Sunday, May 09, 2021
What exactly is a sequel?
A reader sent me a scan of an article in the October 2004 issue of PC Gamer with a "first look at Baldur's Gate 3". It told the story of Interplay losing its license to make D&D games in 2003, scuppering the first version of Baldur's Gate 3. So the news in 2004 was that now Atari was making a second attempt at Baldur's Gate 3. That never happened, in spite of negotiations with Obsidian in 2008. Instead the game is now being made by Larian Studios, with an early access out since October 2020, final release date still to be announced.
Undoubtedly, the Larian Studios version of Baldur's Gate 3 will be considered as the "real" Baldur's Gate 3, because it actually went past the project stage. But the 20-year gap between BG2 and BG3 makes you think what actually *is* a sequel. Some of the people currently working on BG3 weren't even born when the original Baldur's Gate came out. And with a completely different development studio behind it, Baldur's Gate 3 frequently resembles Divinity Original Sin 1or 2 more than it resembles Baldur's Gate 1. Fire or acid surfaces on the ground? Not really a Baldur's Gate feature!
Baldur's Gate more or less spawned its own genre, with games like Planescape: Torment, Tyranny, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, the Pillar's of Eternity series, the Divinity Original Sin series all drawing inspiration from the isometric style of Baldur's Gate. Other than having a D&D license, and thus using the same names of spells, Baldur's Gate 3 is just yet another game inspired by the original. There is no link to the story or characters of the original, it is just another game resembling it. Baldur's Gate 3 could just as well have carried another name. The only significance of the name is that it indicates that the game has an official license from the makers of D&D.
In a way "the next game by the people who brought you game X" is a better indication than "sequel of game X". Sequels indicate an aspiration, and are a marketing tool. But the gaming industry is full of sequels which fell far short of the original, whether it was the same studio or a different studio that made them. With RPGs the originals frequently were turn-based and had fixed camera angles due to technological limits at the time. And then some sequel years later is suddenly a first-person real-time action RPG, which plays totally different.
I think the lesson here is that you shouldn't buy a sequel just because you loved the original. Approach the new game as if it had a new name. Read the reviews, watch some gameplay, and decide whether you like the *new* style.