Over many years, I have written a lot about power curves. Most games have a logarithmic scale, which climbs quickly at the start and then slowly increases near the end. At least in the context of the “main game”. Some RPGs provide god-tier weapons, but those are also meant for god-tier challenges.
MMOs also follow this curve, yet this is most often within the constraints of an expansion or a major patch. The major patches add minor increments to the end of a curve, while expansions write out an entirely new curve. This to the point where it normally invalidates a large amount of the previous curve, so that “fresh” players don’t have to grind through content at the end of one expansion to access the next. Some games really abuse this model, where the top tier gear from one expansion is replaced by starter gear of the next expansion – thankfully this is much less common today (WotLK was notable).
The power curve is related to the challenge curve. Depending on where those two are, you either need to perform better or can blindly plow through. If you are on the right side of the curve (high power) and are facing the basic enemies at the start of content (low challenge), you can faceroll most of it.
In most games, this relationship is static. Picking on WoW for a minute here, these were initially hard-coded, making the item/level squish activities very complicated. Changing the value of a Challenge isn’t easy, less so when it hasn’t been looked at for 8+ years.
FF14 has a similar structure in overworld content, and explicit group content (un-synched). You can, if you want, plow through low level content with a high level character (in fact, its the best way to do Wonderous Tails). However, the game has had scaling applied since ARR came out. The Duty Roulette (LFG tool) automatically scales your power relevant to the content, if too high. The net effect is that you can ignore a few mechanics, but not all. FATES also have a sync feature if you want to extract any rewards.
Now, where things really start getting wonky is how games apply bonuses to power. Scaling only applies to the base elements of the power curve, and temporary bonus to apply throws that scale out of whack. Temporary (or borrowed) power is not an issue with FF14 – the bonuses are usually in the 10-20% range and very limited in sources (food, some temporary buffs). You may see 6 buffs total on a character. WoW has had issues here for years, where the temporary boosts are measured well over 100%, if not bursts of 1,000%, from dozens of sources. It’s meme-worthy to have a couple dozen buffs active at any given time, let alone seeing how they interact as they can compound. It makes it next to impossible to balance or scale… hence why borrowed power simply does not work in Timewalking content (scaled). It’s also why some content tuning feels impossible until you get the right RNG, then it becomes trivial.
In general, I enjoy content that has some level of challenge, and where progression is noticeable without being god-like. If there was no challenge, then just turn on some streaming service instead. FF14 is able to make nearly all of the content relevant and challenging (to a degree) so that I do need to pay attention. One key issue with WoW was that the challenge was focused on 2 areas – raiding and Mythic+ – content that built less-than-pleasant social constraints. There was no middle ground left.
I could go on about how Monster Hunter applies this model… though in super simple terms it moved from near-assured death to this is fun. Way different model.