The Good Grind

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Over the last few days I have been thinking about where Monster Hunter World has succeeded and Destiny 2 has failed.  I know this is probably a strange way to start off a post, but I am playing MHW the way that I fully expected to still be playing Destiny 2.  If you add up the total time I have spent with the Destiny franchise across different platforms you wind up with 741 hours.  Given that sort of track record I fully expected to be playing that game currently.  That said I have missed two faction rallies, two iron banners and have not really even logged in during the current crimson doubles event.  Sure I could be getting all manner of cosmetic gear from them…  but the weapon and gear system just feels hollow given that I have collected most everything I am interested in using.

While I love the token loot system, Destiny 2 has a problem with not giving us a meaningful grind to be focused on.  Doing event after event hoping to get a Masterwork Weapon or Piece of armor doesn’t really count.  When I say meaningful grind I mean something that I can do on a nightly basis that is fun, but also feels like I am making progress towards some larger objective.  In many ways the fickle nature of loot in Destiny 1 and the existence of things like the Court of Oryx and Archon’s Forge gave me something I could do… that felt like I was potentially moving in the direction of something that I wanted from the game.  As it stands there are too few interesting weapon options and the watered down version of exotics no longer really make them worth chasing in the way we used to before.

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It may simply be because I am playing on the PS4 with friends that I am drawing the conclusion…  but as I play Monster Hunter World I think about the ways that it has given me this path to madness paved with little incremental rewards.  When you kill or trap a Monster you are hunting you are showered with a bunch of monster parts…  some of which are useful and some of which are not as useful.  The thing is, regardless if I have 50 of an item… I am still sorta excited to see them because I know that eventually I might need to use them to craft some new weapon that I then have to upgrade up to the final version.  I might suddenly decide that Hammer is awesome and then have to start building up my collection of weapons much the same as I do for my beloved Longsword.

I know that every thing I kill, and every object in the world that I loot is taking me towards some bigger goal.  The number of times that I have had to go out lately and farm herbs…  one of literally the first items you encounter in the game…  is shocking given that I am dealing with a completely different set of monsters than I did back then.  However it doesn’t seem like tedium because they have placed value on almost everything you can encounter out in the wilds and while you may not need it today… there is likely going to be a time at some point in the future where you will be wishing you had more of it.  While literally every moment I am not hunting a big epic monster is busywork…  none of it feels like it because it feels valuable to the larger mission of the game.

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While Destiny has never really had something close to this grind, I am thinking maybe it should.  The central focus of all of this for me personally is the Smithy, which is a menu driven crafting system that allows me to turn all of these bits and pieces of critters I have taken down…  and meld them into usable gear with interesting stat combinations.  I’ve spent a good deal of time farming up Odogoron, which is a giant hairless blind hell hound looking thing.  I personally really like its armor set and I want to be able to wield the full thing a a potential replacement for my mishmash of gear I am currently wearing.  This gives me a goal, and the grind itself is slow enough that each kill feels like meaningful progress without ever giving me that landfall moment of getting everything I possibly need in a single round.

Imagine for a second if you had gear and weapons in Destiny based on a similar concept.  Each time you took down the Fallen example, there was a chance of getting an item that could be used in the crafting of Fallen themed weapons or armor.  The common items would drop from Dregs, medium rarity items from Vandals and the rare bits from Servitors and Walkers.  Then say you wanted to craft the Vex Mythoclast you would need to maybe take down a Gate Lord to get the focusing lens, and a bunch of Minotaurs to get the armored housing.  All of this is more meaningful than collect 40 of token Z and hope the RNG gods smile upon your en devour as you may or may not get the item you want from a relatively deep loot table.  It also turns Banshee-44 into more than the Gachapon machine that he currently is, by giving him the actual ability to craft specific items for you.

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What Monster Hunter World does better than almost anything is that it gives me a target for my nightly nonsense.  Granted right now I cannot craft the Chrome Slicer I because I lack the zenny to do so….  but I know where every single piece that it requires drops from.  I know that I can run loops around High Rank Wildspire Wastes for most if it, but to get the Fucium Ore I am going to have to make my way down into the Elder’s Recess.  If I notice a weapon requires parts off of a specific monster I am given a bunch of different ways to target that one specific encounter and run it over and over if I so choose.  In my case what I personally tend to do is answer SOS beacons for that specific encounter, feeling like I am actually helping out someone else in the community take down that critter for fun and profit as well.

