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What Even Is A Video Game Sequel Anymore?

Illustration for article titled What Even Is A Video Game Sequel Anymore?
Image: Blizzard / Kotaku

Change is inevitable. It happens every day, bit by bit, to everything in existence—except, for a time, video games. It used to be that games came out, they were more or less static objects, and then, years later, they might get a sequel featuring an additional gun and all of that year’s football players. Now that’s changing with games like Destiny, Warframe, Fortnite, and Overwatch. On this week’s episode of Splitscreen, we imagine a future where video games never get sequels. We also imagine another future where the only video game in existence is Pong.

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We begin the episode by discussing sequels everybody hated (but we loved) and vice versa. Assassin’s Creed III? It’s bad! BioShock 2? It’s the only good BioShock, don’t @ me. And somehow, wildly, Ash concludes that Dragon Age: Inquisition is the only worthwhile Dragon Age, even though it shares a series with Dragon Age 2 (the best one) and Dragon Age: Origins (the one that started it all). Take it up with her. She is my dear friend, but I do not endorse her opinions.

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After that, we move on to a segment in which we imagine sequels for games that never got them, which Fahey uses as a canvas for his immaculate word painting of a world in which Pong was the only game ever to exist, and an entire industry formed around making sequels to Pong. Finally, we talk about how, in the age of live games, “sequel” is becoming an increasingly arbitrary designation. Is Fortnite its own sequel at this point? Probably, yeah. But does it even matter? Or are sequels as we know them increasingly becoming a thing of the past?

Get the MP3 here, and check out an excerpt below.


Nathan: I think for a long time, it was pretty easy to point to what a sequel was. It had a “2" next to it, and either it was a slight reinvention of a preexisting game, or it was a total overhaul. But whatever the case, it was like “That’s a sequel,” “That’s an original game.” It was a fairly binary state. But now a lot of games never stop running. They just keep adding content until eventually, they are unrecognizable compared to the original game. You see that with Destiny 2 right now, but that’s also Warframe. It’ll also be Overwatch when Overwatch 2 comes out. They’re sort of doing this weird midpoint between these ideas where Blizzard is going to release a separate game, but when it does, it’s going to roll the games together. So Overwatch 1 and 2 will become the same game, but Blizzard is also releasing Overwatch 2—which is, I guess, bold.

Ash: I think it works like an MMO subscription, kinda sorta. You can pay for the expansion, which is Overwatch 2. But if you don’t, you can still play with people on certain maps and modes that are shared between the two games, I think? I think characters from Overwatch 2 will also be playable in Overwatch 1? Not sure. We haven’t really heard anything about it since BlizzCon last year.

Nathan: I think it’s interesting to watch sequels evolve in that way, because you get some really cool stuff. One of my favorite games that I’ve begun to experience this year is Warframe, and— Fahey, do not shake your head. Warframe is an amazing game.

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Fahey: I’m so sorry.

Nathan: Warframe is the greatest game. But one of the things that’s really interesting about it is that a lot of the early game content is from when the game was first being made, so it feels dated. But then you get into later-game content, and it’s like a totally different game. It’s much more cinematic, and it has all these wild out-of-left-field ideas. It has this really interesting plot that subverts a lot of expectations. You get the character creator 80 hours in. It’s bonkers.

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But you have this juxtaposition within that game of the early content feeling like it’s from a different, much older game. People now want it to be updated and renovated, but that takes work on the part of the developer, and a lot of the player base is already past a lot of that content, so the developer doesn’t have a necessarily good reason to change that part. So I think it’s really cool to watch a game evolve into its own sequel, because it’s so wild how far games can go, but it also becomes a question of what’s left over and what’s left behind. How does that impact the overall experience for new players who have to go through that older stuff?

Ash: I want to define terms. Is Fortnite a sequel? Kind of like how we’ve classified Pop Tarts as a ravioli. Is Fortnite, as it is now, a sequel?

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Nathan: I would say yes. I mean, Epic deliberately marked it almost as one when it did Fortnite: Chapter Two or whatever. I think that was Epic saying, “We’re overhauling everything, we’re changing the map, we’re doing this major event to basically declare our own sequel.”

Fahey: Oddly enough, I logged into Fortnite yesterday to check it out on the Xbox Series X, and it loaded up with Marvel characters. I’m not a Fortnite fan, but I have no idea what this game is now. It’s definitely changed. Since the last time I tried to play it, it’s vastly different. So I would say it’s technically a sequel of itself.

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Nathan: That’s the weird thing, right? As these lines get blurrier, we define a game as a sequel when it has sufficiently changed according to our own arbitrary metrics, or we wait until the developer says “This is Chapter Two,” or “This is Overwatch 2,” or “This is Path of Exile 2,” or whatever. There are all these games now that are saying, “Yeah, we’ve updated a lot. I guess we’re in sequel territory now.”

Fahey: It’s a lot like what’s been happening for decades now with MMOs. World of Warcraft has run for 14 years. There’s no World of Warcraft 2, but they recently revamped the starting experience for the second time, so now it feels like a whole new game. It’s something different that new players will experience and have no idea of what happened before.

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Nathan: That’s Destiny 2's issue as well. Bungie recently changed the starting experience to be centered around the new planet Europa. It can be very confusing. I just started playing Destiny, and I think this is something Ash can identify with, but it’s like “Who are all these people? What is going on?”

Ash: I’m waiting for somebody to explain to me what the hell a season is. Why did I spend an extra $10 on this game for a season? Please, help me.

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Nathan: So that’s not even part of the Destiny narrative. That’s an entirely different discussion. Valid question, though! But there are all these callbacks to events that have occurred in Destiny 2 and Destiny 1, so while I appreciate how fun these new areas are to play, the game doesn’t seem that interested in telling me what the stakes are for somebody who wasn’t part of all these other things that happened previously. I think that’s another issue with games evolving into their own sequels: They have to eventually change the starting experience, because otherwise you’re looking at, like, a one million-hour playthrough to get anywhere in the story. But then what do you do for people who haven’t been around for a while?


For all that and much more, check out the episode. New episodes drop every Friday, and don’t forget to like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. Also if you feel so inclined, leave a review, and you can always drop us a line at splitscreen@kotaku.com if you have questions or suggest a topic. If you want to yell at us directly, you can reach us on Twitter: Ash is @adashtra, Fahey is @UncleFahey, and Nathan is @Vahn16. See you next week!

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Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.

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DISCUSSION

cmallen
C.M. Allen

In the ‘games as a service’ model, there are no sequels, just the continuing monetization of the product.