3 RPG(ish) related questions concerning enemy level scaling, experience point gain, and player/party stats.

I realize that some of this may overlap with other genres of games, especially player/party stats, but it seemed more relevant to make the post here based on my gaming experience. I'm just curious as to what your opinion or preference is to the following features in RPGs (or other game related genres).

1) Level Scaling: Not present in all forms of RPGs, but it seems the inclusion or exclusion of that element is more apparent in an open world structured game. Oblivion had level scaling, while Skyrim didn't. Skyrim employed more of a hybrid system where most enemy "types" had a range of levels. Piranha Byes games and The Witcher 3 don't, resulting in exploration that can be tense because you don't know what level of enemy you'll encounter. There are many variations of how "level scaling" is employed, but personally I don't like that feature in RPGs. I'd rather have the tension of not knowing what I'll encounter when I explore.

2) Experience Point Gain: ARPGs have that formula of "kill enemies, gain experience, level up character", and it works for those types of games, and I'm fine with that, gameplay is based on killing, looting & leveling up. In other types of RPGs, I prefer a system that relies on completing quests or using skills to gain experience. That's my preferred method of gaining experience and leveling up.

3) Player and/or Party Stats: I'm a stat-freak, I admit it; I love those gameplay totals stats that show what I, or my party, have accomplished during the game but have no effect on the actual gameplay. How many locks have I picked? How many wolves have I killed? What are my party's members kill counts? How many games of Gwent have I won and lost? It's an endless list, depending upon the game. Some games do it, some don't, and I'm not going to start listing all the examples of games at this point, but I do love it when a game includes those stats. (This is the one area that encompasses multiple game genres, like @Brian Boru 's Far Cry 6, but it seemed relevant to include it in this post rather than make another)
 

Alm

Jan 17, 2020
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I agree with you on all 3. I remember playing Ghost Recon Wildlands on PS4 with my brother and there was an achievement for killing someone over 400m away. When the achievement unlocked it took a screenshot and attached it to the achievement so I could remember which kill it was. Stuff like that I thought was cool.
 
1. I don't mind level-scaling in principle. It depends on how well it's implemented into the game. I never had a problem with it in Oblivion because I liked being able to go anywhere and have a decent challenge.

I think open-world games that don't use level-scaling often feel like they're really just linear games where you need to find the right area to be in yourself.

2. I usually prefer to level up by gaining XP. If you have to use skills to level them you're often required to just grind at some point to advance, at least for some of the skills. Skyrim's smithing skill comes to mind. I made so many iron daggers (and later pieces of jewellery when XP got scaled to the item's value), just so I could unlock the next perk and make the stuff I actually wanted.

3. I do not care about in-game stats. There's nothing for me to do with that kind of information.
 
Stats:
Stuff like that I thought was cool
That's my attitude as well, it's a nice-to-have. Far Cry 5 has a wagon load of 'em, many more than FC6. How many of different fish I caught, how many of different animals I hunted—altho not total numbers, only the numbers until you hit the goal to get the associated upgrade perk. Same with a load of different ways to kill, incl with each diff weapon. Was far too much imo.

I like stats related to how I play—so eg # of stealth actions, headshots, bases captured undetected, arrow kills etc. I could care less that I hunted more moose than deer, or missed almost all the fishing.

Experience:
I prefer a system that relies on completing quests or using skills
That's my preference too, and generally how it works in FC games. FC5 had one-off skill point gains for achieving a certain number of kills in different ways—mainly with diff weapons—but the main FC gains are thru achieving objectives, rather than in how they're achieved. Capture this, free those, destroy that etc.

Leveling:
I'd rather have the tension of not knowing what I'll encounter when I explore
New Dawn is the FC with leveling, 3 in all—if you meet a L3 opponent when you or your weapons are L1, it's not going to go well. A few of those taught me to do proper prep before venturing to L2/L3 areas, which I prefer to random encounters—but I prefer a strategic/tactical play experience to a tension-laden one :).

