Considering they combine my love of leveling up and collecting stuff, I should probably enjoy loot drop games more than I do. But honestly, I find getting all that loot stressful more than fun. I can’t resist the compulsion to sort through it all, to find the optimal combination of items, to use the most powerful sword I have even though I like my current one just fine. The joy of getting new stuff is undeniable… I just feel like the complexity of the execution, in most games of the genre, dilutes it. Does anyone really enjoy putting adventuring on hold to do five minutes of stats math? So I want to see these systems simplified, so the fun parts of them can come out.
What I propose is for players to have universal Attack and Defense stats tied to their characters, increased through leveling up, spending skill points, etc. Weapons and armor have no stats of their own. Instead, each item has a unique ability they give the player when equipped. These could be “+15% chance of critical”, “absorb half of damage dealt”, and the like. I think this could accomplish three things:
1) Eliminate number-crunching: Don’t make the player calculate which combination of items gives them the best stats and weigh whether or not a number boost is worth losing a special ability their current gears gives them. This will let the part of the loot mechanic we really love- the thrill of getting something new and shiny- be the singular focus.
2) Encourage players to choose the gear that best suites their play-style: Since no piece of loot is inherently weaker/worse than another, players can choose the ones they like most (in terms of gameplay effects or aesthetic styles), without being compelled to ditch their favorites for something stronger just so they can get through the game more easily.
3) Facilitate emotional attachment to gear: When the only thing going into a player’s choice of equipment is their own tastes, they’re free to change or keep their gear at their own leisure. A sword can become not just a piece of loot to be replaced two hours later, but the player’s own Excalibur! That attachment can make the player more connected to their character.
Using such a system would probably require loot to become less frequent (as designers can only come up with so many item abilities without repeating themselves too much), but I’d argue it would make each piece of gear more meaningful, as well. It could allow what we love about loot to really shine, without bogging it down with extraneous detail and numbers. Let’s put the fun first and leave the rest at the wayside.