by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 4th June, 2018
Making a trilogy with a coherent, connected story along with planning the whole thing and having enough resources to finish it is as hard in gaming as it is in movies and music industries. You have to be ready to invest lots of money, you have to be ready to accept poor sales of the first part of the trilogy, the story has to be interesting enough to catch the attention of gamers but it shouldn't spoil the rest of the trilogy with huge plot twists and epic revelations; those should be reserved for the sequel and the final part of the trilogy.
This is why we often see games leaving the room for a potential sequel that never gets out and more often games that get sequel(s) only after the first part of the game sees warm welcome from gamers. And on the other hand, we sometimes see excellent games (like the infamous Dante's Inferno from EA, planned as a trilogy from the beginning) that never get a sequel even though their quality and sales numbers definitely deserve it. This is why we don't have many trilogies in video games world, and why making this list ended up being easier than I thought it would be.
Before we start, I want to share some general rules used during the selection process. First off, some games entered the list even though they have more than two sequels because they feature three titles with a continuing, coherent story that started, evolved, and ended over the course of three games. Next, some series made it to the list even though they don't offer a story that spread itself over the course of all three games because of they just that good. And finally there are some series that feature titles set between main parts of the series, but since those titles don't deal with the main story, that is featured in the main three games, I decided they can be included.
While there aren't as many trilogies as most gamers would like because let's be honest, there's nothing better than to play an excellent game and then wait for a sequel, and the sequel of the sequel, ending up playing the original three games once the final part of the trilogy arrives like it was the case with Mass Effect, at least for me, I had to omit a couple of them because they just couldn't be included. So, if you like Dead Space trilogy (it didn't make it because the third part is awful compared to the first two games), Bioshock trilogy (the story between the games, save up from the general setting, wasn't tightly connected), or Fable (the same reason as with Dead Space) I have to say that you won't find them here. Luckily, the list features some phenomenal video game series, and each one of them definitely deserved a spot here.
We start with Crysis, one of the most famous FPS game series of all times. When the first part of the series came out back in 2007, the whole gaming world couldn't believe that a video game could offer such an incredible level of detail. Everything from shading to textures, to physics to animation to models to world detail was ahead of its time. Even today, 11 years after the original made a huge impact in the video game industry Crysis still offers excellent visual experience. But the first part of the series wasn't just a one-trick pony. The game also lay ground for the inevitable rush of open world games with its huge levels and multiple ways to tackle every objective.
Of course, the trilogy wouldn't be featured here if the rest of the pack wasn't good enough. The second part could be looked at as the weakest part of the series but it did introduce some cool gameplay upgrades, the most important one being better incorporation of the battle suit's powers. And finally, Crysis 3 made another quantum leap when it comes to graphics. Sure, facial animation wasn't the best and the game featured pretty short campaign but the third part is one excellent FPS with amazing visuals.
In whole, Crysis trilogy features solid story that has its share of interesting plot twists but every game suffers from one same, huge problem. Main characters in each game are easily forgotten making the trilogy one of the few games (and pieces of art in general) where the main character isn't a living being, but an inanimate battle suit. No matter the game's crisis with playing characters, the trilogy still is one of the best series we ever had in gaming.
Oh, this one is a classic that, while didn't manage to reclaim its RTS throne with the third sequel that came out in 2009, is one of the best RTS series of all times. When the first part came out, developers weren't planning for it to become a huge hit it was. Red Alert was a parallel universe take on then-famous first Command and Conquer game but it ultimately managed to overshadow the main series in terms of popularity.
The first game featured impeccable story, which included time travel, Albert Einstein deleting Hitler from history, Stalin who tried to conquer the world and an all-out war between SSSR and the rest of the world. Gameplay was tight and the campaign was excellent making the first Red Alert an iconic game that quickly made EA ask for a sequel, which came out a couple of years later.
The sequel brought even better and even crazier plot that included SSSR suddenly invading the United States in mid-seventies, starting the World War III. The second part of the game featured even better gameplay and its multiplayer component was the best of the whole C&C series of games until C&C Generals took out the throne. The story was even better than in the first game, the two single-player campaigns were massive and they included long and challenging missions that were varied and extremely fun to play. In other words, Red Alert 2 is the best game of the series, even today.
The third part of the trilogy came out in 2008 and introduced the third faction - the Empire of the Rising Sun (Japan) as well as a new gameplay element in the form of naval battles. It featured three campaigns and while none was a grand or long as those featured in previous titles, they were quite good. Overall Red Alert is an excellent trilogy that featured crazy weapons, over-the-top live-action cutscenes (one of the most recognizable parts of most Command and Conquer games), and fun-as-hell gameplay.
While the third part of Max Payne isn't sharing the story of the first two games, the trilogy as a whole is a cult classic piece of video games history. It all started back in 2001 when then-small development team located in Finland, Remedy, decided to create a neo-noir shooter with an emphasis on action-packed shooting and story.
