Control Part 2: Chopping Firewood

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Sep 24, 2019

Filed under: Retrospectives 149 comments

Last time I praised the fun worldbuilding of Control. If you’ve been reading this site for more than a month, then by now you know it’s time for me to pull a face-heel turn and start bitching about stuff.

Chopping Firewood

Shit, man. At least let my character finish narrating this exposition to herself / me before you throw more mooks at us. We only get this exposition once, and we can fight mooks anytime. Just calm down.
Shit, man. At least let my character finish narrating this exposition to herself / me before you throw more mooks at us. We only get this exposition once, and we can fight mooks anytime. Just calm down.

All Remedy gamesI haven’t played Quantum Break, but I hear this rule holds true for that game as well. draw from the same general template: A third-person protagonist with a gun, plus a superpower or two. Fights are frequent to the point of being constant.

The gameplay in Control is working very hard to thwart everything the environments are trying to accomplish. It’s difficult to enjoy that weird sense of isolation and dread you should feel when exploring a haunted space if there’s a stupid mook fight in every other room.

I think of the Remedy style combat as chopping firewood: You’re using a powerful weapon to break stuff, but it’s not exciting and the experience is very repetitive. It’s a routine chore the game designer gives you every couple of minutes to keep you busy. This is totally understandable in something like Bulletstorm, but in a world as interesting, complicated, and wonderfully realized as Control, it comes off as a nuisance.

I forget what these mooks are called, but their insta-refill shields make them a total chore to fight.
I forget what these mooks are called, but their insta-refill shields make them a total chore to fight.

Like Alan Wake, Control is in desperate need for more quiet time. There’s a little here and there, but the fights are too frequent, too long, and too repetitive. The game never tries to mess with you. It never tries to make you feel tension. It doesn’t foreshadow a fight and then let you stew for a couple of minutes, waiting for the other shoe to drop. You just walk into a room and mooks fall out of the ceiling and you chop another load of firewood for the overbearing gameplay designer.

This is what killed Alan Wake for me. The setting made me expect a game with a sense of foreboding and suspense. That’s a pillar of scary stories. But suspense requires uncertainty, and there’s nothing to be uncertain about here.

Suspense: I’m all alone and I can’t call for help! Am I going to be attacked? 

Not suspense: You will be attacked. Without a doubt. Like clockwork.

Suspense: Who’s that guy in the distance? What’s that sound? What’s behind this spooky door?

Not suspense: Whatever that is, I’m sure it’s actually just another fight. You get used to them after the first dozen or so.

The constant fights don’t hurt Control as much as they hurt Alan Wake. Control has more empowering combat and a lot more variation in its fights. Once you can hover and throw machinery around the room the whole thing starts to feel a little interesting in a way that Wake‘s flashlight mechanic never did. Having said that, firewood-chopping is definitely still a problem. Both of these games would have benefitted from more subdued pacing where the player could explore for several minutes between fights and the game could spend the intervening time threatening fights, just to keep them guessing.

Too Much of an Okay Thing

I don’t know what the deal is at Remedy. Sam Lake writes a thoughtful and interesting story that calls for carefully-paced tension, and then a gameplay designer takes the design notes and writes MOAR COMBAT!!!!!!! on them in crayon.

It’s not that it’s bad. I’m not saying Control would be more fun as a walking simulator or a Telltale-style puzzle game. I’m saying that if you asked Remedy to cook you a Big Mac they’d give you this:

If you can have too much of a good thing, then you can DEFINITELY have too much of a mediocre thing.
If you can have too much of a good thing, then you can DEFINITELY have too much of a mediocre thing.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we complain about quantity we should discuss the quality.

The Combat

ANOTHER insta-shield guy, only this one flies and can dodge every other attack. He's not super-dangerous, but he is good at wasting a lot of your time.
ANOTHER insta-shield guy, only this one flies and can dodge every other attack. He's not super-dangerous, but he is good at wasting a lot of your time.

The combat is actually pretty good. In small doses. Once it gets going. And before you get tired of it. By the halfway point you’ve unlocked all the powers they showed off in the trailer: telekinesis, hovering, shielding yourself with levitating debris, and a shape-changing firearm. The fights are a little bland in the early stages while you’re waiting to unlock stuff, and they’re monotonous in the back half when the game runs out of ideas and has you do the same fights over and over again until you’re numb, but between these points it felt like a decent action game.

Here’s how a fight will go:

Some mooks will teleport in from the mook dimension. You fling debris at them until you’re out of mojo. Then you shoot them until your mojo recovers. Repeat until they’re all dead. When the last one dies, another wave teleports in. Their teleport positions are fixed, and if you moved to the middle of the room during the first wave then you might find yourself getting shot from all sides.  So you take down the second wave, and then a third wave teleports in. If the game designer is feeling really extra clever and devious they might surprise you with OH NO A FOURTH WAVE I BET YOU DIDN’T SEE THAT ONE COMING!

Once you know your way around, it’s feasible to skip the fights. Just give the mooks the finger as you jog by. You don’t earn any sort of XP for fighting trash mobs. They’re just a time sink for no benefit. You have to do the fights on your first visit to a space, though. Sometimes the game locks the doors until you’ve done your chores, and the rest of the time wandering around looking for the exit is a good way to get shot in the back.

Perhaps a Comparison Would be Useful

You wot?
You wot?

Sure, Control is more interesting than Generic Tentpole Cover Shooter #283, but that’s not a high bar to clear. I played this game fresh off the heels of Rage 2Although I’m publishing their respective reviews in the opposite order, for whatever reason.. Compared to Rage 2, Control feels like a one-input mobile game. Rage 2 has 10 guns, a couple of varieties of throwablesGrenades and such., and numerous special abilities. In Rage 2 you have a ground-slam, a point-blank blast move that launches foes into the air and blows off their armor, an overdrive that you charge by killing chains of mooks, and a black hole ability that draws foes in to set them up for some AoE damage.

For contrast, Control just has telekinesis spam and the ability to carry two weapons at a time.  It’s incredibly one-dimensional. And that would be fine in limited doses. But frequent fights + long fights + same-y fights is a deadly combination.

Shamus, did you forget that Control gives you the ability to fly??? Did you even PLAY this game you addled old dunce?

Flying is indeed very cool, but I was comparing damage-dealing abilities. But if we’re including passive / mobility powers then Rage 2 also has double-jump and super speed.

Well Control ALSO has a dash move to evade incoming rockets, AND the ability to summon a shield, you slack-jawed codger!

Yeah, Rage 2 has that too. Both of them. Plus the ability to remotely detonate barrels. Plus the car combat stuff.

Does Rage 2 have the ability to mind-control foes? Huh?

You mean the ability that can only be used on foes that are already near death, where you have to hold still for several seconds and the camera is locked onto them, thus robbing you of both your mobility and your situational awareness? The power that’s only safe to use when you’ve already whittled the pack down to a couple of stragglers? Is that the power you’re talking about?

Yes, obviously!

I didn’t use it very often. I can’t imagine why.

You made a big deal about Rage 2 having a ground-slam move, but Control has that too!

Yeah, except the one in Rage 2 obliterates foes, and the ground-slam in Control obliterates your mana pool. Since mana (whatever it’s called) powers your telekinesis, evasion, and your shield, this move effectively leaves you powerless and defenseless for several seconds. It looks awesome, I’ll give you that. It’s way cooler than the same move in Rage 2. But it’s just not as useful and it doesn’t change the fact that most battles  in Control are one-note TK spam.

You’re just looking for things to complain about! Lots of people loved the combat in Control!

It sounds like lots of people need to try Rage 2. The story is maximum cringe, but the combat makes Control look like chopping firewood.

Well, I had a FANTASTIC time with the game. You must have been playing it wrong.

Actually, you’re right. Although I’m not sure how much of the blame for that should fall on me.

Making a Bad Situation Much Worse

Do NOT waste points on the far-left category. As far as I can tell, it does nothing to help your survivability, and you're wasting points you could spend on killing stuff faster.
Do NOT waste points on the far-left category. As far as I can tell, it does nothing to help your survivability, and you're wasting points you could spend on killing stuff faster.

I made three terrible mistakes during my first playthrough:

  1. After dying a few times and REALLY not liking itThat loading screen makes me crazy., I decided to invest in survivability. I sunk all of my skill points into raising my max health. This was a disastrous move for reasons I’ll get into shortly.
  2. The game starts you off with a gun, and for the first hour or two that’s your only weapon. Eventually you unlock the ability to throw objects around. I mistakenly thought this was a sort of a class-based thing, like choosing to be a knight or a wizard. I thought you could focus on guns OR magic. Since I was already comfortable with the gun and had some upgrades in it, I decided to focus on that and I put a lot of resources into unlocking stuff to let me get better upgrades.
  3. Somewhat randomly, I chose the “Spin” weapon form, which is roughly the SMG / Assault rifle.

I made these decisions because I wanted a casual experience with short fights and low stress. I was really having a lousy time with the combat and I hated dying, so I was trying to go for the obvious easy way, even if it’s not the most interesting. All of these are 100% the opposite of what you want to do if you want shorter fights and less dying. Telekinesis is your main DPS, and firearms are for finishing off strays and stunlocking guys while you wait for your telekinesis juice to regenerate. The Spin weapon form is, as far as I can tell, the worst weapon in the gameShatter (shotgun) is pretty good, and Pierce (railgun) is really good if you like the brinkmanship that comes with a weapon that has huge DPS and a long charge-up time..

Also, NEVER upgrade astral constructs. You're spending rare FINITE resources to get more random drops, and random drops are common and non-finite. This whole screen is just a trap for people who don't know any better.
Also, NEVER upgrade astral constructs. You're spending rare FINITE resources to get more random drops, and random drops are common and non-finite. This whole screen is just a trap for people who don't know any better.

As for boosting your health? I went through the game twice. The first time I spent a huge number of points on health, and then used mods to boost it further. My health bar was huge. And yet, getting tagged by a rocket or a heavy projectile was enough to take 75% off my health. The second time through the game, I spent NOTHING on health and invested heavily into damage-dealing. My health bar was hilariously tiny, yet I found that rockets and heavy projectiles took about 75% off of it.

Does this game offer the ability to upgrade your health bar while also having damage that’s calculated as a proportion of your max health? I don’t know. I don’t have the source code. But something here is seriously wrong.

So for my first trip through the game, I basically threw away a majority of my skill points on a do-nothing skill that didn’t help me in any way. This means I wasn’t putting points into telekinesis, which is your main source of damage output. This was a disaster. See, the big foes in this game get a free shield recharge every N seconds.  This shield is at least as large as their HP bar. This isn’t like a regenerating shield in games where their shield recovers when you stop damaging them. This is a full refill that can’t be delayed or interrupted.

An Example Fight

Yuck. I'm not glad to see the Alan Wake BLURRY COMBAT filter again. Given how important evasion is to survival, this design choice is totally obnoxious. When I get hit, it's not because I messed up the timing, it's because I can't see what the heck is going on.
Yuck. I'm not glad to see the Alan Wake BLURRY COMBAT filter again. Given how important evasion is to survival, this design choice is totally obnoxious. When I get hit, it's not because I messed up the timing, it's because I can't see what the heck is going on.

Let’s assume I have enough power to use telekinesis 8 times, and that each usage  takes 25% of the shield / HP bar. So I fling 4 objects at the mook to blow off his shield, and then another 4 to drain his HP. He dies. That’s a lot of repetitive flinging and I don’t enjoy fighting damage sponges like this, but fine. It took me 8 attacks, but at least this guy is dead and I can move on to the next one.

But now let’s say I invested my points differently so that I can only use telekinesis 5 times. I’ll fling 4 objects at the foe to burn off the shield, and then my final throw will knock 25% off his HP bar. Now I’m out of juice. By the time that recharges, so does his shield. So I have to go through the entire loop again: 4 attacks to burn down the shield, then one more for the HP bar. Then wait, and repeat again.

This way, it takes 20(!!!) attacks to kill him, with several seconds of wait time between salvos. Going from 5  attacks to 8 is only an increase of about 60%, but the result is that the fight with the under-powered mana pool will probably take four times as longTaking into account the recharge time. without that extra power. And that’s just one guy in a group! And that group is just one of three or four I’ll fight in this room!

