Make it Meaningful (and hard to compare)

Let’s say you’re designing a single-play action RPG. Something a little like Dark Souls. You decide to create a job system in your game, where different jobs have different abilities. Wizard, Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, the usual. Or maybe you’re making weird and cool classes. Doesn’t matter for this post.

However, you discover that your Wizard’s unique mechanics (probably involving ranged combat) give the Wizard a much easier time than the Rogue’s (probably involving getting close to the dangerous enemy while being rather fragile).

What do you do?

Most designers will try to lower the Wizard’s damage output or expose more weaknesses for the job. This is fine. However, there are other options that may suit you better.

Instead of trying to make the job comparison produce a more even result, you can slightly shift the game’s goals so that it’s harder to compare the jobs in the first place. If you simply create a different achievement for beating the game with each job, suddenly it no longer feels like the Wizard is truly better than the Rogue. Using the wizard is now the best way to get the Archmage achievement, but not the Master Assassin achievement. Suddenly it’s signposted to players that they’re choosing different paths, and tying it to achievements allows players to say “Yes, it’s easier to get the Archmage achievement” not just, “The wizard is the best choice”.

You can do more. What if the Master Assassin achievement isn’t just cosmetic, but actually impacts your gameplay? For example, let’s say that it provides a 5% damage buff to all characters on your account. Suddenly the optimizer chasing NG+ and harder difficulties has an incentive to play every class to completion. The Wizard is the strongest option for beating every encounter, but the Rogue is the only option for getting the Master Assassin achievement/buff.

You no longer can truly compare the two classes, because they provide different results. The differences between them are meaningful because they’re harder to compare. These tiny tweaks can accomplish what you otherwise spend dozens of hours on – making the class choices meaningful and fair. That’s what players want, that every choice is viable and no choice is objectively better than another. You can accomplish that via establishing different goals and their results, regardless of the general effectiveness/ease of the gameplay.

 

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