Remember when you first grabbed the Longshot in Gears of War and delivered a lasting haircut to a Locust? The time you purchased (insert your favorite car) in Gran Turismo and had the field eating your dust? The first game is the opening opus, which more often than not, will grant you fond memories for years to come, but what about the sequels? The sequel to any great game usually never delivers on a secret unspoken promise. Inside your mind, you already know that promise and you hope that the sequel to the game you will buy will deliver on that promise. Why then, are sequels not as good as the first game?
Forget the blitzing hype the marketing teams of publishers push inside your mind. Forget even your own wishes and reassurances that the sequel should be as good as the first game. The first game of any game series, especially those of the high quality long development cycles, is simply a fresh breath of air. The game-play mechanics are new or have a fresh take upon an old game-play feature, the beginning of the story is great, the audio is cool and most importantly, the developers care a lot about creating a great game. The first game has NO guarantee to be great and the developers are experimenting with everything in the game. That is when innovations are made, and that is what makes the first game great!
When the first game is released and sells millions of units, everyone is happy until is time to make the inevitable sequel. Most developers will not mess with success and you just get MORE of everything that was in the first game. More weapons, more cars, more characters, more story, and more, more, more. What you don't get is more innovation, more risks, and more experimenting. The second game will sell regardless, but the gamers will know in their mind that the secret unspoken promise went unfulfilled. By the third game release, most of the core audience that loved the series will, accept that the sequels will never reach the greatness of the first game, complain that sequel(s) aren't good enough or stop playing altogether.
You can blame the developers, the publishers, even the hardware makers for the reasons sequels are never as good as or better than the first game. The blame doesn't reside with them, it is on us, the gamers. We ask for too much or is it that we expect too much out of sequels, either way we are the reason why companies "just stick closely to the original formula." When developers do try to push beyond the original formula, we complain they are messing up the game we love so much. I, for one, believe we should shut up and put faith into the developer.
May be that is why Halo 3 isn't as great as the first game, or (insert game sequel here) isn't either. Think about it, some companies really do want to push the boundaries of the first game, but they have to worry about upsetting the core gamer. For example, look at Bioware's KOTOR and then at Jade Empire. Most gamers loved the first KOTOR but only like Jade Empire. Jade Empire, essentially, is the true sequel to KOTOR, but they expanded a lot of the game-play and the story. Therefore, instead of experimenting with the sequel of KOTOR, Bioware abandon everything and started fresh, to release a sequel without the confining limits of the KOTOR brand. Did Jade Empire do as great as KOTOR in terms of sales, no. Did Jade Empire play better than KOTOR, I think so but that is subject to the arguments of many.
Sequels are only lacking because we as gamers want the same type of game as the first but with more innovation added. With many games, how do developers make fresh of a game they already put out without completing rebuilding and innovating? Next time you knock the sequel for a beloved game for being too different, take a step back and look at it from all angles, it might just be for the better.