6 MORE Video Game Franchises that Devolved Over Time
Welcome back, everyone!
In our previous article, we asked you, our dear readers, to suggest other video game franchises that you felt had devolved or went downhill over time. The response was fantastic, and we were inundated with excellent suggestions. So many suggestions, in fact, that we have created a follow-up article. And here it is!
The following franchises are some of the most popular suggestions–based upon the feedback from the Exclusively Games website, and the various Facebook groups, subreddits and forums the article has been shared around.
Full disclosure–not all of the franchises suggested will appear in this article, for two reasons. Firstly, there were so many suggestions that they wouldn’t all fit without the article becoming waaay tooooo loooong. Secondly, I have a policy of only writing about games and franchises that I have some personal experience with.
Why? Because otherwise I would simply be re-stating what other people on the internet have said already, and you, dear reader, deserve better than that.
The remainder will likely be covered at a future date, either by myself, once I have had some hands-on experience with those franchises, or possibly by one or more of Exclusively Games’ other talented writers. We will of course keep you all posted.
NB – most of the opinions stated in this article are not mine. I’m just the messenger, so don’t shoot me if you disagree with them.
With that out of the way, here are Six MORE video game franchises that devolved over time –suggested by your good selves.
#6–The Mass Effect Series
Bioware’s epic third-person RPG saga started off strong with 2007’s Mass Effect. The graphics, soundscape, music, lore-craft, and characterization were all highly praised by gamers and critics alike. There were a few slight criticisms of course, specifically the unsightly texture pop-in at the start of levels, the tedious and unskippable elevator rides, and a combat system that was less than ideal.
Despite these minor flaws, it was widely regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi RPGs around. Mass Effect allowed for semi-open world exploration of many of its planets, usually facilitated by driving (and jumping) around in the Mako, a wheeled all-terrain Armored Fighting Vehicle. This was generally well received, especially when combat was involved, be it against Geth Armatures or Thresher Maws. However, some felt the Mako’s handling characteristics were a little ‘floaty,’ and that many of the explorable planets were formulaic and repetitive.
Does the Mako remind anyone else of the ‘80s classic ‘Big Trak’ toy?
Mass Effect 2
2010 saw Mass Effect 2 hit the shelves. Critical reception was positive, with most commentators asserting that it was a superior game to its predecessor. Improvements noted included the absence of Mass Effect’s unsightly texture pop-in, and that the combat system had been greatly improved. There were, however, a number of criticisms leveled at it. The semi-open world exploration in the Mako had been removed completely, only to be replaced by the much-criticized ‘scanning’ mini-game. RPG elements were simplified, as were weapon upgrades, which now affected the whole squad. Some saw this as welcome streamlining, whilst detractors felt it had been dumbed down to make it more ‘console-friendly’.
Some criticized its story, stating that beyond completing missions to recruit your team, there was little story progression until the final suicide mission. NB–the lack of semi-open world Mako exploration was solved (somewhat) by the introduction of the Hammerhead vehicle in the highly praised Overlord DLC. Unfortunately, neither the Hammerhead or the semi-open world exploration would appear outside of the Overlord missions.
Some players felt the story was less impactful than the original, as the stakes were lower. The game’s main antagonists–the humanoid Collectors, servants of the Reapers, were described as a less interesting and less threatening opponent than their Reaper masters, one of which–Sovereign–had already been defeated in Mass Effect 1.
Mass Effect 3
From a gameplay perspective, 2012’s Mass Effect 3 was arguably the high point of the trilogy. Combat and movement had been refined to a level that rivaled dedicated third-person cover shooters such as Gears of War. Visually, it was the most advanced game in the series, and some would argue that its RPG elements and weapon customization had struck the complexity ‘sweet spot’ between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. Unfortunately, it suffered from a number of immersion-wrecking glitches and bugs. Sadly, these glitches were particularly noticeable during cut-scenes–the sections of the game which are supposed to be the most emotive and immersive.
