How Do You Follow Up on Something Truly Incredible?

Every once in a while, a game studio will put out something truly incredible. Something that blew everyone’s expectations away. Something that becomes an instant classic. Something that makes ripples throughout the industry. Something that seems to change everything.

So… what are you supposed to do after that?

There are two main directions these studios could go.

One option would be to follow up with more of the same. Recently, Team Cherry, the folks behind the brilliant Hollow Knight, announced the sequel called Silksong, a game originally planned to be DLC and now is a full game. The general reaction has been pretty excited! But this could go differently though, like with Yacht Club Games, the folks behind the retro platformer Shovel Knight, who have spent the last five years updating Shovel Knight and following through on Kickstarter goals. To me, this feels a little disappointing, as it seemed all the potential I saw in that team’s abilities has been siphoned away from new projects for the past few years.

The other option would be to do something completely different. Subset Games, the team behind FTL: Faster than Light, went from a space strategy game to a mech tactics game with Into the Breach. Both games proved to be massive successes, both critically and commercially. On the other end of the spectrum, Cellar Door Games followed up the successful Rogue-lite Rogue Legacy after a few years with Full Metal Furies, a co-operative brawler, and while reviews were generally favorable, the developers failed to break even, calling it a “pretty massive failure”.

What do you think is the most rewarding path? Do you see any other options?

Are these games have more to work towards due to the standard set by their predecessors? I mean, how are you supposed to come down from a revolutionary title?

And what about some recent successes? How would you like to see them followed up?

Looking in the past, what have been follow-ups to incredible games that you’ve been satisfied or elated by?


I’ll be honest: One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about this is because I’ve been trying to think about what’s next for Nintendo in full 3D Zelda releases.

Breath of the Wild was such a huge game-changer (no pun intended) that it’s hard for me to imagine what the next entry would even look like. It kind of seems like anything they’ll put out won’t live up to expectations. I admittedly wasn’t as big on Breath as a lot of others were, but it’s undeniably an impressive title. But since Ocarina of Time was also a huge deal, I’m kind of hoping they’ll go the way with Majora’s Mask. Gimme something weird and twisted and surprising in the shape of Breath of the Wild.


I feel the answer is spiritual successors, you can pay homage all you want and not have to worry about it been taken the wrong way. This means you don’t fall into the trap of the “first was better etc”. Souls does it somewhat well from Demon’s to Dark.

This is why I’m an only child. You can’t beat 100%.


Red Dead blew me away and I would very much prefer that R* kept doing stuff like it. I want whatever they do next to double down on the riskier parts of RDR2’s storytelling, the empathetic elements, the deliberate disempowerment of the late game and the parts where Arthur expresses distinct agency. Junk all the faux-edgy shit they’re known for because it just doesn’t work anymore. If they need to make it linear, or at least reduce the scope of the in-game world, fine, I’ll gladly make that trade. I’ve been waiting a long time for Bully 2 anyway.

But, this is AAA gaming, and capitalism, we’re talking, so their next game will probably be GTA 6. It’ll have five playable characters, each more broad than the last, it’ll be full of the same unfunny bullshit that V had, the map will be even more needlessly large, they’ll make a billion dollars on day one and I’ll get sad.


this is probably a minority opinion but i think there’s something to be said for not even trying to follow up on something incredible. you made a masterpiece, you likely made a chunk of money… hang up the gloves, turn out the lights, disappear into the night. farewell my lovelies


I know this is the worst answer, but I think it depends on the nature of the incredible piece.

Like with music for example. With music, I always desire an artist try something different after an incredible work, it gives the work some breathing room and the artist some distance before returning to that sound. My favorite Radiohead album is Kid A and part of that is because of just how much of a left turn it is compared to OK Computer.

But with games it’s sort of a mixed bag, sometimes I want the developer or series to stick to what made the last game incredible, and other times I want to see something completely different out of the developer or series. One key component of it for me is what made the game incredible. If it was directly related to the mechanics and design decisions, I will want to see it further developed in a successor. So concerning the next 3D Zelda, I would like to see the series continue to explore the open-ended design of Breath of the Wild and find interesting ways to change it. If the game was considered incredible for less mechanics-based traits like world-building, story, or aesthetic design, I would prefer the next work by the developer or the next entry in the series be different. Gone Home was an incredible game, but I would have been a little let down if Fullbright had done a Gone Home 2 or another work covering the same setting. Instead they made Tacoma, which was still able to explore some similar territory, but also dug deeper into some things unexplored by Gone Home, like labor rights. The things that made Gone Home incredible were still there, but executed on in different fashion, creating another wonderfully unique experience.

I don’t know if this answers your question, but that’s my two cents.


I tend to agree with your answer here—make it weird. Take risks with the aesthetic and design. Give me a twisted reflection of this thing I loved; give me another reason to love it, because if it’s the same, unless there’s a natural continuation to a narrative or mechanic, I’m always going to prefer that first experience. Especially if it’s twisted in a way that really engages with the original, like Majora’s Mask, it might even elevate that predecessor.

