EGX 2018 AKA That Time *Tim* Didn’t Meet His Favourite YouTubers

This time it was Tim’s turn for fate to intervene and render him unable to meet his heroes.

On the whole I think I did really well in preparing myself for EGX this year, and by that I mean I didn’t make the mistake of moving house the day before (0/10, would not recommend). Instead, Tim and I made the drive up to Birmingham on Wednesday afternoon and spent a relaxed night watching Stranger Things in our awesome Airbnb. However, thanks to the apparent herd of elephants rearranging furniture above us at all hours of the morning we still spent day one wandering around in a sleep-deprived daze fuelled  nly by caffeine, as any good writer should be.

Tim’s last venture to EGX was several years ago, when the show was still held at Earl’s Court. He felt that whilst the range of games available at the NEC was preferable, Earl’s Court was definitely better in terms of location, lighting and atmosphere. He describes EGX 2018 as less of a celebration of awesome games, but more of a ‘here is the thing to see, so queue for the thing and see it’.

Honestly, I agree with him (as does the consensus of many comments from members of the public on social media). Everything felt a little flat this year, with the only real electrifying buzz present in the Rezzed section. Too much empty space, too much annoyance at what wasn’t on the show floor which, to be fair to the frustrated, was a lot.

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Enjoying some Atari Star Wars nostaliga in the Retro Zone

Despite this, the event was still packed with talks and panels, meet-and-greets, livestreams and shows, a show floor boasting 265 titles to choose from and many a merchandise stand – the hot favourite seemed to be the merch booth devoted entirely to memes, much to Tim’s despair (I’m happy to say that I adore my new coaster emblazoned with the ‘guess I’ll die’ meme, though it would be better if accompanied by a Picard-facepalm mug).

There’s a laundry list of games we didn’t get to play, which is pretty standard. Of that list, the one we’re most bummed about missing is Metro Exodus. This was the title everyone seemed to want to play, as even on Thursday the queue was insane. By the time Sunday rolled around the queues were several rows deep and probably a good four hour wait. Sadly, we’ll have to wait for its February release to play it, and I’ll make do with my copy of Metro Redux to tide me over until then.

We did get to sample plenty of other titles, however, and as usual it was the Rezzed section where we found the true gems of the show. The standout for both Tim and I was Soundfall, a dungeon crawler set to awesomely catchy music where the objective wasn’t just to reach the exit before the song finished, but also to match attacks and other movements to the beat. Playable in single-player as well as co-op (how Tim and I played) it proved an immense challenge but hugely rewarding when we managed to sync up and fight monsters in unison.

Another gem was a game I enjoyed at Rezzed back in April. Dead End Job is a bright and cartoony romp where our hero Hector makes his living busting ghosts. Packed full of witty humour, sarcasm and atrocious puns (which are the best kind of puns) it’s a hugely enjoyable bit of harmless fun to laugh at. As Tim pointed out, it was a joy to play a genuinely funny game in a climate of serious, hard-hitting titles.

Tim’s choice for game-I-must-play-at-this-show was the much-anticipated Kingdom Hearts III. Despite me being as much of a Disney nut as he is I never managed to get on with the franchise, though I am tempted to dig out my PS2 and give the first one another bash. We both played the Toy Story level – the other one available was Hercules – and our resident aficionado reckoned it in some cases surpassed the Pixar original. He regretted spending too much of the allotted time watching the cutscenes, but the gameplay he did experience was “wonderfully fluid” and left him wanting to get right back into the action and immerse himself in the game’s wondrousness.

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It is not the Keyblade which is giant, is it Tim who is tiny

Having sold my soul to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, it was inevitable that we would queue for the demo of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, due for release on 5th October. I was afraid that it would be Origins 2.0, same game but different skins, and in a way… I was right. I did spend far too long on the conquest mission, where I was repeatedly killed in battle, as was Tim. We both came away somewhat frustrated, not just at being unable to beat enough enemies but at our own decision to stick with the one mission for far too long, thus leaving us feeling as though we hadn’t really experienced the demo at all. Much like Metro, the only thing we can do is wait for release and see if it lives up to expectations (especially mine).

