Friday, 27 December 2013

Xbox One Review - Part 3: The Games

So here is a rundown of what I’ve experienced on the games front so far with the Xbox One.

My two choices on buying the console were Battlefield 4 and NBA 2K14 and I picked up Ryse: Son of Rome soon after.

Having completed the single player campaign on Battlefield, I can say it is good fun, not over-reliant on set pieces and the visuals are amazing. Multiplayer, now with up to 64 players is on a scale we haven’t seen before on consoles. The maps are huge and the action is furious. Team work, as ever, is the key in Battlefield following in Battlefield 3’s mighty footsteps, I believe this is the best multiplayer out there right now.

But…… the ability to squad up before a match is missing, as is customising your soldier unless you boot up the new Test Range feature or adjust your loadouts with the Battlelog app and the game has been plagued with other issues since release. Sound drop outs and corrupted saves. Dice are working on updates and a few have already been released, improving the performance of the game each time. 
NBA 2K14 will take time to get into as its controls are many and complex, even if you are a veteran of the series, but as sports games go, this is as close to the real thing as it gets. Superb commentary that puts EA to shame, amazing broadcast quality and stunning visuals. It’s like you’re watching a real-life game. 

Now I’m not a football fan, but have owned a few FIFA games over the years. FIFA 14 on the Xbox One is as smooth a game of football as I’ve ever played. Player collisions are no longer a mess and everything is super fluid and responsive. 
When I first saw Ryse: Son of Rome I was impressed by the visuals, but I was worried the combat would too much of a button-basher. As it turned out, the combat, is deeper than it looks. A variety of enemies will ensure you need to change up your tactics, blocking, dodging and attacking from different angles. Well timed button presses will ensure gruesome executions and a counter system not-unlike what we have seen in the Batman series and Sleeping Dogs, keeps the action fluid.

The story is decent and the length of the game and variety of combat available is just enough to ward off repetition. And the visuals? The best I’ve seen. But then it’s Crytek; it was always going to be a visual marvel. Buy it, if only to show off what your new console can do.

Elsewhere on the console there is the free-to-play fighter Killer Instinct in which you get a couple of modes and one character to use, unless you opt to buy more.
Kinect Sports: The Rivals was delayed into next year, but you can download a demo of the jet-skiiing portion of the game and it is immedietly obvious the the Kinect sensor is vastly improved on its predecessor. And the game looks great too.

Kinect can also be used in Battlefield 4 to lean and peek around corners or look around with a turn of the head if you’re in a vehicle. You can also call for a medic, ammo or issue orders in multiplayer, even with your headset mic muted.
In FIFA you can make substitutions, formation changes and play style decisions with voice commands and it works really well, providing you can pronounce the name of the players!

So that was my 3 part-intro to the Xbox One and what it currently has to offer. I'll be reviewing Forza Motorsport 5 separately as I've only just got it, but in short, it is definitely worth your time.
The Xbox One needs improvement in some areas, but I believe the console is not only a great leap from the Xbox 360, but also lays the groundwork to build a great entertainment package on over the next decade.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Xbox One Review - Part 2: The Console

Having queued up the night before to get my Xbox One, I awoke early on Friday morning like a child on Christmas Day. The console is arguably the most well-packaged product I’ve ever seen, with not an inch of space in the box wasted.

The Kinect sensor is bulkier than its predecessor; it no longer has a motorised hinge mechanism and generally looks and feels better quality.

The console is large, but not as big as photographs of it make it appear and it sports a half matt, have glossy finish. Elegant, but not showy; designed to blend in with other devices in your living room.
With the Xbox 360 controller regarded as the best on the market, the Xbox One version was never going to be a great difference in design. With the battery packs now slotting inside the controller, it feels lighter. The thumbsticks are smaller and feel more precise, the bumpers have a crisp click to them while the triggers have opted for a much lighter pull. 
The triggers also have vibration mechanisms built into them. Called “Impulse Triggers”, developers will be able to use these to further enhance the gaming experience. As an example, when your right front tyre brushes a curb on Forza Motorsport 5, the right trigger will vibrate. Bounce a ball with your left hand in NBA 2K14 and the left trigger will buzz along with it.

