Ability Progression for Dummies

Whats you opinion on giving the player all abilities in the beginning vs gradually gaining them as you progress? Does it matter? Or you can do both but it depends on the execution?

Giving abilities over time prevents decision paralysis/analysis paralysis.

Unlocking abilities over time basically never gives a game more depth than having them all from the beginning, unless later skills overshadow earlier skills, reducing the relevant depth of the game (though ideally not more than they increase the absolute depth of the game). So in that case, the game isn’t able to explore all the depth possible in its system unless you play both with and without all the abilities at once.

One approach that I like is the Symphony of the Night approach where you actually have all your spells from the beginning, but just don’t know them. You need to buy or find scrolls that tell you the input. This means that experienced players can play the way they want to from the beginning without needing to unlock anything, while newer players can be introduced to things as they have time to digest that information.

The ability to unlock new abilities over time can contribute to the depth of a speedrun if the time at which you gain each ability is negotiable, making it an interesting optimization constraint to gain certain abilities sooner or later.

On a simple level, it can help the game have a different tone and structure to its gameplay at the beginning relative to at the end. The first example of a game where later abilities overshadow earlier ones to reveal a different style of gameplay is probably a more productive implementation of this.

On a more psychological level, away from the notion of depth, there’s a simple feeling of reward in response to obtaining new things to play with. It feels good to work your way up to something and being given something new, regardless of whether that process is fun or not. This is why collection elements are so strong in so many games.

Some games, like DMC, are clearly more fun when you’re playing with a full deck, where others do better with a steady drip feed, like ……. Well, I can’t actually think of a good example here. Nioh? Oh. Metroidvanias. In those, even progression is tied to abilities.

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