Just let us play our characters please!

The other day I finished the Glassmaker storyline in Warframe. I’d been looking forward to the big finale quite a lot, as this was the first Nightwave episode that I really liked in terms of lore as well as gameplay.

The investigation part played out as usual, and while the last item gave me a bit of grief because it was really hard to spot I still enjoyed it overall.

Then came the inevitable boss fight.

Dude, where’s MY big-ass sword??

I’m not a big fan of boss fights in general – multiplayer games usually being the exception – though this one, while a forced 1 vs 1, wouldn’t have been too bad were it not for one huge design “twist” that all too many game devs seem to be so very fond of using – taking away our weapons and/or abilities and replacing them with something else.

So here I am facing off a 50-foot monster, having equipped my most efficient, highly powered tools of destruction, the acquisition of which has taken much effort over the course of months – and I can’t fricking use any of it.

Instead, I have to dodge lumps of glass the baddie is throwing at me (when he’s not busy swinging his one-hit-kill sword), then pick them up and throw them back at him. I’m not even kidding!

Did I still whup his ass on the third try and got my rewards? Sure. Was it fun though? Hell no.

Game devs use this weird design crutch again and again – and that’s what it really is, isn’t it? A crutch. Beating this particular boss would’ve been a cakewalk had I been able to use my regular weapons and frame abilities, so they just didn’t let me.

*sigh* Alright…let’s do this!

Ok, sometimes it might not be that. When The Secret World takes away our powers so we have to punch our way out of the baddies’ underground lair with bare fists it’s for lore reasons and also for, well, fun, I guess. That whole mission chain is one big homage to the Indiana Jones movies after all.

And it is fun…for about two minutes. Unfortunately it gets old really fast, but the cultists keep on coming. By the time we got out of there on our very first playthrough I was determined to never do that mission again.

If this is what the afterlife’s like I want no part of it!

Over in Transylvania another quest tranforms us into some sort of wraith – and again all of our familiar abilities vanish from the hotbar, to be replaced with two simple, rather underwhelming attacks and one self-heal once more. The following fight was…not pleasant.

I sure hope you will, because I fucking can’t

Of course Everquest II did it too. I guess over the span of 16 years it was bound to happen at some point. Being a rat was good for some laughs at least, I’ll give them that.

Look, I get it. Stuff like this probably seems like a good idea on paper.

It gives players a diversion from their usual gameplay – which can get somewhat stale when you play an MMO for long enough, no argument there – and might also serve as an unexpected twist or even comic relief when done right.

I do not think that the benefits ever outweigh the drawbacks however.

You see, dear devs, by the time you throw this stuff at me I’ve most likely long made my choices. The class I play or frame I use, the abilities or skillsets I’ve picked and the weapons I wield – all of this makes up the character I want to play. You know, because it’s the combination I have the most fun playing.

Letting us pick – or, more often than not, work hard for – our favourite toys and then, out of the blue, being all like “Nah, you can’t use those now; here, have a dull teaspoon and some cotton balls instead” is, honestly, kind of a dick move.

I can’t be the only one feeling that way either. Actually, I know that I’m not. Bhagpuss talked about really disliking it when several of Guild Wars 2’s Living World issues pulled that kind of stunt more than once, for example.

I feel aversion is quite a natural reaction to this, because, again, we don’t play the characters we play by accident. We do because we like them just the way they are.

What my Bruiser’s hotbars normally look like…

Of course the fact that whatever it is that our familiar gameplay loop gets replaced with in such cases is, more often than not, objectively worse and less fun doesn’t help one bit. But that’s not really a surprise, is it? The core gameplay of every MMO, even a freshly released one, has usually been years in the making. How could some ‘gimmick mechanic’, only meant for one event, one quest or one boss fight ever match that?

So, dear game devs, please stop doing that kind of stuff.

My favourite restaurant doesn’t serve an old loaf of bread instead of the meal I ordered for the sake of ‘variety’ or ‘surprise’ – or just because it’s easier and cheaper to do – either, does it?

4 Replies to “Just let us play our characters please!”

  1. FFXIV’s been doing it in their MSQ lately quite a bit also. Makes you play as a different character using a pared-down skillset and it gives you no time at all to learn it beforehand, just “Ready? FIGHT!” and you don’t even know which skills do what yet. And of course the mob/boss you’re fighting is a complete HP sponge so the fight takes freaking forever…..

    I didn’t care for the WF glassmaker boss either. On the bright side, my pc didn’t crash at all during it….

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I completely agree, as I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear. I don’t mind being turned into other creatures for comic effect or being made to disguise myself for espionage purposes – that’s part of the role-playing experience. That EQII rat quest, for example, is short, amusing and entirely optional, which is fine.

    Where I take issue is when progress is gated by these transformations, as happens with boss fights and other plot points all too often in all too many games. There’s the principle of the thing, as you illustrate, whereby the player is being compelled to stop playing the class and build they’ve chosen and then there’s the practical element. It might not be such a pain if the temporary abilities were of comparable effectiveness to the regular ones, or if they were fun to use – but they never are. They’re always weak, limited and badly explained and the player is thrown into combat without having time to examine, understand and practice using them.

    In GW2 at the point about which I was complaining, the transofrmations were incontravertibly being used to string out thin content and make it last longer. ANet did it over and over again and they got called on it every time on the forums. Eventually, after one of the periodic shake-ups behind the scenes, it stopped. I’m hoping it never comes back but of course it will, eventually, when some new developer is stuck for an idea.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. @pkudude99 – Ugh, sound horrible. I’m glad to have quit FFXIV when I did for a number of reasons, that’s one more right there.

    @Bhagpuss – I agree, being able to just opt out is a plus, albeit a small one I feel.
    I actually considered to do so after my second failure to beat that Warframe boss, but I really wanted to see that storyline through to its conclusion. Just giving up and missing the ending (and the rewards) would have been a big disappointment after several months of buildup.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like this model, but only in the non-combat sense. I’ll pick on WoW here, but they’re learned damn quick in WotLK that vehicle combat (which is similar to your post) was a bad idea and avoided most of that model moving forward.

    I think that’s also a good lesson in game design in Legion, if you were to compare the zombie mini-game vs. The mage tower.

    The transform model in combat is more akin to QTE. There’s only one way for it to work, as designed. Effectively removing all agency from the player.

    Liked by 2 people

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