Designing Power in First-Person Shooters


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The video game industry is oversaturated with First-person Shooters.  Each AAA Publisher looks to fill a void within the industry, hoping to capture the attention of mass market appeal.  While these publishers may look at market research to discern these openings, I want to look at the current game design of FPS games, and where they might lead in the future.  Oftentimes the question that arises for game designers with an FPS is “How do we make the player feel powerful?”

Many First-person shooters are all about individual skill and power.  Titanfall, Overwatch, and Destiny all try to answer this question.  Recently with Titanfall and Call of Duty, the answer was fast paced highly mobile combat.  It seems though that we are reaching the limits with how individual-player power affects gameplay (Arguably Battlefield 1 and the new CoD WWI weaken the players for a different experience).  Games need to be balanced, making sure everyone has a level playing field.  Power in that regard, is really a false promise.  Players feel powerful when they first play the game, but that feeling withers away once you’ve played for a long period of time.

The question remains the same.  “How do we make players feel more powerful?”  I turn to Overwatch.  For anyone unfamiliar, Overwatch is a team-based shooter where each character has their own role and abilities.  Overwatch takes a different stance because Blizzard did not focus on making the individual powerful, but the team.  Team composition is a massive part of Overwatch, selecting the correct characters for the match’s objective.  Alone, the individual player is weak.  This creates very fun and deep gameplay collaboration mechanics.  Players can learn the abilities of multiple characters and the synergies between them, sinking hours into the minute details and strategies.  What is the negative side of this style of game?

If collaboration doesn’t exist in the match, you will most definitely lose, which can be extremely frustrating.  Also, toxicity continues to plague Overwatch’s community, so much so that it has slowed development (Click here for article).  Players often throw games out of spite and immaturity, ruining the experience for many.  Unfortunately, I believe this may be an issue that plagues Overwatch forever.  Now I want to look at a recently released game that strikes an exciting balance between Team-based and individual gameplay.

Destiny 2 is an MMORPG First-person shooter that builds on the model of its predecessor with better storytelling, more nuanced class abilities, and the most satisfying guns to shoot (in my opinion).  Destiny uses a class-based RPG style progression, where each class has 3 subclasses, possibly more on the way.  These three classes each have their own abilities, either to tank, support, or deal damage, which shines in PvE gameplay.  Destiny 2 offers 6-player raids, where players need to collaborate and strategize to overcome tough bosses and waves of enemies (Click here for a Youtube example)  In the Crucible, Destiny 2’s PvP mode, gameplay still feels very individual based, where players usually pick abilities for the sole purpose of killing other players, not team-based synergies.

Destiny 2 offers options and caters to different players.  It strikes a balance between team-based collaboration and solo gunplay.  People can either play PvP for that solo experience, or take on PvE challenges if they want that team-based style gameplay.  Those styles of play are bolstered by a deep RPG progression system.  I look forward to seeing how the game evolves with its future patches and DLC.

Leave a comment below if you enjoy team-based or individual-based shooter.  Or if you’ve played something wildly different than discussed such as Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds.