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Analysis: Can A Good Game Be A Bad Sequel?
Analysis: Can A Good Game Be A Bad Sequel?
September 15, 2011 | By Andrew Vanden Bossche

September 15, 2011 | By Andrew Vanden Bossche
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[In this analysis, Gamasutra contributor Andrew Vanden Bossche examines how great games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Dragon Age 2 can still be considered bad sequels by series fans.]

Can a good game be a bad sequel?

Of course, though It's an easy question to get tripped up by, because we tend to assume that gamers want games that are fun with refined, interesting gameplay. That's true, but that's not all they want, to the point where there are many genres of games -- survival horror and RPGs among them -- that have traditionally thrived even if they aren't very fun to play.

Especially with sequels, what gamers want is more than just general "fun" (if there was such a thing) but a specific experience rooted in their memories of the game. A good game, then, is what a gamer wants. When this gamer goes to a store and looks at the boxes on the shelves, all we know is that the one that she won't return is not the "best" game but the one that meets her expectations.

And what games have more exacting expectations set for them than sequels? Good sequels have to invoke the feelings that fans felt when they first played the original, but even the designers who made it can't claim to know exactly what that is.

One might say that Diablo is a game about endlessly killing monsters for loot, but enough fans were enraged by the presence of rainbows in Diablo III's debut trailer to declare it a betrayal of everything the franchise stood for. This just goes to show that what designers believe makes a game "good" is not necessarily the same as what the players believe.

Take The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, an amazing case of a game actually suffering fan backlash precisely because it reached into the past. The colorful, childlike, cel-shaded graphics were met with derision not because they were a betrayal of the themes of the series, but because Zelda's fanbase was getting older and wanted something darker, more "something that would speak to them" now that they were growing up.

This doesn't mean creators are obligated to carter to the community's every whim; take Metal Gear Solid 2, an infamous case of betrayed expectations if there ever was one. An entire demo was even produced giving players the impression they'd be continuing as Metal Gear Solid protagonist Solid Snake, a premise which was completely subverted in the full game. This was by no means a popular decision, but it was a very deliberate one. It betrayed the community's expectations so much because it understood them so well, and ultimately that contributed to the game's success.

But sometime expectations are betrayed in almost imperceptibly subtle ways, and this brings us to the interesting case of Dragon Age 2, a sequel that came out less than two years after its predecessor and was met with an almost universally disappointed reaction. While Metacritic splits reviews by platform thus ensuring a variance among the scores as arbitrary and negligible as the differences between the versions themselves, what we end up with are, for Origins and 2 respectively, a 91 and 82 on PC, an 86 and 79 on Xbox, and an 87 and 82 on PS3.

It's clear that Dragon Age 2 came up against some negative critical reception, but why? Was it simply the lack of quality, or did it deviate from the precedent set forth in Origins that fans came to think of as emblematic of the game? While Metacritic cannot answer this question, specific reviews paint a clearer picture:
"This claustrophobic setting is the game's most glaring weakness: you can't have an epic adventure in a single city any more than a child will be content to endlessly explore his own back garden." (Edge, 6/10)

"Dragon Age II remains one of the best examples of where the Western RPG stands today, even if it can't live up to the epic scope of its progenitor." (Gamepro, 4/5)

"Nevertheless, there's a discouraging lack of epic-ness and focus, and no final prize to set your eyes on." (Gamespot, 8.0)

That word, "Epic," is a common feature of these reviews. But what does "epic" even mean? The word has less meaning than ever now that the internet has driven it to become a new synonym for "awesome," but it's safe to assume that these writers are talking about something more precise, a feeling of "epic-ness" that's associated closely with fantasy literature.

Dragon Age 2 zeros in on the rise to power of an individual over the course of many years in a centralized location, which is not an uncommon setup for a fantasy series, or at least its first hundred pages. That is the more or less the route that Dragon Age Origins took with its opening sections.