From violence to catharsis: Beyond Blue. Developed in partnership with BBC’s Blue Planet, the game sees players controlling marine biologist Mirai as she swims through ocean biomes, studying marine life either first hand or using a small drone piloted from her submarine. It’s therapeutic, it’s relaxing, it’s a wonderful educational tool to teach the world about the marvels of the ocean and what lies beneath its surface.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t spend as much time as I would’ve liked in the Nintendo area, seeing as how much I love my Switch (and the three games I have been able to afford for it so far!). With Diablo III: The Eternal Collection releasing soon for Switch I was particularly eager to play it, whilst Tim checked out Broken Sword 5 for a few minutes. I have to say that Diablo is a game which requires the Switch to be docked to the TV for the best experience. The world is so detailed, so intricate, and so very, very dark that it’s difficult to both see and appreciate on a six-inch screen; this is worse for me, being visually impaired.

Regardless of us feeling rushed off our feet by the end of day four, EGX this year felt a little empty. I attribute that in part to us not going to any of the talks or stopping by the live stage to watch some gameplay for instance. Deciding whether to sacrifice time on the show floor where one could be gaming – or stocking up on memes – to watch a developer session, or queue for a meet & greet is a hefty tradeoff, especially if there’s something one is itching to see.

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Disabled gamers’ charity SpecialEffect showcasing the EyeMine eye-tracking software

We both would have liked to have gone to see PlayStation Access’s Cyberpunk 2020 livestream on the Saturday evening, but Tim had to work that day and therefore missed the show and the opportunity to meet his favourite YouTubers – it didn’t feel right going without him. We did decide that maybe we’d try to catch them to say hi the following day but sadly, seeing as we had almost twice the amount to do on the Sunday, this didn’t come to pass either. It’s a shame too because I had chosen that day to wear my Outside Xbox t-shirt and I wanted to rock up and be like “hello, I come emblazoned with the merchandise of your frenemies!”

Because I’m the lamest person ever and in all of my twenty-five years I’ve never experienced a proper pinball machine, Tim had me testing my mettle at Iron Maiden pinball. I’m pleased to report that I don’t think I was terrible at it, although the ball did end up getting lost somewhere in the bowels of the machine, which brought my play session to an abrupt end. Considering I’ve only ever played good ol’ Windows space pinball (with its ear-bleeding SFX) I’m chuffed with the result.

Leaving at the end of day four was a relief. Our feet hurt, our legs ached, our eyes were heavy. And yet, as we stood in the mile-long queue for coffee at Starbucks before starting our journey back home, we started the countdown to Rezzed 2019. Indie titles blew us away this year, and we are very much looking forward to a whole event full of crazy creativity and passionate developers this coming April.

And now to sign off with the customary thanks; to EGX, to the devs and the publishers, to Tim who took it upon himself to drive to Birmingham and back, to the baristas at Starbucks who caffeinated us. To the Very Good Doggos who kept us safe and who absolutely need to be employee of the month, for all the months, forever. Thank you, and goodnight. We’ll see you again next year.

(I would like to request more dogs next year. Just, all the dogs. Dogs.)

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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Four Things I’d Like to See

Once I’d recovered from bursting into flames at the news of a new Creed game, I thought about all the awesomeness the game could include.

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The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been somewhat of a rollercoaster for Ubisoft. For the most part it’s a series that has seen great success, but also has a flop or two (I’m looking at you here, Unity). As a fiercely loyal and long-time devotee to this franchise I will defend it to the bitter end, but I also concede that it needed a hefty break, and then a reboot.

