In the realm of video game discussion, nothing gets the blood boiling and the flame wars burning quite like a good, old fashioned ranking feature. By the very nature of opinions, comparing the qualities of drastically different games can be problematic -- which is why, in today's Tech Deck feature, we'll be narrowing the playing field considerably by ranking the independent entries from a batch of the most popular franchises in modern gaming. Despite the smaller scope of these rankings when compared to your typical, broad "top ten" feature, hearing me decry your favorite series entries and call them inferior to their franchise brethren may stir up some hostile feelings. Don't forget, these are just opinions -- and we'd love to hear yours in the comments section.
On to the arbitrary -- but highly entertaining -- construction of series hierarchies!
Note: for those readers who've been out of math classes for a while, the '>' symbol indicates 'is greater than.'
The Hierarchy: Assassin's Creed II > Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood > Assassin's Creed: Unity > Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag > Assassin's Creed: Revelations > Assassin's Creed III > Assassin's Creed
The Rationale: The original Assassin's Creed saw an enormous buildup of hype following its reveal. When it released in 2007, its repetitious nature and clunky mechanics kept it from achieving the heights that many had expected out of the title. Two years after the release of the original, Assassin's Creed II burst out of the gate, righting almost every misstep of the first entry and delivering what remains the series' strongest narrative to date, as well as its most loved protagonist in the form of fiery Italian aristocrat Ezio Auditore. The second entry remains my favorite of the series for its varied mission design and memorable cast of characters. The franchise has managed to stay hoisted confidently above the level of the original release for its entire subsequent lifespan. Lowlights Revelations and Assassin's Creed III were plagued by stale over-iteration and a dull narrative backbone, respectively. Brotherhood's colorful setting and entertaining assassin disciple mechanic boosted it near the heights of its immediate predecessor, AC2, while both Black Flag and Unity served as major series evolutions that either added significant new gameplay elements, as in the case of Black Flag, or returned the series to a beautiful and alluring blank canvas, as with Unity.
The Hierarchy: BioShock: Infinite > BioShock > BioShock 2
The Rationale: The BioShock series is one that's been consistently stellar, and thus ranking its individual entries is a demanding task. Even the oft-maligned BioShock 2 was, in my opinion, a great sequel, building off of the gameplay mechanics of its predecessor in intelligent, entertaining ways and telling a compelling story, to boot. But ultimately, it landed the #3 spot on my list, as it still cannot compete with the overwhelming majesty of the other two series entries. What separates the original BioShock and Infinite from BioShock 2 is strength of atmosphere. The former two titles benefit from some of the strongest world-building of any video games yet released. The worlds of Rapture and Columbia are brought to vivid life by developer Irrational. They feel like living, breathing places, each decorated with period-specific, propaganda advertisements and stunningly realized architecture. Furthermore, both games function as top-of-the-line shooters, delivering enjoyable arrays of firearms, and providing creative secondary combat mechanics in the forms of vigors and plasmids. Ultimately, the thought-provoking, dimension-spanning story of Booker and Elizabeth topped the morose, cautionary tale of Andrew Ryan in my book, but both BioShock and BioShock: Infinite should be considered required playing for all self-respecting gamers.
The Hierarchy: Batman: Arkham City > Batman: Arkham Asylum > Batman: Arkham Origins
The Rationale: In 2009, Arkham Asylum came out of nowhere to garner resounding praise and tremendous sales, and it has since sparked what is perhaps the most highly acclaimed licensed game series of all time, with upcoming entry Arkham Knight looking to impress once again. Asylum deserved all of the praise it got for its expert mixture of Metroidvania-style adventuring and satisfying free-flow combat intermixed with engaging stealth segments. Its successor, City, pulled an Assassin's Creed II and improved almost every conceivable element of the original. It just so happened that, in this case, the predecessor was already stellar, so this achievement catapulted City to astronomical heights. The 2013 entry, Arkham Origins, was developed by a new team at Warner Bros. Games Montreal, and while it did a serviceable job at delivering an expansion of the Arkham City experience, it failed to deliver the necessary innovation or tight design to measure up to its two predecessors.
The Hierarchy: Halo 3 > Halo: Reach > Halo: Combat Evolved > Halo 3: ODST > Halo 4 > Halo 2
The Rationale: I set Halo 2 at the tail-end of the series in terms of quality because I missed the game's golden days as Xbox Live's first online multiplayer darling, and thus was left only to trek through the game's entertaining but rushed, bloated, and unbalanced campaign. Halo 4 is the outlier of the saga, having been developed by 343 Industries. Though its campaign was flawlessly-paced, its short length coupled with 343's multiplayer progression missteps hold it back from greatness. ODST never had a chance to stand among the top dogs of the franchise due to its lack of a distinct adversarial multiplayer offering, though it deserves to be commended for its unconventional approach to single-player Halo, as well as for its introduction of Firefight mode, which has sucked up more of my hours than I care to admit. The original, Halo: Combat Evolved, may not hold up flawlessly today, but its campaign remains a blast, especially with friends (with the exception of the Library level), and offline multiplayer sessions on Blood Gulch remain an absolute joy to this day. This leaves Halo 3 and Reach to vie for the top spot. Both boast phenomenally-crafted campaigns and A-class multiplayer suites capable of sucking up exorbitant amounts of time. Ultimately, 3 gets the edge for its superior selection of multiplayer maps, including now-classics like Sandtrap and Guardian.
The Hierarchy: Mass Effect 3 > Mass Effect 2 > Mass Effect
The Rationale: My ranking of the Mass Effect series is bound to stir up some bad feelings from proponents of the first entry, who advocate for the original's superiority thanks to its deeper RPG mechanics and moral ambiguity. While I concede that these elements make the first entry an easy top pick for a certain subset of the gaming community, that doesn't change the fact that I enjoyed the first entry the least out of the three games in the trilogy. The bombastic, third-person action roots of Mass Effect 2 and 3 boosted my enjoyment of the series considerably, as did the improved accessibility of the games' leveling systems. Though its climactic suicide mission is memorable, Mass Effect 2's narrative is easily the least compelling that the series has to offer. That gives Mass Effect 3 the top spot, which is fitting. Never before playing Mass Effect 3 have I been so emotionally tried by a decision in a video game, nor have I before been as personally invested in a grand, world-saving journey. ~