A nice touch in New Dawn is that when you capture an outpost, you can decide to hold it or scavenge it for extra resources. Latter means baddies reclaim the place with stronger defenses, and you can go after it again for more goodies—and repeat once more for 3 captures in all. Later in the game, a L3 outpost with L3 defenders can be an interesting encounter.

You spend the resources you acquire to level up your base—there are ~5-6 buildings in home base which you choose to build and upgrade to L3. These building upgrades are where you gain access to upgrading yourself and weapons, transport etc. Coming from RTS, I enjoyed this side of the game, plenty of strategic decisions to make.
 

Zloth

Community Contributor
I like the level scaling - but nobody says everything has to scale to your level. Maybe have everything near the roads scale to your level. Get deep into the wilderness, and it's your level plus 2 or 3. Also, throw in a few regions where enemies are way above your level at the start of the game. Once you finish a few quests, though, the high-level nasties find other things to do, and the scale goes to roughly your level.

I like getting most XP from quests, too, provided the game doesn't re-spawn enemies. If I have to go back and forth over an open world and get stuck with killing enemies both ways, I want some reward for that. (I would prefer it if I didn't have to fight them at all, though, or at least didn't have to fight them for several levels if the game has level scaling.)

Another thing I like with XP but rarely see is getting more XP for doing new things. Kill an orc, get XP. Kill another orc, get not as much XP. Kill another dozen orcs, gained XP goes down to 0. Find a way to get an orc tribe to attack a neighboring (and presumably evil) kingdom instead of the local villages, get XP again. Use the same method to get a second tribe to attack the neighbors, get much less XP. That's a hard system to do in tabletop because it requires so much bookkeeping, but a computer can do it easy!

I love stats, too. What's the strongest enemy my wussy cleric managed to finish off with his little crossbow? Just how many orcs have I killed? Most damage from one attack? Longest streak of misses against a single enemy? Number of English swear words used while playing (requires a microphone)....
 

Sarafan

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Jan 14, 2020
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1) Level Scaling:
I'm not a huge fan of level scaling, however... I see its advantages. In theory level scaling gives you more freedom. You're not limited in terms where you can go. The challenge will be always adequate to the difficulty level and the level of your character. The opposite approach can ruin experience because it can make the game very linear. We can find an excellent example of this in Divinity Original Sin 2 where in theory you can go everywhere (on a particular map), but in practice if you do quests in a different order than it was planned by developers, you have very little chances of survival.

On the other hand Oblivion's approach was also completely unacceptable. On higher levels it was possible to encounter bandits with high level gear which should be rare by definition. This not only destroys the economy of the game, but also makes you think that something is wrong with the game world. So a big no, no to Oblivion like level scaling. It was better in Skyrim, but still not perfect.

Fallout: New Vegas is a good example how the construction of the world should be done. There are some ranges in which the NPCs and mobs scale, but there are also some high-level areas where you don't have a chance to survive without proper character development and gear. One of these areas block access to New Vegas Strip in the beginning of the game.

A great example how the game world should be designed without any level scaling is Baldur's Gate 1 and 2. In both you have access to a large portion of the game from the very beginning and you have chances to survive in most of these areas. It's simply balanced enough. Access to high-level areas is restricted, but these are mostly related to the main plot of the game (like Underdark in BG2).

So basically I like hybrid level scaling from FNV and lack of level scaling from BG1 and BG2. It all depends on the skill of developers though. These three games made it perfect, but the difficulty level is a fragile thing, so even a game without level scaling can be bad.

2) Experience Point Gain:
I would definitely go for a balanced approach. In an RPG that relies heavily on story, I can't imagine gaining experience points only for killing mobs and it's also true for the opposite games. Two examples come to my mind: The Elder Scrolls and Diablo series. In both you don't get experience for completing quests (there are some exceptions in TES, but it's very rare). It's not fun, especially in TES, because you can find quests there that don't rely on direct combat. Diablo is an action oriented game, so it's less painful, but wouldn't it be better, if the player received experience for bringing those quests to happy end?

