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Perk Progression - No attribute gating; custom perk synergy; combat-specific XP


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tl;dr don't gate perks behind attributes; specing some perks makes other perks cheaper (version w/ attributes, version w/out); add Combat XP progression used to get Combat perk points used to level up combat-related perks and maybe some other stuff


Want an explanation? Here it is -- welcome to my thesis:

  • The Problem
    • The Solution
  • The Problem with the Solution
    • The Co-solution (v1)
    • The Co-solution (v2)
  • The Additional Parameter No One Asked For: Combat XP


The Problem

Balancing the perk system is overly difficult.


The larger problem I'm looking at is the difficulty of balancing the perk system -- certain perks are more useful than others, and grouping those perks together under attributes in a way that makes sense while letting each attribute become, in some way, equally viable to spec into, is hella annoying to properly do. We can keep rearranging things, but it will always be unbalanced -- move a single perk around, and watch entire attributes get buffed and others get nerfed. If it's that unstable, it will eventually become a parasitic part of the devs' development process to have to keep rebalancing it every single time a game-changing feature gets released.


Balancing the perk system is difficult because each perk offers differing utility (obviously), and depending on the player's preferences, those utilities are worth just as differently (obviously(2)). The attribute system does well to arrange perks according to themes that steadily raise the barrier to entry for each perk, encouraging players to "invest" into an attribute. Evidently, there are many ways that this can prove restrictive by failing to conform to players' playstyles. For example, what if I wanted to be a roaming urban ninja, living by bow and blade, merely scavenging for what I needed? Peak Urban Ninja gameplay would require Parkour, Deep Cuts, Archery, Cardio, Infiltrator, Salvage Operations, Light Armor, Lock Picking, From The Shadows, and Hidden Strike. Those perks are scattered across three (3) attributes. Each attribute takes 16 points to max out, then combined with the ten choice perks above, it takes a total of 98 points to achieve Peak Urban Ninja gameplay.


Half of the perks I listed are under the Agility attribute, so therefore, under the current perk system, I should spec into that attribute first before anything, right? The question here is: is that choice interesting? How many people would find it genuinely exciting to find out that to max out Cardio, the only Fortitude-attributed perk in that list, they'll have to dump 16 points into Fortitude before they can max out Cardio, the only perk they needed in there?


Because perks are gated behind attributes, players are not just presented with an option, but a frustration of finding out that the one perk they wanted to mess around with was miles away. So, the solution is simple:


The Solution

Perks are not gated behind attributes.


Attributes can be remade as being additive to the effects of the perks, but not essential to having them. By freeing up the chains of the attributes, perks' associated costs can be balanced based on how useful or powerful each one is, instead of being given the collective treatment of being gated behind an attribute. Naturally, end-tier perks would have to be very expensive.


The Problem with the Solution

I'm taking a guess here by saying that the original intent of the attribute gating system appears to be to prevent having Lvl 5 Parkour x Pummel Petes running around on Day 7 in a melee-only parkour base. Naturally, that's rather stupid, and sadly, it's not something that can be solved by making end-tier perks ridiculously expensive, either. Plus plus, the attribute gating system offers the player a unique confidence that they've "reached new heights", because once all 16 points were thrown in an attribute, all of the perks in it were considered cheap -- in a way, the player gets that feeling of finally being able to breathe and relax. So, all that the co-solution (to solve the problem introduced by the first solution) has to do is offer this feeling of "unlocking" things, while offering a delaying action against certain end-tier perks.


I offer two opposing solutions to counteract the void left by deleting the attribute gating system. They can, of course, be hybridized, but I'll leave that off.


The Co-Solution (v1)

Buying perks in the same attribute decreases the cost of perks in that attribute.


This manages to be a middle ground between the existing system and the anti-gating solution. Buying 16 points worth of perks in an attribute would have the equivalent effect of flooring the cost of each perk level in that attribute to 1, but there's no reason why it should be strictly that way -- the more OP attributes could have a steeper investment slope, and underpowered ones, shallower. This gives a smoother measure of collective control over perks, which should be handy. Though it still remains a hurdle to Peak Urban Ninja gameplay, it's a lower one.


I see this solution being easier to implement than the one below, but I don't see it as just as interesting.


The Co-Solution (v2)

Assuming no attribute system at all, a player-defined custom set of perks can make each other cheaper when invested in, simultaneously making all other perks more expensive.


This makes a nod towards the Peak Urban Ninja example. With an attribute system in place, the perks necessary to reach and fulfill a particular kind of desired roleplay are spread across different attributes. Although perks in Co-Solution #1 above are not directly gated behind attributes, there still exist hurdles to creating the Peak Urban Ninja. Thus, taking a different approach, it may make the game more interesting to give the player an option to define a custom set of (maybe 10? 15?) perks at the start of the game, where if they invest into that set, it steadily makes all the of the perks in that set cheaper, but all other perks become more expensive. Conversely, speccing into non-chosen perks will make the chosen perks more expensive, while having no effect on other non-chosen perks.


This kind of setup should coax out more roleplay out of players, but I don't see why it couldn't be hybridized with Co-Solution #1. A consequence to this one, however, is that if the player maxes out their chosen set -- what happens next? The easy way out is to allow the player to choose the next set, though the basic price would have increased at that point, and so the second set, though steadily getting cheaper as the player goes along, would progress noticeably slower.


The Additional Parameter No One Asked For: Combat XP

Killing zombies fills up a second "Combat XP" bar, which yields Combat perk points. Combat perk points are used in lieu of normal perk points when it comes to combat-oriented perks.


If the game is going by "The player's deadliness should be directly related to how many zombies they've killed", then it should make sense to separate out the player's other experiences from factoring into the combat-related perks. This helps reasonably prevent Parkour Pete 5 gameplay from occurring on Day 7 -- because really, after all, if you've already killed an unreasonable number of zombies beforehand, I think Lvl 5 melee combat perks are a reasonable reward for you. This system also offers the possibility of having perks that require either Normal XP or Combat XP ("accessible" perks), and perks that require both Normal and Combat XP ("combination" perks), as a sort of a way to make perk point management more interesting.


There is, of course, still the possibility of using a knife to level up your shotgun skill. Not everything has to make sense, though, and I personally wouldn't mind -- combat is combat for me, and I'd rather let those adrenaline-packed moments be transferable to other skills rather than have a headache trying to optimize the fun out of the game.


-- Thanks for making it this far! --

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