Following swirling rumours and a carefully crafted social media campaign, Bethesda revealed the unexpected “shooterverse” sequel, RAGE 2. For this new project, the single-player focused publisher has drafted the services of external developer Avalanche Studios. With the team’s previous credits including Mad Max and the madcap mayhem of Just Cause, a more fitting studio to follow up on id Software’s ambitious 2011 shooter could scarcely be imagined. The debut gameplay trailer, characterised by fast-paced action and lurid colour schemes, is a testament to the insanity sure to be rife throughout the title and provides a hook for players seeking a different kind of shooter. RAGE 2 is almost certain to be a winner, however, to play devil’s advocate, its publisher may have benefited immensely from keeping development in-house at Bethesda Game Studios (BGS).
Given the Fallout and The Elder Scrolls developer’s reputation for ropey, bug-filled products—contrasted against the sublime execution of the original RAGE—such a suggestion may raise ire, but the possibilities are enticing. Most prominent among the potential advantages is the studio’s legendary open-world design prowess. Despite the rampant popularity of sprawling RPGs and survival games in recent years, few teams have proven as adept as BGS at creating universes that inspire exploration and a convincing sense of presence. Compared to the grounded regions of Skyrim and The Commonwealth, Just Cause 3’s archipelago is little more than a playground, while the wasteland of Mad Max is not among that title’s most fondly-remembered elements. Similarly, the post-apocalypse of the original RAGE was almost unanimously criticised as being uninspired as a result of lacking character and any sense of narrative cohesion. The debut trailers for RAGE 2—dominated by portentous proclamations and furious action—do not instil confidence that its world will rectify these flaws to offer anything more than another hollow space. Handing the reins to a developer foremost in the construction of fictional societies may lend the game world a much-needed sense of identity beyond bombast. However, the potential perks extend past a single production.
Considering the sublime gunplay of RAGE, BGS’s notoriously average combat systems would not pass muster were it helming the sequel. To that end, the publisher has made clear that the new game is a collaborative effort between Avalanche and original franchise developer id, yet that situation would be the case no matter the developer. Such partnerships have reaped long-term benefits in the past. For example, when comparing the responsiveness of Ninja Theory’s Heavenly Sword to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, the latter is forged more finely through the fires of DmC: Devil may Cry, for which the developer teamed up with Capcom. Fallout 4 was an improvement over its predecessor, but the shooting remained almost laughable in its lack of intensity. With 2016’s DOOM, id proved itself as capable of crafting some of the smoothest, most satisfying gunplay yet seen in any game. Moment-to-moment gameplay of that calibre being deployed in Fallout 5 would be revelatory.
Additionally, the world of RAGE is not that of Tamriel or a vast radiation-ravaged retro-future. The game may take place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it is designed as a tighter and more controlled take on the setting than most. While the Fallout series is not void of spaces carefully tailored to provide engaging combat encounters, RAGE puts a higher premium on traditional level design. To match that 2011 title, BGS would have to step beyond its comfort zone and explore ideas with which it has never had to previously engage. The same sentiment extends to the racing and vehicular combat components that were as important as on-foot gameplay in RAGE and are set to return in the sequel. By undertaking a project that blends aspects of its specialty with others deviant from the norm, the developer would be forced to push boundaries and adopt a new design ethos that could be reused to diversify future productions.
Finally, although the publisher has managed to raise considerable excitement around the upcoming sequel, an outsourced product—even when handed to a team as established and popular as Avalanche—does not carry the same cachet as one handled by a flagship developer. To be fair, outsourcing is not an uncommon practice, having resulted in the likes of God of War: Ghost of Sparta, Gears of War: Judgment, and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, but it also raises echoes of Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, Silent Hill: Downpour, and Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. The pedigree of Avalanche makes a disaster on the scale of those latter titles extremely unlikely, yet the situation remains mildly discouraging. Bethesda Softworks has made a statement that no IP is to be left behind, but appears to be hedging its bets and showing less confidence in the prospects of RAGE than would be the case if the sequel remained entirely in-house.
However, Bethesda Game Studios is rumoured to working on a new IP. With Tamriel being a more engaging world than those of Fallout or RAGE, something fresh from the talented team is more enticing than another rehashed apocalypse. Furthermore, despite the potential in having BGS take the reins, few teams would make for a better choice than Avalanche Studios. The Just Cause developer is renowned for engaging, pulse-pounding experiences, and its reputation for satisfying gameplay is a close match for id Software’s, ensuring the collaboration is one to be remembered. Of course, the debut trailer also speaks for itself.