Sometimes, even a lot of times the endless sequels of popular videogames can leave me a bit melancholy. When Assassin’s Creed iterations are released with regularity, the end result can look like a paint-by-numbers game. But, making a sequel to a popular franchise can be really intimidating. I have always said one of the reasons we will never see Half Life 3 (besides Dota 2) is that it is a no win situation. If HL3 is pretty good, but not the masterpiece every gamer thinks it should be, the reception will be ragged. If HL3 is actually mediocre or bad (crosses himself), the reaction will apocalyptic. Like my mild reaction to XCOM 2, sequels, even good ones, can be very hit or miss.
There were two sequels this year that I thought changed and tweaked just enough to be really great. Most of the advancements were modifications and refinements to an already successful formula. At their core, both games stayed true to their predecessors, but were still fresh and exciting.
Forza Horizon 3
I really did not see this coming. I enjoyed the original Horizon enough, but hardly played the second. My impression was that the franchise retained too much of the simulation and it didn’t blend the arcade, open-world aspects enough. Racing simulations are awesome, but Horizon felt like it was more simulation-lite rather than an arcade racer.
In Forza Horizon 3, Turn 10 got the mixture just right, and it resulted in a racing masterpiece. I never thought I’d get the same exhilaration Burnout Paradise once lavished upon me. This new Forza Horizon seizes that mantle with panache with crucial dash of simulation for a truly unique feel. Where the original games felt stodgy and rigid, Forza Horizon 3 is light and airy while still retaining a fun connection to real world driving. It is a celebration of the pure fun of videogames.
While Forza Horizon was a big surprise, the advent of another great Civilization game is like the coming and going of the tides. The new game is great, and probably the best vanilla, pre-expansion version of the game released since Civilization 2. Though most of the formula is retained from the previous game, I find it commendable that Firaxis will try new game altering changes in every installment. Civilization 6 takes the single unit per hex idea from the previous version and expands upon it in an intuitive direction. The worker unit is revamped. They cost a lot less to create but there are only a few uses before they have to be built again. Each uses (building a farm, mine, etc) is instantaneous which is a welcome addition.
Probably the most radical change is in how cities work. Cities now can build districts in order to unlock the improvements that we all know and love. In order to construct the barracks, you’ll have to build a military district which takes up a whole tile that can no longer produce resources like food. It feels like a slight change that has significant ramifications. The land around your city is so much more important, and knowing what districts to build in which cities make the case for specialization in a more convincing way than any previous Civilization game.
Civilization 6 is great example of a game that makes useful and remarkable alterations in every installment.