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Changing Gameplay Priorities

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As a book, movie or television show progresses, it's not unusual for things to evolve and change. Characters grow and plots thicken, and the audience's concern evolves as well; what seemed like a catastrophe at the beginning of the season is small potatoes compared to what's come after as the stakes continue to rise. Video games are no different, but in addition to an evolving story, they add another layer: deep interactivity. As the game progresses, the way the player interacts with the game often evolves in the same way that their relationship to the story evolves.

This occurs in many different ways. For example, early in the game the player character might be fragile and low on resources, and the game is mostly about rationing out scarce resources and surviving tough situations. However, as the game progresses, the character's resources and capabilities grow, and the game becomes more about choosing the correct tactical option out of an array of items and abilities instead of trying to conserve scarce resources.

This is often achieved by introducing new game mechanics or systems, such as a system of magical spells or Limit Breaks that alter gameplay. It can also be achieved by removing limitations on the characters, such as providing more plentiful ammunition for more powerful guns as the game progresses. Or, instead of altering the player's capabilities, the game might have the opponents step up their own tactics and capabilities as the game progresses, forcing the player to adapt to new situations and use tools they would otherwise ignore.

Used properly, this keeps a game fresh and fun over the course of its play time and allows players to experience the growth and change their character is going through on a more visceral level. Used poorly, this causes a game to become muddled or confusing, or worse, Unwinnable, as players realize that the skills they've honed and abilities they've sunk skill points into in the first half of the game are totally useless in the latter half. This is often the case in a Disappointing Last Level that doesn't contain the things you need to make certain abilities beyond "hit it with a stick" work, like friendly NPCs for social abilities or poorly-lit environments that lend themselves to stealth action.

See also One Stat to Rule Them All, when either in defiance of or as a result of this trope only one of your many statistical scores matters, and Crutch Character, where a certain party member is a priority at low levels, but becomes less desirable as the game goes on. Also compare Magikarp Power, where a character or tactic starts out intentionally weak, but if you persist in its use it becomes a powerhouse. A very common subtrope is Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards, where the game changes drastically because one type of character or strategy grows in power at a much faster rate than others. Early Game Hell is often a form of this.

Compare Gameplay Derailment and Emergent Gameplay, which are about the metagame changing as players figure the game out instead over the course of a campaign.

Video Game Examples:

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    Action Game  

  • Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped has an interesting version of this that isn't present in the first two games. The first main chunk of the game consists of reaching the end of levels and obtaining crystals. After obtaining the running shoes, however, the game becomes all about completing challenges and time trials for 100% completion.
  • In Dynasty Warriors, early game you'd want to maximize your characters' health and defense in order to survive. But as soon as better weapons and higher levels start rolling in, you'd want to maximize your attack efficiency and/or musou power in order to kill enemies faster. This is both for the Guide Dang It! treasure acquisition missions and for the fact that enemies can combo-kill/musou you on any defense in harder modes anyway.
  • In Klonoa: Door to Phantomile the early game is a kind of easygoing, simple platformer with a few little wrinkles and hidden areas. By the end of the game, however, the focus is almost entirely on tricky timing puzzles and multi-jumps that require snagging new enemies in midair and using them as fuel for jump combos. Comparing the flow of the first and final levels, they almost look like different games. And this isn't even to bring up the hidden bonus level, where you spend more time with your feet off the ground than on it.

    Action Adventure  

  • The Legend of Zelda and all of its various sequels and remakes go about this in the same way. Early in the game you are fragile and lack the tools to overcome challenges. The entire game world tantalizes you by presenting you with doors you can't open, chasms you can't cross, and enemies you can't reasonably defeat. As you progress through the game and find heart containers and magical tools, more of the world becomes open to you, until you can go wherever you want at whim.
  • Star Control 2: In the early game, your ship is slow and weak in combat and the focus is on staying alive while exploring nearby systems to collect resources and upgrade your ship. Once your ship is fully upgraded, there's no point to resource collection, combat is trivialized, and you can go anywhere in the galaxy with impunity. The focus changes to discovering the alien races and collecting the plot coupons required to complete the main plot of the game.

