Created By: Bobchillingworth on May 7, 2013 Last Edited By: Bobchillingworth on June 5, 2013

Enemy Stagnation

Videogame mooks fail to keep up with the player.

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Trope
In many videogames, the player faces a classic Sorting Algorithm of Evil, whereby there is a natural (if strategically questionable) succession of increasingly difficult enemies as the game progresses. Sometimes however the flow of new foes abruptly cuts off well before the game concludes. Perhaps the Big Bad got overeager in his haste to introduce his best troops. It could be that the Nebulous Evil Organization ran out of resources to develop new kill bots. Whatever the cause, the player has experienced all there is to be battled and can henceforth look forward to killing the same mooks over and again.

Like many tropes, Enemy Stagnation has its up and downsides. On the positive, having introduced the player to the full roster of opponents, a developer can concentrate on player engagement through creative level design, rather than a succession of new opponent gimmicks. It also gives less-experienced gamers more time to get acclimated to combat. It may not make much sense from a narrative standpoint for the antagonist to possess an increasingly diverse force.

Conversely, players may find fighting the same foes continuously grows stale. Games with Enemy Stagnation can also suffer from an Unstable Equilibrium, as the player continues to advance in power while their foes are locked in stasis. There is likewise the issue of retaining player interest- if you know you can beat the toughest mooks the computer can throw at you halfway through the game, earning or upgrading combat powers may become superfluous and there is less incentive to continue playing for the sake of challenge. Games sometimes attempt to get around this by increasing the number of enemies and/or having them appear in different combinations.

Note: to qualify for this trope, a work must have a definite progression of enemies which stops with at least roughly a third of the game left to go. It is only a partial aversion of the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. Compare to Villain Forgot to Level Grind, which differs in that it deals with particular opponents instead of all enemies in the game, and requires the player to advance steadily in strength; Enemy Stagnation can be in play even if the player character never advances in power.


Examples:

  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution lacks new opponents after the Picus Communications building with the exception of the easily-dispatched cyber pseudo-zombies in the final level with about a third of the game left to go.
  • Mass Effect 2 gets hit particularly hard by this, running almost entirely out of new foes by Horizon with well over half the game remaining. Although the engaging narrative gives players good reason to keep moving, fighting the same groups of neigh-identical foes dozens of times over can quickly become tedious.
  • The Nintendo Wars franchise generally has the player fighting every type of enemy unit by the time the campaign is halfway complete, but (attempts) makes up for it with increasingly difficult level design.
  • There are no new mooks in Max Payne 2 after the derelict Castling Insurance Company building (a little less than two-thirds of the way to the end). This is part of the reason why the game is significantly easier than the first or third entries of the franchise.
  • The first Jedi Knight game has Kyle facing the full complement of enemies by the game's midpoint. The second is an aversion however.
  • The Halo franchise has a couple examples. Both Halo 1 and 3 regularly feature new opponents until the final third of each game
  • Bayonetta, with no new angel mooks past the halfway mark and even major boss fights reappearing as miniboss battles. There are also a number of repeating environments, leading the end of the game to drag on (although the awesome conclusion makes up for a lot).
  • Super Mario 64 has significantly less enemy diversity than most other Mario games, and stops introducing new foes by the halfway point (assuming the player beats levels in order of ascending star value).
  • Fallout 3 includes gradually stronger opponents until roughly the midpoint of the main quest, as well as Level Scaling mooks. Due to the low level cap and brevity of the story in proportion to the game world, players interested in exploring the entire map will see enemies stagnate at only 1/4 completion (if that). Adding various DLC increases enemy diversity (although the main map will still be dry of new enemy types well before the player clears half the landmarks.
  • Possible to avert totally in Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2, since levels are capped at 30 and it's possible to design a range of challenging enemies for all player levels. The number of enemies in multiplayer can also be scaled according to party size.
  • Alan Wake runs out of new Taken by the third chapter out of six (or eight, if playing with DLC). Enemy Stagnation leads to the game noticeably peaking in difficulty around the second or third chapter, when Alan lacks many options to take on the toughest Taken. Alan Wake's American Nightmare averts it however, introducing the "King Hillbilly" Taken only in the final chapters of the game.
  • Final Fantasy VIII has one of the smallest bestiaries in the series, at only 71 normal enemies. With the exception of the final dungeons and optional areas, which house particularly powerful enemies and Degraded Bosses, the player will have run into most enemy types by the midpoint of Disc 2. This familiarity is compounded by many areas the player visits being populated primarily by G-Soldiers and their variants, which all look the same.
Community Feedback Replies: 19
  • May 7, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    We have Villain Forgot To Level Grind, where the enemy you faced before now goes down easy because the player is loads stronger.
  • May 7, 2013
    Bobchillingworth
    That's for boss fights though, or at least specific enemies. Plus Enemy Stagnation would be in play even if the player character never advanced in strength; the only qualification is that the game abruptly stops supplying new foes with plenty of gameplay left to go.
  • May 7, 2013
    MrRuano
    Warhammer 40000 Space Marine has the majority of it's enemies during the campaign be Ork boys or Grots, with the occasional Nob to the point that whatever charm they have starts grinding on the player. It isn't until the final acts that Nemeroth and his Chaos Space Marines even appear, where the most dynamic points of the plot come up.
  • May 8, 2013
    Arivne
    Added Namespaces and italization to the OP examples and corrected the spelling of several Wiki Words to make them work.

