It was a quiet year for the EB Games Expo held in Sydney this year. I think this is in part a reflection on the state of gaming for the rest of the year as well as a seemingly half-hearted effort by the publishers at the stalls. A noticeable absence of EA this year sure didn’t help the situation.

I remember going to PAX Australia last year and even though most the exciting games of the year had already released, it still felt like a fun event that people with similar interests can hang out, have fun and celebrate whatever type of gaming culture they were into. EB Expo instead feels more like a place where I go so people can try and sell stuff to me, be it EB Games themselves or the various publishers.

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Rather than having a nice variety of things on offer, each publisher focused only on a couple of their big games, causing a few noticeable omissions in upcoming games. This meant that you had considerable wait times to play the vast majority of games on offer. Personally I would have liked to see more variety, especially from the likes of Sony and Microsoft. I think it would have been a great opportunity to show off some smaller titles or even some past games people may have missed. For someone who doesn’t like standing in line for ages like myself, I would have much preferred playing these sorts of titles rather than standing there doing nothing.

In order to stay relevant into the future, I feel like EB Games has to reinvent what the Expo actually is, focusing more on celebrating video gaming culture. The addition of panels of people discussing games and a focus on more on playing a wider variety of games, not just a few big hits.

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Probably the highlight of the EB Expo this year was the Xbox Presentation featuring developers from Dead Rising 4, Forza Horizon 3 and Gears 4 as well as the Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer. The presentation was rather impressive and I’m sure won over anyone in the audience who wasn’t already sold on the Xbox brand. I found it a rather big showing that felt out of place in what felt like an otherwise small event. How out of place it felt was especially apparent when comparing it to the follow up act ‘Wand Masterclass’ featuring Paul Harris, the choreographer of the wand fight sequences in one of the Harry Potter movies.

Outside of playing these few games, I didn’t feel like there was too much to do. There was a large section of the Expo dedicated to shopping however it wasn’t really something that captured my interest.

Okay, so the event could use some improvement. It was a good opportunity to get some hands on time with some of the biggest upcoming games though.

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First up for me was Horizon: Zero Dawn, my most anticipated game. So far this generation I’ve felt like there has been a lack console defining new IP from the likes of Sony and Microsoft. I feel like Horizon: Zero Dawn could change this for Sony. The demo available shows off exactly what you have seen from all the footage released so far.

If you haven’t been following, Horizon: Zero Dawn mixes the prehistoric setting of dinosaurs with a futuristic setting. The result is gameplay that mixes futuristic gadgets with bows and arrows. The gameplay reminds me of the rebooted Tomb Raider series.

The demo took place in a very small segment of the world and focused more on taking down the robotic dinosaurs roaming the land. I actually had a lot of fun using the different tools at my disposal to wear down and kill the variety of dinosaurs around the place. One of these tools is the Ropecaster which basically attached the rope to the enemy and the ground. Shooting a few of these off caused the dinosaurs to become immobile, allowing you to go in for the kill or deal considerable damage. I actually found this to feel a little bit to overpowered however it was fun to use nonetheless.

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Another big name game I got my hands on was Gears of War 4. Available to play was both Horde mode and a small section of the Campaign. If you liked the previous Gears of War games, you will like Gears of War 4. For better or worse, it feels like they stuck very close to the formula of the original series.

Horde mode has evolved a bit from the previous games. You can now move your base around and build various defence systems wherever you like. Outside of this everything looked and felt exactly as I remembered.

While the Campaign seems very similar, there was a slightly different vibe to the visuals which I actually really liked. They showed of a section which involved some kind of storm event central to the plot occurring. The demo didn’t give too much away about the story however with release just around the corner that isn’t a bad thing.

Another game of note I got my hands on was Final Fantasy XV. Since the announcement of the game I’ve been a bit unsure about the direction the series is going in. While it certainly looks to be a very high budget Final Fantasy game with a lot of depth, it just hasn’t washed over too well with me. I think the main characters have something to do with that.

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The location in the demo seemed very much inspired by Texas, complete with a petrol station owned by rednecks. The demo basically involved killing some beasts while your car gets fixed up. The setting felt a little too westernised and realistic for my liking, going away from the fantasy roots of the series.

The combat uses a purely real time system, another departure from what the series is known for. I actually didn’t mind the combat for the most part. It felt very much like a button mashing game but there was enough depth there that it didn’t get too repetitive, at least for the duration of the demo. I haven’t liked previous attempts in the series of a hybrid turn-based and real-time system so I’m glad they made the choice one way or the other.

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I came away still unsure whether I will actually like the game when it is released. I’m sure many people will love it however it doesn’t seem to be shaping up to be the next big Final Fantasy game that I was hoping for. I’m still hesitant to judge the game too early though as it still may turn out to be an amazing game in its own right.

For getting some hands on time with a few of the big upcoming games, the EB Games Expo this year wasn’t too bad, if you didn’t mind lining up that is. I would have preferred a larger selection of games being showed off as well as some more variety in things that are happening at the event. Hopefully next year’s EB Games Expo can improve on what they had this year.

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