    Eastern RPG  
  • Most Final Fantasy games gradually introduce game mechanics. Often, this includes something like a system of magic or various limit breaks which can drastically change your priorities.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics has an odd kind of bait-and-switch. Early in the game, generic Wizard units will stomp all over most maps, only accelerating as you reach mid-game. Suddenly, in the late game, the whole focus changes to Special Units granted to you by the story who can do everything your generics can, but better, and physical attackers who can take a hit or two become much more useful than your fragile casters.
  • Early in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance you want your characters to have good strength, magic, defense and resistance. By the end game, all you care about is speed and accuracy as more or less your whole army has attacks that can kill or disable an enemy in one shot.
  • Those who enjoy the collecting and trading aspects of Pokémon might be shocked to find out how differently the game is played between other people. Using a haphazardly level-grinded team with decent type coverage (or a single max-level Legendary Pokémon, along with the gym badge that will make it obey you) is more than enough to breeze through almost all in-game battles, but raising a team to seriously compete against other players and in postgame battle facilities (which both disallow trainers to use items mid-battle, by the way; so much for those Full Restores you splurged on!) requires so much micromanagement, from IV inheritance to EV allocating, that it's like playing a different game entirely.
  • In the early game of Golden Sun managing Djinn is very important and very difficult, because of the way the game assigns new Djinni that you find. Come endgame, you have enough Djinn to keep summoning various gods over and over again, and it's much easier to line up the correct numbers of Djinn for massive stat boosts.
  • Early in Secret of Mana your characters must carefully ration healing items and level up their weapon skills, and boss fights can be quite brutal due to the game's limited inventory system. After acquiring magic, however, healing becomes trivial and most fights consist of stunlocking your opponents with spells until they explode. Magic dramatically changes the game.
  • Early on in Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale the game essentially boils down to keeping only the most profitable items of each kind in stock. However, as the game progresses, vending machines, customer requests and value fluctuations dramatically alter your purchasing habits. Late game, it's important to keep a huge selection of various goods on hand, because one failed sale will break your combo and squander your experience bonuses.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Kingdom Hearts: The big change comes when you learn Cure magic. The game can be easily divided into "pre-Cure" and "post-Cure" sections. Healing magic is so overpoweringly useful that it single-handedly makes Magic Points the most important stat in the game. This is true of most of the series, but only in the first game is the difference so large and Cure learned so late.
    • Kingdom Hearts II: Prior to obtaining Reflect it's much more difficult to protect yourself against a swarm of enemies or attacks that come at unexpected angles. While Guard is better than it was in its previous game it's not enough to cover everything. This makes the early game in Critical Mode particularly tense, especially with Cure's massive nerf. Post-Reflect you can become much more aggressive as it's far easier to defend yourself from most attacks and Reflect will deal great chunks of damage on its own as well. On top of that Cure goes from emergency button to all but outright useless since it drains your entire MP Bar upon usage and it takes multiple Ethers to get you out of MP Charge (Elixirs do it instantly but at that point the Cure is unnecessary). As you need MP to use Reflect, using Cure becomes a massive waste.
  • This is used as a deliberate gameplay mechanic in Eternal Sonata: at specific points of the story, your Party Level increases, unlocking new battle mechanics but increasing overall difficulty by removing things that assist you. For example, initially you have an infinite amount of time to plan out your turn, and the actual turn timer only counts down when you're moving or attacking. On higher Party Levels, the amount of time before the turn timer starts counting down is first reduced to 3 seconds, then 1 and at last none, the total turn time doesn't stop counting down if you stop attacking or moving and it goes down from 5 to 4 seconds. On the other hand, you also gain the ability to greatly power up your special attacks and chain them together. What this means is that gameplay shifts from spamming special attacks whenever you have a chance to use them since they do more hits than your normal attack combo and you can use 2 during your turn, to using them at the end of your turn to make them stronger via the combo you've built up, to possibly forego using them entirely until you've built up a sufficiently lenghty combo so that you can chain multiple ones together. Finally, once you enter the Bonus Dungeon, the number of special attacks you can chain together is doubled, but whenever you start chaining them together, the placement of the buttons changes around randomly, meaning you're likely to screw up the chain by pressing the wrong button.
  • In certain Shin Megami Tensei games where you are rewarded for hitting enemy weaknesses, your initial priority goes to having a good spread of elemental skills so that you always have something to hit a weakness with. Later in the game, enemies and bosses stop having weaknesses altogether, so one of the few remaining sources of a bonus turn would be through a Critical Hit off a physical attack. The increasing strength of available healing skills, compounded with Magic Is Rare, Health Is Cheap, also causes an inversion of Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards that leads the player to favoring physical skills for offense. Any magically-inclined attacker would end up specializing in one element, backed up with its corresponding boosting passives to squeeze as much damage out of a neutral hit as possible.

    First Person Shooter  

  • In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., you start off as a barely armed and armored chump, and the best way to play is to stay safe and avoid combat of any kind while performing menial sidequests for decent equipment and some money while exploring. Later on after a few plot-important missions, combat and stealth take first place, and money and equipment are of little to no concern since you find so much stuff on the enemy stalkers you kill and on the stashes said enemy stalkers have mapped on their PDA's. The latter always has equipment in full condition and at times more advanced than anything the shops have for sale, so there's barely any need to do any shopping save for repairing your gear.
  • The Borderlands franchise has a model where almost everything becomes obsolete quickly, meaning that you may well end up constantly redoing your Vault Hunter's build in order to take best advantage of the available equipment. Zer0, for example, might respec from an SMG-focused character to a sniper upon receiving a sufficiently nasty sniper rifle, while a Man on Fire Krieg build won't even touch that tree until at least 6-7 skill points in, by virtue of the early stages being overtly suicidal without the damage reduction provided by Numbed Nerves.