Okay, so the haunted security guards are blurry. That's annoying, but whatever. But, like... why are these PLANTS blurry? Someone needs to take the blur effect button away from the combat designer until they learn to use it responsibly.
Okay, so the haunted security guards are blurry. That's annoying, but whatever. But, like... why are these PLANTS blurry? Someone needs to take the blur effect button away from the combat designer until they learn to use it responsibly.

It’s even worse when you take into account the general ebb and flow of a battle. You need to keep evading and moving around to avoid getting hit. This will often spoil your attacks, and by the time you’ve recovered, your foe’s shield is back up and you haven’t made any progress. In games like Borderlands you can forestall or halt shield recharge by harassing them with constant  damage, but in Control the shields get a full refill at regular intervals and there’s nothing you can do to interrupt that process.

The health upgrades in this game are apparently a placebo, and the TK upgrades have a massive impact on the length of fights.

I pummeled this guy's shield down but then I had to back off to dodge attacks from his friends. Now his shield is back up, negating all my progress.
I pummeled this guy's shield down but then I had to back off to dodge attacks from his friends. Now his shield is back up, negating all my progress.

Which means there’s going to be a huge variation in player experience. Some people love the combat and other people loathe it, but I wonder how much of that divide is shaped by this grossly unbalanced skill tree where some powers have no perceptible effect and others are needed to save you from torturous Sisyphean combat encounters. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that skill points are based on story progress rather than as a result of combat. There aren’t enough points to fill out the whole skill tree, so players that invest poorly can wind up permanently gimped.

Shamus, it serves you right for making bad choices on the level-up screen. This is what you get when choices matter!

This would be a valid point if the game provided enough information so you could make an informed decision. But this game doesn’t show HP numbers, or damage numbers. It doesn’t display the cost of TK powers as a number that you could relate to your bar, which also has no numbers. The upgrades promise 20% of this or 10% more of that, but without context this feels like any other generic shooter where you’re choosing between a dozen or so very minor upgrades. And of course, even the “choices matter” excuse doesn’t excuse placebo health upgrades.

Having such a wonky, poorly-explained, woefully unbalanced upgrade system wouldn’t be a big deal if this game didn’t have such an intense focus on combat.

My second play-through was a lot more fun. I ignored the health upgrades and just got more mojo juice to power my TK ability. Fights were less of a chore, but that doesn’t mean they were fun. The Control combat exists in this frustrating middle ground. It’s not varied enough to be exciting like Rage 2, and it’s not subdued enough to give a sense of unease and mystery.

And yet, this isn’t my biggest gripe with the game. I’ll cover that when I wrap this series up in the next entry.



[1] I haven’t played Quantum Break, but I hear this rule holds true for that game as well.

[2] Although I’m publishing their respective reviews in the opposite order, for whatever reason.

[3] Grenades and such.

[4] That loading screen makes me crazy.

[5] Shatter (shotgun) is pretty good, and Pierce (railgun) is really good if you like the brinkmanship that comes with a weapon that has huge DPS and a long charge-up time.

[6] Taking into account the recharge time.

From The Archives:

149 thoughts on “Control Part 2: Chopping Firewood

  1. Leipävelho says:

    Entire article on the main page, as is tradition.

  2. Tizzy says:

    No game springs to mind where I thought: “I wish it had more combat” after finishing it. Less combat, on the other hand… Where do I begin? Yet game designers seem unfamiliar with the concept. Do they play games?

    Also excellent point, again far from a Control exclusive, about the overly complex tech trees that allow you to break your build. This kind of design has been around since the 1990’s, but at least back then the game would throw all of the numbers at you. So if you built a broken character, you’d feel like it was entirely your fault: you didn’t look at the numbers close enough. Debatable whether any of this is fun for you, but at least some people enjoyed it, and this was back in the Dark Ages of game design where it was hard to figure what worked and there was little accumulated knowledge and player feedback mechanisms. So numbers was something you could always throw at players. Now, big tentpole games are aiming to be a lot more mainstream, so they want to hide the numbers — too nerdy, maybe? Boring? Fine, but why go with the overly complex trees and the chance to bork your build if you want mass appeal?

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      No game springs to mind where I thought: “I wish it had more combat” after finishing it.

      The Arkham games are like that to me. Combat is usually the most fun part and I tend to get sad when my constant mook fighting ends up leaving the streets empty. It’s one of the few game series where I’m thankful for available challenges.

      This is specially true in Arkham Knight, where there’s very little actual combat and lots of stupid tank fights. I wish there was much more combat and much less tank fighting.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      about the overly complex tech trees that allow you to break your build

      Control’s skill tree isn’t exactly complex. There are about six branches to it: more health, more mana, stronger TK, stronger melee, stronger posession, and more levitation. Each node on the tree gives +10/+20/+30% to the thing it’s upgrading, and by far the best build is “all points into TK, then when that’s maxed all points into mana so you can use more TK”.

    3. GargamelLenoir says:

      Shadow of the Tomb Raider for sure. There was so few combats I couldn’t even try most of the powers I unlocked. I thought the game was trolling me when a tense situation ended up with Lara fleeing a few mooks and the following section being a QTE style escape.

      But in general I’d agree with you.

      1. Tizzy says:

        You got me there. I’d already forgotten that I’d played it, but yeah, now I’m flooded with memories of how frustrated I was that I spent more time upgrading my arsenal than I spent using it.

    4. Police-Police says:

      Even the original Fallout games had too much combat. Ostensibly, you could complete those if you had skill in medicine, first-aid, bartering, etc. The other skills are sort of just augments to the combat. Fallout 1 can apparently be beaten as a pacifist, but Fallout 2 is effectively impossible. I’d really like a post-apocalyptic game, where the non-combat stuff was more useful outside of heavily-scripted choices in specific scenarios and quests. That might be a large part of the problem – it’s much easier to have random combat encounters, or make a lot of low-effort combat scenarios, but non-combat (at least right now) seems to need a lot of effort to pull off.

    5. Decius says:

      I feel like Subnautica could have used more combat-type combat, in the form of a resource that was gathered from a corpse of a creature somewhat bigger than you.

      The parts where you had to hide, run away, or distract things were excellent though, and any combat changes should leave everything bigger than the sand shark alone.

    6. Syal says:

      The Banner Saga was short and all the meaningful combats were fixed storyline things. Would have liked more Dredge fights.

      1. kincajou says:

        I was just about to say the same thing!
        In BS1 i was a bit burned out by the combat by the end, but in BS2 i finished the game wanting more combat, and more story… just more of it all! (i haven’t played BS3 yet)

        Which is how i explained the game to a friend “combat is fun enough that when you’re not in it, you start missing it after a while (wanting to try out new builds and skills) but at the same time, the story is engaging enough that when you’re in combat you are also keen to see it through without too much dilly dallying because important things are happening and really you need to know if certain characters are going to get the courage to speak to others… ”

        also, those backgrounds…

        i don’t know what they changed between BS1 and 2 but it worked for me

    7. Redrock says:

      I think it’s most jarring in some interesting European titles that have interesting stories and mechanics that they proceed to mar with tons and tons of subpar combat. The two most recents examples were The Sinking City and Vampyr. Both are great investigation and exploration games with tons of atmosphere, player choice, all that. But for some reason both games have you constantly fighting trash mobs which not only suck out a lot of enjoyment, but also actively undermines the games’ tone and narrative. But hey, someone once said that a game must have combat, so into the fray we march.

    8. tmtvl says:

      Thing is, in games where combat is really fun (like Devil May Cry 3 or Dragon’s Dogma) you can easily get more fights (replaying missions and exploring the world respectively). There aren’t many games where A) combat is fun AND B) combat is hard to find outside of a specific part.

      Something like Final Fantasy X where the combat is really fun, but runs out of steam after a while might count? But then it isn’t “more combat” I want, it’s “better lategame combat”.

      1. Nessus says:

        Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice came close to a quality/quantity balance for me.

        Mechanically the combat Is basically Dark Souls style timing-based combat, but without any of the RPG elements. Which I really enjoyed: I like the Dark Souls style of combat, and these days I preffer games where combat is about the actual fighting rather than outside/before-the-fight number juggling, so to me this felt like the “purified” version of those mechanics I’d been wanting. Just you and your sword: no “which sword” or “which armor” or potions or amulets or abstract skill point spreadsheets: just you and your sword.

        I say “came close”, because while combat is sparse enough, it still comes across as arbitrary in places. There’s moments where it makes sense, and moments where it’s just “and now a fight with some random dudes out of nowhere… for punctuation, I guess” which felt actively inconsistent with the setting or plot at that moment.

    9. Kestrellius says:

      Games that I wished had more combat:

      Mass Effect 3, of all things. Especially in comparison to 2: there, the combat is both mediocre and endless. In 3, the combat is absolutely fantastic, but they’re weirdly sparing with it. It’s really odd considering the circumstances — like, you’re going to throw the entirety of three mercenary gangs at us, and then some, while we’re wandering around the Terminus at random…but during the apocalypse doomsday war against machine gods with endless hordes of disposable monsters you’re going to be stingy?

      It’s not like there isn’t a fair amount of combat, of course. I just always found myself wanting more — more Reaper troops, especially. I have no idea why they thought filling so many of the combat missions with generic space marine enemies was a good idea.

      1. djw says:

        If they cut all of Kai Leng’s scenes and replaced them with mook fights the game would improve by approximately 100%.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          For my money, replacing all of Kai Leng’s scenes with random clips from Ed Wood films would be an improvement of at least 75%, so I’m not sure we get return on investment there.

    10. Chad Miller says:

      I actually had a bit of itching for combat with Torment: Tides of Numenera.

      You spend a lot of the early game wandering around a city mostly doing quests with no combat required. Which is actually great, especially in this genre! But the problem is, if you leave the city then all remaining quests are gone forever. So it can reach a point where you’re thinking, “man, I’ve levelled up like 3 characters and I’ve gotten so many party members I can’t keep them all. When am I going to get to use all this stuff?”

      I guess even that complaint isn’t necessarily about quantity rather than enforcing getting content in a fixed order; I keep thinking that this game was intended to have a “teleporter hub” that would let you revisit previous areas (as in, they did the necessary worldbuilding to create one but then didn’t actually implement it), and maybe the optional dungeons would have been enough if you could decide when to tackle what.

  3. Daimbert says:

    Shamus, it serves you right for making bad choices on the level-up screen. This is what you get when choices matter!

    This only applies when there isn’t one ideal set of choices that you can make, with the others being broken. Choices mattering is supposed to allow you to align with a certain play style or character style, not have it so that if you don’t make the precise choices the designers think you should make the game isn’t fun or you aren’t going to be able to finish it.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      To paraphrase Extra Credits’ earliest videos: that’s not a choice, it’s a calculation.
      Choice A is manifestly worse that choice B? Well i) why wasn’t that clear and ii) why does choice A exist in the first place?

      1. Steve C says:

        Idk. That was the root justification of why World of Warcraft made all the changes that it did over the years. Especially to mechanics like the talent trees. Classic WoW undid all of that and gets praise for it.

        It is clear that Control did it the wrong way. But I would argue that something like Classic WoW (or modern Warframe) has plenty of “Choice A is manifestly worse than choice B” and benefits from it. I didn’t think that EC was right then nor now. It just has to be done well. Which of course is easier said than done.

        1. Daimbert says:

          Typically, though, the complaints for that in MMOs, at least, is not that there’s only one proper build or one choice, but instead that one choice is good for a particular role and the game — or, most often, the players — insist that that’s the only way to play the game. So there are skills and abilities that work best for tanking and that’s a tank class so you had better take those abilities, even if someone can, through taking a set of skills outside the norm, achieve something that has surprising strengths and works well for a different play style. I’m not familiar with WoW, but I’m pretty sure that what Classic WoW does is allow for some of those sorts of eccentric classes like it did in the beginning, and that the move away was to help players optimize for the role the classes generally were expected to play.

          Which means that things usually come down to this: giving players choices where they can understand what each choice means and can build eccentric yet viable builds or else stick with the tried-and-true if they want to, or else don’t let them make choices if deviating from the tried-and-true will usually result in broken builds that aren’t fun or can’t complete the game. Most players prefer the former, but will take the latter if the result is what happened to Shamus. In short, don’t give players false choices, so either make them be meaningful or else don’t give choices at all.

