It doesn’t always turn out for the best when a developer tries to bring in new mechanics to an established franchise. Sequels live or die on the power of brand recognition, and on the money put down by fans of the games that came before them, so it’s important to keep a careful balance between bringing in new features, and keeping your product instantly recognisable.
It can go horribly wrong, though, and these crippling missteps mostly take the form of either changing too much, and forgetting what made the original great – Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts – or simplifying the gameplay so far that the audience simply loses interest – Deus Ex: Invisible War.
Both of these games came from well loved originals and both of them were very poorly received by audiences. The issue with the first form, changing too much, is that in many cases this manifests in removing a lot of the features that fans of the originals loved, and I think Banjo-Kazooie is a perfect example of this.
Nuts & Bolts may well have been better off as a new IP, because drawing a comparison between the sublime platform action of the first two games and this physics-based free-form building of vehicles was just a flat out bad idea. With Deus Ex: Invisible War the developers just flat out stripped off a lot of the features that made fans love the original, and I don’t think I have to explain why that’s a terrible idea.
So how do you “do it right” when it comes to sequels? You walk the line. You sit on the fence. You expand on existing ideas more than you squeeze in new ones. You do what StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm does.
In Heart of the Swarm you play as Sarah Kerrigan, the former Queen of Blades, throughout the campaign, using her as a hero unit. This is something that only existed in certain parts of the original Starcraft 2 campaign. During missions Kerrigan can level up as she fights enemies and completes objectives, making her more powerful, and between missions she can be assigned skills to aid in the coming battles.
Basically with the campaign of Heart of the Swarm the original campaign’s RPG elements are expanded to a single persistent character (while keeping the usual unit upgrades), and it works beautifully. As the game progresses Kerrigan becomes more and more powerful, and it feeds into the story too as she gains in power. The ability to personalise Kerrigan also brings the player closer to the character, and makes them much more able to identify with her as the vessel through which they experience the game world.
It expands on the original formula perfectly.
You’re also given the opportunity to mutate your forces in a more permanent sense, essentially making your Zerg force capable of being utterly different from the force of your friends, and this just feeds further into the realms of personalisation. Your Kerrigan, and your Zerg, are both customised by you to fit your style of play.
It expands on the original formula perfectly, and doesn’t go any further into changing or adding mechanics than it has to. The charm that dragged people into the Starcraft universe is preserved, but made all the richer. The theme continues into the multiplayer with newly added units for each faction simply giving players more options.
Imagine how much better Deus Ex: Invisible War would be if it had all the same nuances as Deus Ex, but with improved gameplay and customisation (say a bit of weapon personalisation?), or a free-roaming element. Perhaps Nuts & Bolts could’ve gone on to commercial success if it had been a new IP trying to make its own way instead of having been the killing blow for the Banjo-Kazooie franchise.
I’ve always believed that making a strong sequel is as simple as just adding depth to the gameplay of the original, and I’m feeling like Heart of the Swarm is doing a great job of proving me right.