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Discussing Fall Damage

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Hello Everyone. So recently I have been playing Assassin's Creed Odyessy. In the game, unlike, past entries, you can unlock an ability that gets rid of fall damage, allowing you jump off any place with no worries. That got me thinking of Fall Damage and its use in game design and if Ody was right in dropping it.

The first main use of Fall Damage I can think off is acting as a fail state or as a path to it while streamlining levels. Take Prince of Persia Sands of Time as an example. When the player dies due to fall damage, they had to have failed a platforming section to have fallen in the first place such as mistiming a jump while wall running. Fall Damage in this case tells the player they have failed and need to try again. Even Prince of Persia '08, the game where the Prince can't die, still has a fail state, Elika saving the Prince, that kicks in when the player fails a section and needs to be sent to the last checkpoint. If Fall Damage didn't exist in these games, then every platforming section would need to find another way to get the player to the start of a section if they failed and didn't have sand to rewind time or whatever which would start to get tedious especially if the section was particularly difficult.

The second use is to make other systems work, to encourage problem solving and to add stakes to sections. Let's take Breath of the Wild as an example. If there's a giant mountain to climb and Link needs to climb it, he only has a finite amount of stamina to climb it with. If he runs out of stamina while climbing, he will fall and the fall damage may kill him. This adds stakes to climbing a mountain because there is something on the line if the player fails. A player may decide to make a path while climbing that minimizes steeper areas and provides areas to rest. Or use potions to increase stamina or whatever other way they tackle the problem. If the player climbs and finds their solution isn't optimal they still have choices to make. They can try to push on and not lose the ground they made or find a way to safely decent or try to change their approach. If there wasn't fall damage, these additional decisions would not be considered and these other mechanics would become superflous. Like, you could climb up a mountain the straight way up and if you run out stamina, no worries, you can try again as soon as Link touches the ground.

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The third use is to add realism. Falling hurts us in real life so why not have the same in a game? I personally consider this the weakest use because games frequently ignore realism for all kinds of other places. Like, you're telling me my badass protagonist can survive point blank gunfire and other magic spells, can go months without eating or sleeping, fight entire armies, do magic, talk to girls, but a 10 foot drop is his biggest weakness?

So back to Assassin's Creed. I personally believe that in these games, Fall Damage is a scrappy mechanic that doesn't really add anything and worse case can make some options less viable.

Back in Assassin's Creed 2, it was easy to just tank fall damage from jumping off buildings because healing potions were common as dirt. AC3 onwards had regenerating health than instantly kicked when you took damage and weren't in combat. And if you ever found yourself high enough that falls would be lethal, there would be haystacks nearby to safely decend down with. Unity added a "parkour down" command that by holding R2 + O, Arno would automatically climb down any building on his own with no issue or further input required. So in terms of mechanics, the only difference between Unity and Ody's approach to decending was pressing 1 button instead of holding down 2 and one took far less time. Since decending was not very involving in past games, Ody removing fall damage makes navigation faster and less tedious. Also, Assassin's Creed Origins had Fall Damage but also abilities like an air strike and slow mo air aiming similar to games like Middle Earth Shadow of War. But unlike those games, Origins abilities were quite impractical to use because in order to get the most out of them, you'd need to jump from pretty high to do it and take a lot of damage that wouldn't easily heal now. Since Ody doesn't have fall damage said moves are way more useful now.

So what do you think about Fall Damage as a design tool and what else I've written? What are some interesting takes you've seen of it in games?

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