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Half-Life: Alyx may not be the end after all

It's been nearly two decades since the last installment of the Half-Life series was released. In the years since Half-Life 2: Episode Two, it had basically become accepted that the Half-Life franchise was dead. Fans had all but given up hope on ever returning to this story, but were shocked when Valve announced the existence of Half-Life: Alyx. 

While not a true sequel, this VR title is set between the events of the first two games, acting as a side-story within the original storyline. In other words, Alyx looks like it would be a great way to expand the world in ways that still leave wiggle room for a full-fledged sequel.

According to comments made by Valve developer Robin Walker, a sequel no longer sounds like quite so crazy of a proposition. In an interview with Game Informer, Walker expressed how important it was to him and his team that the new game stayed true to the original games. 

"Half-Life: Alyx is a full-fledged entry in the Half-Life series, both in terms of the sheer amount of content as well as the importance and substance of its narrative relative to the rest of the series. It's a critical part of the larger story, and it does push that story forward." said Walker. "Half-Life means a lot to us ... There are Half-Life: Alyx team members who have been at Valve since Half-Life 2, and quite a few who go back to the original Half-Life. There are also people on the team for whom Half-Life: Alyx is their first time working on this series at all – and many of them certainly hope it's not the last. We absolutely see Half-Life: Alyx as our return to this world, not the end of it."

This may come as a shock to some fans, yet sound all too familiar to many others. While the story of Half-Life 2 was meant to play out in episodic chapters, the updates ceased following the release of Half-Life 2: Episode Two. For years, fans waited for any sign of the next chapter, but to no avail.

In fact, one of the impatient parties was original series writer Marc Laidlaw. After leaving Valve, he posted a story to his personal blog that featured a thinly-veiled look at what Half-Life 2: Episode Three might have been. He referred to this post as "fanfic," possibly as a way of skirting around any legal ramifications of using the characters and settings. While it wasn't the actual continuation fans had hoped for, it felt like it was at least something substantial.

Half-Life: Alyx looks to be expanding the world of the games in more ways than one. Valve is releasing SteamVR Home environments that are based off of locations from the new game. These will allow gamers to explore some of the game's environments with their friends ahead of the game's official release. This is a brilliant way to make players feel more immersed in the experience of playing Alyx, as they'll already have some familiarity with these locations before all hell certainly breaks loose.

One of these environments is City 17, which players previously fought their way through in Half-Life 2. It's here that usual series protagonist Gordon Freeman met freedom fighter Alyx Vance, who serves at the protagonist and title character of the new game.

Half-Life: Alyx has already been a massive success for Valve, even before it has been released. The game has already led to sales of Valve's Index VR headset going through the roof. In fact, the company announced that they had sold through all of their existing Valve Index stock through preorders alone, necessitating further manufacturing for the headset to meet demand. Valve added fuel to that hype fire by making the original entries in the Half-Life series free on Steam, allowing longtime fans to get reacquainted with the franchise and newcomers to get into the story and mechanics before the release of Alyx.

Half-Life: Alyx is set for release on March 23, 2020, and it's looking like it's going to surpass all expectations. While fans are likely chomping at the bit to play this new entry, the hint that this may not be the end is even more enticing. What kind of teases can we expect within the story of Half-Life: Alyx? If the team went into making this game with the hope that it might lead to another full sequel, then it stands to reason that they'd want to include a few nods toward where they'd like the story to lead in the future.