I think one of the things that I’ll never tire of is meta-gaming. Now, that’s a broad term and I know Quietschisto will come in here and make an ass of himself if I don’t immediately clarify it so let’s start there.

Broadly speaking, meta-gaming refers to any action where players use knowledge from outside of a game to their benefit within it. This can manifest in a number of different ways, but I enjoy the aspect of taking one’s knowledge about skills and equipment to envision strategies and combos. My intentions are to take my brain-storming into the game to test out new strategies and evaluate their effectiveness and validity as alternative play-styles.

With that preamble out of the way: why do I like meta-gaming so much? For me it adds an extra layer of depth to a game. Instead of taking everything at face value, I’m able to dig into games thinking about new strategies I may have initially overlooked. In a lot of cases this leads to a continuous cycle where I prototype a “build” followed by a testing phase. While testing I’m gauging the effectiveness of what I came up with and later I make revisions where necessary.

This is some really nerdy sounding shit isn’t it? However, participating in this meta-level thought process can dramatically improve my experience with a game.

Recently, I returned to Hades looking to sink more time into escaping hell without the obligation of achievements hanging over me. It was here that I started thinking about various skill combos that would have synergistic properties. This caused me to lose many hours experimenting with various setups and ultimately led to me having a much deeper understanding of the game.

I’m going to share an example of one such strategy that was born out of meta-gaming, but first we need to establish some background information.

In Hades you play as Zagreus, the son of Hades. Regardless of which weapon you choose, you will have the same set of basic abilities: an attack, a special, a cast, and a dash. Attacks and dashes function exactly as one would expect, while specials are generally high damage moves that are slower than the basic attack. Casting fires a ranged projectile into a foe which becomes lodged within them for a set period of time, or until they perish. This setup encourages the player to use their full suite of abilities instead of relying on casting, which is objectively safer then getting up close and personal.

That is unless you’re playing the Poseidon blade. This magnificent weapon has two unique properties that radically change up the flow of how it is played relative to other swords. First, while Zagreus wields it he is granted an additional fifty percent damage buff to his casting ability making it tremendously powerful. Secondly, the Poseidon blade can retrieve cast charges prematurely if Zagreus uses the blade’s special attack on the foes who currently have the stones lodged within them. Thanks to these unique properties, the Poseidon blade is far more focused on a combination of Zagreus’ casting and special attack.

Thanks in no small part to the unique properties of the Poseidon blade there are a number of boons that become far more powerful when used in tandem with it. For starters, all casting skills become far stronger thanks to the innate damage buff. Athena already offers a substantial damage increase to the basic cast taking it from fifty damage to eighty-five, but with the buff from the blade this is pushed to almost one hundred and thirty. That’s a huge material difference that makes Zagreus far deadlier, especially in the early game.

Furthermore, Artemis’ boon Exit Wounds is transformed into a high damage utility skill that naturally synergizes with the Poseidon blade. Exit Wounds deals damage when your cast stones dislodge from an enemy. Because the Poseidon blade can force this to happen you’re able to manually trigger it giving Exit Wounds huge damage potential. This creates an extremely effective cycle where the act of both using and retrieving your cast stones does large chunks of sweet, sweet damage.

You can also take this a step further by adding two of Lady Demeter’s boons into the fold. Snow Burst sends out a forty damage area blast around you every time you cast, which has the added benefit of applying the frost debuff onto foes. She also offers Ravenous Will, which gives you a damage boost and ten perfect damage resistance buff while you have no cast stones. Both of these skills add a little extra flavour to the build and function much greater than they do with other weapons.

Isn’t this fun? By simply using knowledge we have about different skills available in Hades we can piece together a situation where said skills all come together in a really impactful way thanks to the unique properties of a particular weapon.

For another example let’s look to Monster Hunter: World.

I spent hours coming up with my different armor sets in Monster Hunter: World. Each piece of armor has skills on it, which provide passive and active passive effects. As you apply more points to a particular skill it increases its potency up to a point. This means there is a lot of room for creativity to get exactly the right combination of skills you desire by rearranging which armor you wear into battle.

My biggest challenge in World was supplementing my damage output as little as possible while also leveraging the defensive skill Health Boost. Health Boost increases your hunters hit points by fifty up from one hundred. In my eyes it is an invaluable skill that often makes the difference between life or death when you make a mistake. Unfortunately, the normal meta template didn’t accommodate having this skill, so I had to look at gaining damage from skills on armor that still allowed me to max out my health buff.

This led me to experimenting with a skill called Maximum Might. This was a three point skill (prior to Iceborne) that provided a thirty percent critical hit increase, but it had the caveat of only activating while the player had all of their stamina. This meant that the skill wouldn’t work with weapons that used stamina to attack, and also wouldn’t be active after you dodged or sprinted. However, for slow bulky weapons that relied on careful positioning this skill was an ideal match and it fit a lot easier into builds thanks to it only having a three point requirement instead of a seven point one like the standard critical hit skill.

As I was playing the slow and bulky hammer at the time I gave the skill a shot and found it worked exceedingly well while still allowing me to hold onto my precious Health Boost. Were it not for this uniquely specific scenario I wouldn’t have bothered to look into the viability of Maximum Might, which I later found out was applauded by the Monster Hunter Math guys (that’s what they call themselves) as being a very economical skill for off-meta builds.

What I outlined above is why I love meta-gaming so much. It feels great to conceptualize something, test it, and find that it does, in fact, work as you expected. There’s also always room to optimize and improve if things aren’t quite right and working toward a solution can be fairly compelling. Though, my predisposition toward programming might be a big reason why I find this all so enjoyable.

I know I’m not the only person who has done some meta-gaming in my time. Let me know below if there was a game where you enjoyed several hours of fun by diving deep into the weeds like I have. I imagine some of you who frequent World of Warcraft, Warframe, or and of the Souls games will have a story to tell and I’d enjoy reading it.