Thus, Assassin’s Creed Origins came along and blew the series out of the depths. Bursting onto the scene with its entirely reworked controls, RPG-style skill and weapon management options and one of the most harrowing stories in Assassin’s Creed history it has earned back a lot of respect for the series. With it being such a successful game, and rightfully so, it was inevitable for there to be another instalment of the series at some point, whether it was a sequel, an expansion such as Death of the Outsider was to Dishonored or a brand new story entirely.

Thanks to this leak, that new instalment has now been confirmed ahead of Ubisoft’s E3 press conference in a little under a fortnight; Ubisoft have now released an official teaser for the game.

Provided there are no additional leaks between now and the press conference, we’ll have to wait until 11th June for any solid details – I’m banking on a cinematic announcement trailer and an approximate release date at least. Until then all we can do is take what we do know and run with it: the game is called Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and it seems to take place in Ancient Greece.

How exactly this will fit into the timeline, I am not sure. The Ancient Greek civilisation ended when it fell to the Roman Empire in 146 BCE, which is a century before Bayek and Aya founded the Hidden Ones in 47 BCE. However, with the Order of the Ancients supposedly founded in 1334 BCE, during the late period of the Greek Bronze Age, it’s not unreasonable to assume the game might take place much earlier (although having said that, the use of the Spartan helmet suggests Sparta might play a prominent role, meaning the game would indeed take place from 800 BCE onwards). Irrespective of the Age, whichever form the Assassins take are likely to be similar to Bayek as a Medjay, total badasses but lacking the iconic hidden blade.

Whatever Ubisoft has decided, it’s certainly not going to stop me from speculating on details until the day it’s released and spouting nonsense about what I’d like to see, so here are four things I think would be damn awesome if they were to crop up in-game.

1. The Olympics

An undeniable gem of Origins is the gladiatorial arenas in Cyrene and Krokodilopolis, where players can pit Bayek against the arena bosses, or the relentless horde mode and kick some major Roman butt. Killing a dude three times your size with an axe thrown from the other side of the arena, all whilst breaking the neck of another other massive dude is hella fun, there’s no other way of putting it. So with Ancient Greece being the birthplace of the Olympic Games I think it would be an enjoyable side-activity for our hero to venture into the stadium and try his hand at the various events on offer. This may be slightly tricky, seeing as all athletes were stark naked throughout and so far the franchise has been careful to retain character modesty – Bayek’s bathhouse towel, anyone?

Nowadays Olympic sport is chock full of rules and regulations to ensure not only that the athletes play fair but also that they can participate safely. Although cheating was not condoned – cheaters were forced to pay for a statue of Zeus by way of punishment – there were no rules concerning safety. In sports like boxing or wrestling athletes routinely had their eyes gouged or were savagely bitten; boxing in particular allowed athletes to continue punching their opponent even after they’d been knocked out. Winners would be dressed with a wreath of leaves, something replicated when Athens hosted the modern Olympics in 2004, and would be welcomed home as a hero.

With combat and chariot racing already having appeared in Origins it wouldn’t be a tremendous surprise for them to reappear in the guise of the Olympics. Having a boxing event would mirror the brutality of the fight clubs of Syndicate, which stand out as one of the best side-activities available in the game. Personally I would love to see another opportunity for those sweet multi-kills to appear again, and this would definitely be it.

2.THIS. IS. SPARTA.

Thanks to Frank Miller and Lynn Varley (and later Zach Snyder) most of the world is familiar with a fictionalised version of the Battle of Thermopylae, where the 300 Spartans fight a heroic last stand against Xerxes’ 30,000 Persians. In reality the battle was fought between King Xerxes I of Persia and an alliance of Spartans and Greeks (among others) led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and whilst the last stand did contain those 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians remained at the very least.

It wouldn’t be the first time prominent battles have taken centre stage in the Assassin’s Creed universe, but the inclusion of this battle, fought in 480 BCE, would certainly make sense if Sparta does play an important role in the plot. The Templar Order’s reach has almost always been much greater than that of the Assassins, especially by the time we get into the modern day timeline, and having a heavily outnumbered Assassin army face off against a vast sea of Templars would be epic and befitting of the struggle the Brotherhood has always faced against an enemy much greater in numbers.

