Last weekend I was back in Birmingham for this year’s EGX. It was a little strange being there this time around, having just spent the weekend there for Insomnia 58 a couple of weeks ago, and just being there to play games instead of work. EGX took up a large number of the NEC’s halls this time around, substantially larger than both last year’s show and the summer Insomnia.

Knowing it was likely to be one of the busier queues of the day, we made an immediate beeline to Final Fantasy XV on arrival and managed to play it after only a little over a half an hour wait. While I’m not really all that familiar with Final Fantasy (I have a handful of them that I keep meaning to play but, you know, Steam backlog) outside of Crystal Chronicles on the Gamecube, but I was quite impressed. It’s quite an attractive game, though could do with a little antialiasing around the characters, and the new real time combat system worked really well for me – though I don’t know how true this would be for some of the series old timers. Visually it was this odd mix of classic central American wilderness with fairly authentic looking cars and crazy anime hair, giant swords and monsters. I’ll likely wait for the inevitable PC version, but I do rather think I’ll get around to picking this one up sooner than 20 years after it comes out like I did with Final Fantasy VII..

Square Enix also had a number of other titles on display, with the PS4 port of Rise of the Tomb Raider drawing large crowds as well as this year’s episodic Hitman with a sneak preview of the new mission. In other Final Fantasy related games there was World of Final Fantasy, which I saw back at Insomnia, and the somewhat bafflingly titled Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue which is a collection of new content and remasters of Kingdom Hearts material set between the second and upcoming third main games in the series.

A particular highlight for me was Sonic Mania at the Sega stand. As long time readers may know, I’m quite a big fan of Sonic games and always look forward to any new ones coming out - I even want to play the new Sonic Boom, so that should tell you something! Sonic Mania is due out next year and is aimed very much at fans of the classic 90’s Mega Drive titles. Developed in part by Christian Whitehead, who was behind not only the brilliant Sonic CD port I reviewed years ago but also similar ports of the first two Mega Drive games, it’s a wonderful mashup of parts of the old games as well as completely new stages. The two levels playable were an extended version of the classic Green Hill Zone Act 1 which featured a new boss at the end, and the brand new Studiopolis Zone which was a bright colourful carnival of a city with tons of new gimmicks to play with. If the rest of the game holds up to that level of quality, then I’ll be absolutely delighted when it comes out in spring.

Sega also had some other upcoming titles playable, including Dawn of War III by veteran developer Relic Entertainment that’s sure to be just as solid as the previous titles in the series and looked great. They were also showing off Motorsport Manager which is exactly what it sounds like, a motorsport equivalent to the long running Championship Manager series.

Sony had an absolutely massive range of games on display this year with a stand over double the size of their presence at Insomnia. Not all of the games being shown were PlayStation exclusives, with Lego Dimensions showing off some of the new content due soon with the Year 2 release and the queue to end all queues that was Call of Duty with both the new Infinite Warfare as well as the Modern Warfare remaster playable. I gave that queue a miss personally, while I have returned to Call of Duty earlier this year after a several year break I still know the series well enough that I don’t need to wait for hours to try it as I can rather guess what it will be like.

Sony also had Final Fantasy XV on their stand as well as the excellent looking open world adventure with bow and arrow and robots, Horizon Zero Dawn which I’m quite looking forward to. Finally, there were rows of Gran Turismo Sport pods and a selection interesting looking VR games. I still struggle with focusing well with VR headsets, I really should get back to wearing contacts at some point to really give them a proper try but so far they’re mostly passing me by.

Regular event sponsor Virgin Media were again running an event for the weekend, this time competitive Destiny matches with prizes to the top scorers. I would have love to have given this a try, but I’ve not actually gotten around to playing Destiny at all so thought it best to save myself from utter defeat.

Elsewhere, there were also Tekken 7 and Street Fighter V tournaments going on. I’ve fallen well behind with both series, but the current entries of each both look to be very impressive games and we got to see some professional and incredibly close Street Fighter matches be played which was very cool.

