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Adventure in Aellion – An EGX Preview

Adventure in Aellion – An EGX Preview

As I look back through my drafts from last year during some time away from the day job, I realise that I haven’t written about Adventure in Aellion which I saw at EGX. As I catch myself up with the progress the devs have made in recent months, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they deep in planning for Early Access, and are also offering members of their Discord channel a chance to try out an even earlier version of the game.

But what is Adventure in Aellion? Coming from The Game Producion Company, comprising Luke O’Donoghue and Elliott Dodsworth, Aellion can best be described as a Zelda-like with drop-in drop-out multiplayer. After playing Aellion at EGX, I asked Luke about his inspiration for starting work on the game:

we were sat there thinking about why you can’t play Zelda multiplayer…we’re going for an older style Zelda mixed with Jak and Dax adventure. The main feature is the easy drop-in drop-out multiplayer, local and online.

I saw some of this drop-in and drop-out multiplayer action at EGX. I started the demo on my lonesome, quickly jumping on a horse and exploring the countryside…but in the opposite direction of the dungeon that was playable during the demo. After getting myself back on track, I was joined a companion as I neared the dungeon, from where we tried to work our way through the variety of puzzles on offer.

The puzzles were well crafted, offering a welcome mix of straightforward box manoeuvring to climb to different levels along with others which required more patience and logic to solve. Despite not communicating with my random partner, nothing was too difficult to prevent progress being made. Lone rangers should have no fears as the core experience will work for solo players as well, with Luke telling me:

the main story itself, which will cover 9 dungeons, will all be playable single player. We will have some special side-story quests and puzzles that will require multiplayer, but we wanted the story to be completed single player which was an important factor when we were designing the dungeons.

Luke revealed that the dungeon on show at EGX was taking players 30-60 minutes to work through based on their experience with similar games. Further dungeons are expected to take closer to an hour, even for experienced gamers, to complete. The final dungeon (complete with requisite boss) is expected to be a 90 minute encounter, although won’t necessarily be the most complex dungeon in the game.

You will be able to, in theory, head straight to the final dungeon from the very start of the game if you were feeling brave enough. By doing that though you will be missing out on the six distinct semi-open world areas. In the EGX demo I travelled through a handful of farms and small villages, testament to the idea that a large open world without stuff to do isn’t much fun. It means Luke and Elliott are focusing on developing a well populated world to explore and get stuck into, rather than a massive but sparsely populated lan.

Judging by the discussions in Discord, the team are making good progress already this year, with updates to their Discord community build expected to drop more regularly than before. Of course, if Discord isn’t your cup of tea, you can follow the game on Steam and wait for the Early Access release.

art of rally – a rally fans dream

art of rally – a rally fans dream

You might have figured out by now that I’m a huge rally fan. I’ve written about my journey to find a worthy rally game, I’ve been out in the forests of North Wales a couple of times to see the cars fly past, an experience which nearly undermined my initial enjoyment of GRID. It turned out that EGX this year came only a couple of weeks after the Welsh round of the World Rally Championship, and when I arrived at the ExCeL in London town, I was still in full rally fandom.

It all meant that while wandering the indie section, I was immediately seized by a need to check out art of rally. There was a lengthy queue at the stall, which I later found out from creator Dune Casu was likely thanks to his work on Absolute Drift which I remember hearing positive things about some time ago.

art of rally is described on the official site as a “stylized rally experience”, something which seemed quite apt once I got a chance between the crowds to play it. My first experience of this isometric racer was on a fast tarmac stage in Sardinia which ended up with my car against the trees more often than not. As Dune told me:

It’s not the easiest type of game, but for those who play racing and rally games they are pretty into it and seem to be getting along with it.

That’s very much true as my next attempt was on a lovely gravel stage in Finland, and with a car not quite over lethal as the Group B Audi Quattro alike that I drove on Sardinia. A more sedate 60s styled Lancia was my choice, and it proved to be much more welcoming. I still dumped the car off the track a couple of times, but was able to get around in one piece.

Dune explained that while career mode covers the “classical age of rally, so 60s through to 90s…the goal isn’t to win everything but to go through tracks and enjoy them.” I’m so happy to see indies getting into the rallying scene, and the concept of enjoying the action rather than feeling you have to win is music to my ears.

