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The Phantom Pain has a fascinating progression system

The Phantom Pain Mother Base.jpg

It’s no secret I’m in love with The Phantom Pain. It’s a contender for Game of the Year for me, thus far - fighting with The Witcher 3. I’m nowhere near finished the main campaign. There is a lot to do and, even now, I can see ample room for replay. But what has me fascinated is how they’ve implemented a progression system.

Big Boss, your main character, doesn’t get more experience points as with most other progression systems. Instead, the focus is on improving Units on Mother Base. Mother Base is obviously a central focus for The Phantom Pain and on it, different Units aid you in different ways: The Intel Unit provides on the ground reconnaissance, letting you know about enemy movement and so on; the Support Unit aids you with functions like Air-to-Ground Strikes that can destroy entire villages. There are others that each serve different functions. Gameskinny has a great overview.

With each of these Units, you obtain different abilities, weapons and gear. Requirements vary according to the gear: Goggles might require input from the R&D Unit as well as Intel; certain weapon might require Support. And so on.

But unlocking these requires Units to be at certain levels (14, 27, etc.) and it’s here that we see The Phantom Pain’s progression system.

Perhaps the main focus is the R&D (research and development) Unit: this is where almost all your gear and weapons are made. So, the more impressive the unit, the more impressive the items. It becomes essential in the game to level it up. You do this by having more staff and staff of a certain ranking: so the higher ranking a staff member has in R&D, the higher the R&D level. To find such a staff, you need to scout for soldiers in the field and extract them.

Phantom Pain Units.jpg

Of course, you have limits to how many staff can be in a Unit - which puts a limit on what level the Unit can reach at that point. To increase the Unit’s capacity - so that you have more staff and thus can reach higher levels - you need to increase the specific Unit’s platform size that physically exists on Mother Base.

This means more staff can be on it. But to increase that size, you need various other items: GMP (the currency in the game) and resources, such as fuel and metals. But to get fuel and metals, you need to explore the maps, too - collecting resources lying in base camps. You can also have a steady influx of resources with the Base Development Unit.

This might sound complicated, but it’s remarkably elegant: resources and GMP fuel platform size; higher platform size means more staff; more staff and better staff means higher Unit levels; higher Unit levels means better equipment and abilities.

All of this doesn’t feel like a “chore” or much like grinding. It feels essential to the game and merely part of it. Sometimes, you can decide to grind for specific resources or GMP perhaps - but I’ve not so far felt restricted because of it (there are times when certain missions require items unlocked at higher levels, but by then, you’re most likely achieved it anyway).

What I find remarkable is precisely the elegance of this system. At first, it is incredibly overwhelming. You are managing a private army, after all. But eventually you get into a rhythm and you start to marvel at both the simplicity and the depth of the Phantom Pain’s many, many systems operating simultaneously.

Aside from the annoyance that development can literally take an hour of real time to complete, it’s a great alternative to “Level Up” your character as in other progression systems.

I’d be interested to hear what other systems you’ve experienced that don’t just do the “Hit Things Until I Get Stronger” mechanic.

 

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