I’ve ragequit from Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC Jaws of Haakon twice now. At this point on this character I’ve completed nearly everything that is possible to complete, and the Quest Log reflects this. Of the main campaign, only a single side quest dragon is left to defeat (its own source of ragequits, prior to the DLC). Within the DLC itself I’ve completed as much of the side quests as I’ve been able, leaving primarily a final irritating fade rift at the current level of my character. The character is at Level 25 of experience points, which is about as high as I can easily get, from all of the existing content in the game. I suppose I could try to grind higher, but there’s an interesting catch-22: the exponential nature of the levels makes it increasingly slow to level up, and the “save the world” nature of the game’s story resolves in less content and fewer spawns to grind against…

So I’ve followed the story along to a boss fight. (Supposedly this isn’t even the boss fight, as walkthroughs lead me to believe there are a few more chapters to the DLC, but I’m trying not to spoil them, so I’m unsure if what remains is all denouement or if there is indeed tougher fights to follow.) I’m at-level with this fight and completely frustrated by it: there’s a few mechanics too many in play and not enough breather space for me to not end up in a stressed out, angry ragequit.

The absolute kicker here is that I’m on a difficulty level named Casual. I get that boss fights are “supposed” to be hard, but I’m not here for hard, I already told the game that I’m pretty “Casual”. I want to feel like a bad ass sorceror that wins fights easily so I can move on to the next part of the story.

Admittedly, yes, I’m terrible at RPGs, but a key factor here is that I don’t have any particular desire to get better. I’m not that kind of player. I’m not excited by how intricately or not you’ve modelled weaponry and armor. I’m just not into your baroquely balanced variant of Rock-Paper-Scissors and the magic game of numbers whizzing past in your “combat”. All combat is grind to me.

I’m here for the story. You know, that part of the game you pay writers good salaries for and voice actresses to breathe life into? The part you’ve got all of those expensive cinematics built for?

Where’s my “Skip This Annoying Combat Button” these days?

Press X to Skip Combat

We’ve had this argument a lot over the years. It gets strangely heated, because certainly there are plenty of players that love the combat and figuring out complex systems of “combat interactions” and many of those players seem to take it personally that some of us just want to skip ahead sometimes (not even all the time, really).

The big thing, as Jennifer Hepler pointed out well (and was subsequently blown well out of proportion by a violent, vocal group of jerks) in a previous furor on this subject: What we’re mostly asking for here is parity. Every single game I can think of where I’d really like to skip an individual boss fight or mini-boss fight has a button available to skip lines of dialogue or entire conversations entirely. Players can willingly skip the parts of games I’m there to see, so why can’t I skip the parts of games that they’re there to see?

The Argument of “History”

An argument that shows up a lot is, “Earlier games were even tougher. Retro games didn’t have difficulty settings, much less the easy cakewalks today’s games have.”

This is partly true, but:

  1. So What? Grandpa used to have to haul twelve textbooks on his back as he sled uphill in the snow both ways to and from school every day in the endless winter of his childhood. I don’t want to have to do that either.
  2. Many of those retro classics people are still fond of provided very useful “cheat codes” that could be used to this purpose to make things a tiny bit easier. Cheat codes were once a magic sort of hidden puzzle game that yielded riches to different sorts of players. Cheat codes have all but vanished these days with “achievement systems” the modern norm.
  3. I have my own counter-example from history: I still recall with great fondness how apolegetic the Full Throttle manual was that not everyone might like it’s few action sequences/combat scenes and it handily provided a shortcut key to bypass a scene as if you had won the action.

There is a history for “Skip Combat Buttons”; that these people are ignorant of it is unsurprising. I beat Max Payne 1 and 2 with cheat codes because I wanted to know how the story twisted and to see the fantastic level design. So far as I know, Max Payne 3 has no cheat codes so I’ve barely seen past the opening of the game. (Yes, I’m terrible at FPSes, too.)

The Argument of “Experience Cheapening”

I fear that some of this comes from the stigmatizing name of “cheat codes”, itself a historic relic. There are many things a person may want from an experience. What “cheats” an experience for one person may enrich the experience for others. I’m a fan of stories and (hopefully unsurprising from my blog address) instances of world building. As I said above combat is often a requisite impediment between me and the cool experiences I want to have.

It’s particularly fascinating that a single Bartle group has grown to dominate this particular conversation. The modern consoles all provide some aspect of Achievements and these things seem to mandate a very hard line “no cheating” world. It makes it harder to discuss things like what “babies” we as gamers lost when the cheat codes bath water was thrown out. It makes it tougher to discuss things like “sometimes combat skips” when one of the first things out of someone’s mouth is, “but that means my useless digital trophy loses some of its shine if I know someone didn’t put in as much work as me”.

To be fair, difficulty levels account for some of this spectrum. (As I point out, I’m still hitting cases where difficulty levels still don’t quite account for me, at least.) Also, the ability to “laser target” multiple levels of Achievements means that it can be possible to provide accomodations to the hard core achievers (“Do all the game again, this time on Super Incredibly Difficult Nightmare Mode”; no thanks, but congratulations to those with such stamina).