Planescape Torment is an interesting example. It rewards players for combat, but... there's rarely any battle in the first part of the game, so your main source of experience is completing dialogue based quests. And it's fine. If the gameplay style of a game discourages you from combat and rewards with experience for completing quests, it's mostly ok. But if a game has a balance between combat and quests and rewards you for only one thing, it's a huge problem.

3) Player and/or Party Stats:
In most cases I don't care much about game statistics. It's fine when they're implemented, but it's not something crucial for me. I guess that Skyrim is a good example, as it covers a lot of statistics.

Also I think that this topic is a very good candidate for Weekend Question (or even three Weekend Questions!) if it returns at some point to the PC Gamer site. :)
 
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On the other hand Oblivion's approach was also completely unacceptable. On higher levels it was possible to encounter bandits with high level gear which should be rare by definition. This not only destroys the economy of the game, but also makes you think that something is wrong with the game world. So a big no, no to Oblivion like level scaling. It was better in Skyrim, but still not perfect.

Fallout: New Vegas is a good example how the construction of the world should be done. There are some ranges in which the NPCs and mobs scale, but there are also some high-level areas where you don't have a chance to survive without proper character development and gear. One of these areas block access to New Vegas Strip in the beginning of the game.
I feel the exact opposite. I didn't mind the bandits in Oblivion with overpowered equipment, my suspension of disbelief could handle that and I liked that bandits stayed challenging to fight. However, I really disliked how much Fallout: New Vegas directed you to take a specific route to the strip. It felt much less like a open world than Fallout 3.

It's not fun, especially in TES, because you can find quests there that don't rely on direct combat.
I don't understand thus criticism, because combat is not the only way to get experience in TES games. You get experience for using skills and there's a bunch of non-combat skills, so it makes sense there are non-combat quests as well.
 
1) Level Scaling: Not present in all forms of RPGs, but it seems the inclusion or exclusion of that element is more apparent in an open world structured game. Oblivion had level scaling, while Skyrim didn't. Skyrim employed more of a hybrid system where most enemy "types" had a range of levels. Piranha Byes games and The Witcher 3 don't, resulting in exploration that can be tense because you don't know what level of enemy you'll encounter. There are many variations of how "level scaling" is employed, but personally I don't like that feature in RPGs. I'd rather have the tension of not knowing what I'll encounter when I explore.
I don't like level scaling because you don't see as much improvement in your party/character. In fact, improving seems like a waste of time because as you improve, so do all the enemies. I'd rather get my butt kicked by a high level character then come back later, after leveling a bit, and beat him. I can also take joy in traveling back to low level areas and beating the snot out of the locals who used to give me a challenge. Seeing improvement is very important to me.
2) Experience Point Gain: ARPGs have that formula of "kill enemies, gain experience, level up character", and it works for those types of games, and I'm fine with that, gameplay is based on killing, looting & leveling up. In other types of RPGs, I prefer a system that relies on completing quests or using skills to gain experience. That's my preferred method of gaining experience and leveling up.
I don't really have a preference here. I enjoy grinding, though, and sometimes that's easier if you get good XP for kills.
3) Player and/or Party Stats: I'm a stat-freak, I admit it; I love those gameplay totals stats that show what I, or my party, have accomplished during the game but have no effect on the actual gameplay. How many locks have I picked? How many wolves have I killed? What are my party's members kill counts? How many games of Gwent have I won and lost? It's an endless list, depending upon the game. Some games do it, some don't, and I'm not going to start listing all the examples of games at this point, but I do love it when a game includes those stats. (This is the one area that encompasses multiple game genres, like @Brian Boru 's Far Cry 6, but it seemed relevant to include it in this post rather than make another)
I pretty much want all the stats the game can give me.
 

Sarafan

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Jan 14, 2020
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However, I really disliked how much Fallout: New Vegas directed you to take a specific route to the strip. It felt much less like a open world than Fallout 3.
I agree that it limits the freedom of open world, but I think that we need to sacrifice it to make to world consistent enough. Lack of consistency spoils the fun for me. When you're clearly starting to feel that the game has level scaling, it usually means that it's pushed too far.

