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Thoughts On: Gamescom

By Lewis Empson and Marcus Yeatman-Crouch

Gamescom is one of the biggest gaming conventions on the calendar, and while coronavirus has prevented the usual hordes of fans from showing up at the convention centre in Cologne, that didn’t stop the organisers from presenting a virtual conference – similar to the type we’ve seen from Ubisoft, Sony, and Microsoft – with a lineup of 38 games in its headline show. That said, we’ve narrowed down a few of the games we’re most interested in, from small but interesting announcements to beloved franchise hits.

Lewis: Hidden Gems and Big Reveals

Gamescom delivered a varied mix of heavy hitters and smaller titles for gamers to peruse and potentially pre-order. Kicking off with the big guns (pun absolutely intended) we had a closer look at the highly anticipated, and subtitle laden, Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War. This has been revealed as a sequel/prequel to the rest of the series with the events of the game taking place after the first Black Ops title. We’ll be reunited with classic fan favourite characters including Frank Woods, Jason Hudson and of course Alex Mason – say it with me now “the numbers Mason! What do they mean?”. Alongside returning fan favourites we have a plethora of new characters to guide us through a frankly bonkers looking plot which would give most 80’s action B-movies a run for their money – in the best way possible of course. So far the game has boasted stellar graphics powered by the PS5 and Xbox Series X, promises of the standard CoD quality of excellent and addictive multiplayer modes and of course the return of Black Ops Zombies; it’s all here and oh does it sound good. The semi reboot/retcon approach clearly worked for 2019’s Modern Warfare as they weeded out all the built up issues from prior titles and refined the series back to what gamers love and it looks like we could have another case of it here with Black Ops: Cold War after the series seemed to have lost its way with Black Ops 4. It’s especially nice to see Activision really promote the importance of the campaign this time around as it was completely absent in the aforementioned Black Ops 4 and after all the Black Ops stories are frankly iconic. Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War is set to release November 13th on PS4, Xbox One and PC with a later date to be confirmed for the next-gen versions.

Another heavy hitter to steal the spotlight was the first sneak peak at the upcoming Dragon Age 4; sequel to the highly praised Dragon Age: Inquisition. We saw some very early concept work and barebones gameplay showing us the rich, expanded world of Dragon Age that EA and Bioware are crafting. Although it’s early days, it’s hard not to get excited by the promise of engaging combat and vast magical worlds to explore and battle through as well as the fact that the series is known for some quality mythical exploration and combat gameplay. It’s been 6 years since the last installment of the franchise and Bioware has seen their fair share of drama within the gaming community after some major flops in the form of Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem so fingers crossed we can see them back on form for this upcoming title – there’s no release date yet but expect to see updates over the next year. 

Finally from me is a game that may have slipped under the radar compared to the industry giants at play like CoD and Ratchet and Clank (of whom premiered some ace looking next gen gameplay for the upcoming Rift Apart). 12 Minutes is top-down Groundhog Day-esque murder mystery in which a husband must solve a situation in which his pregnant wife is accused of killing a police officer’s father and is subsequently mudered in what appears to be a revenge plot. However, herein lies the twist of the game, every 12 minutes the story will restart meaning you must figure out how to solve the mystery and prevent your wife’s murder or at least make as much progress as possible before the whole story loops. The trailer presented a graphic, tense and dark tone for this mystery, thriller title as well as the ace up this unsuspecting title’s sleeve; the star-studded voice cast. The cast includes Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man), Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and James McAvoy (Split) which for a seemingly unsuspecting game completely took me by surprise. 12 Minutes is set to release this year on Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PC and was the real hidden gem of this Gamescom. 

Overall I was surprisingly impressed by Gamescom’s offerings this year. From sneak peaks to upcoming triple-A titles to hidden gems that would have bypassed my attention otherwise, there was a decent range of content and a few surprises although nothing blew me away to the likes of the PS5 event, Ubisoft Forward or the Xbox Series X showcase. However, given the state of gaming presentations and every developer and company taking the reins on announcing their own projects I suppose that is to be expected and I don’t hold it against Gamescom at all. 