Those who are more competitive will be pleased to know that there will be daily and weekly challenges, compete with online leaderboards, but I’m going to be more than content to tootle casually around the various locales and soak up the atmosphere.

You can find out more on art of rally on the official site or follow Dune on Twitter. Did I mention that music is fantastic? No, well it is. art of rally will be out next year and can’t come soon enough.

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels – EGX Hands On

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels – EGX Hands On

I’m a big fan of the indie games that Curve Digital publish, and their area is normally one of my regular haunts at EGX. This year the layout of the Rezzed area was so expansive that Curve’s games were spread out, not in one nice grouping like I’ve come to expect. It all meant that I missed the opportunity to take a look at Autonauts and Table Manners, but I was able to get some time with Narcos: Rise of the Cartels. Yes, this is a fully licenced take on the hit Netflix show which charts the fight between the DEA and Pablo Escobar’s cartel. And you know what? It’s damn good.

The full game, due out later this year across PC and all the consoles, will see two distinct campaigns taking you through the eyes of the DEA and protagonist Steve Murphy, or as the Narcos working to expand El Patrón’s brutal empire. The demo at EGX was played through the eyes of the DEA, probably for the best with the number of kids wandering the halls, with the in-game action cleverly interspersed with clips from the first season of the show and mission briefings from Ambassador Noonan. While Narcos won’t have the base building elements of the recent XCOM titles, the glimpses of “office” work I saw were solid enough to provide you with a sense of meaning to your work, and steeped in clichés like a massive pin-board plotting links between cartel members.

Aside from that you also get to manage your roster of DEA agents, Colombian cops, special forces and other leaders. The leaders, characters from the show like Murphy and Javier Peña have special abilities, but crucially only one leader can be taken into a mission as part of your squad at any one time. Looking after your leaders looks set to be important. While they may have special abilities, I tended to keep Murphy safely tucked away during the demo to avoid losing everything by foolishly getting him shot up.

The action itself takes place in artful surroundings in Colombian towns, cities and the jungle. The basic premise is different enough from XCOM or the turn-based elements of Age of Wonder: Planetfall to provoke interest in fans of the genre, let alone fans of the show. Rather than having control over all your units during a turn, in Narcos only one unit can take any action, but that action can be extensive. For example, I was able to take my demolition expert from the ground up a drainpipe towards a spot where I could fire my grenade launcher to take down a cartel member. Even after taking my shot, I was left with choices of reloading my grenade launcher or hunkering down and healing.

The flipside is that by moving my demolition expert, I’d left a fresh-faced Colombian cop in the open and ready to come under fire. Fortunately, he’d built up his counteract points. Replacing the classic overwatch ability of XCOM, counteract points are earned through limiting the actions you perform with a squad member. Once the ability kicks in when a bad guy approaches, you are thrust into a third-person mode where you can control the aim and timing of the shot, all while the enemy is moving in slow-mo towards you. It’s an innovative feature, although one that I didn’t fully get to grips with during the demo. I kind of glossed over that part during the tutorial level, too busy planning how to get Murphy out of a spot of bother I’d left him in.

There’s more to Narcos than the licence, although it is that name recognition that drew me to the stand in the first place. It does mean that I will need to finish watching season one of the show, so as not to get spoilt by the game. It’s a great marketing tie-in really, and one must expect that another game, or perhaps some DLC, will be released further down the line to cover the events of season two.

I came away from the stand pleased that I’d found a Curve title, especially one as potentially addictive as this.

CyberPunk 2077 – EGX Preview

CyberPunk 2077 – EGX Preview

Six months out from the planned release, and CD Projekt Red are being careful with CyberPunk 2077, showing off plenty in a 45-minute cinematic demo, but by keeping it out of the hands of the general public at EGX, ensuring people only see exactly what they want you to see. With some developers, you might start to have concerns that the ground-breaking new features they have spent months hyping will all fall apart when people get hands on. With CDPR though, they have The Witcher 3 in their history, a grand open-world RPG that stands out as a highlight of this generation, and you start to wonder whether CyberPunk 2077 might top Geralt’s adventure.

The demo that we were shown started with the team from CDPR showing off the character customisation options. While they only gave us a light touch run through, I got the impression you can go into quite some depth when making your version V. We were also given a glimpse of the life path that you choose for V, a overarching archetype that you will be able to tweak and change as you work through the game. These are the areas that I love to dive into in RPGs, and this demo sure as hell left me wanting to see more.

