Second time’s a charm
Doesn’t matter which medium you’re working with, sequels can be pretty bad. From low-budget cash-grabs to a follow-up that ruins the original work entirely, there are plenty of ways that they can disappoint. Video games have certainly had their fair share of duds, but there have also been plenty of sequels that were so good, they’ve gone on to become more famous than their predecessors.
All through this list, these games were groundbreaking for their genre, and provided something players had never seen before. With the sequel, the developers took the opportunity to improve upon the foundation they had already built, refining and honing the pre-existing mechanics of the original game to make for an even better experience than before. We wish this is how things could always be, but hey, at least they got these ones right, huh?
Just a note: we’re only dealing with direct sequels here, so we’ll have to leave titles like Fallout: New Vegas and GTA V for another day. Now, let’s check out the list of the ten best video game sequels that were even better than the originals.
10. The Sims 2
Starting a trend that you will recognize throughout this list, The Sims is one of the most iconic video game series of all time, due to its accessibility and addictive, sometimes hilarious gameplay. Released six years after the original game, The Sims 2 was quite a step up. It was one of those windows of time where technology improved a lot between the games, so the sequel allowed players to get a 360-degree look at their home, rather than the isometric views of the first game.
Other new features added even more to the sequel’s polish and appeal, like more detailed character meshes that allowed for higher quality textures and improved animations, as well as more life stages and the aspiration system. The foundation was certainly there with the original game, but The Sims 2 refined that foundation so much that it propelled the game to a household name status, leading it to critical and commercial success. By 2012 it had sold 13 million copies, making it one of the best-selling PC games of all time.
9. Far Cry 2
[Image Credit: Reddit user critical2210]
Far Cry has been one of Ubisoft’s flagship series since 2004, and while the first game was widely praised for its gameplay, visuals, and the freedom of its open world, it bears hardly any resemblance to its sequel. To start, the settings are completely different, with the first game taking place on a tropical archipelago, and the second set against the landscapes of Central Africa.
Far Cry 2 also featured an all-new cast, and a new style of gameplay that allowed the player even more freedom as they scraped and scavenged to survive. While the first game had a few different routes to one area, for example, the sequel is an entirely open sandbox environment, so the player can do whatever they want, however they want.
One of the most famous aspects of Far Cry 2 is its unforgiving difficulty — it kind of just throws you out into the virtual wilderness, where there are various roaming factions and wild animals, and has you fend for yourself. If you’re up for the challenge, it’s one of the most blood-pumping gaming experiences you can ask for! The first Far Cry may have gotten the ball rolling, but it wasn’t until players got a taste of the unflinchingly intense gameplay of the second game that the series really rose to prominence.
8. Borderlands 2
From the start, Borderlands was an awesome idea. A Doom-style loot shooter with the RPG and randomized item mechanics of Diablo? No wonder this game was a hit. It was such a runaway success, in fact, that Gearbox had a much bigger budget for the sequel, and they amped it up for Borderlands 2. While the sequel sported the usual upgrades and quality-of-life improvements to graphics and gameplay, what makes Borderlands 2 stand out far and above its predecessor is its story, particularly its introduction of Handsome Jack.
If you don’t know who Handsome Jack is, I honestly feel sorry for you. He’s fun, menacing, and has a surprising amount of depth. He fits perfectly into that wild, goofy, and slightly grotesque thing that Borderlands is all about. The writing of his character is absolutely stellar, but what makes Jack really shine is Dameon Clarke’s vocal performance.
It’s one of those iconic video game performances that’s up there with Stephen Merchant as Wheatley or Troy Baker as Joel. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of Borderlands 2 is pretty great, but I have reason to believe that Handsome Jack is the main reason why the sequel overshadows its predecessor.
7. Halo 2
I know I’m about to go on a whole rant about why Halo 2 is even better than the first one, but before I do, I think it’s important to emphasize the significance of the original Halo. Not only was it just an extremely popular game, but it is accredited with modernizing and popularizing the FPS genre. It also began the whole trend of FPS console games, and even if more and more people are playing Call of Duty or Destiny on PC, the genre’s history will always be intertwined with consoles, and we have Halo to thank for that.
What the first Halo achieved was not a small feat, and yet somehow Halo 2 still managed to outshine it. See, Halo 2 introduced Xbox Live online multiplayer to the series, and the world lost its collective mind. The game was everywhere, becoming a ubiquitous cultural touchstone. I cannot stress enough how successful this game was, both critically and commercially.
Halo 2 was certainly not the first game with online multiplayer (that honor goes to Flight Simulator 2 all the way back in 1986, which is, ironically, another sequel), but it was a watershed moment for both online multiplayer and the FPS genre as a whole. Halo 2 was so popular, games being made today are still trying to replicate the lightning in a bottle that this game had. Matchmaking, lobbies, and clans? Yup, Halo 2 had it all. It’s easily considered one of the best games of all time, which has a lot to do with the influence it continues to have on the gaming industry.
6. Half-Life 2
Get used to seeing Valve on this list, because those guys were not only pioneers, but they also just had a habit of really getting it right the second time. Half-Life 2 is another game on this list that’s considered to be one of the best of all time, not only for the game itself but for its legacy. Half-Life 2 already had the insanely detailed and impressive level of polish we come to expect from Valve, and it redefined single-player FPS campaigns in the same way that Halo 2 revolutionized FPS online multiplayer.
Half-Life 2 introduced physics-based puzzle mechanics (it’s easy to see the beginnings of the Portal series here), an exciting virtual world, and characters that the player could really connect with. What stuck with players, though, was the game’s details. Half-Life 2‘s world felt so real, with one area flowing into the next, only rarely broken up by a loading screen.
