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I hate when roguelites force you to choose between meta progression and improving your current run


I first noticed a mechanic like this in Fate Hunters, a deck builder where there's an entire category of cards that actively make your deck worse in exchange for earning you more currency to unlock things for future runs. Now I've encountered something similar in Hades, where you're sometimes presented with a choice between two rooms, one of which gives you a shop that can be used to buy immediate upgrades or health recovery items, the other of which gives you one of the several forms of meta currency found in the game. Furthermore, meta currency is sometimes itself available as a shop item or as a reward for opening infernal troves (which spawn a large swarm of enemies and therefore risk wasting your precious HP). Although I find all this much more agreeable than having to actively gimp yourself like in Fate Hunters, the fact remains that there's a steep opportunity cost to passing up an immediate power boost for a resource that's completely useless for the remainder of your current run. Trading immediate resources (gold/HP) for meta currency is similarly costly. Some might argue that this adds interesting decision making by forcing you to weigh the short term against the long term, but I find these sorts of decisions to be highly dissatisfying for a few reasons.

If you choose the short term option, it feels like you've had to sacrifice progress towards something cool you were looking forward to (like a weapon unlock) just for the sake of having a fun run, which for me violates the very spirit of what makes roguelites great – namely that each run provides you with a number of exciting options for increasing player power that feel good to pick up and play with. This choice becomes especially frustrating if you pick the short term power option but then fail the run shortly after anyways, something that's very much expected in the beginning stages of a roguelite. At that point it can feel that even trying to win the run was a waste and that you should have just cut your losses and picked the currency option instead. While I don't think "feels bad" moments can or should be avoided entirely in games, and it's perfectly fine to be punished for a bad decision, in this case the strategy added is pretty shallow since if you play long enough you'll eventually unlock everything anyways. It's really a more of a fun tradeoff than a strategic tradeoff. When I play a roguelite I want to be asked the question "which of these options makes my character the most powerful?" not, "do I have fun now, or later?"


If you choose the meta option, you're more or less opting to play the rest of the run handicapped from that point forward since you've chosen to forgo something potentially very powerful for something that won't help you until you die and start a new run. While some veteran players might enjoy the challenge of trying to win with a weaker build, a new player who passes up on a powerful boost early on is most likely dooming their run to failure given the challenging and often momentum-based nature of roguelites. I realize that many players don't mind grinding out failed runs for the sake of eventually unlocking enough upgrades to beat the game, and some even relish this approach – after all, roguelites with meta progression have sold very well compared to traditional roguelikes. But games like Slay the Spire or Enter the Gungeon handle meta progression in a simpler and more elegant way – you just unlock things passively as you play the game, at a rate proportional to the success of your runs. Even if you fail a lot you'll eventually unlock everything with enough persistence, but it's satisfying to know that you're rewarded for doing your absolute best to win, even in the early stages. This is the opposite of FH and Hades, which introduce a tradeoff between meta currency and build power that punishes you for trying your best to succeed right away (unless you manage to succeed in spite of skipping useful pickups and trading your resources for meta currency, which is again rather unlikely for a new player).

If you've already acquired enough meta currency to unlock everything, than the decision making involved in these tradeoffs evaporates completely – you just reject the currency option by default since it's no longer needed. I think something's pretty backwards if unlocking things ends up removing decisions from the game instead of adding to them – again, contrast that with a game like Slay the Spire, where the web of potential deck options and item interactions just grows more and more interesting as you unlock more things. I know that Hades has contractor upgrades that grant you a small bonus for clearing meta currency rooms, but the bonuses seem far too minor to compete with the other room rewards if you don't need the currency itself.

I'm still enjoying Hades and would consider it to be a phenomenal game in most other regards, but I hope that this kind of meta progression doesn't become a trend in roguelites going forward. I find it adds so little in the way of strategy while making the game feel less rewarding.

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