Once a male, hacking focused version of V had been created, Keanu Reeves’ character of Johnny Silverhand provides some augmented reality direction: find Placide from the Voodoo Boy gang and find a way to make contact with a legendary figure of the NetRunner community. As V explores his surroundings, making his way to a church to meet one of Placide’s handlers I was gazing at the world of Night City that CDPR have created. I’ve largely avoided bingeing on pre-release trailers and previews for CyberPunk, and so my first real glimpse of V’s hometown was quite something.

NPCs are everwhere, think Novigrad in The Witcher 3, but with an even greater cast of people milling about. The effort that has gone into making Night City must have been immense, and part of me wonders whether CDPR might look to push the release date back further to ensure all the various game systems are working in sync, and to potentially make this a cross-gen release. I can only imagine how beneficial the extra power of the new consoles will be to help immerse you in Night City’s life.

After being taken to meet Placide, the range of conversation options was shown off. Along with the expected class and skill specific conversation threads you can pull at, we were also shown action taking place in the background to the conversation which led to new contextual conversation options. It was impressive in the moment, but as it took place in a scripted and controlled setting in Placide’s office, it raised a question in my mind of how much you might see that take place out in the city itself. The rest of V’s dealings with Placide were focused on the biohacking elements at the heart of the game.

Jacking into Placide’s network leaves you vulnerable to his spying but will prove useful as you complete a job for him. The sequence around the biohacking and body-mods felt very Deus Ex, which is no bad thing, but left me wondering whether some of the messages and themes that CDPR will be trying to explore through CyberPunk won’t be as new and “hot take” as some might expect.

When it came time to infiltrate the base of the rival gang, we were shown two opposite approaches to handling the situation. A stealth focused method with a healthy dose of hacking, or a gun heavy onslaught augmented with strength perks opening different options. Personally, I found the stealthy approach much more interesting. Hacking cameras and silently taking down opponents is one thing, but being able to hack their own body mods adds to the fun and games that you would expect to take part in. The action focused offering had a more traditional shooter feel with a lesser focus on the hacking abilities and more on the bludgeoning your way through any spot of trouble.

Without going hands-on, it’s hard to say how the all guns blazing approach would feel. The Witcher 3 proved to offer brilliant, yet easy combat with the third-person perspective and mix of signs and swords. I’m just not sure that CyberPunk will best suit that style of gameplay, especially when the subtler approaches look set to be much more entertaining judging from the action shown at EGX.

CyberPunk 2077 look fantastic, and has a world that I have no doubt people will fall in love with. I have confidence in CDPR, but the sooner they get this into the hands of fans at events like EGX, the better.

Doom Eternal – Hands On

Doom Eternal – Hands On

There haven’t been many AAA games at EGX this year that I came into the show keen to check out, but Doom Eternal was one of them, so when I got the chance to get stuck into a twenty-minute demo of action taken from the middle of the game, I was excited.

Before the shooting started, there was a demo specific tutorial to refresh everyone with the basics of this generation of Doom games. It was a welcome refresher, and something that more companies could take note of when showing off big singleplayer games at shows like EGX. When trying to get your game into the hands of a wider audience, you don’t want them feeling put off by not knowing how to make the most of the game. A round of applause to Bethesda and id Software for that. The tutorial made a point of ensuring you knew how to wall climb, jump between walls and traverse the environment. Eternal looks set to be a much more vertical game than 2016’s Doom.

Upon getting into the action, it’s clear from the off that the id Tech 7 engine that is powering Eternal has taken things to another level from the id Tech 6 generation of games. It helps that the demo is being run on a more than capable PC, but the sheer scalability of the id engines should mean that Panic Button make another stunning port of Eternal to the Switch when it lands there later next year.

The levels I played through saw the Doom Slayer working to get back to Mars, fighting through a UAC station orbiting Phobos, a base falling apart under the weight of the demonic onslaught. Being a demo from the mid-part of the full game, you are already loaded with a bevy of weapons along with their respective mods. An early highlight was picking up a Super Shotgun. A classic of the Doom arsenal, this new version comes equipped with the Meat Hook mod which allows you to slingshot yourself towards an enemy. Extremely useful for crossing the many broken parts of the station, and for maintaining the fast-paced action established with the previous game.

