What constitutes a “fun” grind? What makes for a “dull” grind? Is grinding even all that bad?
One word that’s come up quite a lot recently is the word “grind”. Lest you think Tony Hawk is making his long awaited resurrection in the gaming space, “grind” or grinding often refers to…well, the long process of earning things really. Though the word’s actual meaning is “hard dull work” – the “daily grind” if you will – the video game equivalent could mean a number of different things. Do you need to get to a certain level by playing side quest content, even if you’re doing it out of respite? You’re essentially grinding out XP. Are you repeating the same activities, again and again, fulfilling their conditions in the hopes of getting some powerful gear by random chance? That’s a grind. Do you have a clear path towards your objective and must consistently work to achieve the guaranteed reward? Also a grind.
"Released to much fanfare but ultimately packing a barren end-game, many felt that Destiny 2 had effectively killed the grind that motivated them in the first game."
Grinding isn’t a new subject. Ask any RPG player who’s been under-leveled for a boss fight. Most times, you need that extra stat boost to ultimately lead to victory. Other times, it was purely equipment-related so players might grind out money in order to pick up better gear for their characters. The grind as a concept has been an integral part of massively multiplayer online games, whether it’s to finish a tough activity like raids for a rare reward or getting raid-ready in the first place.
Could that same meaning of “hard, dull work” still apply in the (negatively connotative) case?
You’ve probably heard about Bungie’s Destiny 2 and the state it launched in more than a year ago. Released to much fanfare but ultimately packing a barren end-game, many felt that Destiny 2 had effectively killed the grind that motivated them in the first game. The exclusion or toning down of everything – random rolls, raid armour with perks, build optimization, variety in sub-classes and so on – was often blamed. This was further complicated by the fact that the most difficult activities didn’t reward the best possible loot.
If you wanted Exotics, best to grind out Public Events. However, if you expected something worthwhile from completing the raid or grinding Heroic Strikes for Tokens, then boring armour sets and lackluster vendor items – which you couldn’t really choose – were offered. Yes, Midnight Coup was a fantastic raid hand cannon. Legend of Acrius was cool in PvP. That was pretty much it. Oh, and for all the grinding you did in Public Events for Exotic loot, they weren’t really all that appealing to begin with. Even weapons like Sunshot and Riskrunner just felt alright as opposed to really augmenting the player power fantasy. If a truly great, all-around weapon was available like Nameless Midnight, then there was next-to-nothing that competed with it.
"Forget players feeling “powerful” – they didn’t feel like the grind really translated into a long-term journey of meaningful rewards and progress."
Compounded with the incredibly frustrating emphasis on Eververse – where most of the best-looking cosmetics (not to mention cosmetic items like Ghost Shells, ships, Sparrows etc.) were kept – and the disappointing lack of anything to really work towards, Bungie decided to bring “the grind” back. Players wanted to grind, right? So with Curse of Osiris, they gave them the Lost Prophecy weapons. These were guns that could be obtained by picking up a handful of Lost Prophecies a week, fulfilling their conditions and obtaining their weapons. Simple…except, it wasn’t.
The objectives were repetitive yet hefty. They required certain materials like Radiolarian Culture, Paradox Amplifiers and Hermaion Blossoms which could be found in Strikes, Heroic Adventures, Public Events, Planetary Chests etc. This meant completing the same boring and unchallenging activities that players had done many times before for the sake specific material drops. The grind felt ludicrous and boring but hey, at least the weapons were worth it, right? Well, not really. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone using any of the Lost Prophecy weapons today.
For all the grind that Bungie had introduced with Curse of Osiris, Iron Banner, Faction Rallies and The Dawning, there just weren’t any worthwhile rewards. Any cosmetic incentive that players could possibly have was locked behind the stingy Eververse. Any motivation to complete the new raid lair was waylaid by the uninspired armour and weapons that it doled out.
Forget players feeling “powerful” – they didn’t feel like the grind really translated into a long-term journey of meaningful rewards and progress. It felt more like arbitrary activity than actual gameplay (some of which could be challenging), never mind that most of it wasn’t particularly fun. There were arguments about tougher activities, just like fans had requested but for the most part, Destiny 2 was just something you picked up without feeling any meaningful progression towards your character or the world. In the end, the game was dull and logging in felt more like a chore than a fun activity.
"The launch and aftermath of Destiny 2 Forsaken could be seen as a revitalizing of the player base."