The first game was a revolution. It introduced bullet-time mechanics to the world of shooters that got used in numerous games since the first Max Payne. The action was out of this world and the first game still offers some of the best action found in a shooter even today, almost two decades after the game's original release. The dark story revolving around Max Payne, an NY cop who has nothing to lose after his family gets murdered by junkies. Years later, Max is working for DEA and is assigned to a case that involves a drug used by those who killed his wife and child. The game was a cold, dark, and vicious noir story that set a new bar when it comes to story in shooter games.
The second part of the trilogy continued the story of the first game and ultimately provided players with a meaningful ending to it. The first two games featured comic panels used as cutscenes, providing strong noir atmosphere. Overall, the story featured in the first two games is one of the best stories we ever had the chance to experience in a video game.
The third sequel featured old and gritty Max, who ended up as private security for Brazilian banker after he killed a son of a big name mobster back in New Jersey. The story was solid, but nowhere near the level of the one told in the first two games but at least it features an excellent ending that concluded the story of Max Payne. On the other side, the third game features top-of-the-line action that is on par with the first two games. Overall, while not having an overarching story that is told through all three games, Max Payne trilogy deserves to be considered as one of the best video game trilogies of all times.
Microsoft just released the Xbox 360 and the console needed a strong, sales driving game that will push the new system ahead of the competition and Epic Games not only delivered with the Gears of War franchise, they made the second best exclusive the console has ever saw (the first being, of course, Halo). The first game got out near the end of 2006, one year after Xbox 360's debut and it was, by far, the main reason why the console managed to gain a huge head start over the PS3.
It revolutionized third person shooter genre with its dynamic, cover-based shooting that enchanted millions of players around the world. It's simple, shooting in Gears of War felt so pumped up and so intense, it was like driving a monster truck over old cars, like listening to a favorite song over and over. But, this one also introduced an excellent story and pushed the Xbox 360 hardware to the max. Graphics were amazing and the game, aside from being a huge reason for people to buy the Xbox 360, also showed all the potential of the new Unreal 3 engine that soon became the first choice for many developers during the Xbox 360 and PS3 era.
The sequel continued the tale of an epic battle between the humanity and Locust, further refining shooting gameplay, which was already amazing, and somehow managed to feature even better visuals. The epilogue of the original trilogy had a larger-than-life story that ended Marcus Fenix epic journey with a bang and that gave the trilogy a deserving conclusion. Aside from reimagining TPS gameplay and offering one of the best stories ever seen in a shooter, Gears of War series also featured impeccable multiplayer that kept the fans chained to each game of the franchise for years.
When Rocksteady announced they will create a new game series based on the world's greatest detective, fans split into two groups. The first group thought they will finally get a game series that can match the popularity of the Caped Crusader. The second group thought Rocksteady just wanted to catch the Dark Knight hype train and earn some quick cash. Both groups were wrong because Arkham Trilogy ended as one of the best game series ever, surpassing the expectations of the first group and making believers out of the second group.
The first game was the most personal experience of the whole series. Locked inside Arkham Asylum, Batman couldn't rely on the open world formula to escape from enemies, and Arkham Asylum's closed nature guaranteed visceral combat experience. The gameplay was top notch, with surprisingly fluid combat, interesting puzzles, and an overall great experience. Voice acting was the best part of the whole series, giving it that extra cinematic layer few games can achieve.
Arkham City brought open world to the series and the formula functioned flawlessly, although the game lost the intimacy and a feeble claustrophobic feeling tight corridors of Arkham Asylum gave the first game. Nevertheless, Arkham City did something huge during its finale, with the death of Joker being one of the most epic endings to a game, ever.
Finally, we got Arkham Knight, but even though the game repeated the same crimes as the two previous titles, being excellently produced, offering ever so fluid combat, and giving players more Riddler challenges than ever, it couldn't repeat the impact of the second title's story. Even though, it gave the trilogy a solid, although not mind-blowing, ending. I included the Arkham trilogy on this list because Origins story doesn't follow the same path as other games and because the three games are definitely deserving to find their place on this list, no matter the fact that the official list includes four, not three, titles.
The excellent God of War that recently came out started a new tale for Kratos, sending him to the world of Norse mythology and by the looks of it, we will get another amazing trilogy once the final part of the epic comes out. But Kratos started his life back on the PS2 and he soon became of the system's most recognizable video game series.
The first game started the story and was more down-to-ground when it comes to its plot, but it did end with Kratos becoming a new God of War. But the action was amazing, making the first game one of the best action adventures ever, maybe even the best one (Devil May Cry fans will hate me for saying this, but whatever). So tight, so epic, so brutal, the combat was more than enough to keep you glued to a chair until the game ends.
The second part of the series took things a few steps further and offered even better combat and graphics that amazed every fan of the aging PS2 console. No one believed the console is capable of showing graphics that good, but developers somehow made a game that could freely be released for the PS3, it was that pretty. The story was perfect for the second part of a trilogy; it prepared the ground for the final battle without being stale or boring.
