Are Synergy Strategies fair in Multiplayer Games?

What if I told you there is a way to combine to items of a game without a crafting menu?

Synergy strategies are a very interesting topic. Combining an exploiting the effects of 2 or more items into a greater effect that wasn’t coded in by the developers directly seems satisfying, but not always for the opposing players who might not “get” how you are pulling all of this off with a set of items that don’t seem related. First of all, is it even fair?

A synergy strategy is when you combine 2 or more items or abilities in a game and make a new effect or item better than the sum of their parts, normally requiring skill to pull off effectively. In Slay the Spire, one ability can double your defense, and another deals damage equal to your defense. Use these strategies and you can dish out insane damage. Exploit? No. Fair? That’s a harder topic. One thing to note, this isn’t a crafting system, this combination happens in the brain of the player, not an arbitrary crafting table. These also aren’t tactics or strategies with a basic set of items. Instead of involving skill, these strategies involve smart item choice and order of use. This combination happens in the mind and is pulled off with skill (most of the time).

In singleplayer, these are more than fair. How can it be unfair if there is nobody to complain about your overpowered strategy devised by you yourself? It’s what keeps the modding community for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth active. Coming up with the new META (most effective tactic available) or creating their own items that bend the rules of the game and make new synergies possible keeps this single player game’s community alive. This makes Heat Signature feel fun, although it has no need for the extra utility since all weapons are one-hit kill, the traps and gadgets you can use can make clearing out rooms of enemies faster when paired with the right weapon.

In multiplayer, many people argue that this is totally fair. It gives the player that comes up with the strategy a good feeling that they “outsmarted” the enemy. This also helps the game feel like a set of different items to choose from and some enemy players. It adds variety and makes the game and makes players adapt to new strategies. These keep the community alive and give the developers options to create counters to the current META, possibly a new synergy strategy that can combat the current top strategy.

There are cons to this. A lot of people who don’t understand every item in the game and how they work with each other will have a lot of trouble understanding how you are pulling off all of this, leading to people accusing each other of hacking (“hackusations” – Urban Dictionary). It also makes the game harder to get into. If you lose to a synergy strategy that everybody is using you either have to look up what this new strategy is or experiment until you find it.

This synergy strategy stuff is good in co-op because it opens up a lot of options with other players. If each player can only have one item, you can have different players with different items cooperate to create an effective tactic. In team games like Overwatch with no defined items or customizable abilities, just one character per player, the team has to cooperate to utilize the effects of each player’s chosen character.

I think these strategies are fine only if they are balanced out and never become the number one strategy. If they are balanced by single-item or one ability strategies, or countered by simpler strategies, the balance of the game stays and the developers will have fewer headaches trying to balance hundreds of combinations of items.