Room to Expand

9 08 2012

Dear me, but that elven babe on the box looks bored.  She’s got a PhD in international law, you know.  She could’ve been a big shot at the UN, but alas, like most elven babes, she ends up modelling for low-end game marketing.  “What’s this Spellforce job involve?” she asks her agent excitedly.  “Er…steel bikini and loincloth.”  “Again?”  “Yeah, but you get a sword this time. It’s very empowering.”  Not quite the Security Council, though, is it?

That tired look passes on into the whole of Spellforce 2: Faith in Destiny, which I reviewed recently for Gamedot.  It’s very dated, built on an ancient engine and full of creaking tropes.  These days elven maidens in armoured underwear only adorn naff ads for free-to-play MMOs on Facebook,  not new releases trying to make it big on Steam.  The same voice artist who sounds avuncular and lovely when narrating Trine 2‘s fantasy world sounds naff and cheesy in Spellforce, almost entirely because the latter is taking itself seriously.

The one brilliant thing about Faith in Destiny, though,is that it exists at all.  Out-of-the-blue expansion packs to six-year old games do not appear unless developers care enough to make it and players care enough to buy it, which got me thinking (there’s a surprise…): what other games would I like to see random expansion packs for?  New sequels with new engines and extremely new bells and whistles pop up constantly, but what games could support new stories simply as they are?

Neverwinter Nights 2

Baldur’s Gate might be getting an enhanced re-release later this year, but I’d rather take my D&D fix in the form of new expansions for Neverwinter Nights 2.  D&D exists to provide endless adventures, letting dice-rolling players in real life come up with new nemeses to vanquish, new dungeons to plunder and new tales to tell every time they fancy it, but their videogame counterparts need a little more work.

Both Neverwinter Nights games were very mod-friendly, in an attempt to foster the sort of spontaneous adventure-creation that’s possible in pen and paper D&D, so the second game is the perfect fit for more expansions.  It’s already had two – the slightly dull Storm of Zehir and the astonishing Mask of the Betrayer – as well as a vast range of semi-official and unofficial new entries, so why not more?  Well, it’s sort of happening: Neverwinter, an MMO currently in development, is being designed from the ground up to, err…let players design it.  If it works, it could be the perfect translation of the tabletop game to the digital world.

Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War

One of the most expansion-friendly games ever made, Dawn of War could still do with a few more.  After Winter Assault, Dark Crusade and Soulstorm, the series evolved into Dawn of War II, a vastly different take on real-time strategy with it’s minimalist view and focus on individual characters rather than huge armies.

With Starcraft II currently dominating the genre with more traditional base-building mechanics as well as the immense battles that aren’t quite there in Dawn of War II, I’d love to see a miraculous new expansion for classic Dawn of War.  The sheer fury of the game once players start churning out tanks and end-game infantry is deafening, kinetic in a way that Starcraft doesn’t quite seem to manage with it’s knowingly 90s aesthetic.  Besides, they never did get round to adding the Tyranids, although I only want them there so my Imperial Guard have some more xenos to shoot at.

Half Life 2

Not a screenshot, but this is a great piece of concept art.

Surprise!  Episode Three must exist in some form or other.  It must.  Valve have DOTA2 and the new Counter-Strike already undergoing public testing, so surely they have a longer term project humming along in the background.  Half-Life is the greatest FPS series going and it’s quite clearly not finished.  The insatiable desire for a new instalment isn’t just down to the quality of the gameplay, as might be said for new Call of Duty releases, but the maddening knowledge that the story isn’t over.

The grand plan might be to go straight to a full-blown Half-Life 3 in a new engine to replace Source, but in terms of physics simulation, animation and simple graphic fidelity Episode Two still stands up to some of the very best games of today.  Here’s my random, entirely baseless theory: Episode Three will be announced early next year for a Christmas 2013 release, it will end on a huge cliffhanger and act as an effective prelude to Half-Life 3, which in this ambitious fantasy is being developed in parallel.  Valve are masters of marketing: the only possible way they could make the announcement of a new Half-Life game any bigger is by effectively announcing two.  I wouldn’t put it past them.

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