The quality of the writing and dialogue for much of the game was superb, as was the voice acting. These were artfully combined, and playing through Mass Effect 3 was an emotional roller coaster, which created genuine feelings of both anguish and joy.
Until THAT ending.
To say the ending of Mass Effect 3 was a controversial disappointment is an understatement. It was only partially corrected via the Extended Cut expansion which fleshed out the endings, but many fans still felt cheated and let down. Ending such an iconic franchise on such a low point left many gamers feeling bitterly disappointed.
Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Considering the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle, 2015 ‘s reveal of Mass Effect: Andromeda was met with both excitement and trepidation. Many players were excited to dive back into the world of Mass Effect, but were worried that they may be let down once again. As it transpired, their concerns were well grounded.
Soon after it hit the shelves in 2017, Mass Effect: Andromeda was subject to a torrent of ridicule and criticism. These criticisms included a cast of characters that was bland and boring, and that the superb facial detail and whole-body animation of the original trilogy had been replaced with a soulless buggy mess, which was made worse by sub-par dialogue and voice acting.
The story and characterization were criticized for being an uninspired re-hash of the original trilogies.’ The main antagonists, the humanoid Kett, were far less awe-inspiring than the Lovecraftian Reapers. The ‘searching different planets for information left behind by an extinct spacefaring civilisation’ story arc felt like a re-run of the trilogies’ Protheans.
Gameplay was praised, however. Its maps were both larger and more open than in previous installments, which allowed players to make full use of their character’s much enhanced mobility. However, for many gamers this wasn’t enough, and many consider Andromeda to be the series’ low point to date.
#5–The Deus Ex Franchise
Ion Storm and Eidos Interactive’s cyberpunk-infused RPG Deus Ex hit the shelves in the year 2000. Its deep conspiracy theory narrative was mixed with superb atmosphere, sophisticated RPG mechanics, and gameplay that granted the player a high degree of choice and agency. The decisions you made and the playstyle you used had a tangible impact on the game and its story progression. It was not surprising then that it won so many ‘Game of the Year’ awards, and is still considered by some to be among the best RPGs ever made.
Deus Ex: Invisible War
2003 saw the release of its sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War. Although it was by no means terrible, many felt that it couldn’t hold a candle to its illustrious predecessor. The maps and hub worlds were notably smaller and many of the RPG elements had been ‘streamlined,’ a euphemism for ‘dumbed down’ that fooled no-one. XP, (Experience Points) and the upgrade system tied to them, were removed in favor of the simplified ‘collectable biomod upgrade’ mechanic. The inventory system was also ‘streamlined’ which limited player choice.
Combat too had been simplified in three main ways. Firstly, the lean mechanic from Deus Ex had been removed. Secondly, all weapons now used a common ammunition type, with more powerful weapons using up more ammo per shot. Thirdly, the enemy A.I. was not going to pass any I.Q. tests. So dumb was the A.I. that the most effective tactic against most human NPCs was to simply hide around a corner with your “I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-a-light-saber” Energy Blade drawn and then hack away at anyone who came around. For a game that is all about technology, robots and cyborgs, its NPC A.I. left a lot to be desired. The general consensus among gamers at the time was that Invisible War had been ‘streamlined’ due to it being multi-platform, being released on both PC and the O.G. Xbox.
Thankfully, the franchise redeemed itself with the Deus Ex prequels, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
#4–The Dead Space Games
The Dead Space series has been widely regarded as one of the best, and most horrific, horror sci-fi video game franchises of all time, and for good reason. Body horror is the name of the game in Dead Space. When designing the Necromorphs, the devs *allegedly* took inspiration from photos of mutilated car crash victims. Throw in body horror elements of The Thing, an animated splash screen background that is apparently a dead and decaying goat, and the setting of a poorly lit, industrial and isolated deep-space mining ship, you have the perfect recipe for some truly unsettling horror.
Needless to say, it wasn’t in 4K when it was released.