Setting up the console is straight forward. Get all the cables plugged in (Kinect no longer has a plug, it is powered by the console), and then you will be taken through the setup process on screen. This will involve an update, signing in with your Xbox Live ID and calibrating Kinect (though you can choose to do this later).

And then you’re away. There are a number of videos available to you on the dashboard that will show you the new features – How to Snap, how to upload video, how to use voice commands and where you will find the store and new apps.

To get gaming as soon as possible, I suggest either putting in a disc and set it off installing, buying a digital version of a game from the store or using a code for a free game. This game will now be installing as you carry on exploring the console. You can queue up apps to install and you can switch the order that things are installing if you’re impatient. The apps available in the UK at time of writing include 4OD and Demand 5, Netflix, LoveFilm, Twitch, YouTube, Internet Explorer among others. You’ll also want to install the Blu-Ray and Audio CD apps.

All apps and games can be pinned to your home screen for easy access, but once you get used to the voice commands, you can open anything from anywhere. The Snap feature is particularly good, allowing you to open 4OD for example while you’re playing a game, or your Activity feed so you can see who is online and what they’re doing.

Let’s look at a few things that need improvement:

There is currently no way to tell how much battery life you have left in your controller.
You are no longer notified when Friends arrive online and your Friends are mixed in with the people you follow (a new, Twitter-like system, where you can see the activity of others who aren’t online Friends).
There are currently no game-wide defaults, so if you’re an invert your Y-axis kind of guy like me, you’ll have to switch it for every game.

One of my favourite features of the console is the Upload Studio. On a basic level, this allows you to record the last 30 seconds of a game simply by saying “Xbox – Record that”. You can then edit these videos with commentary, video of yourself or different skins. With Game DVR, you can record 5 minutes of gameplay, which has seen some creative use in the community. In Upload Home, you can view featured clips, official videos and your own creations or those of your friends. Saving your clips to the excellent SkyDrive app will allow you to take these clips anywhere, though there isn’t currently a simple YouTube upload option.

Navigating the console with the controller is fine, but even the Kinect-cynics will find Voice Commands to be a lot better. As mentioned, you can quickly go to any app or game from wherever you are and if you’re still learning the commands, there are shortcuts and lists to guide you. 

Kinect is a lot better than the first version and only rarely mishears or ignores you. Once you have the timing and tempo of the commands down, you’ll have no trouble with it. If you have a family member signed up to your console, Kinect will see them and say Hi when they walk in the room, which they’ll either find delightful or creepy.

Kinect can also be used to turn the console off and if it is in Instant On mode, it will be listening for the “Xbox-On” command to boot up again in a matter of seconds.

In Part 3, we’ll be looking at what brought us to the dance in the first place – the games.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Xbox One Review - Part 1: Before....

To say the Xbox One didn’t have the greatest start in life is a bit of an understatement. Announced in the summer, Microsoft chose to focus their event on the TV and entertainment aspects of their new console, rather than on the games. With E3 just around the corner, it was easy to see why they had done this, choosing to hit us with the software at the expo; nevertheless, the Internet boiled over with concern that the Xbox was no longer a console for gamers.

Things only got worse in the coming days when it was revealed that the Xbox One would need to connect to the Internet once every 24 hours to update and that you wouldn’t be able to lend, trade or sell your disc-based games.

At E3, Microsoft came out all guns blazing on the game front and put on a good show, but they were quickly put back in their place by the PlayStation 4. Sony did little to show off their own console, but what they did was react to the negative press Microsoft had received. They assured the gushing crowd that the PS4 did not need to connect to the Internet and you could trade or sell games as you pleased. Also the price. Having learned from over-pricing the PS3, Sony announced their console at $399, a whole $100 cheaper than its rival.

