Five Things That Make For A Good Power Weapon

Competition demands dominion. Dominion begets power. And, if you're serious about keeping that power, chances are power weapons come into the picture.

Power weapons are tools that allow us to deal immense damage. Think stuff like sniper rifles, or even vehicles like tanks. These can dictate the entire flow of the match, so it's not surprising that they're so important in multiplayer games. Players must resolve to always be in control of power weapons, even if they're not using them.

I'd go so far as to say that, if done right, power weapons are one of the elements that define the entire experience. What is Gears of War without its chainsaw gun? What is Halo without the Energy Sword?

Sure, these weapons are available in the single-player modes, but the titillation of defeating an AI is not the same as defeating an actual person. People struggle, they fight back -- which makes destroying them with a power weapon all the more gratifying (despite how unsettling it is to say!)

Having your stock rocket launcher, your sniper rifles, your shotguns is simple enough; many games have them. Developing a good power weapon is much more difficult. This is my criteria for the makings of a good power weapon -- though naturally, a weapon doesn't have to fulfil all of these traits at once.

It has to make you feel cool

Weapons in a game are like extensions of ourselves. They represent us in some way. Think about it: you often can't see more than your hands and your gun, so you might as well say you are are the gun. And if the purpose of most games can be boiled down to "power fantasies," then a good power weapon knows how to make a player feel like a badass.

My favourite example here would have to be the Ghost from Halo. The glide of the vehicle is otherworldly, making zipping through the maps a joy even if you're not shooting anyone. It's what I imagine handling a futuristic motorcycle would be like -- the very epitome of cool.

There has to be risk on top of the reward

You can't just give a player immense power without there being a catch. It's partially a matter of balance: making a weapon dangerous to use gives other players a fighting chance. It's also a matter of design -- the 'reward' is all the more satisfying if it's something that could easily ruin you. Never underestimate the thrill of dancing with danger and then getting away with it.

As an example, the OneShot in Gears of War takes a normal sniper rifle and super charges it. It's literally one shot one kill, no matter where the shot lands -- and it can go through some cover. It also has a long charge time, a visible aiming laser, it's audible, and scoping in makes it difficult to be cognisant of what's going on around you -- which makes you easy pickings.

The benefits of risk and reward also explains the recent obsession with bows and crossbows in many multiplayer games (Tomb Raider, Far Cry 3, Crysis 3, Gears of War: Judgement, etc) -- bows often require enough precision that, should you miss, an enemy can probably gun you down before you have a chance to take another shot. If you don't miss, though -- chances are one arrow is all it takes to kill someone.

It has to be unique

What use is having a power weapon if it's much like your normal weapons -- or hell, like the weapons in other games? You can't feel cool with a run of the mill gun; that's why stuff like "rocket launcher" doesn't make the cut. A unique power weapon is also necessary to establish a game's identity and flair, ultimately encapsulating what sets game X apart from game Y.

Uncharted is the game where you can call down spiders on people. Call of Duty is the game where you can nuke the entire playing field. Gears of War is the game where you can chainsaw people with a lancer. All rather memorable experiences -- and memorable games.

This aspect is probably the most difficult.

It has to have complexity and nuance

This is somewhat related to risk and reward, in that it's both a balancing issue (players have to earn the right to use a power weapon) and that, if done right, complexity and nuance make the payoff that much better.

Giving a weapon complexity and nuance also keeps things interesting for the player, which is good for long-term gaming. If adhered to, complexity and nuance means the weapon requires some form of mastery to use -- which eliminates stuff like 'noob tubes' from consideration.

Would piloting an Apache in Battlefield be the same if anyone could do it with ease and finesse from the get-go? Probably not. And the same goes for figuring out, say, the nuances of how the Scattershot bullets in Halo bounce off surfaces, or how the many ways in which you can use a Digger in Gears of War is as enjoyable as the moment when you pull the trigger.

It has to make you feel powerful

Duh.

*** And what of normal guns? Arguably, they should follow all these mandates too. I'd say that the best weapons empower you such that, with proper usage and know-how, there's barely any difference between a power weapon and a normal weapon. That's why even small side arms, like the Magnum in Left 4 Dead, can feel so powerful despite not being a special gun or ability.

I'm curious, though: what are some of your guys' favourite power weapons or abilities in games? What about them is special or interesting? Sound off in the comments!

The Multiplayer is a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games. It runs every Monday at 6PM ET.

Top image credit: commorancy


Comments

    Plasma Rifle in Fallout 1, 2, Tactics, 3 and New Vegas

    Gooping people

    Amazing

    The risk/reward part confuses many people and those who want easy killstreaks. The Energy Sword in Halo: Reach could be deflected briefly, giving another element to learn how to use the sword and when the best time to strike with it is (rather then just whenever someone comes close to you). But that was met with criticisms because Halo fans hate learning anything new, and so was removed from 4. As well as many other positive steps the franchise has taken.

    We're currently living in a time where people want nothing but the low hanging fruit.

    I also liked using the Hologram in Reach. After learning for a long time, I was even managing to confuse high ranked players with it.

    I am my own power weapon *kisses biceps*

    You cant go past the original power weapon! Golden Eye 64 - the golden gun!

      Please let your self out..

        Sure. While I'm out you want me to pick you up a sense of humour?

          Buy an extra, you clearly need one too.

            Kemiq23 your under arrest for the murder of this joke and of a rubbish comeback in 1st degree

            you're*

    I just can't go past and good'ole Space Marine Thunder Hammer, after countless hours of play I still smile when I pulp an prone orc's skull with it

      One of the most awesome and satisfying weapons to use to crush enemies.

    My favourite is the Super phallus irony gun-sword from the little known game Super Misandry Robo Ovum supreme!

      I am disappointed that that doesn't appear to be a real thing.

      Last edited 12/03/13 5:12 pm

    Yeah, the chainsaw from Gears of War is totally unique...

    I like the gravity throw from Gravity Rush. It was so awesome to throw park benches, vases advertising panels and the like at Nevi.

    No BFG 9000? No Rail Gun? No Redeemer? THOSE were some power weapons.

      Yes, Yes and Yes! I remember my reaction when firing off the BFG the first time :>

      Oh shit the Redeemer! I remember piloting that massive missile around arenas!

    The Master Sword from Zelda.

    That thing empowers you to go kick some ass!

    JK2 lightsaber

    ASMD Shock Rifle and the Impact Hammer or Teleporter from UT. Those were either risk/reward type of weapons, or just required some skill to used properly.

    Nothing beats wiping out the playing field with one well placed Redeemer shot.

    Perfect Dark: Slayer (fly-by-wire mode), watching people flee in terror whilst you guide a missile towards them was always a blast (pun happy coincidence).
    You needed skill to keep up with agile opponents, and while controlling the rocket you were otherwise defenceless, but used with care it made for some awesome times.

    Probably doesn't sound as cool as other peoples choices, but I think that the beam rifle in Halo 4 is unmatched. I spent so much time practicing with it, to the point where I cane get no-scopes and snapshots around 70% of the time.

    I think weapon that requires high level of skill and technicality and is very rewarding always makes a gun cooler. I remember fondly guns like AWP for CS, Rocket Launcher for Quake1, Railgun for Q2 and Q3.

    You and I have very different definitions of 'Power Weapon'

    Excellent article, completely agree. Very well written also. I wouldn't mention it (this post is obviously pretty pointless) but it's actually quite rare currently.

    "What is Halo without the Energy Sword?"

    ... It's Halo: Combat Evolved, arguably the most successful out of the entire series.

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