If I Can Get Everything, Choices Don't Matter

Fallout 4 Perks

I was only about 10 hours into The Division 2, a game that I expect I will play for dozens of hours when I realised something about the perks in the game. I was going to be able to unlock them all easily once I hit level 30 and the final perks became available to grab.

Suddenly, I didn’t care about what I picked. These perks became a checklist that I barely thought about. By giving me the option to get everything, I stopped caring about any of the options at all. Games, stop doing this.

It is wild how quickly I went from planning which perks I would grab to literally just unlocking them in order from first to last in the menu.

I knew that I would probably be able to unlock most of them if not all of them eventually, but having that moment happen so early and be so apparent completely killed any interest I had in that part of The Division 2. This isn’t the first game where I’ve encountered this same issue.

Fallout 4 was another game where I realised I could eventually unlock every perk if I played enough. Just like that, my idea of working on a specific build evaporated. Unlocking a perk became less exciting and eventually, I would even forget to unlock new perks and let them build up before remembering that, “Oh yeah I have some perks to assign.”

It’s just hard to care about picking specific perks or abilities when it becomes clear you will get them all. Sure, early on I still focused on certain things, although eventually, I stopped caring because I was just going to get them all anyway.

The more recent Far Cry games also have this issue. I usually get more health or combat moves first, however towards the end of the game, I’m just randomly picking stuff without much thought.

Far Cry 5 Perks

By letting players unlock everything, the game robs the player of any meaningful choices in how to build up your character. But it also makes it harder for me to remember what I even have unlocked.

I feel like some of the perks I have in Fallout 4 I completely ignored because I didn’t think about them when I unlocked them. Same with other games that let me get every skill.

Compare this to the feeling of levelling up your character in something like Fallout New Vegas.

In that game, I would plan out builds. I would do mental maths in my head to figure out how many SPECIAL points I should assign in combination with a later perk to max out a stat I cared about. I would have to make hard choices to really get a skill or strong perk. I also remember getting really excited when I levelled up.

It was a few more points I could spread across my build. Each new perk or skill I gained felt memorable too and to this day I still remember certain characters I created and how much fun or how terrible they were.

In contrast, I’ve never felt compelled to create a new character in Fallout 4 because eventually, they will end up with all the perks as my original character.

I understand that part of the reason games like The Division 2 have unlockable skills and perks is to give players a sense of progression. Yet, if everyone and every character ends up in the same place I feel like that does a disservice to that feeling of progression.

In The Division 2 I also became less motivated to explore and grab some of the in-game items because I didn’t need them. I don’t require any more SHD Tech, the tokens used to unlock perks because I’m already drowning in them and have nothing to unlock. Maybe future updates will add more perks or ways to use SHD Tech yet, for now, I’m stockpiling something that feels worthless.

Good choices in video games aren’t about offering you something, but about making you choose to sacrifice something. Yeah, you can take this perk to gain more ammo capacity, though you will miss out on this perk that gives you more accuracy. MOBAs actually do a great job each match of pushing the player into picking things and making important choices.

I wish more games would see the value in limiting players and making them think about their choices.


Comments

    Wow, you must be fun at parties. "We all end up at the same place so who cares what choices I make now?"

      To the downvoter. My point is that it is a somewhat nihilistic view to see the design as being pointless because the endpoint is the same. It's about the choices you make shaping your journey, not that everything is meaningless because it has the same endpoint.

        Since I jumped on as a second down voter, I'll take this one. I can't speak for the writer, but I agree with the principle that diminishing player choice feels pointless, which I think is the point he's trying to make. Yes, I agree that it's about the journey not the end-point, but part of what can make a video-game journey feel individualised is the illusion of choice. If the illusion is transparent, my suspension of disbelief fails and I don't feel immersed in the journey.
        Obviously, this is an expectation of a video-game genre trope. I don't expect this from Tetris, but I want my play through of Skyrim to feel like a unique experience. In part, this is the fault of late-2000s game development, which pushed the marketing angle of weighted player choice. Ultimately, the medium of video games is about using tools such as player choice and experiential story-telling to immerse and transport the audience. By extension, it is a very inherently narcissitic medium, so the echo of nihilism follows quite naturally. But what I think the writer is trying to say is not that the game is pointless when it takes away player impetus, but that it feels pointless, which could be attributed either to personal preference or poor game development. The difference being, something feeling pointless and thinking that something is pointless is the difference between discerning and nihilism.
        But, y'know... Each to their own. :)

