Saturday, June 16, 2018

Destiny 2: Can you avoid grind by just playing the campaign?

I am enjoying Destiny 2 enough to buy the expansion pack when Humble put it on sale a week after  the base game was included in the June monthly (nice move Humble). Nevertheless I don't have time or patience for mmo grind right now so I decided to see how far I could get just playing the main campaign. Hence the question: Can you avoid grind by just playing the main campaign?

The answer is: "Up to a point". I made it all the way through the base game (Red War) and the first expansion (Curse of Osiris) without any conscious effort to grind. I did pick up the occasional side mission and public quest along the way and I even indulged in some PVP but I didn't make any concious effort to grind.  I still managed to keep on level for the main quest lines.

Things changed when I hit the latest expansion (Warmind). I completed curse of Osiris at about power level 270 so I got something of a shock to realise that the introductory chapter of Warmind was recommended for level 310.  The next few chapters quickly went up to 320, 330 and 340 and in each case I couldn't get there just by playing the campaign. Happily 340 is the soft level cap so once I hit the late 330's was close enough to finish the campaign.

Grinding  involves running solo or group events (adventures) and I quickly realised that the random public encounters in the starter zone (EDZ)  are by far the fastest method. As long as you get a group of players together you can power through these and you will generally get a gear reward at the end. The EDZ seems the most popular zone because there is always a public event spawning and you will generally find a group of players jetting from one to the next. The asymmetric level system allows end game players to grind these public guests alongside newbies in the starter zones and everyone gets level appropriate rewards. Its a good system.

All in I spend about five hours in total grind just making up the levels between quests in Warmind in order to complete the campaign. My character is now power level 341 and cannot really advance further by because  rewards from normal activities are capped around this level. There is end game content and I believe it is possible to grind all the way to level 380 but I am not really interested at this point. I will put the game on the back burner for now. dipping in an out for some shooter fun but not seriously making an attempt to progress further. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Destiny 2 has asymmetric level scaling for mobs.

I have been playing a bit of Destiny 2 since I picked it up in the June Humble Monthly. The game is an mmorpg / fps hybrid. The FPS combat is pretty tight and enjoyable in its own right but the mmorpg bit adds quests and progression to the mix. The developers (Bungie) use level scaling in an interesting way however that impacts on how players deal with enemies of different level.

Progression is based on level and gear but the two are closely coupled because the gear you pick up  is tied to your character level. Playing the game normally equipping the gear I got from drops and rewards I found that my Power Score (which is effectively a measure of gear) hovers around 10x my character level while the maximum power score achievable with exotic gear seems to be around 12x character level. 

When I first started the game I occasionally wandered too far from the beginner zones and stumbled into mobs that out levelled me substantially. I was unable to inflict any damage on these mobs while they could one shot me. No surprises there this is standard mmorpg fare. What was surprising was then when I gained a bunch of levels myself and travelled back to the original starter areas I found the low level mobs still presented a reasonable challenge. It was as if they had been scaled to my own level. Given that players of low level were successfully fighting the same mobs it would be more correct to say that I was being scaled down. 

Reading about this it appears that Destiny 2 and its predecessor Destiny employ assymetric level scaling. If a player has a lower level than an mob then the mob remains more powerful than the player. If on the other hand the player has a higher level than the mob then the player is scaled down to the mob level.  Loot drops however are always scaled to the player level. That level 1 mob will still present a challenge at level 20 but at least you will get a level 20 drop.

I have not come across this system before but I think it is a pretty clever and it has a few beneficial impacts: There is incentive to progress in order to tackle more challenging content but on the other hand you never really outlevel old content. In a game with a lot of co-op content and random world encounters this allows players of widely different level to fight alongside each other with everyone making a significant contribution and everyone getting rewards appropriate to their own level. It is common enough to see level 30 payers fighting alongside level 5 or 6 players in the starter zones and all seem to be having a good time.

Is there a downside? Those of the "Achiever" player stereotype might be disappointing at the lack of visible evidence of progression. A high end player cannot one shot low level mobs and even though the game encourages you to grind for high end gear and skins they don't look all that different to the normal stuff at least to my eyes.