EGX 2021 may have been lacking when it came to big-name AAA games, but it made up for it with a great atmosphere and a focus on outstanding indie titles
EGX 2021 received a mixed response, with a lot of people having a fantastic time (including us), but equally large amounts of dissatisfied customers – the hashtag #EGXrefund has been going around quite a lot.
For me, I had a great time. And before I get slated as an EGX shill, yes, I received a press pass, but I also paid upfront for the Virgin Media early entry tickets.
I’ll admit, when I first arrived on Thursday I was a little taken aback at how much space was unused. Thursday is always the quietest day, so without the huge throngs of people filling out the ExCel as we had on the weekend, it looked quite barebones. On the plus side, this meant it was easy to limit close interaction with people and it felt like a safe place to be in (because, pandemic).
I think the main thing that made EGX 2021 feel less impressive than previous years was the lack of large structures and features dividing up the sections. Whereas in 2019 it was like a rabbit warren, with obscured lines of sight and crisscrossing pathways, 2021 was wide-open. The Baldurs Gate installation was brilliant, but it’s a shame that more of the displays didn’t have similarly impressive presentations.
I would have liked to see more feature installations – the over 18s area that housed Back4Blood and Deathloop, for example, was surrounded by plain white walls, and there was very little in the way of active promotion going on. Similarly, console corner had loads of Xbox Series X consoles to play on, but the various stations had no advertising hoarding in place to let you know what you were playing.
Get your Retro on
The Retro zone was very well equipped, however. They had rows upon rows of OG Xbox consoles, PS2s, Xbox 360s and PS3s to play on, with stacks of game discs to choose from with a brilliant selection of some of the finest games for each console that you could choose from.
For me, being an older gamer (I’m 42, don’t @ me), it was the likes of the NeoGeo and dozens of ultra-rare consoles that got my attention. There were loads of consoles I’d never even heard of, along with things like the Pippin, PSX and Atari Jaguar.
The NeoGeo cost $650 when it was released way back in 1990. Allowing for inflation, that’s well over a thousand pounds/dollars/euros in today’s money – £450 for an Xbox Series X or PS5 doesn’t sound so bad now, does it! For anyone interested in the history of console gaming, having access to these hard-to-find specimens was fantastic.
It wasn’t just the consoles, though, there was also a decent selection of classic arcade machines. Sadly, many of them haven’t withstood the test of time very well. The controls were a little sticky on some and the buttons were often less responsive than I remember, but I still enjoyed playing the pinball machines and blasting through games like 1942, Track and Field, and Gauntlet 2. A personal favourite of mine was the excellent Lethal Enforcers – the light guns were shooting a little wonky, but with infinite credits, I quite contentedly stood blasting away through the first half-dozen levels on more than one occasion.
Rezzed @ EGX 2021
With the dearth of AAA games on offer, it was the indie development scene’s time to shine, and they did not let us down. Indie games often go overlooked in favour of the next Sony 3rd person action-adventure, yearly FIFA update or oh-so-familiar Call of Duty release, so it was nice to see some of the amazing creativity showcased in the Rezzed zone getting a lot of attention.
Of the dozens of games on offer, a few were very memorable:
STUFFED, a first-person CoD zombies-Esque shooter, was brilliant – read our hands-on with STUFFED here.
Goblins of Elderstone was another favourite, bringing a unique twist to the city builder genre. Rather than the deep and complex systems of something like Civilisation, Goblins of Elderstone employs a newbie-friendly approach to management. There’s still a fair amount of micromanagement involved in assigning goblins to gather resources or build new structures, but it seems to gently ease you into it rather than throw you in at the deep end.
Goblins has been in early access for quite some time now, and the developers have paid attention to the feedback they’ve received. The management systems have been refined and made more user-friendly, the graphics are continually improving and they have added even more content. If you have younger family members who’d like to get into the city-builder genre, or you just want something fun and laid back to play, Goblins of Elderstone is well worth a look.
The Sandbox caught my eye as something that has a lot of potential, assuming the uptake is good. The Sandbox is built around user-generated content and experiences, vaguely similar to something like Roblox. What makes it unique is the way users can purchase plots of land to build their homes or experiences on, and the way user-generated content can be bought and traded outside of the game.
Check out our closer look at The Sandbox
Was EGX 2021 worth it?
If you only went to EGX 2021 hoping to see the newest upcoming AAA games, you will have been disappointed. Is that EGX’s fault? Not really. While it’s true they could have been more forthcoming about what was going to be on show, it’s not like they could force publishers, developers and manufacturers to attend.
In my humble opinion, they still put on a good show – the live events were entertaining, there was plenty of great indie content to see, the retro collection was brilliant (like an interactive gaming museum) and there was plenty to keep you occupied. Fall Mountain and The Blunderdome dominated the arena and had loads of people milling around and participating every day, and watching people fall over on the giant travellator never got old!
The ASUS ROG stand was a favourite of mine. They allowed established and up and coming streamers to go live on their platform, as well as hosting giveaways, a Rocket League competition and find ROG3R the duck challenges. There was an Ikea x ROG display (that you could actually play games at), and they had a great selection of their laptops and some PCs at their stand that, unlike previous events, had loads of games loaded onto them so you could actually play with them.
For some lucky customers, the Scan shop at the ASUS ROG stand was selling ROG GPUs for an incredible price – an RTX 3060 could be grabbed for just over £300, a 3060Ti for about £400, and if you were prepared to wait, they had 3070 and 3080Ti’s available for pre-order at the same cost as the Nvidia FE cards, which is incredible.
Bang & Olufsen, their first time at EGX, also had a popular stand, largely due to the motion rigs they had in place, and the competition to set a fast lap on Asseto Corsa Competizione (I got a 2:33 and fell off the track). New to the gaming market, they were promoting their new B&O Portal headset, which retails around £450 but could be picked up for £370 at EGX. I tested it out and was impressed by the excellent active noise cancellation, as well as the clean, neutrally balanced audio tune. It’s not cheap, but if you’re familiar with B&O you’ll appreciate that the quality is top-notch.
Overall, I had a fantastic time at EGX 2021. It helped that I had good company when I was there, and I got to meet some lovely people, too. Would I go again next year if it is exactly the same? Absolutely, though I may only go for a couple of days if it is at the same scale.
Speaking of next year, many will be happy to hear that EGX is returning to Birmingham in March, with EGX Rezzed being replaced by what will be known as EGX Birmingham. This will now act as a showcase for both indie titles and the slate of AAA games that release around that time. EGX at the ExCel will also return in September, giving gamers all across the country an opportunity to attend.
So that’s it for our EGX 2021 recap. It could have been better, but in the midst of a global pandemic, it was just what was needed for people like me who haven’t had a holiday in years. Bring on Birmingham in March!