Within a week, Microsoft had back-tracked on a number of their policies. The console no longer needed the 24-hour check-in and you could lend, sell and trade disc-based games as you would the Xbox 360. Things were looking up and it was evident as the months progressed that the Xbox One had the better line-up of games compared to the PS4.

Still, the Internet roiled with keyboard warrior bile and there were several further hits along the way. The PS4 fanboys rejoiced when Activision announced that Call of Duty: Ghosts would run at 60 frames per second on both consoles, but at native 1080p on the PS4 and 720p on the Xbox One – upgraded to 1080p. “The Xbox One can’t do 1080p!!!” they exclaimed, slavering over pictures of their horrendous Dualshock controllers. It mattered little to them that NBA 2K14 and Need for Speed: The Rivals were sporting native 1080p gameplay on the Xbox One or that Xbox exclusive Forza Motorsport 5 was native 1080p and 60fps. Nor did it matter that the framerate of the PS4 Ghosts turned out to be terrible, while smooth as yoghurt on the Xbox. The Sony fanboys simply didn’t care that not even an owl could tell the difference between upgraded 720p and 1080p.

With the Internet being the vilest thing on Earth, even the PS4 - atop this nauseating wave of greatness - had its own knocks to deal with as the console launched on November 15th. The aforementioned framerate issues; the PlayStation-network going down; reports of consoles arriving dead on arrival; and Knack. First-party title reviews were nearer the middle of the road than the fast lane, the console can’t play CDs or MP3s and the only way to capture video from it is to plug it into an Xbox One and record through that. Not to mention the day one update that quietly removed all the nasty game-trade/selling/lending restrictions Sony claimed they didn’t have. The bunch of slimy bastards.

Neverthless, it was clear to any of us in the Xbox camp that the PS4 was going to sell big. Having categorically lost the 7th generation and on it’s arse financially, Sony was back with a vengeance. They had something to prove.

As the weeks to the Xbox One launch turned into days, however, there was a change in mood. Despite all the rumours and the Internet hate, there was a growing surge of excitement. Mega-bucks advertisements started to saturate television. The hype-machine had begun and it would lead us, in our millions, to midnight, Friday 22nd November……..

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

My Top 25 Xbox 360 Games

We are just days away from the launch of the Xbox One, so now seems as good a time as any to give you my top 25 games on the Xbox 360. So, in no particular order, here are my picks:

1.    Splinter Cell Conviction
My favourite game for the 360 until its sequel came along. Conviction took the series in a different direction and made Sam Fisher a combination of Jack Bauer and Taken’s Bryan Mills. A great story, brilliantly directed and executed. Superb.

2.    Splinter Cell Blacklist
Combining the best of Chaos Theory with the new style of Conviction couldn’t fail in my eyes. My favourite game on the console.

3.    Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter / Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
GRAW was the first game I bought for the Xbox 360 and blew me away. Despite screen tear and not being the smoothest framerate in the world, it still holds up today. The first game to really show what the console could do. I have included it sequel here as it came hot on the original’s heels and just refined the formula. Both great games.

4.    Ghost Recon Future Soldier
Taking all the things I loved about Advanced Warfighter and Splinter Cell Conviction and combining them to create an exceptional stealth shooter that immediately became one of my favourite games.

5.    Gears of War trilogy
The Xbox 360s powerhouse franchise that elevated the console to new heights. As manly a series as it gets. Oorah.

6.    Mass Effect trilogy
Emotional, gripping and epic. Simply the greatest trilogy on the Xbox 360. 

7.    NHL 14
NHL 07 revolutionised the control scheme with the Skill Stick and we never looked back. Since then they’ve either made it super fun: 08; super difficult: 09 or just tinkered around with the formula a bit and slapped a full price tag on it: 10, 11 and 12. NHL 13 though blew me away and disappointed only in the continued use of a rubbish fighting system. Guess what they fixed in NHL 14.

