Developer Update #5 – Leveling & Cybernetics

In this update we’ll take a closer look at how leveling works in Core Decay! The leveling system is an optional part of the game (disabled in the “old-school” difficulty level) but it significantly boosts replayability and is a lot of fun to engage with.

Experience & Levels

Experience points are rewarded for a few specific actions:

  • Defeating enemies (more specifically, picking up XP globules from killed enemies – these globules disappear after a short while).
  • Finding secret areas.
  • Finding XP pickups.
  • Successfully escaping the facility during meltdown.

Once you have gained enough XP, you level up. This does not make you inherently stronger in any way, but it does grant a single upgrade point.

Cybernetics

Using an upgrade point – which you can do as soon as you level up or save it for later – presents you with a randomized selection of 3 cybernetic modules. If you don’t want any of the 3, there is also a fourth “Gamble” option which randomly gives you a different one without the ability to preview it first.

Cybernetic modules are passive perks that provide the player with a variety of benefits. They have no level requirement to show up, but some cybernetics require others to be unlocked first. They are also grouped by rarity, with rarer ones simply being less likely to show up:

  • Core: the majority of cybernetics belong to this rarity. They generally provide smaller or one-time bonuses.
  • Advanced: cybernetics of this rarity provide stronger bonuses. They are often upgraded versions of a Core cybernetic but there’s also plenty of unique ones.
  • Prime: cybernetics of this rarity are far less likely to appear but provide potentially game-changing abilities.
  • Experimental: This is a special rarity – experimental cybernetics are as likely to appear as Prime ones and generally grant even greater bonuses, but they all come with a drawback that makes picking them a careful decision.

The final version of the game is planned to have close to a hundred cybernetics. Here’s a few examples, note that most names are not final and will be replaced with more loreful alternatives:

Core Cybernetics

  • Transcendent: When respawning, you now start with full health instead of half.
  • Vitality: Increases your maximum life to 150 (from 100).
  • Rearm: Instantly refills your primary ammo.
  • Scholar: Increases XP gain by 10%.
  • Breather: Instantly destroys all nearby enemies.
  • Energy Leech: You gain energy ammunition when taking damage.
  • Module Regulator: Choose between 4 cybernetics instead of 3 when leveling up.
  • Hacker: You can now hack computer terminals to get location information of nearby enemies. Hacking takes 6 seconds during which you are vulnerable.
  • …and many more!

Advanced Cybernetics

  • Regeneration: While detected by an enemy, you regenerate 1 health per second.
  • Eye Scanner: All enemies now display health bars.
  • Health Leech: You gain a small amount of health by damaging enemies.
  • Spectral: You can move through enemies. While inside an enemy, weapons cannot be fired.
  • Nanite Injection: XP globules now heal you for a small amount.
  • Rebreather: You are immune to toxic gas.
  • Advanced Hacker: You can now hack computer terminals to disable nearby enemies. Hacking takes 4 seconds during which you are vulnerable.
  • …and many more!

Prime Cybernetics

  • Personal Shield: You gain a shield which can absorb damage and recharges automatically.
  • Final Stand: When taking damage that would otherwise kill you, you become invulnerable for 10 seconds and have unlimited ammo. After 10 seconds, you die.
  • Eye Scanner MKII: Enemies are now visible through walls.
  • Thorned: Enemies take damage when attacking you.
  • Master hacker: You can now hack computer terminals to make nearby enemies attack their allies. Hacking takes 2 seconds during which you are vulnerable.
  • …and many more!

Experimental Cybernetics

  • Synthetic Heart: Takes one life away, or reduces your health to 1 if you are on your last life – but gives you three instant levels!
  • Tesla Coils: Automatically damages any nearby enemies, but upon doing so also damages your armor. You will never take health damage from this.
  • Combustion: When respawning, an explosion kills or damages all nearby enemies, but you also respawn with less starting health.
  • …and many more!

You will note that some of these provide an instant, one-time bonus, whereas others are passive and will remain useful for the entirety of the game. The one-time cybernetics can be vital in turning the tide short-term, but it’s a careful balance of making sure you stay equipped with useful long-term upgrades as well.

Randomized vs. static upgrades

This particular approach to leveling and upgrades has been designed to provide a combination of replayability and player agency/customization, with an emphasis on the former.

For a while I was experimenting with a single static list of all upgrades, some locked by level, which the player could choose from each time they level up – similar to the approach used in the earlier Fallout games. While this does have the advantage of letting the player plan out their ‘build’ of cybernetics, there’s less replayability and seems to fit a bit worse into a fast-paced FPS where the leveling is more of a compliment than a huge mechanic.

Ultimately the randomization/rarity-based model means that you still have some agency (especially since some cybernetics require others) but mainly it’s about giving you a different experience each time you play the game.

The leveling system is enabled on the Normal and Elite difficulty levels. Since the leveling rewards are inherently based on chance, the system in its entirety is disabled on the Veteran difficulty which is designed to reduce randomization overall. This also makes Veteran feel more old-school and more reliant on level knowledge, which is by design – the Elite difficulty still provides a challenging experience with leveling enabled for those who prefer it.

Thanks for sticking with me on this very text-heavy developer update! Next week we’ll have a look at some new enemy types.