Though Warmind provided more significant rewards to earn like the IKELOS Shotgun and Sleeper Simulant, there was still a dull element to its grind. Collecting Sleeper Nodes, slowly leveling up thanks to new Power Level changes, constantly playing the Heroic Strike playlist in the hopes of obtaining a powerful upgrade (after it was updated to actually work that way) – things still felt fairly mundane, even as Bungie improved the underlying systems. Slowly but surely, Destiny 2 was becoming “fun” again but Warmind was more of a stop-gap before Forsaken.
The launch and aftermath of Forsaken could be seen as a revitalizing of the player base. Improvements to story-telling (depending on who you ask), copious amounts of lore viewable in-game, numerous quality of life and sandbox improvements, and an evolving end-game are all well and good. However, Forsaken “brought back the grind” as many would put it.
There were Triumphs in-game to unlock. Milestones were refashioned to provide more consistent reward – now you could do just about any content and pick up some powerful gear for completing requirements (like completing 3 Crucible matches). Bounties, Public Events, The Blind Well, material exchanges – there were now things to pursue and rewards to receive. The return of random rolls further created excitement for weapons and armour. New Exotic quests and activities in the weeks since the Dreaming City raid’s completion have also arrived alongside a changing end-game zone.
Forsaken’s approach hasn’t been without blunders. Masterwork Cores are fairly rare and must be used in Infusion – the process of leveling up gear you actually like – along with masterworking weapons. The mod economy isn’t doing so hot. The Power level chase has been somewhat streamlined over Warmind but it’s still tied to using gear and weapons you may not like to hit max Power. In addition, the sheer randomness to drops can be disheartening. Unless you know how the soft cap works and what activities have a chance to get you past that, leveling can be very confusing at first.
"How much more common this will make Exotics remains to be seen but complaints of the “grind” are interesting."
What’s immensely interesting is how the grind has been perceived. When Forsaken’s Last Wish raid was right around the corner, many fans felt the grind to be time-gated and too limiting for anyone who didn’t effectively play the game 24/7. Even those who did (and abused a glitch with Prime Engrams) faced significant struggle beating the raid. Of course, Bungie would add more activities and slowly but surely, more players would increase their Power levels past the soft cap.
Now the argument has shifted towards the drop rate of Forsaken Exotics. Though the DLC provides Exotics through quests like Ace of Spades and the recent Wish-Ender, most have to be obtained through random drops. Head to the forums or subreddit and you’ll find numerous fans complaining about not obtaining a new Forsaken Exotic via random drop since the DLC launched Once again, Bungie has acknowledged these drop rates – along with that of Masterwork Cores – and will be making fixes in the coming days.
How much more common this will make Exotics remains to be seen but complaints of the “grind” are interesting. Some argue that the random drop mechanic is fine as long as Xur, the Exotic weekly vendor, actually sold a new Forsaken Exotic. Others loathe the RNG drops and want a clear path of progression towards obtaining an Exotic like with Malfeasance (well, minus the RNG appearance and conditions of its boss in Gambit) or Whisper of the Worm. Still others want Exotic duplicate protection, effectively enjoying the RNG but wanting to feel like their next Exotic reward will actually be something they don’t own.
I could argue about meaningful choices when it comes to Infusion and masterworking weapons but all these complaints about Exotics are fairly legitimate. The last thing a loot-based game needs is to copy Diablo 3, pre-Reaper of Souls, and be extremely stingy with the drop rates of its top tier weapons and armour.
"Take Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Though it’s been reviewed favourably by critics and appreciated by fans despite similarities in assets and mechanics to Assassin’s Creed Origins, the leveling grind has been a pretty popular topic."
Still, does that affect the grind? Does that make it easier? Does it change the fact that the game isn’t fun and more like a chore? For that matter, does the constant act of repetition – even if it is enjoyable – come across as difficult? Rewards and their structure are obviously important. However, as Destiny 2 proved in its first year, decent rewards can’t replace fun gameplay. It’s a balance of sorts but the grind will affect different people with different mindsets, schedules, playtimes and levels of patience accordingly.
Take Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Though it’s been reviewed favourably by critics and appreciated by fans despite similarities in assets and mechanics to Assassin’s Creed Origins, the leveling grind has been a pretty popular topic. In Odyssey, not unlike Horizon: Zero Dawn or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, new quests and story missions can have requirements higher than your current level. That means to stand a chance – especially in a game like Odyssey where a level difference of 1 or 2 can actually matter – you need to go out of your way to complete additional content.
