Design Impressions: DmC Harpies and GoW Satyrs
I mentioned recently that Harpies were my least favorite enemies in DmC: Devil May Cry. I’ve been trying to pinpoint the exact reason for that – and i think a big part of the problem is their appearance. Even though they’re pretty damn tough to kill, they look like minor nuisances.
When you come across a group of them, your mind is usually in “I just want to get through this” mode rather than “Man i need to focus on this battle!” It doesn’t help that they’re fliers, which means they’re typically far away and appear tiny on screen.
Of course that perception makes it harder to be patient and look for counter-attack opportunities, so Harpies end up doing more damage than they should – especially when grouped with other enemy types. On the other hand, Dreamrunners in DmC look like deadly ninjas so every encounter with them feels like a miniboss fight. That’s the magic of ninjas.
Most enemies in action games can be separated into two categories: The ones that you’re supposed to beat with straightforward knowledge and the ones that challenge you with a proper mixup. The latter group definitely needs to have imposing aesthetics that demand respect, so the player buys into holding their ground every time.
Honestly i think the Satyrs in God of War have the same problem. They’re the trickiest enemies to fight because they can counter so many attacks, but they just don’t look formidable enough to convey that miniboss feel. It helps that they appear unorthodox and somewhat mysterious, but it’s not enough. I bet most players are content to get past them however possible, using magic or some other free pass card instead of trying to figure out how to fight them straight up. They seem beneath Kratos having to expend effort.
On the other end of the spectrum you have Zeus, who is in the same gameplay category – an adaptive AI challenge. Except every player buys into learning his moves and patterns. He just looks like a worthy adversary that should demand effort. There’s no doubt about it.
So i think the answer was to make the Satyr armor way more badass (GoW Ascension was a step in the right direction). Or give them fearsome glowing weapons. Or revamp them with a different theme altogether since goats aren’t that hype.
Similarly, making the Harpy’s wings crazy awesome like Marvel’s Archangel might’ve done the trick. That way fighting them feels like a big deal every time, and you’re actually paying attention to them flying around so their painful lance attacks don’t come as such a surprise.
From a gameplay perspective, Harpies negate most of Dante’s moveset by being fliers who can dodge grappling hook attacks. Weaker fliers (Bathos & Pathos) are fun to kill because you can always use grappling hooks against them. That means instant access to all of Dante’s ground or air moves (your choice based on which grappling hook you use). Those fights stay very fast paced and mobile, with a lot of decisions about which enemies to attack in which order.
On the other hand, there’s only one way to fight Harpies and that’s shooting their wings off with Dante’s guns so they stop dodging everything else. Essentially, Dante’s entire moveset is gated through one attack which can’t be manually targeted and takes a long time to get the job done. Well, that’s great if the encounter consists of one or two Harpies.
But anything more than that feels cumbersome, because Dante’s guns can’t target more than one opponent at a time. And it’s very hard to switch targets, especially against high flying enemies that are off camera half the time.
It’s too bad DmC got rid of Twosome Time from DMC2-DMC4. Dual targeting would’ve helped a lot against groups of Harpies. If nothing else, it would’ve made the first phase of the encounter much more dynamic and engaging rather than mundane.
Another thing DmC could’ve tried was making the Harpy’s ranged lance attack directly counterable. Maybe if you slash right as the lance is about to hit you, it shatters into a low-damage AoE attack that destroys the wings of all nearby Harpies. At least that would provide an alternative to (slowly) attacking them one at a time.
Personally i believe it’s important to give players a way to feel powerful against every non-boss enemy. It can be difficult to do (reaction-wise or execution-wise), but there should be some way of busting out a trump card – preferably without resorting to expending a limited resource such as magic or items, which feels a bit like caving in.