You get experience for using skills and there's a bunch of non-combat skills, so it makes sense there are non-combat quests as well.
These are scarce however. It's very rare that you get an actual reward in experience just for completing the quest. I'd certainly love to see more examples of quest such as the one completed for Hermaeus Mora, where a direct reward is an increase of skills. I'm not talking here about leveling skills during the progression of a quest. What I have in mind is the final reward for a quest. It doesn't always have to be skill levels. There could be skill perks (or skill unrelated perks) or even increase in one of three main stats by a small amount. This would make TES series more satisfying.
 
I don't like level scaling because you don't see as much improvement in your party/character. In fact, improving seems like a waste of time because as you improve, so do all the enemies
I like the way they did it in New Dawn. The high level enemies are in their own areas—venture there early and get toasted, spend time in the lower level regions first and come back able to compete.
 
I agree that it limits the freedom of open world, but I think that we need to sacrifice it to make to world consistent enough. Lack of consistency spoils the fun for me. When you're clearly starting to feel that the game has level scaling, it usually means that it's pushed too far.
I do think Skyrim's system of bounded level scaling works better, but I don't really mind the lack of consistency myself. I'd rather sacrifice consistency than gameplay.

These are scarce however. It's very rare that you get an actual reward in experience just for completing the quest. I'd certainly love to see more examples of quest such as the one completed for Hermaeus Mora, where a direct reward is an increase of skills. I'm not talking here about leveling skills during the progression of a quest. What I have in mind is the final reward for a quest. It doesn't always have to be skill levels. There could be skill perks (or skill unrelated perks) or even increase in one of three main stats by a small amount. This would make TES series more satisfying.
But that seems inconsistent to me. The whole thing in TES games is that you only level skills by actually using them (or going to a trainer). It would feel weird to me if you got a bunch of skill experience for free just because you finished a quest. Not to mention how it would probably impact the balance of the game if you decide not to accept the majority of the quests (on your 10th playthrough for example). Either levelling skills the normal way would become more of a grind or the experience rewards from quests would barely be worth it.
 

Sarafan

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It would feel weird to me if you got a bunch of skill experience for free just because you finished a quest.
Good point! That's quite convincing given how the leveling system in TES looks. There are some quests where you get a one point skill increase, but they're very rare and have a good explanation why you get this point. On second thought my proposed system would be worse than the system that's actually implemented in the game.
 
But if things are only getting easier, doesn't the game just get trivial? Unless you keep going for harder enemies, but then aren't you doing your own level scaling?
I'm fine with doing my own level scaling. That's natural. It's not natural for me to only get weak enemies when I'm weak, and only hard enemies when I'm strong. It's more natural to have weak and strong enemies all over the place, and I have to pick my battles based on what I can handle.

That's exactly what things are like for me right now in AC: Odyssey. I'm doing a thing where I have to kill 3 Polemarches, and I'm finding that I have to be careful about which Polis I try to do that in. Some regions are leveled way above me. Same with Quests. I've gotten a lot of quests that I have to build myself up before I attempt them. Self-level scaling makes a lot more sense than the computer only sending you your level of enemies all the time.
 
It's interesting to see the different preferences you guys have, especially when it comes to level scaling. Many of you mentioned hybrid systems, either in theory or in an actual game, and the success or failure will really depend on how well implemented it is by the developer (which several of you also mentioned). I've also seen some games that give you the option to turn that feature on if you want it, The Witcher 3 has that option, which I leave off. There was also a game, I think it was POE2 Deadfire, that had options to turn level scaling up or down (something to that effect).

I like getting most XP from quests, too, provided the game doesn't re-spawn enemies. If I have to go back and forth over an open world and get stuck with killing enemies both ways, I want some reward for that. (I would prefer it if I didn't have to fight them at all, though, or at least didn't have to fight them for several levels if the game has level scaling.)
That can be annoying, which brings to mind "enemy respawn rates", or if they respawn at all. I had similar experiences to yours when playing Dragon Age Inquisition, it felt like the enemies respawned seconds after you killed them, and there was a lot of going back and forth in some areas. Going back and forth across the Storm Coast area I was constantly killing bears, even if I had just gone through an area moments before.

