Video game sequels are often a deft balancing act for developers. The dual importance of familiarity and progression forces companies to scrutinize the benefits and risks of mechanical and story evolution. It begs the question, how do you improve on the existing property without alienating the core audience? It’s a complex issue with no one right answer, but time always stands out as a key factor. Imagine waiting four or more years for a sequel to one of your favorite games. The possibility of disappointment looms in the distance, but more importantly, the hype and anticipation reach fever pitch. We only need to look at this year in games to see a few notable examples.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
The most recent entry in the long-awaited sequels category belongs to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the follow-up to 2011’s Human Revolution. The latter revitalized the Deus Ex franchise after a long hiatus, so publisher Square Enix wanted to capitalize on that success. Greed didn’t stand in the way of patience, though. It took a whole five years for developer Eidos Montreal to craft a sequel to Human Revolution, as Mankind Divided only came out last week. Surely five years is a grueling wait for Deus Ex fans, but it increases the audience’s hunger for something — anything — new. Thus, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided releases at a time in which the demand works in its favor.
That demand affords a game leeway, whether it pertains to conventional mechanics or a reinvention of the core formula. In the case of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, it subscribes to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy more so than anything else. Although the game introduces new abilities and a handful of gameplay tweaks, for the most part, it plays like an upgraded version of Human Revolution. That might sound lazy and uninspired if Mankind Divided had come out in 2012. However, the longer development time gives it a different meaning. An upgraded version of Human Revolution sounds great in 2016, and the positive feedback so far – from fans and critics alike – supports that view.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Another 2016 game that plays with expectations over a long period is Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. It feels eerily similar to the Deus Ex situation, as Uncharted 3 also came out five years ago. However, the two examples diverge under closer inspection. Uncharted 4 plays similarly to past games in the series, but it also takes risks. A critical new character is introduced to a series that prides itself on a cast with established relationships. Combat encounters allow for more freedom in larger spaces, but they appear at a far less frequent rate. The pace slows down considerably, with entire chapters focused on exposition. Clearly, developer Naughty Dog took notes from The Last of Us in the interim, but the Uncharted series needed that newfound inspiration.
After Uncharted 3, fans were left wondering whether a fourth game was even necessary. The five-year wait allowed Naughty Dog to address those concerns with important changes to the core of the series. When a developer allows a sequel breathing room, it often makes fans more perceptive to major design changes. On the other side of the coin, a long wait makes fans more perceptive to familiarity as evidenced by Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Both examples prove to be a win-win for developers and fans.
More to Come
This year still has plenty of long-awaited sequels to go, with games like Dishonored 2 and Final Fantasy XV coming out in a few short months. We don’t yet know their quality, but the hype continues to rise as their release dates get closer. It all hints at an increasing trend where the strategy of yearly sequels fizzles in favor of anticipation and quality. It means we have to wait longer for exciting games, but patience is a virtue, right?
If you’re feeling nostalgic for games of olde, we examined some more games that we think deserve a sequel.