And then, it 2010 God of War III came out featuring one of the most intense action-adventure experiences ever. In his path of revenge, Kratos started to decimate both gods and titans, ending his killing spree by killing Zeus himself. What an ending, one that pleased every single fan of the series. Because of this, God of War deserves a spot on this list even though the game saw sequels other than the main three games.
I'll be short with this one because everyone loves Warcraft trilogy and everyone knows about epic battles that happened in the world of Azeroth. The first game, while quite popular, didn't really enter the scene with a bang. That was reserved for Warcraft II, which created one of the best single player RTS experience of the time, surpassed only by a handful of other games one of them being Starcraft, another brainchild of Blizzard.
But it all exploded when the third sequel came out, concluding the series' story (which went beyond RTS series with World of Warcraft) and becoming one of the most popular multiplayer strategy titles that gave birth to a completely new genre of video games, MOBAs. It's clear why the original Warcraft RTS trilogy is on this list, the only debate could revolve over the fact that it is placed on the fourth place and not higher.
Halo is one of the few game series that managed to become a worldwide phenomenon, mostly thanks to its first three games that are considered as the original Halo trilogy. Before the first game came out the newly released Xbox needed a face, needed a video game hero people will imagine when talking about the console, and Microsoft couldn't get a better face of the console than Master Chief.
The first game introduced the giant Halo object, which played a major role in the whole series. Earth is at war with the Covenant and the aggressive alien race completely destroyed Earth's army. A single ship escapes the devastating destruction of Reach and discovers Halo. This is when the fun starts. Halo: Combat Evolved didn't revolutionize gunplay mechanics but it offered a superb combination of supercharged gunfights that were even better with grenades and melee combat. The story was excellent and the link between Master Chief and Cortana is among the greatest friendships in video games ever.
The sequel brought the idea of regenerating health that was one of the most popular mechanics used in FPS games since then. It also came with full online multiplayer support making Halo games one of the best multiplayer experiences ever. Even though the first game also featured amazing multiplayer, the craze didn't start until we got Halo 2. While the story opened many new plot points and introduced lots of new characters, fans were aggravated with the game's huge cliffhanger ending, surpassing the one seen in the first game.
Millions of fans waited patiently for the third part of the trilogy, and it delivered. The story got a worthy ending and featured many well-written twists during its course. Of course, some would say that its ending wasn't really an ending, but another cliffhanger that announced the inevitable release of Halo 4, but it wrapped the story of the Flood, Humanity and the Covenant and become one of the best video game trilogies ever.
Mass Effect was imagined as a trilogy ever since Bioware decided that the studio is done creating games based on a third-party intellectual property (Star Wars and Neverwinter Nights) and that it is time for the company to create a world of their own. And they created an amazing Sci-Fi world that could easily be on par with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica. The first game started the more than epic story of the Reapers and introduced the world with Commander Shepard. A cast of well-written characters, amazing story, and solid RPG elements made the first Mass Effect the best Sci-Fi RPG ever.
The sequel decided to action things up and to present players with a game that is more a third person shooter than an RPG. Although the action became more important, the series kept its fantastic conversation mechanics along with many choices that all had noticeable consequences on the game and its world. The last mission that saw Shepard and his crew arriving at the center of Milky Way galaxy to stop the Collectors is the best part of the series and not a single quest in the third part managed to surpass it.
The second game also managed to introduce many new characters most of which were excellent companions with their own moral, choices, stories, and reasons for joining Shepard. Even though the end of the trilogy enraged a huge number of players, the trilogy did manage to succeed in its main promise to players that each game's decisions will affect the ending in one way or another. But, instead of them affecting the ending itself, those choices shaped the world found in the three games, their characters, and every story player has experienced while playing the three games. Yes, Mass Effect has one of the weakest endings found in video game trilogies but the journey that took place before that end is so good that the game deserves a spot this high on the list.
And finally, the winner, the best video game trilogy of them all. After you saw that the Witcher is nowhere to be found in the first part of the list, you probably thought it would take one of the first three spots. And you were right. The Witcher is the best trilogy of them all because it ticks all elements that make trilogies great. The story gradually became more epic, starting with Geralt being a nobody, not remembering anything about his past, and then seeing him becoming an important part of most kingdoms found in the world of the Witcher, ultimately helping Ciri to literally save the world from the destruction that ended so many other worlds. It's perfectly paced and it grows it spreads out in just the right way.
Production quality grew with each new game, but all of them contain amazing voice work, music, graphics, and gameplay. Each game introduced larger maps and it all exploded in the Witcher III, a game that has the best open world map ever to be found in a video game. And finally, each game of the trilogy ended up being better than the last one, and that was an extremely hard feat to accomplish. You see, even the first game could be placed among 10 best RPG games ever, and the two other somehow managed to be even better. When it comes to video trilogies, the Witcher one is the best one, and it should be looked at as one of the best trilogies ever no matter the medium.