Is RNG inherently bad? – Reader’s Feature
A reader examines how random elements can improve or spoil certain games, with examples including Apex Legends and Borderlands.
Is RNG (random number generation) inherently bad? Whilst writing my last feature I’d have said yes initially, but that of course is coloured by the specific topic I was discussing, the truth is no of course it isn’t. What dictates whether it is bad or not comes down to three things: how is it implemented, what is the goal behind it, and am I as a player respected by these?
Let’s look at a good example of it to start: Apex Legends (or any battle royale game really). RNG is crucial to the battle royale formula, you drop into the game map with nothing and have to scavenge weapons and attachments, ammo, health, armour, and so on and this is all randomly placed and generated. There is a random hot zone at the start of the round, which grants a chance at higher quality loot, but this is risk and reward driven as you will likely be ‘hot dropping’ and have to fight off several other squads if landing here.
So do you go for the higher chance at getting tooled up and risk a quick death or land elsewhere and try to gradually build up? This randomness means each round is subtly different to the last and it retains a freshness despite the single map, though that won’t last forever. You can of course buy currency for cosmetic items, but none of that affects the gameplay in any way and for a free to play game it is totally fine in my book; provided it’s marketed to an adult audience and not predatory, which doesn’t seem to be the case here.
Contrary to that we can rollout everybody’s favourite whipping boy, Star Wars: Battlefront II. I’m sure we are all aware of the uproar around this title, the fact that its progression tree was tied to random loot box drops at launch and the frankly disgusting and predatory nature of being able to buy them with real money and, in effect, pay to win.
This is totally gameplay-affecting and the intent was blatantly to drive real money purchases, locking progression behind a monumental grind or pay wall. There is no respect for the player in this at all and it was the reason I skipped the title despite loving the first. They have since removed this and implemented a real progression system but only in response to the massive public backlash.
Sometimes you can see changes of direction within a franchise as well and Borderlands springs to mind, given the hype around remasters and the third instalment. This franchise is also built around RNG, with the weapons and shields having millions of combinations of parts that increase or decrease certain stats and result in better or worse versions. Through multiple playthroughs of the first I always felt the drops rates were good, you’d find the coveted legendary weapons all over the place and they could drop from most sources, even showing up in in-game vending machines or rubbish piles.
It never felt like a grind and though you didn’t have to farm them you certainly could, to very good effect. But the fact you never knew when you would find one, but there was always a chance, kept me coming back.
Borderlands 2 on the other hand locked a lot of legendries behind specific boss drops, meaning you would have to farm that one boss multiple times to get one to drop and there was no guarantee you’d even get a good version of it due to the random parts and multipliers. Even worse, if you bought the DLC and unlocked the overpowered levels the 100s of hours you spent farming these guns went out of the window as a single overpower level could render them all but useless, and you had to farm them again.
There were eight overpower levels and his would repeat unless you waited till the very end to do it once. This feels like it’s artificially extending the time you have to play, and therefore fails on implementation and intent. Not to mention the bugs where you finally get one and it gets vomited out of the arena or falls through the floor, I’m looking at you Son of Mothrak.
The Kulve Taroth siege event in Monster Hunter: World (as discussed in my last feature) also felt badly done and was blatantly an attempt to artificially extend the time you needed to play to receive weapons, due to it having only random drops and no craftable ones. I went back to look at how long I would have had to play to get the full set of these, and based on the drops rates I came out at around 550 hours to get the missing 50 or so I needed – on top of the 700 I had already played across the game as a whole. That’s 550 hours of doing a single mission over and over again.
That doesn’t feel good and the fun falls away after maybe 20 hours. This could have been eased though by weighing the drops, making them craftable using parts from duplicates or even simply guaranteeing one new weapon for each successful hunt. Something that rewards the player and keeps them coming back. Most of the best weapons in the game are locked behind this so it’s most definitely gameplay-affecting. It was not monetised in any way, however, so I think this is merely misguided not malicious.
RNG is here to stay it would seem, and though it’s often lazy, sometimes downright evil, in the right hands it can actually be great, nay magical in the experience it creates. But will the next game be the former or the latter? Maybe it’s a roll of the dice for that well.
Thanks for reading.
By reader Astartespete
The reader’s feature does not necessarily represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
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