In 2006, Epic Games put out version 1.0 of the Unreal Engine 3 with Gears of War. It employed a simple button-in cover system that solved a lot of the problems inherent in third-person shooter design. Over the next 5 years, the "third-person cover based shooter" became ubiquitous as developer after developer thought "we can do that but better!" In 2007, Call of Duty Modern Warfare reinvented the online multiplayer shooter by dangling the carrot of a new perk or weapon in front of the player and the first-person shooters of the world promptly followed suit.
As soon as an idea or mechanic draws a significant audience, the industry iterates on it with a ferocity. Some might call it piggybacking off someone else's successful idea, others would argue that games are inherently iterative and this standard practice has resulted in some truly terrific games.
Now, and I think about 10 million of you might agree, the new "thing" to be copied and iterated upon is Skyrim's brand of world-building and expansive fiction. The idea that one can walk north and find content worth experiencing struck a chord with millions of players in a way that previous Bethesda games have not. So obviously, it should be pinched as soon as possible.
The prime suspects for this first act of creative imitation are CD ProjektRED, EA and Capcom, hoping to bask in some of Skyrim's glory while the name still curries favour with players. The question is: If Skyrim is the new Gears of War, who is going to put out Uncharted?
If I could bet money on anything, I'd bet that EA and BioWare combined aren't going to be the ones to do it. Dragon Age 3 and whatever subtitle the marketing division have chosen for it today is a game that you can be sure will take liberally from the Bethesda playbook with the sole purpose of attracting the newly converted towards microtransactions and DLC plans. As we've seen from Mass Effect 3 and Dead Space 3, the prime directive from the EA management seems to be "appeal to everyone". In practice this probably will mean stripping out the complexity of Skyrim's AI and character building systems to appeal to the kind of people who probably wouldn't play a game called "Dragon Age" anyway. On top of this, it's hard to tell who/what BioWare is at this point. Originally there were two teams, one for Mass Effect and one for Dragon Age, but now a significant number of EA studios have been rebranded as BioWare studios (and subsequently changed to Visceral Games studios following the backlash against ME3). The Doctors are out and after the gradual decline in the quality of EA's products following Dragon Age 2 it's hard to believe BioWare have it in them to produce a worthy competitor to Skyrim while people are still interested in playing more of that kind of game.
CDProjektRED however may be the perfectly positioned to offer up the counterpart to the Bethesda giant. Let's be frank, the PC developers of old took over the HD generation. Epic, Crytek, Bungie and not least Bethesda weathered the storm of the PC slump to come out as the powerhouses going into the next generation and CDProjektRED is yet to have its first console hit. Anyone who played the Witcher 2 on a PC that could run it will attest to the fact that they have the technical prowess to make an amazing open world and the writing chops to back it up. In addition, the Witcher 2 played like a good action game rather than the cludgy mess that Skyrim can be or the mindless amped-up gorefest of Dragon Age 2.
My only personal concern is that their claim that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be "bigger than Skyrim" smacks too much a developer who may not know what their target is. Skyrim's world is big AND full of compelling content with a sophisticated AI system that makes it seem like a real place. The one-upmanship of "our game is bigger than their game" suggests, at least to me, that they may have their priorities wrong. In end though CDProjektRED have the experience and a wealth of established fiction to back them up, and they've proven themselves twice already in the RPG-making business.
The same probably can't be said of Capcom. As the first of many to hitch themselves to the Skyrim train with Dragon's Dogma, Capcom have made it clear that they're going after the western style of RPG the only way they know how. Solution: add good combat, seed Monster Hunter mechanics into the enemy encounters and hope that it all catches on. Surprisingly, Dragon's Dogma found an audience and the critical consensus was "Nice combat, this world is boring. Make a sequel and fix that last bit."Everything coming out of Captivate's and E3's of year's past sounded like Capcom were making a huge open world RPG without quite understanding why that style of game was popular. In the end we got a mechanically strong RPG with some neat ideas like the pawn system in a universe utterly devoid of flavour.
The issue here is that the trailer shown at the Sony press conference on February 20th wasn't Dragon's Dogma 2 running in Capcom's new engine but "Deep Down", a game that seems to be Dragon's Dogma in all but it's name. Dragons, knights, dirty-looking men with sharp metal objects? Cmon Capcom, that sounds an awful lot like that last game you made doesn't it? Regardless of whether this is a completely new IP or the tacit admission that Dragon's Dogma is a terrible name for a videogame, if Deep Down does turn out to be a successor to Dragon's Dogma then it's probably the most exciting thing Capcom has going right now. What the expansive open-world do anything subgenre that Bethesda has popularised lacks is consistently fun combat. By all accounts the combat systen in Dragon's Dogma was the reason to play the game and if Capcom takes lessons from the criticism that game received and say, hires a few writers who know a thing or two about lore, then a marriage of those mechanics with that kind of world could be a killer combination.
Whichever way I look at it, the sudden realisation that there is a large market for the Bethesda style of game can only yield positive results. Competition breeds creativity and innovation in the hope that both will help sell copies and we as players gain nothing but benefit from that. Personally, I think CDProjektRED have the most potential to become a heavy hitter in both the market for that sort of game and in next generation in general with the next Witcher title, but Capcom seems so hungry for a slice of the Skyrim pie that anything could be possible.
With the possible exception of Dragon Age 3 (pay 80 microsoft points to get this Elvish helm), whoever wins the upcoming scramble for a piece of Bethesda's newly found audience, we as the players come out on top.