          That being said, I think I remember that Extra Credits video and disagreed with it, so I’m not saying their view is the right one as well.

          1. Decius says:

            Classic WoW, like regular WoW, does not allow off-spec builds to raid.

            Both of them enforce that via players knowing that trying to do otherwise will result in repeated raid wipes.

            1. Agammamon says:

              That’s because of a problem a lot of games have – what you need for leveling up is different than what you need for end-game.

              I’ve been playing PoE off and on for a long while and it heavily suffers from this.

              In the whole portion of the game (outside of boss fights) high mobility and high DPS AoE is incentivized because you’re killing whole screens full of mooks. All the bosses though end up in tiny little arenas where 80% of the arena is covered in damaging spell effects, the boss can outrun you, and there’s no place to run anyway.

              It ends up being the same for raids – there are plenty of builds that are viable in the open-world. But raids are what you’re building for. So you have to make a raid build and level up in the open-world with it.

              1. Nimrandir says:

                I’m going to be honest: I got really confused about where raids were hiding in Pillars of Eternity. In case anyone else has this issue, I presume the abbreviation refers to Path of Exile?

                1. Agammamon says:

                  Or Plains of Eidolon.

                  Seems PoE was a popular abbreviation for a while.

                  1. Philadelphus says:

                    Blame PoE’s Law of Video Game Naming.

            2. Sartharina says:

              Except the raids are so piss-easy that yes, you CAN do them with off-meta builds. But q better build clears it faster. That’s the real problem: with MMOs: the player base holds player raid performance to a higher standard than the game actually requires.

              Guild Wars 2 is a big offender here. The toughest DPS-check boss has a threshold of about 7k DPS. But meta builds pull 30-40k DPS, and the playerbase wants at least 25k to skip phases and mechanics.

            3. Daimbert says:

              I tend to find those sorts of assessments suspicious in an MMO, though, especially when it’s determined by the players, because in MMOs players often tend to be very “traditionalist” and so would reject anything different as not working, even if it could with a sufficiently skilled player with sufficiently intelligent skill selection. There’s always a tendency to shoe-horn classes into set roles and then reject any player of that class that isn’t great at that role but might be better at other things. I’m not saying that this is wrong, but one of the things that always came up in the MMOs that allowed a wider variety of choices are builds that are surprisingly good, even if that’s not for the role they’re supposed to be for.

              Still, there are going to be players in any of these games that don’t care for raids and care mostly for the normal PvE content. For example, in TOR I have no interest in end game content and just like exploring the class stories, and liked playing as different classes in CoH — and doing the Task Forces, which weren’t as restrictive on abilities — and also liked trying out different realms and classes in DAoC. I can’t be alone in that, and so a build that doesn’t work for raids but is fun for regular PvE content isn’t broken, but is instead a trade off to maximize the fun for a specific player. That’s always good. It doesn’t seem to be what Control does, though.

        2. Mephane says:

          Idk. That was the root justification of why World of Warcraft made all the changes that it did over the years. Especially to mechanics like the talent trees. Classic WoW undid all of that and gets praise for it.

          WoW has always let you reallocate your points at will for a fee. So if a skill turned out to be useless (in general or just in your particular build), you could rectify this. Being an MMO, the resource spent to change your skills (gold) can be gained infinitely, so you never end up in a situation where you character is borked, permanently, until you start a new one.

          1. Hal says:

            He’s more referring to just having the multiple, complex talent trees with “one” correct choice to make out of it all. You absolutely have to take this combination of talents because it is 5% more mojo than any other choice, otherwise you’ve harmed your build and your raiding group’s ability to progress through content.

            They pared that down over the years to get a situation much more palatable, with a few abilities or modifiers that don’t break your character if you don’t choose optimally. It was a huge quality of life improvement . . . that nobody really wanted, apparently, because Classic WoW is super popular for reasons I will never understand.

            1. Erik says:

              Primarily nostalgia, I suspect.

        3. Xeorm says:

          Never underestimate how some players enjoy making the wrong decision. Though with Classic I don’t think people have really gotten to the raiding stage yet where they start being competitive and pooling knowledge. It’s easy to think that you’re doing something right and you’re decently powerful, until someone comes along and measurably does far more than you.

          I am already seeing people asking “Why is everyone the top few classes?” Well, because there’s only a few “correct” decisions to make in terms of top level classes. If you wanted to tank, you rolled warrior. Period. I see some dreaming of rolling a paladin tank for example and it’s only later that reality hits them and they find out that they’ve made the “wrong” decision.

          1. Joshua says:

            I’m guessing it’s less about having the choice to make the wrong decision and more about letting other players have the choice to make the wrong decision while you make the “correct” one. If everyone is funneled into the more or less same correct builds as you, how are you supposed to show off how skilled you are against them? Kind of the same mentality that goes into games like M:TG, where skilled play is secondary to skilled build design.

            Me speculating, anyway.

            1. kincajou says:

              I mostly agree with your speculation. Part of the appeal of something like M:TG (and similar) seems to be the discovery of the “right path” to build the “best” deck. Now, that is a system that remains interesting because the card/action pool is so ridiculously massive that it takes time to get the “best” build. To add to that, the “random” nature of mtg (before you get into buying specific cards) means that often you may not have access to the “best” possible build. And finally, the fact that the variety of decks you may end up against is quite big means there are a good number of “best” decks (best against elves, best for counterspell, best flash deck, …) which mean that there often isn’t only one perfect build but at least a couple.
              All in all, i think i disagree with you that Mtg is about being “better than others” (the implicit impression i got from your post). I feel it is more of an individual puzzle game where the puzzle is navigating through the gigantic pool of cards to get that “best build”. So it’s not about others making bad builds but about finding a good build to beat the challenge that was put in front of you.

              1. djw says:

                One distinction with M:TG is that it is basically pvp. You don’t have to convince a raid lead to let you play your deck. You just play it and if you win then you are vindicated.

                PVE in an MMO is different because you have specific mechanics in a fight that occur more or less the same way each time, and your raid group must be tuned to beat that specific challenge. Depending on the game there may be multiple ways to do it or just a few. The reticence to allow off meta builds is that it wastes everybody’s time when you fail to encounter because somebody is not pulling their weight.

                A better comparison would be between the pvp component of an MMO and M:TG. The mmo I play the most these days is Elder Scrolls Online, and the variety of pvp builds in that game is huge compared to the “meta” builds in pve. Showing up with a meta build and doing the same thing every single time is a good way to get killed when you fight a human.

                1. Chad Miller says:

                  It’s less PvP vs. PvE than it is solo play vs. team play. One source of irritation in, say, pickup MOBA games is having teammates with strong opinions on what build/character you should be running (especially when these opinions are often outdated or outright wrong)

          2. Warlockofoz says:

            Druids, provided they did a specific set of quests that were the only source of certain armour boosting items made decent tanks as well, especially in 5-man content. But your general point stands. Warriors are tanks or DPS, shaman and paladins are buffbots, priests and druids heal, mages and rogues do damage, warlocks and hunters do stunts. Class balance was whacked in classic. But the lack of instant grouping and that 5-mans were challenging (early reviews talked about deadlines, one of the first dungeons, as being brutally hard) meant your reputation mattered.

          3. Agammamon says:

            I think its very much about having the illusion that there are other choices to make.

            A lot of us disliked D3’s (including me) skill trees because Blizzard pared out all of the ‘bad’ choices. In D2 (pre-synergies) I did multiple Necromancer builds before I realized that skeletons were a trap. Utterly useless by mid levels. Points wasted. The designers probably didn’t intend that but its just what emerged from their design choices. That low-level Necros should focus on poison and cursing while building up to golems and focusing on Resurrect.

            In D3 you really can’t make that bad of a choice of skills anymore. And we hated it.

        4. Steve C says:

          Oh! Almost forgot another good example of “Why is Choice A is manifestly worse that choice B? “– character classes.

          Some character builds (IE classes in something like WoW or frames in Warframe) are more complex than others. Especially to play right. Same damage done, more skill and/or theorycrafting to get the same end result. There is a lot of pressure (particularly in online games) to bring these in line with each other. IE make the character that spams one button do more than keep pressing that key, and the character that needs to pull off a complex rotation in order to be useful gets simplified.

          Attempting to “fix” this is a horrible horrible design decision that has repeatedly chased me away from my favorite characters, classes and games. For example Mag and Excalibur in Warframe were sit there and spam a button. No thought or strategy required. Except I liked that. When I was playing Mag, I was picking her precisely because I could turn off my brain and spam a key. When I played more complex characters like Equinox or Limbo, I didn’t want to turn off my brain. I wanted to do interesting things that required skill and mobility. I wanted to use my brain. Limbo was changed to be less complex. Mag and Excalibur were changed to be more complex. End result is that I play none of them anymore. I was picking them based on my mood and what I wanted to do. Same thing happened in World of Warcraft and I quit the game entirely.

          It’s like having a buffet with lots of different options and then ensuring every dish has exactly the same calories, exactly the same spiciness, same texture etc. Boring! Why bother having a buffet at all.[1] I like having choices that are clearly better than others. Because if done right, those choices have a different feel to them.

          I don’t want to play an AOE Frost mage. I want to play an AOE thorns paladin tank. It doesn’t matter that it does worse damage. It has the gameplay feel I want. That’s why Choice A and Choice B should both exist. (Just not like in the way they do in Control.)

          [1] Modern WoW decided- ya! That’s true! Lets turn every class into the same flavorless paste! With the same choice of side dishes! (Why do player counts keep dropping? We can’t figure it out.)

          1. Dev Null says:

            Mostly agree with the ability to play different styles in different ways being good. But. There’s a big difference between a game like Warframe, where I can pick up a new frame for very little effort and swap between them at will, and a game like Control, where a rebuild means starting the game over. It would still be nice if there were multiple genuinely interesting ways to play the game, and some are harder than others. But if the choice is going to be irrevokable, then it should be fairly obvious from the outset what choice you’re making.

            1. Kestrellius says:

              where I can pick up a frame for very little effort

              *laughs in Equinox*

        5. Jabberwok says:

          I agree with this. And part of doing it well is probably having a system that’s intuitive enough to allow the player to make good decisions. If something wonky is going on with health and damage calculations in Control, that definitely throws a wrench in there.

          My problem with the EC approach – making sure every choice is balanced so all are equally good – is that the result is just kind of boring. It’s a common approach in game design nowadays, and it often feels flat and pointless to me. If all are equal, it ends up meaning that no choice is good. Like a game designer asked me if I’d rather have a dollar or four quarters. If they’ve already made all the value judgements themselves, there isn’t much left for me to do except maybe pick a color scheme for my attacks.

          Edit: tl;dr What Steve already said.

          Edit: Fallout (the first and second) has a bunch of skills to choose from, and some of them are thousands of times more viable than others. But the skills are there to facilitate role-playing, not be balanced. What’s useful is what’s useful in the context of the world. I can imagine a very boring and silly version of Fallout where the world was designed to make every skill equally useful. Of course, RPGs are a different beast than action games, but all of this stuff was aped from RPGs to begin with. So maybe what’s going wrong in the design lies elsewhere…

          1. Steve C says:

            Ha! I just remembered MrBtongue made a video about this very thing. That too much balance is bad, and used Baldur’s Gate as the poster child of doing it right. Which segues nicely into the previous post. I agree 100%. It is fun and interesting. It is one of the reasons why I gave Baldur’s Gate so many chances.

          2. Daimbert says:

            My problem with the EC approach – making sure every choice is balanced so all are equally good – is that the result is just kind of boring.

            Ah, now I think I remember what my objection to their video was: you don’t have to make all choices equally balanced as equally good/do the same thing, you just need to make them all VIABLE. One approach can be harder than another as long as players aren’t misled about how it works — ie something that in the descriptions sounds like it would make things easier makes them more difficult — and that you don’t have any choices that simply aren’t useful at all and so a waste of your skill points (like, say, Survival tended to be in the AD&D games). If someone wants to focus on being diplomatic instead of combat-oriented, then at least it should be made clear that that’s going to cause issues for that player. And, ideally, you could solve most problems using all of the various focuses and some will be harder and some will be easier based on the quest/problem, but ideally the balance is that a roughly equal set of problems will be harder or easier depending on which branch you took.

