I've always had a bit of a bent for loot. I used to buy packs of collectible cards back in the day. Whether they were Marvel or Star Trek trading cards, I loved opening up a pack and getting something cool – like a rare hologram or chase card.
Later on in life, Magic the Gathering and other CCGs made another sucker out of me. This time you could actually play with the cards, and getting a useful rare was even more of a boon. I just loved the feeling of tearing open a pack and seeing a card I really wanted lurking in the "uncommon" or "rare" slots.
Then it was MMORPGs. Instead of packs of cards it was creatures and their drops of weapons and gear. The first MMO I played, Asheron's Call, had a spectacularly well designed loot system that I still believe is perhaps the best ever seen. Every monster that you killed could drop a piece of loot whose stats were randomly calculated at the point of the creature's death. Most of the time it wasn't particularly useful, but sometimes – the moment you'd be waiting for – you might get something that was potentially better than what you were currently using, or you knew you could sell for a pretty penny. It was a rare occurrence, but it happened often enough for you to anticipate checking every corpse of every monster you killed. Which is the way it should be. World of Warcraft also does it quite well – at least, in dungeons and raids – although if truth be told, any MMO that incorporates a rare-drop loot system has the potential to get its hooks into you.
But what I didn't realize was just how much a difference a loot system would make to a game like Call of Duty. Not so much on the gameplay front – it's pretty much business as usual there – but by providing another means to keep you addicted to the game. I'm a huge fan of Advanced Warfare, and have put a vast amount of time into the game over the past month or so. Certainly not playing the single-player mode, which I find somewhat overblown. Nope. It's multiplayer all the way for me, and I think this time out it's a fine evolution of the series; more refined, and with an even more comprehensive and interesting perk system.
What I really love about it, though, is how the loot system works. Supply Drops are crates of gear one craves. They're dropped into your inventory at fairly regular intervals, and contain a number of different goodies, such as clothing and gear to help customize your character and give him or her a more unique look, and reinforcements, which are essentially single-use score streaks and perks (such as earning double xp for a limited period of time). But the big thing they potentially contain are weapons with unique stats.
All gear is categorized into tiers, with enlisted being a common item, professional being a rarer item, and elite equipment being the stuff that you really want. Clothing is cosmetic, but who doesn't want an avatar that looks great? Weapon drops actually do have a greater purpose - they have the additional bonus of having their stats randomly tweaked, enabling macro customization of your character, such as a weapon that delivers more damage for the cost of a little accuracy. These stat changes offer only a modest difference, but in the well balanced world of COD: Advanced Warfare, those small differences still count - especially when they augment your playstyle.
For example, I have several different setups for different map types. For more open areas, I use an elite assault rifle that gives up magazine capacity for longer range, so I can pick people off from a distance. For more confined areas of combat, I have a fast-handling SMG with a quick draw grip and enhanced handling stats – which, to be honest, I was whooping with delight when I unpacked it from a Supply Drop, because it was exactly what I needed to match my run-and-gun playstyle. I also have a directed energy weapon for arenas that have a mixture of open and enclosed areas, whose damage is boosted thanks to its Professional stats. But I'm really hoping at some point to get a drop with an elite energy weapon that has the right stats for me.
And that's a big part of what makes Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare extra appealing to me. It's a great game in its own right, but the addition of the Supply Drops and the way you can customize your character gives you a real feeling of ownership over your avatar, and also makes the game even more addictive. Supply Drops arrive regularly enough so that in an average session you can maybe grab a couple – and there's always that moment of anticipation when you open it up and you hope to hear the word "elite" to accompany whatever goodies lie within.
Ultimately, a loot system is a time-worn mechanism that works when it's cleverly integrated into a game. The way COD: Advanced Warfare does it is very subtle, and it only has a minor effect on the actual gameplay, but it does make the game more personal. I'm really hoping that we'll see more of this kind of loot-style gameplay enhancement and visual customization in other games. Sure, it might add additional complexity to a game, but while that might be a headache for designers, it's nothing but a positive feature for gamers. After all, who doesn't want to be able to build their own characters and tweak them to best augment their playstyle? There are few games that wouldn't benefit from that kind of customization. RPGS usually do it really well – but having this kind of feature spill over into more FPS and action adventure games would certainly add more depth and richness to them.