Majora’s Mask isn’t even the only example of this in Zelda (though I think it’s the best one)—both Zelda II and Link’s Awakening followed up landmark predecessors (the original LoZ and Link to the Past) with weirder, more experimental games. LA is remembered a lot more fondly than Zelda II, but I think a lot of Zelda II’s sensibilities (leveling and quasi-action-rpg mechanics) snuck into gaming and found themselves codified in things like the Souls series. (Incidentally, I think Dark Souls to Dark Souls II vs. Dark Souls to Bloodborne is an example of this as well).

This also looks to be kind of like what Toby Fox is doing with Deltarune, which is why I’m really excited to see where that project ultimately goes.

Or, like @ox_out_the_cage said, do something completely different. That’s what Respawn just did with Apex Legends after Titanfall 2 and because they’re incredibly good at what they do it seems to have been the right choice.


Well Cavia made NieR and then got shuttered a month later proving that you can’t beat perfection

unless you get platinum in on it


To quickly get the commercial view out of the way, I don’t think there’s a simple answer to having a next game sell well. Direct sequels to million+ selling games like Pillars of Eternity and Legend of Grimrock have failed, as have spiritual successors like Tyranny. Likewise, a completely different game may also just fall flat. Sometimes any of these produce a success. Capturing a zeitgeist seems hard, or rather, comes down to luck.

Having said that, I often don’t get super excited by sequels (or follow ups) which are promising more of the same. Most games are long enough that I tire of them halfway through, never mind doing it again in a new game. Like OP with Zelda I’ve been thinking a bit about what I want from Metroid Prime 4 and I … can’t really think of anything. The first game felt so different from other games at its time but how is that feeling going to be replicated almost twenty years later? Certainly not by doing minute changes to the same formula, once again exploring a desolate planet, picking up power ups and scanning enemies in four different visors. I even think Metroid Prime 2 in most ways is a superior game to the first but it hasn’t stuck with me in the same way.

So I obviously prefer sequels to do largely escape the trappings of previous games and do something completely their own. But here’s where I come to my hot take: maybe sequels … don’t have to be a thing? Sure, it can be fun to follow up with characters which you love but often within the next game it seems to me that the expectations brought to a sequel weigh it down too much. As does our collective attachment to franchises. My soft spot franchise is Ace Attorney (and, I can’t lie, Zelda) in which the first three games manage to form a complete, self contained arc for its characters. But they should have cut the ties there. Apollo could have flourished in his own series instead of being unfairly compared to (and largely fit in the same mold as) Phoenix.

We should be interested in the next game from the AA team (and, separately at that point, Shu Takumi who went on to make Ghost Trick) rather than the next game sharing the brand. This lovely article by Tara Wrist talks about how the Doom brand is used as a cudgel to evoke decades of fan work while having almost none of the original developers on it, and sharing mostly surface level features with the old titles (and that it cribs features from Brutal Doom, a mod by a disgusting neo nazi). Isn’t it sort of weird how brands are usurped or used by gigantic companies like that?

Like I said previously, it’s not that I don’t like sequels or ever get excited about them. But I’m at the point where I’ve played enough of them that I’m questioning whether or not their overall impact is good or bad for games and culture. So how do you make a good sequel? Maybe you don’t.

Exploring similar themes in a follow up game could be cool though and makes it easier to avoid expectations put on how certain things should work.

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I think this is particularly worth raising for Ace Attorney as a franchise, because its post-Apollo Justice revival (Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice) haven’t come up to the standard of those original games – they’re okay sequels, but they definitely don’t hit the peaks of those initial three games.

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Yeah – I legit think that Spirit of Justice is one of the best games and separate stories in the series, but it’s let down because Apollo’s character arc hasn’t gotten enough space. If they’d have written that game as a complete standalone (or at least never tied the Apollo and Phoenix parts together) I think it’d had come out stronger. Sad thing is, would people have played it?

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I started thinking about my favorite recent games and how I would want them followed up.

The Witcher 3? I’d be fine with more Geralt, but I’m much more interested in Cyberpunk 2077 than I would be in Witcher 4. Unless maybe they made Ciri the main character? So, something completely different.

Horizon Zero Dawn? I would be distraught if Guerilla announced a new game and it wasn’t Horizon First Brunch or whatever. So, more of the same.

Oxenfree? An Oxenfree 2 would seem weird and unnecessary. Afterparty seems like an evolution of the idea and it looks great. So, spiritual successor.

I think it’s fair to say there’s no one right way to do it. It really is a case-by-case basis.

me: I want the sequel to Breath of the Wild to be weird and surprising


me: oh


Ecchi mahjong solitaire game.

Serious answer: Whatever the hell you want, you’ll probably never get another chance to go fully indulgent again.

Oh my GOD please give us the most weird games. I’m so here for it.

Terminator’s really getting around this year, huh?