8.    NBA 2K11
I’ve always been an EA Sports guy, but I can’t deny this is probably the best sports game I’ve ever played. So good that I didn’t even bother to upgrade to 2K12 or 13. EA should take note on 2K’s commentary – it’s on another planet entirely. Amazing broadcast presentation. It’s like watching the real thing.

9.    Battlefield 3
Next-gen arrived early with the Frostbite 2 engine. A visually stunning campaign, unbelievable sound effects and the very best multiplayer on the market.

10.    Halo 4

Four games in and they can still surprise us with an emotional story, smooth as silk gameplay and the best graphics we’ve seen in the series so far.

11.    Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare / Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
I struggle to stifle a yawn these days whenever Call of Duty is mentioned, but these games were great fun in single player and social life destroying online. 

12.    The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion / The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I still hold Oblivion up as the best game I’ve ever played and I feel guilty for not putting as much time and effort into Skyrim. I’ve included it here though because it’s still clearly a marvel. Lose yourself in these games.

13.    Grand Theft Auto IV / Grand Theft Auto V
Counting these as two and you can bundle the DLC in with those as well. I might never finish them, but technically, graphically and in terms of story and gameplay, they’re amongst the greatest games ever made.

14.    Assassin’s Creed
Most prefer the second instalment, but I still consider the first to be the best and it remains one of the best-looking games on the console.

15.    Batman: Arkham Asylum
This game is so good that its sequel – in my eyes at least, just couldn’t live up to expectations. The first game to really make you feel like you’re Batman – and who doesn’t want that, seriously?

16.    Mirror’s Edge
The combat is rubbish, but when this game lets you free on the rooftops, it’s tremendous.

17.    Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
A lovely game this. An XBLA game where you control two brothers – one with the left stick, the other with the right. Yes, that is every bit as awkward and confusing as it sounds, and even after a full game of platforming and solving puzzles, you still won’t master it. But it won’t matter. The presentation is beautiful and the story is as moving as it gets.

18.    The Walking Dead
Slow and frustrating at times, this 5-part XBLA game will nevertheless keep you enthralled and ultimately, emotionally shattered.

19.    Need for Speed: The Run
Say what you will about this game, I had a ball. And with the Frostbite Engine, it looks the business too.

20.    F1 2010
Formula One finally nailed down. Amazing Codemasters weren’t put in charge of it sooner. 

21.    Child of Eden
A rhythm based shooter that works well with a controller, but is something else with Kinect. A wonderful experience.

22.    Dishonored
This game has a good story and tremendous stealth gameplay, but the real winner here is the city of Dunwall, brilliantly realised giving the game a terrific atmosphere.

23.    Sleeping Dogs
Grand Theft Auto might be upheld as the greatest games ever made, but I had far more fun in Sleeping Dogs than I’ve ever had in GTA.

24.    Bioshock
From the moment your head bursts through the water at the opening, you know you’re in for a beautiful game. Truly one of the greatest first person shooters ever made, far deeper (no pun intended) than the genre is used to.

25.    Bioshock Infinite
The ending might tie your head in knots, but this game is equally full of moments that will take your breath away. Massive production values, great gameplay and an all-round stunning experience.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Xbox 360 - Life in the old dog yet

We’re less than a month away from the release of the Xbox One and a lot of people will be trading in their Xbox 360s, if only to make a little dent in the One’s price tag. Many though will be keeping the console because we all believe we will continue to play those old favourites. I still have my PS2 and Sega Megadrive, but to be honest, you never play on them as much as you think.

Having said that, there are a fair few reasons left to keep the 360.

There’s the Buried at Sea DLC for Bioshock Infinite, taking us back to Rapture – episode one - out now, giving the game a brilliant noir look and it is great to see Rapture before the fall. 
The Walking Dead season 2 is on the way and I haven’t heard any mention of it coming to next-gen consoles.
And of course, for a good while yet, there will be a whole host of games releasing on old and new platforms. Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty Ghosts are already out and there will be current-gen versions of games like Watch Dogs, Destiny and Titanfall.

