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Christmas comes but once a year, so does the EB Expo.

We may have PAX in Australia, but we don’t have an E3 so EB have done a great job creating a beast of a show split across Trade and Public days, giving themselves some terrific retail opportunities and allowing the games industry somewhere local to flex their presentation skill(z) and queue management muscles.

This is the fourth year for the Expo and my third, every year it seems bigger, brighter and better constructed. It is a veritable buffet of game related fodder that offers something for everybody.

IMG_1131After having a 4am start to catch a flight followed by three lucky trains I was in Sydney’s Olympic Park and on the show floor by 8:30am. It had gone like clockwork, so too did the collection of my badge and navigation of the building crowds outside.

Once inside the doors the familiar smell of pre-public show lingered, attendants were busily preparing their stands and rehearsing their patter that would become ingrained over the next few days. Under the huge dome and first in sight were Microsoft’s big piece of real estate, attached to that was the obligatory Call of Duty session. Advanced Warfare has a new developer in its cycle, the annual monster is about to be unleashed again and while some of the new skills take  a little getting used to, the palette and twitch reactions of the game still remain. It is a CoD game without a doubt, whether it has upped the ante enough remains to be seen.

Also taking up space in the dome were Ubisoft with a full catalogue of demos running for FarCry4, The Crew and both new Assassins Creed games. They also had a closed doors session running through a couple of demos for The Division, a title that is going to make a pretty big splash next year.

IMG_1123Electronic Arts showed primarily Battlefield Hardline with a 32-strong range of networked PCs giving players a taste of the game, which incidentally has stepped up massively from the Beta a few months ago. Along with an array of opportunities to go feet-on with Fifa15.

There was also a closed session with The Witcher 3 courtesy of Namco who were also showing off the new Sleeping Dogs HD redux and isometric platformer Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris. A big 2K stand hawking Evolve, Borderlands the Pre-Sequel, NBA and WWE. While not forgetting Bethesda with half of their stand being a purpose built scare maze, set up to give you a taste of the horrors waiting on the disc of Evil Within which looks to be a game you don’t play in the dark.

IMG_1126Moving further into the show area Sony had a big, bright setup with Driveclub taking pole postion alongside some excellent hands-on opportunities. One of which being The Order, a game that has a staggering level of visual appeal. A standout for me was being able to play HellDivers, a top down shooter that has been ‘coming’ for  a while and absolutely pushes my visceral buttons. They also had an age controlled area where I got to play some Bloodborne, more Shadows of Mordor and gaped at the graphics on display for Until Dawn. Bloodborne was a hit with Ben at TGS recently and I can instantly see why, there is obviously a deep strategic flow to the combat and the AI will punish you if you get it wrong. It’s a dark and depressing game, but like the Souls series I believe Bloodborne has claws that are just waiting to drag you in. Speaking of which there was also the chance to play some Little Big Planet 3, I didn’t get round to actually playing, but the happy faces of people enjoying this fun game was enough to brighten my day after Bloodborne.

Sony had their upcoming gadget Playstation TV on show and for a unit that is about the size and weight of  a deck of cards it really does a great job. Driveclub running on a PS4 screen and remotely on a Playstation TV generated screen appeared a completely lag-free experience and as opposed to using Remote Play on the Vita, being able to use the controller was a big draw. However the person running the demo did recommend maintaining a wired connection to keep the fidelity, we’ll just have to see come November.

IMG_1129Warner sat opposite Sony, with Shadows of Mordor dominating their profile, but also having strong presences from Lego Batman and Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat fell victim to my time constraints and Lego Batman, well you can’t argue with the success of the Lego games and you don’t argue with the Dark Knight. IMG_1127Shadows of Mordor however is where things are at for Warner, releasing now its going to be a hit and that’s after having five minutes of playtime. There are obvious comparisons to be had with other franchises, but the combat system is so fluid, the Nemesis system leads to AI presenting different strategies and the product manager was quite clear that your second playthrough will be nothing like your first. Being a firm fan of their previous Middle Earth game ‘War in the North’ I’m super keen to be sneaking, slaughtering and Troll riding my way around Mordor.

Beyond that the main hall had a mixture of other activities, but being tight on time (only having five hours on the ground in the show) I couldn’t get to spend time nosing around them all. Not forgetting the main Arena housing the Good Game live shows, community stages, various panels, cosplay competitions and even a Robot Wars Battle Arena. There were also dedicated areas for Indie developers and a ‘museum’ of gaming that I could have spent far too long in, if I’d had the chance.

IMG_1128In brief it was a bigger and better experience. Will I be back next year? Oh for sure and I’ll make a full day of it too.

Overall, the takeaway from this show was that this current or latest generation is about to explode with quality. There is a  real depth of new game experiences just around the corner, whether it is the social reach of Driveclub or the effort and detail used in a project like The Order. Game worlds are getting bigger, more freeform, more natural and beyond anything we never even knew we wanted way back in the olden days. It really is a great time to have gaming as your hobby, I don’t know where we will be in another ten years, but I can’t wait to find out.