What Makes A Good Sequel?
When I think about my favourite games, a lot of them have been sequels. From Batman: Arkham City, to Uncharted 2, to Dark Souls, these games are what I regard as a “perfect representation” of what a game sequel should hope to achieve. Each one is a satisfying evolution from the initial IP, but just what do these very different games have in common? Let’s discuss what makes a good sequel.
A rather obvious trait for anything called “sequel” is a sense of growth. Either the characters, the gameplay or the world has to go through a process of growth that allows the users to renew their interest in a series. Uncharted 2 had the cinematic moments, Arkham City had the open world freedom and Dark Souls had the structure change to interconnected levels. Each of these games offered a new core feature that worked with an older core feature that was ported over from the debut game. Uncharted still had Drake, Batman still had the combat and Dark Souls still had the heavy lore; all of these were introduced in the first game and were then brought to the sequel. The new features served as something functional, something fresh, but most importantly, something that most people enjoyed, which even managed to migrate some of that interest from the initial core features to the new ones.
Like I mentioned before, sequels work best when they keep the original in mind. Batman Arkham City is the best example I can give for showing how a new feature can take something from the previous game and turn into something game-changing. That feature is, of course, the gliding mechanic. Arkham Asylum had a simple glide movement that allowed The Dark Knight to cover a large amount of area quickly and to possibly start off a fight with a swift kick to an enemy’s head.With Arkham City, gliding progressed from a simple and effective idea, to an extremely intuitive design to travel quickly in an open world. By combining both the grapple gun and glide ability, Batman could travel across the huge distances in seconds which made exploration a blast.
Another example is the combat. Arkham Asylum introduced the freeflow combat and counter mechanic, and Arkham City introduced new elements like a double counter and the chance to have the environment shrouded in smoke via fire extinguishers etc. Again, we see here how we have an original concept and a sequel that adds to the solid concept.
However, Arkham Origins missed the mark slightly with this level of steady progression by introducing a shock glove that allowed for an almost instant kill effect against your enemies. It felt cheap, sure, but Origins did add layers to the combat in other ways. It introduced a “ninja” enemy that can counter your counter-attacks which, again, adds another level of depth to a combat feature that has been improved upon twice already. While more of a prequel than sequel, Arkham Origins wasn’t the great leap of innovation like Arkham City was.
Probably one of the biggest faux pas for sequel creating is to rehash. To rehash something is to reuse old ideas or material without adding any significant change or improvements. Mediocre sequels are horribly guilty of this; often taking scraps or unused parts from the original and implementing them into the new game in the hopes that it’ll all make sense and work out for the best. You should never ever copy and paste work for a sequel but rather constantly improve and refine your original ideas and continuously add new ideas to the mix.
Rehashing is something that a lot of games are guilty of, and nine times out of ten, it’s not their fault. Rehashing often occurs when the developers realise they’re running out of money or time to deliver a finished product and need to borrow other elements from older games in order to make a game that may feel like its copy and pasted, but at least it’s actually working. At the end of the day, developers never want to ship an unfinished or broken game which is why this sometimes happens.
If a game tells a story with a pivotal central character, chances are that they’re going to turn up in the sequel. It’s true for Uncharted and Arkham series, but what about an RPG like Dark Souls? The simple answer is to introduce an element of familiarity in the world around the main character. While I respect Dark Souls decision to have a completely different lore from Demon Souls, there’s a huge amount of nods and similar characters between the two games, and there’s even some areas that strike players as familiar territory. That means that while you can lead a player down a new path, players will be more comfortable if there’s elements in it that they recognise.
Game sequels are thriving now more than ever. People have been clamouring for sequels for their favourite games and for the most part, developers have delivered. However, is there a sequel you’ve been waiting for since you finished the original? Would this list apply to it? Do you think there’s another unwritten rule all sequels should follow? But what about your most desired sequel? Personally, I would love to see a new Shadows of Colossus “spiritual” sequel. The sense of scale in that game was fantastic and I’d love to see a similar theme of sacrifice and completely open exploration for next-gen. Let me know what your dream sequel is in the comments below.