So even if you’re upgrading to Xbox One and wondering whether to flog the 360, or if you’re sticking with the 7th generation for a little while longer – there’s still life in the old dog yet.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Kinect - Was it worth it?

Whilst I am keeping my Xbox 360 when I get the Xbox One, I didn’t want to have two Kinect sensors sat under my TV and have to fanny about plugging the original in each time. With GAME offering me a poultry amount in trade-in value, I opted to sell it on ebay.

So now I don’t have the sensor nodding at me when I switch on the console, I got to wondering whether the purchase was worth it.

Sales figures-wise, Kinect has been a success and there have been some good games, but it would be blind optimism to state that it lived up to what we all hoped. I imagine, much like the Nintendo Wii, there are a hell of a lot of Kinects gathering dust out there.

Having said that, I used mine every day. Sure, I wasn’t jumping around in my front room on Kinect games all the time, but I did use the voice controls on the dashboard and on games like Mass Effect 3.

And the games I had for Kinect were good ones. The two Kinect Sports games were the crowning achievements of the peripheral and shouldn’t be missed; PowerUp Heroes turned out to be a surprisingly deep fighting experience and Child of Eden is up there with the best Xbox 360 games I’ve played.

The brilliance of Kinect lies not in the execution, but in the innovation and the attempt to push gaming forward. With Kinect 2.0 supplied with every Xbox One, developers will now be able to put more resources into utilising the technology, because they will know that players will have the peripheral.

For many who bought Kinect, they might say it was ultimately a waste of money. For me, it made for some good times with friends. And that’s money well spent.

Bring on Kinect 2.0.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Android: Netrunner - My Journey in a Dystopian Future - Part 14: Opening Moves

It’s exciting times in the world of Android: Netrunner as we begin a whole new cycle – the Spin Cycle. I’m a bit disappointed the data packs for this cycle aren’t called things like “Mixed Colours”, “40 Wash” and other such laundry-flavoured titles!

Just kidding of course. Spin is in reference to the corporations and the media spin they put on things and this cycle will see Bad Publicity playing more of a role. We’ll see how that progresses as we cover future packs, but for now, here are my picks from the first one – Opening Moves.


Hostage is a Double Event - a new mechanic for the game in which cards cost an additional click to play – and it has a great ability. This gives the Runner a means of finding the likes of Kati Jones and Mr Li from his stack, cards that can be vital to a Runner’s strategy. I also love the art on this card. I like how Thomas Haas isn’t necessarily on the side of his mother and the big, bad corporations.

One of two chess-related cards in this pack that will come into their own further down the line I think. Pawn, much like an actual pawn in chess, can progress down the board and when it gets to the end, can upgrade to something new – a new Caissa card. The only other Caissa card we have at this point is…….

For a click, Rook moves horizontally or vertically along Ice, raising the rez cost by 2. I have yet to have a go with this and will probably wait till we have more Caissa programs released; but this sounds like a great idea and will no doubt lead to some interesting play. Here’s hoping we’ll eventually have enough Caissa programs for a Runner to create a full chess-themed deck. The thinking man’s Anarch is emerging!

Pawn is also the first card in the game to get errata in the latest FAQ: Should read: “Whenever you make a successful run while Pawn is hosted on a piece of ice, move Pawn to the piece of ice directly after the current ice hosting Pawn, if able..."


Celebrity Gift
This fits perfectly with Jinteki’s way of doing things. Not only is this a good economy card for the poorest corp, but the mind-games you can play with this are fantastic. I’m going to show you this agenda in my hand. But I’m also going to show you these two snares as well. Go ahead and run HQ. Brilliant.

Jackson Howard
Hailed by many as the best card we’ve seen in a while and some say even the best in the game. This ability hurts Anarch mill decks, ruins an R&D run following a successful Indexing or even just puts those three Hedge Funds you’ve used back into your deck. Superb. And at just 1 influence, this is going in everyone’s deck.

