Gamescom in Cologne is the last stop before the launch of PS4 and Xbox One where we expect to see both combatants showcase their wares. Launch dates, line ups, and final specs are all expected. The blades are out and while Microsoft have stumbled their way towards launch neither side can afford to hold back as the most important date on the European gaming schedule arrives.
Microsoft are hosting a pre-show event on the morning of Tuesday (20 August), any announcement they make will likely come out of that event even if it's not an outright press conference from what we've understood. Sony on the other hand have their usual press conference later in the day. Last year they spent a lot of time on PS Vita, but it's safe to assume PS4 will be the main focus this year. European launch details along with one or two new announcements are likely.
Naturally next-gen craving German youngsters will form long lines for the duration of the expo at both Microsoft and Sony. But in one of the less frequented halls you'll find Oculus VR demoing Oculus Rift to the public ahead of the launch. In this reporters humble opinion this is the must experience hardware of the show - more next-gen than next-gen.
Gamescom never comes close to E3 as far as world premieres are concerned, but there will be a number of announcements made. Specifically European publishers and more PC-oriented companies tend to unveil new games at Kölnermesse. We know Firaxis will be revealing their next game (Xcom: Enemy Within?), and we will see Dead Island: Epidemic (Deep Silver), War of the Vikings (Paradox Interactive), and Tropico 5 (Kalypso Media). EA have a press conference and normally they spend a lot of time showing the bullet points of the latest FIFA entry, but seeing as they will give The Sims 4 it's first proper showing, there likely won't be any new games announced. Ubisoft are rumoured to be showing something new as well, even if they don't have a proper press event planned, but all signs point to Blizzard revealing an expansion for Diablo III on Wednesday morning.
Gamescom has a complicated past as far as indies are concerned. There has always been some indies in the public halls, but they've never had a conscious effort to allow indies to band together in an area of their with small (more affordable) booths. This year there will be an Indie Arena with ten companies exhibiting, but the organisers are also in talks with Indie Megabooth (who house lots of indies at PAX) and next year the show will likely feature even more indie games. Given that the Gamescom week is kicked off by GDC Europe (Monday-Wednesday) there are some nice synergies there for indies.
If Tuesday is dedicated to off-site press events, the expo itself kicks off Wednesday with a trade only day. Thursday sees the first public day and the show continues through Sunday. One area that has grown each and every year is the e-sport focused section of the show. Whether it's one of the big boys (like Smite and Starcraft II) or new hopefuls (like Firefall, Infinite Crisis and Magicka Wizard Wars), plenty of games will be shown in this area. Free-to-play games are also well represented as you'd expect and as Germany is a very PC-friendly market you'll see more PC games here than you would at E3 and naturally the accompanying peripherals (even if they are well represented at E3 as well).
The odd merchandise stores are also found towards the back of certain halls, and you'll never be more than a hundred yards from a pretzel wagon. The local beer, Kölsch, served in small, tall glasses is likely to be sampled once or twice (after our daily duties have been taken care of, naturally). Sorry to say we'll probably down a few currywursts as well - advance apologies to our digestive systems.
Gamereactor will have a small booth of our own this year at the show (Hall 10 if you happen to be in town). It's mainly a function of our German wing, it will also be used as the headquarters for all of Gamereactor's Gamescom crew for the duration. We'll treat visitors to some retro gaming and will set up a small GRTV studio from where we'll offer livestreaming (convention hall internet willing). This in addition to all of our regular coverage of the show with GRTV and written words.
Europe's biggest gaming event and the most visited gaming event on Earth is definitely worth a visit, even if the crowds make it nearly unbearable Saturday and Sunday. Keep tuned for all the latest news coming out of Cologne.
Images from last year's Gamescom.