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Default Gamasutra - Can A Good Game Be A Bad Sequel?

September 16th, 2011, 07:11
Gamasutra has an "analysis" titled Can A Good Game Be A Bad Sequel? Dragon Age 2 is one of the titles considered, hence our interest. Personally, they missed the mark on the issue but here's a snip after looking at several reviews that suggested DA2 wasn't "epic":
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.
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September 16th, 2011, 07:11
Personally, I think the biggest problem with DA 2 was just that it was rushed. (At least for the PC version), I think the criticism of the battle system and approach were generally off base. However, the re-utilization of assets, the clunky storyline, the lack of alternative towns.. (not to mention the fact that the only town available wasn't exactly fantastic), the lack of interesting roleplaying choices, the lack of equipment options for allies, etc. - all HUGE problems. This game needed another year in development. It was just.. small.. in countless ways.

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September 16th, 2011, 07:32
This site is pretty epic.
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September 16th, 2011, 07:52
This is something I have had like a hundred debates about on forums. People expect sequels to be the same exact thing and then no matter how good the game is if it is different it feels like a disappointment. You have to take each game as its own thing and judge it separately, otherwise you're just setting yourself up for anger.

That said a lot of the most disappointing sequels of all time, such as Dragon Age 2 or Invisible War, are flawed games in their own right. Even if DA2 was called something else the repeated content, MMO style sidequests and lack of any real choices would still be annoying and obvious. Even if Invisible War was called something else the small areas, technical issues and unbalanced upgrades would still be frustrating.
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September 16th, 2011, 08:58
grrr, I dislike the implication that, because a few fools didn't get what Bioware were trying to do, storywise, that the sum total of the complaints about DA2 were its "un-epicness". The story was one of DA2's main redeeming features. After the political sweep of DA1 it was a bit of a letdown around chapter 2, but chapter 3 is pretty solid. This could scarcely relieve its flaws, however — boring fights, an inexplicably even-more-frustrating party control scheme, mediocre environments, railroaded gameplay, simplistic combo system, and general lack of interactivity. I think the story still stands out, but the main complaint for most people I hope is that Bioware has almost given up on gameplay refining and focused entirely upon (slightly corny) movie-quality cut scenes. They are Squaresoft in 2000…

Anyway, no surprise, Gamasutra is as softball as they come wrt to this stuff. At least they tried to tackle something controversial for once. There's no doubt that DA2 with another title would be seen as a promising new entry to the field. Not good, gameplaywise, but promising.
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September 16th, 2011, 08:59
I'm sure it can be, but Dragon Age 2 wasn't a good game. It was a middling game.
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September 16th, 2011, 09:55
I find Witcher 2 story uninteresting , i love gameplay but 1st game was far less epic and i wanted something on the same tone , i haven't play DA2.
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September 16th, 2011, 11:00
The term "epic" has become "marketing-speak" - and I fear it wioll be it so much that it becomes "worn own" as a word.

It's like silver spoons becoming tarnished by the years.
Or clothes that become worn-out.

I truly fear that the overly use of this word by marketing people will actually result in a heavy degeneration of that word. One day a chewing gum might be called "epic" just because of its good taste as well.

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September 16th, 2011, 11:16
If anyone is still interested in this game there's another dlc coming out.

We are very pleased to announce the next Dragon Age II story based DLC, Mark of the Assassin!

Hawke
meets a mysterious female Elvin assassin named Tallis, voiced by the talented Felicia Day, and joins her to steal an ancient relic from an Orlesian Baron in his well-guarded estate. A cross between Varric and Isabela, Tallis is a rogue who introduces a new fighting style to add more variety in combat. Get up close and personal with her deadly skills or stand back and pick off enemies with her ranged combat abilities.

Mark of the Assassin features new items, new enemies and monsters and new environments as well as giving players the opportunity to experience a new, tactical way to play with the return of Stealth gameplay. Plus, along with the new environments and monsters, you will learn more about the Orlesians and Qunari.