Granted, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey offers XP boosters to make the process easier while the previously mentioned games don’t. The fact that these can be purchased with real money also doesn’t sit well for some players. However, it’s worth noting that when you reach a certain level for quests, all of the content within that quest levels with you. As a result, aside from gaining new abilities and providing some kind of post-game challenge for those who finished the story, you won’t be effectively one-shotting fools left and right. It’s not something that applies to the whole world but does let you go back and finish certain missions to garner substantial XP.
While the real question is just how quick the leveling grind can be without the XP booster (especially since some publications reported taking several hours just to gain two levels), I feel like there’s a more fundamental issue to be asked. Isn’t the point of the game to embark on quests and earn XP? If we apply Bungie’s logic from Destiny 2, where the Power level grind is significant and meant to be meaningful past a point, shouldn’t gaining a new level be a significant milestone?
"I can understand a game trying to cater to the player who wants a challenge and to be pushed out of a linear story-telling path to complete more content."
There are other factors to keep in mind like the abilities unlocked, weapons and gear that can be effectively used at higher levels, and how fun the game’s activities facilitating that grind can be. However what if the abilities gained, especially in the early-going, aren’t all that great? What if the loot isn’t all that satisfying? To be completely fair, The Witcher 3 didn’t really provide amazing abilities either until you passed the level 15 mark. There was also a crap-ton of equipment obtained that was simply unusable because of high level requirements but it didn’t matter anyway because The Witcher gear sets were the best throughout the game, no questions asked. So safely ignore most of the armour you pick up along the way.
Still, in both cases, the game is designed to push you towards side content. Even if the writing and design of these side quests isn’t as good as The Witcher 3 or Horizon: Zero Dawn or even Divinity: Original Sin 2 (because why not). I’m not against anyone who doesn’t want to grind these side quests and simply wants to play the story. I do feel that there has to be a better balance for those who just want to stick with the story and those who want to travel willy-nilly, completing everything they come across for either loot or XP gains.
Of course, it doesn’t help that trying to explore outside of a region results in encounters with higher level enemies especially with the new Bounty system. But isn’t that something we see in many other RPGs or games that implement such mechanics? You can’t obtain new events in Forza Horizon 4 without “leveling” up and gaining new followers. You can’t just rush through the story in CrossCode without grinding a few mobs. You could try going anywhere you wanted in The Witcher 3 but there were limitations and high-level foes in the open world to contend with there as well.
The modern day video game grind is something that afflicts nearly everyone. I cannot fault anyone who just wants to sit down, explore a huge massive world while being immersed in a compelling story and unwind. Similarly, I can understand a game trying to cater to the player who wants a challenge and to be pushed out of a linear story-telling path to complete more content. On top of that, I can appreciate someone who wants that experience without XP boosters tempting them to make it faster while still keeping a lot of the challenge intact.
"Whether the grind is embraced or rejected, if a game stops being fun, no amount of rewards or content can remedy that at the end of the day."
However, I can’t help but feel that the grind isn’t something that can be universally balanced for all players. Look at Warframe – the game is layers upon layers upon layers of grinding. Selling a Primed Mod for some Platinum to bypass some of the grinding is a task unto itself. The bonus of having so many layers, however, is that you can make the experience as complicated as you want it to be. Do you want to min-max your set-up with the best efficiency, power strength and duration, using the right amount of Forma? Do you want that specific weapon that will make your Saryn build in Elite Sanctuary Onslaught truly insane?
Do you really want that Prime Warframe? Are you willing to farm for hours to get the right relics and then hopefully obtain the right components from them during Relic missions? Do you want to throw a Riven on a weapon and dabble with the Kuva farming and RNG re-rolling that’s required to make it truly great? Do you want to make multiple builds for one single Warframe to ensure its use in every single activity? Do you want to farm for this one single rare mod in that one mission which can have increased drop chances with a Nekros and Pilfering Swarm Hydroid? Maybe you want to do the same while farming Endo and Credits. Or maybe you finally want to get into the Eidolon grind and obtain some Arcanes since they’re incredibly strong and fetch decent prices on the market.
Alternatively, do you just want to kick back, sell an unranked Prime Mod here and there for Platinum, craft some weapons, delete the ones you don’t want to keep after gaining mastery XP and chill with a handful of Warframes while playing a few rounds of Relic farming? Maybe do a few Bounties on the Plains and take in the sights or finally get around to playing this Second Dream quest that you’ve heard so much about? The grind is ever-present and it’s certainly not for everyone but ultimately, the game is fun to play for all skill levels. And whether the grind is embraced or rejected, if a game stops being fun, no amount of rewards or content can remedy that at the end of the day.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.