    I disagree. The choices only become meaningless if you're not required to live with them for any meaningful amount of time. Fallout 4 is a great example: it takes 272 levels to max out all attributes and perks, a level almost nobody reaches and certainly a long way ahead of the time you're actually making those choices. You definitely should be following a build and your choices definitely do matter for all but the longest term future. Rather, a leveling system that scales indefinitely is a deliberate choice away from systems that reach an artificial cap and just stop dead. It continues to provide improvement to players that invest the time, in contrast to an abrupt halt that can often leaves players feeling like it's pointless to keep going.

    I can't speak for Division 2 having never played it, but from a design perspective the real problem is leveling speed, not whether you can cap all skills. If the leveling speed is paced correctly, you're living with your initial choices for dozens of hours or more whether you can eventually get them all or not. If it's too fast, then you cap out too fast both ways and are still ultimately left feeling like your progression has halted.

    A well designed game paces its progression slowly enough that the player doesn't cap too quickly and get bored with the lack of further advancement, and quickly enough that the player doesn't feel like they're not progressing at all. A cap that results in all skills known or some skills known is incidental, because if the progression pace is done right then the consequence of your early choices still carry their full effect.

      Exactly.

      Fallout 4 was another game where I realised I could eventually unlock every perk if I played enough. Just like that, my idea of working on a specific build evaporated. Unlocking a perk became less exciting and eventually, I would even forget to unlock new perks and let them build up before remembering that, “Oh yeah I have some perks to assign.”

      That attitude straight-up doesn't survive your first 100hrs with the game.

      You might THINK that you can unlock all (fuckit, even half) the perks and upgrade all the SPECIAL stats, but by the time you're grinding hours and hours of exp-gain and still not even reaching one level, you quickly realize that your whole, "I can just have everything," attitude is going to require thousands of hours of play to actually come to fruition, and it DOES matter that you get X, Y, and Z perks just to make those thousands of hours bearable. You become hungry for the next perk to make your life survivable. (Especially on survival.)

        I am seeing this now with Mass Effect Andromeda. Since I just started my 2nd play through and so am using a wiki to read up on everything which I don't do on a first play through, I have learned that you can unlock every skill. However to do so requires reaching level 133. I checked my first save file. Only around level 50 after 110 hours. Since Andromeda doesn't have any reason to keep playing after the story like Fallout/Skyrim - it's never going to happen. So I am being very careful what I spend my points on.

          Nono, the reason to replay is to do new game+ on Nightmare difficulty your Level 75 character for platinum, and realize, through making different choices, that Sloane did nothing wrong.

    Personally I like games that do this. It makes me feel less bad when I have picked a dud perk and more inclined to be adventurous and pick a perk I may not fully comprehend before using it.

    Also means I don't feel locked into one playstyle through the whole game (rogue/tank etc) which is great for giant games like Skyrim.

      Not to mention time becomes a precious commodity for many as we get older.
      We dont all have time to play games 5 times through to see everything.

      With D2 the option to respec for group play seems like a god send, you can cover any role or tweak it to suit your style.
      It would be shit if everyone grouped up for the hard stuff with the same skills and abilities.

    I get the point that once you hit the endgame it doesn't matter, but the journey there can still be easier or harder depending on those perks. So they have significance even if it isn't permanent.

    The counter to the "we get them all so the choice doesn't matter" is that when the choices DO matter, making a wrong choice might not be recognised until its too late. So people spend too much time agonising over a decision, or just use Professor Google to search for the best builds, and making the importance pointless.

