This Progression System Kills Every Game It Touches

Identifying this is the first step towards removing it.

Video Game Progression
Bethesda/Activision/Ubisoft

Sometimes you happen upon a notable trend or shared mentality across a whole bunch of games... and it doesn't have a name. In this case I'm focusing on a particular number-based progression system you'll immediately begin to recognise, but to correctly identify and fix it, we need to break it down.

First off it's worth saying I'm NOT talking about Monster Hunter World or The Witcher III's progressions - both those games offer steady rewards across ginormous playtimes. Instead, it's the incremental, percentage-based "reward systems" that form the entirety of certain titles, and routinely feel phoned in as HELL.

The Division
Ubisoft

Think loot grinds, "+3% accuracy", "+78% damage", microtransaction-fueled dice rolls and that whole idea of a game floating numbers that used to sit in the background.

Why is this happening so much?

Honestly, I think it's a response to "games as a service"; a way to make games last far longer than just their few weeks or months in the sun. With longer play-times and diehard fanbases come progression systems that must account for that. How? Mathematics.

Expand level caps, drag out the gameplay loop grind and voila: A "reason to play" that can last long enough until the sequel, or for as long as even the most dedicated gamer stays invested.

In theory, anyway.

fallout 76
Bethesda

Even Fallout 76 is falling victim to it with Perk Cards, as shown at the pretty damn cringeworthy Quakecon 2018 event. It's what made me think on just how many developers fall back on this formula overall.

There's Destiny 1 & 2, The Division, Agents of Mayhem, Need for Speed: Payback, Assassin's Creed Origins and Odyssey.

Hell, Ubisoft are one of the biggest offenders. For Honor, Ghost Recon, The Crew 2, Far Cry 5, Watch Dogs 2. Even Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War introduced loot grinds, though for the most part, the variance in armour and weapon upgrades was satisfying, as oppose to exploitative.

god of war shattered gauntlet of ages talisman
Sony Interactive Entertainment

All this brings me onto another reason these grinds won't go away any time soon: They're too damn profitable.

Having a number-crunching aspect to your game plays into rolling the dice to get higher stats - something many publishers then end up putting behind a paywall.

"Cough up the coins for another spin of the wheel!"

It's the old-school arcade mentality made new.

star wars battlefront 2 duplicates
EA

We've seen companies like Warner Bros. and EA flirt with this stuff to disastrous effect, but even if the monetisable aspects are reduced, giving us more "full" games for a launch day price, we're still left with numerically-fuelled progressions from start to finish.

And that sucks.

Think about it: From front to back in Arkham Asylum you went from "being Batman", to an unstoppable tank, taking on rooms of goons with moves and combos you'd perfected across hours of game-time.

In hour 300 of Destiny, you're still doing the exact same thing as in minute three, it's just that melee punch now does "+200% damage".

It's the same melee punch, and nothing other than the background numbers have changed. How about games reward us with more meaningful unlocks; different melee animations gated behind sizeable play-times, for example, instead of just encouraging a tiresome grind?

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Gaming Editor
Gaming Editor

Gaming Editor at WhatCulture. Wields shovels, rests at bonfires, fights evil clones, brews decoctions. Will have your lunch on Rocket League.