  • Civilization 5 starts out with a single city, where you have to survive against barbarians and explore your surroundings in the bronze age, by the Renaissance you'll be forming trade deals with other countries and spreading your religion, by the modern era you'll be pushing Tourism and trying to win the Space Race. Averted if you decide to go for a Domination victory, in which case your goals remain the same from the start - build an army and steamroll over the rest of the planet.
  • Early game Galactic Civilizations is about building colony ships quickly and rapidly moving them to inhabitable worlds, followed by a delicate economic balancing act as you try to afford this. Late game Galactic Civilizations is more defined by research, because that allows you to out-tech your opponents and thereby crush them. Militarily, the early game is defined by tiny ships with light weapons and maybe a little armour, while the late game is defined by giant slabs of metal covered in guns that can tear apart entire fleets of tiny ships.
  • Stellaris: You start out in an exploratory, expansionistic phase, clawing for territory. After a while, you'll start running into other empires, and your expansion will more or less stop, leading to a stage of bunkering down, researching, and building structures on every resource point on your turf. Eventually, you'll probably start picking fights with the alien empires, opening up their territory for further exploration and exploitation (or possibly getting you butchered like a hog, but oh well).


  • The early part of Elsword is about allocating skill points, practicing your play style and leveling up. However, the game gets less forgiving as you go, and you eventually need to focus on crafting powerful equipment and socketing them with the correct stats.


  • When you first start playing League of Legends the focus is very heavily on offense, causing the whole game to be a blindingly fast damage contest. This makes "pub stomper" champions like Lee Sin and Master Yi ungodly powerful, and heavily snowballing champions like Katarina and Akali can be very hard to stop. As players learn more about how items work and how to use crowd control, however, the game becomes much more about solid defenses, teamwork and utility. Suddenly champions with highly variable kits are more important than champions who simply do a bucket of damage.
  • In Dota 2, building damage items on the carry seems like a good idea, especially at the beginning. But as the enemy carry comes online, especially a slow-building powerhouse like Medusa, you may suddenly find yourself getting slaughtered, and need to start building defense items like Black King Bar to prevent yourself being chain-stunned or otherwise countered, but now that you're the one being hunted and slaughtered, it's harder to afford to change your item setup.


  • 20XX can pull this on you. You can, for example, start a level with a solid Attack, then find a bunch of Power upgrades and some Owlhawk core augments, which will shift the best playstyle from "run around shooting people" to using powers much more often.
  • Early in Ori and the Blind Forest, you are a very Fragile Speedster who needs to avoid enemies and damage as much as possible. Then you get Bash, an ultra-flexible Goomba Stomp, and suddenly you are seeking out enemies and putting yourself in harm's way to improve your mobility. With good reaction time, enemies pose such little threat that you need them to survive all the now common Spikes of Doom.

    Puzzle Game  

  • Tetris:
    • Modes and games where the game speed gradually increases dramatically shift over time, especially when the fall speed of blocks comes to a point where blocks will spawn on the stack, otherwise known as "20G"note . In the early game, you have more freedom with how to stack since pieces fall so slowly, but at higher speeds, especially 20G, the "terrain" of your stack becomes a very important factor; while a poor stack in the early game simply means awkward piece placement for certain kinds of pieces, badly-done stacking at 20G will hamper your pieces' movements very badly.
    • In Tetris: The Grand Master 2: The Absolute PLUS, the T.A. Death mode starts off with a race to level 500note . Reach 500 in 3 minutes and 25 seconds or less and you get the M rank and continue playing. From there, reaching level 999 will award the Grand Master rank. Since the second half of the game has no time restrictions, the focus shifts from speeding through the game to pure survival. In other words, while many games favor an early-game defense and a late-game offense, T.A. Death favors the opposite.

    Real Time Strategy  
  • Against the Storm: At the beginning of each settlement, your primary focus is merely survival: getting your settlers into food production, getting them shelter, and starting to explore to supplement the meager supplies and resource nodes you start with. Generally, once you've stabilized, you'll then start focusing on completing Orders, so that you can get the Reputation bonuses to unlock new buildings. After the midpoint, your goal is either: 1) advanced production to boost villager Resolve as high as possible, or 2) constant exploration to find Glade Events to complete for Reputation, as (except on the easiest difficulty level) orders alone will not provide enough Reputation to finish.
  • In the MMORTS Utopia, while your province is under 1000 acres, you concentrate on defense, train mainly basic units, and must divert a lot of land to sustaining your economy. However, once you pass that size, it becomes more viable to direct all resources into military strength and train only elite units.
  • Dawn of War: Dark Crusade and Soulstorm:
    • In the campaign, it's best to focus on building up requisition to buy garrison units and structures (especially in Soulstorm, which no longer remembers the buildings you placed on a previous attack/defense of a province) rather than attacking to gain more honor guard units. Later, when conquered provinces are sending you more requisition you can buy honor guard units with which to attack more efficiently.
    • Similarly, the best starting wargear isn't the flashy gun or glowing sword, it's the True Sight and speed-increasing gear that makes the commander more useful in Early Game Hell.

