Complexity is Good

While I was playing some more Path of Exile, I got to thinking about how this game differs from others.  I mean, they are all just carrot-on-a-stick generators, but some seem to have better looking carrots I guess.  As always, comparisons abound.  The 4 that I think bear comparison right now are Diablo 3, Marvel Heroes, Torchlight 2 and Path of Exile.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that the visceral aspects of Diablo 3 are much better than the others.  Abilities have an impact, monsters are clear and unique and there’s a fair amount of variety in the bosses, if you want there to be.   That feedback is part of the initial draw and it’s something MH, T2 and PoE are not really that good at.  D3 is a rewarding visual experience.

The thing is that feedback system reaches a stopping point, where you’ve seen all the skills and all the bosses.  Maybe it gets you to the end level.  It isn’t a carrot so much as an endorphin push.  You eventually develop immunity to it.  It’s at that point where you start seeing games for what they are – loot pinatas combined with number generators.  And that’s a part that Diablo 3 really is the weakest of the bunch and PoE really stands out.


Typical loot drops are rarely scanned after a given point.  The amount of gearing options available at max level really boil down to some simple guidelines.  Either it’s a clear upgrade for you, for a friend/alt, or may sell for something decent.  In D3, if it isn’t orange/green, odds are you aren’t going to use it.  There is a massive lack of build diversity in D3 and it is limited mainly by the gearing options.  The unique/set items are so wildly powerful, that some classes are pretty much non-competitive until you reach a specific gearing point.  It also means that you’re ignoring 99% of the gear drops.

In T2 and MH, the build diversity is much higher and that’s due to the way that the gear drops work.  T2 has sets/uniques and MH has about 18 terms for their gear.  But while there are key items that boost a particular feature of a character, nearly any type of high end drop can be an upgrade because each item boosts a random set of skills.  Combined with crafting, drops that are mediocre can be transformed into something very powerful.  I think MH really takes the cake here simply because it has so many possible gearing slots and options but T2 is pretty close in sheer item variance.

PoE is the outlier here and that has to do with the core design of the game.  There is no cash in the game, only a bartering system.  Skill gems are how characters develop abilities and boost their power.  There’s an internal gambling-like system for crafting, where you can take a grey-quality item and turn it into a superb piece of gear (potentially).  All this combined means that you’re always paying attention to the gear drops.  Maybe that piece has 6 slots, maybe that one has 4 links, maybe that one has an innate bonus.  Some types of drops also trade for better items (like a red-blue-green item giving a chromatic orb).  Right now, my weapon is a rare with some rolled mods and skill gem slots.  I’ve had it for over 10 levels.  I’ve had multiple rares since, none have come close to the stats on this thing, in the way that I’ve built my ranger.  The items that I’ve seen that were good, I’ve banked or traded away.

What the end result means is that there is always some form of progress.  D3 loot is a clear black/white upgrade system, just numbers.  MH/T2 has you stop and think a bit as to how the item fits into your build.  PoE goes the extra step and makes you go back to town to tinker with your gear.


This is by far D3’s single largest weakness, the simplification of its numbers.  Only 2 numbers really matter (outside of uniques/sets) and that’s weapon DPS and the mainstat (Dex/Str/Int).  I know I am simplifying it, as critical chance/damage and resists have an impact but neither have as much as the first 2 items.  There’s just no way to fix this and it was the foundation of all the problems with the auction house.  A clear delineation of power means that only a small fraction of items have any value.  It also gives an exponential curve to power, where the difference between max level-1 and max level is a number most people can’t count.

T2 values main stat and then skills.  Sure, main hand DPS has value but it’s the other numbers that really impact your skill damage.  Getting a +5 to glaive had a tremendous effect.  This system is the closest to D2 that I’ve seen implemented, and had a large impact on the build diversity.

MH is all about skills, as the item’s innate power is more related to its level requirement than anything else.  Sure, you’re still going to want to look for +energy damage if that’s your bag, but you won’t equip something with +to a defence skill if you’re built for offence.  The power curve here is actually rather linear.  It keeps you coming back as there always seems to be some progress.