I almost missed Microsoft altogether, somewhat hidden behind the 18+ barrier at the top end of the hall. Given their larger display last year this seemed a little odd and even more so with a small selection of games and Gears of War 4 being the only exclusive playable. Gears still looks great, and is probably the game I'm most looking forward to for the next couple of months. Also in the over 18 section were Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2, two of EA's biggest upcoming titles. Many have of course played the recent beta of Battlefield and know that it's already shaping up very well and is one of the most anticipated titles this year, and Titanfall 2 is also looking like a big improvement over the first game.

Ubisoft also had the upcoming South Park sequel, the Fractured But Whole, on display. A follow up to 2014’s Stick of Truth, this time the kids are all playing as superheroes and you get to play as a new character who’s superpower is farting. Never change, South Park. Along with playing the game you could also try out Ubisoft’s take on the VR craze – the Nosulus Rift. A truly delightful peripheral that you wear on your face covering your nose, it fills up with a foul stench whenever your character farts in the game. It’s an interesting but disgusting gimmick that (thankfully!) doesn’t seem to be commercially viable for them to release alongside the game.

I was a little surprised that Nintendo had no presence at the event this year. While they don’t have many big Wii U titles due before the end of the year (next month’s Paper Mario is the only one that comes to mind) and they’re not showing the upcoming NX yet there are quite a few 3DS titles due over the next couple of months including the seemingly more popular than ever Pokemon so their absence did seem a little odd.

Replay Events were also back at EGX this year, with quite a lavish display of retro consoles and games. Featuring a number of themed sections there were quite a few classics to play, as well as some very cool table top arcade units that I definitely want. Nearby was the near obligatory Minecraft section that you always find at gaming events these days and was as busy as I expected.

Much like last year, the indie games selection was very wide. With no Nintendo stand for me to spend the afternoon on trying new games and getting Street Passes, I ended up playing quite a few more than I typically have time to. First up was Dead Pixels 2, which I played a slightly earlier build of back spring at Play Blackpool. It’s quite a fun 16-bit style side scrolling beat ‘em up with Zombies, featuring a procedurally generated city to travel through and online co-op it’s likely to be one I sink some time into on release.

There were also a number of other games of note to me. First up was Aaero, a very pretty rail shooter with a great soundtrack with a beat that goes along with the level and obstacles you pass that looks incredibly cool. Survival game The Other 99 also looks quite interesting, with you waking up stranded on an island with another 99 survivors and having to find a way to escape with the choice of fighting the other survivors, avoiding them or just trying to outlast them. The 99 AI controlled survivors will also fight each other and whittle their numbers down meaning it’s possible to beat the game without even fighting anyone. It’s a little buggy at the moment – the first person I saw didn’t correctly trigger to my presence and effectively broke on the spot and became temporarily invincible – but there’s a fair bit of promise there.

Platformer Little Nightmares showed a lot of promise too, featured not just on its own stand but also as part of Sony’s PlayStation range. Developer Tarsier Studios has quite a pedigree, having worked on multiple Little Big Planet games for Sony and in particular handling the PS Vita entry in the system themselves. With an incredible level of polish for an indie game and a mixture of stealth, action and horror it’s an incredibly stylish looking game that I’m quite interested in seeing more of.

Also of interest was narrative horror game The Mannequin (which I apparently missed at Insomnia) that’s set inside a house that seems to be haunted by the titular Mannequin. The audio for the game is still in the early stages, and I got a little lost at one point where it seemed to be missing an audio queue that would tell me where to go, but it has quite a nice art style and atmosphere.

The indie standout for me though was definitely Dead Cells. Calling itself a ‘rougevania’ – a metroidvania style roguelike – it has a randomly generated castle to work your way through on each playthrough, and had very smooth movement and combat that I’d argue plays better than some of the best Castlevanias.

As usual for a big games event there were also tons of people in cosplay, including a few I recognised from Insomnia and other events, with a big cosplay showcase on the Sunday afternoon. There were quite a few very impressive costumes, and it’s always cool to see the level of detail and love that cosplayers put into it.

My main complaint from last year, with stands closing before 4 was also not an issue this time around, with the later closing time of 7pm. While we didn’t stay that late, at the time we did go there was no sense that we weren’t able to keep playing. All in all, this year’s EGX was another very good show and while I would have liked to see more from Microsoft and anything at all from Nintendo still left me with a ton of great games that I’m interested in picking up over the next year.