Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 12, 2020
The Playwall

I still haven't hit a paywall in Genshin Impact. However, I hit something which I would call a playwall: Yesterday I killed my first elite monster in the game. That is a scripted, action-based, combat event, not unlike a raid boss in World of Warcraft. You need to do a "dance", avoid the boss in certain situations, attack him in others. At some point I paused the combat and looked up a step of the dance on YouTube, because the boss kept healing himself back up, and I hadn't noticed that I needed to jump into an updraft and collect the globes he healed himself with to prevent it. Once I knew how to do it, it was doable. But I hated every moment of it. This is exactly the sort of gameplay that I abandoned MMORPGs for.

The reason I attacked the elite monster in the first place was that I had hit adventure rank 25, which means that I can now "ascend" my characters to the next star level, which raises their level cap from 40 to 50. But, you guessed it, that needs materials that only the boss mobs drop. Assuming that I want to ascend all my characters, I'll be farming elite monsters for weeks. And I don't want to. I want to do other parts of the Genshin Impact gameplay, explore the map, hunt anemoculus, gather resources, and so on. But if I do that, I am stuck behind that playwall. Only by doing the dance I hate can my characters advance.

Weirdly enough Genshin Impact has a good co-op system in place for domains, which are small events in which you need to kill a number a monsters within a time limit. You go to the dungeon door, press the co-op button, and in no time you have a random group of up to 4 players, which makes the domain a lot easier. The elite monsters would be a lot easier too in co-op, but there is no co-op button for those. You can visit other player's worlds, or let them into your world, but there is no system in place to look for people who want to kill the same elite boss than you do. So I can ascend my weapons to 50, because the materials are found in domains, but not my characters, because their materials are found on elite monsters. It is frustrating!

If you let someone into your world you can kill those elite mobs (Hypostases and Regisvines) as a pair, when I did it I had the first two characters in my current team set up only (not all 4).
The Regisvines seem a lot easier as they don't seem to have much in the way of fancy mechanics.
The "Pyro Hypostases" are a bit easier as they dont have the wind currents but the same kill the orbs mechanic. Much more annoying was the "Geo Hypostases" until I worked out you need to 2 Handed Sword user to effectively kill the pillars it sprouts up.
Thanks for continuing to blog!
I see plus and minuses to "the dance" that is required for most modern boss fights. On the one hand it is disappointing that even in games with wide open worlds and wide varieties of skills and tactics boss fights boil down to your ability to pull off a very limited set of moves in a precisely timed manner. On the other hand the very simplicity of such boss fights (despite their difficulty) does help gamers achieve a sort of flow state. Trying over and over first to learn the moves and then practise them to perfection helps gamers get into a state of focused immersion (flow). It is very satisfying to finally over come such a boss.

Unfortunately balancing the difficult of such an encounter is tricky because all gamers are different. A boss that takes you five tries to overcome might take me twenty five (seriously my middle aged reflexes suck). At a certain point it is no fun any more and is just a roadblock preventing access to the game and that point is different for every gamer.

Of the games I played recently Star Wars Fallen Order came closest to getting it right. That game allows you to adjust difficulty up and down at will at any time without affecting game progression and the lowest setting is a story mode which pretty much allows you bypass the dance. The only flaw is that once you overcome a boss at any difficulty level you cannot replay that boss at higher difficulty without restarting the game. I only discovered this after dropping the difficulty to story mode for the final boss just to see the end. I was gutted when I realised I couldn't go back and play the boss for real with some kind of challenge.
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