I played only one game: Warframe.
I’m a fan of creative rewards design, and Warframe is chock full of examples. When you play a defense mission, for example, you get rewards for completing 5 waves, and the longer you play, the better the rewards get. Maybe that defense mission is also a Void Fissure, in which case you select a void relic every five waves and “open” it by killing special enemies and collecting energy they sometimes leave behind (alongside the standard rewards).
The tables are also very predictable. Almost all rewards for “endless” missions such as Defense or Interception follow an AABC structure, and each completion of the objective gives you a reward. So if you reach wave 5 in a defense mission, you’ll get 1 A-table reward, but if you reach wave 20, you’ll get 2 A-table, 1 B-table, and 1 C-table. This system is an interesting way to encourage players to push their boundaries, especially since mission failure will result in all those rewards being lost. Can you make it to wave 20 and the rare drop? Or do you play it safe?
Perhaps you aren’t really interested in random loot tables, though. Maybe more concrete, directed challenges are your thing. There are reward structures for that too! Completing the Halls of Ascension on Lua for rare mods is a great way to have a bit of fun while puzzle solving, and Riven mods act as mini-challenges which unlock powerful, randomized (Diablo-style) mods necessary to take your damage into the stratosphere.
These reward structures, as much as I like them, do expose a pretty major flaw in Warframe: the grind. It’s understandable, given that Warframe is a free-to-play game and they have to make their money somewhere, but sometimes the grind gets a bit ridiculous.
Say you want to build the Nidus frame, which is a powerful, infestation-fueled melee caster. You have to run a specific level – Oestrus, on Eris – and complete the objective 4 times, as the frame parts only drop from the C-table. You have to do this over a dozen times on average, and each full AABC cycle takes 20 minutes or so. You can spend days – weeks, even – just trying to get this one frame. And it’s a frame you definitely want, as it scales very well with endgame content compared to other frames.
Or perhaps you want to build a Zaw, a modular melee weapon available from the Ostron faction. You must grind out reputation with the Ostron – no small task, as the most difficult mission they give you doesn’t give that much reputation – and then spend it to purchase blueprints. You then have to craft those blueprints using materials found in the Plains that the Ostron live near, but the material cost is quite exorbitant. In addition, spending reputation makes it more difficult to advance your reputation ranks with the Ostron, as you now have to grind that reputation back. If you want to be efficient about how you level your reputation rather than getting stuck in a grind loop, you can’t spend any until you hit max rank, which denies you the pleasure of trying out new gear as it unlocks.
There’s also the “paralysis of choice” issue. With so many different tracks to advance your character – each requiring a large time investment and efficiency considerations – it’s a bit difficult to know what you should try for next. You may find yourself looking at the star map and wiki more than actually playing the game, especially since the interface is not particularly good and doesn’t give you solid information on which rewards you get.
I’m a huge fan of giving players choice and a clear goal for advancement. Warframe’s rewards design does this, but then buries it behind dozens of hours of mind-numbing grind, paralyzes you with choice, and directly disincentivizes you from claiming rewards. It’s very disappointing and a bit confused.
I did manage to collect the materials to craft my Amp, though. The Mote Amp you start with, while sufficient for basic play, is useless when fighting the Teralyst. Gathering all the materials was a bit frustrating, but I eventually found a good spot to grind for the necessary gems and cetus wisps. While it’s not the weapon I really wanted for my Operator – I wanted the grenade launcher Amp – I couldn’t keep using the Mote Amp.
Immediately after crafting it, I took down two Teralysts (with squads, of course). So my investment paid off. Now I’m waiting for the daily standing reset so I can get more Quills reputation by turning in my loot from the Teralysts.
Fishing is done with spears, and in order to be effective you need to craft both bait and a dye which highlights fish nearby. It’s nice to just sit at a lake, toss out your consumables, and wait for huge fish to spawn. It’s extra cool that you can put them into aquariums in your personal quarters, or convert them into trophies to show off to your buddies. While there’s plenty of games which do an adequate job of establishing fishing as a fun activity, Warframe goes the extra mile. The only downside is constant interruptions from enemies trying to kill you.
Mining uses this neat mechanic where you have to trace an outline in order to get the full yield from the mining node. There’s also a bit of hunting necessary, as mining nodes aren’t highlighted on your map; you have to use your rock cutter’s built-in beeper to triangulate where the node is. It’s a bit irritating that the default cutter’s detection range is only 30m – especially given the overall size of the Plains – and that gems are so important to recipes despite being fairly rare, but there are a few good spots where you can mine to your heart’s content.
On a related note, it would be nice if more games gave you non-combat activities like this. It would be doubly nice if those games also tied non-combat roles into the player economy, giving people ways to play without being forced into combat. Non-combat roles are a feature of many MUDs, but precious few MMOs.