Problem: Difficulty curve based on optional exploration
The single-player mode of Brütal Legend features a number of scripted storyline battles, interspersed with periods of activity where the player can roam around the game world, earning upgrades and finding hidden statues to increase their life and power. Hidden solos also give the player new abilities that can turn the tide of battle.
However, the player is not required to explore, and may move on to the next story mission at any time. The game’s difficulty is based on the assumption that the player has explored and earned some upgrades, so moving on too quickly can throw the player in over their head, causing the storyline missions to become difficult and frustrating. This problem is compounded by the story of Brütal Legend – it’s excellent, engaging, and well-written. As a player, I found myself much more interested in advancing the main plotline than spending time improving my character.
Solution: NPCs judge the player’s strength and offer advice
Brütal Legend needs to gate the player somehow, to encourage them not to bite off more than they can chew – but without making the restriction obvious. To do so, we’ll use the strength of the existing storyline, by having the warning come from the NPCs.
When the player talks to an NPC to start a storyline mission, the game checks how many upgrades they’ve found. If they haven’t found enough Bound Serpents, Fire Tributes, or Solos, the NPC will encourage them that they need to scout out the area further.
The player then has a choice: they can attempt the storyline mission, or choose to explore more. If they choose to attempt the mission, the NPC tells them that it’s suicide, but doesn’t otherwise get in their way.
If the player chooses to explore more, the NPC mentions that they saw some kind of relic or power-up that Eddie should go check out. The location is marked on the player’s map, meaning that even the most exploration-challenged player will never be totally stuck in the game. With any luck, the player will also discover a few other power-ups while they’re out in the world.
By having the NPC give this warning, it ties the need for exploration into the main plotline. The NPCs of Brütal Legend are supposed to be experienced warriors, and it makes sense for them to give battle advice to Eddie. If the player has become invested in the storyline and respects their NPC allies, they should be more likely to heed their warnings and strengthen themselves, staying closer to the game’s intended difficulty curve.