Back around the time of Anarchy Online’s first big expansion, Shadowlands, I had a frightening revelation. To put a date on it, it would be after the release of the expansion, and before I crashed RK1/Atlantean’s economy by causing hyperinflation after I dumped two or three billion credits into the market by AOE kiting Hecklers in Elysium (I copped onto the potential of the loot drops a few months before anyone else). This revelation has honestly shaped me through to today:
If you ignore the big, pretty numbers that flash up for the player’s gratification, every single attack in every MMO can be boiled down to something that changes the current percentage value of a stat as compared to its maximum.
…wait, what? Bear with me while I try to explain this. You have a health bar that – for the sake of convenience – has one thousand health units. You unleash your biggest, most-Earth shatteringly powerful attach and deal 800 damage. That’s 20% of the maximum. Your smaller, regular attacks hit for 40 points each, or 4% of the total health. All attacks and heals in video games can be seen as having a percentage-based damage/heal value and cost.
When I had this revelation, and stripped away all of the big numbers that Anarchy Online displayed I realized three things:
- Net player power decreases as you level up. You face tougher challenges, obstacles that cannot be defeated by one player alone. Your attacks do (as a percentage) less damage at the maximum level, while in maximum level gear, and facing maximum level challenges, than they do as a brand new, inexperienced players.
- The game developers’ (Funcum’s) only effective avenue for increasing challenge was to reduce net player power. I felt disgusted and betrayed by what I perceived as my decreasing ability to influence the game world, as I progressed through Shadowlands content. Surely I should feel the opposite!
- I am probably a reductionist. Pray for me.
The aftermath of this was that Player versus Environment content was forever soured for me. I still look at boss encounters in this light. As I reach the very end-game content, my ability to affect the game world drops precipitously. This sucks. I gravitated toward Player versus Player combat instead, because although we’re both still playing The Percentages Game, we’re playing against sentient human foes, and not just reacting to a script running from top-to-bottom.