Monday, September 14, 2015

Party Progression Problems

Recently I've been playing some Diablo III, and it was a lot of fun for a bit of time. A friend and I played together a fair bit, and running some rifts/bounties was a good time, especially once we figured we could bump up the difficulty a bit. Playing with friends usually makes the game better.

I had the unhappy event of having to turn a different friend down who wanted to play with me though. See, my first friend and I were about Paragon level 20, and just peeking over the Torment II boundary. This 2nd friend was Paragon level 580, and trounced Torment VI+ with ease. We literally could not keep up with him. He ran by monsters, and they exploded, and his movement boosts put him well out of our reach. The game devolved into us chasing him around and picking up leavings, which frankly wasn't fun, at all.

I don't blame the 2nd friend at all, and he understood when I asked him to leave that I want to play the game--I'm not interested in power leveling at all. I like to play it on my own terms, which includes friends who are at a similar point in the power curve.

An approximation of Diablo III's power curve.
Diablo III suffers from this issue pretty massively because just how fast power goes up, especially once you're at end-game levels. Honestly, if I had just bit the bullet and let myself be power-leveled, I'm sure I could've gotten close enough to 2nd friend's power level in a few hours, but again, that's not fun. That's a chore.

Interestingly enough, most MMOs suffer from this issue as well. WoW and FFXIV are a couple of the more active games that exhibit this behaviour, but in a sense even a game like Minecraft has this problem. One of my friends joined my Minecraft server, and he's a helper, but I already had everything I ever needed, so him helping was basically useless. He showed up, and we basically had tamed the wilderness, even providing a train stop for his base.

Possible Solutions?

WoW solves it to an extent by basically resetting progression every raid tier, let alone every expansion. You get catch-up mechanics (Timeless Isle, Tanaan Jungle, Isle of Thunder, End of Time Cataclysm heroic 5-mans) to bring you to the power level you need to perform in current content.

This has the problem that it invalidates older content, and has the player base playing only the most recent content with any sort of ardor.

Another option some MMOs use--Guild Wars 2 and FFXIV come to mind--is mentoring of sorts. They drop your power level down to the one that's appropriate for lower level content.

Mentoring works quite well in FFXIV in my experience, though I find losing half my keybinds when I enter a dungeon that's 40 levels below mine really frustrating. Or having to keep Stone I on my keybinds because Stone II might not be available due to the level down system. Guild Wars 2 felt worse in my opinion. Everything you did leveled you down, to the point where it didn't really feel like levels were worth anything. What's the point of having levels at all if you never get to use that power? There are better gating mechanisms than using a number to prevent players from skipping content.

Or as Diablo III shows, you can just have players start over. Seasons performs this admirably--and as a bonus aside, I really enjoy the new task list they have for Seasons so it's not just you wandering aimlessly. Minecraft and Terraria also have this option, where starting over in a new world is easy, and often fun.

For a persistent MMO, starting over isn't a great option, because as mentioned above most of the progression in the game is invalidated by the the resets every tier, and the population doesn't exist to support the game at lower tiers of play. And even games that support starting over well, as 2nd Friend showed, you can still easily find a gulf in your powers that is too large to be bridged short of asking the other person to stop playing while you spend hours to catch up.


Those are three techniques I could think of off-hand to allow parties to play together without ruining the others' experiences because of a gross power disparity. Are there others out there? Or is this a mostly intractable problem with RPG progression mechanics that we'll only mitigate, but never overcome? I don't really believe it's impossible to overcome, and mentoring comes close to a good solution, but with a few kinks--to the point that WoW has started using it with Timewalking dungeons to great effect as well.

But overall, I wish there was something because it really sucks having to tell your friend, "Sorry, I don't want to play with you."
#GameDesign, #DiabloIII, #Progression


  1. I've had similar problems in games like League of Legends, and have been on both sides of the coin. Being told someone doesn't want to play with you because you aren't as good at the game (this being subjective, but true to an extent with skill levels varying based on a number of factors) sucks, but is a necessary drawback if you want to get anywhere in the rankings.

