There are three kinds of sequels, really.
1) The “More Of The Same” kind of sequels. They might change the maps, they might upgrade the graphics, they might give you better music… but, for the most part, the game plays pretty much exactly like the previous one. THIS SHOULD NOT NECESSARILY BE READ AS A CRITICISM. Sometimes you finish a game and you think “Man! That was great! I wish I had another 20 hours with it! But I don’t want to just start over from the beginning…” and then the sequel comes out and it is 20 hours with More Of The Same. (See, for example, the Ezio Assassin Creeds. Good stuff all around, start to finish. But, seriously, more of the same.) Sure, sometimes it’s disappointing and makes you say “Aw, I wanted a jump ahead! Instead I just got a reskinned version of the old game…” but, hey, if you liked playing the first one, you should like playing the second one. It’s more of the same.
2) The sequels that ruin everything. Legend of Zelda 2 is probably the best old-school example of a sequel that said “let’s change everything that everybody loved about the first one!” but there’s no shortage of examples of sequels that attempted to cash in on a successful first game by rushing a sequel out waaaaay before one was ready (Dragon Age 2) or cashing in sequels that said “here’s a name that people have good associations with!” (anything Sonic from the last decade or so) or Duke Nukem 4Ever.
3) The sequels that make you say “Holy cow. The first game was just a tutorial for this one. I have to take everything I knew from the first game but build on it.” Diablo to Diablo 2, for example. Dungeon Keeper to Dungeon Keeper 2 is another one. Fallout 3 to Fallout: New Vegas was probably my absolute favorite leap from “holy cow, I love this game!” to “holy cow, I can’t ever go back to the old one…”
X-Com 2 is the third kind.
X-Com: Enemy Unknown was, itself, a reboot of a much beloved franchise from the 90’s that didn’t screw it up. They took the mechanics of the original X-Com, gave them a significant graphics upgrade, and kept the good stuff. It’s still you against an alien invasion. You still don’t know anything about the invaders so you still have to do autopsies to learn more about them (including learning enough to capture them alive). You still don’t have weapons as good as the weapons of the aliens so you will still have to do research to make better weapons (with different branches for machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers). Oh, and armor. Oh, and medical tech. Oh, and on top of everything, you have to manage your home base back home and upgrade research facilities, power generation, satellite uplinks, and military training facilities. And all of these things are in service to the missions themselves where you have to infiltrate a place, kill all the bad guys, and not blow up important stuff. They mixed it up though… sometimes they had you go someplace and protect civilians (or 8 out of 15 civilians) with the occasional mission where you had to escort someone who is trying to escape from the aliens from the far side of the map back to the originating point of the map. On top of *THAT*, there are RPG elements where you upgrade your soldiers and give them abilities as they progress… a Sniper Captain has a lot more tricks up his sleeve than a Sniper Sergeant.
X-Com 2 takes all of those much beloved mechanics and then ramps them up to 11.
This time, you still have to deal with the aliens and you still have to do autopsies and you still don’t have decent weapons or armor or medical tech and you still have to work on your home base and do all of the stuff you had to do… but they improved everything (and, equally importantly, they gave a good storyline reason as to why you’re stuck back at square one). On top of that, they *REALLY* mixed up the combat missions.
They’ve added mechanics like ambushes. When you go into an area now, you can sneak in and, at the right moment, everybody can start shooting at the aliens at the same time so your first volley of bullets can take out the first group you encounter (and figuring out the best approach to a mission will have your nerves absolutely wracked). Civilian protection missions still take place, but they’ve added a mechanic where some of the civilians are Not On Your Side. They’ve got the escort missions, but some of them are “extract this civilian who is working with the aliens” missions and not just “get our guy out of there!” missions.
And the weapon research mechanic has been upgraded and there are now different kinds of bullets (like poison rounds or incendiary rounds or EMP rounds) and there are swords in the game (don’t worry, they’re cool) and there are new abilities that your soldiers can get when they get promoted and new ways to modify your guns (like, above and beyond moving from conventional to laser… I’m talking adding sights or auto-reloaders) and you can even do stuff like “name your gun” when you reach a certain rank and your soldiers themselves get callsigns so you are no longer playing “my sniper shoots the alien with her sniper rifle” but “Duchess shoots the alien with Migraine”.
Oh, and on top of *THAT*, the aliens have been upgraded too.
I *LOVED* playing X-Com: Enemy Unknown.
I will never be able to go back to it.
It was merely the tutorial.
So… what are you playing?
(Picture is HG Wells playing a war game from Illustrated London News (25 January 1913))