Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is one of this week’s biggest releases, and a brand new direction for the Plants vs. Zombies series. The series has consisted entirely of tower defense games since it began back in 2009, but Garden Warfare is bringing it into the realm of competitive multiplayer shooters. Across the history of video games, spin-offs or sequels that exist within an entirely different genre are not unprecedented, but also not super common either. Some recent examples include things like The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, Syndicate (the FPS reboot), Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Persona 4: Arena, Halo Wars, and of course Nintendo has made completely new franchises out their spin-offs with things like Mario Kart, the Mario sports games, and the Super Smash Bros. series.
Taking an established series and creating a completely different kind of game can potentially provide an interesting new take on something familiar, but fans are often very critical of these types of moves. As we saw with the announcement of the game that eventually became The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, fans are very protective of series’ they love and often don’t want to see them to be changed. Of course, during the initial fan outcry over the XCOM shooter, XCOM: Enemy Unknown hadn’t yet been announced, so it was perceived as being the new direction for the series rather than a spin-off. Once XCOM: EU was announced and eventually released to great acclaim, people pretty much forgot about The Bureau, and it released to tepid reviews and little fanfare. Despite genre crossing spin-offs like this being very hit or miss, I still think there is great potential for a lot of well established franchises to branch out into other areas. The following are some potential genre crossing spin-offs I would like to see.
Mass Effect: Space Simulation
For a series that revolves around interstellar travel, galactic politics, and grand space battles, the player doesn’t engage in much of these activities directly throughout the course of the trilogy. With the established lore providing a very clear picture of how space travel and ship-to-ship combat works in this universe, there is a lot potential for a deep space sim set within the fiction of Mass Effect. There are several possible directions, such as a combat focused flight sim with the player in control of a small fighter, or something more expansive that gives you control of a frigate with ability to go explore, trade, scavenge, and fight. Either way, with the established races, factions, technology, and locations of Mass Effect, there is nearly limitless potential for an expansive space simulation within this universe.
This is something I’ve thought would be a great direction for a Mass Effect spin-off for a while, but I never thought a company like EA would see the cost benefit in producing a perceived niche game like this. However, with the recent unprecedented success of Star Citizen‘s crowdfunding effort, perhaps EA would come to see there is a significant potential market for a game like this. While I think a space sim would be the best possible direction for a Mass Effect spin-off, some other ideas that may be pretty cool would be a character action game along the lines of Devil May Cry or God of War, where instead of a sword your character wields biotic abilities. Another Mass Effect spin-off I think would be really interesting would be an LA Noire style adventure game (or even something along the lines of Telltale’s work) that has you playing as a C-Sec detective solving crimes on the Citadel.
Mortal Kombat: Role Playing Game
The Mortal Kombat series has one of the deepest and richest fictional universes among not just fighting games, but all video games, and there is a ton of potential to branch the series into some more narrative focused genres. There have been some stabs at narrative driven single player experiences within Mortal Kombat in the past, such as Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, Konquest mode in Mortal Kombat: Deception and Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Mortal Kombat: Special Forces, and Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. Despite these many attempts at bringing the series into more single player focused territory, none have been very successful. These games all suffered for their own reasons, but the primary reason many fell short on quality was the adherence to many of the fighting game elements of the core franchise that simply felt out of place in an action adventure title. With as expansive as the Mortal Kombat fiction is, there is tons of potential for different kinds of games, and despite the many failings at doing so, I still think a great narrative driven single player Mortal Kombat spin-off is possible.
All of the previous Mortal Kombat spin-offs have been action adventure games with fighting game elements, but I think the best direction is a role playing game. Story has certainly become more prominent and more viable in other genres as video games have evolved, but role playing games remain the most story rich genre in gaming. With the multitude of characters and realms in Mortal Kombat, there are any number of directions a potential Mortal Kombat role playing game could go, but the most important thing is that the game’s development be treated with care. Many of the past Mortal Kombat spin-offs felt sort of like an afterthought, with things like Konquest in Deception and Armageddon literally being a bonus mode in a proper fighting game entry and Mythologies being a side-scrolling brawler running on the fighting game engine. If a Mortal Kombat RPG was to ever really be successful, it would have to exist on its own as a stand alone game that respected the franchise while still carving its own path.
The Elder Scrolls: Real Time Strategy
The Elder Scrolls series has thousands of years of history, only a fraction of which has been explored in the five mainline installments. Across those thousands of years of history in Tamriel, there have been a large number of wars, many of which brought great change to the continent. There have been a handful of spin-offs already, such as The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard, and The Elder Scrolls Online is aiming to explore an as yet unseen era of war and strife in Tamriel. Despite the many wars we’ve seen in the main installments thus far, none have been able to really capture the scale and destruction the way the lore describes these battles. For what was supposed to be a massive civil war, the battles between the Legion and Stormcloaks in Skyrim came off feeling very minor due to the limitations of the engine. The only way to really portray the scale of Tamriel’s historic battles would be a real time strategy game.
With so many years of fiction and many wars to choose from, there is just tons of potential for a real time strategy game set within The Elder Scrolls. As Zenimax continues to expand its reach in the games industry, I think this one might be one of the more probable potential spin-offs on this list. Zenimax has shown with The Elder Scrolls Online that they are willing to branch the series out into other areas with other developers, and it ‘scertainly possible they’d partner with a strong strategy developer to create an Elder Scrolls RTS. An ideal Elder Scrolls RTS would portray some of the world shaping events of the past that we’ve thus far only read about within the in-game books. The series of events I’d most like to see would be Tiber Septim’s conquest of Tamriel which culminated in the founding of The Empire and the establishment of the Septim dynasty, which lasted hundreds of years until it was ended in Oblivion. The Great War of the fourth era which ended in the signing of the White-Gold Concordat would also be an interesting time to explore.
Starcraft: Third Person Shooter
One of the most famous (or rather infamous) vaporware games is Blizzard’s Starcraft Ghost. The game was intended to a stealth/action third person shooter set within the fiction of Starcraft, but after years of delays, changes of developers, and entire reworkings, development was officially put on hold indefinitely in 2006. Because the game is not officially canceled, many fans still cling to the hope that the game will someday be finished, but most have accepted the truth, Starcraft Ghost is no more. Though Starcraft Ghost will never see the light of day, the concept is still an intriguing one, and a third person shooter set within the Starcraft universe is one with a ton potential.
Like the other franchises included here, Starcraft has an incredibly deep fiction with a ton of room for potential games of others genres to exist and flourish. Sort of a flip side to the Elder Scrolls situation, we’ve really only seen large scale conflict in Starcraft to this point, so seeing more intimate operations could be very interesting. We know elite operatives exist, we just haven’t really been able to see them in action in a way that would portray them accurately. Real time strategy games excel at grand conflict, but the pulled back camera and small assets aren’t the best way to see the type of action a skilled solo operative might engage in. After the troubled development of Starcraft Ghost, who knows if Blizzard will ever even attempt another similar endeavor, but Starcraft has too much potential to be limited to real time strategy games forever. Here’s hoping the spirit of Starcraft Ghost can live on in another game some day.