Dragon Missing in the West

Besides a lack of content, one of the most popular issues players have with recent loot games like the Destiny franchise and The Division is a lack of depth and unrewarding loop of progression. In the case of Destiny, the first game was by no means a killer in terms of complexity, and with its sequel, Bungie felt it necessary to further drive home simplicity in favor of fun.

And then came along Monster Hunter World. It showed that freedom could flourish, and that leaving players to their own devices was something to celebrate, not squash.

From east to west, Monster Hunter World became Capcom’s best selling game ever at 7.5 million shipments and digital sales as reported in March, just two months after its launch.

With its smashing success in sales, it’s hard to imagine a world where dull progression and RPG elements measure up to a game like World. It’s a AAA predicament in the looter genre that really makes one reflect on the current state of things.

Do western AAA developers truly know best within the confines of the looting genre? And by extension, do publishers like Activision, EA, and Ubisoft play a meticulously crafted game of their own choosing?

Some and Not All

A topic hot for the taking between a good friend and myself is this – why don’t developers dive head first into an ocean of role playing loot perfection?

We can’t be alone, and it’s something we’ve hashed out, and will continue to hash out, in every conceivable way.

Where are the spider web skill trees? Where is experimentation meeting potentiation in skills? The satisfaction in finding something tangibly destructive?

Depth doesn’t have to be the enemy. Players and developers know this. The reach for simplicity lies delicate dance of financials and retention.

In other words, why must the backbone of progression within the likes of Destiny be so damn boring?

In truth, this is an obvious question with an obvious answer – simplicity wins the hearts of many. But then, it’s also a paradox.

Too simple, as with Destiny 2, and your loyal base flocks like a herd. Too complex, and there is no herd.

There is a third option. The statistical and undeniable truth is that the majority of your fanbase is going to move on from your game in little time, and with no hesitation.

An alternative approach for games like Destiny is to provide something entertaining, albeit surface level, for the casual players, and then entrench the underlying experience with satisfying loops, progression, and Loot.

Monster Hunter World is a huge proponent of this – you can can either get in and get out or explore a sea of fine tuning and chasing true power.

To the benefit of Destiny, Bungie has already implemented this strategy to some extent, it’s just that it’s far from ideal ratio of complexity to simplicity.

Where World blooms, Destiny never lets go of its straightforward shackles, even when it attempts a richer experience.

By all accounts, it seems as though Bungie has learned (again) if the upcoming Forsaken expansion is anything to go by. And in the case of The Division 2, it seems as though Ubisoft has seen the proverbial light in terms of what makes games of this genre stick.

They’ve made it abundantly clear that they’re prioritizing the end game experience, and like World, will off free content updates.

A Crafted Plan

As much as gamers like to complain and point out flaws in games, the current AAA landscape is beholden to a little logic, as flawed as it may seem at times.

These companies and executives are always on the beaten path towards a balance of value and profit, even if it’s hard to see this golden ratio and or any semblance of balance at all.

Examining the culmination of financials, marketing, and the end product leads one to believe that companies like Activision and Ubisoft are fine with mucking up a AAA launch in favor of hopefully winning back the hardcore fan base with iterative, and later, substantial updates.

Destiny 2 launched to become a commercial and critical success, no doubt selling through millions of copies across all platforms, but players, including my friends and I, quickly found the initial rush of an experience to be a mirage.

It was reported that, compared to the same launch period of Destiny 1, Destiny 2’s physical sales were down 50% in the US.

The majority of the fan base left just as quickly as they had come, and although Bungie has made efforts to win back the dedicated, its efforts were simply too slow and at times, flawed, to reel in an already jaded pool of players.

The story was similar with the first Destiny – hype and expectation leading to larger than life success, and quickly dissolving into disappointment and retreat.

It was an expansion, a true expansion unlike prior misnomers The Curse Below and House of Wolves, that successfully showed what Destiny could be. This content update, The Taken King, released a year after vanilla Destiny and near unanimously enamored players and press.

The issue with Bungie’s approach, and this applies to other developers within the genre, is that players can only endure so much abuse before they move on to greener pastures. The Division and Destiny initially launched during much earlier days within the generation.

We are now entering the final phase of this generation, arguably one of the best eras in terms of sheer volume and variety in experiences within the medium. Why endure an endless cycle with things like the PS4’s killer first party lineup, the Xbox One’s forward thinking Netflix type service, and Fortnite, a free game that is constantly growing, changing, and available on nearly every platform?

Recent updates have bolstered the Destiny 2 experience, and the fall expansion looks to be brimming with potential, but the general tone surrounding the franchise as a whole seems to be much more muted this time around.

For my group of friends, it’s too little too late with so many great experiences out there.

