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The Division 2: Kansas City

No, this isn't that Division/Ryckert family crossover you all secretly wanted.

I don't know why I had the idea of the inevitable sequel to The Division being set in Kansas City, Missouri. Certainly, I don't know enough of Kansas City to argue why it would make a good location for US government sleeper agents to sweep through restoring civilization after a infectious disease pandemic. So instead I'm breaking down why I had the idea at all.

But the game isn't even out yet, why would I want to dismiss the locale of The Division when I haven't even played it, especially when I got chewed out the last time I criticized the features of a game that wasn't out yet? And I have my reasons for being dismissive of another game in New York City, the primary of which is that it's another game in New York City. Every generation onward until they find a way to either destroy video games or New York there will be games striving to create the most accurate version of NYC.

This is just a specific example of a common criticism of open world games in the real modern world. Why do they always take place in the same cities? It is always either LA or NY. Somehow Watch_Dogs seemed original by setting itself in Chicago. Why not have an open world setting somewhere less known like Kansas City? Will it be less distinctive and relatable to the player? Why is this hypothetical player expected to relate to various generic fantasy and sci-fi worlds but not a large but little represented city in the US Midwest?

It's likely fine though that The Division is going to New York. I'm going to hazard a guess that it's a reasonable sales move that can be simply put as "a lot of people live in New York City and/or a lot of people like New York city, ergo setting this new franchise will bring in more money". And The Division will likely be a franchise even if it hasn't yet been announced as such. This is Ubisoft we're talking about. So unless the game tanks massively there's going to be a sequel to The Division and since that title refers to a section of the US military activated to restore order when it all goes bad let's assume that unless The Division ends on a cliffhanger or some other sort of sequel hook to keep things in New York its sequel will focus on restoring order to a new US city.

Where do you go from New York though? It's the biggest of the big cities. Ubisoft can't just make an urban open world sequel in a well known major city like LA, Chicago, or SF without it being compared unfavorably to the last. They're doing that already and Assassin's Creed still hasn't found a solution. It seems to me like the only place to go is down to a less known place with more room to surprise the player with how it distinguishes itself. And honestly I love that idea that The Division becomes a franchise of exploring various spaces of the US and how they react to an extremely damaging outbreak of disease. Though I imagine the developers ability to do that or not will be shown by their ability to make their New York distinguishable from a generic cityscape. That was a problem Watch_Dogs ran into.

So Kansas City, Missouri though. It's still just the example. It's a large inland city so there likely would be some interestingly different conundrums in a pandemic compared to New York. It's probably harder to get necessary resources to an inland city than one on the ocean. See, there's room to change the finer scenario even in the geography. Does it snow in Kansas City? I imagine a sequel to The Division would want to move away from snow. Or how about a more rural part of America. What must America's farmlands be like in a pandemic? Would the government seize them to have a safe food stockpile. Would that in addition to the outbreak be enough to cause unrest where The Division needs to be activated? There's opportunities here for originality if Ubisoft wants it.

Also did anyone else realize this game is just DMZ with the player as one of the various intimidating soldiers from the comic? Has Brian Wood worked with Ubisoft before. They might have him doing layout and graphics for the marketing.


Why Bioware Might Wanna' Check Themselves Before They Wreck Themselves

In the promotion of Mass Effect: Andromeda it seems Bioware is rolling back from the vast intergalactic community of the main trilogy into something with a more "one small step for man" feel as what's been revealed of the game has been building up the feature of a stronger focus on exploration, seemingly more similar to double-edged sword that was the vast expanses of uncharted worlds in Mass Effect 1. Even the Mako is back!

With the game still more than a year out from release though details beyond the most basic hype are sparse. What has surfaced is a survey allegedly from Bioware describing proposed designs and plot of Mass Effect: Andromeda. While it is important to be suspect toward the validity of this survey, it's worth noting that Bioware sent out a similar survey prior to the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Furthermore, Gamespot's report on the survey points out that "should the survey details prove to be accurate, it should be noted that these are potential design ideas, and not necessarily features already designed and coded." Even if the survey is false or is not the final direction Andromeda will go, it is worth analyzing the game proposed by this survey.

