About games and gaming thereof!

Unfair Leveling RPGs: Addendum

It seems like I really ruffled some feathers with that whole unfair RPGs post, so I feel I should make something clear: I don’t think any of the games I mentioned suck, much less suck exclusively because of their balance issues. In fact, every single one of those games is awesome in its own way.

System Shock 2 was an intense and daunting adventure through the bowels of a malevolent AI and a viral hivemind. Fallout: New Vegas was an atmospheric trudge through an old Western themed wasteland. Mass Effect 2 was an epic space opera filled with ethical dilemmas and intriguing lore. And Alpha Protocol was a morally ambiguous spy story spiced with conspiracies, interrogations, casual sex, and all the other features commonly associated with good old-fashioned spy movies.

I still rate Alpha Protocol as one of my favorite games despite its horrendous balance issues, because I just loved its approach to storytelling. What you have to understand is that while I do tend to criticize games pretty heavily, that doesn’t mean I think they’re crap. No game is perfect. And I still think every game I mentioned has some serious balance issues that should be addressed.

And I just feel like clarifying that I don’t get angry whenever I’m not using the best build possible. I only get angry when I see a build which there is no logical reason to use. This doesn’t apply to games where the “weaker” build also has drastically changed gameplay that might be more fun to some people.

For example, in System Shock 2 there isn’t really any difference in gameplay between using a laser gun and a regular gun, except for the fact that with a laser gun you’re doing less damage. So System Shock 2 fails the leveling system.

The statement I made about some of Mass Effect 2’s classes being nonviable really only applies to Insanity mode. Which is why it made sense to me, because I played the game on Insanity. That was just my second playthrough, though. My first was on Normal mode, and I was a vanguard. And I enjoyed it. Vanguard might technically be the worst class, but it’s also a lot of fun if you ask me, since there’s much more emphasis on movement.

So I guess the bottom line with Mass Effect 2 is that if you’re not going to play on the hardest difficulty setting, then the balance issues won’t really be a problem for you. It’s still a flaw, but it’s not nearly as terrible as I made it sound in my previous post.

As for New Vegas, it should also get a pass because using guns feels very, very different from using melee. I actually consider using guns or energy weapons to be the “proper” way of playing New Vegas, since that’s ultimately the only way you’ll get a decent challenge, and it fits best with the whole Western vibe the game exudes.

I’m just bothered by how ridiculously overpowered the melee is. I understand that it’s virtually impossible to perfectly balance melee and ranged combat, but surely they could have done better than this. I’m not kidding when I say that using a melee or unarmed build feels like playing with the cheats turned on. It’s absurd. Maybe if they’d done just a bit more QA testing they could have noticed and tweaked the stats just a bit.

Using a Guns or Energy Weapons build is not impossible, it’s not excruciatingly hard, and it’s not unfun. I used guns on my first playthrough and I got a kick out of them. But it’s ludicrously less effective than punching everyone to death. I’m not saying playing with guns is too hard — I’m saying that playing with melee is too easy.

I’m sure I’ll be told that I’m not allowed to complain about a game being too easy. There seems to be a prevailing notion among gamers these days that balance only matters in PvP. I think that notion is completely false. Gameplay matters. Challenge matters. Balance matters.

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5 responses

  1. I think the main problem with unbalanced builds, is not that they exist. It is that they are not the obvious ones.

    Good unbalances are when in FF a classical balanced party is good, 4 white mages is difficult. Obvious. In KotoR light sabers are easy, blasters are hard. It is Star Wars.

    Bad balancing is when someone picks what he thinks is a natural build, but ends up with something hard. Like energy weapon in all Fallout games. Ranged weapons in FO3 and NV.
    In SS2 I would expect energy weapons to be strong ( it is SF) or psi powers to be strong ( those are new from SS1 ).
    So someone goes through NV with a ranged build, or even energy build. Because he thinks it is a SF western after all. Later for his second game he wants to rise the difficulty by playing with the unusual melee build… then he rages.

    August 21, 2011 at 4:57 AM

    • I’m not sure 4 white mages is really that bad. You’ll probably get bored because it takes so long to kill bosses, but if you pay attention to your health you should have more than enough magic to stay alive. They even have spells to improve defense and stuff like that, so really you shouldn’t be in danger of losing if you pay attention.

      The real problem with Final Fantasy is that you have no idea how much the black belt sucks until you choose him.

      August 21, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    • Sumanai

      I think that the game should always clearly tell the player when a build or skill is under- or overpowered compared to others. For example, why wouldn’t someone think that a blaster build in Kotor is as good as a melee character? The option is right there! Surely they wouldn’t have put a method for potentially gimping your character so easy and without warning?

      I mean, how obvious are the choices that you’re making really? And how much of it is experience instead of intuition?

      August 21, 2011 at 11:52 AM

      • JPH

        I agree with this. My brother made a blaster build in KOTOR and he was pretty pissed when he found all his feats obsolete as soon as he got a lightsaber.

        August 21, 2011 at 4:09 PM

        • Well maybe the Star Wars = Lightsaber is not as obvious as I thought.
          But your brother still was pissed because it surprised him and not because of the unbalance itself.

          I do agree that there should be warnings and indications what is easy and difficult. Though I don’t mind if there are no warnings but the easiest build is the one fitting the genre and promotion material.
          And of course explicit warnings can be wrong if the balance has not been sufficiently debugged.

          August 21, 2011 at 5:26 PM

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