The Decay of Franchises
DOOM Eternal? Or DOOMED Eternally?
Recently I picked up and played DOOM Eternal. I’m an enormous fan of the Doom franchise, I’ve been playing since the very first game. Doom, Doom II, and even Doom 3 (which I still need to finish) were such iconic, albeit different, experiences. DOOM 2016 is my favorite, and the only one I’ve played through twice. After playing through the first level, I am now leaning towards refunding it. DOOM Eternal though has been an incredible let down thus far.
When I picked up DOOM Eternal, I was ready for the next part of the story. The story in DOOM was what really drew me in most. Eternal, unfortunately, doesn’t pick up the story where you left off. In fact, it seems that some time has passed and you are left guessing as to why. The atmosphere is completely different as well, it’s a lot less dark and serious. Everything seems a little brighter in general, and the story doesn’t feel quite as dire (despite the fact that it’s Earth where billions of people live instead of a barely inhabited Mars). The Doomslayer, who has been dark and mysterious so far, now just has his face revealed like it’s no big deal. He’s also apparently grown weaker, because you can no longer punch even the weakest of enemies to death. The entire experience was a culture shock and major disappointment.
Change is inevitable though, I understand that. Still, this much of a change surprised me. Maybe it shouldn’t have though, because it’s a recurring pattern in the gaming industry and beyond. Taking hugely successful titles, and massively overhauling them instead of building on them. Ghost Recon: Wildlands was an enormous success, and easily one of my favorite games of all time. Ghost Recon Breakpoint, however, was nuclear bomb at launch. (It’s gotten better through updates, but it’s barely a shadow of it’s predecessor.) The Star Wars franchise, one of the largest, most popular franchises of all time, also has this problem. The Force Awakens was a great reignition of the franchise, and then they made The Last Jedi. Video game wise, the Battlefront series is the perfect example of failing to build on a successful model.
What seems most confusing is why they don’t just tweak the model if they want to change something. Why the push to make enormous changes? Why remove such a large chunk of what made a game successful? In an industry with skyrocketing development costs, why not take less of a risk by using an already proven foundation? As an example, moving Wildlands from Bolivia to another setting and addressing some of it’s shortcomings would have likely guaranteed another success. Turning it into a looter shooter with survival elements was just such an enormous change that I don’t see how a developer would even think they were going in the same direction. Breakpoint drove off a cliff with all the changes it made.
This enormous instability in franchises has really pushed me away from these big titles. It’s something I actually didn’t notice until now. I focus on playing more franchise generic titles like War Thunder, Hell Let Loose, and recently going so far as to create my own setting for our stream tabletop RPG game. The last few years of Star Wars movies and games has me ready to exit the Star Wars franchise altogether after being a fan for decades (albeit for more than just a pattern of bad games).
Getting invested in these franchises seems like a bad idea to me at this point. Building hype when a game is announced, forking over $60 when it launches, and then the tidal wave of disappointment hits. You were expecting a follow up to a successful title, but instead you are handed some re-imagining of it, your favorite parts have been removed or watered down.
Often times the writing is on the wall, and that makes this all the more frustrating. If you follow the development of the game on social media, YouTube, Discord, or pretty much anywhere. Beta testers point all or most of these failures, but for whatever reason this feedback gets ignored. The game is launched and unsuspecting fans are baited. Dawn of War III anyone? The game completely shut down less than six months after launch because it failed so miserably, despite following a previous successful franchise launch. There was plenty of feedback on this to developers, so there should have been no surprises. The only surprises seem to be for the fans who don’t have the time to follow the development closely for every game they’re interested in.
I’ve been pretty negative, so I want to try and end on a positive note. The lesson of the story is to find developers who deliver, and remember them. Fatshark Games of the Vermintide franchise is one to watch. Vermintide 2 was an improvement, and the impending release of Darktide will provide another opportunity to deliver reliably. Rockstar Games went from Red Dead Redemption to Red Dead Redemption 2, and it seems to be managing quite well. Eugen Systems and Tindalos Interactive are a couple of smaller indie developers to watch with consistently good titles. What other games and franchises have had (at least mostly) successful follow ups? Who can people depend on for a quality series of games? Leave your most notable in the comments below.