  • Early in Luck be a Landlord, it's imperative to add symbols, even if they're not ideal, to fill up your reels and generate enough coins to afford rent. Later in the game, as the number of empty slots dries up, it becomes more important to be selective, skipping and removing symbols to bring the average quality high enough to afford the ever-increasing rent. In the late game, the growing need to find symbols that synergize with each other takes the forefront, so they can make large amounts of coins for the big endgame payments.


  • In Princess Maker 2, it's important to build your daughter's Stamina/Constitution early on in her life, because all of the part-time jobs require her to be sturdy enough to make it through a shift without messing up. Farm work is good for this, as it grants a decent early income if you stick with it long enough. However, once your daughter reaches her teens and some of the more lucrative jobs open up, you'll need to spend some of that income on classes to build her other skills since farming becomes less viable (especially for those pursuing social-based endings, as it cuts into her Elegance stat).
  • Stardew Valley
    • In the early game you don't have much money to upgrade your farm or buy crops, nor do you have a lot of energy to clear your debris filled farm. As a result, your actual farm area will be rather small and you'll be spending your time picking up forage items and fishing. Foraging quickly loses its place compared to the more lucrative fishing, especially when you can buy buildings as well as better and more seeds come summer, but you're likely to keep fishing during this time because it's the best time of year for it. But after that, fishing also starts losing ground.
    • The early game rewards crop and animal diversity with the bundles system, which both offers rewards for obtaining certain items and is also necessary to complete the community center, which is the main explicit goal of the game with everything else being basically optional. However, once this is done, most players typically start going into monocropping with either the best plant for the season or just Ancient Fruit for all three growing seasons. Then they get tossed into kegs and sold, because everyone picks Artisan. Animals also fall by the wayside to an extent: Only pigs come across as worth the space it takes to keep them, but in the early game you're just letting them roam over an area you're not using anyway.
  • Universal Paperclips has this in regards to the two stats: Processing (increases the rate of Operations gain, and rate of Creativity gain when your Ops hits the Cap) and Memory (maximum Ops you can have, 1 memory = 1k Ops). In the first phase, Memory is far more important than Processing since several upgrades can only ever be bought if your Memory is high enough. In the second phase, where you can gain Skill Points far more easily, both stats are around equally as important. In the final phase, where the costliest upgrade is only 250k ops (and is entirely optional, the most expensive "necessary" upgrade costing 200k), you only need 200-250 Memory, and every other stat point goes into Processing since Creativity becomes a much more vital resource.

    Third Person Shooter  

  • Early on in Warframe, players learn to rely on Warframe powers for damage output instead of their relatively weak weapons. However, as they progress through the game, a few things happen that shift focus away from damage-dealing powers and towards crowd-control powers. First, players accumulate stronger mods, which beef up weapon damage significantly and make the Squishy Wizard Warframes far more powerful. Second, the enemies' health and armor keeps increasing, and while weapons can scale with them, the damage from Warframe powers can't keep up.