    The last four OP examples are Zero Context Examples and need more information to be valid.
  • May 8, 2013
    Bobchillingworth
    Thanks for the editing. Tried to add some more context for the last four, although I feel like I'm repeating the same phrasing. If anyone wants to spice up some of the text, please feel free! Also I haven't played a few of the games on the list for several years now, so let me know if I'm mistaken.

    Regarding the Space Marine suggestion, I'm not sure if that fits, since the game does add in new enemies, albeit at the end. I haven't played the game though, so if someone else thinks it should qualify I'll add it to the list.
  • May 14, 2013
    Stratadrake
    How does this compare to, say, Villain Forgot To Level Grind?
  • May 14, 2013
    StarSword
    ^Probably a Compare. Similar concept (player gets stronger but enemy stays the same), but this isn't limited to bosses and also seems to incorporate the player exhausting the Level Scaling system (or, more generally, the roster of enemies) when there's significant amounts of game left.
  • May 21, 2013
    Melkior
    • Possible to avert totally in Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2, since levels are capped at 40 and it's possible to design a range of challenging enemy for all player levels. The number of enemy in multiplayer can also be scaled according to party size.
  • May 22, 2013
    StarSword
    ^Correction: levels are capped at 30.
  • May 27, 2013
    Bobchillingworth
    Added an example, tried to clarify the trope text a bit. Anyone feel like adding a hat?
  • May 27, 2013
    TheTitan99
    A minor change, but Neverwinter Nights 1 has a level cap of 40 for pcs, and a level cap of 60 for npcs, not 30.
  • May 27, 2013
    StarSword
    ^You sure? I've never been able to get characters past 30 in 1, and I know for a fact that 2 is capped at 30.
  • May 27, 2013
    TheTitan99
    Yep. Just double checked. NWN 1 had a level cap of 40... Which no one EVER got to, so they lowered it to 30 in NWN 2.
  • May 27, 2013
    DrakeClawfang
    Unsure if this counts or not but providing it.

    Final Fantasy VIII has one of the smallest bestiaries in the series, at only 71 normal enemies. With the exception of the final dungeons and optional areas, which house particularly powerful enemies and Degraded Bosses, the player will have run into most enemy types by the midpoint of Disc 2. This familiarity is compounded by many areas the player visits being populated primarily by G-Soldiers and their variants, which all look the same.
  • May 28, 2013
    morenohijazo
    So, this is basically when you keep fighting the same mooks even when you should have moved higher in the Sorting Algorithm Of Evil, right?
  • May 28, 2013
    Bobchillingworth
    Provisionally added the FF example, although it sounds borderline. But I haven't played the game.

    @morenhohijazo- yeah essentially, but I don't want to imply that there must be a Sorting Algorithm Of Evil. In some games it may make sense for there to be Enemy Stagnation. For instance, in Max Payne 2 you start off fighting poorly-equipped Cleaners and gangsters. Enemies gradually carry more dangerous weaponry, and then at roughly halfway through the game the Cleaners drop their charade and begin wearing body armor. At that point Max is fighting every enemy type he's ever going to (technically there are also Alfred Woden's bodyguards, but they're simply reskinned Cleaner commandos), but it makes sense that things don't keep escalating until Max has guys in power armor shooting at him. In other games it can get frustrating however, such as in Mass Effect 2. There's really no reason why there couldn't have been a steady game-long progression of enemies except developer laziness. As it is, a fight three hours into the game looks and plays a whole lot like one thirty hours in, except Shepard will be stronger in the latter.
  • June 4, 2013
    StarSword
    Want me to do an example sort for you?
  • June 4, 2013
    Bobchillingworth
    Sure, thanks.
  • June 5, 2013
    azul120
    FF 8 is an aversion, because the enemies actually level up with you.
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