Do you have any tips on making enemy factions feel different to fight against, without spending too much designer and programmer time making full sets of different abilities for each faction? For context, I’m working on a cyberpunk brawler with 3 major enemy factions (corp, gang, cop).

Sure. The way to enforce the feeling that a faction is a real thing is that all units from that faction should feel like there's a common theme among them. I suggest that you establish a "faction ability" (or a pool of faction abilities) that all units from the same faction will share in addition to their "class" ability. This way you can create a handful of abilities that can be reused across many enemies and tie everything together at the same time.

Faction abilities should showcase what that faction "feels" like, both from a narrative sense and a gameplay sense. Starcraft, for example, had all Zerg units regenerate, all Protoss have a combination of shields and health, and Terrans have a mix of organic (healable) units and mechanical (repairable) units. Each faction's abilities in Starcraft helps reinforce what they are and how they work. Your faction abilities should be similar. Your Corp foes should have abilities that make evoke the feeling of Corp representatives. Your Cops should feel like cops, and your gangs should feel like gangs.

To do this, think about what makes a Corp and try to capture that in gameplay mechanics. Maybe the Corp units are ignored by Cops unless they directly harm the cops because they have legal immunity. Maybe they have better stats in general, because they have better gear than cops or gangsters. Whatever qualities they have, as Corporate representatives they should have commonalities that players should consider when engaging with them. When players start a fight with Corp enemies, they should have a good idea about what they should expect from Corp enemies.

A lot of work needs to go into differentiating the members of each faction - what is common to those enemies and how fighting them feels different from fighting enemies from other factions. Also, consider how the factions will interact with each other too - the way the factions behave and act will set the stage for how the game world works. The mechanics you create should, when the enemies engage with each other, play out in a way that makes sense within the world. Your game mechanics should help reinforce the narrative and the narrative should help reinforce the mechanics. This establishes a stronger, more cohesive world and experience to the player.

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