We may not have had E3 this year, but this summer didn’t go by without a big gaming expo filled with reveals. Gamescom returned as a live show this year, bringing a whole host of announcements via Geoff Keighley’s Opening Night Live show and a convention center full of playable demos. Digital Trends flew out to Cologne, Germany, this year to go hands-on with some upcoming releases and speak with the creators behind them.
Over the course of three days, we played dozens of games ranging in scope from big-budget showstoppers to indie hidden gems. The show proved that the video game industry is in a healthy place despite a year filled with high-profile delays. With so many games to talk about and so little time to play them all, we’ve put together a list of the best games we played at Gamescom – including our pick for Game of the Show.
Moonbreaker is exactly what you want to see out of an event like this: a left-field surprise that completely steals the spotlight. Developed by Subnautica studio Unknown Worlds, the strategy game debuted at Opening Night Live with a trailer showing off its miniature-based combat, where players drag Warhammer-like figurines across the battlefield. We were intrigued by that clip, but we were astonished by the actual game once we got to demo it. The strategy portion of the game feels incredibly tight, but what really impressed us was the game’s figure-painting tool, a powerful system that lets players easily create detailed custom paint jobs for their figures just as they would in a real tabletop game.
Our excitement for it only grew when getting more information from Unknown Worlds about the game. The developers filled us in on some exciting details, discussing how Mistborn author Brandon Sanderson helped craft a rich story that the game will tell over the course of years – both in-game and via a full episodic audio drama podcast.
Every new detail we heard about the game through the weekend only made us more intrigued to try it out when it launches in early access on September 29. Considering that it’s the one game we couldn’t stop talking about this weekend, it deserves this Game of the Show slot.
When Dead Island 2 leaked prior to Gamescom, I was skeptical: “Wasn’t Dead Island that OK zombie game famous for having a misleading trailer?” I didn’t really understand why I should be excited for it until I got to play it. Developer Deep Silver Dambuster rescued the 10-year-old project from obsolescence by rebuilding it from the ground up, a move that the developer said it needed to make to achieve its vision. And what was that vision? Ultimate carnage.
Dead Island 2 impressed us with its procedural flesh system that lets players target parts of a zombie’s body and carve them off in a grotesquely satisfying fashion. That’s paired with in-depth first-person melee combat that actually lets players take advantage of that gorey system. As soon as I poked a zombie’s leg off with a pitchfork, I was sold.
Despite not having a giant release coming this fall, Xbox had a huge presence at this year’s shows. Smaller titles like High on Life got a bright spotlight as a result, but the best Xbox exclusive I saw at the show was Pentiment. Developed by Obsidian, the 2D narrative game is a unique murder mystery set in the 16th century. It features eye-catching art and light RPG systems that have a real impact on the story. After getting to see a tease of how that’ll play out, I left Gamescom excited to see a company as big as Microsoft support a small-scale project that’s as charming as this one is.
Sometimes the best games at events like this are the ones you randomly stumble into while exploring the show floor. That was the case with Friends vs. Friends, which got a quick trailer at Opening Night Live. The multiplayer shooter features an ingenious deck-building system that lets players sabotage one another in increasingly creative ways. Play a card to turn an opponent’s head bigger for a round, reduce their jump, or just drop a nuke on the entire battlefield. After just a few rounds, I was already hooked on its zany premise.
Despite never having watched the anime or read the manga it’s based on, One Piece Odyssey won me over at the show. I feared that the project could be a low-effort cash-grab, but I was happy to be wrong about that. It contains clever RPG systems that push players to make smart decisions on each and every turn. Using a “rock, paper, scissors” damage system reminiscent of Fire Emblem, players have to constantly juggle which party members are in their lineup to get the most out of every attack opportunity. Though for One Piece fans, the real appeal here will be seeing all their favorite characters brought to life in a 3D world, complete with voice acting. This is feeling like a high-effort project that will cater to players beyond its built-in audience.
Lies of P was an oddball hit at Gamescom, with long lines waiting to get into its demo. Perhaps players just had to see the Pinnochio-inspired Soulslike in action to believe it really existed – I know I did. Fortunately, Lies of P is more than just a bizarre premise; it’s a promising action game that features smooth but still challenging combat. It may just be Bloodborne-lite, but I found that I actually enjoyed the faster-paced action even more than most actual FromSoftware games. The fact that it stars a broody Pinocchio is just the weird icing on the cake.
Earlier this summer, I was thrilled to learn that the team behind the excellent comedy sports game What the Golf? was entering the world of VR. What the Bat? takes the same idea as that game and applies it to baseball, with hysterical results. During my quick demo, I used Oculus Quest controllers to swing my way through an increasingly absurd gauntlet of challenges. It started with me hitting a ball at a trophy and ended with me painting a stone horse statue, using baseball bats as brushes. I can only imagine where it’ll go from there in the final version.
Indie developer D-Pad Studio made a name for itself in 2016 with its hit platformer Owlboy. However, its new game is much older than that. Vikings on Trampolines is a modernized remake of a now-defunct browser game that one of its developers first created when he was 14 years old. As its title implies, players control Vikings who only move around by bouncing on trampolines. What’s lovely about the project is that it’s designed for players who usually find games too complicated, as it’s only controlled with one joystick. Based on my demo, that’s all it needs to deliver a simple, fun experience with some excellent pixel art.
Gungrave G.O.R.E. wasn’t the most sophisticated game I played at Gamescom, but it’s perhaps the one that made me smile the most. The over-the-top action game is a revival of a long-defunct PlayStation 2 series about a gun-toting hero who carries around a casket. The sequel retains the feeling of a PS2 hack-and-slash, with players using their oversized guns to rack up massive combos. It’s bombastic, bloody, and an absolute blast to play.
Gamescom’s massive Indie Arena booth was densely packed with fascinating games, from The Wandering Village to Astrea: Six-Sided Oracles. One game that really caught my attention was Inkulinati. The “ink-based strategy game” has players drawing animal troops in a manuscript and sending them into turn-based battles. What’s especially charming about the title is that its 2D visuals look like medieval doodles that move across paper. I had just as much fun watching other people demo it as I did playing it myself.
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