    Turn Based Strategy  

  • In early-game Disgaea, every stat is about as important as it sounds. In late-game, the only stat that matters is the one you use to deal damage. In addition, magic and special abilities are almost useless in the early game with a few exceptions, due to the cost of using magic and restoring your spell points. In the later game, your magic use is much less limited.
    • In fact, nearly all of Nippon Ichi's turn-based strategy games follow this sudden shift in necessity for the sole reason that enemies that can one-shot your army become the norm. Battles not about Level Grinding become One-Hit KO affairs.
  • The early going in the old Roguelike game Wizards Castle involves fighting only the easy monsters (kobold, orc, wolf) and seeking three key treasures of the eight available: Blue Flame, Opal Eye and Pale Pearl. Once the player has the Flame and the Eye, books can be opened with impunity; books sometimes will max out Strength and Dexterity stats. With enough gold on hand, the player can buy Intelligence potions until smart enough to cast Fireball spells on gargoyles and dragons. Ideally, the player can level up to comfortably confront all the monsters, and even assault the Vendors. Finding the Orb of Zot, the quest's ideal, can almost become secondary to conducting a killfest.
  • In early-game Fire Emblem you tend to play much more cautiously. Since your low-leveled characters can't take many hits and death is permenant, you need to bait and lure enemies one-by-one, and check enemy movement ranges carefully, to ensure you aren't overwhelmed, while making sure to weaken enemies enough for your lower-leveled characters to finish off. Once your characters start leveling up, upgrading classes, getting better weapons and raising their support levels with eachother, battles become much more about positioning your characters right to cut down hordes of enemies on the Enemy Phase. It's for this reason most games in the series suffer from Early Game Hell.
  • In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the first major research project is to get stronger armor, or more powerful weapons. Stronger armor increases your troops health, but on most difficulties, your troops can (usually) take two shots from a plasma pistol or a light plasma rifle before dying, and the damage curve for those weapons still has the Tier 2 armor only absorbing about two shots. In addition, you have medkits that can fully heal a character anyway, at least at the beginning of the game, and your rookies are mostly expendable anyway. So the priority at the beginning of the game is weapons over armor, so that you can continue to One-Hit Kill the aliens. In the second half of the game, when you're getting close to Tier 3 weapons and armor, the situation is reversed. Aliens have a lot more health, so even with stronger weapons, you can't maintain the One-Hit Kill Rocket-Tag Gameplay. In addition, your experienced soldiers become too valuable to lose, and the aliens start bringing out heavier weapons like full plasma rifles and heavy plasma cannons, in addition to alien units with unique, high-powered weaponry, like the Cyberdisk and the Sectopod. In addition, Tier 3 armor also gives you a bunch of advantages, such as immunity to fire and poison and optional flight capabilities and a much bigger health increase than Tier 2 armor, while weapons only give you an extra point or two of damage. As a result, the best strategy late in the game is to prioritize armor over weapons.
    • In the sequel XCOM 2, the same holds mostly true: you want weapons over armor early, and then armor over weapons late. However, the early game has a priority on strong basic gear, while the late game skews more sharply towards weapon modifications and specialty ammunition. Basically, in the beginning of the game, your main weapon is how you deal the most damage, while in the late game, the gear you take with you and the ammunition you load in your main weapon has a greater importance, particularly with the introduction of mechanical enemies and the insanely useful Bluescreen Rounds.
    • The sequel also inverts the usefulness of psionic soldiers: in the first game, only certain (random) characters can develop psionics, and these psi abilities are considered extra abilities for the character that can only develop if they are used in combat (so a sniper would have to use mind rend in combat to get better psi abilities), forcing you to put psionicly gifted characters into battle. In the sequel, any rookie can be turned into a Psi Operative by spending time in a training chamber, but they can only get better by spending more time in the same chamber: they don't level up normally. As a result, the best strategy is to keep your Psi Operatives in constant training until they've unlocked most, if not all of their abilities, and only then put them into battle, where they will utterly dominate the battlefield despite no actual combat experiencenote .
  • Europa Universalis has this in regards to combat. Early game your troops will break before they are all killed, which causes Morale to be very important. Later game, the combat skill of your units (Drill) is much better, because you can kill off almost an entire army before they break. Calvary dominates the early to midgame, while artilery such becomes a priority towards the end (with a few exceptions for strong Calvary nations, such as the Commonwealth or the Golden Horde).
  • In Master of Orion defense is king when enemy starships are lumbering things that can usually only reach the edge of your empire, and can often be thrown back with missile bases built while they were underway, or even while they were trying to bombard your colonies. Offense takes the crown once starships swiftly reach targets well behind the lines, effortlessly pop colonies that lose their defenses, and can be built in parallel on ten or twenty worlds and concentrated against the defenses of one.