It was not only an interesting, fantastical setting, but one that felt grounded and lived in, to a certain extent. The characters were engaging, too, not only because of how they were written, but because of how they were animated. The game’s narrative was consistent and rich, with themes carrying throughout and building to a really satisfying end product.
Mechanically, Half-Life 2 set a new standard, but it was even more so when it came to creating a truly immersive interactive experience. It showed us what single-player campaigns could be, and Valve reinvented another genre, yet again.
5. Uncharted 2
[Image Credit: ArtStation user tate mosesian]
Naughty Dog’s first Uncharted game was not only a departure from their usual cartoony, platforming fare in the mid-2000s, but it was also one of the first games in the cinematic adventure genre. Now it feels like it’s almost taken over the industry entirely, but back in the day Uncharted was one of the first single-player games to give us the feeling of being our very own movie protagonist.
From the start, Naughty Dog’s use of performance capture on the series gave us compelling, realistic performances from the voice actors like we had never seen in a game before. Of course the original is great, and has a lot of charm, but it took Naughty Dog the second time around to nail it.
Adding in some fun new side characters, refining the gameplay slightly, and getting rid of jet ski sequence definitely helped, but it’s really the set pieces that set Uncharted 2 far and above the rest. I mean, who would forget that opening where you climbed up the crashed train, or climbing your way through the mountains with Tenzin? You can tell they found their groove, and finally figured out what Uncharted could be, and that’s why Uncharted 2 is more famous than the original.
4. Team Fortress 2
Are you a fan of Overwatch? Apex Legends? Valorant? Yeah, you have TF2 to thank for that. More than any other game on this list, I’d say that Team Fortress 2 is one of those games that’s more famous than the original. The first Team Fortress was actually a mod of Quake, similar to how the first game in another one of Valve’s series, Dota, was a mod for Warcraft III.
While the first Team Fortress introduced the role-based shooter gameplay, it wasn’t until its next iteration that it would give us the bright colors and memorable characters that we remember it for. TF2 was officially developed and released by Valve, which was definitely part of why it has that polish I keep talking about.
Plus, it’s incredibly impressive that with the marketing of the game, as well as flavor sprinkled throughout TF2 itself, that Valve was able to impress on us the best storytelling anyone has seen in a multiplayer-only game. Seriously, go watch the character introduction videos and short films on YouTube and tell me they’re not some of the best things to come out of a video game. If you still disagree with me, well, you’re just wrong.
Like Halo 2, Team Fortress 2‘s legacy still has an influence on games that are made today, so we owe a lot to this blockbuster hit that had humble beginnings as a community mod.
3. Diablo II
The Diablo series has a long and storied history, but when you think of Blizzard’s gothic horror dungeon delver, you think Diablo II. The sequel’s improvements over the first game are more understated than other titles on this list, as it closely resembles the original in its look and feel. It’s more one of those cases where it made smaller tweaks to improve upon what made the first game great, by changing elements of the gameplay and, most notably, expanding on the story content a lot more.
These changes seemed to be exactly what players were looking for, because Diablo II became a best-seller, and its creative iterations on RPGs, dungeon crawlers, and randomized loot cemented its place as another one of the most beloved games of all time.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the difference, and it’s pretty cool that Blizzard has the expert ability to identify what those things might be, and including them to make the best version of their games possible.
2. Mass Effect 2
I have a weird relationship with the Mass Effect series. I never played it until a few months ago, when a friend and I decided it would make for a good quarantine activity to do together. We started with the first game, but its janky controls made it so unplayable we decided it would be better to just skip to the second one, and I’m so glad we did.
I can tell you firsthand that the controls are a vast improvement over the first game. On top of the sequel’s playability going way up, the graphics are better, as well as the writing and characters. Don’t get me wrong, the world and cast of the original Mass Effect are pretty stellar, but it took BioWare an extra game for the characters to come into their own.
Like many other games on this list, Mass Effect set a new standard for its genre with its sequel, particularly the choice-based narrative aspect. It was one of the first large-scale cinematic game series that really made players feel like their choices mattered, and while the series was already excellent from the start, it took another game for it to come into its own. It’s like the developers at BioWare finally got a hold of what this type of game could do, and the story and characters were the best iteration of that.
I’ll be giving the whole series a fresh go when the remaster drops, and I’m excited to see how the series will shine with a bit of spit polish. The Mass Effect series, but particularly the second game, were ahead of their time, so it will be nice to see them really come into their own, so I can play them as close to what BioWare intended as possible.
1. Portal 2
Okay, so maybe I just wrote about how much I love Portal 2, so it’s fresh in my mind. But man, this game is really, really incredible. The first entry in the series is already so strong, introducing us to iconic characters and addicting yet challenging puzzles. It didn’t seem like it could get any better, but Valve gave us the game we didn’t know we were missing. In terms of the gameplay, they somehow managed to successfully add a half dozen new gameplay mechanics, like the excursion funnels or the three different kinds of gels.
As far as the story goes, it doesn’t seem like it could get any better than the original Portal. Somehow those wizards over at Valve managed to create one of the best video game stories of all time, with only one speaking character who also happened to be a robot. The bar was already so high, and yet Valve managed to top themselves yet again — the introduction of Wheatley was brilliant, and super new and exciting without taking away from the vibe of the first game.
Portal 2 is like a finely tuned machine — every part of it is vital to the overall experience, and any one change would make it feel less complete, even if you couldn’t put your finger on why. In my opinion, it’s the best game sequel of all time, because it took an already perfect game and made it even more perfect.
Well, that’s my list of the best game sequels. What do you think, did I miss any of your favorites? Let’s chat in the comments below!