One could make a case that there are two major ways in which video games can compel a player to keep on playing.
The first is to provide instant gratification. For example, in an MMORPG, killing one enemy almost always results in a small net gain of gold or some sort of vendor trash that can be sold off for a bit of gold. Therefore, just about every enemy killed gives a player some sort of tangible reward.
The second is to provide long-term goals. To see the ending of Final Fantasy VII, for example, or to bring down a level 80 raid boss in an MMORPG. Long-term goals create a sort of slow-burn pull; you’ll spend a long time preparing for them, and you’ll be totally fine with not accomplishing them immediately.
For me, hack-and-slash games — especially those that can be referred to as Diablo-esque — are instant gratification games. Just about every enemy provides a bit of gold, a shiny item, and a fair amount of EXP. These games are so fast-paced that you’re constantly stimulating the part of your brain that goes gaga over instant gratification.
So it’s weird to me that Sacred 3 — a game I would very much describe as Diablo-esque — has such a slow leveling system. A mission in the game can take 45ish minutes, and in that time you’ll usually only gain a single level.
Now, this game has extremely fast combat, with gigantic swarms of trash mobs. It’s almost over-stimulating in a lot of ways, and it feels like I should level up a dozen times in the first hour of gameplay. Even in the very first mission, my XP bar doesn’t noticeably move when I kill a goblin, and that seems counter-intuitive to the part of my brain that’s trying to get off on fast-paced instant gratification.
I understand the design decision in some ways — it dictates the flow of chapter progression in a very controlled manner — but that’s a decision that seems like it stands in stark contrast with the way I want to play a game like this.
To exacerbate this, enemies don’t drop obtainable weapons and armor (with a few exceptions). In Diablo III or Torchlight II, every new piece of loot feels like it’s something. Even a Level 1 spear that’s total garbage is fun to acquire. It reinforces the constant get-get-get-level-up-get pace of those games.
Sacred 3 tries to be the sort of game that provides fast and constant stimulation. It succeeds in a lot of ways, but its slow level progression and lack of loot drops hinder this element of the gameplay.
It’s such a small thing, but it’s absolutely noticeable, and it’s causing Sacred 3 to be less thrilling than it has the potential to be. And that, to me, is a flaw.