Tying in with elements like the Meat Hook are the returning glory kills rewarding you with health, and a mega glory kill which can wipe out a group of demons in a stunning burst of melee inflicted gore. The chainsaw, provided you have fuel, will drop ammo while a new flamethrower will light up enemies who will drop armour once you finish them off. The new ways of keeping the Slayer topped up with his essentials might take a few moments of getting used to, but soon enough I was deep in the rhythm and blasting demons back to hell.

If you find a demon too far away to get an easy melee kill on, a dash move will get you up close and personal to finish the job. Dashing is another crucial element to keeping the action flowing, but fear not as there is always time to explore. Bringing up the automap will highlight objectives and the all-important pickups and secrets that are dotted around the levels. Rushing through head long will get you from A to B, but exploration and finding secrets has always been a key element of the Doom series and I was pleased to find a secret along with a few 1-ups.

These are new for Eternal and are another mechanism designed to keep you fighting, rather than restarting checkpoints when you inevitably die. It’s a great addition that keeps you in the moment.

New for Eternal is an element of destructible parts to the demons. The Aracnotron makes a re-appearance from the Doom 2 days, and you’ll find that a few carefully aimed rockets with destroy the cannon located at the top of the brain. Other bigger demons feature the same destructible elements, some might think they’re gimmicky, but I felt they added another layer to the action.

My one pause for thought came with an extravagant platforming section that reminded me of the worst moments of Xen in Half-Life. Obviously, movement is a thousand times improved upon Valve’s classic, but the sequence of hopping and boosting between floating pillars was a bit tedious. Where these platforms made you think about the game vertically, rather than what’s directly in your line of sight was welcome, but maybe I’m just too clumsy around the keyboard to traverse these sections as seamlessly as would be hoped.

It wasn’t too much of a blemish on what was an otherwise brilliant demo. If 2016’s Doom wasn’t up your street, then I don’t think Eternal will be. If it was though, then Eternal looks to be more of that goodness, just dialled up to 13. I’m on board, and have no issue with the delay until 2020, for a singleplayer focused game, I’d rather id take the time for a bit more spit and polish to tidy it all up.

My slaying was more than enjoyable with the twenty minutes going too fast.

Yes Your Grace – EGX Hands On

Yes Your Grace – EGX Hands On

One of the first games I checked out at EGX this year was Yes Your Grace, the upcoming kingdom sim come father sim from Brave Night with No More Robots handling publishing duties. I wasn’t expecting to see Yes Your Grace having missed the initial announcement a few weeks ago. Rather I was playing Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition (on which I’ll have more soon) and saw Yes Your Grace elsewhere on the No More Robots stand.

It immediately caught my eye as something that I had to check out, and as soon as a spot opened up I was all over it. The demo started at some point in the future, a point where your kingdom is about to face an onslaught the likes of which you have never seen.

After speaking to some advisors, you take your king to the battlements where you are posed with some choices; you can give your troops a rousing speech, instruct them to open fire…or raise the white flag and surrender.

I of course chose to give an inspirational speech, while the person playing next to me decided to surrender, a decision which promptly ended their game.

My words to the troops didn’t help much, leading to a scripted defeat and flashback a few months to a time before the kingdom found itself at war.

It’s from this point that the game opens up and you get to do kingly and fatherly things. You sit at your throne and receive visits from your friendly tax collector who fills your coffers, peasants who want you to spend money and provisions to keep them safe and happy. Agents, such as a general who featured in the demo, can do some dirty work for you by venturing out into the world via your strategic map.

Perhaps the most important interaction comes with your family. You quickly learn of a threat to the kingdom if you don’t wed your daughter to a rogueish figure, while the squabbles between children also require your attention.

As the weeks progressed, I decided that wedding my eldest to a friendly king’s son could secure a military alliance. A wedding was planned while I arranged for supplies to be stocked up in case of attack.

The demo ended with the wedding, and me ever so keen to see more. Flavours of Game of Thrones and Reigns: Her Majesty ring through, which paired with an enchanting art style make for a very exciting proposition.

There is a rough release date targeted for early 2020, and things are feeling pretty polished already. Definitely one to keep an eye on, and an early contender for my game of the show.