NEXT Bronze
This Ice is nothing special on its own but can you imagine a whole suite of NEXT Ice when more get released? It’s going to be a monster if the Corporation can get it set up.

A great start to the new cycle. We should get Second Thoughts and Mala Tempora by the end of the year, so watch this space.

Android: Netrunner - My Journey in a Dystopian Future - Part 13: Creation and Control - Haas-Bioroid

So we looked at one half of the Creation and Control expansion here. Well here’s the other half – Corporation cards for Haas-Bioroid, as well as some Neutral cards. Let’s start off with a look at the new identities.


Cerebral Imaging
At a standard 45/15, Cerebral Imaging allows your hand size to equal the number of credits in your credit pool. Great if you’re flush, because you can have plenty of options open to you, but if you’re struggling for cash, you’ll find yourself in trouble.

Custom Biotics

This identity offers a whopping great 22 influence, but don’t be thinking you’re going to fill it with nasty tricks and traps, because the caveat is you can’t include Jinteki cards in this deck. Play this card and you’re telling your opponent the cards you don’t have.

NEXT Design
While this ability is only applicable at the start of the game and is dependent on you drawing Ice in that starting hand, it can be very affective and get you off to a good start. With an Ice-heavy deck, this Identity can be very useful.

Other cards

Amongst the other cards in Creation and Control there is a definite Bioroid theme – kind of obvious as it’s all Haas-Bioroid. Stronger Together -  the identity from the What Lies Ahead data pack - which strengthens all Bioroid Ice by 1, has certainly received a boost by this expansion with cards such as these taking advantage of Bioroid Ice:

Project Wotan

Awakening Center

Bioroid Efficiency Research

Despite this strengthening of the use of Bioroid Ice and the new HB identities, it can still be argued that the original Engineering the Future Identity is still the best. Gaining 1 credit the first time you install a card each turn cannot be underestimated and while some interesting decks will no doubt be made from the other identities, it’s still going to take something really special for HB players to completely abandon their original.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Android: Netrunner - My Journey in a Dystopian Future - Part 12: Creation and Control - Shaper

As the first cycle of data packs for Android: Netrunner draws to a close, we get our first deluxe expansion - Creation and Control.
Containing 55 new cards split between Shaper, Haas-Bioroid and neutral cards, we'll be looking at the Runner's side of things in this blog post, with a breakdown of the 3 new identities and then a selection of cards I deem to be of particular significance.


Great synergy with cards like Test Run and Scavenge that take advantage of cards in your heap, Exile will allow you to draw a card whenever you install a program from your heap - helping you get through your deck and reducing the need to splash Mr. Li or Wyldside.

The Professor
Now this is interesting. I haven't had a go with it yet, but this could really lead to some great decks that a fun to play. The problem with this ability is having enough memory to install all these programs. The joy of the deck is how random is could be. The Corp won't know what's coming next at all with The Professor.

Rielle 'Kit' Peddler
This identity probably got the most enthusiasm from players. If you get a decoder icebreaker in your opening hand, or at least early game, this can truly mess up the Corporation's plans. They will need to create two deep ice walls as quickly as they can to keep Kit out. Brilliant for making Shapers effective early game when they're used waiting until mid or late game before they get into gear.

Other cards

Pair this card up with Datasucker to manipulate the strength of the Ice you're facing and you have a very strong deck. So strong in fact that there are rumblings that this may have to be restricted. Personally, I'd rather see FFG release cards that will deal with Atman rather than having to ban, errata or restrict any cards, but we'll see what happens.

This is classic Shaper - manipulating the environment to how you need it to get through. I haven't tried it myself or had it done to me, but this feels like a strong card - hence the influence.

Self-Modifying Code
And here's another strong card. Being able to grab the icebreaker you need mid-run is an exceptional ability and this is what Self-Modifying Code is all about. I don't think the 2 memory cost is an issue as this will get trashed when it's used anyway. A very effective card.