Marcus: A Quirky Star Wars Lineup

Gamescom’s virtual first day brought some big announcements for the Star Wars gaming franchise. Notably, upcoming starfighter title Squadrons has a new single player preview after the mixed reception to its announcement a few months ago , which outlines that players will take to the cockpit as opposing pilots for the New Republic and the remnants of the Empire, undertaking numerous story missions and being able to speak to other characters in mission debriefings. EA claim that every part of Squadrons – including its multiplayer modes – will be playable in full VR, an exciting prospect for any Star Wars fans itching to fully immerse themselves in an X-Wing or TIE fighter. The release date was reiterated as the 2nd of October, and with the lowered price tag of £34.99 this is looking like an enticing title for experienced pilots and Rebel joyriders alike.

Surprisingly, the blockbuster starfighting entry to EA’s Star Wars franchise was overshadowed by a more beloved, bricky title. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is the biggest addition to the longstanding Lego spinoffs yet, featuring extensive levels for all nine main Star Wars movies, hundreds of characters and, in a series first, allowing players to start from any point in the timeline, meaning you can jump straight into your favourite, bricked-down movie in the saga. This is all big news, but why did it manage to eclipse Squadrons so easily when it appears to just be a mashup of all the Lego Star Wars games we’ve already had? Easy: fan service. Not only does the Lego series have loyal fans (including myself), it takes into account all the favourite moments, the easter eggs, and the memes, and manages to pack them all into one massive ode to Star Wars. The gameplay trailer alone has tons of details to get fans excited, like lesser known but much beloved Jedi Yaddle – a member of Yoda’s species – and Luke Skywalker donning a blue, milky moustache in homage to a much-memed scene in The Last Jedi. The Skywalker Saga is set to be the ultimate homage to Lego Star Wars, and with a next-gen release confirmed for 2021, our bricky odyssey can’t start soon enough.

To round off the Star Wars announcements for Gamescom, we got something a bit more… strange. The Sims 4 Star Wars: Journey to Batuu is probably not the crossover anyone expected, but EA are taking full liberty with their licences to blend the franchises together. The trailer reveals a new ‘vacation’ for your Sims, specifically Black Spire Outpost on Batuu, that serves as the setting for the real-life Galaxy’s Edge experience at Disneyland. In-game, Batuu has all the same shops and locations as Galaxy’s Edge, so while you can’t build a Star Wars themed house on an alien planet, you can send your Sim on a free vacation with the added bonus of building a lightsaber and meeting iconic heroes and villains from the sequel movies. The reveal trailer has plenty of easter eggs and nods to Star Wars that definitely shows EA’s attention to detail when it comes to fan service, but can their passion overcome what feels like a slightly forced collaboration? The goofy, carefree attitude of The Sims definitely seeps through the more serious theme of Star Wars, as stormtroopers can be seen dancing around and characters can, in true Sims style, become best bros with Kylo Ren. But at the end of the day, Journey to Batuu presents an in-game replica of Galaxy’s Edge – it’s not a ‘real’ Star Wars planet, and it can be imagined that the characters running around are simply roleplaying as if they were at Disneyland themselves. Frankly, with coronavirus making people think twice about visiting the happiest, most crowded place on Earth, maybe now’s the perfect time for EA to let us jet off for a virtual tour of the latest Disneyland attraction.

Star Wars definitely brought content to Gamescom, with an insightful update on the fast incoming Squadrons, a hype-filled trailer for Lego’s Skywalker Saga, and a rather left-field crossover with the Sims. EA gave us a bit of everything, teasing exciting new Star Wars content that is bound to tick your boxes in one game or another, and suggesting a positive future for the much loved franchise.

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