Hidden Wonders


Encouraging Aggression in Games



Table of Contents


Most games have some sort of combat system. However, it’s very easy to make a player’s defensive or projectile options too overpowered such that the player can just turtle and hide, overcoming all challenges without issue. This is bad from a game design perspective, as this is not fun for most people (some people out there like just being incredibly overpowered in games, so some people like this).

Let’s have a look at a handful of cool games and see how they overcome this issue and force the player to be aggressive in combat.

Hyper Light Drifter[#]

Hyper Light Drifter is a fantastic, pixel art game published by developer Heart Machine. The world design and music in that game is beautiful, but the other half of what keeps me coming back to it is how fun the combat is.

The Drifter has a sword——a relatively slow attack with a 3-hit combo——and a gun. There are many guns in the game, but the base gun is a simple pistol that deals the same amount of damage as the sword, but can be shot a lot faster. So, how to keep the Drifter from just sitting back shooting everyone with a pistol from afar?

The first answer is Hyper Light Drifter’s ammo system. For the starter pistol, one hit with the sword restores one ammo. This prevents you from stockpiling ammo and then killing enemies from afar. It’s necessary to get in melee range of your enemy or else you cannot deal damage. This system also gives rise to “plinking”, which is when you can shoot once and attack right after, then repeat, to cancel the slow animation with the sword and deal more damage. This is only viable because of Hyper Light Drifter’s ammo system.

The second answer is that HLD gives you tools to be aggressive, the foremost of which is chain dashing, an upgrade that let’s the Drifter dash multiple times in quick sucession (limited by a very large, but slowly-refilling, stamina meter). This allows the Drifter to be aggressive and——here’s the key thing——it makes being aggressive fun. The player, upon getting that upgrade, wants to try it out in combat and go crazy because it’s such an impactful, fun ability. This increase in mobility makes it possible to get up in the face of enemies and plink them to death, doing this to multiple enemies in quick succession. This is unbelievably fun for me.

HLD also introduces the shotgun, a powerful weapon that can deal a crazy amount of damage (either 5 or 6?) with just one shot. However, to deal this level of damage, you have to be very close range, so ranged-cheesing enemies is not an option if you want to deal the most damage possible. Plinking with the shotgun is the most damage you can do, and is used by speedrunners to burst down bosses in a flash.

The third answer is the level design (which I would show you pictures of if I wasn’t so lazy). Hyper Light Drifter forces the player to fight in tight, enclosed hallways with tons of obstacles and boxes obstructing you from reaching your target. Even if you wanted to just shoot with ranged weapons, you’d have to play aggressively to reposition yourself in a spot you could deal damage effectively.

Hollow Knight[#]

Everyone hopefully knows Hollow Knight. This title has a similar mechanic to Hyper Light Drifter: by attacking, the Knight regenerates stored soul. This energy is needed both to heal and to use powerful soul spells.

Other than that, Hollow Knight encourages aggression with it’s level and enemy design. Fights like the Mantis Lords and the Watcher Knights don’t give the player any room to escape. The player must constantly be responding to the enemies by dealing as much damage as possible, or else risk slowly losing health to the boss and then running out of heals due to not being aggressive enough.

I’m interested to see what Silksong does differently, I expect that Hornet will be able to be a lot more aggressive than the Knight could be with superior mobility and possibly a mechanic to reward her being aggressive.

Little Witch Nobeta![#]

As of writing this, I’m still working my way through this game. To summarize though, Little Witch Nobeta is a souls-like with a cute and funny protagonist who primarily deals damage through powerful ranged magic spells. This is a recipe for disaster game-design-wise: if we give the player the ability to cast a bunch of powerful ranged spells, then what is stopping them from just killing everything at range, resulting in a very boring and dull experience?

The game avoids this issue by limiting the player with heavy mana costs for casting spells. Then, to alleviate these mana costs, the game provides incentives for the player to get up close to enemies and take risks in order to more rapidly recover that mana. First, Nobeta has a cute, rather pathetic melee attack that deals virtually no damage, but it also restores mana. Second, Nobeta recovers mana by perfectly dodging enemy attacks. Third, Nobeta has a powerful, parry-like ability that allows Nobeta to recover huge amounts of mana and a bit of health by pressing attack right when an enemy attacks her. All these three pieces together prevents Nobeta from being a boring game about cheesing enemies from afar and turns it into an intense soulslike where mana has to be perfectly managed in order to succeed. It’s quite a difficult and exciting experience as a result.

Like Hyper Light Drifter, Little Witch Nobeta also provides a shotgun-type ability with its fire spell. This spell deals heavy damage at close range, giving a player an incentive to get in close to deal damage as well as recover mana. Level design often helps with forcing the player to attack the enemy as well: the current area I’m playing through in the game features dark rooms with powerful enemies that hide behind shields, making the player get caught off guard and have to get close in order to shoot past the enemies’ shields.

Dark Souls[#]

The Dark Souls games (I have the most experience with DS1 and DS3) need no introduction. How, then, does the Dark Souls series encourage aggression.

That’s the interesting thing: it doesn’t, really. Especially in the first game, there is no penalty for just turtling behind a Black Knight’s Shield the whole game. The gameplay is also very slow, and controls are fairly clunky. Thus, Dark Souls 1’s combat generally just the player reacting to enemies and responding to them.

Dark Souls III streamlines the movement of the game, giving the player the tools needed to be more aggressive. However, there’s still no real incentive. Rather, in Dark Souls III enemies and bosses are so aggressive that you’re forced into melee range at all times. This is in contrast to Dark Souls 1, where most enemies and even bosses (other than the DLC and lategame bosses) are slow enough you can run away from them and play defensively.

I’ve still never played it, but I believe Bloodborne is the game in the series that really pushed the combat of souls games to make the player more aggressive. Stuff like attacks giving back health and faster rolls make being aggressive worth the risk in Bloodborne while it ususally is a mistake in souls titles.

I guess that’s the takeaway here: aggression in video games is forced primarily by either giving big incentives to be aggressive (health or mana back for instance) or giving crazy tools to the player than make them want to be aggressive (Bloodborne dashes, Hyper Light Drifter’s chain dash, or shotgun-type attacks). Limitations also help (Hollow Knight’s heal system or Nobeta’s mana system).


Oyasumi, play these games they’re really good.

Home Top

Site Licensing Site last updated: 2024-07-20