The Source
With the Source we have an answer to fast advancing corp decks. The Advancement cost of agendas is increased by two while a The Source is in play. The Source does costs 2 and if the Runner is stealing an agenda it’s another 3 credits. It's the first neutral card that also costs influence and The Source has to be trashed whenever an Agenda is scored or stolen. In other words, this as “a” answer to fast advance, but perhaps not “the” answer. It won’t stop fast advance, but it will certainly slow it down.

Exploratory Romp
Not only does this card have fun art, it also has a fun and very useful ability. Playing against a corp like Jinteki and you're unsure whether or not the server you're running on has a Junebug waiting for you at the end, you can run it with this card, remove the advancement tokens and then run it again - thus taking the danger of landing on that trap out of the equation.

There are many more great cards for the Runner in Creation and Control and whatever faction you play, you should really consider picking it up. In the next Android: Netrunner blog update, we'll be looking at the Corporation side of the expansion to see what the suits at Haas-Bioroid have up their sleeves.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Games Day 2013

Games Day returned to its old venue of the National Indoor Arena for its 2013 event – a change from the usual venue at the NEC. I heard it was a simple double-booking, but considering how far in advance these kind of things are put in place, it’s more likely this was a cost effectiveness exercise.

As well as the venue change, there were considerably fewer tickets released for the day and participation gaming was taken out.

So what affect did these changes have?
Some good and some not so good.

The main floor of the arena was separated into two main sections – Sales (containing Forge World, and unnecessary space given to Black Library and normal GW products) and the rest (the main stage, Fantasy Flight Games, a section showing off the new line of digital releases and various groupings of GW staff with whom to have a chat).

At one end of the balcony above the arena floor were more licenced games for PC and tablets and in a separate area of the building about 47 flights of stairs down, was the Golden Demon and Armies on Parade entries.

Let’s start there – the level of painting was as high as ever in Golden Demon and the fewer people ensured that it was less of a struggle to get to see the models up close. Opposite the cabinets were the Armies on Parade. There were some terrific entries here, although some treat it as an excuse to put a load of miniatures on a tray and others to add flashing lights that make the war torn battlefields of the 41st millennium look like Christmas.

Back up to the arena and it was evident Games Workshop really wanted to give their customers access to the staff. It was much easier this year to get to talk with the painters, graphic designers and sculptors this time around and even when larger gatherings existed around the likes of Phil Kelly and Jervis Johnson, it was still possible to get through and ask your questions, have a chat or get something signed.

The food hall at the NEC – while basic – is spacious, organised and offers a good deal of variety. The NIA took basic to Favela-like proportions. Based in a seemingly purpose-built-that-day hut, the “Food Village” saw long queues, badly organisation and was running out of food left right and centre. I gave it up as a bad job and went outside to find a takeaway up the road.  On a side note – going outside was one of the main highlights of the day and I don’t mean just to escape the unwashed odour of your average hobbyist. Beside the arena runs a lovely canal and the surrounding area is all nice-looking pubs and Italian restaurants. Under a blue sky, I perused the barges that made up a floating market, selling herbs, spices and handmade jewelry.

But I digress…..
Back inside the arena I spotted Warren from the Beasts of War website and spent a few minutes talking to him about the event. If you aren’t familiar with the site already, I definitely recommend you check it out for great coverage on Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 and other games like Infinity, Mercs and Warmachine.

The day ended with the usual presenting of the Golden Demon awards and with an impressive high definition screen and smaller, darkened area infront of the stage, it made for a much better closing act. And so Games Day was done for another year. Will we see the same venue again in 2014? Will gaming tables return? Only time will tell.

With fewer attendees, getting a chance to speak with developers and artists was much easier and was a real highlight of the day, but the absence of gaming tables and the triumphant cheers and bellowed “Waaaarghs” that come with them, made for a noticeable lack of atmosphere and fun. Improvements can certainly be made and I’m not sure the event is going in the right direction, but Games Day 2013 was well worth the visit and I’ll be back next year.