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Equip: Yes or No

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What weapons would be in your ultimate arsenal? A R.Y.N.O, lightsaber, and repulsor armor sound like you’d be invincible. But that all depends on how the game world is balanced. Are weapons seen as an extension of the protagonist’s abilities, personality and skills or are they tools necessary to reach the next stage?

In Metroid, Samus needs a corresponding weapon to travel through the interconnected dungeon. Each section is gated by a weapon waiting for players to earn. During Legend of Zelda, Link (or whatever you named him) must posses the golden arrow in order to damage Gannon. Shepard, the hero of Mass Effect, picks up enough weapons to supply the entire universe…and quickly turn most of them into omni-gel because they are worthless.

What is the difference between these multiple scenarios? How do designers create weapons that remain interesting to players and an integral part of the hero’s journey?

Gameplay Mechanics

Weapon EquipDepending on what weapon the player equipped, their strategy will alter to maximize the pros and cons of their arsenal. This is most often seen in FPS or third-person action-adventure games. When Master Chief is armed with a Needler, the player’s strategy is different from when utilizing a shotgun.

This scenario means that the weapon is part of the gameplay. The player’s choices are informed by the range, power, reload speed and elements of the weapon. In Skyrim, there is an obvious difference between using a large sword and a dagger. The animations differ and the game feels differently. The developer is providing a series of weapons for the player to choose from but ultimately which ones they prefer will depend on their individual style. There is no right answer (unless we are talking Halo: Combat Evolved…then it’s the pistol).

Stats

Weapon StatsWhen the weapon doesn’t impact how the game is played, such as RPGs, the weapon can truly be boiled down to its stats. There is no difference between Cloud being equipped with the Buster Sword or the Ultima Blade from a gameplay standpoint. One is stronger than the other, but the player doesn’t notice if one is heavier, better balanced or sharper. The action still remains hitting the attack button.

This makes sense in RPGs where the combat system isn’t defined by precise button controls and reflexes. In Diablo III, players enjoy hitting the loot pinata of exploding enemies and treasure chests to see what comes out. But when a wizard goes from a rare wand to a legendary sword, the game doesn’t change. Instead of the weapons meaning anything to the player, it’s their stats and damage output which matter. The weapon becomes nothing more than a conduit to house data.

Tools

By blocking access to areas, designers encourage backtracking and exploration. This creates an interconnected world for players to explore, most likely seen in an action-adventure game. This is one of the strengths in Link to the Past. Some might say that these are items, not weapons, but I disagree. Many of the items selectable have an offensive option. It is just a perk that they can be used in puzzle solving.

I find this option to be the most enjoyable. When melding the usefulness of a weapon to being a necessary component of exploration, designers are thinking through obstacles for players to encounter. It also creates a world where combat is not slowed down by weapon selection. If I have the hookshot equipped to cross a large chasm, but encounter a series of enemies on the other side there is no need to re-equip a new weapon. I’m still armed.

Drop, Store or Equip

Weapon ItemsObviously, it depends on what genre you are experiencing. I couldn’t imagine running through Call of Duty, stopping to check the stats of every dropped sniper rifle to see if it was better than my current. Alternatively, it would radically change the gameplay of Mega Man if he switched from an arm cannon to Z-Sword…

What scenario do you prefer? In what games did you find the weapon implementation to blend together perfectly with the gameplay and when did you feel like it stumbled a bit?

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