The Multi-Player Arms Race of Unlock-able Weapons

July 13, 2010

I’m 32 years old, I work 9-5, I have a fiancé & 2 kids, I contribute to this website and in my “spare time” I’m a gamer. Now I use the phrase “spare time” tentatively because in reality I do not have any spare time, in fact I have to MAKE time in order to partake of the hobby I love, but I accept this as part of getting older and taking on more responsibilities in the hope that one day I can watch proudly as my own children vegetate in front of the 3D TV while kicking some ISA ass on Killzone 6: Visari’s Revenge. The problem is that games these days require commitment, serious commitment, and so not only do I have to make time to play games I also have to schedule which ones I am going to play in order to be able to get to a comfortable competitive level.


This level of commitment comes from the current trend in shooters that start you off with the piece of crap, uber-inaccurate bongo cannon and then forcing you to work your way up the XP ladder in order to unlock the handgrip and red dot sight equipped, ultra stable, noob pwner (with grenade launcher attachment). So if I want to compete on a serious level then I have to put the time in to get the decent equipment, otherwise I’m gonna be the guy on the receiving end of that same weapon.

This is also present with unlockable abilities or skills, a classic example being Uncharted 2 which contains a skill that unlocks at level 46 called Situational Awareness – this little gem of game balancing allows the user to see through walls and so have a massively unfair advantage against anyone who is not using the same perk. So in order to level the playing field everyone is racing for level 46 in order to be able to equip the ability and this takes a lot of time, certainly more than I am willing to devote to Uncharted 2.

Now don’t get me wrong I enjoy Uncharted 2 multiplayer – its pretty fun and I probably play it once or twice a fortnight for an hour or so, that’s nowhere near enough for me to hit level 46 anytime soon. However, due to the situational awareness perk, I don’t feel like I can compete unless I utterly devote myself to the game. Every new game I buy spreads my time and devotion ever thinner – I love playing games but its like I’m being forced to only play one or two if I want to be competitive online.

So which game do I want to be good at? This is the question which I have to ask myself whenever a new release appears on the horizon. Do I choose Uncharted 2 or Modern Warfare 2? Do I choose MAG or BFBC:2?

The problem isn’t the perks or the post COD4 unlock/reward system that everyone has imitated, the problem is balance or rather the lack of it. Powerful weapons should be balanced with poor accuracy or rates of fire, special abilities must have a downside to using them such as exposing yourself, new players should not be completely outclassed by older players on the basis of unlocked equipment rather than actual player skill.

This never used to be a problem in older titles – in CounterStrike the most powerful guns were extremely inaccurate so only the more pro players would use them as they could offset the inaccuracy with their own skill. Compare this to MW2 where everyone is running around hip firing with dual wielding silenced shotguns (complete with heartbeat detectors of course) and you can see what I mean. An unlock should reward the skilled player but not at the expense of alienating the casual player.

Every new game purchased starts a new arms race and like an ugly, high maintenance, paranoid girlfriend they all scream for my attention but I simply do not have the time anymore for that level of devotion – can’t a game reward the hardcore without cutting off the casuals?

***I realize the term casual gamer has become something of a dirty phrase thanks to the Wii and Kinect but I mean casual gamer in the sense that I cannot play for 5 hours every night, as opposed to meaning that I enjoy flailing my arms around like a tool.

Rob Bateman

Rob is our resident UK based contributor. Currently splitting his gaming time between Starcraft 2, Battlefield Bad Company 2, and MGS:Peace Walker.

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