They're not just talking about an epic feeling, but a very specific kind of epic feeling, that's not measured just by depth or scale but by an adherence to a quest-narrative, a sense of world-saving purpose and scope -- Dragon Age 2 ends just as its scope widens to an acceptably epic breadth.

Dragon Age 2 was still well reviewed, but it seems that this sense of scope was something both critics and fans felt was an integral part of what made Dragon Age what it was, and the gap between the scores of both games. This certainly doesn't make Dragon Age 2 a bad game, but it does make it an inferior sequel. This isn't a gameplay consideration or a writing consideration, but a consideration of theme.

So who decides if a game is true to its predecessors? Scarily enough, it's the fans. Once a game is out there, what the game "means" will be decided ultimately by the fans, who may have very different ideas than those who made it in the first place. This loss of control is surely more than a bit disorienting, but it's also an opportunity to understand that work better. And creators must, because there is no way to stop fans from seeing a sequel through the lens of the first game.

The community is always right about what a game "means," because it is they who assign the game meaning. Good sequels work with this meaning as much as they work with the actual content of the previous game. Between one game and the next, the community has changed, in no small part due to the first game. Creating a sequel means understanding half of its foundation is out of your control.


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Comments


Greg Noe
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Chrono Cross.



Anyways, I find the complaints about Dragon Age 2 kind of baffling, and a bit disconcerting. Bioware took a really different approach at the story, basically letting you live the hero's life in an out of the way city, and I think it was successful. Should we constantly expect "epicness" and saving the entire world variations from our games? I really liked the smaller scale, more focused tale the game had to tell. It's not perfect by any means, but I felt like I understood Hawke and his/her story.

Jeff Stolt
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I agree in every way. I enjoyed DA2 immensely, and in some ways because we spent so much time "in one city." Many of the problems with DA:O were actually overcome with DA2, in my opinion. Less travel time, far less exposition, better combat system. These opinions may not be shared by the majority, but I felt DA2 was a vast improvement.



Besides...it's ridiculous and short-minded to say "you can't have an epic adventure in a single city..."

Ron Dippold
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I think the key there is the left out scale modifier. Could you have an epic adventure in a single city the size of a continent (or that covered the entire planet)? You sure as heck could.



I don't think you can in a city as small as DA2's is - not small as 'on map', but in practice. There are only a dozen areas, half a dozen streets in each area, and even fewer working doors. Every time you return to the same area a little bit of the wonder dies, especially when you've been playing errand boy for everyone else. You can still do a great story and fantastic dialogue, which I think they did, but for me /epic/ would have required more, well, more.

Chris Melby
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As someone that like DA:O, I see nothing baffling about the complaints DA2 received.



Dragon Age 2 indicates a sequel, but it was really just a cash-in. If it had been called "Dragon Age: The cool awesome adventures of the extreme hardcore Hawke" and not marketed as a followup RPG -- which it was not, but was more so an offshoot accessible adventure, I'm betting that Bioware would not have received even remotely the same amount of deserved-criticism.



What Bioware did, was take much of what made DA:O what it was, threw it in the trash, dumbed down what was left in the name of accessibility, then inserted some prefabbed poser named Hawke that had been created by the marketing department, then marketed the game as a sequel, when it was not.

Anna Tito
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It was an RPG just not of the same style, DA:O hugged far too closely to it's spiritual predecessor NWN2, which left issues with game balance and pacing. I feel that DA2 is like DA:O growing up, it is no longer stuck in the 'I need to be a hero' thing that NWN1.2 & DA:O suffered from. *takes cover from backlash ;D*



I am a massive RPG fan, but I feel that in terms of creating and shaping a role, you had much more opportunity in 2 than O, and in O than in the NWN series. I want to Role-Play when I play, not get stuck in a standard hero's journey which I play far to many fetch quests...... *waits to get slammed*

David Graham
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I agree with Chris. The short development cycle, the reused art assets and the railroaded storyline all point to a meaningless cash-in.

