2 min read

RPG games need an auto-scaling off switch

TLDR… Single-player RPG games should include an Auto-Leveling off-switch.  Instead of scaling up or down to match my character, a level 35 dungeon would stay at level 35 whether I’m level 15 or 38.  This would make certain bosses impossible, which would motivate me to do side quests to level up, which would make the game longer and extend the fun.  Single person RPGs would feel more like World of Warcraft where level 60 elites don’t just magically nerf themselves so that my level 15 gnome can take them on.

I just finished my second run-through of Skyrim.  It’s a great game just like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Fallout 3 but these games all have the same problems:

A) too short

B) too easy (even on the hardest difficulty)

I understand why the developers nerfed these RPGs – most gamers don’t want to spend 200 hours and suffer frequent deaths along the way and occasionally get stuck.  So the devs build in auto-scaling i.e. every MOB gets assigned a minimum difficulty level and a strength ratio relative to your character.   In a game with a maximum level cap of 50, the final boss might have a minimum level of 12 and a strength ratio of 1.05.  Thus if I make it to the end game as a level 17, the boss will be level 18.  I passed Skyrim as a level 18 warrior and as a level 16 mage.  The level cap is 50.

The advantage of auto-scaling is that in an open-ended game, the difficulty level will stay very predictable no matter where I wander in the world since all the MOB’s levels are indexed to my character’s level.

The disadvantage is that auto-scaling destroys the purpose of leveling up my character, weaponry, and armor.  As soon as I gain a level, all the MOBs do, too.  There’s no point in doing any side quests to get stronger or pick up new weapons.  I might as well just play through the game doing only the mainline quest – a given boss will be no easier and no harder whether I’m level 15 or 50.

So, Bethesda, BioWare, Blizzard, et al. here’s my wish:

A) An auto-leveling off switch

B) Color-coded difficulty indicators on the world map

When I switch off auto-leveling, every MOB gets assigned a level that never changes.  On the world map, show me that Winterhaven is red for my level 30 rogue (most MOBs are 5+ levels above me) but Riverwood is green.   

That’s it.  When I’m looking for a challenge, I’ll venture into orange and red zones.  Too hard?  I’ll do some side quests or smith better armor.  How many extra developer hours would this take?  40, 80?  You’d make it Christmas for hundreds of thousands of gamers like me.

I miss Baldur’s Gate II