As far as I see it, there are 4 really common progression systems that feature in major single player releases:
- Earn points by doing basic game tasks (fighting, completing quests, etc)
- At level thresholds, you put attributes into skills or buy new abilities, direclty.
- Game gives you something specific to do that requires your focus (5 stealth kills, 20 headshots on enemy type…)
- Completing the challenge grants the player a new skill or some attribute points
- Find pickups in the environment
- Spend pickups to unlock skills or increase attributes
- Find materials in the environment (like pickups but way more common and not placed in limited specific locations on the map)
- Spend materials to increase attributes to unlock skills
I'm curious to know what you all think: when does each belong in a game, and when doesn't it? Also curious to know if I've missed any.
Here's my take, for those who are interested:
- Where it works: RPGs, mostly. In general, where the focus of the story is increasing in power over time. Divinity OS2 is a good example. Power is obtained through subjugating others. You get XP when you subjugate others.
- Where it doesn't work: Wolfenstein Young Blood. Wolfenstein is best when it's a fast-paced shooter. Grinding XP to level up means going up against bullet sponges and constantly retreading old ground for the sake of XP. Why am I back in this courtyard farming grunts if my mission is finding my dad as quickly as possible?
- Where it works: Wolfenstein New Colossus. Challenges are tied to playstyles, and playstyles all revolve around fighting Nazis. So does the story, for that matter. Stealth kill 5 commanders gives commanders increased reaction time moving forward. Reward fits the challenge, challenge fits the playstyle, playstyle fits the story.
- Where it doesn't work: Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal. Combat strategy in those games is "right tool for the job." If I have to do something very specific with a weapon to unlock its final upgrade, I'm focused too much on that weapon in every encounter and not focused enough on solving my problems intelligently. I'm forcing the game to meet a desired playstyle rather than adapting my playstyle to fit the game's challenges. Doom works against itself with that upgrade system.
- Where it works: Deus Ex HR and Mankind Divided. Espionage games where the thrill is sneaking into a place, then breaking security to find the valuable things. Some of those valuable things are praxis kits. Nice.
- Where it doesn't work: Gears 5. Spectacle-centric cover shooter. Jack upgrades require you to slow down and become a playtester for an hour on each map to make sure you hit every wall and cranny. You go from frantic fights with Locusts to slow, meandering needle-in-haystack digs.
- Where it works: Tomb Raider reboots. Survival-centric story and gameplay also involves scrounging for resources to improve equipment. Fits in nicely.
- Where it doesn't work: Evil Within 2. Evil Within is at its best when you're terrified and barely scraping by encounters. Crafting in that game offers too much respite in menu crawling and gives you too much control over your situation to allow yourself to be scared of what's happening.
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