Life is Strange fans had an eventful E3 this year. Developer Dontnod announced they’re working on a sequel before the show, and series publisher Square Enix revealed Before the Storm, a prequel to the original game. The news was a real mixed bag, as the more info we learned of Before the Storm, the worse it looked. The saving grace was that Dontnod has nothing to do with the prequel, so series fans can wash their hands of it. Unfortunately, they are responsible for Vampyr however, Cliqist’s most disappointing game at E3 2017.
As bad as a prequel to the original game sounds, a sequel could be even worse. Luckily, Dontnod seems to know this, and have said in the past that any sequel will most likely feature a new cast of characters, True Detective style. That doesn’t mean Life is Strange 2 is out of the woods yet. There are definitely ways a sequel could improve upon the first, and for no good reason other than it grabs clicks in the hopes of getting an even better game, here are five things the sequel can do to avoid being as disappointing as Before the Storm.
1. A New Cast of Characters
Unless Dontnod changes their minds (or Square Enix changes it for them), we should be good on this front. That leaves the question of who should take over. I’d like to see them go an entirely different direction with the cast. Instead of two high school girls, maybe focus on a larger group of construction workers or something. Think of how fun would it be to have to pour cement for an entire episode!
It doesn’t really matter what the setting is, at least from an outsider’s perspective, as long as they don’t go for something too similar to the first game. Though one of the most appealing things of Life is Strange was how grounded it was, and a lot of that came from the setting and cast. You just don’t see many games about high-schoolers, not unless they get dragged into some demonic underworld, anyway. That leads seamlessly into our next point.
2. Keep it Grounded
Life is Strange is one of the few games that’s grounded in reality. Even with Max’s time travel powers, the game felt real. Players instantly connected with the game because it reminded them of their lives, from the high school setting, the drama that comes with it, and the relationship between Max and Chloe. You didn’t have to worry about saving the world or fighting monsters, and even the central premise of finding Rachael Amber took a backseat to Max’s everyday life.
Life is Strange 2 needs to carry this theme. That, even above the cast, is what makes this franchise, and it’s even something Before the Storm understands. Could you imagine a Life is Strange game full of terrorists, explosions, and guns? Give us some real life drama that players can relate to, or better yet, show people something new and different that’ll open their eyes. Make the game about a Syrian refugee trying to start a new life in America, but is constantly dealing with racist attacks and discrimination. Think of all the gameplay and story possibilities there.
3. Replace or Remove the Time Travel Mechanic
Time travel worked so well in the first game because it perfectly fits with the decision-making required the plot and gameplay. If you said or did something you don’t like, reverse the clock and presto! You can try again. But it was also integrated into the plot, and best of all the power was never elaborated on. You never learned why Max got her power or how it works, they were just there. But I don’t think a sequel can use this mechanic again. The novelty has worn off, and it’ll start to strain the story. Players will start to question why two people got these time manipulation powers, and the developers will likely start want to give answers. Instead, scrap it entirely and come up with something else.
This would be a great opportunity to open up some new gameplay possibilities as well. What if the new protagonist had a power everybody could see? Would the player try to hide it as best as they could, or would they try to become a super hero? Would your supposed friends try to take advantage of you, or would they get jealous? Maybe they don’t get this power until halfway through the game, or even towards the end, or they lose it midway through.
Or, and I have to give Before the Storm credit for this at least, Dontnod could just remove the powers entirely. Life is Strange was at its best when it was just Max and Chloe hanging out, Max at class, or Max chilling in her dorm. They could just remove any pretense of having powers and make the story even more grounded. Getting rid of the time traveling gives the developers so much more flexibility.
4. Improve the Writing
The word ‘hella’ should be banned from the English language, this much anyone outside California agrees on. Yet much of the cast in the first game insisted on using it with the frequency of a Quentin Tarantino-written character dropping an F-bomb. Some of the writing in Life is Strange was a bit clunky, and the first episode in particular was difficult to listen to at times.
It’s hard to say how much of it comes down to Dontnod being French and not really knowing how American teenagers speak, the translation, and how much of it is just bad writing. The script got better each episode, so there’s a good chance they’ve already figured it out.
Still, Life is Strange got trashed because of the lackluster writing in the first episode, and many passed the series entirely because of it. Any sequel will need to have a stronger start, and establish right away that the dialog will be much better this time around.
5. Square Enix Needs to Settle with SAG-AFTRA
American actors guild SAG-AFTRA are currently on strike against several video game publishers for poor treatment and better wages. Before the Storm features a new voice cast because of this strike, and a big reason why the prequel looks so disastrous is because of the new actors. The characters of the original game are what made it so great, and what made the characters themselves great in lieu of the writing was the phenomenal voice acting from the likes of Ashly Burch, Hannah Telle, and Don McManus.
If Square doesn’t settle with SAG-AFTRA, like Hollywood did just a day ago, they’re going to be in serious trouble. Bad acting can tank even the best scripts, and it can sink a project before it ever gets off the ground. Square and other video game publishers need to settle with the voice actors, otherwise we might be stuck with another Before the Storm.
One for the Fans
There’s not much we can do as fans of the series to influence Dontnod. They’re never going to read this article, for example, and if they do they’ll probably laugh at how stupid it is. We can hope for the best, but there is one other thing we can do to keep ourselves from being disappointed.
Keep your expectations in check. Don’t get hyped up for Life is Strange 2, don’t even think about it too much. Ignore most of the trailers and gameplay videos whenever those start rolling out, and go into it with a clean slate and no expectations. Vampyr looks so disappointing because they did such a bad job explaining what the game would be when it was first announced, even though divorced from all that, the game looks decent.
That’s advice for just about any game, but even more so here. We have no idea what we’re going to get with Life is Strange 2. The sky’s the limit, and that can be just as worrying as it is exciting.