I don't like level scaling because you don't see as much improvement in your party/character. In fact, improving seems like a waste of time because as you improve, so do all the enemies. I'd rather get my butt kicked by a high level character then come back later, after leveling a bit, and beat him. I can also take joy in traveling back to low level areas and beating the snot out of the locals who used to give me a challenge. Seeing improvement is very important to me.
That's my general feeling as well, I much prefer honing my skills, getting better equipment, and going back to battle whatever it was that killed me so easily before. I think The Witcher 3 and the Piranha Bytes games employ this method really well. The maps are big enough that I don't feel restricted in how I play and explore. I just find it more satisfying.

A great example how the game world should be designed without any level scaling is Baldur's Gate 1 and 2. In both you have access to a large portion of the game from the very beginning and you have chances to survive in most of these areas. It's simply balanced enough. Access to high-level areas is restricted, but these are mostly related to the main plot of the game (like Underdark in BG2).
The combat balance was excellent in those games, and there was always a sense of not knowing if you were going to get in over your head. Like messing around in the crypts and coming up against the demilich Kangaxx in BG1, or trying to do Firewine Bridge too early and getting hammered by Death Knights. Those games weren't open world (I don't think the term had been invented yet), but the felt open world with the freedom to go almost anywhere.
 
I'm fine with doing my own level scaling. That's natural. It's not natural for me to only get weak enemies when I'm weak, and only hard enemies when I'm strong. It's more natural to have weak and strong enemies all over the place, and I have to pick my battles based on what I can handle.

That's exactly what things are like for me right now in AC: Odyssey. I'm doing a thing where I have to kill 3 Polemarches, and I'm finding that I have to be careful about which Polis I try to do that in. Some regions are leveled way above me. Same with Quests. I've gotten a lot of quests that I have to build myself up before I attempt them. Self-level scaling makes a lot more sense than the computer only sending you your level of enemies all the time.
I suppose a big part of it depends on the power scale and skill requirements of the game as well. Some games give such a big power bonus on level up that a monster just one level above you is almost unbeatable. While some games let you kill the final boss as a level 1 character if you're skilled enough at the game.

Level scaling on a game with a large skill component would probably feel worse, as your skill might eventually make any level-scaled enemy trivial.
 
I suppose a big part of it depends on the power scale and skill requirements of the game as well. Some games give such a big power bonus on level up that a monster just one level above you is almost unbeatable. While some games let you kill the final boss as a level 1 character if you're skilled enough at the game.

Level scaling on a game with a large skill component would probably feel worse, as your skill might eventually make any level-scaled enemy trivial.
I said it before, and Zed said it above, too, but with automatic level scaling, all of the upgrades and improvements that you work so hard for are useless, because the enemies just grow harder with them. Personally, I don't like that notion. I like it when I get stronger in the game, and it actually feels like I have gotten stronger.

Like I'll go back to Skyrim, for instance. In the beginning of the game, dragons are very tough and intimidating. Almost impossible to fight on your own. But rather than just going through the main story, I took the time to do a lot of other things and build myself up. I built up my one-handed perks. I built up my smithing and enchantment. Built up my light armor. I got to the place where I made myself a dragon bone sword and a full set of dragon plate light armor that was all enchanted. My sword was enchanted so that it gave me health every time I hit the enemy (or maybe killed, I don't remember). My one-handed was powerful. I was a beast.

But it took me a lot of work and time to get there, and it wasn't easy. After all of that, I wanted it to pay off. I didn't want my enemies to grow with it, so that it was just as hard to fight them as it always was. I earned being able to cut through dragons like a hot knife through butter. And when I did that last part of the main story where you have to fight a lot of dragons, it did pay off, and it felt good. I like being able to feel my progression, instead of it feeling exactly the same throughout the game.
 
I said it before, and Zed said it above, too, but with automatic level scaling, all of the upgrades and improvements that you work so hard for are useless, because the enemies just grow harder with them. Personally, I don't like that notion. I like it when I get stronger in the game, and it actually feels like I have gotten stronger.