Combating the Necromorph infestation aboard the good ship Ishimura was no easy task. Your character, Isaac, was not a cybernetically enhanced uber-soldier armed with superweapons. He was a miner who found himself trapped in a terrible situation, whose weapons were only what he could find aboard a mining ship – i.e. mining tools. It turned out this was a good thing, as bullets were not especially effective against Necromorphs – even shooting them in the head would not put them down. To defeat them you needed to immobilize them by cutting off their limbs. This ‘dismemberment’ mechanic was one of the game’s standout features, and would continue to play a key role in Dead Space 2.
Dead Space 2
If Dead Space was sci-fi survival horror par excellence, then Dead Space 2 was an object lesson in how to do sci-fi action. If Dead Space was akin to Alien, then Dead Space 2 was reminiscent of Aliens. It was not as terrifying as the original, but made up for it by its superb sci-fi action gameplay.
Dead Space 3
Then Dead Space 3 happened. The franchise’s signature horror elements were rendered ineffective by an overabundance of ammunition and O.P. weapon upgrades. In Dead Space 3 you were facing both Necromorphs and humans with guns. Firefights against human NPCs turned the iconic horror franchise into a poor-man’s Gears of War. The series’ signature dismemberment mechanic was less important as players could drown enemies in a hailstorm of gunfire. The game was designed to be compatible with two player co-op, however, this led to gameplay and cut-scene inconsistencies, as the levels for both single player and co-op were exactly the same. By attempting to appeal to a wider audience, Dead Space 3 diluted the Dead Space core USP and ended up appealing to no one. It appeared that publisher interference had ruined yet another great franchise. Unfortunately, it looks like we will never see how Isaac’s story arc concludes, as it is looking doubtful that Dead Space 4 will ever be made.
#3–The Elder Scrolls Series – Morrowind to Oblivion to Skyrim
This one is perhaps a little more controversial, but there appears to be a fair number of people who feel that The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was a better game than either of its two sequels TES IV: Oblivion and TES V: Skyrim.
Full disclosure – I have completed Oblivion on Xbox 360, but I have hardly touched Morrowind or Skyrim, as I am waiting to playthrough both Skywind* and Skyblivion* before playing Skyrim–with a hat load of mods of course.
Some of the critiques I have seen include:
Morrowind was more challenging than Oblivion, partly due to its lack of handholding. In Morrowind there were no map markers to follow, so you had to work out where you needed to get to, often by talking to people to get information and directions. Mission-critical items were not highlighted either, so you would have to hunt for them.
Levelling up in Oblivion was less impactful, since enemies leveled up to match yours.
Oblivion and Skyrim’s environments were less interesting than the varied locations of Morrowind. No giant mushrooms, no Silt Striders, no expansive marshes and swamps. The environments of Oblivion and Skyrim were seen as ‘samey’ in comparison, with most of Oblivion resembling medieval European countryside, and most of Skyrim being cold and faintly Nordic.
Morrowind had more varied and interesting enemies.
Morrowind had a proper faction relations system. Joining one faction may make you the enemy of another. This would prevent you from carrying out missions for the other factions, effectively ‘locking away’ that content for that particular play-through. The overall number of missions was *apparently* around 500 to accommodate this. Therefore, if on successive playthroughs you joined different factions, you would have access to missions you would not have before, greatly increasing the longevity of the game. Oblivion and Skyrim’s faction systems were toned down and were thus less impactful.
Becoming a vampire or werewolf may make you an outcast and pariah in Morrowind, less so in Oblivion and Skyrim, reducing the relevance of vampirism and lycanthropy.
These are just some of the critiques I found; there were many more. The general consensus appears to be that whilst Morrowind is now dated in terms of graphics, it is still a superior game to its successors.
*NB – Skywind and Skyblivion are work in progress mods that aim to re-create Morrowind and Oblivion respectfully in the Skyrim engine. A recent trailer for Skywind suggests it is shaping up nicely.