Kevin Swiecicki
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*sigh* well, I guess I'm going to be the one to slam you. At least DA:O's main character had a role. DA2's main character had practically 0 definition to him. I cared way more for DAO's main. DA2's main never seemed like a story characters so much as a gameplay device........*waits to get counter-slammed*

John McMahon
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What about Mass Effect 2 with content cut for DLC, less RPG mechanics, and a complete failure at taking the player's actions from the first game and having meaningful impacts?



There was a promise from the first game that BioWare broke.

Dan Felder
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But the story was an excellent continuation and the overall feel was similar. People accepted the mechanical improvements gratefully because it was a better version of what they were expecting. Dragon Age 2 wasn't what people were expecting.

Will Ooi
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Mass Effect 2 was a disappointment for me, definitely, with no significant story apart from the companion gathering quests. In terms of gameplay, it also really made the universe seem tiny without planet exploration and the streamlined 'use a menu to travel' within each world. I suppose it suffers from being the middle part of a trilogy, but still, I felt it focused way too much on the build up to the third rather than plot continuation from the first

Dan Felder
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The interesting thin about Dragon Age 2 was that it would have made the perfect prequel if Dragon Age: Origins was constructed differently. I love knowing so much about what formed Hawke. I only understand the surface of my Shepard but I've lived through the major events of Hawke's life that formed him into the champion he is. It would have been great to have had Dragon Age 2 as the first game in the series, after which you take Hawke and slice through the Darkspawn, defeat the archdemon and repel the blight.



Dragon Age 2 is a glorious game, and the writing on the characters is some of the deepest and most interesting I've ever seen from Bioware. More like this please! And please, more with Hawke.



It's just a shame that the order couldn't have been swapped up.

Will Ooi
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But the thing is, if it was going to be a perfect prequel then it had to make do with the lore that had already been established in Origins.



The fact that it isn't perfect is surely then one of the reasons why there are such divided emotions over DA2, and your comment in some ways highlights how divergent the two games are.

Justin Nearing
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I kept waiting to leave the city and actually start the "real" storyline. DAO had me travelling the world, uniting all the people in the land, making or breaking kings. DA2 had me as an person of note in a minor city-state.



Basically the scale of my characters affect on the rest of the world feels significantly less than that of DAO. It's that difference of that effect that players refer to the 'epicness' of the story, and why DA2 felt less epic.

Jeff Stolt
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But like the author said, this is a player expectation issue. Would you have bought and played the game if you knew it was story of three different stages of Hawke's life in one city?



I felt a definite sense of epic-ness, because I saw how the consequences of Hawke's actions (especially in the final part) would change the face of the world.



I'm not begrudging your opinion in anyway, but I believe this game got a bad rep simply because people expected something else. For that reason, I'm glad they never made a sequel to "The Matrix" movie. I'm sure they would have messed it up...

Ron Dippold
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Agreed - if you'd called DA2 something else it might have gotten a better critical reaction, though you'd lose the sequel sales. For a sprawling fantasy epic (there's that word again) you need sprawl. You have to go new places, see new things (and kill new things). Where's your hero's journey without a journey? After the prologue, Hawke didn't really go anywhere, either physically or in character development. And that's non-epic.



I think they decided they had to go that route because of an imposed release deadline - *mumble* wasn't going to let them take five years again on the sequel. So they resorted to various content shortcuts and it comes off badly in comparison to the first game even though some of the mechanics are improved. Probably should have gone the Assassin's Creed route and thrown as many content creators at it as you need to get something huge built in a ridiculously short time.



Anyhow, my submission for the list: Breath of Fire (V): Dragon Quarter. God I loved that game. It was claustrophobic, harsh, brutal, and extremely rewarding. It was also nothing like a Breath of Fire game other than having Ryu and Nina, so everyone hated it and it effectively ended the franchise.

Christopher Lee
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I actually spoke with the art director on DA2, he rolled his eyes about how tight the deadlines were.