Mark of the Assassin will be available for download on the PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on October 11 for $9.99 or 800 Microsoft points.
Enjoy or not its up to you.

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September 16th, 2011, 14:14
still trying to make this game 'good' one way or another…
this game is a BAD game and therefore a BAD sequel , whatever aspect of the game you take into consideration ( visuals, story, dialogs, gameplay, … ). Period.
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September 16th, 2011, 14:21
I'm surprised it took three posts before someone mentioned Invisible War…
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September 16th, 2011, 15:19
DA2 sucks both as a sequel and even more as a standalone and not because it lacks "epicness", but simply because it fails at what it´s trying to be story/narrative-wise, is rushed and features some of the worst design decisions that graced the genre in the last 4 years or so.
Also, funny how the author omits metacritic user scores so as he could put "Dragon Age 2 was still well reviewed" in there, even though throughout the article he mentions critics and fans side by side otherwise.

As for whether a good game can be a bad sequel, certainly.
For example, a game which improves upon all of its predecessor´s gameplay mechanics on one side and retcons its plot, lore or characters on the other.
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September 16th, 2011, 15:21
"adjective /ˈepik/ 

"Of, relating to, or characteristic of an epic or epics
- England's national epic poem Beowulf

"Heroic or grand in scale or character
- his epic journey around the world
- a tragedy of epic proportions"

"noun /ˈepik/ 
epics, plural

"A long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation

"The genre of such poems
- the romances display gentler emotions not found in Greek epic

"A long film, book, or other work portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time
- a Hollywood biblical epic"
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September 16th, 2011, 16:44
As a standalone game, DA2 is just plain bad. Compared to DA:O however you can safely say it's epic… failure.

As for the subject, for me Gothic III is a good game (especially with the community patches), and it's certainly epic considering the sheer size and detail of the landspaces and the amount of content. But the first two Gothics easily win…
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September 16th, 2011, 19:54
Originally Posted by DoctorNarrative View Post
This is something I have had like a hundred debates about on forums. People expect sequels to be the same exact thing and then no matter how good the game is if it is different it feels like a disappointment. You have to take each game as its own thing and judge it separately, otherwise you're just setting yourself up for anger.
Not the exact same thing, but relatively similar and hopefully with some improvements. If a company is making a sequel they are essentially using the reputation of the prior game(s) before it to attract those who liked that game as well as hopefully luring in some new fans.

It's all a very delicate balancing act. If a game is too similar, people complain about that too and feel cheated for spending money on what is essentially the same thing.

I really do feel like a successful sequel should be relatively similar to the prior game, but with technical improvements and new features that ideally feel like organic extensions of how the past game(s) worked.

Tone is important too. Part of the problem with Dragon Age 2 as a sequel isn't just the differing mechanics, it's the tone. It's completely different, all of it. The art style is radically different, the story telling is different, it's got anachronistic inside joke references and the whole game exudes this sort of sassy, snarky, swaggery trying to be cool attitude that is absolutely nothing the first game. It's basically is if LoTR had a sequel that was some cartoon shown on Adult Swim.

That said a lot of the most disappointing sequels of all time, such as Dragon Age 2 or Invisible War, are flawed games in their own right. Even if DA2 was called something else the repeated content, MMO style sidequests and lack of any real choices would still be annoying and obvious. Even if Invisible War was called something else the small areas, technical issues and unbalanced upgrades would still be frustrating.
The flaws would still be there but it would have been viewed as a mediocre game that fell short of its potential, but it wouldn't have all the rage that this game has generated.

