I was looking at the Launch trailer for Destiny 2 and as I found out that I was more interested by the second game and how everybody thought it was a good improvement, I got this strange question inside my mind.
We all know it, games are a finicky medium. You have to generate enough interest the first time around to have enough return on your investment. Then you’ll be able to jumpstart your IP and make your second game. Hopefully, this game will have everything that you wanted the first one to have but which you couldn’t include because you had no time left, because you thought about it at the end of your production, or just because you didn’t have enough budget and had to cut somewhere.
When I saw this trailer and subsequent praise and reviews of the game, my mind jumped to another beloved series, a pillar of gaming and how forgettable the first entry was. The story of that wonderful boy, my man, Nathan Drake.
Drake’s fortune was the first game I got for my PS3 after Metal Gear Solid 4 which I got in a bundle with the PS3. (I’d like to say that Metal Gear was the only reason I bought a PS3 that early and the only reason I’ve bought a PSP) My aunt bought me this game for my birthday because the thought of having to play a Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones type game was enough for me actually to ask if she could get it for me. I am a huge fan of Naughty Dog and their games (People that have a good track record of making that “Awesomely better second game although the first is massively good” with Crash Bandicoot and Jax & Daxter) so this helped too. But in the end, Drake’s fortune ended to be quite underwhelming ended up being the first in a series that made my day quite a lot and whom I love dearly. This character, Nathan Drake, became an iconic man for most video games enthusiasts and even known outside of the video game realm.
Try to think about it for a second and I’m sure you’ll have tons of games that could fit into that streak. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune isn’t the first nor the last to follow this rule . I’m sure that you all have names on the top of your brain. Assassin’s Creed, Saints Row, Shadow of Mordor, The Elder Scrolls: Arena, Tomb Raider, Blood Omen, Watch Dogs, Zone of the Enders, etc...
It can even apply to games that were widely fantastic on their own and games that I utterly adore, of which I believe their follow-up to be more fleshed out, just plain better. Such as Mass Effect, Sonic, Metroid, Castlevania, GTA III (I consider GTA III to be an entirely different game than GTA II thus will take it as a “first” game), Fallout, Metal Gear, Dead Space, etc...
Of course, not all games follow that trend and some just get dull or bad follow-up for their second entry. But in these cases, you can somehow smell if from far away. As if your extensive knowledge of the first game allows you to see where it’s going on.
So why? Why is that second game often better? Especially in a time where we are weary of sequels.
What’s, for me, the reasoning behind this?
I get it. People grow, people learn from their mistakes and, of course, if they have a better budget it’s easier to make a better game. Except that it’s not. It’s harder. Bigger teams to manage, more voices to listen to, diluting the message you wanted to have at the beginning. It’s easy to lose yourself in the process when you try to do a sequel, you can just do more of the same, or you try to please so many people, and you end up with Mass Effect 3 or Andromeda, something that on it’s own could have been good but doesn’t actually work into the series.
I also think that world building and game design is hard, so when your universe is set in stone, it’s easier to work within it. It gives you more time and freedom to think about the rest, to build upon your experience, which is also why you often get way more lore in the second game.
I’d like to believe that for that second game they try to make it as if it was another game, not just a better version of what they already have. And in a way that makes sense, all the greatest sequels of all time have something that makes them utterly different from the one before. I think that Rockstar does it best with their GTA, every game are in a sense made from scratch, they feel different and not just about the setting, we all have memories of these games thanks to a je ne sais quoi that makes it distinct. And it was the same with Assassin’s Creed, up to a point. That’s also why Black Flag was well accepted.
I think this explanation applies to any medium. About why some sequels are widely popular. And it all boil down to this, it’s only when you try to do a self-centered piece of art instead of making the same. And I think the champion for that is James Cameron (Which is the only reason I’m excited to see Avatar 2) because that man has never done a bad sequel, they are often better than the original because they are different, because he’s not trying to reproduce or emulate, but to build upon what we’ve seen. Just look at his Aliens and Terminator 2 and you’ll know what I mean.
Although, I’ll say that I’ve seen a lot more successful first sequels in video games than in any other medium.
And now I’m waiting for Shadow of war and Wolfenstein 2.