Eric Schwarz
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I'm going to have to disagree with the usual assessment of why Dragon Age 2 was a disappointment. Most people seem to focus on that lack of an "epic" quality, but I'd say the problems are more fundamental and come down to botched mechanics and poor storytelling rather than any sort of vague sense of scale and scope. Plenty of RPGs in the past have taken a more personal approach and have come out stronger for it. No, I think BioWare just didn't capitalise on what they had, more than anything else - whether that was due to a lack of ability or a lack of time, I don't feel qualified to speculate.



Consider fundamental decisions like the wave-based combat. Was that fun and meaningful? Did it call for good tactics and decision-making on the player's part? No - it reduced fighting to padding and filler, with random enemy spawns making it difficult to bother with positioning and terrain, and the lack of memorable encounters is also a big blow that comes with the design. Many fights in Baldur's Gate 2, for instance, were highly enjoyable and stuck with players for years, precisely because they were unique and well-designed. When combat becomes a chore you slog through to get to the next arbitrary plot point, it loses meaning. Of course, there's plenty of other issues for it - damage caps on attacks to make sure abilities aren't "too powerful" when it would just make more sense to properly balance those abilities relative to each other, the increased MMO-fication of combat, reducing it largely to farming DPS and activating as many buffs as possible, etc. These don't strike me as the result of rushed production, they strike me as just outright bad design choices made early in development, and no amount of "epicness" can fix bad combat.



Then you've got the story, which has an extremely poor structure overall, meandering plot threads that start and stop at will, characters whose motivations feel random and unclear, if not self-contradictory, the time jumps wherein nothing actually changes in the world or with the characters, the absurd plot twists that only make sense because the player is artificially denied certain opportunities (i.e. killing Meredith early on would be easy, but you can't do it even if you're standing right next to her because otherwise the game would break), and the focus on bizarre personal stories like the occurrence with Hawke's mother, rather than an overall picture of the world and the growth of Hawke as a character and Kirkwall as a place... if you want a real example of why the game fails to provide emotional impact, here it is. In truth, BioWare's storytelling has never been as good as it's made out to be, but in Dragon Age 2 it feels slapdash and poorly formed - it has nothing to do with a lack of epicness and everything to do with a lack of organisation, focus and poor structure all around.



So in short, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Dragon Age 2 wasn't disliked because it wasn't like the original game (which had its fair share of problems itself), but rather it was disliked simply because it wasn't a very good game. I certainly don't want to lay the blame on anyone or suggest that everyone didn't give it their all, because that'd be short-sighted of me, not to mention offensive, but frankly, comparing Dragon Age 2 to The Wind Waker is a pretty huge stretch... it's more like Fallout versus Brotherhood of Steel.

Rebecca Richards
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Thank you. I'm so tired of people giving DA2 a pass for its multiple design flaws by blaming "player expectations".



Something else I'll tack on is that for all the comments about how we silly players just don't understand the greatness of setting the game in one city, I'll counter that the real reason they're complaining about that "one city" is because Kirkwall is a boring city to put an RPG in. There's no exploration to be had. Most of the quests consist of finding a random trinket on the ground and giving it to someone. Despite the storyline trying to flesh the city out, its a rather empty place from a gameplay perspective and an art perspective. And there's something pretty laughable about the Elven Alienage housing "thousands" when it consists of a handful of houses and everyone in the entire city apparently owning the same identical house. Compare the "alienage" in DA:2 to the alienage in Denerim in the first title - DA:O's is extremely well detailed and sells it as a slum.



There's plenty of games that take place entirely in one city - the GTA franchise thrives on it. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood switched the setting from a huge sprawl of Italy to Rome, but made Rome an interesting place with great gameplay, exploration, and visual design. DA:2 can't be bothered to make Kirkwall even as interesting as the multitude of small cities scattered throughout DA:O.

Zan Toplisek
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I loved Dragon Age 2, one of my favourite games this year, no doubt. I totally agree with the complaints that are frequently brought up - overly reused art assets, more streamline combat (though, this didn't really bother me, I still enjoyed it just as I did the one in DAO), less content all-around (DLC alone shows this, there wasn't much leftover stuff to deliver as DLC, as was the case with DAO). Despite these issues, I still loved the game. I'm also one of the people who think ME2 was better than the first one (and no, I'm not new to games, been gaming all my life, PC and consoles + mobile games).

