02 January 2018

Scaling Content: WildStar vs Guild Wars 2

Games that have a gear grind or a power creep, in which you get stronger and stronger, too strong for the previous content have a problem. At some point, your equipment and character are completely overpowered, too overpowered for the current content. So you're too strong for the current content and even stronger than that for the older content. Where's the challenge? That's why game designers and developers came up with a new concept.

Scaling Content

The idea behind this is, that the content scales in difficulty. To name a few games that have implemented this: Diablo III, Guild Wars 2 and WildStar.

Looking at Guild Wars 2 and WildStar we have:

Guild Wars 2 to allows the player to select between 100 different levels with a handful of different scenery in the Fractal of the Mists dungeon. The higher the level the more difficult.

WildStar uses a prime system. With level 50 you can start working on a primal matrix by collecting essences from different types of content. This matrix allows you to be stronger for higher prime content. There's the selection between prime 0 to prime 15, although the maximum item level drops at prime 13. The higher prime levels are just for essences and the kick of difficulty.

So What Changes Between the Levels?

In Guild Wars 2 with each level, the number of standard mobs and their levels increase. Also, these creatures have more health and do more damage. Comparing different difficulty tiers, some enemies also get new abilities. From level 20 on it also implements a new mechanic called agony. This is a damage over time that either comes from the presence of big bosses or from certain attacks of bosses and mini-bosses. Agony deals with a percentage of your health as damage and can be reduced with agony resistance. From level 26 on the fractal levels start to get debuffs from stacking deals damage and agony damage when attacking an enemy to enemies explode after death. At level 71, when a player gets downed a Fractal Avenger will spawn and try to stomp the downed player.

WildStar, on the other hand, decreases the player's damage, while increasing the enemy's damage and health.

Comparison: Guild Wars 2 vs WildStar

As you can see compared to WildStar in Guild Wars 2 a lot more changes between the levels happen. Of course, if the enemies live longer by having the players damage decreased and the monster's health increased the fights take longer. If the fights take longer mechanics play a greater role. Additionally increasing the damage of the monsters requires healers to heal more tanks to be able to work with more incoming damage and it decreases the allowance for errors. Aside from scaling up to dodge-able attacks that kill in two hits, Guild Wars 2 does the same. The health of enemies increases and their damage increases. So here too, enemies live longer requiring players to survive mechanics much longer. Compared to  WildStar, Guild Wars 2 raises the stakes further though. From level 26 on players are limited in their playstyle due to the instabilities. At level 51  it's two instabilities already and with level 76 it's three instabilities.
The following instabilities are currently available:
  • No Pain, No Gain     - Enemies receive protection (33% less incoming damage) might (increased damage) and fury (increased critical hit damage)
  • Last Laugh                - Enemies explode when killed
  • Afflicted                    - Enemies apply random damage over time effects
  • Social Awkwardness - Receive agony and damage from nearby allies when you attack enemies
  • Toxic Trail                 - Enemies leave a trail of toxic sludge behind them as they move around
  • Flux Bomb                 - you are periodically afflicted by a flux bomb. (an AoE that explodes with another AoE lying around afterward
  • Adrenaline Rush        - Enemies become enraged for a time when low on health
  • Hamstrung                 - The lower your health, the slower you move.
  • Fractal vindicators    - The Fractal Avengers are replaced by more powerful foes.
  • Mists convergence     - Different enemies, effects or mini-bosses from other fractals spawn at random 
Additionally, some enemies gain new skills and abilities the higher the levels are and to top this all another death mechanic is added to the stack at level 71.

What Makes This Better?

It's not necessarily the amount of changes Guild Wars 2 implements. Actually, it's just one big thing that can be summarized as: "Feels different". That's all it needs. The higher the difficulty the more difficult it should be, obviously. However, it should also be a different difficult, even just a little. Scaling the same content up higher and higher doesn't change the difficulty much. If you were able to get a gold dungeon in WildStar, running higher levels that equal your groups new equip and damage will still be gold. The only interesting part is the levels higher than your group's equip and damage. Unfortunately scaling enemy damage and lengthening the fights makes them more annoying and boring. It's nothing new, it's the same fight like every other time only difference it goes longer and being unconcentrated or making a mistake is punished more heavily. This doesn't work as good since Guild Wars 2 applies new mechanics, which makes fights more difficult. Enemies attacking faster, more to take care of, more to think about during the fight and new things to learn while increasing the time of the fight just by the amount that is required for it to feel longer but not too long.

So What Should We Take From This?

If you're implementing scaling content make sure that there's a difficulty curve. Additionally adding new mechanics on higher levels even if it's just a small attack or some little thing the players need to do, with increasing levels all this will play together resulting in a difficulty that feels much better. Combine this with increasing health and damage of the enemies and you've got a good scaling system.

Keep in mind though, this is all just my opinion on the topic! So don't take it for granted!
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I'm a B.Sc. Games Engineer and I created this blog to share my ideas, theorycrafting, thoughts and whatever I'm working on or doing.