What Happens When You Give a Player Power?

How much power a player has, changes an entire game’s design. Most games make it rather obvious that a player is powerful like Star Wars the Force Unleashed or Dynasty Warrior games. Meanwhile, some games take power away from the player, making them weak and having to rely on their ability to solve puzzles, problem solve, or not be seen by enemies in games like The Last Guardian, Limbo, or Darkest Dungeon. Game developers must take into account how much power to give the player in both Single player games and multiplayer games. Let’s get started with single-player games.

When balancing how much power the player has in a single-player game is more of a question as to how difficult the developers want to make their game. It’s also a question as to what kind of feeling you want to give the player and what player behavior you want to encourage and discourage. In DOOM a game famous for its protagonist who the player plays as is a super powerful soldier. In the latest iteration of the game, the method as to how to encourage and discourage certain behaviors by granting the player more or less power was mastered for this particular game. In DOOM you wield a lot of different weapons and against certain enemies and in certain situations each one makes you feel overpowered. It’s the player’s ability to switch between the right weapons at the right time, manage ammo, and put yourself in a situation that suits whatever weapon you have the most ammo for, that makes a good player. This doesn’t sound so hard except for the fact that it’s extremely fast-paced. This encourages the player to be moving at all times. They do this by forcing the player to need to swap weapons a lot and therefore need to change positions a lot. Also, the player does not regenerate health, they must kill enemies or find health laying around to get their health back. Lastly, you get a good chunk of health back by executing melee kills. This encourages the player to move forward and be fast and aggressive even when their health is low. When the player is successful it gives the player a great feeling of triumph and the feeling of just how powerful they are, despite the fact that it is indeed a difficult game at times. But DOOM is just one example. If we look back to Star Wars the Force Unleashed, we’ll see that the player is wielding the legendary Force with greater strength than we’ve ever seen in the films. Something I noticed when playing the game recently is that the player doesn’t have much in the way of defense other than standing still where Starkiller will block small amounts of lasers automatically or hiding behind objects. However, much like DOOM, you are only rewarded healthy by finding it or killing enemies, once again encouraging the player to be aggressive. Unlike DOOM, in The Force Unleashed when you use an ability, you are defenseless, you can run and dodge at the same time. Meaning you need to hit those who are attacking you, in order to make them stop hurting you. This gives you a forced dynamic of using a great offense as your only defense.

More subtle single-player games that give the player power is Ghost Recon, Assassins Creed, and Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice. The Ghost Recon games always put you in a small squad on America’s top-secret off the books Ghost Squad. You play as one of the highly trained squad members with all the latest military technology and a fairly long list of gear, equipment, decked out weapons, and borderline sci-fi gadgets. Basically, you are armed to the teeth with superweapons. As the name implies, you obviously rely on stealth. This is because your squad is small and you usually have butt loads of enemies to kill. Stealth is the best weapon in this game series. Though your numbers are small and don’t have loads of health, you have so many different gadgets to give you a huge advantage in combat, if done right, the enemy will never see it coming and will have little to no time to even come close to posing a threat to you. This is your power. You sneak up on enemies, do recon with a drone, find all your enemies, and kill them in a certain order to make sure to not alarm the rest, prevent alarms from being triggered and force the enemy into a kill box. It’s fun, satisfying, and gives you power. On the flip side, if you screw up, you are usually at the disadvantage and you either have to have skills with your guns to kill them before they overwhelm you and your squad, or you have to retreat. In the latest game in the series, Ghost Recon Wildlands, this often results in a car chase. Assassins Creed is very similar to Ghost Recon in this way, except without the modern-day tech or squad. Stealth is your best weapon and taking on an army by yourself isn’t usually a good idea, but a smart player can pick apart an enemy cample single-handedly by using throwing knives, bow’n arrow, melee attacks, and more. If faced with only a handful of enemies then you can fight them and sadly the newer games have made combat too easy in my opinion, devaluing the need for stealth but the older games made stealth more vital.

An interesting case of making a single-player game powerful is Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice, especially for all the times you feel powerless in the game. You are just a girl with a sword and determination. The game simulates several mental illnesses and makes you feel small, discouraged, and hopeless. But once again when you come into contact with a demon trying to kill you, you just can’t wait to rip it to pieces. Each time feels like a David and Goliath moment since they are so big, strong and your character is so emotionally hurt when they make a mistake both in combat or in the puzzle-solving areas of the game. The feeling of power comes from… well nowhere. You simply feel, less weak when you survive the hell that the game throws you into. This is a game that makes you feel good by simply overcoming your own weakness. Making a player weak has its advantages, but is usually only used to help make the story more immersive.

Multiplayer games are generally supposed to be “balanced” and fair so that all players are mostly on even playing grounds to keep each match even and winnable for each team. However, this doesn’t stop some games from trying to make you feel powerful anyway. My biggest issue with EA’s StarWars Battlefront 2 is that you will unlock so many gadgets and abilities to use that each player is kind of like a super-soldier. Yes, all these weapons and abilities can be justified in the Starwars universe, however, Battlefront was supposed to be about playing as a common soldier in a battle. Common soldiers don’t have fancy shields, instant health boosters, or even big guns. This is their attempt to make every player feel special and make the battle more epic when every player ends up wield extremely strong weapons. They literally just granted every soldier on the battleground too much power. Ironically since everyone has this overly dramatized power, it balances out to be that no one is actually more powerful than one another and the battle no longer plays out like an epic gunfight from the Starwars movies, but more like the fight in Avengers Civil War. Sadly Call of Duty also started doing this by allowing players to have more extreme loadouts and now they have character classes with special abilities. (Glad to see they’re getting rid of that though)

A game genre that’s always been struggling with how much power to give their players is MOBAs. At the start of a match of League of Legends, you are all weak and on an equal playing ground. But this means that things that are constant throughout the match like minions, jungle monsters, and towers are all very strong in comparison. As you kill enemies and monsters you level up and gain gold to purchase upgrades. You gain power throughout the match and when a player does a better job at getting kills and farming minions and monsters they truly earn the strength that they’re rewarded for and it gives them an edge over their opponents. This rewards good players by making them powerful and gaining power is the name of the game. The issue comes with how fast should these players be able to quickly destroy towers and monsters, or how quickly do players gain enough power for the match to no longer be winnable.

Some games like Insurgency, old Starwars Battlefront games, and most Battlefield games make the player feel like just another soldier on the front lines, no special powers, or no power at all. You are insignificant, this is taking away all power from the player and letting them know that even if they fight hard they only thing their only reward will be running out of ammo. But this creates a good dynamic as well. Instead of fearing your enemy when they do well due to them being encouraged to press on by game mechanics or by them gaining momentum. The losing team just needs to keep their head on straight and keep fighting until the enemy makes a mistake. I personally love these types of games the most.

When it comes to many single-player games or co-op games there are many games where you are technically on an even playing ground as your AI enemies. In old Call of Duty’s games both you and your AI enemies die in roughly the same number of bullets and have access to similar weapons and grenades. In fact, your AI teammates are usually rather useless and you are outnumbered by your AI enemies. The only reason you can beat them is that you are a human and they are not. AI bots are designed to be predictable and don’t adapt well to human strategies (unless the human playing is an idiot). Sometimes bots due have superhuman abilities but for the most part, the creativity and problem-solving skills of a player will always outweigh the bots, hence why any gamer can finish a Call of Duty campaign and any game like it.

That’s all for this post, happy gaming and if you die respawn close to home.

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