The Problem With Live Service Gamesby@wheeljack84
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The Problem With Live Service Games

by Jeffrey HarrisJuly 22nd, 2021
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Jeffrey Harris was an early adopter of the "live service game" phenomenon as it's come to be known today. The original Destiny was a grindy game, but the Light Leveling system is what truly killed it for him. The light leveling system was my barrier to having fun and getting into Destiny more, he says. The Division was a mistake that never should've happened to the Destiny series. It seems each year, Ubisoft started showing more and more of this title, and it looked fascinating each year.

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When the first Destiny came out, I was an early adopter. I was aware of the game's flaws. Sure, it was lacking in content, but I had fun for the most part. While I wasn't a big first-person shooter gamer, I found Destiny fun to play and easy to get into. The controls were smooth, and I enjoyed building my own Titan Guardian of the Citadel. Destiny was probably my introduction into the "live service game" phenomenon as it's come to be known today, but I had little grasp on what the term really meant at the time.

The original Destiny was a grindy game. And by "grindy," it did force players into a gameplay loop over and over again to try and get that better, cooler gear.

And yes, I even took part in the Loot Cave incident. I also loved that Loot Cave. The Loot Cave is how I got the Gjallahorn in the original Destiny, and unlocking the Gjallahorn was a lot of fun.

I wasn't getting any Exotic drops through the more traditional method Destiny wanted you to play, so I resorted to the Loot Cave, and I don't regret it one bit. That said, the lack of Exotic Drops outside of the Loot Cave was probably one of early Destiny's problems.

And while Destiny was decidedly lacking in content at launch, its multiplayer mode was fun and constantly drawing me back. For all intents and purposes, the multiplayer mode alone for Destiny gave me enough fun and gameplay that it was worth the price of admission at the time.

Eventually, I did get a hang of the early Raids for Destiny. The Raids were oppressively tough, but using various online websites I was able to find some decent teams. After a while, I started getting the full gear sets and weapon drops I wanted from the Raids, and that made Destiny a little more fun to play.

I think what ultimately ruined Destiny for me was the addition of the Light Leveling system.

It wasn't the wonky, patchwork plot, the oppressively hard raids, or the seeming dearth of content. It was that odd Light Leveling system. Before the Light Leveling System became the norm, I felt like I could get my Guardian to its maximum level. I could mix and match the cool gear, I could customize the shaders the way I wanted. I could buy new Exotic weapons from Xur. Then I could use those weapons during some fun multiplayer sessions.

This was when Destiny was at its most fun for me. The Light Leveling system is what truly killed it for me.

The Light Leveling system is when the game really started to feel like a grind. After a while, I found that I couldn't break past the barriers of the light level system. Whereas beforehand with the Raids, I could after enough playthroughs and getting that new, excellent gear. The Light Leveling system though dragged my gameplay of Destiny to a halt. I found that no matter what I could do, I couldn't break past the Light Level barriers. That's what I needed to do in order to advance my gameplay and play the newer Raids and harder Strike missions, but it just wasn't happening. This is when Destiny became a chore to play.

When Destiny 2 came out, I gave it an initial try. There were some improvements to the storytelling and presentation. However, the Light Leveling system was still there and persisted. The Light Leveling system was my barrier to having fun and getting into Destiny more. I couldn't get the weapons or gear I wanted. I couldn't get matched up in the Raids to get the better gear. Nothing was really working well anymore. This is when the game started feeling too hard and just not fun anymore. Single-use shaders didn't help. Shaders were one of the best aspects of vanilla Destiny, and they were not single-use. Making shaders into a single consumable item was a mistake that never should've happened to the Destiny series.

The Division

My other foray into live service gaming was The Division. I was at E3 2013 when The Division was first unveiled, and I was intrigued. It seems each year, Ubisoft started showing more and more of this title, and it looked fascinating. When The Division was first released in 2016, I was still playing Destiny somewhat at the time, and I gave it a try. At first, I enjoyed The Division. I thought it was a great premise for a game and concept.

You're part of an elite unit sent into New York in the throes of a deadly pandemic and virus, offering aid to civilians and putting a stop to anti-government militias and terrorists. This is a city that's practically on its deathbed, and you're one of the operators sent in to try and bring it back from the brink of destruction.

I had fun with The Division at first. It had its issues, but teaming up with other players for the missions was at times fun. But once you made it to the endgame portion is when it started to suffer. The Dark Zone got tedious after a while. The promise of getting amazing drops or loot from the Dark Zone weren't very fulfilling. The Incursions weren't much fun either. There are games that are hard, while The Division's Incursions just came off as artificially cheap. Those elements left a bad taste in my mouth that really put me off live service games.

Then I had a revelation while playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. After finally getting the game's final story expansion, Blood & Wine, I realized that The Witcher 3 was the experience that I truly wanted out of a major AAA game release. Once I beat Blood & Wine and started New Game+, that's when The Witcher 3 started opening up for me. That's when I started playing around with my skill builds, my Witcher school armor builds and mixing and matching the rune setups for my gear and weapons.

The other thing I love about The Witcher 3 is there isn't really any of this RNG trash.

The best sword in The Witcher 3 is the Aerondight. It's a sword that levels up as you use it. Yes, it is a fixed path to unlock Aerondight, but once you get it, it makes you feel like a truly badass Witcher warrior. The Live Service games had failed to maintain my interest. Despite their early promise and fun factor, they eventually put me off through their cheap tactics and artificial barriers to making the experience more fun. The Witcher 3 didn't do that to me. Even when The Witcher 3 did get harder, I felt like the game actually rewarded me for making it through rather than shunning my effort.

Ultimately, The Witcher 3 is why I turned away from live service games and will never look back. I want some control back over how I can improve and enhance my gameplay experience rather than falling prey to Light Leveling barriers and RNG trash. I want to be able to do something that will yield the result in getting cool weapons and gear to make the game more fun to play rather than constantly getting hampered by the game's systems; games that make it required to have the better gear to advance, but that better gear constantly seems out of reach. Or the games try to monetize aspects that weren't monetized before.

And it's frustrating when you see instances such as EA shutting down the once great Visceral Games' and Amy Hennig's Star Wars game because they needed to "pivot" on the design and turn it into a live service title. It became even more maddening when after all that, EA never released that live service rebooted version of that game. And instead, they released Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Star Wars Jedi was a complete story and narrative-driven single-player experience.

You know, the type of game that Amy Hennig, one of the creative minds behind Uncharted, was setting out to make that got thrown in the trash! The type of game that an EA executive said wasn't popular anymore. And here in 2021, that is still flagrantly false.

The Witcher 3 is now the gold standard by which I judge most games, and I will never go back to live service games that put barriers and cheap tactics over fun gameplay for the player. Games should be fun to play. When I realized I was no longer having fun with these so-called live service titles, I dropped them and never looked back. I've enjoyed my game experiences a lot more since then.

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