It is very rare in the history of video games that the first opus of a game franchise is the best of that franchise. The defining moment for most game franchises is the inevitable sequel to the first title. Most sequels can generally be described as slightly better, taking small steps to improve upon the previous installment without changing what made the first game great. A handful of sequels could be described as disappointing, or games that changed too many things fans love in an attempt to be fresh and new. But once in a while, a sequel blows away its predecessor and fully realizes the vision of what was probably the first part. Here’s my personal list of the top ten direct sequels in modern video game history. (Generation HD so far.)
10. The Last of Us Part 2
I know that the decision to include this game in my list will probably be controversial for most readers, but I have to stand by my opinion in this case, because this game is really fantastic. Sure, the story didn’t turn out the way everyone imagined, and for many it’s still a painful plot, but there’s no denying that the story of this game didn’t turn out to be a quick money grab that many such stories are guilty of. It may not be the game you wanted, but what we got was an absolutely stunning tale of tragedy, revenge and pure hate that strips away traditional character development in stories. Naughty Dog took a big risk in making the game the way they wanted it, and in the end I got the most out of it.
9. Wolfenstein 2: New Colossus
Even though I don’t like the revival of Wolfenstein: New Order, nothing could have prepared me for the improvement of Bethesda’s second opus featuring BJ Blazkowicz. The story is strange at times, but fascinating from start to finish. The gameplay is frenetic and over-the-top, resulting in moments where you feel deadly but totally unstoppable. The weapon controls have been significantly refined from the first game, and it still has the weight and punch that other shooters try and fail to have. This game seems to have been swept under the rug of history far too quickly in my opinion, as I consider it one of the best raw first-person shooters of the last decade. If you like explosions, killing in alternate reality in future versions of Nazis, and insanity at key plot points, there is literally no better title for you.
8. Assassin’s Creed 2
Although Assassin’s Creed 2 came out over a decade ago, its effect on the entire video game industry can still be felt, not only in the games Ubisoft has released since, but also in many other open-world and action-oriented franchises. To give you an idea of how good it is, it spawned a series that has almost more games than any other modern franchise (with the exception of Final Fantasy and Call of Duty), and the game’s main gameplay loop can still be found in the Assassin’s Creed games released today. Ezio’s journey from boy to assassin is fascinating and beautifully set in Ubisoft’s second trip to the Animus.
7. Half-life 2
To be honest, I was a little late to Half-Life 2, as I didn’t play it until ten years later, but the fact that it not only met but exceeded my expectations speaks volumes about how groundbreaking and innovative this title was. This is the oldest game on my list for several years, and anyone who plays it now will definitely feel it. Don’t let that stop you from playing this series if you haven’t already enjoyed it, because the revolutionary gameplay Valve created is still a great experience. Half-Life 2 was one of the first games to abandon the concept of the traditional cutscene, and it’s all the better for that because you get to feel the emotional parts of the story instead of just seeing them. The only downside to all this is that it will be some time before we get a real solution to this otherwise extraordinary story…….
6. Not defined 2: Amongst thieves
Anyone who has ever played this masterpiece of a video game knows exactly why it belongs on this list. At times it feels like it’s playing itself, like many of Naughty Dog’s titles, but the cinematic experience and spectacle of this fantastic game is almost unmatched in terms of story. When I replayed the entire series a few years ago, I noticed that this game was starting to show its age a bit, but that said, it’s still worth crossing off the list of anyone who hasn’t already. Uncharted 2 contains some of the most memorable moments on the console and exciting moments in all of video gaming, and while the game sometimes feels like it’s on rails, seeing it all makes me keep coming back to this amazing franchise when I need an adrenaline rush.
5. Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham Asylum came out in 2008 and proved to be a huge success for Rocksteady Studios. Two years later, with the release of Batman: Arkham City, Rocksteady released a game that was not only better than its predecessor in every way, but was also one of the best multiplayer games of its generation. It’s also one of the best Batman stories ever, a character with literally hundreds of stories spanning decades of writing and comics. The combat system has remained largely the same as in the first game, but the redesign of combos and gadgets has made the learning curve easier, both of which are fun to learn. The world-building of Gotham can also be seen here, with a broken and powerless society as the city becomes a literal prison for every villain imaginable before your eyes. The boss fights in this game alone are worth the price of admission, but there’s much more to experience if you have the time to find it all.
4. Tomb Raider Rise
The rebirth of Tomb Raider in 2013 was a happy surprise in a video game landscape full of half-hearted remakes and remasters. His ability to convey raw emotion and physical pain in an empathetic way was remarkable and refreshing. Two years later, Rise of the Tomb Raider proved to be an even better and more immersive experience, while adding a fast-paced melee combat system that found its way into many games in the years that followed. The quality of the side puzzles has also improved greatly, making them innovative and creative, whereas the first game was mediocre at best. While the story is not as memorable as many of the other games on this list, the handful of individual moments in the game will stay with me for a very long time.
3. Gate 2
Portal 2 has taken one of the most brilliant and respected fictional environments and added to it a staggering number of the most creative and innovative puzzles the gaming world has ever seen. While it doesn’t add as many characters to the legend of Aperture Science as some would have liked, it fills out each newcomer in a delightful and surprising way. In addition, the dry, relentless humour was given the perfect platform to shine, something that wasn’t fully appreciated in the first title. These and a few other elements helped make Portal 2 not only one of the best puzzle games of the last generation, but also one of the best video games of all time.
2. Frontiers 2
When Borderlands came out in 2009, it introduced an entire generation of first-person shooter gamers to the concept of loot treks, dungeon crawls, and raids without them really realizing it. It also spawned a small subgenre of video games called Marauder Shooters. Borderlands 2 took almost every aspect to a whole new level and became one of the most popular and enduring games of the last generation, with many armor and weapon options still available today. With its characters, storylines, game mechanics, environments, and humor, Borderlands 2 is one of my favorite games, and I can’t imagine a day when it won’t be. (It also helps to have one of the best video game villains of all time).
1. Mass Effect 2
BioWare released the first Mass Effect, largely thanks to positive feedback and reviews, but it wasn’t really a game that pushed too many boundaries and played it safe in many ways. The combat system was also a bit repetitive and underdeveloped, leading to a similar experience for most RPG fans. Enter Mass Effect 2, BioWare’s unbridled vision of character-driven storytelling and team building like no other form of media to date. Mass Effect 2 quickly set a new standard for what was possible in a narrative video game. It lets you sympathize deeply with each of the diverse and unique characters you add to your team, culminating in one of the best final missions in the game world. Mass Effect 2 is a game that fans of masterful storytelling should not miss.
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