Hello everyone, in this post I’m going to try and point out something that I’ve noticed seen I’ve been ruminating on why I haven’t enjoyed the last 3 leagues. We’re going to start by going back in time 2ish years with Expedition League and I’m going to try to explain my post’s title by examining each league.
For those of you who have been playing this long, you may remember that Expedition is also the “league of nerfs” or “the great balancing.” While this doesn’t intrinsically impact the conversation, it’s worth noting that this league is where Grinding Gear Games decided to continuously “tone down” player power as a whole.
In Expedition league, we see the first league where players don’t just pick up items off the ground as their reward. During the league, all the currency items were not auto-pickup, meaning you spent a lot of time picking up currency on the floor, then a lot of time sitting at a vendor screen purchasing items. While the system is rewarding, it’s what I consider to be the first step of what I’m calling “high engagement design”.
Basically, to get the rewards from the league mechanic, it requires more real life time to achieve the same results. This is high engagement design. More real life hours spent = more time playing the game = more potential profit for the business. It also means less fun, and more tediousness.
Next up is Scourge league, the second most popular league of the last two years. Scourge was highly rewarding for normal gameplay and high a strong risk-reward combat design. It also had The Dream Furnace, Scourge league’s version of “high engagement”.
The Dream Furnace is almost exactly like the Crucible is in Crucible League. You place an item in the device (a separate inventory on your character, does not take up bag or stash space), it gains experience over time, and you unlock implicits on your items. It was mildly tedious to maintain, took a very long time to see any results, and often times your efforts would be wasted, yielding zero results for your time spend.
The Dream Furnace is has the first element of high engagement design: “Make mechanics that backpedal a players progress, causing them to repeat the same steps repeatedly”.
Next up is Archnemesis league. The core mechanic for Archnemesis was simple: each zone has a hard monster to kill, you can upgrade this monster, upgrading this monster makes it harder and makes it drop more loot. I will decline to discuss the rare monster redesign.
While simple, the “upgrade the monster” league mechanic was tedious, time consuming, and seemingly purposefully confusing. Many of the combinations of upgrades yielded very few beneficial results for dramatically increased difficulty. No sort function was ever implemented for the upgrade items, and throughout the league the mechanic was largely ignored by many players due to the friction required to interact with it.
Archnemesis has the second element of high engagement design: Obfuscate basic gameplay elements and create friction between small gameplay elements, such as moving items around.
Sentinel league followed Archnemesis, and is wildly regarded as the most successful and fun league of the last two years by many players. Grinding Gear Games admittedly declared that they had created an incredible simple mechanic purposefully to make time for other things.
The Sentinel was incredibly simple: press button, make normal game monsters harder, get more loot. There was some customization on how and what kind of monsters you wanted to make harder and how hard you made them, but that’s it.
Sentinel League had small elements of high engagement design, such as act of combining sentinels to achieve better results, but they weren’t mandatory to receive rewards from the league mechanic and all players received similar rewards for their time.
Kalandra League is what I would consider “the beginning of the end” in league design. In Kalandra League, players were tasked with filling out a “game board” in each zone to create a somewhat-custom map to fight monsters and get loot in.
Kalandra League had a number of issues with this design.
All rewards from the league mechanic were deferred until you completed a custom map. This could be hours of real life time in the future, depending on your gameplay speed and luck with the game board.
The reward structure on the game board was very poor for the first month of the league.
What kinds of rewards the player would receive were obscured.
The custom maps were often several orders of magnitude more difficult than was to be expected, with difficulty scaling beyond even 100% delirious, fully juiced maps or the hardest endgame bosses at the time.
Kalandra has the last element of high engagement design: delayed rewards. Move the finish line farther away and dangle the carrot closer to them, giving them the illusion of progress.
Sanctum is the culmination of these elements combined. In Sanctum, you complete “sets of small encounters” (a total of 32 or 33) to receive rewards at the end of the floor or end of the Sanctum.
In Sanctum: 1) the monsters dropped almost nothing, 2) you could lose all your rewards and be forced to restart, 3) were expected to delay your rewards for a long period of time, 4) the difficulty of the encounters was deeply obscured, 5) only rewarded players who explicitly designed characters to play around the league mechanic, and 6) punished players with characters who did not build with the very specific monster types and mechanics of the sanctum in mind.
Sanctum is the current worse example of high engagement design in Path of Exile. You are expected to play longer than ever before to get your rewards and your rewards may be lost for reasons outside your control.
Now we come to Crucible. Crucible is the worst elements of Scourge’s Dream Furnace and Archnemesis’ custom rare monsters bundled into one, with all the elements that force a player to play for as long as possible.
In Crucible, 1) the league mechanic doesn’t drop items, 2) participating in the league mechanic itself is tedious and time consuming, 3) it’s rewards are deeply obscured, 4) you’re expected to delay your rewards for long periods of time, 5) you may sometime receive no rewards at all, and 6) the reward you get can move your progression backwards (bricking your build).
Again we see the same design elements all tied together in a way that compels you to continue to play more.
tl;dr Grinding Gear Games appears to be purposefully designing the game in a manner that compels to play more. Not because you want to play more because the game is fun and engaging, but because you have to play more because you can’t get what you used to be able to get if you don’t. I believe this is a purposeful decision in order to increase revenue for the company, driven by their marketing team and marketing companies that have approached them with sales pitches.
Do not promote this kind of game design. Stop playing Path of Exile if you do not like it. Stop spending money on Path of Exile if you do not like it. Tell everyone you know that you do not like it.
It’s bad for the game and it’s bad for the industry.
Also, this is basically just a rant, not a real tedious breakdown. There’s so much more going on behind the scenes in this kind of game design, I’m just trying to get it out there.
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