Luck is really important in video games, yet very difficult to define. We might say we’re lucky when we make a difficult jump or beat a tough boss, things that arguably have more to do with skill. More accurately, we’re lucky when some random encounter drops a rare item, if when we find that’ve we’ve picked out the correct loadout for our match against an unknown opponent.
Early tabletop games solved the issue of luck with a roll of the dice, and plenty of games make use of a random number generator to settle matters of chance. But some games try to make luck an in-game mechanic, an actual stat that affects various elements of the game.
Luck stats in video games are often poorly explained and pretty arbitrary, leaving players wondering if it’s really worth investing in it. On the other hand, they can potentially affect so many things that you can break the game just by pushing Luck really high or low.
Here are some of the weirder ways developers implemented Luck stats in video games:
1. The Elder Scrolls Tried Their Luck With Everything
The Elder Scrolls RPG series has a long tradition of experimenting with odd and broken luck values. In Oblivion: ‘Luck has an effect on everything you do, but governs no skills.’ With a little investment, it’s actually one of the most useful stats in the game, raising all of your skills by 40% of each luck point you have above 50.
Having a high luck stat also increases your chances of winning when you bet on a duel at the Imperial City Arena. Naturally, the cunning gambler will exploit this by raising their luck with spells or potions just before betting. It also increases the chances of insta-killing with the Mehrunes Razor dagger, so a forward thinking player can build a high luck character with an eye to getting the most out of this artefact.
In Morrowind, the Luck stat would reduce the already existing failure rate of anything (i.e. picking locks, making potions, etc.) that you try to do, and also determines the quality of items in containers and on people.
Luck is very difficult to raise and gets ignored by many players, but they will have a hard time dealing with the luckiest person in the world. In the first expansion to Morrowind, Bethesda introduced Gaenor, an irritating NPC with his Luck cranked up to stupidly high levels. Gaenor initially appears as a pathetic beggar, but he returns as one of the toughest opponents in the game.
His high luck makes him nigh invulnerable; he doesn’t miss and if you somehow managed to land a hit on him, he’d most likely reflect all the damage back at you. If you beat him, you can take his amulet, which grants a small Luck boost.
Daggerfall was even worse than the sequels when it comes to the reality-bending power of Luck. A luck score close to 100 would allow the player to find stupidly high level weapons such as the Daedric Daikatana lying neglected in peasant’s cupboards. Or on random slain bandits. Or bears, for some reason.
Given how arbitrary and game-breaking it can turn out I’m glad that Bethesda stopped messing around with a Luck stat in time for Skyrim.
2. In ‘Golden Sun’ Only The Good Get Lucky
There’s no luck for the wicked in Golden Sun. This classic JRPG features a luck stat that basically determines how likely you are to avoid getting hit by a status effect or being instantly killed. But there’s a strangely moral aspect to luck in the Golden Sun Universe.
The obviously ‘good guy’ classes like the Angel and Pure Mage boast very high luck multipliers, while the ethically shady classes like the Ninja and Chaos Lord have especially low luck multipliers.
Basically, Golden Sun judges you for being the bad guy, even though it never tells you outright. The universe just ‘randomly’ rewards the righteous.
3. In Fallout Luck Changes The World Drastically (And Earns You A Special Friend)
Luck is the last stat in Fallout‘s SPECIAL system and can actually add a lot to the game’s content. High Luck is vital if you want to get a lot of critical hits or beneficial random encounters. A character with maximum Luck and the Sniper perk will have a 100% Critical Hit chance with ranged weapons plus a bunch of beneficial encounters. Conversely, a character with low Luck will be plagued by harmful random encounters such as pariah dogs and toxic waste dumps. Luck also has other miscellaneous effects, such as allowing you to randomly guess a password or convince a band of raiders you’re a ghost.
Luck is less prominent in Bethesda’s Fallout titles, but it still increases the chance of critical hits and finding good loot.
In Fallout: New Vegas, the Luck stat is given a scientific justification, being described as ‘the ability to calculate probabilities.’ It greatly improves the odds when gambling, letting you easily clean out casinos until they ban you. Fittingly, the only NPC with a maxed Luck stat is resident master manipulator Robert House. In one memorable incident, a character with very high Luck, but a pathetic Medicine skill, will be able to successfully perform brain surgery, to the astonishment of witnesses and the player character themselves.
In all the Fallout games, there’s a running easter egg where a lucky character will be assisted in battle by a Mysterious Stranger (or with some perks, Miss Fortune, a similar female character). This individual is always wearing a trenchcoat and packing a revolver that deals massive damage. Do you feel lucky, punk?
4. ‘Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura’ Lets You Decide When To Use Your Luck
This underrated steampunk cousin to Fallout makes Luck a currency instead of a stat. The game gives you ‘Fate Points’ for completing significant tasks in the game, which you can spend on a variety of actions, usually forcing the best outcome on some kind of random roll (automatic success on skill checks, automatic critical hit on attacks, etc.).
They are in very limited supply but allow for some otherwise impossible feats, such as cracking a lock on a door that you otherwise have a 0% success chance to open, or getting a powerful weapon waaay earlier than you’re meant to.
This mechanic is interesting because it takes randomness out of luck and gives control to the player. It’s a cool idea but what it usually means in practice is that the player finishes the game with all their fate points unused, having always saved them for later ‘just in case’.
5. ‘Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ Is Pretty Superstitious
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has one of the more complex stat systems in the series, including a very mysterious ‘Luck’ value. What exactly luck does is never explained and it makes players pretty superstitious. The Luck stat is increased by finding horseshoes hidden in the game. When you get all of them, your Luck is at max and you’re rewarded with bonus weapons.
Many players swear that having high luck improves their chances of winning at gambling and lowers the odds of being hit by random plane crashes. Other more out-there theories claim that it helps you find mythical cryptids like the bigfoot. It’s also just as likely a troll by the developers, using the vague stat to tempt the players into looking for secrets that aren’t there.
You Never Know Your Luck
Luck can be one of the most frustrating stats to include in a video game, since it basically means whatever the devs want it to, and usually affects content so that the player has no idea what to expect in-game.
I personally get annoyed when I see a game system with a Luck stat. I prefer to make my own fortune through my skill at gameplay instead of just putting points into something vaguely defined and hoping for the best.
Do you enjoy Luck stats in games? Or do they make no sense?
This article originally appeared on video games magazine site NowLoading.co. The site is no longer online, but I’ve uploaded a few articles from my time as a staff writer there (2016-2017) here as portfolio samples.