One of my favorite reviewers of tabletop RPGs at one point opined that percentile systems were one of the best tabletop mechanics possible, simply because they’re so intuitive. You might not know the system backwards and forwards, but if you see a character has “Pick Locks 70%,” you know what that means immediately with no need to reference any other numbers. It’s clear at a glance, and that makes a big difference in your ability to pick up and play the game.
Online games are not tabletop games (except when they are, but let’s leave that column to one side for a moment), but they do have a similar reliance on stats. And for a lot of those games, what a given stat does is pretty clear. Even games with a lot of stats usually make sense. You might pick up a piece of gear in EverQuest II with a dozen different stats on it, but as long as it’s clear what all of those stats do, you can evaluate how useful that gear is to you.
These games are ones wherein you pick up a new piece of gear and it is not immediately clear how it helps you. This is when you get something, you look at it, you look at what you have again, you look at what you got again, and then you start searching Google to understand this mess.
1. Star Trek Online
My love for Star Trek Online is well documented, and it helped me a lot when I realized that most of the “stats” on STO ship gear are really bonuses to skills, pushing them higher. That helped. It did not fix it, since you still need to know what all of those skills do. Also, it’s not all bonuses to skills. Also I don’t think anyone really knows exactly what things like Inertia are supposed to mean, even though we see those stats right there.
Fun fact: When I was polling around MOP’s virtual office for suggestions about games with obtuse stats, STO was the first one suggested. That should say something.
2. City of Heroes
There’s a surprising amount of former City of Heroes talent in STO. I’ve even said that game feels a lot like an inheritor of the CoH philosophy. So perhaps it’s not exactly shocking that CoH also had a problem with completely obtuse stats, helped not one whit by the fact that the game barely even wanted you to see its stats and also wanted to let you manipulate every little piece of stats with Enhancement sets.
Of course, CoH was helped somewhat by the fact that you didn’t quite get “gear” in the traditional sense, so you weren’t going to have to worry about this stuff too much until the high end. But it was still needlessly obtuse.
3. EVE Online
The sprawling nature of EVE Online lends itself to complex stats. That’s natural and expected. Heck, part of me thinks any developers of the title reading this article would take the game’s inclusion on this list as a compliment; there is supposed to be a steep learning curve as you figure out how the game is meant to be played.
This does not change the fact that the stats involved are so obtuse that a lot of players just see it and clock right out. Joining the ranks of people who clock out because of its philosophy, or because of its aesthetic, or because of…
Yeah, maybe this just joins a chain gang.
4. Allods Online
My memory of stats in Allods Online is dominated by the fact that there was a primary stat improving the variance of an ability by narrowing its range of damage output, while there was another primary stat devoted to improving my rolls on that variance. And neither one of those stats was devoted to actually improving damage directly.
I can immediately see how this could lead to some interesting builds and stat allowances, but it strikes me as one of those things better left for one or two talents or the equivalent. It certainly didn’t make me eager to lean in on the game.
5. Final Fantasy XI
Mercy me, this game. I’ve long considered Final Fantasy XI the truest source of vague patch notes, but it also had equally vague stats. You get a belt and it says “Counter +1” on it. That’s the only stat. What does that mean? The game never tells you, there’s nowhere on your stat screen to check, and there’s no help explanations or official documentation to tell you what to do. Does it improve your chance to counter? The damage of a counter? Does it add a trait? Does it enhance the existing trait and have no effect without that trait?
Screw you, player, run a few hundred battles with and without it to derive that information. Then in a patch we’ll announce that the rate of counters has been adjusted. Have fun.
6. Destiny 2
I have no idea what any stats in Destiny 2 do, and at this point I’m too afraid to ask.
7. Guild Wars 2
Let’s be fair, this one is a corner case. Guild Wars 2 deserves some praise for the fact that its gear right out of the gate is designed to let you prioritize things like dealing damage via conditional bleeds and burns, so your stats are meant to reflect that. You do damage with Poison, that’s a Condition, you want Condition Damage. That makes sense, right?
Except that it’s not always immediately clear how Condition Damage will affect that condition, and how much of your damage is based on the ticks of Poison compared to damage from skills that trigger off Poison, and there’s also Duration to consider, and… yeah, it gets kind of complex and fiddly fast. Perhaps everyone else finds it super transparent, but none of my many jaunts in the game have ever felt clear.
8. Dungeons & Dragons Online
Oh, Dungeons and Dragons Online, you have a fine foundation to build on. Third edition wasn’t the most transparent thing in the world, but it was at least largely straightforward. The problem is that it’s also kind of resistant to, well, the usual MMO stat array. Which means you need to add more stats. And fiddle with other stats. And give players things to enhance, and…
It’s a noble effort, at least.
9. Anarchy Online
Having never played Anarchy Online, I have to rely on the testimonies of people who have played it, and they are happy to assert the fact that the game lets you put lots of points in totally useless skills without ever pointing out to you that they are useless. This matches perfectly with what I have seen of the game from the outside looking in, and it does not surprise me.
10. Path of Exile
Really any game based on the Diablo mold is going to include a whole lot of stats. That’s part of the drive of the game, improving the weird fringe stats into absurd levels until they suddenly matter. I don’t begrudge Path of Exile for that fact; I begrudge it for the fact that it has so many stats with such narrow application and a whole lot of skills that exist primarily to trick you into thinking that they’ll be useful when they really won’t.
The build diversity and weird options available in the game have always appealed to me, but the fact that I would need to learn how the game’s stats work usually turns me off again, despite the fact that I have friends who adore the game and would love for me to play it. But seriously, guys. Too many stats.