on Mar 13, 2012
In this episode, Chris brought up the point that some people have claimed the game is enforcing a “right” and “wrong” way to play by way of XP rewards. To wit: The game gives out more XP for stealth than for direct murder.
During the episode I countered that the game does give rewards for killing. Notably, I think that a tranq and a lethal headshot give the same reward. (20 bonus XP.) However, I wasn’t taking into account the end-of-sequence lump-sum payments. The rewards for “ghost” and “smooth operator” are huge, and you can’t get those if you ever go in guns blazing.
I suppose you can make the argument that a stealth-focused character needs a lot more praxis points. Any lunkhead can murder their way through the game. You pretty much just need the armor augs. But if you really want to sneak and avoid all detection then you need cloaking, extra batteries, silenced movement, and some computer hacking skills. Taking the augs to let you see enemy behavior on your mini-map can save you from a load of save-scumming.
But the real question that’s nagging me: What’s to stop you from traversing an area, scoring ghost and smooth operator, and then backtracking to pick off the stragglers for more XP? Perhaps you’re only given those rewards once it’s impossible to backtrack? Perhaps the rewards are for story sections and not physical space? (So, if you ghost Section A and then backtrack, your frontal assault murders perpetrated while backtracking will count against getting Ghost in Section B.) I don’t know. I’ve been through the game a few times now, but I can’t remember exactly where these rewards are given.
Assuming we want equal XP rewards for all play styles, how would we do that? Should there be an XP equivalent to “Smooth Operator” (let’s call it, “Crazed Gunman”) for killing all foes? But doesn’t that make the choice ultimately meaningless? In effect, it would became a system that punished you for the slightest inconsistency. (Leave one person alive, and no Crazed Gunman. Get seen by one person, and you miss Ghost.)
It’s an interesting consideration. This is a tough thing to balance because we’re bringing in a lot of meta-game considerations. Stealthing an area usualy takes a bit of trial-and-error save scumming, while murder is less troublesome. You could argue that this game is balancing the overall hassle experienced by the player, as opposed to making things balanced for the character, thus making the competing play styles roughly equal in terms of expediency.
Again, I can’t say one way or the other. Balanced or not, I really had a blast with both play styles.