Like I'll go back to Skyrim, for instance. In the beginning of the game, dragons are very tough and intimidating. Almost impossible to fight on your own. But rather than just going through the main story, I took the time to do a lot of other things and build myself up. I built up my one-handed perks. I built up my smithing and enchantment. Built up my light armor. I got to the place where I made myself a dragon bone sword and a full set of dragon plate light armor that was all enchanted. My sword was enchanted so that it gave me health every time I hit the enemy (or maybe killed, I don't remember). My one-handed was powerful. I was a beast.

But it took me a lot of work and time to get there, and it wasn't easy. After all of that, I wanted it to pay off. I didn't want my enemies to grow with it, so that it was just as hard to fight them as it always was. I earned being able to cut through dragons like a hot knife through butter. And when I did that last part of the main story where you have to fight a lot of dragons, it did pay off, and it felt good. I like being able to feel my progression, instead of it feeling exactly the same throughout the game.
But Skyrim does use level scaling, so obviously level scaling can be implemented in a satisfying way where your upgrades and improvements don't feel useless.

I really disliked the lack of level scaling in World of Warcraft because the game gave you so much XP that you quickly levelled out of zones, even before you had seen all the content. I want to be able to see all the content the game has to offer without some of it becoming entirely trivial because I've done too much other level-appropriate content before.
 
But Skyrim does use level scaling, so obviously level scaling can be implemented in a satisfying way where your upgrades and improvements don't feel useless.

I really disliked the lack of level scaling in World of Warcraft because the game gave you so much XP that you quickly levelled out of zones, even before you had seen all the content. I want to be able to see all the content the game has to offer without some of it becoming entirely trivial because I've done too much other level-appropriate content before.
Yeah, I guess I don't mind somewhat of a hybrid where you can still feel the progress, but not be too overwhelmed when you are first starting out. Skyrim does it fairly well, because there are still times when you can feel overwhelmed, but it's not too often or too much. But I also like how AC: Odyssey does it where there are things you just need to stay away from until you can build yourself up, then come back to them. In my opinion, Skyrim does a good job, but I think they could lean slightly more toward how Odyssey does it. But not quite as severe.
 
Yeah, I guess I don't mind somewhat of a hybrid where you can still feel the progress, but not be too overwhelmed when you are first starting out. Skyrim does it fairly well, because there are still times when you can feel overwhelmed, but it's not too often or too much. But I also like how AC: Odyssey does it where there are things you just need to stay away from until you can build yourself up, then come back to them. In my opinion, Skyrim does a good job, but I think they could lean slightly more toward how Odyssey does it. But not quite as severe.
I read an article once about creating D&D encounters that specifically accounted for the fact that players like having that feeling of getting stronger. So instead of building each encounter to a specific level, you use the same encounter set-up for a range of levels, such that the encounters are hard at the bottom of the range and become progressively easier. Then when you level out of that range you have a sudden bump in difficulty again as you enter the next range, starting the entire process over. This is what Gloomhaven does as well and it works really well in my experience.
 
You don't have to use all the perks and resources you accumulate, mix and match to suit your preference.

in Far Cry I have very little interest in dying and starting the current op again, so I always max my health and armor.

I also have no interest in ploughing thru the opposition, so I don't use the big hardware in my loadout.

I don't like transport, but do want to traverse without undue pain, so I pursue wingsuit, grapple, fast travel points and speed perks.

So use the dragon armor and weapons, or don't—make it your choice, not game-imposed.

when you start out, you're fighting goblins and kobolds. By the end, you're fighting
dragons and devils. Doesn't that give a feeling of getting stronger?
Yes, that was my FC New Dawn comment in posts #4 & #10.

In FC3 I once spent ~15 minutes killing a rhino with arrows for the double skin, just to see if I could. But that's work—almost worthy of an RPG—so mostly I hunted 'em later after I got the 50-cal sniper.

Similarly, I like when I make the transition from running away from tigers etc to running towards them.
 

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