There’s something about the magic number three. Pop culture, across all media, often divides stories into trilogies, likely because it forms a nice beginning-middle-end structure. Here are five of the best games series that will hold your attention three times over – you’ll find yourself sitting in front of the television in your property for hours on end with these trilogies.
The Mass Effect series throws players into a sci-fi future where humanity has recently discovered the technology for faster-than-light travel, and has subsequently been accepted into a galaxy-wide union made up of several alien species. Inter-species politics and diplomacy form a major part of the arching story, but the threat of annihilation by a race of powerful creatures from beyond the Milky Way is constantly looming.
The three games form a kind of three-act structure for the wider narrative, while individually telling compelling and complete stories. The first game lets players create their version of the character of Commander Shepard: male or female, appearance, skills, it’s all customizable. Once created, their Shepard character can be taken through all three games, with many decisions made by the player having consequences that surface later in the game, and sometimes not until later games in the trilogy.
While it’s not short of action, the series is dialogue-heavy, developing the characters to the extent where players will grow very attached to them.
Ask an Xbox owner what series made them buy the console, and chances are they’ll say Halo.
The flagship franchise of Microsoft’s consoles became a trilogy, and soon spawned several spin-offs (Halo Wars, ODST and Reach) and more recently, Halo 4, which marks the beginning of a second planned trilogy.
The first-person shooter genre had never fared too well on home consoles, but the original Halo: Combat Evolved convinced a lot of gamers that it could work. Later iterations expanded on the formula, and it became the Xbox’s killer title.
Players enter the Halo universe as the iconic Master Chief, and soon find themselves embroiled in a futuristic war between humanity, a theocratic union of alien races called the Covenant, and the Flood, parasitic creatures who threaten all life in the galaxy. The narrative world of Halo is deep and compelling, and the series is widely regarded as the pinnacle of competitive multiplayer FPS gaming on home consoles.
The Legacy of Kain
Another series in which story reigns supreme, The Legacy of Kain is actually composed of five games, but the manner in which they are organised forms a neat trilogy: Blood Omen 1 and 2 are the beginning of the saga, as players follow the vampire lord Kain during his ascent to power. Soul Reaver 1 and 2 form the middle section, casting players as Kain’s betrayed lieutenant Raziel, out for vengeance. And it all ends in Defiance, as players alternate between them both, as the two characters hunt each other down and finally face off.
The mythology of the games is rather convoluted, but if players invest the time it can be very rewarding.
The rich history of the world of Nosgoth was introduced in Blood Omen through top-down, dungeon-crawling game play, but later games allow players to explore it through a third-person brawler/platformer, with some puzzle elements and epic boss battles.
But mostly it’s the characters that keep players going through The Legacy of Kain. Both Kain and Raziel are antiheroes, antagonizing each other and trying to determine how their fates are intertwined. Perhaps most interesting is that players are cast as both characters at different points, so the notions of the good guy and the bad guy are hard to separate. The story arcs over the “trilogy” are fantastic, and as the tense ending approaches, it’s hard to decide who to root for.
Owing a lot to Tomb Raider, the Uncharted trilogy follows Nathan Drake, a young adventurer, who explores in search of ancient lost cities. The games play out in a style reminiscent of summer blockbuster movies, with tense sequences of running, jumping, swinging, climbing and swimming, interspersed with cover-based shootouts and slower-paced exploration.
The character of Nathan Drake is developed over the course of the series, but don’t worry. There are no lengthy dialogue sections that get in the way of what the games are really all about: exciting, over-the-top action, in the same vein as Indiana Jones. You’ll need precise, tense acrobatics to traverse the huge set pieces, including escaping from a building collapsing around you, climbing through a train that’s going over a cliff, navigating through a sinking cruise ship, and shooting at enemies while clinging to the side of a speeding truck.
Super Mario Bros.
Perhaps the first major trilogy in the video game world, Super Mario Bros. 1, 2 and 3 on the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) are classics today. They weren’t the first games in the series, but they were the ones that defined it, dictating the direction Mario games would take for almost thirty years. And not just Mario games, but the entire genre of platformers.
The original Super Mario Bros. expanded upon the basic jumping game play seen in the two-player arcade hit Mario Bros. (not Super, yet), and Donkey Kong before that. The game transplanted the platforming play into a linear level design. Super Mario Bros. 2 stylized the graphics further, let players choose between four characters, and added game play elements like vegetable plucking and throwing.
The third moved back towards the first, polishing the basic mechanics and keeping the sense of style from the second. They still feel great to play today, and are available in some form on many of Nintendo’s more recent consoles.
Michael Irving is a freelance writer and lifelong video game fan. He’s particularly interested in their cultural impact, and how families in communities like Allura can enjoy games together.