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Spicing up the mid-game. (long post, be careful)

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What I mean by mid-game is the part when your character is level 25 and the progression loop is: killing stuff in a Tx area, getting keys of the dungeon, doing dungeon runs for gear -> getting stronger, killing stuff in the Tx+1 area, and so on. This part of the game is really slow compared to the pre-25 gameplay. Before the max level, there was a steady progression, you became naturally stronger. You could explore the map around you, find new types of enemies, getting into the dungeon-key mechanics and the different boss-fights. This part of the game is really good. But the moment you reach lvl 25, this progression stops. The only way of getting stronger is by upgrading your gear. You start farming the same area for keys, doing the same dungeon over and over again, and finally when your gear is good enough, you can proceed to the next area doing these exact things again. If you are doing rookie mistakes like me, resulting in a dead character every now and then, you can find yourself doing this content a lot, and at that point the game becomes predictable and repetitive. You know what tier content you are going to farm next, you know what types of enemies you will find there, you know where you find the dungeon entrance, what the dungeon will look like, how the boss-fight will go and so. If I have T5 gear and I plan to upgrade everything to T6, I know exactly what the game will look like in the next few hours. Again, this is not an issue pre-level25, because the variety comes from the quick level progression. But this progression rate is not sustainable through the whole game of course, because players would speed through the whole game then. I am not asking to make the mid-game shorter, and I don't want to skip this content either, by buying gear with bloodstone / electrum. I would have no problem with the slow grind if it had some more variety and the gameplay was a bit more ... fun?
Different games deal with this in different ways. Games with perma-death and linear progression like Survived By use more random generated stuff, random events and less predictable progression system: random and unique upgrades in Nuclear throne or Binding of Isaac, random loot and mini-bosses in Risk of rain, totally different random generated world in Don't starve. While other games have a less vertical progression system, for example Realm of the Mad God, where your mid-late-game progression is tied to stat-increasing potions, but there is no strict order of which content you have to do first and which next. Also these potions are not locked behind a single dungeon, instead you can get them in multiple ways. So in that game after reaching the maximum level, you have lots of ways to improve your character and if you dislike some content, you are free to skip that entirely. In Survived by however you are kinda forced to do the content in a single order, proceeding through the tiers one by one, which is not bad in general, but as I said before, in this game the linear progression is tied with repetitive content and predictable gameplay.

There are some of my ideas that could make the mid-game more enjoyable (in my opinion), without the need of changing the core game flow drastically:

- More interesting enemies in the Heartlands. While there are some well-thought enemy patterns and behaviors, facing the same enemies for the 100th time can make them boring. Increasing enemy variety is not always the answer, there is no big difference between fighting the same 5 enemies for an hour or fighting the same 10 enemies for an hour. But if we had random local events, that let's say, change the enemies around a player into something you encounter rarely, it would spice things up. Like the goblin army and the slime rain events in Terraria. Or we had rare encounters that have some unique / interesting mechanics. In Realm of the Mad God for example there is an enemy called Candy gnome, that has a really low spawn chance. If a player stumbles upon one, it will start to flee, and if the player manages to catch and kill it, it can drop an entrance to a really unique, endless dungeon. And since the spawn chance is so low, it's always a nice surprise finding one of those, it can shake up the gameplay experience.

- Dungeon modifiers. Running the same dungeon over and over can also be boring, but it's necessary sometimes if the RNG is not on your side. (Crafting is a part solution to this, but it's even less exciting) The variety of rooms, connections, and the semi-random enemy types is a nice thing to have, but it gets stale quickly. What if the dungeons had some unique modifications sometimes, for example every 4-5th dungeon is a bit different (depending on a random roll when it's generated). I was thinking about small changes that affect the whole dungeon, but only that instance you are in. For example: "In this dungeon the enemies will explode on death damaging nearby players and other monsters."(more risk, more reward and everyone likes explosions) or "This dungeon has only melee-type enemies, but enemy movement is greatly increased."(just for fun) or even "Common enemy bullets deal less damage, but their damage scales up with traveling time" (promoting a switch to a more close-quarter, rambo like play-style). I don't know, something special that can break the mindless grind and change the way you play. The statues in dungeons (xp, damage, hp-regen boost etc.) are kind of like this, but those are just changing some numbers on the character sheet, not particularly interesting stuff.

- Meaningful buffs dropped by heartland enemies. The currently available damage boost and out-of-combat hp regen buffs dropped by some enemies are not really interesting or useful either. The idea is not bad, it's definitely worth keeping, but I think they should be a bit more impactful, again, changing numbers is good for general progression, but not interesting as an occasional gameplay element. They should apply 'sticky' buffs to players similar to the current in-dungeon buffs, so they benefit them for a while after leaving the small circle. And they could be used to make the gameplay more interesting and diverse instead of "well, you deal a tiny bit more damage for 3 seconds, hurray". I have some wacky ideas, but these are just examples, not seriously planned stuff. "For the next 5 seconds enemy bullets will heal you instead of dealing damage", "For a few seconds you are covered in magical flames, burning/killing enemies coming too close", "The next lesser enemy you kill will turn into a stationary decoy, attracting and absorbing enemy projectiles for a few seconds".

But these are just wild examples I've came up with, anything would do, that can keep players entertained/interested while farming the same areas in the game.

P.s.: @HH_katherine Thanks for the kind words during yesterday's devstream ^_^, unfortunately I wasn't there to say hi and thanks.

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I think all three of those sound awesome!

More interesting enemies in the Heartlands is definitely in the cards - or more accurately, going back through all of our enemies and making some much-needed updates to their behaviors and bullet patterns. This week we selected the Disabler as our first "Creature of the Week," and will continue to select a creature every week until we've reworked them for the better. I'm really excited for this change! We've also considered adding creatures like the Treasure Goblin from Diablo, which has a similar function - it only shows up rarely, and is an opportunity for rare items should you take it down. Here's the thread for the Disabler: 

Dungeon modifiers would also be amazing - especially a way to scale creatures in dungeons! I think that coming up with ways to make dungeons feel more unique and fresh with every run will be a really fun creative problem to solve. We'll keep thinking on this!

I also really like your ideas for more interesting or impactful ways that Heartland enemies can change gameplay - whether through buffs or simply by changing the battlefield in general. We've started experimenting with this on some enemies (areas of denial with poison pools, different status effects, etc.) but I think this could be pushed further. This will be something to keep in mind as old Heartland creatures are being revisited. 

Thank you for sharing all of this feedback, I think you definitely have the right idea and I'm excited to see what we will be able to implement.
 

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