            Alternatively, the effects can be the same but how they play can be different. You could have a DPS focus where you have to do a lot of quick attacks or another focus where you focus on big, powerful ones. Played properly, the DPS could be exactly the same but how you actually play would be different which then could give reasons for players to choose one over another.

      2. Syal says:

        Choice A is manifestly worse that choice B? Well i) why wasn’t that clear and ii) why does choice A exist in the first place?

        A few comments to make on this.

        I think it’s fine for Choice A to be manifestly worse than Choice B as long as Choice A is still manifestly better than nothing.

        Assuming Choice A is in fact no better than nothing:
        i) is the main problem with dead-end systems. If a system is going to have traps it needs to either A) make the right decision the intuitive one, or B) make it obvious ahead of time that the game expects you to learn through trial and error across multiple playthroughs. (For Control, if Telekinesis is ‘correct’, then before the first level-up give the player a fight against enemies that can only be hurt with Telekinesis, and enough of them that you wish you had more Telekinesis.)

        ii) Choice A exists to allow the player to make the game harder on a later playthrough. People don’t want to play the optimal build every single time. Sometimes they want to make the worst build they can and see how far they get. Cutting that option cuts replay value.

      3. Kincajou says:

        After a bit of thought, i think this may be a problem most salient in videogames but present in most systems where things can be quantified numerically and a “best path” can be defined.

        In the end, in any framework there will be better and worse options to get to a specific goal (the “best build” to finish a game quickly, the “best accounting” to pay the least taxes, the “best deck” to win at mt:g, the “best design” to have the most efficient hospital, …).

        As i see it, to avoid this “problem” either one has to have the opportunity to have different goals in a system (which, i guess achievements serve to do) or the different paths to the goal must be equally appealing (if i can get to the end of a boss fight in 5 seconds with a super nuke or if i can take more time but defeat the boss simply through dialogue trees… both options seem fun but will take you to the same goal). This is a difficult thing to achieve in a videogame (or any system) where the goals are fixed and the system you work in is essentialy immobile.

        I feel that inevitably in most games, unless one “makes their own goals”, there will be paths which are more fun than others because they allow you to use the best features of the game and minimise the worst ones (if combat is boring, then the best path is the one with the least/fastest combat …) and often people’s choice of “best” and “worst” features will be similar, so everyone will follow this path (to a degree).

        To finish off: eliminating the “best path” system in games seems difficult from this perspective. However, i think something like pen and paper rpgs allows for the freedom that allows this. Possibly because your ultimate goal isn’t always obvious, or the story changes every time so you can’t ever replay the quest for the kidnapped king’s daughter more than once to optimise your goal (which isn’t even clear when considered in the long term. Of course you need the daughter but no one is playing an rpg to get to their goal as fast as possible. Maybe you’re trying to maximise your reward but then what do you do with all the money xp? …). Of course we can see the “optimal build” thing crop up even in pen and paper rpgs (especially with newer players that haven’t really discovered the fun of roleplaying) where characters can be “optimised” for a goal (combat, diplomacy, thieving, …) but it isn’t as important as often rpg adventures will be more than just one element (fighting, diplomacy, …) and so any “optimised” build will ultimately be specific to given situations rather than be optimised for the adventure as a whole.

        I wonder, maybe this means that more varied gameplay (so combat + talking + puzzles …) would result in less “optimal build” paths in a game?

      4. TLN says:

        For any kind of RPG mechanics I absolutely do not think that all choices should be equal. It should be possible to make “bad” choices just as it should be possible to make an overpowered character if you really wanna put the time in (provided that the game is at least still beatable with your “bad” character). If every choice is equal then why even bother giving me a skill tree.

        1. Daimbert says:

          A player should never be able to make a generic “bad” choice. They might make a bad choice for them and their specific play style or how they want to play or treat their character, but even that should be a simple mistake as opposed to them not being able to know the consequences of the choice before they make it. If there’s a choice on the skill tree that is one that no player should ever choose and is at best always a waste of a skill point, then it shouldn’t be there in the first place. Every choice has to be one that gives SOMETHING to a player, even if most players won’t want or be able to make use of it.

          1. TLN says:

            There shouldn’t be a choice that gives NOTHING, obviously, but if I play say.. Fallout, there are a lot of ways to build your character w/r/t stats/skills/perks etc. A LOT of the things you can choose to do are suboptimal in some way, offering no real advantage whatsoever over a number of builds you could probably google for. Now, “Suboptimal” doesn’t necessarily mean “unplayable”, but if you make absolutely every choice viable then you remove much of what is fun about figuring out how to build your character. You can beat Fallout with pretty much any build, but a build focused on Gambling, Outdoorsman and Barter is probably going to have way more of a hard time than someone making some super powerful minmax build, but if both are equal then you remove the excitement both of figuring out a really good build and the excitement of challenging yourself with a gimmick build.

            And now to forget about this conversation forever because there’s no good way to follow a comment thread

            1. Chad Miller says:

              Strategically, the only real problem with picking both Gambling and Barter in the first Fallout game is that it’s redundant; either breaks the game completely except maybe if you skip the Hub for some reason.

              I actually consider that a serious flaw in the game in that both perks create an easy, obvious, but monstrously tedious way to crush the game (With Gambling, strategy guides literally suggest weighting down a key on your keyboard and going to bed. Barter has no equivalent shortcut and you’ll just be doing a lot of clicking no matter what.)

        2. Sartharina says:

          Different approaches and playstyles. Some people want to be a sword and board badass who tanks hits and gives no shits. Some want to be a wizard that stands back and casts powerful spells in complex combos. Some want their sword dude to be able to sling a few fireballs. Some would rather be Aragorn, swapping between a longbow and longsword in combat. Some want to wade into battle dressed in furs swinging a fuckhuge battleaxe and summoning storms to strike their enemies with lightning and bring the fury of the sky down on their head.

          Some want their sword and board fighter to be an unmoving bastion capable of holding any position. Others want theirs to be an agile myrmidon dancing through the battlefield with deadly grace and relying on their shield to protect them with deftly timed blocks and positioning.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      This. Is it really a choice when you have to choose between “literally the only way to play properly” and “useless”? It’s like when that Xbox One guy tried to convince people that they had a choice if they wanted to play offline: to play in an Xbox360.

    3. Police-Police says:

      I’m pretty sure these strawmen-asides were meant to be farcical caricatures of the type of commenters that they exemplify. That is to say, what you’re saying was entirely the point Shamus was making.

  4. BlueHorus says:

    Oh, man, spawning multiple consecutive waves from nowhere? It’s the DA2 problem again.
    It’s both annoying and dispiriting when your progress is just undone by the game you’re playing – especially when it’s just a repetitive timesink.

    “sometimes the game locks the doors until you’ve done your chores.”

    Ugh. I feel your pain.

    1. DeadlyDark says:

      My only gripe with Doom’16 and Shadow Warrior’13 is this “arena with waves of enemies” approach for encounters. Otherwise, good action games, but man, this predictable design for fights gets old very fast. In moments like this I do miss old-school approach of rooms and corridors with preset placement of enemies

    2. kincajou says:

      don’t get me started on the random encounters in Pokemon! (and other jrpgs in general… but pokemon was part of my childhood so it’s the most memorable)

      The amount of time wastes trying to run through the grass without another bloody fight… or cutting evey. single. square. of grass to get out of an area (i guess i had some ocd tendencies as a kid)… ugh

    3. SimeSublime says:

      Dragon Age 2 used the multiple enemy spawn precisely to avoid the chopping wood problem. DA:Origins mooks had way too much health, leaving you hacking away at them for ages. So for DA2 they lowered the enemy health, which made them weaker so they had to boost their numbers. But having lots of weak enemies is harder than a few strong ones as they can all attack simultaneously(and probably caused problems for the consoles as well) so hence the waves. It isn’t a perfect solution, but I found the faster more frenetic combat of DA2 much more fun than the slow drawn out stab each mook 30 times in the back then move on to the next of DA:O.
      I haven’t played control, but it sounds like it has the worst of both systems.

  5. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    I only buy 2 or 3 games a year and I decided it was time to pick one up because I was ready to play something different. I had decided that I would get either Control or Greedfall and I ended up going with the latter. And I have to admit that I suspect from this write-up that I made the right decision.

    I love some solid world building, but Control‘s combat sounds like a never-ending slog where the best combat powers are the ones that can most efficiently mitigate the repetition. That sounds pretty much like the opposite of what I want out of gameplay. At some point, are they going to drop in some loot boxes to let you pay to skip the slog? To be fair, Greedfall‘s combat isn’t exactly inspired or compelling, but the game isn’t constantly inflicting it upon me around every corner. In fact, I’ve been rather impressed with how much of the combat you can avoid in Greedfall if you’re clever, charismatic, or stealthy.

    But to me, these games had one thing in common when I decided to go shopping: They were both games that I had never heard of, then I was suddenly hearing about them everywhere. I just decided to go for the one where the makers were saying that they were trying to capture that classic BioWare experience.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Spiders, the studio that made Greedfall, is very, very clearly taking their inspirations from Bioware to the point of imitation. This was true of their earlier games, Mars:War Logs and Technomancer. At the same time their reach tends to exceed their grasp, Mars had some choices that were, admittedly, more consequential and ballsy than most everything Bioware did but it also had mediocre to abysmal production values and the combat was rough at best. Technomancer had a much more ambitious combat system, a robust faction system with a Fallout style “this is how your decisions colided and shaped the world afterwards” slideshow and a much better look (especially when named characters were concerned), but they cheated a bit with the factions and it felt in places like they run out of time/money (there is a definite feel that the confrontation with the villain is at the very least missing one cutscene since characters make references to things that simply didn’t happen).

      So this is kind of what I expect from Greedfall, another game that if you squint hard enough looks like someone from Bioware made it but is janky in places. Admittedly they do seem to be improving with every iteration and it definitely feels like the games come from a place of love for the formula and overall I’m glad that someone is trying to make games like that still, because Bioware certainly doesn’t.

  6. Dreadjaws says:

    Now I’m interested in that Rage 2 review. When is that coming? After Control’s is finished?

  7. Ninety-Three says:

    All Remedy games draw from the same general template

    Have played Quantum Break, can confirm. Not only does it follow their template exactly, being a regenerating-health cover shooter it’s probably got the least going on outside of the template.

  8. Ninety-Three says:

    There aren’t enough points to fill out the whole skill tree, so players that invest poorly can wind up permanently gimped.

    Actually there are, but only if you do all the sidequests, all the hidden unsignposted sidequests, and find all the secret areas, which also reward skill points (source: I did).

    And regarding weapon variety, it’s really weird that the game chooses to restrict you to carrying two guns at a time. It’s not like there’s a technical restriction preventing them from giving you all five, did they think it would unbalance combat or something?

    1. Matthew Downie says:

      That’s pretty standard for console shooters, isn’t it? Doom and Quake and Half-Life had you carrying a ridiculous heap of rocket launchers and rifles and railguns / crossbows / BFGs simultaneously. Halo and Call of Duty games mostly have a two weapon limit.
      Maybe it lets players focus on combat rather than distracting them with decisions about whether they ought to switch to the grenade launcher or the shotgun or the lightning gun or…

      1. Mikko Lukkarinen says:

        Having only two weapons also lets you get rid of the weapon wheel, so players can press a button and continue fighting, instead of stopping to fiddle with menus.

        1. Clareo Nex says:

          Console has only one button to switch weapons with. Having more than two means you’re never quite sure which weapon you’ll switch to. It’s a huge issue in Dark Souls where you have one button and can slot up to ten spells.