Eric Blomquist
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Remember when Wind Waker was the best zelda? I do.

matt raupp
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This! I loved everything about it, particularly the ocean exploration... I didn't really like (the universally acclaimed) Twilight Princess. I felt too boxed in after all that freedom.

A W
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Windwaker was a great Zelda with some great effects. The only thing I hated about it was the quest for the Triforce at the end (It felt to much like the dreaded chocobo game of FF7). However it had and to this day still has the best Ganon Fight of the series.

Brian McCarty
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I agree completely with Eric Shwarz. The gameplay, lack of customization and pacing just killed it for me. While some of the combat aspects were fixed up and much more enjoyable, the encounters were horrible. It seemed like nearly every single encounter was a multiple wave ambush.



Could I set up tactically? Not really. Could I let my guys loose with their craziest attacks? Nope, there's probably another wave or two or three coming. No way to round up the bad guys and let loose an awesome spell on them. Front line fighters? There is no front line, the enemy comes from every direction; every time.



The only person that could equip armor in the game was Hawke. At first I ignored it, but then it really started bothering me when I was seeing all kinds of nice armor in the game that just had no use because I only needed one set.



One of my favorite things in Origins was the fact that you could start as a difference race, class, and even location/story. The world even reacted to you differently if you were a dwarf, ect... I really really really wanted to see this expanded on in the sequel, it was amazing. However, it was completely removed - which killed all replay value for me.



Last, but not least, I could not bring myself to finish the game due to the pacing. It felt like I was always in some sort of conversation. I didn't want to just click through everything because I do want to know the story. But the conversations just kept going and going and going. Then I'd get into more conversations, then more! And then I'd get ambushed repeatedly, which rolled into another huge pile of conversations.



It felt like I could never really go hunting down monsters/treasure and really explore anything; just talk to people all day then get ambushed by waves of enemies.



Dragon Age 2 was not as good as the first and it fell short of my feature expectations. So I say it was both; not just a matter of player expectations of game style, but of quality as well.

Maria Jayne
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I felt Dragon Age 2 deviated too far from the standards set by Dragon Age Origins. Many of the features players enjoyed in the original were limited or none existant in its sequel, the game was clearly more focused on console players and it showed to anybody who enjoyed the original on PC.



I didn't appreciate becomming a pre named character, obviously many people like it judging by Mass Effect but personaly being called "Hawke" was the first step in telling me I don't own the character I am adventuring with. I understand why the name was pre chosen, it makes sense for speech recording but I still feel disengaged, like one of the primary parts of character creation was taken away from me, my identity.



The second step was telling me I have to be human, as a dwarf and elf player in Origins, again, this alientated me, this decision can only be one of time in development. Originas took a long time because of so much variety in species and background, cut most of that out and you cut a significant portion of development cost and time too.



Dragon Age Origins owed much of its building blocks to D&D Baulders Gate and Neverwinter Nights games and it was appreciated because of this, it also had extensive work done at the beginning to make every species playable and background feel unique. The depth of choices throughout the game was simply superior.



As far as story goes, I think Biowre talks itself up more than it deserves sometimes, especialy in the romance aspect. They could learn a thing or two from CD Projekt. Sometimes, less is more, if you don't want nudity don't attempt to show sex scenes at all, just go with the implied route and leave the viewer to fill in the blanks.



At the end of the day, Dragon Age 2 felt like a game shipped as quickly as possible to take advantage of a game that was well recieved but perhaps didn't make the money of their Mass Effect sibling. They wanted to grab the attention of a market that enjoyed the original but they wanted to do it with less of everything, while appealing to more console players with its more action orientated combat.

Jamie Mann
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I think it's entirely possible for a good game to be a bad sequel: if it makes too many radical changes, then it will not meet player expectations.



