How would you design a loot based game without ever-escalating stats?


I’ve been wondering if it would be possible to design a loot based game without basing progression on ever increasing stats. Do you think it’s possible to maintain the appeal of a loot shooter without relying on the numbers going up?

I’m thinking about this because I like loot based games, but I don’t like that the gameplay experience is mostly the same no matter what your level. It would be interesting if a level 1 player could potentially participate in high level content while still maintaining incentive to level up (through cosmetics, mods, different equipment)


Probably take influence from TCGs. I’d look to Slay the Spire in particular, though I haven’t played it. You’d want a very very large amount of room to work with as far as customizing your toolkit, so that there’s reason for you to go out and find a large amounts of loot to incorporate into it. Look at what kind of archetypes develop out of that, and then for later content design around those and look for spaces to encourage new archetypes and so on.


It’d be difficult, but I’m guessing you could design it around having tons of modifications? So like, gradually unlocking things that massively change how weapons and armor handles and getting more options instead of more power. I’m sort of thinking about something based around Oblivion and Morrowind’s spell systems, or God Eater’s bullet modification stuff. First you’re shooting a normal bullet, but then you get a pellet modifier to turn it into a shotgun, then maybe a speed modifier to turn it into a railgun if you make it faster, or a slow moving AOE type thing the other way. This way even during the endgame you’re constantly figuring out new ways to use your ever expanding ability set, and if you’re ever bored of grinding, you could just completely change up how your weapons work!


You could try expanding on the manufacturer system from Borderlands.

Basically, every different brand offers different attributes to their gun or shield. Hyperion weapons have very low accuracy initially and then build up with each shot fired, Jacobs guns have slow reloading time and fire rate, but deal huge damage in just one shot and have the highest bullet speed, Dahl have burst fire and have low recoil, Maliwan has slow bullets but the best elemental damage output overall, ect.

Increase the amount of brands, add in a few random attributes any weapon could have, and make it so leveling only gives new skills or passive buffs, and you could have a game that encourages a lot of different styles of play by offering different risks and rewards with every possible weapon. You could even expand this to melee weapons, drones, and your very armor.


Would you consider what Monster Hunter did (pre-World) as fitting? While you unlock different ranks in the games, there isn’t a focus on numbers as there is in a traditional loot game and it has always felt to me that MH focused on horizontal exploration and advancement as opposed to the vertical approach of loot games.


When I read the thread title I thought this was going to be a topic about the issue of old loot becoming obsolete as soon as an expansion comes out. My solution to that would be having a large number of damage types, like in Soul Sacrifice or Dragon’s Crown. It’s basically the rock paper scissors model expanded to eight or nine different options instead of three so you need loads of loot to supply various loadouts to counter different situations. Instead of making the numbers higher in an expansion you would add damage types.

For the issue of the game feeling the same from level 1 to max that needs a different solution. Some games use a skill tree to change the gameplay as levels progress, like in Borderlands or Dragon’s Crown, but it sounds like you’d be more interested if the skills from the skill tree were the loot. That would allow a level 1 player to play with a max level player and have the numbers stay the same but the gameplay experience would still evolve through the progression. Unfortunately creating a lot of varied skills to be loot would be a lot harder than making the numbers go up, so I don’t think you’ll see it in anything outside of the rougelike genre.


This might be kind of a half-measure, but one thing the new Far Cry games do is that they don’t have skill trees, they just have skills. Some of them may cost 2 SP and some may cost 10, but they’re all open right from the start. So, if you want to by the 2-3 SP skills as they open, you can, but if you want to save up 20 SP and buy all the heavy weapon skills, you can grind for a bit, then grab a rocket launcher and go crazy. Or you could play a “summoner” and just buy all the companion-boosting skills first.

Far Cry 5’s skill system wasn’t near deep enough for it to really be meaningful, but for a full-fledged RPG, it could give players the ability to get game-changing skills early and maybe reduce the siloed min-maxing that turns me off a lot of MMO and loot games.


This is kind of why Metroid was created. They wanted to implement RPG systems in to an action game, but didn’t want stats or experience points or anything like that. So, instead, they just gave the player a dozen or so different pieces of gear, each tied to a new ability.


I agree with this: if loot doesn’t provide “better stuff”, then the only things it can provide are “more options for stuff”, or “cosmetic stuff”.
And it seems like “increased flexibility” is the thing here - maybe you could have drops for loot which even allows you to be more flexible (guns which take more mods than the starting gun etc); but have the non-meta drops, the mods themselves, be all balanced to be the same “level” as the starting weapon. (Which is going to be hard, because balance here depends also on people’s personal preferences for particular styles of play.)


Warframe is somewhat a version of what has been suggested. New frames just create new types of play but not always better more effective ways. Outside Mods which make the numbers go up. However I can see a full retail priced game finding it hard to sell you have to grind for characters classes.


Here’s what I consider the pillars of loot-game appeal:

  • Highly repeatable content, a game you might play forever
  • Long-term progression: as you play, you accomplish things that change the overall state of the game
  • Items that are exciting to find because they substantially change how you play in the short term

That’s a roguelite, y’all! (Thinking of Binding of Isaac and Dead Cells especially.) By taking away all your stuff after each round, these games give you the quintessential “ooh, that’s great for my build” loot-drop experience repeatedly with the same loot. And long-term unlocks in that style of game mostly expand possibilities rather than power. Stat climb is entirely confined to each relatively brief play-through.


As people have repeatedly mention, roguelikes are basically exactly this. I think there is probably more design space in non-roguelike games for a broader variety of effects, though, if one is willing to create enough variety in effects.

To go to card games for an easy example, you can create cards which give benefits when they’re discarded greater than when they’re played. Slay the Spire has these for the green character. What Slay the Spire cannot really have due to being run-based are cards whose only effect is to discard your other cards, with no other upside. The use-case is too narrow to be justifiable in a game where you can’t hold on to it. But design space for things like that - purely negative on their own, but powerful in combination with specific other options - would be available in a game where you’re constantly collecting loot, and any “bad” gear is an opportunity to try out a different playstyle later on.


I feel like if you implement a system that relies on leveling, then allocating stats with attribute points each level (e.g. the sphere grid, move trees), then use the loot purely for glamour purposes, you could probably keep the interest alive long enough. I’ve always been iffy about the concept of cosmetics having no effect on game play, because you’d be surprised how much just looking cool will affect people’s willingness to play a game. Loot boxes in Overwatch offer the player nothing of real value, but damn if that Equalizer skin doesn’t look cool.


I always thought those loot-check type fights were frustrating in MMOs (mostly Vanilla WoW for me), but now I realize how that was a good way to get players to revisit older content in some cases for a more tangible reason than they do in the more recent expansions. Having the lower level dungeons randomly having a random piece of resistance gear made it an easy run (and to potentially run it with lower level players, helping them out if you wanted).


I would just make L4D3 but throughout the levels you can rummage around to find new clothing.

I’m being serious as well, just look at the L4D2 workshop. It’s clear all everyone wants is more levels + cosmetics either for characters or alternate weapon skins and the setting of those games justifies perfectly for why you would find them.

Killing Floor 2 did it and it works fairly okay in that. I just don’t really like the gameplay loop of KF2.