Skill Ceilings

Checkers is much easier than chess.  There are only 4 basic rules in the game.  A child can play, and even the best checkers players can get there without much effort.  Chess has different rules depending on the piece, but still only has about 10 total rules to the game.  It takes 2-3 games for most kids to learn the fundamentals.  The best chess players require thousands of hours of practice, and a very high level of intelligence to execute.  The current world champion can recall games from 15 years ago (which he did not play), on a move-by-move basis from a simple picture.  It’s insane.

Games with long-tails (forever-games I guess), in particular those popular in the e-sports fields, have approachable entry points and very high skill ceilings.  MOBA’s, shooters, battle royales… they are all have relatively basic rule sets but add complexity and options as players develop.  It’s quite impressive, and the skill level is often translatable so that even people with limited understanding of the game can appreciate what is occurring.

MMOs today have a much higher skill ceiling than 15 years ago, when zerging was an acceptable tactic.  Dungeon bosses today are more complex than raid bosses from 10 years ago.  The difference here is that MMOs have a skill floor that is continually raised with both fixes and increased player statistics.  Imagine playing chess and after every 10 turns you got a new piece to play on your board.

Monster Hunter World has a high skill ceiling, though it does a really bad job of showing it.  Often times players feel like luck plays a larger role than skill.  Due to the structure of the game (30+ minute solo battles), it’s hard to experiment with new tactics.  The training area is good to explore damage options, fine.  The real challenge is connecting attacks, while avoiding getting hit, which is really hard to practice effectively.  Some monsters can kill you in 1 or 2 hits, with no real feedback to see why.  It would be neat to have a death camera to figure that part out…

When it comes to specific weapons, they all have relatively simple button presses to get things started.  Then some combos.  Then some movements that can chain into combos. Then damage types.  Then wounding.  Then slinger attacks.  Then….it just goes on.  Where it may have taken me dozens of attempts to take on a basic Nergigante because the game didn’t explain diving made you invulnerable, I can also find videos of people taking him down in less than a minute.  I know part of the challenge is moving like this person, but I am also aware that their stats are such that they can reliably stun/attack and keep their patterns working.

I really like the Charge Blade.  It’s a high risk/reward weapon.  When it works, it’s glorious.  When it doesn’t, you get chain stunned and die in frustration.  When you finally learn about Guard Points, the weapon completely changes into an offensive powerhouse.  Instead of slowly moving around, you can deflect almost any attack and chain into massive damage.  Battles against ultra fast attackers become a game of daring them to attack you, instead of waiting until they stop moving.  Heck, here’s a video of players killing a monster with blocking alone.

There are plenty of little nuances like this that have a dramatic impact on the game, and it’s more noticeable once you get a decent way into Dauntless as to how integral it is to the enjoyment of the game.  I’m not saying Dauntless has a low ceiling (time trials prove otherwise) but it’s noticeably lower than MHW.  In fact, I’d argue that the skill floor is the biggest difference between the two games, where Dauntless is much lower.  You can reach the end-point of Dauntless with button mashing due to the LFG mechanism.

I really like games where I’m continually making mistakes and learning from them.  Games where I’ve perfected, or come as close as I care to, tend to be put back on the shelf.  Still amazing games (God of War notably), but time to move on.  When there’s always something new to learn, or perfect… then there’s your forever game.

4 thoughts on “Skill Ceilings

  1. I was in a fear raid the other day (with 3 competing guilds for targets) and all I kept thinking is how much easier raiding was in WoW and modern MMOS. And while Zerg tactics were the du jour in the past, it is precisely how much information you are given now (in Wow) – raid frames, markers, telgraphs, Zone wide warnings, smaller groups etc. That makes it easier while at the same time being more complex.

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  2. MHW’s skill cap is impressively high, even for the ‘simple’ weapons like Longsword (which I main, and have only recently started to get brave enough to try branching out).

    For the longest time, I approached MHW combat like it was Dark Souls. i.e., Rolls were my main ‘defensive’ action. I was probably about midway through the original MHW campaign before I even learnt that Foresight Slash was a thing. (For anyone unfamiliar: Foresight Slash is an attack where you jump back for and ready a forward rush attack with your Longsword. If you pass through an enemy’s attack at the start of the forward rush, you get the benefit of iFrames and avoid the attack. It has a bit more to it, with implications if you land or don’t land the attack, but that’s the main part of it.)

    Trying to work Foresight Slash into your attacks is quite an undertaking. Learning which attacks you can successfully do it on vs. when you can’t, and even on the ones you can, the timing of them. Relearning the monster’s actions from a whole other perspective too (much more front on, rather than going for side body/tail strikes like I used to).

    Monster’s I would’ve called myself ‘competent’ against took on a whole new level of difficulty… But once mastered… 😀

    Although I will say too, for new encounters, especially with the difficulty of some of the Iceborne fights I find myself returning to old form, going for the side, rolling more than anything else. Playing it very safe and comfortably.

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    • Yeah, rolling nearly always works and is a better learning tool than iframe management. My first Tigrex run was all dodge. The last fight was iframe guards and it took half the time. But I needed to know his attack pattern to pull it off.

      If you mapped the challenge, it starts hard, gets easier, gets super hard, then super easy.

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