Unnecessary sequels. They’re everywhere. Books, movies, television, musical albums. But the arena I’m going to be discussing is in video games.
Nowadays, practically every game seems to “need” a sequel. There’s no real rocket science behind it, nothing that the average person can’t grasp: if I make a game, and I sell a million copies, then I have pretty good odds that if I make another came that’s almost the same, with a few little tweaks and stick a “2” somewhere on the box, I’ll be able to sell a million more. And since most sequels prefer to iterate on their predecessors rather than start completely from scratch, they’re faster and cheaper to make, which means that 1 million copies sold is worth more to me, dollars-wise, than the old game’s 1 million copies. And so on, and so on. And gamers will keep eating that right up.
Some might complain, sure. Some may get a lashing both from within and outside of the industry. Some may become universally reviled and plagued by angry YouTubers and bloggers. But realistically, those people don’t matter. Why? Because people buy it anyway.The best example of this I can think of is Call of Duty: Black Ops (and Black Ops II). Call of Duty, ever since the 4th installment, sells more and more copies every year. Personal opinions on the series aside, it’s hard to argue with the idea that it’s one of the most popular gaming franchises ever, and that Activision and it’s allies essentially have the free chance to print money for the rest of humanity’s natural life cycle just by sticking that name on a box.
But a funny thing happened when Black Ops came out. There was an almost universal backlash about how bad the game was going to suck, about the new online modes being stupid and pointless and a waste, how the new level up system was garbage, etc, etc, etc. Don’t even get me started on the CoD4/Modern Warfare lover’s sentiments about the zombie mode. Ironically, most of these were things I actually liked about Black Ops, which is why it’s still my favorite of the series. Admittedly, I’m not incredibly into FPS games, unless they’re also loot grinders (IE: Borderlands) or RPGs (IE: Fallout) or some other genre that’s more to my liking. I miss my Bad Company 2 thank you very much. But I’m also more story oriented (which again, was a point in Black Ops, because it had a more interesting, thoughtful story. To me, anyway. Modern Warfare and it’s derivatives have always felt a little too “‘Merica! Fuck yeah!” and lacked any real twists or logic that interested me. But again, that’s me, and according to most of the data I’ve seen on Gamercards and Trophy Lists, only about 40% of players actually bother to even try out the campaigns, let alone finish them; they just hop online and get to the n00b pwnage).
Despite all this venom directed at it (that continued long after the game’s release, and transferred over when Black Ops II came out), Black Ops was still the best selling game in the franchise to that point. People proved they didn’t really mean all those nasty things they said as long as they had a new shiny where they could shoot people in the face and proclaim they were the best with a shotty and could solve all the world’s violent conflicts if you dropped them in with a case of Mountain Dew. And then shelled out all the extra for the ever-increasing map packs. As they do every year.
People do the same with practically anything that has “EA” and a year listed in the name.
But these types of games aren’t the ones I’m really tired of. It’s the games where the story is at least a largish chunk of the attraction, where the single-player campaign is the main focus, with a story to tell. Because those games also get put into the meat grinder and churned out year after year after year for no reason other than “People with buy things with a 2 on the box.”
For my primary examples, there are going to be some spoilers ahead for the God of War and Diablo stories. I may also accidentally spill some beans relating to The Last of Us or Uncharted. You’ve been warned.
We’re going to start with God of War. Now, I like God of War, I really do. They’ve made some purely boneheaded moves in my book (let’s start with abruptly ending GoWII on a – literal – cliffhanger, then make us wait an extra 5 years and a different console before we found out what happened, when rumors have been awfully suggestive that much of GoWIII was not only developed for the PS2, quite a lot of it was actually intended as a “Disc 2” to GoWII, thus removing the cliffhanger, f’rex.) but overall, I generally enjoy my little romps with Kratos.
Now there are a lot of people shrieking that we need a GoW5 (or whatever damn number we’re on. With the PSP prequel/interquel entries and Ascension occupying a questionable place as “God of War IV“, you never know) to really push the PS4 and have more ridiculous blood and sex action. I’m over here going “Um. No. No we don’t.” Why? Because the story is over. Chains of Olympus, Ghost of Sparta and Ascension fill in all the gaps between and before the other games; GoWIII literally ends with all the gods except Kratos dead. It’s him and Athena’s ghost(?) watching what’s left of the world burn. There’s nobody else for him to kill, at least no one that would provide a suitable challenge for the God of War who’s murdered every supernatural being on the planet – including himself. At least twice – at this point. If you do anything else with Kratos, you’re either talking reboot (which, in my opinion, are generally terrible ideas. Go look at Lords of Shadow and then see if you can find the old trailers for the Castlevania that we were supposed to get, the follow up to Curse of Darkness that featured Alucard, Trevor and Hector banding together and tell me which one you think looks way more awesome, even if it wouldn’t have starred Patrick Stewart) or you’re talking about forcing the story in an unnatural and probably stupid direction to explain why there’s still something Kratos can roid-rage on, or you’re talking about shoehorning in an entry that’s going to break your timeline. Again. Yet, in all likelihood, we will probably see something with Kratos on the cover at some point, just because “Hey, they want to give us their money! Yay!”
