With Rage 2 releasing this week to mixed reviews and rumors floating around about some of the biggest game franchises out there it got me thinking about how much developers have at stake when they release a franchise title. Whether it’s a sequel, prequel, remake, or even DLC, developers are under a lot of pressure to get it right, and catering to fans isn’t always easy. Changing up a successful formula too much like Fallout 76, or not living up to the hype like Crackdown 3 can quickly lead to upset shareholders and gamers screaming for heads to roll.
2019 has already seen a fair share of franchise titles released and we aren’t even to the midpoint of the year. Plenty of games like Far Cry New Dawn were able to give us more of the same, but not every game can stand proud in front of their franchise and say, “I did you proud.” This is our top 10 list of franchise releases so far in 2019.
10. DiRT Rally 2.0
Codemasters is probably known more for its F1 series than anything else, but they also take their racing sims offroad. We start our list off with the newest title in the DiRT franchise, Dirt Rally 2.0. A move back from the more arcadish DiRT 4, DR 2.0 is a full-on racing sim and any hardcore sim fan will be right at home here. This isn’t a pedal to the metal racing game, instead requiring the use of both gas and brake to navigate narrow sections and tight hairpin turns. Accurate physics aren’t all the game has to offer either. The graphics are stellar and the sound is spot on. It’s time to park whatever else you are driving and go back to playing in the DiRT.
9. Kingdom Hearts 3
It has been 17 years since Square Enix released Kingdom Hearts 2, and many people wondered if they would ever bring Kingdom Hearts 3 to retail. KH 3 is chock full of more Disney characters than ever before and gives players even more familiar Disney settings to run around in while completing the 30-ish hour story. The hack and slash combat is vastly improved over previous titles in the series and some players felt the game needed more combat and fewer cutscenes. None the less, it is hard to deny that Kingdom Hearts 3 does a fitting job of closing out the trilogy.
8. Civilization VI – Gathering Storm
Gathering Storm is the second expansion for Civilization 6, and it is enough of a game changer to land a 2½-year-old game onto this list. Civ games have always been a race against the other countries to build cities, erect Wonders of the World, and amass great armies. With Gathering Storm, players now have another peril – Mother Nature herself. Rivers will flood, volcanos can erupt, and Global Warming is real. Along with environmental effects adding a new layer of strategy to city placement, they have finally added a diplomatic victory option! Anyone can kill off all of their enemies but are you good enough to convert them all to your side?
7. Trials Rising
Part platformer, part physics puzzle, the Trials franchise will have you pulling your hair out, but you will always come back for more. In the last real installment (we won’t count Blood Dragon), developer RedLynx gave a decent, albeit uninspired, trip to the future in Trials Fusion (2014). Welcome back to Earth. Trials Rising will have you racing on insanely intricate courses all over the country. The amount of detail put into the backdrop of what is essentially just a 2-D track is impressive. A new tutorial is a welcome sight to novice riders, and the track creator means you won’t run out of new tracks to overcome. And if beating the ghost avatars and earning diamond metals gets boring, grab a friend and try out the new tandem bike for a whole new challenge.
6. Mortal Kombat 11
Beyond finding ever more gruesome Fatalities to humiliate their adversary, Mortal Kombat 11 adds something that prior games – and the movies for that matter – in the series never had: a good story. Just kidding. At least it doesn’t get in the way of what really matters in Mortal Kombat.
What Nether Realm has actually done in MK 11 to make this list is change combat. Not just by adding new moves or weapons, but by adjusting the pacing. They eliminated the run button and changed the range of many moves, ultimately replacing rush tactics with a focus on positioning. There is also the new Krushing Blow, a once-per match critical hit, complete with slow-motion X-ray of internal destruction similar to the kills in Sniper Elite.
5. Devil May Cry 5
It’s been 11 years since the release of DMC 4, so fans of the series have had to wait quite a while to get their demon hunting fix, and Devil May Cry 5 didn’t disappoint. Capcom has done a fine job of walking that fine line between catering to the nostalgia while still giving a more modern feel to the game. Instead of buying into the trend of more open world adventure games they stuck with a more old school ‘clear the room, move to the next one’ style. It works because this gives the players what they really want in a DMC game – combat! They do this in grand fashion, swapping between three protagonists (Dante, Nero, and newcomer V) each with their own weapons and combos. You’ll have to master those combos and fight with style if you plan to finish each level with an SSS (Smokin’ Sexy Style) rank.
4. Metro Exodus
Just as the title implies, it’s time for Artyom to move out of the metro tunnels and into the wasteland in Metro Exodus. This doesn’t mean you have complete freedom to roam in a huge open world, but leaving the linear tunnels under Moscow for larger maps on the surface is a natural evolution for the series. 4A Games even found a way to give you the extra freedom without losing the atmosphere and tension of the prior games. The post-apocalyptic wasteland is a beautifully horrible place to explore as you take your train ride across the country, trying to survive as you look for other survivors.
3. Resident Evil 2
Everyone has that game from their past that they wish they could play again, only to find out that time hasn’t been kind. Because of this nostalgia effect developers have started doing remakes. Often times these are just the same old game with higher rez textures. Fortunately for us, Capcom decided to go all out on their Resident Evil 2 remake.
Not just a reskin of the original, RE2 is built from the ground up using the RE Engine. Even though the story is pretty close to the original, this rebuild means we get a fully 3D environment, a 3rd person view, and the fuzzy character models of the 90s are replaced with high-resolution models you would expect from a modern title. The zombie horror genre deserved this remake, and whether you played the original or not, you should find the time to check it out.
2. Tetris 99
One of the oldest franchises out there (probably older than many of you reading this), Tetris had its humble beginnings way back in 1984. Since then there have been countless versions across a multitude of platforms, but Tetris 99 takes the game to a whole new level. As if the game wasn’t already hard enough for the average human, Tetris 99 pits you against 98 other players in what is arguably the best Battle Royale game to date. You must adapt your strategy on the fly as other players collect badges during a round, allowing them to throw more and more blocks onto their opponent’s screen.
To top it off, Tetris 99 was released free to play to Nintendo Switch Online members (technically not free then). They just recently released the Big Block DLC with offline CPU Battle and Marathon mod.
1. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
Massive Entertainment and Ubisoft know what it’s like to get a launch wrong. They did it back in 2008 with Tom Clancy’s The Division. They stuck with it though and were eventually able to right the ship. When they quietly announced The Division 2, everyone sat with bated breath as the release date approached. While some other AAA titles over hyped and under delivered, Ubi kept everything to a mild murmur before launch.
And then they showed how they learned from their past mistake. The Division 2 launched with a full complement of content. They had a full story that could be played solo or in a group. There are also plenty of side missions and other tasks to keep players busy as they leveled up. Oh, and loot. Plenty of loot. And stuff to do at end game too. It wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough. Other triple-A developers should take note.