    1. Yeah, the skill question can be even more awkward at times, though if you want to just hang out and play together, at least you have non-ranked as an option on occasion?

  2. Star Trek Online 'solves" the problem with lowering your level (and your damage accordingly) but not by removing skills, which means you're still more powerful, but not unreasonably so, at least in ground combat. In space combat, your damage may be nerfed, but high level ships have a ton more cannons, so you basically obliterate enemies.....

    1. Seems similar to WoW's Timewalking. You end up with more tools so you're still technically more powerful than intended despite each tool putting out the same numbers as other abilities. Synergy as good design works against the designers here.

      I wonder if they could just scale damage across the cannons down based on expected number. ie: I have a tier 5 ship in tier 3 combat, maybe scale the damage of the cannons down so the average DPS is similar to a tier 3 ship? But that might feel crappy still, because those extra cannons might be hurting you rather than helping as you'd expect (especially if something has set value damage resistance per-hit).

  3. Yeah in D3 it's all about the build coming together. There is no gradual, predictable increase in power, you just go from where you are now to where your friend is, when you finally complete a few vital set bonuses. Suddenly, what was a challenge to stay alive through is almost insta-gibbed - which is great as a personal reward system, but sucks when party members have had different levels of RNG success and are sorted into those who have the bonuses that bring the numbers, and those who don't.

    1. That's an excellent point. A couple lucky drops and your power level explodes exponentially. Hard to account or balance for that.

    2. Yeah, I had some friends wanting me to pick up RoS and this exact problem wound up completely killing my interest. They were playing Hardcore characters but I said I wanted to level a seasonal "normal" character first so I'd know the new stuff in RoS. Started on Master and worked my way up to Torment 4 at level 60 (I got like 15 Paragon levels at 60 before actually buying RoS), then insisted on punishing myself by making it to 70 without dropping down from Torment 4. Gradually got all yellow items and a few legendaries at 70 and Torment 4 become more than reasonable, was thinking about bumping it up to Torment 5.

      But before I did that I made a Hardcore character to play with those two friends. They power leveled me to 70 and up to like Paragon like 50 in something like 30-60 minutes -- which didn't bother me since I had literally just done that "the long way." Wound up even having legendaries in most slots and I had something like 30% more damage and 20% more survivability than my non-hardcore character. Okay, great. So then I actually start to try contributing on Torment 8 or maybe 9, forget.

      I do jack shit to enemies. I can survive reasonably and don't die (good trait for a HC character), but it takes ages to kill even the weakest mobs. Like I kill 2-3 low health weak mobs in 60 seconds...while my two friends clear out the entire map in those 60 seconds. It wasn't a matter of "Well, I've focused my gear/abilities/etc too much on defense, need to shift some of that to offense to get 50% more damage" was "Well, I'd need to more than triple my damage for this to be half reasonable and my friends seem to be more than tripling what THAT damage would be."

      And it all came down to using specific set bonuses with specific abilities with insane power. Things like X ability does 8000% more damage. Eight. Thousand. I was expecting something more like WoW -- that I'd get better "tiers" of yellow/legendary drops with more stats from higher Torment levels and that would be the main source of power increase, with some set bonuses giving the equivalent of oh, 5-15% damage each. Maybe even a little more. But nope. Kind of felt like seeing a Shadow Priest set bonus that said "Your Mind Vision spell now does 1000% of your spellpower each second that you channel it on your main target."

      I get the idea of set bonuses giving a larger bonus to weaker/less used abilities to encourage variety and multiple viable builds. I don't get the idea of set bonuses promoting using a few specific abilities and launching those abilities to truly insane heights. Again, I managed to make my way to 70 on Torment 4 with only a handful of random legendaries and a few Paragon levels I scrounged up at 60. I think that's proof my build was quite solid. And it didn't matter, I had to use the item sets and other specific abilities to have a prayer of doing the highest Torment difficulties.

      "Oh, you completed a set bonus? You just quadrupled your damage, have fun!"