Of all the feelings that one can get from games, few are more polarizing than beating a boss in a game that features loot. On the one hand, you beat some giant super powerful character and can progress. On the other hand, they dropped some kind of loot that can either be complete garbage or build-defining. If it’s a case of the latter, then great, you’re one step closer to having a perfect character. If it’s the case of the former, then prepare to fight that boss another 5 million times if you really want that loot. From Borderlands to WoW, it’s a rather unique yet universal feeling. While this system works to keep people hooked onto a game (one can argue that it’s gambling-lite), it’s more often than not also a source of frustration.
Random loot with astronomically poor drop rates have, for better or worse, always been a core part of such games. Many modern games have some kind of quest-exclusive loot or some form of RNG mitigation. The majority of good loot tends to remain RNG-gated though. But what if this weren’t the case? What if there was some kind of fair, universally accepted drop rate (25% or 50% as an example) instead, would it really change the fundamental draw of such games?
Surely no one wants to grind for days or weeks on a single boss just for that one drop. They might grudgingly accept it, but no one (presumably) likes it. The point behind getting such gear (and the game itself) is to feel powerful, not like you wasted your time. One such example of this is the Hunter Hellquist Bee shield farm in Borderlands 2. Practically speaking, Hunter Hellquist is really easy to kill and located right next to a fast travel point. He’s also a guaranteed spawn. However, the chances of getting him to drop a Bee is apparently 3%. That’s any kind of Bee. If you want a super optimized Bee, then the chances become exponentially lower.
To be fair, an argument can certainly be made against easy access to powerful gear. Special things lose their luster if everyone has it. In loot-based games, part of the luster behind rare loot is the fact it is rare. In a more practical sense, it could also affect game balancing. The aforementioned Bee shield received a nerf. Gjallarhorn, the infamous rocket launcher from Destiny, got a nerf. Both were integral to endgame activities because they allowed for extreme DPS. Obviously it wouldn’t be healthy for either game if players could melt bosses in seconds. If they weren’t nerfed, then future content would have to have enemies with inconceivable amounts of sponginess to compensate. That being said, it’s not like players will stop pursuing the best loot possible. If it’s broken and allows for nutty DPS output, then that’s even better.
Yet, with how many layers of RNG are present in looter games, its not exactly easy to find viable gear. Game breaking gear is but a dream for most people. It starts with whether or not there is a drop to begin with. Then whether or not it’s the right category of loot. Don’t forget that if it’s not the right rarity, then it’s complete trash. If you’re hardcore min-maxing, there’s typically another layer of RNG. Borderlands has random weapon parts (scopes, grips, etc.). Destiny has random weapon perks. Division has random perks and stats. It’s hard to imagine how many more layers of RNG can be added to the process, but it can really get out of hand if you care about such things. If drops were 100% guaranteed, it wouldn’t change the fact that there are a lot of factors that you still have to grind for. The Division 2 exploits this fact as High-End items drop like candy from a broken piñata, except most of the loot is garbage.
Granted, it does seem like a rather radical idea to basically eliminate the concept of rare loot. Still, isn’t the point of games to have fun? You want to pick up some special looking gun or sword or whatever and see what it does, not kill the same guy for hours on end like it’s a punishment. In a game with PvP like Destiny, universal access to Exotics would likely change little in the grand scheme of things. You can only equip one Exotic weapon and armor piece at a time as it is. Plus, armor pieces tend to be so situational that no one would really notice. Exotic weapon metas were more prevalent, except one can argue that this was because of poor balancing. Even so, by giving everyone access to the same overpowered guns, you're making it so that everyone is on an even footing.
In a PvE centric game with greater depth, like Borderlands 2, one can argue that a hypothetical 100% drop rate of Legendary or higher gear from bosses won't change anything fundamental about the game. If you're leveling a character, then you're going to have to grind for level appropriate gear eventually. If you're already at the endgame and going after Raid bosses, then you're probably going to need specific gear to enable certain builds for your character. A healthy endgame should feature bosses that are more than just a DPS check anyways. A high drop rate doesn't make it so that you won't have to grind, but it ought to ease the process.
Ultimately, the game would remain the same, outside of player engagement. With a high drop rate, players will be able to test more builds, feel powerful, and not have to rely on YouTube to be excited about playing. If you get a garbage Legendary, then that's fine too. At the very least, it wouldn't feel so bad knowing that your next potentially good Legendary is a boss fight away. Playing would thus feel like less of an obligation to get good gear and more like a process of self improvement.
Perhaps that is why drop rates in loot based games have historically been set to Scrooge levels of stinginess. It’d certainly be much harder to notice that your most exotic weapons are basically normal weapons with a little bit extra damage and a unique paint job if no one can get it to drop in the first place. Artificial scarcity and all that. Since looter shooters aren’t going away any time soon, and with Borderlands 3 right around the corner, it might be worth exploring the concept of making good loot easily accessible at the very least.