IP Survival: Can Games Survive Without the Main Character?

Many IP’s main characters become iconic over the franchise’s many entries. We learn to love them and we become accustomed to seeing them. Eventually, the developers decide to either shut off the series, never making another game in the franchise, or slowly fade out the protagonists one by one and bring in new characters to take their place, all while keeping the IP’s name the same. Some of the most iconic IP’s fall into this scenario, such as Halo with the Master Chief and Uncharted with Nathan Drake. In the past, Bungie strayed away from the Master Chief timeline with both Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach. Both sold extremely well for the franchise, with ODST selling 6.35 million copies and Reach selling 9.87 million copies, respectively. Even with a break from Master Chief, fans still wanted more of that iconic character and his journey. Could the Halo franchise survive if 343 decided to end Master Chief’s story, and could the Halo name live on without including Master Chief in future installments?

Naughty Dog is experiencing a similar scenario with Nathan Drake. They had a number of Uncharted games where Nathan Drake held the lead role. After they finished up with Uncharted 4, they immediately diverted course and followed up with Lost Legacy. Lost Legacy did not feature Nathan Drake, but let Nadine Ross and Chloe Frazer take the spotlight, after having played supporting roles in previous titles. Now, Lost Legacy sold a little over two million copies, which is respectable for a side story from the mainline games. Naughty Dog said that Nathan Drake’s story ended with Uncharted 4, which begs the question: Could the Uncharted franchise live on without Nathan Drake?

Neither Uncharted or Halo would survive without their main heroes.  The only reason the names Uncharted or Halo hold any weight is due to their main characters.  If 343 were to stay away from Master Chief after they end his story and tried to continue using the Halo name it would cause a major uproar in the gaming community and even more so, among Halo fans. 343 caught major backlash over Halo 5: Guardians when they decided to introduce Commander Locke into the game and tell of his story in finding Chief. Fans felt that they strayed too far from Chief and didn’t show enough of him in the game. Since they are in the process of making Halo 6, officially named Halo: Infinite, they specifically said that they heard the fans loud and clear and that this next installment of the Halo franchise will focus entirely on Master Chief and his journey.

There are a few games that have managed to take the main character of their game and give them a supporting role in new installments, without abandoning the player base. Gears of War is a perfect example of this, as the Coalition decided to take Marcus Fenix and give him a primarily supporting role next to his son, J.D. Fenix, and friends, Delmont Walker and Kait Diaz. The game holds up surprisingly well without having Marcus as the main character, but I feel it loses something for me, having been a longtime fan of the series since the first entry. Another game series that has managed to implement this quite well is the Assassin’s Creed series. The series starts with Desmond going through Altaïr’s and Ezio’s memories. They later changed the main character from those two to Haytham Kenway and Edward Kenway. Yes, I know they all follow the main plot of going through Desmond’s ancestors, but the main point here is that they focused a great deal on Ezio and Altaïr on the first three games and then pivoted the main character later on. The series has done very well, despite a few flops.

This is just the beginning, with  Rainbow Six, Call of Duty, Battlefield, and many others that can most definitely be sustained without keeping the main characters of their stories around for multiple entries. They usually offer other options outside of the main campaign, like online multiplayer, which allows them to keep their games going for a long time. Call of Duty has even announced that this year’s installment won’t even have a single player campaign, due to most people gravitating towards the multiplayer aspects of the game anyways. Battlefield has decided to tell soldier vignettes instead of creating a main character you play as throughout the entirety of the game. Even Rainbow Six has gone away from the single player story for an all online, multiplayer experience with Siege.

What are your opinions on this? Can IP survive with new characters or will they crumble like the characters that the developers want to replace? Please leave a comment below with your opinions!