          1. PowerGrout says:

            To be in a situation where you could theoretically slot ten spells let alone have that many spells and the proficiencies to cast them at all never mind cast them well enough to warrant using them…
            That’s a lot of investment, a lot of clearly defined stages of investment even.
            If you’re comitted that deeply you can surely handle accessing them from a one-button one-way ‘scroll-wheel’ that you get to define the order of with absolute authority and no crazy restictions.
            Furthermore multiple equips of a favourite spell stack so if you slot 8x med-fireball two times you effectively get 16 casts in the one slot…
            wait, that might somewhat undermine/invalidate my claim of ‘absolute authority no crazy bullshit restrictions’ depending on how you look at it…
            Either way, you call it a ‘huge issue’ – I’d call it at the very worst ‘a molehill’

      2. Fizban says:

        AFAIK Halo was the first big one to make it two weapons only (plus grenades), but it made weapon picks basically a whole separate management minigame. Human weapons used ammo and thus could be reloaded, you usually started a mission wielding them, and they had more visceral shoots. Covenant plasma weapons were bit better against shields and could be pulled off your enemies’ corpses, but used an overheat mechanic to limit continuous fire and had to be replaced instead of reloaded. So you’d quickly reach one of two states: you rationed and scrounged enough ammo to keep your two favorite human weapons, or you’d run one or both of them out and would fill that slot with a disposable plasma gun. Plus the needler, the weird covenant ammo weapon with seeking shots that take a while to deal damage and was either amazing or terrible for seemingly no reason. And then if you wanted to grab a rocket launcher, you’d have to fill that slot with something else when it ran out, likely forcing you into the second state.

        The sum was that you could make do with almost any weapon- there were two things in each weapon “class” or so, but the flow of the game and your ability to compensate for it could organically change what weapons you were using and make you feel like a guy stranded in enemy territory, or like a badass who’s totally in control. Which I find way more interesting than carrying a 10 weapon buffet around. The problem is that I’m pretty sure most of those later games use 2 weapon limits without the differences that make Halo’s actually matter, so they’re just 10 weapon games where you’re only allowed 2, which you pick for maximum efficiency and never change. If that’s what you’re gonna have, then just gimme all 10, because you know I’m only gonna use 2-3 anyway and you’re gonna drop a sniper before every sniper section, so why lie about the reality?*

        Doom ’16 pulls an interesting trick where it has a huge pile of guns, but only three (four with rocket) ammo pools, so at endgame it’s less like you have 10 weapons and more like you have 2-4 ways to use each “gun” (ammo pool), depending on upgrades. This is a great compromise between options and making ammo counts matter, because for ammo to matter the player needs to run their guns dry, and 10 ammo pools is not fun to run through. But Doom ’16 ties them together so they can run down your ammo faster even though you have so many guns, it’s good.

        *I’m not clear on what’s going on in Control though- you’ve got a morphing super gun that regenerates ammo and has 3 forms, but apparently there’s also other guns you can use such that it can be compared to games with 10 weapons? But you can carry 2? It sounds like they’ve mixed all the variations to self-defeating effect.

        1. Higher_Peanut says:

          I hate the 2 weapon system Halo popularised with a passion and wish it would go away forever. I never felt the flow of the game ever change organically, the system is almost designed to prevent emergent behavior.

          Unless you already know all the levels you use the weapons the designers designated for this section and nothing else. With only 2 weapons you pick the most generically useful weapons with available ammo because you need both of the slots to cover whatever situation arises. If you want to save a weapon you’re down to one only so any specialised or fun gimmick weapons are used when they drop in the designated area and never carried around. You said the later games became this but I feel it’s been there from the start as an inherent part of the design.

          Doom (and subsequent doom clones) have been pulling the shared ammo pools since ’93 but the new one does it better since the only shared pool that mattered in the original was cells. My only gripe ammo wise is that the Gauss cannon was the absolute best thing for any situation containing more than a few demons relegating the plasma rifle to free heat blasts.

    2. Mephane says:

      Actually there are, but only if you do all the sidequests, all the hidden unsignposted sidequests, and find all the secret areas, which also reward skill points (source: I did).

      Wow, the more I read of the comments the less I want to play the game at all, even though I like the premise of it so much. I can’t want to play the game strictly following an online guide lest I miss some skill-points tied to hidden sidequests, secrets etc. (To add insult to injury, in our times such guides would almost exclusively come in a video format, which is the absolutely worst when you want to actually follow it while playing.)

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        You really don’t need to, you can max out the telekinesis and mana pool upgrades with only main story skill points, and nothing else is worth buying (theoretically health would be, but see Shamus’ issue with placebo health).

        That said, there is a disgustingly powerful unique gun mod (shots that hit enemies don’t consume ammo) unlocked by a sidequest so hidden that I’m not sure any human ever completed it without spoilers. If you complete the quest while your inventory is full (why do you even have a max inventory size?), the mod vanishes and the game autosaves in the only save slot, permanently locking you out of the best item in the game.

        1. Mark says:

          >You really don’t need to, you can max out the telekinesis and mana pool upgrades with only main story skill points, and nothing else is worth buying

          Increased flying time is also good, for utility/exploration purposes (there’s a lot of random stuff hidden in areas you can only get to by hovering) and also some boss fights.

          But yeah, you can get all the points you need without going too far out of your way. If you’re not enjoying the game enough to max out TK/mana/flying you probably weren’t enjoying the game anyway.

          1. Mephane says:

            If you’re not enjoying the game enough to max out TK/mana/flying you probably weren’t enjoying the game anyway.

            It’s not just about whether one would max out the relevant skills eventually… but also about how early. I know it’s a staple of single player games, but I hate getting a cool skill only close to or during the finale, getting very little time to actually play around with it. Or even worse – missing out on secrets, hidden places, side quests or other content because I don’t yet have a utility skill needed to access it. Same reason why in The Witcher 3 you would max out the Jedi Mind Trick boost to Axii ASAP in order to not miss any conversation options tied to it.

        2. Nimrandir says:

          Wait — Control has a Zodiac Spear? That is a slice of gaming history I am content not to revisit.

  9. GargamelLenoir says:

    addled old dunce
    you slack-jawed codger!

    Dang Shamus, your inner contrarian is in a mood today!

  10. Abnaxis says:

    The game’s damage mechanic sounds like “barrier”damage to me. In a number of games (Zelda:BOTW and Borderlands if the top of my head), a way the designer “balances” around enemies doing absurd one-shot amounts of damage, is by letting you live with a bit of health if your health starts high enough. For example, in BOTW there are high level enemies that wander the open world map, that do about 30 hearts of damage on a direct hit–regardless of how good your amor is, you’ll always survive with a quarter heart left if they hit you at full health, even if your max is only 10 hearts. Having full health creates a “barrier” at a quarter heart that no single attack can bypass

    I’m guessing Control is the same–rockets do “LULWOT!?” quantities of damage that no investment of points in health can cover, but the game has a barrier at 25% health bar as long as you start with full health.

    For the record, I think this is a really lazy system design have that I’ve been seeing more and now in games, for exactly the reasons you see here: it makes investment in survivability largely pointless, and turns all the survivability skill points into Noob traps to the point that I never trust investing in them unless I know the mechanic isn’t present.

    1. Narkis says:

      This reminds me of release Diablo 3, and the most hilariously broken wizard build: There was a skill that capped incoming damage at x% of your health. Passive health regeneration was X health points/second instead of a percentage. So the build was to AVOID items that increased your maximum health and stack health regeneration as much as possible. It was extremely easy to abuse, allowed you to regen all possible damage at fractions of a second. Blizzard patched this out shortly, for obvious reasons.

      I find it hilarious that it has since become a widespread mechanic, and I had no idea.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        I’m also reminded of Anthem’s starter weapon that famously did more damage than end-game top-tier weapons thanks to a similar system.

      2. Abnaxis says:

        While I’ve never had the patience for the Borderlands endgame UVHM myself, my understanding is that a key feature for successful builds is having enough health regen to get yourself over the “barrier” threshold for enemies that consistently one shot otherwise

    2. Fizban says:

      Well there’s still some benefit- the higher your max hp, the higher that remaining 25% will be. But it effectively means that in situations where you actually needed max health to be higher, the true benefit is only 1/4 of the advertised benefit, and will only protect you from like one more tiny bullet instead of a second rocket like you’d expected.

      Conceptually I don’t have a problem with that “barrier” as you’ve described- as long as it is properly communicated to the player. If I know that there’s a specific mechanic that means I’ve got two different “health” systems, hp for protracted combat, and a “survive at nil np after big hit,” then I can plan and play accordingly. Which will almost certainly mean ignoring any hp upgrades because they’re obviously pointless. But it sounds like games aren’t announcing this, which is garbage.

  11. Christopher says:

    If there’s one thing that jumps out to me about the combat in Control (just from coverage and not direct experience), it’s that Remedy created this fantastical setting where anything can happen. They then proceeded to give you a gun that is different guns, and The Force. Which, I can’t think of fewer less mysterious and strange things than the Star Wars powerset. Then they have you largely fight possessed security guards and the occasional geometrical shape, which aren’t exactly the most amazing extradimensional opponents.

    That’s pretty disappointing to me. Sure, this is kinda Remedy’s thing. Take the third-person gunplay against dudes and add a supernatural element and a TV show/movie influence. But when you give yourself the leeway to have absolutely anything be possible in this twisted impossible space, it’d be cool if that was reflected in the action. When Bioshock let you shoot bees out of your hands and games like Dead Space, DMC or Bloodborne have this huge roster of otherworldly enemies, it’s kind of a shame that the Everything Can Happen game mostly just has the standard stuff. Ideally it would have the most spectacular weird stuff of all, both on the player’s side and the enemies’.

    And if you’re gonna have none of this, at least have the mercy of not having so much of the combat.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      There are a handful of sidequests about dealing with possessed objects that have random magical powers, and even those are pretty disappointing. Going by memory there were:
      A pink flamingo that makes the walls go all trippy (solution: play a platforming minigame of jumping over the trippy bits of the walls, or just have the levitation power at this point and trivially fly through it)
      An anchor that clones things (solution: have a fight where you shoot at a floating blob of clocks and every twenty seconds it shoots a blast of clocks at you)
      A piece of mail that teleports around the room (solution: camp one of the spots it teleports to and grab it when it appears)
      A rubber duck that teleports around the room (solution: walk over to it and have it teleport away until it runs out of scripted teleports and you’re allowed to pick it up)
      A traffic light that plays Redlight-Greenlight (solution: only move while the light is green. There’s no threat, it’s literally just a patience test)
      A floppy disk that throws things (solution: walk up to it and press E, but if you take too long it will throw things at you for damage)

      Those are the only items I can remember that had special abilities the player interacted with. There were a bunch more magic items, but most of them just sit there while you walk up to them and press E.

  12. Mephane says:

    You just walk into a room and mooks fall out of the ceiling […]

    […] Some mooks will teleport in from the mook dimension.

    So at first there I wasn’t sure whether you are just joking, until the second sentence. Oh well, way to dampen my enthusiasm for the game. I generally prefer it when enemies exist there, in the world, independently of my presence, not only because it makes for a better atmosphere in most cases, but also because it allows me to plan and think ahead. If enemies spawn around me after I have entered a room, all fights are initiated as if I had blindly stumbled into the area.

    Once you know your way around, it’s feasible to skip the fights. Just give the mooks the finger as you jog by. You don’t earn any sort of XP for fighting trash mobs. They’re just a time sink for no benefit.

    Wait, I heard the game does feature any form of regenerating health (can anyone clarify how exactly you get lost HP back?). So if you receive damage in one of those time sink battles, you’ve basically lost some of that precious, finite health, for no gain whatsoever? Can the game reach an unwinnable, broken state where you are low on health, out of whatever you can (or more precisely: must) use to replenish HP, while the enemies essentially respawn effectively infinitely (if you revisit a room/area/etc)?

    Also, NEVER upgrade astral constructs. You’re spending rare FINITE resources to get more random drops, and random drops are common and non-finite. This whole screen is just a trap for people who don’t know any better.

    Epic. Effing. Facepalm.

    See, the big foes in this game get a free shield recharge every N seconds.

    Just… why. Even ignoring the your follow-up on how this is particularly bad if you invest your skill points “wrong”, this is just an utterly annoying game mechanic which punishes any build and play style that is not focussed on obliterating single enemies as fast as possible.

    All of this is exacerbated by the fact that skill points are based on story progress rather than as a result of combat.