The Division 2, like Monster Hunter, seems to understand that getting it right from the start is the better way of doing things. A lot of they’re messaging seems directed at the heartbeat of games of this genre, the hardcore.

At the end of the day, the 1 step forward and 2 steps back approach could have been the winning bet when all the data is taken into account. The problem is that this is a strategy with waning effectiveness.

I believe that Ubisoft as a company realizes this, and if they play their cards right, could pull ahead in the long term when it comes to western looters.

It’s to be seen if Bungie will ever truly stabilize their vision and unfortunately, Bioware’s upcoming Anthem could follow the dreaded footsteps of looters past.

How and Why

One of the largest praises for World is the leaps and bounds made in terms of quality of life improvements. Seeking out the most loyal fans’ opinions of the game will net you some disappointment in terms of content and overall difficulty, but overall, players have taken a liking to the more seamless experience on hand.

So, why is Monster Hunter so different than western attempts in the looting genre? I think much of it has to do with the history and overall culture surrounding its development as a franchise.

The first game in the series, aptly titled Monster Hunter, was released nearly 14 years ago. It has had plenty of time to grow, evolve, and fine tune. Most importantly, it has remained a cultural phenomenon in Japan, the country of its origin, during its life.

Capcom’s first entry in the franchise, Monster Hunter, was released in 2004 for the Playstation 2 and received average reviews by critics overall. In contrast, Monster Hunter World released to overwhelming praise with a Metacritic score of 90/100.

It’s no secret that Japanese games are done differently, whether RPG’s or otherwise, compared to western games. Asian culture is simply different and as a result the expectations are different from players in the east.

If you take a look at many of the biggest hits from Japan, from Persona to Pokemon, the games are deeper than most western counterparts broadly speaking. If you look to the west’s past pillars of role playing this would be a moot point, but the likes of classic Fallout have fallen out the mainstream.

Yes, there has been somewhat of a CRPG resurgence on the PC in recent years, but the true heavy hitters in terms of AAA western RPG’s have been heavily streamlined or are merely games of other genres playing the part of an RPG.

You’ve also got games like Path of Exile, featuring a skill tree resembling neurons within a brain, but that’s a whole different discussion.

Ok, so you’ve got a game like Monster Hunter World, an ARPG that vastly exceeds freedom compared to Destiny 2 and The Division, but how is this possible logistically speaking?

I’d like to think that most of us are past racial superiority, so it isn’t the fact that Capcom’s Japanese developers are vastly more intelligent than those found in Bungie’s Washington headquarters.

The fact is, there are truly brilliant developers all over the United States, and those found within the confines of a company like Bungie have cultivated analysis and insight far beyond what the majority of internet users would have you believe.

It turns out that much of the freedom experienced in a game like Monster Hunter World comes straight from the top. Ryozo Tsujimoto, the face of the Monster Hunter franchise, is actually the son of Capcom’s CEO, Kenzo Tsujimoto.

I’m not implying that much of the brilliance found within World is solely due to nepotism, but it certainly doesn’t hurt an end goal of true artistic and directorial expression. Most games’ directors and executive producers, while at the top of the hierarchy of developers, still have with the constrained vision of finance.

This doesn’t just apply to depth found within games, it’s just as relevant concerning the overall package. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Destiny developers know what would make players go wild, either by looking to the past or success found in modern games, but implementing something non-sterilized, rich, and innovative is always going find itself at a wall of money and prioritization.

Pure freedom most often doesn’t work out, but loosen the leash just a bit, and anyone, in any context, is going to have more breathing room.

Add to this a team that, apparent from the critical and commercial success of World, knows their vision and craft, and you’ve got a perfect storm of quality and cohesion.

Where One Goes, Others Follow

The trend is both a gift and a curse in that the origin is often innovation, followed by new standards, with the side effect of muddled overindulgence.

I believe, and hope, that developers like Bungie, Ubisoft, Bioware, and any others looking to enter the looting genre, will look at the success of Monster Hunter World in the west and see that depth, freedom, and insanely rewarding loops can be done without taking as big a risk as one might think.

The systems in place in World truly do set a new bar for the looting experience and it’s only natural for others to want a piece of the pie.

It’s not unlike what The Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild did for open world games. In most cases, the run of the mill Ubisoft-esque experience isn’t enough, and Ubisoft itself is shying away from their trademark open world approach.

For games as a service titles, western looters have done a terrible job at keeping fans consistently satisfied, and moving forward into the final years of this generation, it’s no longer possible to rely on scarcity to settle for mediocrity.

It’s just a matter of time before a western developer nails the looter experience, and for console players’ sanity, I hope it’s sooner rather than later. Whether it’s Bungie, Ubisoft, Bioware, or Gearbox with the definitely-coming-but-not-announced Borderlands 3, the market is there for the taking.

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