The thing is, a lot of people pre-ordered it based on DA:O so when you say people shouldn't expect a sequel to be similar, well when the publisher is asking people to pre-order something sight unseen based solely on the reputation of the prior game, then yeah, it should be somewhat similar.
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September 17th, 2011, 06:05
Originally Posted by Motoki View Post
The thing is, a lot of people pre-ordered it based on DA:O so when you say people shouldn't expect a sequel to be similar, well when the publisher is asking people to pre-order something sight unseen based solely on the reputation of the prior game, then yeah, it should be somewhat similar.
Buying games expecting them to be just like the previous release is plain old dumb though. I don't think disappointment in that scenario can be blamed on anyone but the purchaser.
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September 17th, 2011, 07:40
Originally Posted by DoctorNarrative View Post
Buying games expecting them to be just like the previous release is plain old dumb though. I don't think disappointment in that scenario can be blamed on anyone but the purchaser.
well I guess you can call me plain old dumb then. I'm one of the people that purchased it based solely on dao. I purposely avoided info on it because I didn't want to hear spoilers and their were plenty of loose end to tie up from dao. I heard that their were changes and fully expected changes. What I didn't expect was a totally different game. I assumed something more like me1 to me2. definite changes but it continues the story and stays pretty much the same game.

da2 was a totally different game. different story, characters, gameplay, combat, crafting, linearity, hero, stealth mechanics and so on and so forth. They could have named it anything and said it took place in da universe and no one would have thought it was a sequel. with the way reviewers give out spoilers and tell which companions will return I don't know how I could have possibly been expected to think the game would be that different without spoiling the game for me.( of course it wouldn't have ruined anything for me because it wasn't really a sequel but how could I have known.)

I can't think of any other sequel released so soon after the original that was so different. I don't see how us dumb purchasers could be out of line to think a sequel would be similar to the original as they typical are.
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September 17th, 2011, 07:55
Originally Posted by DoctorNarrative View Post
Buying games expecting them to be just like the previous release is plain old dumb though. I don't think disappointment in that scenario can be blamed on anyone but the purchaser.
I think this could just as easily be turned around though: "Buying games and not expecting them to be similar to the previous release is plain old dumb." When a game is labeled as a sequel, it is expected to be a continuation of the game(s) that came before it in the franchise, not a drastically new game with little resemblance to the original. This an over-the-top example, but what if Mass Effect 2 was an RTS instead of a 3rd-person shooter/RPG hybrid like ME1; doesn't it make more sense that ME2 was instead a continuation of the mechanics established in the first game? I think it's completely justified for people to have expected DA2 to more closely follow with the design of DA:O than being the drastically different game that it was.
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September 17th, 2011, 08:09
Originally Posted by DoctorNarrative View Post
Buying games expecting them to be just like the previous release is plain old dumb though. I don't think disappointment in that scenario can be blamed on anyone but the purchaser.
The exact terms I used were "relatively similar" and "somewhat similar" note that there is a distinction between this and "just like" which I did not say.

By choosing to do a sequel a publisher is using an existing fan base to sell their new game. No one wants to pay to have the same exact experience rehashed, but if you stray too far from the formula you will alienate the existing fan base.

A spin-off series or side story can be done in the same universe that sets far less expectations, but I stand by my statement that a direct sequel will always carry expectations of being somewhat similar to what came before it. These expectations are not the fault of the fans and they are not stupid for having them. The expectations are implicitly set by the publisher who is using them to sell their games.

Nothing you or Bioware can say will change my feelings on that.
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September 18th, 2011, 03:44
Originally Posted by Motoki View Post
By choosing to do a sequel a publisher is using an existing fan base to sell their new game. No one wants to pay to have the same exact experience rehashed, but if you stray too far from the formula you will alienate the existing fan base.

A spin-off series or side story can be done in the same universe that sets far less expectations, but I stand by my statement that a direct sequel will always carry expectations of being somewhat similar to what came before it. These expectations are not the fault of the fans and they are not stupid for having them. The expectations are implicitly set by the publisher who is using them to sell their games.
This.

Please excuse the following wall of text - felt like writing my own op-ed on this

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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