    So this is the opposite of the Deus Ex Human Revolution problem, where everything awarded XP so you are incentivised to take down every single enemy (non-lethally and stealthily), hack every door and computer (even if you know the password or key code) etc. It sounds like in Control, everything an obstacle that awards nothing at best but costs you precious HP at worst.

    1. Shamus says:

      Bad guys drop little health orbs around them when you damage / kill them. So after you kill someone, you need to swoop into the middle of the battlefield and scoop up the healing.

      I’m not crazy about this one, since you have to expose yourself to more damage when you need to heal, but you could argue this keeps the player moving around instead of playing peek-a-boo from a fixed location.

      1. Mephane says:

        Ah, so it is the Darksiders situation all over again. You need to keep up a certain rate of enemies killed vs player HP lost, otherwise it’s a downward spiral of attrition where you lose more than you gain. I never completed that game because when I started sinking down that very spiral, I stopped having fun very fast and just uninstalled…

        Edit: Oh, I somehow dropped a “not” in the very part you were referencing, but it seems it didn’t hurt the message (the word “any” is an amazing little thing). I meant to say that I heard the game does _not_ feature any form of regenerating health.

    2. Joshua says:

      ” Also, NEVER upgrade astral constructs. You’re spending rare FINITE resources to get more random drops, and random drops are common and non-finite. This whole screen is just a trap for people who don’t know any better.

      Epic. Effing. Facepalm.”

      This sounds like the trap a lot of games have that allow you to spend a Feat, Perk, or whatever they want to call it to get slightly more money from selling things, like 10-20%. You end up spending a very finite resource to get a tiny bit more money that inevitably becomes meaningless past a certain point in the game anyway.

      1. Fizban says:

        Depending on how well balanced the loot income is, this can still work. Getting slightly more money from selling/spending slightly less on buying means you get to buy the thing you want sooner, and if its the thing you really want to play with, then sooner is better. The same tradeoff you find when some amount of ability points are purchaseable and so people forgo equipment options to get ability points sooner to unlock the ability they want. Trading ability points to “unlock” (by purchasing sooner) the gear you want is a valid tradeoff. After all, ability points in many games become useless past a certain point as well.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        My personal favourites are “moar XP” perks/feats in a game that allows for xp grinding but has limited levels, the new Fallouts for example. Admittedly I can see some utility for people who do not need all the other perks, have their build planned, plan to only play through limited content (say, only the main quest) or mod the game (my last playthrough of FO:NV was with a mod that drastically slowed down levelling speed)… so now that I think about it I guess those are actually useful in certain circumstances but not in the way you’re playing the game by default.

  13. Tablis says:

    where you have to hold still for several seconds and the camera is locked onto them

    You are not forced to hold still, you can move around, but yes, the camera is locked into the target. I found this power to be the second most useful one after the telekinesis, so it seems to be a matter of taste. You can find mods which reduce mind-control waiting time 4 times, if you move during these few seconds there is nearly no risk. It is cheap to use, the controlled mobs distract the enemies really well and if you buy the upgrade to mind-control the stronger ones you only need to catch one and they can finish the fight for you.

    This isn’t like a regenerating shield in games where their shield recovers when you stop damaging them. This is a full refill that can’t be delayed or interrupted.

    It surely can be interrupted if you pressure them intensively. I don’t know if it works for all enemy types with shields though.

  14. Trevor says:

    I found myself wanting more from the combat. You have to shoot a lot of guys, but your controls are so barebones. There’s no way to take cover behind something or peek around corners to take a few shots, so you kind of derp awkwardly behind objects and still get hit. Maybe I’ve just played enough shooters and shooter-adjacent games (like Fallout and Prey which are still based around shooting) that I now have a higher expectation of the minimally acceptable shooting mechanics in a game. And this game, particularly in the early sections when you have your gun and only one or two telekinetic powers doesn’t meet it.

    And it’s pretty classic Shamus that he plays a game he likes but then writes a three article series on it, two of which are negative and in the third he spends a ton of time complaining about another game by the same company. Ah well. I’m glad I picked it up. The combat is annoying until you become a full on Jedi and the amount of combat makes the spooky environment less spooky — it would be more creepy if the rooms weren’t just full of mooks — but it’s still a worthwhile and fun gaming experience.

  15. Ninety-Three says:

    Also, NEVER upgrade astral constructs. You’re spending rare FINITE resources to get more random drops, and random drops are common and non-finite. This whole screen is just a trap for people who don’t know any better.

    The crafting materials you spend here are actually infinite. There’s a finite supply of them to be found by opening up boxes in the gameworld, but they also randomly drop from killed enemies and those weird procedural timed quest things the game occasionally throws at you.

    1. Shamus says:

      The boxes are finite. If you go back later, they’re empty.

      In my first playthrough, I spent several House Memories on upgrading astral constructs. Then I spent a few more to unlock the Spin weapon. Then I didn’t get any more. At all. Ever. For the rest of the game. I was stuck with the Pistol and Spin, because new weapons require House Memories.

      This is what led me to believe that they were finite. I figured it was either that, or I was impossibly unlucky on that first trip through the game.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        The trick is that certain materials only drop in certain areas. If you never got any more House Memories then those are probably the ones that drop in the starting area. Since the mainquest never sends you back there for combat after the initial hours, you probably never did any sidequests in the area and never found any more.

  16. Hector says:

    I’ve noticed a number of games using percentages in place of static numbers… But its usually a complete waste of design and I don’t follow the logic at all. It just ends up negating most of the point of incremental power improvements. It can make sense if the players is static, but I see it in RPGs and games with related mechanics all the time.

    1. Fizban says:

      In order to have good number progressions, you could just make up numbers and then test and test until you’ve refined those numbers into a decent progression for the game. Which will break if you change anything significant. Or, you could base all the numbers the players see off of progressions you’ve already mapped out in the background based on experience and data on the matchups players like. At the end of the day, in an action game it’s how long the player takes to kill an enemy or boss, how much of their hp bar they lose, and so on that determine how they feel about that part of the combat. The player’s drive to master the numbers on the stat screens is ultimately in pursuit of affecting what are ultimately time and visual ratios. Ratios are percentages. You can generate all the numbers that the player sees far more easily if you just decide what ratios should be in play, and write a formula. Then you generate the enemy numbers which go up as you progress, and the player numbers, which are upgraded in X chunks of Y value to match.

      I mentioned this in the comments on BL3, but all those little percentages in the Borderlands skills pretty much have to be based on target thresholds behind the scenes, and those thresholds would make it child’s play to auto-scale enemies to differently “leveled” players even in the same instance. And Pokemon’s stats are the same- as the games have brought in auto-scaling xp that funnels you to a particular level for an area, xp doesn’t matter, because if you’re at the same level as the opponent you have the same formula applied to get your final stats- it’s only the (partially random one-time generated) base numbers and the (mostly hidden) set of non-xp grind points that actually change what your stats will be at a given level. Which is rather disheartening.

      The drive to maintain a “balanced” game state requires the DM/game designer/etc to know exactly what numbers the players and their enemies have. The more “balanced” the game, the more controlled it must be, the more the player’s options are just a mask obscuring the result, letting people feel like they’re in control and using their optimization skills when the designer knows exactly where they’ll end up no matter what.

      It’s only a tiny step to move from showing the player actual numbers, to just showing them percentages- one I’d say is pretty stupid, because it only makes it more obvious what’s going on. In Borderlands, there’s level scaling so showing the player percentages makes sense, but there is no reason to ever show a percentage if you’re just modifying flat numbers. Players like numbers, tell them their hit points and damage and their enemy’s hit points and damage and they’ll feel like a badass for figuring out what to use (or even just using a supplied DPS calculation). The only reason to not do that is if the enemies are attacking or defending with percentages rather than numbers, which would be revealed by the player knowing the numbers.

      Which apparently is what’s going on in games now, certain attacks just silently doing high% damage. Which reads to me as rank laziness. The background formula is for creating visible numbers that will enhance player enjoyment. If your upgrade tree isn’t even readable, it has no reason to exist, and you’d be better off not even putting it in a tree. If all enemies kill the player in X hits, then just display an X hit health bar. Etc.

      1. Duoae says:

        This is an excellent post and one more point in the argument surrounding how a lot of games are currently poorly balanced in the name of making everyone’s life easier.

      2. Higher_Peanut says:

        Laziness in hp design has been fairly standardised now. Regenerating hp is the norm for a lot of games and is used to encapsulate encounters to maintain balance and prevent no-win states. But it leaves me with the feeling that performance is irrelevant. It’s like design is afraid of the game being broken in either direction so power levels are enforced.

        I’d prefer if it was eased up a little, I like crunching some numbers if they’re there but not if it’s pointless.

      3. Steve C says:

        I’m unsure but it sounds like you are advocating that players should have the wool drawn over their eyes for their own good. I’m strongly opposed to that idea regardless if you are advocating that or not. It is a deck of cards built on a shaky foundation. See the backlash against Anthem.

        The lessor version of that is auto leveling enemies. I hate that. My own version of that was South Park. I discovered that either the enemies were auto leveling or the game was just lying to me. Either case destroyed my desire to continue. Soon as I realized what was going on I gave up on the game and ever went back.

        1. Hector says:

          I think he’s saying to commit to either making progression linear (or removing it) so the game can be balanced precisely, or making progression flexible and honest to the player, even if it shatters the balance.

  17. Hector says:

    Making a separate post about a semi-contraversial issue.

    A story recently broke about the price Epic paid for the exclusivity rights for Control: $10 million USD. I’ve made my opposition to Epic’s business plan known before, but I wanted to mention thus on account of how small that is. That sounds like a lot to you and me, but its not a lot of units sold for Remedy. Plus, since its only an advance against sales they may end up with a net gain of completely nothing. I question whether this was a good business decision.

    1. Decius says:

      That’s something like 250,000 sales. (Divide $10M by the fraction of retail price that goes to the developer, then divide by the retail price)

      That’s a lot of sales. And most people are risk-averse, and giving risk-averse people ‘this game won’t tank so badly that you have to shut down the company’ is a pretty big benefit.

      If Control is a huge success and Epic correctly predicted it, that speaks highly of Epic’s ability to predict. If Control is a flop, it means that Epic protected a decent studio from going under. Either way, it’s easy to spin it well for Epic.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Maybe you can spin it as a smart move, but IMO paying for third party exclusivity is a business practice that should die in a dumpster fire. It’s a manipulative technique software providers only engage in because they’re too lazy to provide end users with actual value in their product (in this case, the EGS)

        1. Hector says:

          It is a very anti-consumer practice, but what I wanted to point out was that Epic bought an exclusive with Remedy’s money.

          I checked sales figures for Remedy’s games and, especially based on the advance buzz for Control, the game was virtually assured of selling the advance payment. For Epic, thus amounts to basically nothing. The only loss to them is a tiny percent they could have, say, earned in interest in a month or less. Remedy, OTOH, actually got nothing at all except an advance. In exchange, they gave up every penny from Steam, GoG or others they could have earned during the critical launch period. The short version is that unless Remedy was literally days from from bankruptcy, they got nothing out if the deal.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            What’s your source for it being an advance on sales? Every article I’ve found sources to the same Digital Bros report which makes no mention of it being an advance. I’ve found a few articles baselessly speculating it to be an advance, and Kotaku asserting it to be an advance without reference to the report that doesn’t back up the claim.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              Edit (the edit button isn’t working for some reason):
              with reference to the report.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      Kotaku is reporting it as an advance on sales, but their source is a report (I can’t link it here because the spam filter eats it) which makes no mention of it being an advance, and no one else is reporting it that way. So they’re probably just wrong and it was up-front cash.

      At $60 per game, $10 million for Epic exlusivity looks like 167,000 units sold, but it’s actually more than that. To pull in $10 million selling on Steam, you’d need to move a quarter million units thanks to Steam’s cut, and even more units if we’re comparing to physical sales where there are even more middlemen fees. Also, each actual sale on Epic is worth more than a sale on Steam thanks to Epic taking a smaller cut.

      It’s not a crazy good deal, but given that Remedy aren’t a “sell ten million copies” Big Studio, it doesn’t seem like an obviously bad one either.

