When Ubisoft ended their E3 2017 conference with a lengthy trailer for Beyond Good and Evil 2, I was initially ecstatic. The original, a tale of a female journalist’s fight to shatter a corrupt space government using journalism and badass martial arts had a solid plot, unique characters, great set-pieces and tight level design. Beyond Good and Evil is my all-time favourite game, and for more than 13 years I’ve been sat hoping and waiting for a sequel.
I will admit I was initially won over at E3 by the sheer knowledge that a sequel was actually happening, and no longer in a perpetual state of life support. I let the hype win me over. A few weeks have now passed, and the more I hear about the game, the less interested I am.
I will start off by noting I’m not totally opposed to what we know of BGE2 currently. I’m okay with the move towards a more adult and obscenity-filled tone, swearing in a dystopia where aliens secretly run the world and control the spread of information via use of a shadow government seems pretty contextually appropriate. While I’m disappointed we’re not getting a direct sequel yet that would explain the mid-credits cliffhanger of the original, I do like the idea of getting additional insight into the world that led up to our original protagonist’s journey beginning. I’m not opposed to everything about this game.
What has killed my excitement for Beyond Good and Evil 2 is its procedurally-generated open world status, combined with the move to a customisable protagonist.
As a dedicated fan of the original game, I get why these changes are being made. Beyond Good and Evil has brand recongition as a critically acclaimed game that never got the sequel it deserved. Demand for a successor existed for over a decade, creating sense from the gaming community that it would automatically be important because a lot of people care about it happening. By switching to an open world format with a customisable protagonist, Ubisoft are hoping the sequel will be the commercial success that the original never quite was. I get that on paper, I understand it. The problem is, that goes against the elements that made the original a game I loved so dearly.
Beyond Good and Evil was tight, compact, and perfectly paced. Its world was open enough to give a sense of interconnectedness, but with no wasted space or design ambiguity. It was a linear game in a perfectly sized, partially-open sandbox. The sense of openness and progression, but ultimate linear nature of the game, meant that there was scarce a wasted moment from start to finish; it was a tightly polished masterpiece. The level design had a sense of consistency that just can’t be matched by procedural generation, and the whole world felt like one living and cohesive landmass. I fear us losing that by spreading out the scope of the world and focusing heavily on procedural generation.
Jade was a defined character. She was a strong, tenacious woman of colour who was defined by her compassion, sense of moral duty as a journalist, and her heartfelt need to provide for her family, and the world, no matter the cost. She had a sense of humour, she had passions and hobbies. She was a mechanically-minded scrap hovercraft racing photojournalist who provided for an orphanage and loved her pig-man uncle.
I worry about the move to a custom protagonist for the sequel. By nature of the protagonist being customisable, I have this sinking feeling that Ubisoft are going to make them less of a defined character and more of a blank slate. This may allow more players to project onto the protagonist, but it does so usually at the expense of stripping emotional depth and complexity of personality in order to facilitate it. I’m okay with playing as “not Jade”, but I was really hoping for another defined protagonist.
Put simply, I’m worried that I waited 13-plus years for a sequel to an amazing linear narrative with a defined protagonist, and I’m going to get a sprawling sandbox with a blank slate to play as.
I may be worrying about nothing. Beyond Good and Evil 2 has barely entered development, and we don’t even know what platforms it’s going to come to. For all I know my fears are unfounded. Still, now the E3 excitement has worn off, I do worry that I waited 13 years for a sequel that’s being designed for someone other than me.