I also get the argument that ludogically it follows that “tough moments” in a story might best be served with “tough combats” that reflect such. I think the issue here is that the game can be tough without beating me over the head with how tough it is. It’s that point where stress/anxiety meets frustration and becomes ragequit that I’m particularly looking to mitigate. There’s certainly room for a game to maybe not make it easy to skip a combat, but after you’ve spent thirty minutes on this, wiped five times, and shouted a half-dozen obscenities at the console’s microphone maybe your game could consider that you’ve gotten the point across?

The Argument of “Willpower”

This is the strange flipside of the “cheapening”/”cheating” code: if skipping combat is “cheating” (it’s not; hopefully explained above), and if skipping combat is available, then everyone will just skip combat so we can’t make skipping combat available. Everything about this argument, from its assumptions to its bizarre sense of tautological continuity makes me upset.

If you are going to skip combat, you are going to skip combat. There’s probably something else that interests you in the game you’d rather be doing. If the combat isn’t that interesting that even those people that profess to love it, want all the achievables possible from it, and yet still seem to think they’d skip it if the option was available: maybe they don’t love the combat so much as they seem to profess that they think they do?

The WTF Difficulty Graph of Bungie’s Destiny

A final tangent here, but I got talked into trying Destiny a bit more now that it’s two first Expansion Packs are out. The second Expansion Pack supposedly “smoothed” the grinding curve of the game, but I think only highlights how weird its difficulty “curve” has always been.

I’ve had a mostly hate/hate relationship with Destiny’s difficulty noise wave. It’s particularly interesting how it added RPG elements which should have smoothed the difficulty curve and instead seems to only add mayhem, at least from my perspective. My perspective: I am not great at an FPS. I consider myself a useful “backup singer” in an FPS. In a co-op scenario I’m decent at contributing (a smaller amount) to the overall kill count and doing useful things like providing a distraction or running for the hills to avoid a team wipe, then trying to resurrect fallen comrades whom can get back to the main amount of killing.

It should be clear already why the majority of my Destiny time is spent in “Strikes”, the auto-matchmaking co-op levels. In my opinion there clearly are not enough Strikes in the game and I do not understand why every “Story” mission is not a Strike. Why can’t I get auto-matchmaking for the Story missions?

It is of course the difficulty wave of the Story missions that most frustrates me. I’m not great solo, and the RPG-esque levelling seems to indicate that maybe I can grind my way out of a situation, but I’ve faced Story missions at as much as six levels higher and still hit ragequit walls. (Solo, I really, really hate Destiny’s “Darkness Zones” that restrict respawns and checkpoints.) It says a lot to me that Destiny’s story missions don’t have a difficulty level easier than “Normal”.

Cycling back to the reason I returned to Destiny after a ragequit uninstall months back, I’ve had long discussions about my feelings of Destiny’s attempt to unite RPG-esque levels and equipment. I think it is both the source of Destiny’s most interesting attempts at originality and also the source of most of its woes. XP in MMOs is predictable: levels have a linear scale, or more commonly an exponentional scale (level two is one and half times as hard to achieve as level one and so forth). Destiny’s equipment drops make the “Light Level” entirely unpredictable.

Case in point being the crazy lottery I won the other day. I had spent a couple weeks grinding Strikes for currency to buy Legendary equipment. I managed to get two of the five pieces this way in a fairly linear grind. (Both pieces cost the same, but the Strikes themselves can vary in effort required due to team constitution, luck, and sometimes getting to play cleanup and arriving into the Strike just in time to deliver the final blow of its final boss, which kindly counts as beating the strike.)

Then from all the grinding of Strikes I decrypted enough Engrams (lotto drops) to up my reputation with my local Crypto-Archealogist (sure) to Level 5. Hitting a new level resulted in the Crypto-Archealogist Association to snail mail me a few more lotto drops (er, Engrams) to have decrypted by the Crypto-Archealogist across from the mailbox (like you do). To my surprise the decrypted gear just happened to be the three remaining Legendary armor pieces I needed. This of course instantly jumped me, with one mail package four Light Levels (28 to 32).

It’s certainly possible this sort of serendipity is intentional, and it is definitely probable this sort of serendipity is from the lotto drop tweaks that had been pushed out that made a bunch of people tell me to give the game another try. That said, it’s clearly weird from an intentional systems design standpoint. (Ignoring even the weird facts that some lotto drops are instant opened and the rest have the strange extra dance that you take them to a shopkeeper with a reputation system that rewards random slot machine pulls with more random slot machine pulls. Ugh, dopamine hacking is doing terrible things to video games…) In other RPG games I’ve wished that someone could just mail me four levels so I could do something less grindy. In Destiny I got four levels mailed to me and was weirdly disappointed that I probably wouldn’t need to grind Strikes as much, which is just about the only thing I’ve been doing in Destiny. (Potentially leading to ragequit’s sibling the boredquit…)

I could probably use a buddy to help me clear the story missions left on my map. I would probably be interested in finding a raid group. My friends that play Destiny are scattered across the other platforms (360 and PS3/4)… Bringing things a bit more full circle, I cannot even suggest a Skip Combat button because it violates the implicit rules of thumb above: Destiny’s dialogue is also unskippable and its story a paltry painted matte painting backdrop to the combat. In that I will grant Destiny is an okay, but weird exception to my desire to see more “Skip Combat Buttons” in games.