  18. Darren says:

    Almost immediately after acquiring the mind control ability, I found a mod that decreased the charge time by about 70%. This transformed it from a niche, largely pointless skill to the cornerstone of the entire combat system.

    Every fight I’d nab a mook or two (once upgraded) and they’d help tremendously. Eventually you can get the ability to control “big” mooks, which includes those healing ball things. You have to kill them first anyway since they make other enemies functionally invincible, so they’re Prime targets, and they make *you* functionally invincible as long as they last.

    This doesn’t change the fact that this game’s combat is frustrating. It needed an easy mode to let me blast through everything with little effort .

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      those healing ball things. You have to kill them first anyway since they make other enemies functionally invincible

      Ohhhhh, so that’s what they do! I played through the entire game and by the end I was starting to suspect that they did literally nothing. Both Pierce and Telekinesis are really good at one or two-shotting enemies before healing can kick in.

      1. Tablis says:

        What is great is that you can mind-control them. Then they heal you!

  19. Timothy Coish says:

    “In games like Borderlands you can forestall or halt shield recharge by harassing them with constant damage, but in Control the shields get a full refill at regular intervals and there’s nothing you can do to interrupt that process.”

    What? Why? Even Halo:CE back in 2001 understood how lame it would be to have enemies just recharge their shields while you were shooting them, so they never did that. If the player has the opportunity to disrupt the recharging of an enemy, then that naturally leads to some interesting combat decisions, where maybe you stick your neck out for a second trying to damage this particular enemy. It’s the same reason why games delay your own shields recharging for a bit and stop them when you take damage.

    If the enemies just recharge shields constantly then there’s zero rhythm to the combat, you just blast away at the same enemy over and over again until they die and then you move on, because spreading your shots out is massively sub optimal. In contrast, if you can disrupt recharging, then you have a natural reason to spread your shots out, or at least you aren’t overly punished for doing so. So they made the game less deep, in order to do something that doesn’t feel good. That sounds super lame.

  20. michael says:

    Sounds like the developers should have watched MrBTongue’s Slow Down the Violence.

    Using mediocre, repetitive combat as a design crutch is a proud tradition which has detracted from the tone and mood set by the interesting and original parts of games for years.

  21. Geebs says:

    The combat in Control actually gets worse the further you get. Late game encounters are awful – in particular there’s a big boss that one-shots you from off camera (actually two-shots, but you’re staggered by the first and the second is inescapable), and a floaty dude gank-fight with an enemy that ambushes you out of the floor at random and takes off two thirds of your health bar.

    The final “empowerment” combat section is an absolute joyless slog. I couldn’t help but contrast it with the equivalent part of Journey and my goodness, did Control come off badly in that comparison.

    Also, Remedy needs to stop with that nonsense of constantly giving you readable collectibles. It really breaks up the flow of the gameplay and on top of that, you’re always losing track of what you’ve read as well.

    1. Tablis says:

      But you can read the collectibles whenever you want and the unread ones have dots next to their name. I don’t really see any problem here.

      1. Moss says:

        That’s it, I’m buying the game right now!!

      2. Geebs says:

        The dots disappear when you scroll through the list, and the list only has a few items on screen at once. If you want to read the collectible that you just acquired – because context – you’ve got to do it right now or you’ll never find it again.

        Doesn’t help that, in Control, they’re all basically identical “$mundane_object does $weird_thing in small town; agents investigated and were killed in $ironic_fashion” stories. In Quantum Break they were a lot less repetitive.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          I don’t know how it works on console, but on PC the dots only disappear if you mouse over the entries. So long as you move the mouse out of the middle of the screen, you can scroll the list without affecting anything’s read status.

    2. Fizban says:

      I can’t help but think the readable collectables might be the downtime that people are looking for. If you never stop and read the collectibles, well you’ve chosen to never stop. LPs of Alan Wake always have people complaining about the endless combat, while running past all the collectibles and not reading those they find.

      But imagine you’re low on health, trying to scour the area for pages while knowing the game is going to spawn more enemies at you soon. That’s tension. You’re about to go up against a boss and you think you’ve found most of the pieces, so you check the logs to read their full (or as much as you’ve got of it) story, which you’ve been collecting because you want to know (and I was plenty interested in those missing pages the LPers kept skipping). That’s downtime. And they’re also optional, so people that don’t want to read, or listen to audiologs, or sit through unskippable cutscenes, can’t complain about them.

      It looks to me like a reasoned decision. It might not play out that way when people’s response to lots of combat is trying to rush through it, causing even longer strings of uninterrupted combat, but still.

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        Alan Wake’s problem with the text-based collectables is that they were parts of a bigger work. So, unless you’re a completionist, you’ll check them, see you have pages 1,4, 5,9, and 12, and decide it’s not worth it. (Also, the writing was a bit poor.)

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          The biggest problem was that some of the collectibles were only available on the highest difficulty, and that didn’t even unlock until you beat the game on the second-highest difficulty, so you were guaranteed to have the “pages 1,4,5,9 and 12” problem, unless you used cheats to unlock max difficulty.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            Were the unattainable collectibles marked as such? If not, that’s pretty busted.

            1. Sleeping Dragon says:

              IIRC they were, there was something like “page available on nightmare difficulty” or something if you browsed through your collection page, still fairly annoying.

              1. Nimrandir says:

                I’d consider that a different kind of busted than leaving the player in the dark on why the collectibles list has blank spots.

                I think Alan Wake is still installed on my Xbox, so I could verify. Even without doing so, though, seeing content marked as ‘only available by jumping through combat hoops in which you have no interest’ might explain why I lost interest in the game.

  22. Alberek says:

    Why hurling objects outshines a frigging mind-gun???
    From what I had seen in LPs, improving your character comes from weapon mods and character upgrades. You have two combat powers (TK & MindControl), two mobility powers (Dash & Hover) and a protective power (Rock Wall… but it actually looks like you are using TK). In paper the game should be fine but combats gets repetitive…
    A game like God of War has also tons of combat… but landing your moves feels way better, of course melee is always more interesting than ranged combat (for starters, fighting enemies up close means you can kinda look at them better).
    And it’s not that they can’t make an interesting third person shooter… Max Payne is a very good game, and there you only have the slowmo to line up shots

  23. GoStu says:

    Based on the description of your health and a lot of the HP upgrades, I wonder if the combat design uses a lot of “gating”.

    To draw an example from a different game, in Mass Effect 3 the attack that broke your shields couldn’t spill damage into your health bar, and you got a grace invulnerability period after your shields broke (presumably to allow you to duck back into cover). There’s also a similar effect for your HP bar, although if I recall correctly that one is less pronounced and it’s far more dangerous to play around with the last dribble of HP you have.

    Certain attacks deal FAR more damage than most characters have shields. Things like the rocket attack from the Cerberus mechs are basically a guaranteed shield-break if the rocket hits you, unless you’re one of the classes with ridiculous shields AND a lot of damage reduction.

    The net effect of this is that a class with 500 shields isn’t effectively twice as protected as a class with 250, because what’s commonly going to happen is that little mooks poking you for 10 per bullet isn’t going to force you to hide: it’s the mech that hits for 800 tagging you.

    Those rocket attacks may have some arbitrarily huge absolute number for damage, which leans on a hidden rule that no single attack can reduce you more than 75% of your remaining HP. Your HP upgrades were effectively anti-mook padding but didn’t count worth squat when something more significant showed up.

    This mechanic can have reasons to exist but it sounds like the gameplay designer here just stinks.

  24. Lino says:


    then by know you know it’s time for me to pull a face-heel turn

    Should be “by now you know”

  25. Kamica says:

    Oddly enough, I had this “Chopping wood” experience you explain with many of the Uncharted games. Those games feature WAY TOO MUCH combat in my opinion, and I never really enjoyed it much. The puzzles and story were fun, but then it’d get interrupted by, oh look, more combat!

    I understand many people may not agree =P.

    1. Geebs says:

      For my money, it was the set pieces in Uncharted rather than the combat encounters. I always screwed them up the first time, which completely deflated the sense of excitement that they were trying to create. The second time through you’re just trying not to screw it up again and miss all of the fun.

  26. Agammamon says:

    Shamus, it serves you right for making bad choices on the level-up screen. This is what you get when choices matter!

    This is where you need to slap your rhetorical construct. The choices *don’t* matter. You have a choice between ‘optimal build’ and ‘trap’. The build tree doesn’t give you multiple viable combat gameplay paths, it gives you one viable path and multiple paths littered with traps that just dead end.

    All adding more information would do is allow the player to see the traps and dead ends before going down those paths.

    There’s basically one way to play – focus on TK – and tiny little aesthetic choice to make in what ‘type’ of weapon your firearm is.

  27. Asdasd says:

    Anyone who wants a game with great combat and plenty of slow time (in which you do interesting things that aren’t combat) should check out Astral Chain on the Switch. It even has a cool setting and a passable story!

  28. Jabberwok says:

    I think part of Control’s problem with having too many fights and not enough good pacing is inseparable from the core design. The game is non-linear in the sense that you can backtrack through any part of the House. Which means they need to spawn enemies outside the critical path. Which means repetitive fights. On the C&C podcast, someone said that the game reminds them a lot of Destiny. I didn’t understand the comparison until I had played it, but now I do. There are respawning, levelled enemies, and a sandbox environment broken into sections. Except Destiny is that way because of its multiplayer component.

    I can imagine a much more compelling version of Control that’s built around purely linear story progression, no levelled enemies, and no character upgrades or collectibles. But unfortunately, all those things that would need to be eliminated are staples of AAA game design at this point.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      [I think part of Control's problem with having too many fights and not enough good pacing is inseparable from the core design. The game is non-linear in the sense that you can backtrack through any part of the House. Which means they need to spawn enemies outside the critical path. Which means repetitive fights.

      That can’t be it though, because the combat is padded and super-repetitive even if you do stick to the critical path.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        True, but the encounters are room-based, not story based. They’re mostly just generic enemy spawns. They aren’t built with pacing in mind because they can’t be as the game is.

        In other words, imagine the game redesigned so all encounters were story and tension appropriate and relevant to what was happening. The game we got is a physical space that the player moves through first and foremost, which means most encounters have to be generic, even along that critical path. Think of the parts of a Destiny single player mission that send the player through a public area. They’re fundamentally more boring because they can’t be dynamic or have any relevance beyond the moment.

        Shamus keeps using the word ‘mooks’, and this is why that word is appropriate, imo. Walk into a room, fight some guys, because that’s how the room is set up. Once the encounter is over nothing has changed. We can’t know who we were just fighting – who they were, what their story was prior to being possessed, etc – because they are just one instance drawn from an infinite pool of enemies and thrown in front of us.

        1. Jabberwok says:

          Sorry to double post, but:

          Honestly, the combat encounters in the game don’t really bother me so far. But I think a big part of that is because I started the game expecting it to be structured the way it is: single player Borderlands in a big office building. Which is most definitely at odds with the sort of story they’re telling, but it’s just the way things have to be these days, I guess. It’s hard to tell a story inspired by TV dramas with theme park game design.

        2. Tablis says:

          The enemies are in a large part story based. There are many unique encounters in this game which do not repeat, I don’t really see the argument here. Around 50% of the gameworld is visited in sequence, and places which you can visit out of order just have varying difficulties, for example you can visit the mold area quite early, but you do not have proper tools to deal with the enemies there (which I learned with pain).

          I don’t think the structure of the game is a problem. Remedy just did not have resources to make sufficient density of interesting encounters in this game. They stretched the content.

          1. Jabberwok says:

            Have you played Destiny, or the other games I’m comparing this to? This is always about stretching content, because encounters by themselves are not content. [And in fact, Destiny itself is one of the primary offenders when it comes to stretching content.] They are reshuffling existing content. And I’m not sure if I’m properly communicating what I mean by “story based”. What I mean is that many of these encounters have nothing unique about them other than the layout of the room itself. Sure, the enemies are coherent in the context of the story, but there’s nothing else there, nothing else to separate that particular encounter from 10 others along the critical path. aside from maybe some voiceover the first time you enter the area. If you go back into that same area, you will see the same enemies again, in the same room. But even if you don’t go back, the content is still repetitive because it’s designed to be repeatable, generic. Yes, there are unique encounters that don’t repeat, but I doubt those are what is causing this issue. It’s everything between them.

