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Tag - Destiny

Level Boost: The New Sorry

Nothing says I'm sorry like 'pay me another 60 bucks for less content'

Level boosts are becoming the ultimate make good for the developers of MMOs (and similar games) who are unable to make their old content compelling enough to play. “Sorry we can’t figure out how to make anything compelling beyond the new end game” is what each developer is saying, essentially, about level boosts. Sometimes, this is appropriate; after 10 years of playing WoW, I can honestly say that I never again want to do 1-60. Other times, it is less a quality of life thing and more of a ‘yeah, we know, this whole first bit kinda sucks and always has.’

Creating content that is both repeatable and compelling is an incredibly difficult challenge. Unless you are the type to enjoy grinding, there aren’t many games that manage to do it. In most genres this isn’t much of a problem, for a variety of reasons: the grind could be the whole point of the game (Diablo 3); the game could only need to be played once for full effect (The Last of Us); the players could be the ones in charge of producing content (EVE Online).

and by history we mean our whole game

This is why MMOs in particular are susceptible to alt-fatigue, the exhaustion of static content that must be repeated time and again. World of Warcraft is a pretty great example of a game with a high level of alt-fatigue potential. The game really only starts at max level – different character roles are required for group activities and you can reasonably expect a large portion of your players to want to experience multiple roles over time. Logically this means those players should want to play hybrid classes such as the Druid or the Paladin, but humans are illogical creatures. They will of course make a Warrior, and then a Mage, and then a Priest to cover the same bases that a single Paladin or Druid can.

The problem with this is that leveling through WoW is by and large the same experience no matter what class the player chooses. It is a static experience that clashes with the dynamic experience of end game content. You must do (by and large) the same quests, in (roughly) the same order, whether you are a warrior or paladin or mage or priest. Thus, ‘illogical’ players that roll three different classes to fill three different roles will likely not be enjoying the content on the second time through, and probably start to hate it on the third.

This person has a problem. They probably also really like Friends.

Image courtesy of Engadget.com

There are, of course, exceptions to this; my wife is in fact one of them. She enjoys completing the same content over and over and over again. She also is on her 1 billionth rewatch of Friends. For most people, though, repeating the leveling experience is not a compelling thing. That’s where the level boosts come in.

Developers like Bungie and Blizzard are no dummies when it comes to player experience; for all the griping that can occur on the internet, those two companies have actually repeatedly delivered some of the finest player experiences of their times. They worry about this problem no less than you hate that the problem exists, but creating handcrafted worlds that adhere to a narrative that they create seems, at least so far, fundamentally incompatible with a refreshing and compelling repeatable experience.

There is some hope. Advances in procedural generation of content could provide an avenue through which compelling narratives and worlds can be repeated – at least, that’s the hope of No Man’s Sky. And games like EVE Online have shown that there is a recipe for player-generated content that doesn’t end in tragic failure, though in those worlds the developer-created narratives often take a back seat to the player-generated drama.

Welcome to The Matrix, basically

For now, level boosts like the one Blizzard introduced in Warlords of Draenor and the one that Bungie are deploying with The Taken King are the implicit apology for a failure to generate compelling leveling experiences. These failures are not necessarily the result of negligence or ignorance on the part of the developer, though, contrary to what many embittered customers of those companies like to allege. They are the symptoms of the inherent design problem present in persistent, handcrafted online spaces.

Level boosts are a good thing, whether old timers or other detractors like it or not – at least, as long as developers are still trying to push the boundaries of the industry and find the way ahead. As a stop gap measure, level boosts are not only sufficient but considerate. The danger lies in whether companies see the level boost as another ‘feature’ to add on to expansions of content. Should we arrive at a point in mainstream development wherein level boosts are the ‘best practice’ for MMOs and no time is being spent on trying to fix the core issue that level boosts were created to address – well, then it’ll be time to just pack it all up and go home.

Destiny Year 2 Is Coming

Liam Neeson Stars in...

As Gamescom 2015 hits the mean streets of Cologne, Germany, news is filtering in on The Taken King, Destiny’s next expansion set to launch September 15th. Peter Dinklage is being retconned right out of Destiny (replaced entirely by the superb, if overused, Nolan North), light leveling is dying a quiet death, the level cap is increasing to 40, and the ability to boost a character’s level to jump straight into the new missions available with The Taken King are the highlights of Destiny’s Year 2. There are also some tidbits about the loot system in general – a new dynamic loot system that will take your current gear into account when dropping new gear (to help alleviate the “I got three Gjallorhorns” problems some of us have) and the revelation that your gear today will be outdated the moment The Taken King goes live. Shocker.

Peter Dinklage’s performance in Destiny was, if we’re kind about it, flat. If we weren’t being kind, we could call it garbage. How much of this is due to the direction and guidance he received in the studio and how much is due to Dinklage being somewhat unfamiliar with the idea of voice acting (which is a very different discipline from film/television acting) remains unknown to this day. However, Bungie has apparently decided that enough is enough and tasked their audio department with finding someone – anyone – that doesn’t sound like a piece of cardboard. They came back with Nolan North, the hardest working voice actor in video games.

Light leveling was an attempt at building in a dynamic alternate leveling progression from the get-go that failed to really spark a lot of love. I personally never had a problem with it (though the grinding required at high levels for marginal light increases was perhaps a bit much), but enough loud people in Bungie forums did, apparently – that, or Bungie wasn’t able to flesh out light development in the context of a ‘mass reset’ (the likes of which are entirely commonplace in MMOs). Light, of course, plays a pretty huge role in gear as it stands today, so it only makes sense that along with the death of light loot itself would be reworked.

Because this will fix all your problems with Destiny

Image courtesy of MMGN.com

There is some good news and some bad news on the loot front. The good news is that Bungie will be deploying a system to reduce duplicate gear drops and help ensure that new gear drops are actually upgrades for you. Hooray! However, all that crap you have now is crap and will be outdated when The Taken King launches, thanks to an experience-only new level cap of 40. If you’re new to the game, though, or haven’t max-leveled all three character slots you have available, you’re in luck: The Taken King comes with a level boost pack-in consumable, good for one use, to get you straight into the new hotness.

Game Informer’s September spread on Destiny contains all this information and a little bit more. There will be a new ‘mercy’ system in Destiny’s Crucible, allowing teams that are being absolutely dominated to be returned to matchmaking – because nothing makes you feel better about yourself than the game actually being unable to watch the travesty of your performance any longer. Bungie is also enabling players to, for the first time, try out guns before you buy them. Here I thought Bungie hit upon a neat way of doing things: the Gunsmith (an NPC) will have bounties associated with particular weapons in his inventory. He’ll loan you the gun and tell you to go test it out for him by shooting bad guys in various ways and combinations. Once you complete the bounty, you turn the gun back in for some reputation gains that will eventually allow you to purchase the weapon straight from the source. Sure, this is little more than faction grinding in a game already lousy with it, but at least they tried to dress it up in narrative-appropriate clothing.

Loot 2.0 is great and I’m sure plenty of people will rejoice at the removal of Dinklage from the game. I can’t help but think, though, that I would have vastly preferred a retcon of the game’s narrative rather than the voice of a majority of that narrative. Dinklage didn’t bother me much because the whole game’s story and structure and pacing bothered me, not just his voice acting. For those crowing in victory at the casting of Nolan North (a particularly uninspired but solid choice) should maybe reassess what actually matters in Destiny. As for the rest – window dressing. Cool little tidbits and improvements to a variety of systems that ultimately do not address the game’s major failings.