    Adding in a respect capability is no different to allowing you to open everything - your choices wont matter if you can change them. So, do you give a respect, so people can undo their mistakes, or make them suffer potentially for years for one bad choice? Or just simplify things by setting it up so you have them all? At least that's a level playing field.

    Having said that, Division 2 does drown you in them, which does make it a little too easy to unlock things early.

      i noticed you're only drowning in SHD tech if you forget that skill variations unlock also uses them. granted it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to get every point to unlock every skill and perk since it's just mostly running around but it's still deviation you need to do (and best done before 30)

    Agree with this 100%

    When I first started Division 2 I was planning out which to go for but by the time I hit level 10 I realised a lot of them weren’t at all interesting and I could get them all so I now I have a whole bunch of tech and unlocks banked up, not getting used.

    I can understand it a bit in games like the Division but pulling this in proper RPGs takes a lot of role playing out of supposed role playing games.

      I get your point but in the Division you have one role, Division Agent.
      I would assume those skills and abilities are part of that role, your pretty much a specialist specialist.

        I can see that but having subclasses especially in co-op play would be great

    Strong disagree.
    I'm unlikely to play a game more than once, so if I can't unlock everything I'm unlikely to get to try everything.

    The only games where I'm fine with limited skill points are games where you're meant to be playing very different builds. Having my wizard choose between being a fire or ice specialist is fine, having my Spider-Man choose between movement and combat abilities not so much.

    Good read, but like others here I have to wholeheartedly disagree with the overall sentiment.

    Generally, I feel like games let you get every skill so that no one feels "punished" for making a mistake.

    Personally, I always skill up in every game with the abilities I know I will use/that will make the game easier (Who doesn't start leveling Sneak and Bow in Skyrim immediately), and then once I've gotten far enough along in the game I'll branch out to the skills I'll never use.

    Why not a compromise - limited skill points, but have the ability to re-spec. Lots of games have that, and then if you completely stuff up your build you have the ability to try again.

      Same result to the OP - the choice becomes meaningless.

        Yeah... Apparently its much better to have to spend 50+ hours and restart the game because you picked a skill or perk that you could simply not know was awful until after you spent the point on it.

          Oh, I'm not against respecs personally. Just saying that once the choice is meaningless, the OP believes that they no longer matter. I can see the point, but I don't agree with it.

          Even when you do get them all, or you can respec, the choices make a difference, even if its something small. I've played games where a simple choice had consequences weeks later, and while some of the issues were easily fixed, they were still issues.

          Guild Wars 2 and Everquest spring to mind where, even with everything unlocked, you still have limits to what you have access to. GW2 lets you have 9 perks across 3 skill trees, EQ was limited to 8 spells/songs. Effectively though both games have infinite respecs.

            Sorry, I didn't mean to imply your opinion was that respecs are bad.

            I was referring to your point about how the author would likely see that given their view on 'choice'.

            A game that doesn't let you respec is, in my opinion, moronic. It can be crippling in a lot of ways, especially in RPGs... In the sense that making people choose makes them hesitate, and in some cases could easily stop people playing if they think their choices might be wrong later and they'd have to restart to fix them simply because they didn't know.

            It's just a great way to turn people off a game by making them think all their time spent has been wasted.

    I disagree in part as I think thevleveling and end-game (where you have all the toys) is usually fair... I @ hink its player agrncy to choise their playstyle rather than be limited by choices... especially in games where the essential perks are must have to gain access to areas. ( Seriously who doesnt ever pick lockpicking).

    I do however preger games using New Game Plus... where you cant get all the perks until yoir second playthrough.

    I sometimes agree that choices should matter. But then I remember my fable character max strength will and skill and how much fun I had with him.
    Then I remember my Diablo 2 character that I miss clicked a few stat points and how it screwed my build up and I eventually had to start a new character (days before they had respeccing in younglings).
    There are positives and negatives to both but I generally find berthesda's way the best "long time to max out (but not too long) full of impactful choices, and you can use the console commands to your heart's desire if you want"

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now