    Western RPG  
  • Baldur's Gate: The strongest spells at low level are crowd control ones, such as Sleep or Horror, which can totally disrupt an enemy regiment and allow you to defeat mooks in detail virtually untouched. But in the late game they become less effective if not in certain cases useless against resistances and immunities, so you better focus on pure damage spells such as Fireball or Cloudkill (or even better, Monster Summoning).
  • Baldur's Gate II:
    • And now those two very spells above have become for the most time primarily useful against the Zerg Rush of minor enemies, while bosses often have magical immunities or are high level wizards protected by layers of defensive spells. Your new priorities will be spells that can pierce defenses or lower magic resistance. Furthermore, spells like Fireball and Cloudkill have an area of effect; the claustrophobic dungeons of the game less room for their optimal use unless you are ok with friendly fire against your party members in melee. Oh, and forget low level spells such as Sleep: any mook that is effected by them at this point can be one-hit smashed by your warriors set in auto-attack mode, without bothering to open the wizard panel.
    • The whole Vancian Magic system of the entire series is this, as you can unmemorize spells and learn new ones depending on the situation and your necessities.
    • Healers such as clerics and druids zigzag the trope during the second game. Initially they are unvaluable as your party is vulnerable and any hit point lost during a fight might be enough for the following hit to kill your party member, and you will often heal during battles when needed. However, as your characters level up, they will become stronger and you will start to accumulate healing potions found abroad, so your focus might shift on buffing or control spells, that can earn the same result by avoiding getting damaged altogether. There are also offensive spells by clerics that can be really powerful, netting more utility than Cure Critical Wounds. Any injury can be safely cured between battles. Still, certain enemies can net so much damage that you might still need occasional healing spells during a fight.
    • Early on, your priorities with gear are Armor Class (to avoid enemy hits) and Attacks Per Round (to maximize damage dealt). Later on, relevant enemies such as bosses or the occasional Elite Mook all have the ability to bypass your Armor Class, therefore "inferior" armor with magical resistance to certain types of damage becomes preferable, while at the same time the strongest enemies are immune to any weapon that isn't at least +3 or in some cases even +4, and most weapons with such attributes are two-handed and allows for a smaller number of attacks compared to one-handed weapons that can be dual-wielded.
    • Thieves should prioritize skills such as trap detection and open locks until they are both at 100, a value which should allow you to defy any of them in the game. It is very quick to reach that though (if you don't start with an already maxed thief character), and then your focus shifts anyway to the ability to hide in the shadow for backstabbing or to deploy traps for ambushes.
  • Diablo series:
    • Diablo II is all about this trope. Early in the game, it may seem useful to put your stat points into Energy, but by the time you reach end game you realize that those points have essentially been wasted, as all you care about by then is having just enough Strength to equip the best gear and then nothing but Vitality. Likewise, in later difficulties enemies have excessive resistance to various kinds of attack, and some of your spells scale better than others; it would be a real shame if you put all of your ability points into something useless. Surprise!
    • Diablo III:
      • On earlier difficulties it is not only feasible but optimal to focus entirely on your character's offensive capabilities. By the time you get into higher difficulties, doing so will get you killed. A lot. Fortunately, unlike in D2, you can respec your skills at any time.
      • While leveling from Level 1 to the Level Cap of 60 (70 with the Expansion Pack), the game is about unlocking new skills and testing new skill combinations, boosting passive stats, and getting new Loot in roughly equal measure. Upon reaching the Level Cap, while there are still Paragon Levels to be gained for small passive bonuses, the emphasis is much more on unlocking top-tier Loot and fine-tuning the character's skill loadout to match the bonuses it gives, making it a de facto case of Equipment-Based Progression. Additionally, by this point the player has likely completed the story mode and has probably moved on to tackling bounties and Rifts, randomized dungeons that remix assets from all parts of the game.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition during Act 1 in Haven, you have to make do with a limited selection of levels to explore and harvest for herbs and materials, crafting options aren't too good, and companions need certain builds in order to survive. The game changes a lot when you get to Skyhold in Act 2. At this point you have access to specializations for each party member, can cast Focus skills, gain access to masterwork crafting with rare Fade-Touched materials and more powerful schematics, and more levels to explore for rare herbs and rare minerals. Herbs can also be grown at Skyhold if you find their seeds.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic you can get through most of the game with a balanced Jack of All Trades build that focuses on social skills and nifty force powers. This grows more and more unwieldy as the game progresses, until the final boss is all but impossible if you aren't a highly specialized combat machine. Unless you just run away while throwing your lightsaber at him endlessly. It actually works better if you play as a character with a high level of Force points. Though it admittedly isn't very cinematic.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • This occurs throughout the series regarding magic-oriented Player Characters. Early in the games, your low-level skills and small Magicka pool combined with your typical squishiness make things very challenging. You'll find yourself launching piddly fireballs at weak critters as you desperately attempt to both increase your skills, allowing you to cast more powerful spells, as well as your level, which increases your Magicka. Toward the mid-game, your quadratic power increase will kick in and few enemies will be able to withstand your magical might. You'll continue progressing...then suddenly find high-level enemies reflecting your powerful spells right back in your face and/or negating them completely thanks to inherent Reflect/Magic Resistance. In some cases, such as the end of Morrowind's Tribunal and Bloodmoon expansions, the game can become literally unwinnable for magic-oriented characters due to the sheer volume and power of these magic-resistant enemies. Skyrim attempts to resolve this by removing and reducing enemies with these abilities...but causes this issue in different way. High-level "Master" spells are Awesome, but Impractical, with lengthy casting animations and requiring both hands. Lower-level spells can last longer, but their damage is capped while the health of the Level-Scaled enemies is not. Increase a few levels and suddenly your spells are far less effective, with no means of gaining more powerful ones thanks to the removal of Spellmaking.