3. Mythology Galore

We all know at least a little Greek mythology, whether taught to us at school, discovered on a trip to a museum with family or learned via the humour of the Horrible Histories book series. Achilles, invulnerable after being dipped into the Styx as an infant with exception of the heel by which he was held; Heracles, the son of Zeus and gatekeeper of Olympus; even the Styx itself, the boundary river that the dead must cross to reach the Underworld, ruled by Hades.

Origins placed a lot of importance on Bayek’s belief in the Egyptian gods and the afterlife; I would expect Odyssey to do the same. The Greeks believed that at the point of death the soul separated from the body and arrived at the river Styx ready with a coin under the tongue to pay Charon, the Ferryman, to row them across the river – he would turn away souls that had not received a proper burial. Once at the entrance to Hades the Judges would decide where the soul would go: to Elysium, where the heroic and righteous lived a happy afterlife alongside those related to the gods; to the Asphodel Meadows, where normal souls who did not deserve damnation but hadn’t achieved greatness were sent to rest; to the Mourning Fields if the soul had wasted their life on unrequited love; to Tartarus if the soul was wicked and had earned eternal punishment.

To prevent the dead from leaving, the gates of Hades were guarded by Cerberus, the monstrous multiple-headed dog. Now, wouldn’t that be a helluva fight? Imagine that: your soul is trapped in Hades but you must escape, and to do so you might fight this monstrous beast that has many mouths with which you tear you in two.

With plenty of other mythological creatures and deities to choose from there are numerous other opportunities for the game to face the protagonist off against some otherworldly foe. I for one really enjoy the Trials of the Gods battles in Origins, with Anubis remaining my favourite, and it would be thrilling to have a similar set of battles in Odyssey, whether it’s against a Harpy or Hydra.

4. Stupid Freakin’ Trojans

One of the most famous tales to come out of Greek mythology is that of the Wooden Horse of Troy. After years of unsuccessful war with the Trojans, the Greeks hatched a plan to enter the city by constructing a giant wooden horse and hiding a select number of men inside and leaving it outside the city gates. The Greeks pretended to surrender and retreated; the Trojans, thinking the battle won, pulled the horse inside the city in victory. Overnight, the men hidden inside snuck out to open the gates for the Greek army and the city was invaded. (To be honest they were asking to be sieged: I mean if I found a giant wooden horse outside my front door I wouldn’t then wheel it into my flat! As Dave Lister says in S05E02 of Red Dwarf, “Are you telling me that not one single Trojan thought ‘hang on a minute, that’s a bit of a funny pressie? What’s wrong with a couple of hundred pairs of socks and some aftershave?’”)

As comical as it is to imagine forty men crammed inside a wooden horse, it would present a prime opportunity to weave in some direct Assassin-on-Templar action. Perhaps Troy is a city controlled by the Order of the Ancients and our protagonist is one of the Greeks inside the horse, ready to sneak his way past patrolling guards to open the gates before dramatically clashing swords with his foes. Or maybe the city is an Assassin stronghold about to be infiltrated by the Order and eliminated once and for all, giving the Order ultimate control over the land.

With the Trojan War coming to an end in 1180 BCE it would be fitting for it to be the latter, The Order of Ancients establishing their power by seizing an Assassin city. This also gives an exciting possibility: if Origins told of the birth of the Assassin Brotherhood, then perhaps Odyssey will tell of the birth of the Templars?

As previously stated this is pure waffly conjecture on my part, and I have to try to make sure I don’t get too excited for what might not come to pass. All I can do is what everyone else will now be doing: eagerly awaiting the impending announcement at E3. In the meantime, however, I’m going to locate a copy of Groovy Greeks and head to the British Museum for some important research!