Eurogamer Expo 2018, Birmingham NEC
There were an awful lot of games to be played at this year’s EGX. In between those, the rezzed sessions, the live sessions, the dozens of merch stands and a great Cosplay contest, it has been a great event. I wish I’d had a chance to play more, but with my career being what it is; I could only visit the one day. My friend and I picked and chose the ones we wanted most, and let our eyes wander once those were done. As a result, I ended up trying a good few games I normally wouldn’t spend time on. Ramblings and opinions on the games I liked most, or which had the most to offer, below.
TOTAL WAR: Three Kingdoms
Developer: Creative Assembly
Release: Early 2019
I’ve slaved away for thousands of hours across a wide array of Total War games. Historical, fantasy, now historical once more; the next title by the kings of real-time strategy takes place in China, 190AD-280AD. The enormously successful and prosperous Han dynasty is due for collapse, and the resulting power vacuum would give way to an era of war not unlike Japan’s Sengoku Jidai. Fabled warlords from far corners of the realm all move to snatch up territory and take advantage of the sudden schism, hoping to unite and secure China under a new dynasty. The leaders and champions that emerge during this period of everlasting war would shape the future of the land.
The demo I played was, per typical Creative Assembly style, a historic battle. The Ambush of Sun Ren sees lady Sun Ren, who is apparently a bit of a big shot around these parts, and Sun Quan, who is apparently her brother, under sudden night-time attack by their enemies. It feels as much Total War as it ever has, but with a lot of shiny new buttons and upgrades. The oriental style unit cards look fantastic, the units themselves all look brilliant and unique, and I love having generals as a single entity and not a block of bodyguards. I have to confess that I know next to nothing about this period or the political landscape, so I can’t comment on the attention to detail or the accuracy. All I can really say is that the armour and weaponry definitely look how I imagine they should.
The actual war part of the game functions as well as ever. Everything responds well, enemy units panic as expected when slapped on the arse by cavalry units, and the forests being burned by fire arrows feels as epic as it does shameful. My main gripe with this short 10 minute demo is that when ordering an attack on an enemy unit, the reticle doesn’t change to a sword or a spear or anything – just from a yellow circle to a red circle. It’s fine, it functions alright, but for me I like a little more indication that what I’m about to order is to kill everyone they run into. It just seems a little passive. If that’s the only complaint I can muster from it, then it’s a good sign. There are of course changes here and there, but I’ll get used to those.
One very cool addition is the duel mechanic. There’s a huge button beside all of the general abilities, hepfully labelled ‘Duel’ – which allows you to pick a target and go at it single combat. This was possible in the Warhammer games, but you’d still be getting stabbed or shot by a thousand other goons. Chinese honour dictates that the two generals seek one another out, and all the soldiers around them create a circle of space for them to engage. I don’t know if that’s how they really did it back then, but it definitely looks awesome so I’m not fussed. Watching your famous warlord duke it out in the midst of battle is exciting and cinematic, plus the morale results can be exciting. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention, but I couldn’t see any indicator of a ‘Duelling’ stat. The first time I pitched Lady Sun against the enemy general, she got spanked and the army all fled.
I will buy Total War: Three Kingdoms. I can say that with as much certainty as I like. It’s a a shiny new type of game in a totally new and unexplored setting. I’ll be paying attention to the history and to the unfolding story, and will probably learn a bit about the period. I’m just hoping that the campaign mechanics stack up as well, and it’s an overall win.
Honey, I joined a cult
Developer: Sole Survivor Games
Release: Eventually. Currently in Alpha.
After I’d managed a prison in Prison Architect, and built a colony in Rimworld, I’ve lusted for games of a similar vein that let you develop something out of nothing. There are games for hotels, police precincts, airports and a whole bunch of other things. Honey, I joined a cult is a fairly unique addition to this genre; and I got to sit down and play for a good 20 minutes. It’s the 70s, and you’re tasked with building a cult compound and overseeing the induction of new recruits, management of facilities, and – of course – ushering in the ‘big plan’.
The exact nature of the cult is up to you to decide. Mine followed a charismatic man by the name of Alan Alanson, and were called Alan and The Bastards. Bastards wore red unfiorms and were generally a nasty bunch. My friend who sat beside me started a cult of dinosaur-mask wearing lunatics that worshipped a massive egg. It’s goofy and light, despite the character in all the marketing clearly meant to represent Charles Manson.
Every cultist needs facilities. They need somewhere to sleep, somewhere to pray, somewhere to eat. In order to not just survive, but to grow, you also need to be converting civilians. Hypnosis chambers, recruitment drives and the works are at your disposal. Beyond that, it unfortunately feels a little basic. It’s in the Alpha stage of development, and with such a unique and fun game in the making – I’ve no idea how much the game will grow or how well it will capitalise on the potential. I do know that I’ve added it to my Steam Wishlist, and I’ll be taking a look at it a bit later down the line.
Developer: Robotality, Chucklefish
Release: January 2019*
Turn based. Pixel Art. Nazi killing. Mysterious. All words that get us gamers a bit hot under the collar, and all words that you’d find in any description of Pathway. Developed by Robotality and published by the ever-charming Chucklefish, you’ll lead a wide cast of characters on a quest through the middle-east. The aim is very Indiana Jones-y, to rescue your missing professor friend and stop the Nazi menace from finding a powerful artifact.
Select your crew from a pool of doctors, teachers, explorers, mechanics, archaeologists, soldiers, hunters and more. They all have varying stats, perks, strengths, weaknesses and backstories. There’s one character who loves cowboy films and is a brilliant shot with a pistol, but he’s a huge coward and is likely to flee as soon as they shoot back. Another one who’s great at killing nazis, inflicting extra damage, but loves animals – refusing to attack the german guard dogs. Based on the mission at hand you’ll have to carefully pick and choose your team based on what’s required. You won’t always need your soldier and explorer. Certain tasks might be more suited to your mechanic, for example.
There’ll be multiple stops on your team’s journey from A to B. Some of them might be uneventful, just a roof over your head for the night. If you’re lucky, it could be a buried supply cache. Unlucky; a nazi outpost. If you’ve played FTL, it’s a familiar roll of the dice. If you come across the feared german enemy, they tend to spot you coming and you’ll have to battle your way to freedom.
My advice would be to use cover. It may be pixels and cartoon violence, but Nazis are still Nazis and they’ll blow your head off if you’re not ducked behind a wall. I discovered this when I charged my dare-devil badass in with his shotgun at the only enemy in sight. His three mates popped up and Captain Cool was caught off guard, and swiftly gunned down. I scraped through the level with only one survivor, and continued on. I failed the next one, because it was a fresh new battle and I was thoroughly outnumbered.
The gameplay works great, looks great, and even when I’m losing tremendously, it’s a lot of fun. I played for around 30 minutes just as the event came to a close, but wanted to keep going. To me, that’s an indicator of a great production. Part of me wanted to just boil it down to ‘X-COM with nazis instead of aliens’, but that’s very shallow. The character selection is a lot deeper, the overall feel is much lighter, and it plays so differently.
I was very disappointed when the Chucklefish dev told me the game wasn’t out yet. I wanted to get home and get playing right away, to see how far I could get and see what it was really like outside of a demo. Of all the games I played at EGX this year, this was one of my favourites and the one I’m most excited about.
*Officially the release date is listed as ‘2018’, but one of the devs told me it would be out in January. Probably.