PoE has both the passive skill tree (oh lord the options) and skill gems.  This makes for a rather complicated system, where the base stats on an items are as important (if not less so) than the gem sockets, combined with your passive skills.  So let’s say you spec as a dual wielding cold master.  You will be looking for items with +cold damage, a few red sockets and resistances.  Would you swap an item with better base stats for one with 2 less connected gem slots?  Maybe if you were able to find another item to compensate.  I have a rare chest item with 6 green sockets, 5 of them connected.  Those 5 connected skills give me an amazing attack (tornado, piece, GWP, physical damage, faster attacks) that I really don’t want to give up.  I could re-roll a rare with better stats, hoping to get better sockets, but that’s a less than 1% chance.  With so many variables and numbers at play, it really makes you think about what you can actually use and what you’re willing to give up.

Complicated is good

I’m not saying simple games are bad, I’m just saying that I have a penchant for the more complex ones.  I like having to think things through, rather than just bot my way to the end.  It’s also neat that there are options along that simple/complex line.  I would say that folks who give PoE a try, once you get over the first few levels and start finding linked sockets, that’s where you start to see the true complexity of the system.  It isn’t a game where you’re chasing an ilevel, it’s a game where you’re given tools to think through.  And I think in today’s world of simple mechanics, a bit of complexity is a welcome sight.

4 thoughts on “Complexity is Good

  1. I am reminded of my post on complexity versus complication in MMOs from a while back ( I am not invested in ARPGs, so I can’t comment specifically on your examples here, but I have to agree that there’s definitely something at play that I think carries over into far more games than just MMOs or ARPGs.

    I like simple rules that quickly evolve into complex relationships and problems. Reducing your game to two stats seems like an oversimplification to me. I prefer the SPECIAL system from the Fallout series or even D&D’s approach to stats over what modern gaming has done with similar systems. Every stat has a place, but not every class utilizes them equally. The stats are a basic building block of the world and all its inhabitants, including the players, so they feel like they come before the classes or roles.

    In modern RPGs, classes typically feel designed with specific stats in mind, and even then, the naming of the stats feels largely irrelevant since part of the balancing means making almost all stats but a few irrelevant to a class’s progression.

    This is hugely problematic for me. First, a major aspect of progression is assembling a set of gear most efficient to your desired outcome. It involves cutting through the noise of stats you deem less relevant to your character. When you limit your character’s to advance in power with only one or two stats, that aspect of progression seems a lot less fun because judging near gear becomes a simple “is x stat higher than old gear? yes, take it!” There’s no arguing over which secondary stats are better for you at the time because everything is stacked in favor of one single, all-powerful stat.

    Second, it ruins a lot of experimentation. In older RPGs and in modern ARPGs, experimental builds and playing to your specific strengths are key to the fun. Even if there isn’t a huge difference between a crit-focused Sniper or one aiming for more consistent damage, that adds a bit of complexity to the overall game that makes it more immersive, more replayable, and ultimately more fun. The more you homogenize along single stat lines, you simplify things so much that most of the complexity gets killed off or significantly scaled back.

    I will say, however, that I hate complicated. If I can’t quickly understanding how mechanics work with one another, then the creative elements of my brain won’t easily kick in. Without those, I won’t imagine new build ideas to try, so I won’t have any reason to invest my time in the game beyond getting through it sans mental effort. For that reason alone, I hate a lot of older games or many strategy games. Any one that strives for realism over simple rules with complex interactions is a no go for me because my job as a gamer is to exploit the system at hand, not be exploited by it, and that means not wading through novel-sized rulebooks with sub-section after sub-section of amendments or re-clarifications!

    P.S. Good to see you writing again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s certainly an important balance to achieve. I’m with you on the SPECIAL system, or at least the whole GURPS model. It’s just complex enough to have an impact on the entire game but not so much so that you are blinded with obscure options. I guess I’ve been burned enough with the whole gearscore debacle.

      I want to feel rewarded for understanding and mastering a system. Not punished by constant randomness and hoops to jump through.

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. Pingback: Complexity is Good – Part Deux | Leo's Life

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