So I have spent some time considering what, if anything, I could offer the community in terms of commentary or discussion here on the C-blogs. While I initially thought about discussing general gaming issues like the overuse of QTE or focusing on current events in the gaming world, I realized that most of these topics are usually hashed and then rehashed on the site and on the various podcasts. As such, I decided that it would perhaps be better to discuss more subtle and often ignored gameplay mechanics in videogames that I (and hopefully you) will find interesting. If the responses to this article are positive, I will attempt to do more articles just like it on a regular basis. That being said, feedback is greatly welcomed.
As the title suggests, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the use of projectile weapons in the hack and slash genre. Projectile weapons are certainly not something new in terms of the genre so it might seem, at least on its face, to be a bit of a nonissue. However, I recently completed Ninja Gaiden 2 (NG2) and after considering and contrasting it with Devil May Cry 4 (DMC4), I noticed parallels between both games particular with respect to the use of projectile weapons.
Projectile weapons, within the context of the hack and slash genre, tend to be weak and serve a rather limited purpose. At best, they are useful for stunning enemies or whittling away an enemy’s health as you move in to attack with your melee weapon. Again, this should be fairly obvious to anyone who has ever played these types of game. In fact, it really is necessary to limit the power of these types of weapons in order to preserve the hack and slash style of gameplay.
If, for example, Dante’s guns in DMC were powerful enough to quickly take out enemies before they got close enough to attack, it would become pointless to actually engage an enemy with your sword. Essentially, having powerful projectile weapons would cause a hack and slash game to devolve into a shooter. Be that as it may, one could argue that adding some sort of projectile weapon allows developers to include a wider variety of enemies, specifically enemies that also have ranged attacks or enemies that can fly. In many ways, this current embodiment and use of projectile weapons provides some benefit to the genre.
The problem, in my opinion, is that adding projectile weapons opens up opportunities for poor game design choices, that are ultimately not worth the benefit of including projectile weapons in the first place. Given the limited nature of projectiles, players are conditioned the whole game to rely on their sword and hone those skills necessary to fight with a sword (dodging, blocking, counterattacks, etc). In most cases, projectile use becomes an afterthought in combat situations.
Some of the worst parts of NG2 were the section which involved ranged enemies. For example, rocket and incendiary shuriken ninjas were a constant annoyance and could spam attacks from a distance. Some enemies, such as the dragons pictured above, could only be killed via a bow, which tends to slow the pace of the game. In DMC 4, an enemy known as a Blitz could only be damaged after shooting it repeatedly, which again caused the fast pace of the game to be broken.
I will grant that the above examples could perhaps be seen as minor issues by some. However a more troublesome issue, in my opinion, is how developers will force players to utilize projectiles. By way of example, both the Savior and the Archfiend (bosses from DMC 4 and NG2, respectively) could only be beaten by exclusively using projectile weapons (granted some sword use was required for the Savior). Given a player’s ancillary use of projectiles throughout the game, this can make battles awkward and boring, at best. It undercuts that fast pace nature that defines the genre and forces the player disregard all of the prior skills that they have develop over the course of the game.
In many ways, I would much rather see projectiles dropped all together and have developers spend more time focusing on sword play and creating enemies that don’t heavily rely on ranged attacks, but still prove some challenge. I am sure some would disagree, and to those that do, I think there are some games on the horizon that might actually offer examples of how projectile use can be more effectively used in an action game.
Although not a hack and slash game, Bayonetta may offer an example of how gun and projectiles can be incorporated into an action game and still be fast and entertaining. If the game can properly balance the power of the guns and still keep pressure on the player and force them to adapt and use different styles of play, it may serves as an example of how hack and slash games could effectively utilize projectile weapons.
Thanks for reading. As I said earlier, feedback would be appreciated.