            And this is an issue in a lot of games that are designed in this way, because the main reason they’re like this is to stretch play time.

            1. Asdasd says:

              This is an interesting discussion. I think what you’re describing is part of why I could never get into the Monster Hunter games. In those games encounters are content, in terms of each new creature offering new mechanics and a challenge to master. But you’re also expected to repeat the content to farm drops and craft the gear that will let you move up the content chain.

              We might be toeing a fundamental split in the way players think about games. For some people content is content and so they’ll be perfectly conten- er, happy to grind away at Destiny of MH for hundreds of hours. These games are revered by some because the moment to moment feels so good – good enough to repeat, and keep repeating. For other people context is content – they need a game to mix things up, go fast and slow, evoke more than one emotional state, put care into motivating the player to engage with its systems.

              All my favourite games put (at least) as much focus on this secondary aspect as the first, but I’m not everyone, and I have to accept there’s an opportunity cost here: development time spent on this sort of thing is time that could also be spent polishing your core gameplay from a Control (apparently OK) to a Rage 2 (apparently amazing). Deus Ex is my favourite game of all time but I know that the combat is bobbins. It’s not even so much that there’s a golden ratio to be found (although who knows?), but whatever balance is ultimately struck will hold a different appeal to different kinds of players.

        3. shoeboxjeddy says:

          So regarding a detail here. I get what you mean about public spaces in Destiny being boring in that they’re just areas for you to move through without well paced linearly designed encounters. That is true. My disagreement comes in when you say that they’re “fundamentally more boring”. I super disagree! The metafiction of Destiny is that you belong to a larger group of empowered warrior heroes, the Guardians. And while the main story of the game is about how your character, as opposed to ALL the others, is a super special hero snowflake, a LOT of the other content is more along the lines of “a day in the life of ANY Guardian.” All of the strikes take this form. You’ve been assigned a military mission and have a control & command helper to make sure you can get the job done. Or the Crucible, which is live fire training to make sure all the Guardians are competent to take the fighting to the enemy (while also making the combat area so hellish and dangerous that the enemy will steer FAR clear of it). Or Gambit, which is some sort of long term scheme for the Drifter to build up a power base of some kind, while paying off Guardians to participate in it (it’s also seen as training, similar to Crucible).

          My point is, crossing paths with other real life people engaged in the same sort of things you do mid-mission is the proof of concept that this world and this army actually does exist. What I have always wanted is for two strikes to possibly matchmake into each other, midstream. Like, hey two strikes going in different directions, kill this big boss together real quick. Or for a patrol to route you onto a strike path, like “hey, help out this strike, they ran into unexpected trouble.” Or something really crazy, hey, take this teleport and complete an objective mid-Crucible match. Wacky and unexpected stuff like that would be really cool! I’m always disappointed when people say stuff like “UGH, why do I have to play Crucible for this quest” completely missing the forest for the trees of what the WHOLE game is made up of.

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            Interestingly enough Warframe teases something like this for their next big update. It introduces Railjacks (aka “big honking spaceships”) and battles between them but there’s also other mechanics it’s supposed to be introducing including a sort of remote cooperation between parties. In the mission they showcased during Tennocon they showed one such space battle where the enemy ship got a barrier shield from a generator on a planet “moon of Endor” style, and a second party, that was ostensibly just minding their own business and fishing on the Plains of Eidolon got an “ally asking for help” kind of mission prompt to rush across the map and blow said generator up*. From what the devs said this was based on alliance and the other party being “in the right place at the right time” but seeing how it was a showcase and played by the devs it’s hard to tell how much of that was prescripted and how it’ll work. They did mention that this mechanic might be expanded, for example the conceit of “survival” type missions has long been that you’re purposefuly drawing attention to yourself to distract the enemy from another operative who is infiltrating the facility and the devs said this could actually become a real thing.

            *They did say that it’s possible to punch through the shield bruteforce just that having an ally destroy the generator makes things easier.

  29. Jeremy Smith says:

    Shamus Young said

    Going from 5 attacks to 8 is only an increase of about 40%,

    I think what you did was 5/8=0.625, then concluded that the 8 attacks was about 40% more. What you want to do is 8/5=1.6, which gives you the correct answer that 8 attacks is exactly 60% more than 5, since 3/5=0.6.

    1. Shamus says:

      Doh. Yes, that’s exactly what I did.

  30. Axebird says:

    You can move while mind controlling enemies with Seize, it’s not as bad as you think it is.

    Other than that, yeah, pretty much spot on. The customization stuff is bare bones, doesn’t give you enough information, and has a very small number of correct choices and a very large number of incorrect choices. You can put a bunch of rare mods into making Shatter shoot a million pellets, or try to manage the charge time and inaccuracy of Spin, or you can just increase Grip’s base damage to 250% and double its headshot bonus damage and one or two tap everything in the game that doesn’t have a resonance shield.

  31. Zaxares says:

    One thing I really, REALLY loathe in games is giving you upgrade paths or choices that are objectively worse than others. It comes down to issues with game balance, but the biggest pet peeve is when I’m talking to players about how X is underpowered, their response is “Just go with overpowered Y skill instead, noob!” Like… that’s missing the whole point! Why even have a choice in the game if whoever picks it is just going to have a much rougher, worse, less fun time?

  32. Redrock says:

    I have my share of problems with Control, but I think there are a few inaccuracies in some of the things you mentioned.
    – The brainwashing ability doesn’t really rob you of your mobility. Once you start holding down the button to brainwash an enemy, you can move freely, even get in cover and break line of site – the process will still be completed. It’s still not my favorite ability, but it does help divert a bit of aggro.
    – The blur effect isn’t really a filter, I think. It’s actually clouds of blurry gas that erupt from enemies on hit and stick around for a while. That’s why the plants are blurry in that screenshot. I think this is intended to be Hiss residue, or something like that.

    Those are nitpicks, though. The game does have entirely too much fighting and the fact that you don’t get any tangible reward for most fights makes it even more daunting.

    But not as daunting as the stupid random mod system with its tiny inventory space which I hope is the subject of your next post.

  33. Paul Spooner says:

    So, are the combat encounters in Control also like chopping firewood in that you start getting kinda hot and take off your shirt even though it’s cold out and then your lady-friend comes out and watches you for a few minutes before commenting that you still have too much clothing on and you should probably take a break?
    I’m, uh, asking for a friend.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      I just hope it isn’t like chopping firewood when you get overly focused on the wood-chopping, because it turns out your house is haunted, or possessed, or something. I hate when that happens.


    2. BlueHorus says:

      Well – in that scenario, there might be be more than one type of wood. Be careful which type gets chopped with an axe…

      …because oak is very tough. You’d be better off using a saw.

  34. slipshod says:

    Don’t know if you’re interested in an opinion completely opposite from your own, but here goes:

    Control had, I felt, the best combat system I had played in years. I’m not comparing this to, let’s say, Sekiro, but I am juxtaposing this game in my mind to other role-playing games.

    A few reasons why I absolutely adored the combat:
    > Incredible mook variety – each enemy was unique and interesting. Often forced you to use a different gun or approach. Their various combinations made the areas feel fresh and complex and encouraged me to move tactically.
    > The pace – I learned very quickly that the way to win was to move constantly and in an unpredictable manner. The speed of it was addictive. Having to expose Jesse to heal was likewise intoxicating because the action demanded heightened awareness and planning.
    > The use of environments – this one mostly related to boss arenas. No other game in recent memory forced me to develop the same kind of arena awareness as Control. In one of the quest lines, you fight a boss whose attacks break the ground beneath you. And yet, he’s enormous, so you naturally gravitate towards aiming at his weak-points. Except that it’s nigh impossible to beat him that way. You have to pay attention to the ground and then tactically reflect his attacks. All of the side-quest boss arenas had unique traits like that.
    > The variety of movements – very much tied to movement speed, but I was fascinated with how much I could experiment with x-axis vs y-axis movement. Once I adapted to the environments and began to recognize mooks, I knew exactly how to confuse them and abuse the hell out of them with my abilities.
    > The shotgun – honestly haven’t experienced a more satisfying shotgun than my fully pellet-maxed service weapon in shatter mode. It went brilliantly with the speed. I would swoop down with an AOE attack and nuke a mook in the face. Or use my anti-armor pistol to tear through someone’s shield, hijack him, then use him as bait to oneshot everyone else in the face with the shotgun.

    I will say, in closing, that I thought the final battle was too repetitive and too long. But I had no complaints throughout the rest of the game.

  35. KenTWOu says:

    Finished the game recently, may be since then it was patched to mitigate some of the issues you mentioned or what, but I found your analysis of combat so flimsy. Like what exactly are you trying to prove using this weird example?

    “let’s say I invested my points differently so that I can only use telekinesis 5 times. I’ll fling 4 objects at the foe to burn off the shield, and then my final throw will knock 25% off his HP bar. Now I’m out of juice. By the time that recharges, so does his shield. So I have to go through the entire loop again: 4 attacks to burn down the shield, then one more for the HP bar. Then wait, and repeat again.”

    You don’t have to go through the entire loop again, because you have a gun to finish off the enemy when you’re out of energy. If your gun is not powerful enough for that, well, use armored piercing mod, for Christ sake.

    It seems like you just didn’t get it that’s why you omitted some of the important points of combat and upgrade system. Like you mentioned that Control has a dash/evade ability and a shield. Did you try to upgrade the latter one? It will allow you to ram into enemies using dash/evade. It’s so much fun, especially in combination with flying against flying enemies.

    I played the whole game and used TK as less as possible for some weird subjective reason and still found the combat immensely varied and satisfying. Saying that Control’s combat is incredibly one-dimensional is just plain wrong, it’s fantastic. And all seems kind of unfair and unbalanced things Control combat has made it more dramatic. You’re constantly on edge.

    1. Shamus says:

      “Like what exactly are you trying to prove using this weird example?”

      I was demonstrating that the game is hilariously unbalanced. A small change in skill point allocation leads to a massive change in outcomes. Some builds are massively more powerful than others. Your defense is that you can compensate for this, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s unbalanced.

      “Saying that Control’s combat is incredibly one-dimensional is just plain wrong, it’s fantastic.”

      You’re basically claiming that my analysis doesn’t count because you like the game anyway. That’s… not how criticism works? You’re free to like the game as much as you want, but it’s not going to cause me to like it with you. I had a miserable time with this game, and I explained why in the article.

      Did I try every possible build? No. I tried a small handful of builds and I found them all broken or boring in various ways. It’s nice that you liked shield, but that doesn’t fix the fact that guns suck, TK spam is OP, mind control is unhelpful, and health upgrades are pointless.

      1. KenTWOu says:

        I’m saying that you take a tiny part of the system, ignores everything else devs did to compensate its deliberate shortcomings and trying to prove that tiny part of the system was poorly balanced instead of looking at the whole set of tools devs gave you.

        Like you mentioned that ground-slam takes all your mana. Wow, taking out of context that sounds really bad. Well, then don’t use it against huge group of enemies, use it against two or three that are separated and far away from others. Use it against enemies behind obstacles to hide behind those obstacles after slam. Use mods that made mana regeneration faster. A couple of seconds you don’t have mana on the ground won’t kill you instantly, because an enemy you just slamed will leave small chunks of health on the ground.

        See, it’s not bad, it’s a great risk-reward thing that makes firefights way more dramatic. You was in the air, not you’re on the grand. You have all mana, no you haven’t. The annoying enemy shot at you, now he’s dead. There was a situation, now it’s the opposite.

        Basically almost every issue you have with the game has the right answer you omitted for some reason. Even enemies that sometimes spawn behind you or around you is not an issue when you can dash/evade and/or fly, when you’re so extremely mobile.

        I didn’t try every possible build, but along my playthrough I tried to play the game in a very different ways. Thanks to countermeasure missions I tried all guns, I upgraded them all and they don’t suck. Mind control was very helpful, especially when you control a flying enemy. TK was fine. Save system sucks.

        I fully upgraded my health in one go, and that was very, very, very helpful in latter firefights and against side bosses. I’m 100% sure my health pool didn’t behave the way you described. They probably changed something.

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