologne is lovely, vibrant and positive and the venue is a staggering space to host the biggest games convention you can visit. If you plan on going yourself, wear comfortable shoes and bring a chair of some kind. Walking and waiting will occupy 90% of your time. Being a convention, the food is also expensive so bring a packed lunch if you can resist the tasty bratwurst on offer. I would encourage you to give it a try, Cologne is a great place and the convention is the absolute pinnacle of its field. Being in an enormous space dominated by games for 3 solid days is amazing and the opportunity to play upcoming titles months ahead of your friends is too good to miss. If you can afford it, make the journey and I’ll see you there next year!