Conversely though, a (relatively) bad game can be a well-received sequel, as people are often willing to give established IP more of a chance than new IP.



The Resident Evil series (and to a lesser extent, Silent Hill) is a case in point, with it's clumsy control systems and over-reliance on obtuse puzzles. Zelda:Wind Waker is also another candidate for this list: with it's cel-shaded graphics, simplistic battles and repetitive sailing sequences, would people have been prepared to dedicate as much time to it if it hadn't involved Link, Ganon and Zelda?

Tore Slinning
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IF you design the most amazing racing game ever concived it will STILL be a bad sequel if the first game started out as a business simulator.



GENRE STANDARDS DO MATTER!

Sylvester O'Connor
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It's odd and I must say that sequels are a duel edged sword regardless of the franchise that you want to mention. Take a look at DA:O and DA2. Now I really enjoyed O but I have to say that I agree with many of the other comments that 2 should have been the first game out. It is a prequel and I blame the marketing department at EA for saying it was a sequel. There are many games that go back and go forward but I do believe that people thought they were going to continue in the ongoing struggles of Origins. Popping it into your console and seeing that many of the conventions that were in the first one (despite the many flaws in mechanics that it had) were extremely simplified, upset many.



As a game all on its own though DA2 is okay. The repitition in some of the quests to me is what really keeps the game from shining. Although everyone uses "epic", the game had plenty of opportunity to be just that if it was applied to the right areas. I feel like Hawke's story could have been the real focus. His emotions, his growth over the 10 year period, and his fierceness in battle could have been highlighted. Instead, he felt like a thin pot in which the heat just goes right through it. Such a surface character that was never fully explored deeper for whatever the reasons might be.



Looking at Mass Effect and ME2, the difference is that ME2 was built specifically for everyone to get ready for ME3 bottomline. Aside from stripping it down to its most basic elements yet again, and removing staples of the first game, ME2 suffered. There was an actual story that I read about that showed that many of the people that played and loved ME2 were either fans of shooters or young. The ones that complained about it drastic turn from the first game were in their late 20's to 40's. EA and Bioware just thought that they could attract those other gamers that usually stray away from RPG's for the complexities that they usually involve.



Overall, good games can be a bad sequel if not implemented correctly like everything else. Looks at Assassin's Creed. I played the first one and although combat was good, there were so many things that could have been polished more. They did just that with AC2 in many ways. Look at Uncharted. The first one was great but there were many cries that it was just too challenging. I remember seeing countless blogs that complained about unloading a whole clip into just one guy. Uncharted 2 surpassed expectations greatly. Then you have perfect examples of good games with bad sequels. Look at how Tomb Raider plunged deeper and deeper down. It has only been within the past 4 years that it has started to gain some popularity again. So much so that now it warrents a reimaging. Again, cost constraints, time, and money dictate how these things go despite an employee's greatest efforts to talk sense into management about releasing a game not complete. So I guess in theory, you can have good games that have bad sequels.

Ron Dippold
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I just want to say I think this has been a good comment thread on a good article - opinions are all over the place (what? on MY internet?), but everyone's polite and accommodating. And a lot of analysis going on - even when I don't agree, it's interesting to see an opposing opinion from someone who's obviously thought about it.

Lyon Medina
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I was actually thinking the same thing. It's a little spooky, in that twilight zone kind of way.

Jacob Wisner
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I believe the article has some good points about what being a sequel means and where that meaning comes from. I do think that they are in error when they attempt to view the reaction to this game in terms of its success at filling the role of a sequel and the reaction in terms to its overall quality as wholly separate. The game was both flawed as a product of that company in general and too incongruous with the experience of the first to be appropriately called a sequel.



