Sequel. It’s a fairly divisive word, one that makes some cringe, while others jump at the opportunity of it.
They’re one of the most important, yet overdone parts of entertainment, from movies to games. And love them or hate them, their creation makes sense. They’re safe. If the original had a solid fan base with a decent amount of success, then you can rest assured that a sequel will be easy money. Sales are guaranteed, because you’re selling something to the customer that they’re familiar with. This kind of comfort isn’t found when venturing out with a new IP, and that’s why we have a wonky ratio between releases of the two.
But where some sequels succeed at progressing the legacy laid out by the first game, there are just as many flops that add nothing to the depth or overall feeling of an already established universe. So, when is a sequel called for?
The timing of a sequel’s release can be tricky, particularly if the original has a high replay value. You don’t want to inundate fans and overwhelm them with new content, features, and story when they’re not even close to done with what they’ve got in their hands at the present moment. The game needs to come at a time when all DLC has been created, all avenues have been explored, and the story has been told to a satisfying point.
When working within linear-style games, its also a necessity that sequels add something to a narrative. When you’re creating the second, third, or eleventy-billionth part of a story, that specific sequel must add something to the overall tale told by the series. If it doesn’t add on to the overall experience, then what is the point of sitting down and logging numerous hours into it?
There’s nothing more telling of a tacked-on money grabber than a sequel that doesn’t add anything to the franchise’s story arc. When writers are first beginning to pen the story, it’s almost necessary that sequels be factored in and accounted for in order to avoid a weird story element that is a round peg to the game’s square hole.
A great example of this is found in the Mass Effect series. It was originally planned to be a trilogy, and because of that, the story is airtight and seamless between all three sequels (regardless of whether or not you liked the direction of the third game and its ending), leading to a beautifully crafted story with a living, breathing universe that draws gamers in.
Of course, there are other options for sequels that we’ve encountered as well. Some series, such as the Elder Scrolls, don’t necessarily have a connected story element, with each title being a standalone open-world experience. This works, because while players know what to expect in terms of gameplay and environment, it gives them a fresh new look at the lore of the game when they can play through a separate campaign story they haven’t encountered before.
Things like prequels also can be an interesting facet of a game’s narrative; giving the origins of key characters, the history of worlds and environments, and how everything came to fit in the nice little package the original game delivered can often be an interesting way of tying everything together. Again, however, this can also run the risk of feeling shallow if writers have not used the game’s lore to its fullest extent to bring players into the narrative.
So, when does a game call for a sequel? Is it when it has met commercial success? Is it when developers reach a level of strong player demand? Or is it something inherent and expected in a much larger, ambitious venture of a story?
In my mind, a sequel is justified when we feel a need to build on a world. It’s needed when we’ve enjoyed the first experience enough to want to venture back into that universe again, encountering all the parts of it that we loved so much the first time, all while being able to experience something new. It’s needed when we want to expand on a story that has impacted us in a very real and powerful way.
There’s nothing devilish or wrong with developers creating sequels. In fact, sequels can be some of the coolest ways for professionals to build on the benchmarks that have made gaming what they are today. But when sequels are created, we need to keep in mind that they’re there for a reason. They exist to build on and expand a world that has already been experienced. They are meant to give us another look and another venture into a place that we might truly identify with, and they can be the most powerful when they build on the successful mechanics and facets of the original and twist it into something both fresh and familiar in a way that will leave us just as wowed as the first time.