Thursday, September 10, 2015

Improving Witcher 3 would be Witchcraft (6): Experience and Money

One last time we return to the world of Geralt to discuss the 2 fundamental gameplay features of gaining experience and money. Amassing experience and advancing in level is the most important aspect of character growth. It is a strong motivation for the player to keep on going. The same holds true for money.
In essence, they are both currencies, or numbers, that need to be adjusted by the game designer to prevent 2 things from happening: giving the player not enough of them leads to frustration and repetitive grinding. Giving them too much will sooner or later make the player too powerful and trivialize the content, leading to boredom. So how does Witcher 3 fare in this regard?

7. Experience and money gain

Power creeps

It is an issue that plagues many RPGs and the more open the game, the worse it gets. At the start, when the player can´t reach many locations, these games are brutally punishing and reloading is frequently. Once the world opens up and the player has more opportunities to strengthen his characters, the balance tips in their favor. This can go on until the player becomes almost invincible, no wonder that so many open world RPGs feature anticlimatic last bosses.
Since Witcher 3 allows so much freedom, you will eventually also face this time point when any deadly encounter is only a trivial matter of a few button presses. Just because you were a bit too busy doing the excellent sidequests and you grew in power.

Close-up picture of a Drowned from Witcher 3
They were scary for the first few hours.
A possible solution to this problem would be level-scaling of enemies so they never become trivial (or always stay ahead of you on higher difficulties). Some people will now want to pull out their pitchforks and lit their torches, I suppose. There are more than enough negative oppinions about the level-scaling concept and how it is considered a cardinal sin by RPG veterans (you can read more about it in this blog). I think this mainly comes from the emotional scars left by The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion which featured one of the worst level-scaling environments of all time. This may be shocking news, but there are games out there with excellent level-scaling that keeps you motivated for endless hours even when you already played through the game.
For Witcher 3, I would suggest using level-scaling only on a few select encounters. Namely the Witcher contracts where you usually hunt down some famous, named and powerful beings. Ending these fights with 3 sword swings if your level is too high has always felt like a letdown. Making them grow in power would help in making these encounters memorable and a test of all your skills accumulated so far.

I´m rich, witch!

With all the loot lying around in the Witcher world, players usually collect items and sell them frequently. Becoming wealthy is just a matter of hours. And it becomes really hard to see the point in haggling with poor villagers to get 20 more coins for your contract when you have 10000 of them lying in your backpack. It certainly blows things out of proportion.
To make money relevant and something desirable for the player even in the later game, the principle of "gold sinks" was introduced in many games. Some games keep them purely cosmetic but I think we can all agree that we can´t imagine Geralt walking around and buying fancy sunglasses and beautiful rags for his chamber in Kaer Morhen.

Witcher with sunglasses
Errm... no, thanks to the Witcher with sunglasses.

Another approach would be a possibility for the player to invest in something that makes him stronger but money costs would have to grow steeply while the return diminishes. My suggestion would be a special kind of runestones (the little things you socket into your equipment) that come with a level attached to them. The power of the effect of the runestone would be linked to its level and you could pay some crafters to improve the level. It is cheap at the beginning so you can get the base effect but as you improve it again and again it always gets more costly.
Example: the runestone of Devana improves the chance to cause bleeding by 1% at level 1. Then you go to the crafter and improve it to level 2 for 200 crowns, now it grants you 2% chance to bleed. Again, you consult the crafter and improve it to level 3 for 500 crowns, now it grants you 2,5% chance to bleed, etc.

Inventory screen from Witcher 3 with runestones
Inventory screen with a typical runestone collection.

The end is now...

And so we reach the conclusion of my long list of suggestions, I thank you very much for all your patience reading it... and seeing the weird things like a Witcher with sunglasses. I would be glad to see you back on another topic in the blog, for example the discussion about CrossCode might be worth your attention.

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Interesting links: 

Official website of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Buy the PC version on
Game review on YouTube by AngryJoe

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