Though it is insufficient to simply call the game bad, it is also insufficient to simply consider as a good game poorly named as worthiness as a sequel and overall quality suffered from the same mistake throughout the process of creating it. I did enjoy it myself, but that enjoyment does not preclude the possibility of considering the whole of it as it was. The game design flaws such as heavily reused area maps and marketing/branding missteps such as presenting this as a sequel are all at least partially the result of insufficient time and effort allotted to the tasks rather than the mistaken belief that these were good choices to make under more normal circumstances. These two modes of criticism are ultimately fueled by a single original and significant error in judgment - to propose, design, develop, and market this game on the sort of schedule normally reserved for EA Sports yearly titles



Producing something as a sequel is interpreted by many gamers, as is clearly evident from some of the fan reactions, that the title is to represent refinement and elaboration of what its predecessor did. It should answer the question "What kind of experience does the game attempt to provide?" similarly but more completely than the preceding installment. When the answer to this very basic question is fundamentally different - such as they were with DA:O and DA2, a spinoff is often more appropriate. Spin-offs allow the developers to contemplate a different answer to this question - provide a different experience - and use its relationship with the existing property to give perspective and insight to this new experience. Titling it as an helps gamers expect and appreciate these differences. This also requires more marketing time and research as a shifted target audience and new branding, logos, and advertising can not rely wholly on the work done for the first game; this time and effort was not budgeted and so a more carefully considered approach in this regard was not practical even though it was most likely considered.



Consumers would be justifiably disappointed if a KOTOR 3 were made and took place entirely on a single space station in which in which your grandest immediate accomplishments were saving said space station multiple times. Oh and lets say you weren't a Jedi but a particularly impressive bounty hunter instead who, while quite a potent force, found themselves noticeably less able to change the outcomes of the various crises you faced or the attitudes of your companions. Call it Star Wars Old Republic: Bounty Hunter and execute it well and it might still be a great game. Call it KOTOR 3:We Couldn't Think of a Subtitle and people would be annoyed and accuse you of being doubly lazy for not bothering to think of either a spinoff title nor a descriptive subtitle which might help to prepare people to accept such significant changes compared to the previous installment.



Such a game, or any spinoff utilizing an existing richly developed lore base, can be done well. Developers do this quite often to utilize the worlds they spent time creating and writing on and which players have become intimately familiar with. Heck, Bioware is doing it right now even with Star Wars the Old Republic. They're not going to call it KOTOR 3 because calling it that would fail to encapsulate the significant truth that it is a very different game even if it is the sequel chapter in the same story. Labelling it differently allows them to more easily market it as what it is while still conveying that it builds upon the Old Republic story and setting.



Of course if a spin-off has significant shortcomings in aspects of gameplay, design, story, or theme then it will probably be received by gamers and reviewers as flawed. At worst this will likely kill any plans to make the spinoff a series in and of itself, but it also isolates the original games and any of its future sequels from loss of enthusiasm generated by said shoddy spinoff. Many successful series have had short-lived spinoffs with luke-warm receptions without loss of prestige to the core property. Halo Wars can give a modern example of the insulation provided by spinning off the game; much of the history of Nintendo and its use of Mario serves as another. In this way I believe Bioware and EA also screwed themselves by calling this game Dragon Age 2 - by attaching the core brand to this game its flaws will not be forgotten as they are more easily with spin-offs.



There is no clear guideline for what should be a sequel and what should be a spin-off. You must be willing to accept that the subjective evaluations in making this call is going to lead to differences of opinion developers, publishers, and gamers. In this case I do feel that the naming suggests a lack of effort and time being spent on the decision. That is also how I feel about the largest of the flaws which can be criticized in absence of comparison with Dragon Age:Origins; level reuse, anti-climactic ending, and the feeling of choice in later quests being pruned to a minimum suggest a lack of time and effort being spent (or allotted by budget) in the development.



I think that suggesting criticism of the decision to call this game a sequel and the decisions related to the flaws pointed out even by many enthusiastic reviewers should be seen as separate complaints causes one to miss the point. Sure a game can be great while not be appropriate as a straight sequel. That's not the important lesson of all of this. Dragon Age 2 answers the question of whether a Bioware title should be put on a similar development time-frame as a yearly EA Sports installment. Someone at EA clearly thought the answer was something other than 'no.'


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