Beyond Good & Evil 2 is dramatically different from the original — and that’s about all I can confidently say about the ambitious new game. First announced in 2008, Beyond Good & Evil 2 roared back to life this week at E3 with an explosive cinematic trailer that reintroduced players to Michel Ancel’s distinct and vibrant sci-fi universe. What the trailer didn’t show, however, was anything about how the game might play.
Not long after the reveal, Ancel and his team took me through a very early technical demonstration of the game. Where the original Beyond Good & Evil was a fairly straightforward third-person action adventure, its follow-up is something much larger and more complex. It combines elements of online worlds, early-access releases, role-playing games, and procedural generation. It’s also, admittedly, still pretty rough around the edges. Many of the game’s key elements — from graphics to combat to narrative — are still being implemented.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Ancel says, “but we now really believe that we’re going to make this game.”
But first, some clarification: while they bear the same name, this Beyond Good & Evil 2 and the one originally unveiled a decade ago are different games. Initially, the game was planned as a sequel, continuing the intrigue-laden story that turned the first Beyond Good & Evil into a beloved cult classic. Eventually, Ancel and his team at Ubisoft’s Montpellier studio decided to switch directions and create a prequel. The idea was to build an experience that could be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of whether or not they played the first game.
Three years ago they started working on the technology that would power the experience — it started out as a kind of solar system simulation tool — and only recently have they started actually building the game. “When you don’t have this technology, you can’t really start the game,” Ancel explains. “It’s too difficult. But now we can say for sure that we will make this game, we’ll finish it. Because we have the technology for it.” He describes the game’s current status as “day zero of development.”
Just what kind of game Beyond Good & Evil 2 will be is hard to pin down. It takes place in the same universe as the original, and is set a few generations before the events of that game. (Ancel insists “it’s not a reboot.”) Players will be able to create their own distinct in-game avatar, who will start on the bottom rung of society, before working their way up to become captain of a spaceship, complete with a crew. “Whatever character you choose, you will start at the very bottom of the social system,” Ancel says. “Maybe you’re delivering pizza. But one day you will have this gigantic spaceship.”
In a big shift from the first game, the prequel is structured like an RPG. You and your crew will develop new skills over time, and how you grow and change will reportedly depend on what you do and where you go. “You explore, you discover new cultures, those cultures are adapted to the planet, and then you can customize your ship based on what you discover on the planet,” Ancel explains.
Beyond Good & Evil 2 will be both a single-player experience and a co-operative online game, as Ancel says you’ll be able to play either by yourself or with friends. There’s also a shared world component, as certain in-universe events will happen for all players in the game. The worlds you’ll be exploring, Ancel explains, are a combination of hand-designed and procedurally generated. He describes it as “like a SimCity simulation.” Essentially, the developers have built all of the individual parts, as well as a logic system that puts them together in ways that make sense. This system allows them do things like fast-forward in time and instantaneously see how cities and planets will change over that span.
Similarly, the story itself appears to be something of a hybrid. Ancel explains that there is a specific narrative that will be told in the game, but that it will also include systemic events that happen based on what you do, the places you explore, and potentially the other players you interact with. “As developers, we can imagine that we will release other stories, other parts of the world,” he says. “We can expand it. But at the same time, we want to have that feeling of completion. ‘I’m going through a story and there’s a start, there’s an end.’ But you know how it is when you have online play — the real stories are going to come from people playing with each other.”
It all sounds incredibly ambitious, especially when you consider that Ancel also wants to treat Beyond Good & Evil 2 as something of an early access title, with a community of players offering feedback and testing early prototypes. The version of the game I saw, meanwhile, was still in a very early state. The graphics were mostly placeholder (Ancel says that “two weeks ago there were no graphics”) while aspects like combat and any kind of narrative aspect had yet to be implemented.
Instead, I was able to watch Ancel pilot a large ship that looked a bit like a flying submarine, around a rough version of the same city featured in the new trailer. According to Ancel, one of the pillars of the game is its sense of scale; the idea that you can explore places both huge and small. To demonstrate this, he flew his ship near a giant Ganesha statue that towered over the city, hopped out of his ship, and started walking around on the statue. Later on, he piloted his ship out of the atmosphere and into space; it reminded me a lot of the feeling in No Man’s Sky where you can see a planet on the horizon, and then actually fly there.
The big question, of course, is how all of these various elements and systems will fit together. And right now it’s just too early to tell. So much of the game right now consists of concepts and ideas, and it’ll be quite some time before we see them put into practice. Ancel says that 2018 is too early to expect the game’s release, though he hopes to have a new version of Beyond Good & Evil 2 ready for E3 next year, which will be “as close as possible to the trailer.”
That trailer ignited hope in the game’s vocal fanbase, who have been waiting years to learn just what’s happening with the game. It seems that Ancel has finally decided just what kind of game he wants to make — and next comes the hard part. “Now we are really building the game,” he says.