More than anything what I think Monster Hunter World does so well is that it eases you into all of this.  You quickly learn the value of the items you can grab out in the world as new patterns start showing up that you can craft.  You notice that items have ??? beside some of the materials and it drives you to go out and explore until you find them.  All of this creates a feedback loop of take down epic feeling monsters, get items, craft interesting gear…  so you can take down even bigger monsters.  Sure a lot of the gear is not strictly required…  but for someone who is very gear focused it certainly makes the journey feel a lot more meaningful.  The monster battle portion being fun enough that while I am actively engaged in fighting…  I am not even thinking about what might drop which is not the case in most MMORPGs.

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When they first started talking about Destiny 2 being a much more open world and quest driven game…  this is honestly the sort of experience I had been envisioning.  What if you could fight a Destiny boss the same way you do a Monster in Monster Hunter World?  What if getting every player to focus on taking out a Gatelord’s weapon arm caused it to no longer be able to fire that weapon… and instead forced it to change up tactics and start engaging in melee attacks.  What if the way you fought a boss mattered just as much as the weapons you took into the fight?  When we got Destiny 2 and it was a stripped down version of what we had in Destiny 1…  I was disappointed, but the mechanical loop of the game kept me engaged for way longer than the game itself probably deserved.  I had enough hype built up to carry me through the console launch and restarting with the PC launch…  but now I just don’t ever feel like even logging in.

What I want is a good grind.  That doesn’t necessarily mean running Omnigul hundreds of times hoping that maybe just maybe you will get that one in a million perfectly stated Grasp of Malok.  What that means for me personally is something that I can do on a nightly basis that feels like I am eventually heading towards some goal down the road.  Maybe at some point in the near future I will feel like I am out of grinds in Monster Hunter World, but I can at least see a road map in front of me that seems like it is going to be an interesting ride.  Right now I am almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of objectives that I could be chasing, and as I move up… it feels like the world keeps expanding out rather than narrowing down to a pin point like the raid cycle does in an MMORPG.  Monster Hunter World is a really great grind, that is attached to a really fun experience of taking down giant monsters that fight in a fluid and believably organic manner.  Maybe Bungie will find its footing at some point, but for the moment I am enjoying discovering the Monster Hunter franchise.

Learning from Destiny: Loot Scaling

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Last night I was a bad human being.  It was a pretty rough day at work because of reasons that I can’t really go into.  So when I got home I decided to boot up Destiny and check out the newest running of the Iron Banner event.  Quite literally the next thing I know it, it was almost 11 pm and I had spent the entire evening playing the game.  This would have been no big deal were it not for the fact that Tuesday nights are a night set aside generally for Final Fantasy XIV and raiding there.  I will have to send out my apologies later, but this is a testament to just how fun this “looter shooter” still is.  For those who are uninitiated… the Iron Banner is a PVP event, and one that I participate in freely and actually look forward to.  The reason behind this is that there is exclusive loot each time it runs from an awesome set of Iron Wolves themed gear and weapons.  During year two this was an amazing way to get increases in your overall light levels, and with year three the gear that is available is completely new and fresh.  Generally speaking each month the event brings two pieces of armor and two weapons, and this time around we have arms, class items, shotgun and auto rifle.  These items can be gained through rewards at the end of the match, or by ranking up with the Iron Banner faction and purchasing specific rolls of each off the new leader of the Iron Banner…  Lady Efrideet.  This time around the daily quests reward loot instead of just getting packages at rank 3 and rank 5, and I managed to complete two armor packages and two weapons packages.  I also managed to get to almost rank 4 in faction in the first night, which tells me that they are trying really hard to make this event feel like less of a grind.  As far as drops… I got one awful roll on the Auto Rifle, and four pairs of the gauntlets… most of which are going to be used as infusion fuel for my Hunter and Warlock whenever I get around to playing them.