#2–The Thief Games
The first two Thief games, 1998s Thief: The Dark Project, and the year 2000’s Thief: Metal Age were widely regarded as some of the best stealth games in existence upon release, and some commentators assert that they remain so to this day. 2004’s Thief: Deadly Shadows was also well received, with its horror-themed ‘Robbing the Cradle’ level being described as one of the scariest levels in the history of video games.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for 2014’s reboot of the franchise, known simply as Thief. Much of what made the earlier Thief games unique had been stripped away, perhaps in an attempt to make it more accessible and appealing to a wider audience. The result was a game that was so watered down that it ended up appealing to no one.
Criticisms leveled at Thief (2014) included:
Thief (2014) dumbed down the franchise by introducing handholding.
The A.I. was now brain dead and thus far less challenging.
The grappling hook, so iconic in the earlier games, had been watered down as well. Previously, the grappling hook could be fired into any wooden surface. If the devs wanted to prevent you from using it in a specific area they simply did not place wooden objects nearby. In Thief (2014) you could only fire it at specific objects in the map, which were of course highlighted with immersion-wrecking markers.
The map system had also been ‘gamified.’ In earlier Thiefs your map was hand-drawn and there was no marker showing where you were–you had to work out your current location by matching your surroundings to the locations on the map. The maps were not all 100% accurate either. Some were only partially completed, whilst others were out of date, so that door you were looking for may now be bricked up. This was far more realistic, challenging, and immersive than Thief (2014’s) typically ‘video gamey’ map, complete with quest and ‘you are here markers.’
As with Dead Space 3, Thief (2014) was seen as an example of what happens when a publisher attempts to cater for too wide an audience, and ends up not catering sufficiently to anyone.
#1–The Halo Saga
It is difficult to overstate just how significant the Halo franchise was back in the early 2000s. Back then, Halo was the video game franchise everyone was talking about. Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 were the killer apps of the O.G. Xbox, and Halo 2’s online modes were arguably the first killer app for Xbox live.
Halo Combat Evolved’s control scheme was arguably the first console FPS control setup that worked well, and nearly all Xbox and PlayStation FPS games that came after it used a similar set up. The franchise set the standard for console FPS games in other ways too, with many of its innovations, such as the two-gun system, dedicated melee attack button, liberal use of grenades, and regenerating health being adopted by many console FPS games that followed.
The franchise’s popularity only increased from there, with Halo 3 often described as one of the best games on the Xbox 360 in terms of both its single-player campaign and its extremely popular online scene. Halo Reach, which by its release in 2010 was the fourth FPS Halo game released (but canonically was actually a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved) was also well received. The franchise even spawned a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game, Halo Wars, one of the first RTS games made with a console controller in mind.
The franchise spawned numerous books, several films and of course the machinima Red vs Blue. The Master Chief became a ‘breakout character’ who was recognized by gamers and non-gamers alike. The idea that Halo could fall from grace was unimaginable to many.
But original developers, Bungie, left the franchise to work on Destiny, passing over the reins to the newly formed 343 industries, and this is where the problems began.
Halo 4 was criticized for the introduction of the Prometheans, which some felt were less interesting antagonists than The Covenant or The Flood, however it was Halo 5 that really left fans seeing red. Its plot, which made no sense unless you had already watched the films, read the books, and played Halo 4’s Spartan Ops missions, was widely ridiculed. On top of that, clumsy characterization, uninteresting dialogue, and tedious linear missions were all criticisms leveled at Halo 5. Another decision which polarized fans was resurrecting Cortana and then making her the antagonist, deftly undoing all the Chief’s character development from Halo 4.
Halo 4 was supposed to be the first in a new trilogy, we can only hope that the third installment–Halo Infinite–will be a return to form.
The following are the franchises that didn’t make it onto this list. If you suggested these, please let us know your thoughts on them. At what point did they start going down hill and why? What did you like about earlier installments and what did you dislike about more recent ones? Did the franchise dip in quality but then redeem itself with subsequent releases? If so, how and why?
- Call of Duty
- The Sims
- Asheron’s Call 2
- Supreme Commander 2
- Sim City
- Need for speed
- Sonic the Hedgehog
If there are any further franchises you feel should be added to the list feel free to share them and your thoughts about them in the comments section below.
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