The pros and cons of level scaling

Started by the-pi-guy, Jan 30, 2020, 03:26 AM

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Well, this has been bothering me for a while, and the Era thread motivated me to post it.  

So level scaling is generally when the game scales all the levels of enemies based on your own level.  

The benefit of doing this is especially important in open world games, where you can go anywhere.  Take Skyrim, having a mix of ultra strong enemies for level 100 players mixed in with super weak enemies for players that just started, would be frustrating.  You'd either be making the game very frustrating, or you'd basically have to massively limit where the player goes.  Which goes against the core of what a game like Skyrim is about.  
The alternatives here are pretty much:
1.)  having all strong enemies, but then it'd be a frustratingly difficult game.  
2.)  having all weak enemies, but then it'd be too easy of a game.

Otherwise you can level scale in other ways.  Have more easy enemies, instead of just simply stronger ones.  

The big con of level scaling though, particularly if it's done too aggressively, is it can make leveling up pointless.  Why should the player bother leveling up if the game doesn't really reward them for it?


For a while now I've been analyzing games as "perception verse reality."

If a good game has level scaling but you do not know it has level scaling, the experience is great. Combat stays evenly balanced and the player stays happy.

It's all fake though. Consciously thinking about it during gameplay harms the experience and as you said potentially makes leveling up feel pointless. It's like the wizard of Oz where it appears great but the truth behind the curtain is less impressive.

The absolute worst thing as a player is to learn this truth halfway through the game. If you're really loving it and grinding XP because you need all the help you can get, the sudden realization of how the game works can make the whole game come crashing down. It pulls you out of the experience just like when you notice bad acting in an otherwise good movie.

In my opinion level scaling is mostly used as an efficient band aid to an otherwise solvable problem. For starters, many games use it to hide their skinner boxes. Just decrease the stats on leveling up and you're mostly set. If max level is only 5 times stronger than when you start, you can still have good progression without breaking enemy difficulty. A really hard enemy in the early game would merely become a low level enemy in the late game. Alternatively you can just remove RPG leveling entirely. A lot of modern games just throw it in to add more grind.

It can also be solved by making gameplay evolve as you level up. Botw features non horrible level scaling imo because stronger enemies are added while weaker enemies remain. MGSV possibly has the best take on level scaling ever with its revenge system. Attack at night a lot and enemies start using night vision goggles for example.

My favorite examples of gameplay evolving is with initially impossible enemies. Again with Botw you have the guardians. Early game they are avoided at all costs and finding dead ones is awesome. Late game however you can hunt them and it just feels great. Same goes with Death Stranding (no spoilers). Early game the ghost things are impossibly scary and confrontation=death. You are not supposed to be able to defeat them, let alone even hurt them. It is only as the game progresses that this changes. The entire game you are interacting with mostly the same monsters but your expectations of what "interacting" means changes over time.

In The Forged Kingdoms I'm going with a similar approach. A scrawny farmer who set out on an adventure will hide from threats, set traps, and play completely differently than a massive Mountain like man adventuring with a squad of trained soldiers.