The survey works off what's been confirmed about Mass: Effect Andromeda, that the focus will be on exploration of the Andromeda galaxy and goes on to the explain that the player is "a pathfinder, a combat trained but un-tested explorer leading an expedition into the Helius cluster to establish a new home for humanity." Colonization has never before been a central focus of Mass Effect; where it's mentioned it's been shown as a highly bureaucratic process of selecting who is allowed access to the relevant prior intelligent life free planet, moon, or other object in space. Even before Mass Effect, Bioware's Jade Empire had its memorable lampooning of European cultural posturing with Sir Roderick Ponce von Fontlebottom. According to the survey though, with Mass Effect: Andromeda Bioware seems to be allowing a less well thought out, more carte blanche approach to colonization than the series has previously shown.

From the survey it appears that humanity and whoever else from the Milky Way is accompanying them will "search solar systems for rare habitable planets to establish a settlement." This is not uninhabited space though: "as [the player explores] this sprawling series of solar systems..., collecting resources and building colonies, [they] will encounter the savagery of untamed lands in the form of cut-throat outlaws and warring alien races." Colonial history is abundant with native civilizations attacking settlers. Perhaps though the races of Andromeda will be justified in attacking the foreign invaders from the Milky Way. The survey implies that the latter isn't having the most open dialogue with the former.

A problem of colonialism has been the repeated behavior of colonizing bodies to in one way or another antagonize the natives of the land they are upon. The Khet are the sole named natives of Andromeda and they have not been painted in a positive light so far. An article from Eurogamer on the survey proposes that the Khet are an alien race appearing in concept art of Mass: Effect Andromeda that was shown behind closed doors to select fans of Mass Effect at PAX Prime 2013 and are described as "an 'arrogant', skeletal race with glowing eyes." The survey also mentions an activity for players will be defending their settlements from Khet attacks. It would be rather amazing if Bioware was able to find a justification where the player can feel okay knowing that a native species so disapproves of the presence of these settlers from the Milky Way that they resort to attacking their colonies, doubly so for the "optional combat experiences" players will find wherein they may attack and destroy Khet outposts. It'd be like seizing outposts Far Cry 3 but perhaps somehow still less awkward from a post-colonial perspective. Perhaps the Khet actually are a very explicitly evil people with the goal of snuffing out Milky Way the settlers before they become a threat. It would certainly be disappointing if they were and that still doesn't justify colonizing their territory without permission. Finally: "allies will reward [the player] with praise and increased narrative options as you fight to remove the Khet presence from the region." Well, there goes the hope that one of the game's companions was a xenoanthropologist.

The other alien race mentioned in the survey is the Remnant. As the generic name implies this is one of those super powerful extinct races from a far away past that are so pervasive in sci-fi games of late. Players will be able to search for artifacts of the Remnant in ancient vaults that will have traps activated the moment the player seizes its treasures. There is a quote from the video game Sunless Sea* that sarcastically makes an educated and appropriately Indiana Jones referencing reaction to behavior such as this:

This belongs in a museum! Assuming that colonial-imperial appropriation for the purpose of hegemonic taxonomisation is a suitable response to the problem of intercultural contact. Which it probably is, because museums are magnificent institutions.

The problem specifically of a foreign nation taking the artifacts of another land, even if the civilization that made them is extinct, is that the native people of that land likely had at least the influence of that extinct people on them and taking those artifacts is taking part of the existing natives history. Appropriately the Khet are also after these artifacts because it seems completely appropriate to try and gather as many artifacts of your galaxy's ancient inhabitants as one can before hostile foreign invaders get to them.

Again though, the game proposed in this survey may not be what Mass Effect: Andromeda ends up becoming. The design and story ideas seem too gracelessness toward colonial histories to have be genuine yet too dead on in there portrayal of the wrong way to settle a land to be a cobbled together fake. Perhaps the survey was written by an ignorant PR employee who is soon on their way out of a job or a history buff pulling a well researched fast one on Mass Effect fans. If it's the latter: well played. Nice touch naming the player's ship, "the Tempest", after Shakespeare's play critiquing colonialism. If neither of those hopes are true then the hope is that Bioware has already caught the implications of this survey and altered Mass Effect: Andromeda accordingly. Maybe colonial atrocities are all the Renegade choices.

Edit: Yeah, that original title was terrible. Hopefully the new one is less me covering up nervousness with pretentiousness.

*Someone remind me to write something about how Sunless Sea is one of the few and probably best satires of Victorian British colonialism.