Distant Cousins

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For lack of a better term, Bungie and Blizzard are cousins because they exist as part of the same larger company of Activision Blizzard.  In fact it is rumored that during the planning for Taken King, Bungie had a sit down with the developers from Diablo 3 to talk about the lessons learned in crafting the “Loot 2.0” patch.  Now it took a lot of tweaking but I feel like Bungie finally landed on a version of that formula that works for them.  There are similar references in World of Warcraft Legion that draw ties back to Destiny, the most obvious is the above NPC in Dalaran that is named after the weekly NPC that shows up bringing awesome things and trading them for strange coins.  However it feels like there are still a lot of lessons that the World of Warcraft team could learn from the things that Destiny is doing right.  The games are designed very differently, but Destiny seems to have accomplished the holy grail of modern MMOs…  being able to create static content that players will be willing to repeat over and over.  The majority of the strike and crucible playlists are all pretty well worn at this point, but the way rewards are handed out makes a huge difference in the willingness of players to keep pushing forward and attacking the content.

Predictable Upgrades

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Warcraft Legion is an expansion full of variable loot tables that shift and change through the use of the Warforging and Titanforging systems.  This was a definite good step forward, because it gives a slightly glimmer of hope that something interesting might come from the forty ninth time you are running Eye of Azshara to help a guildie through it.  The problem however is that it still feels like that glimmer of hope is an extremely tiny one.  Lets take the Looking For Raid system for example to throw some numbers at.  The baseline for all loot in that “raid” is 835, and more than likely if you defeat the personal loot boss…  the item you are going to walk away with is that low item level.  The zone as a whole has a maximum possible light level of 870, meaning that there is an extremely slim chance of still getting something useful from there if you run it on your main.  Right now in Belghast I am sitting at 854 item level, and that means that most of the content that I run in the game other than normal or high mode raids, is not going to produce me any upgrades.  However in the back of my head I know that it is theoretically possible, and I am having a hard time reconciling what is likely to happen with what might possibly happen.  I mean I did manage to get a SECOND legendary last night off of an emissary chest… so I have more luck than I should have at times.

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In World of Warcraft we have “Item Levels” but Destiny has essentially the same concept called “Light Levels”.  Getting higher light means you perform better, just like getting higher item levels in theory means you have the potential to perform better.  How Bungie handled this problem of potential for drop versus actual level dropping is that they started creating items based on the players current stats.  So if I get a weapon in the game to drop from a package or decoding from an engram…  its light level is set based on my current converted light level.  Right now I am sitting at 351 light in Destiny, and I have a handful of items that are over that level but that is my average.  When I get a new item it means that item will be 351 light or better, generally within a range of 5 light, so up to 356 in this case.  Legendary engrams and item drops currently seem to have a cap around 385 in game, so I will continue to be able to keep leap frogging my way through light levels by consistently receiving upgrades each time something new drops.  World of Warcraft loot should work like this, meaning that each time I do a quest out in the world…. the item of the level rewarded should be based on what my current item level is.  I’ve had friends who have received up to 870 items from World Quests, so it does not seem unreasonable that any loot I get from doing them… should be at a minimum whatever my current average item level is.

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In order to really make this feel right, I think World of Warcraft would also have to move away from the current tiered system of item levels.  Right now if we go back to the example of LFR, an item when it drops can be 835, 840, 845, 850, 855, 860, 865, or 870.  Each time some combination of stats and “forged” suffix changes and tweaks up the stats and item level.  It just feels like it would simply be cleaner for the purpose of giving players a constant but incremental flow of new gear… for each item to just have a variable level.  So you could then get an item that was 844 or 858 depending upon what your current item level happened to be.  The items we know are simply mathematical equations, with this or that stat scaling based on the item level.  So in theory it should be just as easy to show you an item that was 862 as one that is 860, but the constant progression of slow bites of the apple as you keep improving your stats for me at least would feel better than running a bunch of content and seeing nothing but disenchant fodder as a result.  This hit home especially hard as I have been trying to run mythic and heroics with friends to get them geared up… and so often when the personal loot boss finally submits… the end product is not an upgrade at all.  As a result we have started trying to stack armor types, so that in theory at least SOMEONE in the party could benefit from the item.  There are honestly a lot more lessons that I feel like Blizzard and the WoW team could learn from the way Destiny works, and I might elaborate on them in additional posts… but this loot post was a good starting place.