Fear and Loathing with RNGesus: 2014 and the Loot Genre
Is it really all about that full set of Raid gear? Or do today’s gamers want something more?
You may have heard the term a few years back when Gearbox Software first introduced Borderlands. In fact, you may be more familiar with the term “procedural generation”. But if Microsoft’s draconian policies with the Xbox One were the talk of last year, then RNG will undoubtedly be the nemesis of many a gamer as 2014 comes to a close.
RNG or Random Number Generator is a tool used in loot-based games. It takes any item you may get and applies a variety of variables to ultimately determine its identity. For example, if you defeat Terramorphous the Invincible in Borderlands 2, it’s the RNG that decides whether that Teeth of Terramorphous shotgun you obtained has a higher reload speed, better accuracy or delivers more burn damage per second. In the same way, several weapons in Borderlands 2 could be modified with different barrels, grips and whatnot to deliver different degrees of effectiveness (in case you were curious as to what the various brands like “Bandit” and “Hyperion” signified in some scenarios).
"It's not just Destiny. This year, just about every single game will make use of the random number generator in some form or another."
In a game like Destiny, however, it’s the RNG that decides not only what kind of item you obtain from a Legendary Engram but whether you’ll receive one from completing something like the Crucible or a Strike. It’s the RNG that decides whether you obtain a Vex Mythoclast on completing the Vault of Glass on Hard or not. It’s the RNG that decides whether you obtain more Light from equipment, which helps you attain max. level in Destiny, or not.
As you may imagine, even with the recent patch to Engrams to ensure that Legendaries always gave Legendary items (yes, there was a point where you could obtain a Legendary Engram and receive, say, an Uncommon weapon), there have still been plenty of woes with the RNG. Raise your hand if you obtained an awesome item that your class can’t use.
But it’s not just Destiny. This year, just about every single game will make use of the random number generator in some form or another. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel not only introduces brand new items like the ground slam which can have their own unique attributes but also two new types of elemental weapons to play around with. It now has a Loot Grinder where you can deposit three of your guns to obtain a single weapon that’s far better, thus symbolizing the very core of RNG. That’s not counting the significant uptick in weapons this time around since Borderlands has always been about bazillions of guns.
Dragon Age: Inquisition will rely on a multiplayer mode that nets you different loot based on your performance. That’s not even taking into account the weapon customization in the single-player campaign which ensures nearly countless choices for the kinds of weapons you can have.
"When did the industry collectively decide that it needed a way to get its players coming back for more, even when they had experienced everything the game had already offered several times over?"
Not to be left behind, Assassin’s Creed: Unity will use a loot system to build on the customization for its co-op, letting each player have their own unique Assassin. Everyone may be Arno but the sheer breadth of customization ensures that no two Assassins look or play alike. Ubisoft has also promised replayability in its co-op missions which stand a chance of netting you better loot and you can bet that the mission you just completed won’t play the same twice.
Forget about Grand Theft Auto Online which will be out on PS4 and Xbox One this November. Forget about the recently released Shadow of Mordor will lets you collect numerous Runes to further outfit Talion the Uruk Killing Machine. At least Call of Duty is safe, right?
Wrong. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will have hundreds of guns available for multiplayer when it ships and each will have three different classes, bestowing different benefits. The Pick 13 system expands significantly when you account for the new Exo abilities and grenade types but you can also obtain different equipment and items to further customize your soldier through supply drops. If you didn’t think there was enough customization in Call of Duty’s multiplayer before, then there certainly is now.
When did this focus on the loot genre become so encompassing? When did the industry collectively decide that it needed a way to get its players coming back for more, even when they had experienced everything the game had already offered several times over? It could be the reason that players continue to complete Bounties and Strikes on Destiny or attempt to conquer the Vault of Glass with just two Guardians. In a way, grinding for better loot epitomizes the very reason we seek to conquer games – a sense of completion. Even if Bungie eventually nerfs that Vex Mythoclast you worked so hard to obtain.
"The appeal of conquering and being better in a heavily-online based environment is too good to pass up."
Having fun is one thing but being able to lay claim to the most powerful armour or gun is a completely different feeling. It bestows a sense of ownership. Titanfall lacked this but distilled it down to pure skill instead – your sense of ownership was reaching Gen 10 and completing the game’s 960 challenges. There was no intangible reward or item obtained from the same. You were just at a certain skill level that others weren’t (and it was possibly to deteriorate in skill if you stayed away for too long). Completing all those challenges signified an in-depth knowledge of the game.
In a way, it’s the same for all those other loot-based games with Destiny standing out as an exception in several cases. The appeal of conquering and being better in a heavily-online based environment is too good to pass up. Will the genre implode? Will it eventually come to a point where everyone is over-powered? Or will we all be comfortable in a balance of elite skills obtained to go with the fancy weaponry we now tout like in Borderlands or Grand Theft Auto Online?
Whatever the case may be, go easy on those publicly airing their first world problems of not obtaining Exotics or full Raid gear in Destiny. They just really love their game, even if they seem like they hate it.