    • Morrowind, unique for the series, has very limited Level Scaling and has the skimpiest Starting Equipment available, leading a tough Early Game Hell situation. It's not uncommon to see players scrounging through outdoor crates and urns for loose coins and near-worthless Shop Fodder at low levels just to scrape together enough for their first set of equipment. Once they start adventuring, they'll back every item they can carry from every dungeon, carefully deciding what items to sell at which vendor (who have limited gold and avert We Buy Anything) to maximize profits. Later in the game, once money is no longer an issue, they'll only take choice loot while leaving behind items worth hundreds or thousands of gold as they've reached a point where the hassle of selling simply isn't worthwhile. By the end, they'll be god-slayers carrying legendary equipment (or self-enchanted custom equipment) only picking up items that they want to display in their player houses as trophies.
    • In Skyrim, early on, players are likely to spend lots of money grinding and doing menial tasks to acquire potions that restore stamina, magic, and health. That's because at those levels, you'll likely be doing a lot of fighting and find it hard to survive against swarms of enemies without being prepared. Later, priorities will shift into spells and gear that can help you carry a greater load; that's because once you start finding good weapons/armor/valuables, you're going to want to bring everything out of the dungeon with you so that you can sell it or use it for crafting.
  • Fallout:
    • The series, given its After the End setting, is rife with this trope. Early on, you're either fresh out of the vault or a poor wastelander, making do with near-broken equipment, limited ammunition, and struggling after every battle to keep your health up. Once you've gained some experience and have looted/purchased better equipment, basic survival is less difficult, freeing you up to complete missions and acquire more, even better loot. By the end of each game, you are typically one of the most powerful (and often feared) individuals in the wasteland, wearing the best pre-war gear and exterminating once-challenging foes with little effort.
    • In the beginning of Fallout 2, Melee is extremely important, as the opening Forced Tutorial dungeon has no ballistic weapons whatsoever, and at the end of said dungeon you're forced to fight a boss that will only fight you unarmed. You also don't get a gun for completing it, meaning you have to either buy one from a nearby town, or get one off of one of the Random Encounters on the map screen. Once you advance in the game, however, guns are a staple weapon of choice, as melee becomes very high risk due to most enemies having things such as Shotguns or Submachine Guns that can mulch you up close. Near the end of the game, barring a few Game-Breaker s, you'll be pushed into Energy Weapons due to the encounters becoming enemies that use/drop them much more frequenctly, in particular the Enclave patrols, as well as those that are fought during The Very Definitely Final Dungeon .
    • Fallout 4 changes the franchise formula, removing Breakable Weapons and Armor, while making ammo generally more plentiful to address Early Game Hell complaints of previous entries. However, you will still likely be a major hoarder of junk items due to another major series change - the addition of settlement building. Now, every single piece of Shop Fodder in the wasteland can be broken down into component parts and used to upgrade equipment or build settlement structures. Early on, you'll max out your encumbrance leaving every ruin to bring back junk items. Once you have a fairly robust settlement network established, plus enough caps to buy shipments of the resources your need, you'll shift to only bringing back items with the rarest components needed for the highest level upgrades and structures.
  • Mass Effect 2: A variation that differs from difficulty setting, and not progression through one playthrough. On lower difficulties, it's possible for the player to trick Shepard out with gear/abilities that boost his/her defense and allow him/her to soak up great amounts of enemy fire. On Hardcore or Insanity difficulty, though, that goes right out the window; the ONLY thing that matters on the highest difficulty is killing things before they kill you. Defense-boosting abilities become pointless, because at best it'll take three bullets to kill you instead of two. Thus, Damage Per Second becomes the player's top priority so that they can kill hostile damage sources as soon as possible.
    • All the Mass Effect games on normal difficulty setting have an early game where you're fragile and dependent upon cover and a late game where this is significantly less important because you've got a whole bunch of protective buffs.
  • Starfield: Early on, you'll be maxing out your (and your follower's, and likely your ship's) inventory to haul back every piece of loot you can get to sell for ammo, digipicks, med packs, and, once you've scraped up enough, ship upgrades. You'll be chronically low on funds, but as higher value loot starts to appear, you invest in certain skills (Commerce, Scavanging, etc.), you get some outposts running, quest rewards increase requisite to your level, etc., the game's plentiful Money for Nothing will start to kick in. By the late game, as vendor maximum credits don't change, you can get every credit they have (plus some items in barter) by selling even a single high-level weapon or piece of equipment. You'll only bother to loot the most valuable items and you'll find yourself leaving behind items you would have killed for early in the game.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines had a somewhat troubled production that ended up with the game being rushed towards the end. For the first two thirds or so, the player can use a wide selection of skills to progress, with builds focussing on stealth or social interactions being just as viable as combat, potentially even more so in some areas. The last part of the game, however, focusses on fighting almost to the exclusion of everything else, making it virtually unwinnable by the wrong kind of character.

