On “Health Orbs” (Day 29)

“Health Orbs” here refers to items the player can collect that heal them. These typically exist separate to the narrative, as a simple – but effective – gameplay mechanic. In a select few cases the game may justify it, usually by having the protagonist absorb something (blood, souls) from their enemy.

There have been thousands of methods of healing characters throughout gaming, but I still think the “health orb” is one of the most efficient and interesting.

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Diablo 3 is one of the most straightforward and interesting examples in recent memory – when enemies die, they have a chance to drop a health orb. If the player touches it, they heal by a certain amount. Simple, right?

This is easy to understand even for the most casual of gamers, but the real brilliance of the mechanic lies in the way it makes players move forward. In most games, running low on health makes you retreat and either wait until you heal or find another means of healing (depending on the game). In Diablo 3, players are actively rewarded for fighting to their last, which is infinitely more fun and dramatic.

Another game that uses this mechanic in a more roundabout way is 2016’s DOOMDOOM has “glory kills”, where the player can execute injured demons to restore health, somehow.

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This is exactly the same idea, though done with a bit more flair (and in a slightly more obfuscated way). Players are rewarded for staying in the fight and moving forward, rather than taking cover and hiding.

We’re moving away from the basic idea a little, but this is also present in Bloodborne. Players can restore lost health if they fight back within a small time limit after being hit, which encourages them to stay in the fray and keep the fight going – and that’s brilliant.

Rarely do people talk about their exciting gaming memories and say “I was running away, because I was low on health, then I hid for 30 seconds while it recovered!”. It’s boring gameplay in almost every case. Systems like the ones mentioned above allow players to recover by taking risks and having a more exciting gameplay session, all without breaking the flow of gameplay (or combat, as in these examples).

Do you agree? Are there any combat-centric health recovery systems that come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

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