Of course, the something will probably be lambasted in most media, regarded as a cash-grab or a sellout, and mocked derisively for the entirety of time it’s on store shelves… but it won’t matter, because people will still buy it.
Now, personally, I wouldn’t mind a new God of War. But when I say “new,” I mean totally new. Do a different pantheon. Norse and Egyptian have been suggested before, and either of those would be awesome, in my opinion. Take the combat system, take the style of storytelling, and tell a new story with those tools. I’m totally on board. But that’s not what people are shouting for.
Let’s skip over here to Diablo-land for a second. Diablo III had a pretty self-contained story, competently executed. It’s not going to win any awards for it – or shouldn’t, at least – but it was there, it served as a decent enough rationale for slaughtering a few thousand demons (and killing a couple of mice) and worked. Only one dangling thread was left, which is why I was totally on board for Reaper of Souls. Some people wanted that level cap raise, others wanted to see what Loot 2.0 was going to do for them, and those were fine. More wanted to wrestle with the Archangel of Death, and that was an interesting idea (and at least explained why his seat of Wisdom was and has been empty through the series), but what made me click “Buy” is the chance to kick Adria’s ass. I wanted to from the minute she ganked Leah, and the promise that I’d get to hunt her down and kill her was the main reason I came back to Sanctuary.
Now there’s some internet scuttlebutt going on that there may be another expansion to D3 in the works, and I’m sitting there asking “why”? Again, there’s nothing left to do. You killed Diablo (and the other 6 Evils.) You killed – and essentially became – Death. You killed Adria and avenged Leah. Ganked Magda for Cain. What possible reason could the Nephalem have for returning to Sanctuary other than “For the Lewts!”
Okay, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the loot. I’m all for hearing that dramatic “Whoosh” when I gain a level and immediately open my stats screen to see what cool new powers I got. Diablo is much more about the gameplay than the story. But unless any further expansion is essentially gameplay-only modifications (such as the 2.1 and upcoming 2.2 patches, or nearly anything done for D2 after the release of Lord of Destruction), they’re going to have to come up with some explanation of why the Nephalem has gone to this new place, with monsters and beasts and threats that would make Diablo or Malthael cry (because, as anyone who played it knows, the power creep between those two bosses is ridiculous, and to keep the munchkins happy, you’ll have to have a similar level of it going from a theoretical 70-80) and then explain why no one ever heard of those things or dealt with them previously despite the entire rulership of Heaven and Hell being involved extensively in the plot of the previous games and expansions. In other words, butchering the story and the timeline to sell more copies.
Coming up, we have Uncharted 4, which is starting to look pretty bleak. There isn’t much else we can do with Nathan Drake, either (though the possibility of him dying or committing suicide by the end of the game, which I’ve heard more than once, seems like an intriguing way to end the series before it devolves into Tomb Raider completely…) and the folks shouting for a Last of Us sequel. Please, Naughty Dog. Don’t. Just don’t.
I think the point I’m trying to make here is that gamers and developers both need to look at the bigger picture. Just because you can throw something out there with a numeral on it doesn’t mean you should. You both need to learn that sometimes a game has said or done all it needs to say or do, and that’s that. It doesn’t mean you can’t take those ideas and run with them in a different place or a different way, but it does mean you shouldn’t keep churning them out until people finally catch on that they’ve essentially bought the same game seven times (I’m looking at you, Call of Duty) or that you’ve altered and murdered the base things that made those games awesome and made people want more so much that it’s unrecognizable and possibly sinks the whole ship (Castlevania? Dead Space? I’m talking to you, over here.) Sometimes that even means you can have a game that is positively beautiful, hits all the right notes, is unabashedly one of the best things ever… and you need to stop. No matter how much the siren call of billions of dollars may be echoing in your head. Last of Us stands in that camp… for now.
So, fellow gamers, next time you finish a game, instead of going “Awesome! Where’s the sequel!” please, stop. Ask if there is really anything else that needs to be said with that world, those characters. Maybe instead say – to yourself, if you’ve got the skillset, or to the developers if you don’t – “Hey, what you did with (x-feature) and (y-character) in Awesome Game was… well, awesome! Try that out somewhere else!” And, remember. Vote with your wallets. STOP BUYING BAD SEQUELS and put your money where your mouth is. I know it won’t happen, but if Black Ops III gets announced for next year and people recommence the “Oh that’s gonna suck” statements and it still tops the charts in November and still spends all of 2016 as the #1 DLC Downloads, I’m just gonna throw my hands up in the air and give up. You’ll live, I promise. Hell, people are still playing MW2 online (and 3. And BO1. And BO2. Not so much Ghosts, though… hmmm.
Okay. Really long rant over.