Non Video-Game examples:

    Live Action TV  

  • In the early seasons of Robot Wars there was no point putting heavy armour on a robot because almost none of the other competitors were able to mount weapons powerful enough to do serious damage, and even the House Robots mainly did cosmetic damage. It was more important to simply make a robot which could drive properly without breaking down, and hopefully have some way of disabling its opponentnote , so heavy armour was considered a waste of your weight allowance. Then in the 3rd Wars a robot called Hypno-Disc debuted with the first heavy flywheel weapon and put the fear of god in everybody. Combined with improvements in engineering making drive systems (while still of pivotal importance) more of a basic element to be built on, Hypno-Disc kicked off an arms race where those who could make more genuinely destructive weapons strove to do as much damage as possible, and those who couldn't (or preferred a more Boring, but Practical approach) started plating themselves with heavy metal armour to resist them. On the Robot Combat scene today, highly-destructive weapons like flywheels and spinning drums are so prevalent that a lightly-armoured robot is just begging to be reduced to scrap.

    Tabletop Games  

  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In editions before 4th edition, spellcasting was a liability in early levels and grew to engulf the entire game by the time you reached higher levels. Early on, your hit points are very low and even the fighter can go down to a single lucky critical hit from a tough opponent, making heavy armor and good hit dice a real boon. By the time you reach mid-game, however, your spellcasters will have obtained a stockpile of very useful spells that let them pull their weight, and by endgame a caster's buffing capabilities combined with their hundreds of spell slots filled with powerful, reality-altering spells have completely changed the game.
    • In 3.x Dungeons and Dragons, AC (Armor Class) is important at low-to-mid levels because it allows you to avoid taking damage from enemy attacks. At higher levels, everybody has such high attack bonuses that AC becomes meaningless. Even if you have +5 Full Plate Armor most enemy attacks are going to hit you. More importantly, most of the powerful, reality altering spells mentioned above are unaffected by AC.
    • The changing gameplay priorities are actually built right in to 4th edition in the form of tiers. Every 10 levels, your characters get a pretty significant growth in power plus new capabilities, such as flight, teleportation or, in the final tier, the ability to cheat death and resurrect themselves at least once per day. There are some pretty dramatic differences between the capabilities and priorities of a heroic-tier party, where resources are scarce and powers need to be carefully rationed, and an epic-tier party, who won't flinch for anything short of a mad god and who can fight regular enemies for days straight without resting.
    • Monk gameplay in 5th edition. You start out with the most reliable bonus action attack at 1st level, get a whopping total of four attacks at 5th (where everyone else gets their second), and then you never get any more ever. Your damage dice still go up, but that's only an average of +4 damage every six levels. But you get more ki every level, so that risky Stunning Strike can be used more and more often. As such, you start out as a terrifying damager, then slowly transition to a controller that stunlocks the scariest enemy every fight at higher levels.
  • Chess players treat the king this way. In the opening and the middlegame, it's important to keep the king in the corner of the board, protected by other pieces, because otherwise it's easy for one's opponent to simply checkmate the exposed king. However, in the endgame, when there aren't enough pieces on the board for the players to be able to checkmate each other, it suddenly becomes very important to use the king as an attacking piece, to chase down opposing pawns and escort one's own pawns up the board (getting your pawn to the opposite end turns it into a queen which can be used to deliver checkmate).
  • Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition: This game revamped a lot of the gameplay to make the horror aspects more prominent and remove the potential for "superheroes with fangs"-play that dominated some circles. Above all, it made the rules for feeding much more strict, which in turn moved the game further down the Sliding Scale of Vampire Friendliness. In 5th ed., it is no longer possible to completely satisfy the Beast without killing a human, meaning that a vampire who refuses to kill risks going feral no matter how often they feed. Vampires also gain more rareified tastes earlier in their unlife, meaning that only the weakest vampires can feed on animals and you don't have to be obscenely powerful before you need vampire blood to survive.

  • In American Football as well as in Basketball, the team with a lead in the Fourth Quarter or last five minutes in basketball, changes its play style from an emphasis on scoring to an emphasis on clock management. Clock management is about taking as long as legally possible to score so that your opponent has insufficient time to catch up to your score. In football, a pass heavy offense will start running the ball more to chew up clocknote , while a basketball team will dribble and pass till the last second of possession before attempting to score. On defense, basketball teams with a lead will start intentionally fouling so that their opponent has to try to make two throws to score two points instead of one during regular play - and they get the ball back, further limiting their opponent’s time in possession.
  • In Test Cricket, the team chasing a score on the 5th day of the match will in some circumstances change focus from scoring runs, to just surviving through the day. Wicket preservation now becomes paramount as the team tries to prevent the bowling team from getting them all out. Batsmen become ultra-defensive where in they don’t even risk scoring runs of bad balls, and become more conservative in running between wickets. This is because in Test Cricket, a team chasing a score, that lasts till close of play on Day 5 without having met the target score, draws the game instead of losing it. Therefore teams that feel that a target total is insurmountable, will attempt to play for a draw.