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The ambition of 'Beyond Good and Evil 2' might exceed the hype

You get your very own character and a whole universe to explore.

We've waited a long time for the sequel to Beyond Good and Evil. And you know what? They actually went and did it. Arguably the biggest surprise of E3 2017 was a minute-long trailer teasing a game that barely resembles the 2003 original. But even the anticipated return of the cult hit might not match the vision that director Michel Ancel and his team have for Beyond Good and Evil 2. Ancel himself explains the return of the quirky game -- and we have a ton of concept artwork to keep the hype going. Ubisoft has big plans -- literally.

Fourteen years is an eternity in gaming, and Beyond Good and Evil's sequel/prequel is a rare tale of development hell that managed to turn itself around. Ancel explained to Engadget that the gaming technology of the time, around 2006, simply wasn't capable of replicating the team's vision for the game series: a space opera that encompassed not only multiple cities but multiple planets, and online play that could involve your friends.

But it's 2017: No Man's Sky, the GTA series and Mass Effect have shown what's possible now. "Scale" is a word that came up several times during the presentation. The planet "System 3" is at the center of both the trailer and a brief in-game engine preview Ubisoft showed us. The BGE2 team has made a proprietary new in-game engine: It exists, it works, and we got to see multiple spaceships and Knox the monkey move around within it.

Ancel tapped away at a keyboard and zoomed out from the city to reveal even more cities across the world. He zoomed out further to show the dark side of the planet ravaged by asteroids, then to the planets and stars surrounding it. He then tinkered with it even further, adjusting the angles of light on key character Knox. He then took control of a spaceship and blasted away from a giant Ganesh statue at hyperspeed, touring System 3 and showcasing the speed at which the game scales. It's not perfect, but it's fast and smooth. No more "light-speed jump" loading screens? That's the dream.

Unlike No Man's Sky, however, the team explained that these worlds weren't drawn at random through algorithms: Designers crafted these worlds with logical rules in mind. So if you follow a river, it leads to a mountain or a lake. Even the story of a planet hinges on its nature: That aforementioned asteroid-ravaged "dark side" is a pretty inhospitable place, so only the poorest citizens (or slaves) attempt to claim space debris and other precious materials from it. The rich live in safety in Sector 3. The poor do not.

Let's return to Knox the grapplehook-toting monkey, the unashamed (f-bomb dropping) star of the Beyond Good and Evil 2 trailer. He is not the main character; nor is the unnamed hoverbike driver. You will choose the look, gender, even race, of the game's protagonist. You can be human or you can be humanoid -- that's your choice. Ancel adds that the plan is to offer a choice of where your character starts the game, whether that's a prison ship, a planet, or elsewhere. It will be your story to tell.

The next step for the Beyond Good & Evil 2 team will be extensive playtesting: It's already started the "Space Monkey Program" (inspired by humanity's first nonhuman test pilots sent into space) to help debug and even inspire the direction of the game.

Talking to Ancel, and listening to the team's presentation of various facets of the game's lore, offered up so many more tantalizing details at this still-early stage: a single-player game your friends can play online with you, the ability to share photos and parts of the game (complete with galactic geotags) with buddies or in-game characters. It all points to a game that's just so much bigger, grander, than the original Beyond Good and Evil. It looks like the team finally gets to make the game they dreamed of making.

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