The “wave defense” style game modes have been around for a while. In recent years, they have grown in popularity and have been included in many games ranging from indie games to some largely known triple A titles. While I feel these game modes are fun, I think this burst popularity was both good and bad. If we want to see them a positive light, some changes need to be made.
Gears of War 2 introduced us, modern day console gamers anyhow, to the wave defense style game mode with its Horde mode. Roughly a year later, Halo 3: ODST introduced its own version called Firefight. These were both extremely popular and well received by most whom decided to play them and try them out and as a result, other game developers and franchises decided to try their hand at them. Call of Duty eventually introduced us to its now infamous “Zombies” mode and has had it reappear in several of its more recent games. What does this history have to do with anything though?
As I have already said, I find these game modes fun and enjoyable for the most part. So the problem isn’t entirely with the fun factor as much as it is the frequency in which games included this as a feature or game mode. When the popularity of these games really started to rise and hit its peak, we fell into a “copy what sells” mentality and thus every game that wanted to do well in sales included some form of this game mode. Now, I’m not going to get into the deeper conversation of how games can be, or should be more original but when you have many games adding in a wave defense game type because it’s the hot trend in other games…they kind of do need to be more original. In recent years we haven’t seen these game modes included as much as they once were; Firefight returned in Halo 5, the newest Gears game does have its Horde mode, and I believe the latest Call of Duty game does have a Zombies mode because it’s kind of Treyarch’s thing now. The popularity of them has dwindled in recent years and we aren’t seeing them so much nowadays, aside from franchises where they have almost become staples. That said, I would like to see these game modes come back and become popular again to some extent.
The biggest “problem” that these game modes can suffer is, quite frankly they can get boring to many rather quickly. I admit that I absolutely loved ODST and Reach’s versions of Firefight and played them for hours yet after a while, they did get boring as the goal was basically just to sit there and kill wave after wave of enemies as they spawned in and came after you. This feeling was made even worse if you found any strategies where you basically spawn killed the AI as they would respawn. There wasn’t any major incentive to sit and try to rack up a million points on Lost Platoon other than saying you got a high score of a million points. As a result, these game modes lost a lot of their appeal and people started looking at them as grind fests. Choppers on Lost Platoon still don’t count.
With a few tweaks to the basic formula, I think we can bring back the fun and give a much needed breath of fresh air into these game modes. The first step is to provide an incentive for players to actually play it. A mode like this is something people have wanted in Destiny since the first game released and I personally would like to see it as well. I feel in a loot driven game such as Destiny or even something like a Borderlands game is where these game modes can show their true potential. You could easily tie a set of gear to completing a match in this mode and that will provide a small incentive for people to come back and play. Or offer things like bounties or short side quests that reward you with a piece of gear that is maybe unique to that game mode.
The problem that arises from that method though, is that after a while it will still get old and repetitive to many. While I’m not a game designer, or an economy designer for a game, this is where I feel having these game types in loot-driven games would be perfect. Tying a piece of gear or a weapon set or something similar to the game mode would give people a reason to go back and play it every now and then. Completionists would have something to work towards to finish out their collection and they would score some pretty cool gear in the process. Of course, once they have collected that last piece of gear needed to complete their collection, they’d no longer have a “real” reason to continue playing that game mode save for the fun of it or helping others out. Weekly, or daily lockouts and resets are a way to help with this, but they have their own problems as well. Unfortunately, I feel that there is no sure-fire solution for these problems.
One other way to keep things fresh and exciting for these game modes is adding a touch of random to it. A while ago Frantic wrote an article called “R is for Random…and Replayability” in which he discussed how game developers should embrace the option to randomly generate content. Adding in an aspect of randomness would be really beneficial to help keep things from getting boring quickly. In Halo 3: ODST’s Firefight mode, it incorporated an aspect of randomness in what enemies it would spawn in during each wave. To start the game, you may get a wave that consisted of nothing but Grunts, but the next time you played it could have been something entirely different. The only thing that remained consistent, was in the last wave of a round you would always get Ultra level enemies; however, if they were Brutes or maybe a Hunter Kill Squad was entirely random yet. While not identical to a typical wave defense game mode, Destiny 1’s Prison of Elders was its answer to these modes. Outside of the endgame level versions of PoE, most of the encounters were randomized each time you played it. First round could be Hive, with the second round possibly being Vex or Fallen. Play it another time and your first round could be different from the match you just played. It gave it a new twist every time you loaded in to the arena.
Halo: Reach’s Firefight, dubbed Firefight 2.0 due to the massive changes and additions that were made to it, introduced different variations upon the base game of Firefight. One of these was one that incorporated a touch of PvP with a focus on an objective rather than just killing wave after wave of poor, helpless Grunts. Generator Defense is what this mode was called, and it was fun and yet challenging at the same time. You had anywhere from one to three generators placed on the map and the enemies would try and destroy both you, and the generators. This game mode was nice, because of what I said earlier, it put a focus on an objective rather than just clearing waves of enemies. The Prison of Elders did something similar too, only it combined the objective with clearing waves at the same time. Dismantle mines, yes?
Things like challenges, or bounties of some sort would also work well. They could tie into a reward system where if you finish the challenge or bounty and turn it in, you’d get something for doing so. Bounties can be as simple as completing X number of waves or rounds, or killing X amount of a certain enemy. I feel like challenges should be geared more towards those that…well, want a challenge. Some simple examples that come to mind are to use only a certain weapon or weapon type during a round. Or perhaps complete a round under a certain time limit. Both bounties and challenges can also benefit from having an objective to complete. The downside to both of these however, is that if not done properly they can seem like they are only there to make the game mode a grind fest.
Wave defense game types are fun, I have always enjoyed them. However, because of their jump in popularity a few years ago it seemed liked everyone was doing them because it was a hot trend in the gaming world. I feel that not every game is meant to have a mode like this and that some games, loot-driven games for example, are where these modes can really shine and do their best. At the same time though, some changes need to be made to the overall idea of them so they do not suffer the same fate of being dull and repetitive as they did not too long ago.