We might not have had E3 this year, but this summer didn’t go by without a major gaming trade show full of reveals. Gamescom returned as a live show this year, bringing a slew of announcements about Geoff Keighley’s Opening Night Live show and a convention center full of playable demos. Digital Trends flew to Cologne, Germany this year to see some of the upcoming releases up close and speak to the developers behind them.
Over the course of three days, we played dozens of games ranging from big-budget showstoppers to indie hidden gems. The show proved that the video game industry is in a healthy place despite a year full of high-profile delays. With so many games to talk about and so little time to play them all, we’ve compiled a list of the best games we’ve played at Gamescom – including our pick for Game of the Show.
Game of the Show: Moonbreaker
Moonbreaker is exactly what you want to see from 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 showcasing its miniature-based, player-draw combat warhammer-similar figures across the battlefield. We were intrigued by this clip, but we were amazed by the actual game when we were able to show it off. The game’s strategy portion feels incredibly tight, but what really impressed us was the game’s character painting tool, a powerful system that allows players to easily create detailed custom paint jobs for their characters, just like in a real tabletop game .
Our excitement for this only grew as we received more information from Unknown Worlds about the game. The developers have shared some exciting details with us and talked about how Mistborn writer Brandon Sanderson helped create a rich story that the game will tell over the years – both in-game and via a full episodic audio drama- podcast.
Every new detail we heard about the game over the weekend only got us more excited to try it out when it launches in Early Access on September 29th. Considering it’s the only game we couldn’t stop over this weekend, it deserved this game of the show slot.
dead island 2
When Dead Island 2 leaked ahead of Gamescom, I was skeptical: “Wasn’t Dead Island, the OK zombie game, famous for having a misleading trailer?” I didn’t really see why I should be looking forward to it until I play it could. Developer Deep Silver Dambuster saved the 10-year-old project from obsolescence by rebuilding it from the ground up, a move the developer said would help achieve his vision. And what was that vision? Ultimate Carnage.
dead island 2 wowed us with its procedural Flesh system, which allows players to target parts of a zombie’s body and slice them off in grotesquely satisfying ways. This is paired with deep first-person melee combat, allowing players to exploit this gory system. Once I ripped off a zombie’s leg with a pitchfork, I was convinced.
While there’s no major release planned for this fall, Xbox has been very present at this year’s shows. Smaller titles like high in life got a bright spotlight as a result, but the best Xbox exclusive I saw at the show was Buses. The 2D storytelling game developed by Obsidian is a unique crime thriller set in the 16th century. It features flashy art and light RPG systems that have a real impact on the story. After getting a taste of how this is going to play out, I left Gamescom excited to see a company as big as Microsoft backing a small project as charming as this one.
friends against friends
Sometimes the best games at events like this are the ones you come across while exploring the exhibition space. That was at friends against friends, which got a quick trailer at Opening Night Live. The multiplayer shooter features a sophisticated deck building system that allows players to sabotage each other in increasingly creative ways. Play a card to make an opponent’s head bigger for a turn, decrease their jump, or just drop a nuke on the entire battlefield. After just a few rounds I was already hooked on its crazy premise.
One Piece Odyssey
Although I’ve never seen the anime or read the manga it’s based on, One Piece Odyssey convinced me at the fair. I feared the project might be a low-effort money-heist, but I was glad to be wrong about that. It contains clever RPG systems that push players to make smart decisions in every turn. Featuring a “rock, paper, scissors” damage system reminiscent of Fire Emblem, players must constantly juggle which party members are in their lineup to make the most of each attacking opportunity. For One Piece fans, the real thrill lies in bringing all of their favorite characters to life in a 3D world, complete with voice acting. This feels like a high-effort project that will appeal to gamers beyond its built-in audience.
lies of P
lies of P was an odd hit at Gamescom, with long lines waiting to be included in the demo. Maybe players just had to see the Pinnochio-inspired Soulslike in action to believe it really existed – I know I did. Happily, lies of P is more than just a bizarre premise; It’s a promising action game that offers smooth yet challenging combat. It can be easy bloodborne-lite, but I found I enjoyed the faster action even more than most recent FromSoftware games. The fact that a brooding Pinocchio stars is just the odd icing on the cake.
What the hell?
Earlier this summer I was thrilled to learn that the team is behind the excellent comedy sports game What the gulf? entered the world of VR. What the hell? takes the same idea as this game and applies it to baseball, with hysterical results. During my brief demo, I used Oculus Quest controllers to swing through an increasingly absurd gauntlet of challenges. It started with hitting a ball at a trophy and ended with me painting a stone horse statue using baseball bats as brushes. I can only imagine how it will continue in the final version.
Vikings on trampolines
Indie developer D-Pad Studio made a name for itself in 2016 with its successful platformer owlboy. However, the new game is much older. Vikings on trampolines is a modernized remake of a now defunct browser game first created by one of its developers when he was 14 years old. As the title suggests, players control Vikings who only move by bouncing on trampolines. The beauty of the project is that it’s intended for gamers who usually find games too complicated since it’s only controlled with a joystick. Based on my demo, that’s all it takes to provide a simple, fun experience with excellent pixel art.
Gungrave GORE wasn’t the slickest game I’ve 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 an armed hero who carries around a coffin. The sequel maintains the feel of a PS2 hack and slash, with players using their oversized weapons to rack up massive combos. It’s bombastic, gory and an absolute blast to play.
Gamescom’s massive indie arena booth was packed with amazing games from The Wandering Village to Astrea: Six-sided Oracle. One game that really caught my attention was Inculinati. The “ink-based strategy game” lets players draw animal troops in a manuscript and send them into turn-based battles. What’s particularly charming about the title is that its 2D visuals look like medieval doodles moving across paper. I had as much fun watching other people play the Demon as I did playing it myself.