Dressing up my characters is important to me, and more important is the light dopamine rush I get from the confluence of expensive animations and sound. Some games have perfected the loot box, either through science and psychology or absurdity and surprise. Others take a wild guess at what might feel nice, celebrating boring loot with superficial charm or by cheaply imitating other games.
To reflect on the rise of the trendiest microtransaction scheme before it overwhelms and consumes all videogames, we’ve gathered some of the best and worst loot boxes out there. Maybe we can help steer the phenomenon in a healthy direction.
To be clear, this isn't an endorsement of loot boxes as a practice—there's a lot to criticize—but an airy inspection of how some developers get us to feel good for clicking a button.
Overwatch - Loot boxes
No surprise here, Blizzard set the standard with Overwatch’s loot box. The opening animation is what I’d like to imagine happens when you squeeze an angel too hard. Light spills out through the seams, the box quivers and then suddenly bursts, spilling its contents in a neat arrangement to the triumphant row of brass instruments. It’s like a pressure cooker pushed beyond its structural capacity, turning a puddle of water into an explosion, but the scorching vapors fill you with satisfaction instead of searing pain.
Battlefield 1 - Battlepacks
Fuck this loot crate in particular is Battlefield 1’s modus operandi. The forceful opening sequences feel like a reclamation of something once lost, a conqueror's right. I shot the men in the game, and even if I don’t deserve this box of hard-to-notice gun skins, by god, I’m going to take it anyway. And I’ll take it with a crowbar in slow motion! To hell with boxes. What’s the point of boxes anyway? They’re just overprotective polygons. Let me see what’s in there already, what with all that light emanating from inside. Loot boxes sure like light and emanating it, I’ve noticed. Anyway, I wish Battlefield 1 didn’t make me care so much, but it’s a dumb, lovely animation for some silly skins.
Shadowverse - Card packs
Have you ever been to the ballet? Watch the Shadowverse card pack opening sequence. It’s occult ritual that transitions into an elegant card dance and ends with a parade of genre-themed anime characters.
Destiny 2 - Engrams
It’s not out on PC yet, I know, but having already played a good amount, I’m in love with the engrams. They’re some of the most understated loot containers in games, tiny 2D images of complex geometry that sit in your inventory until taken to a cryptarch, the only people that can pop those suckers open. And when they do, rather than filling the screen with an extravagant animation, your bounty simply scrolls up the side of the screen. There’s a light splash of color and a sound unlike any I’ve heard before, like amplified drops of water, thirst-quenching drops of light that fall unseen from the monitor and onto my heart, piercing my worthless flesh carapace with sharp, potent purpose. My latest get is an ornament for my chaingun that turns the whole thing gold. It’s pretty cool.
Rainbow Six Siege - Alpha Packs
I love to imagine the state of affairs in a world where guns come in the same packaging as raisins.
The Elder Scrolls Online - Crown Crates
A charming khajiit deals you cards and snaps their fingers. The cards themselves aren’t very interesting, but, again, a charming khajiit deals you cards. Honestly, more games should follow suit. I’d rather a smiling illegal arms dealer threw guns at me than dig through another magic box.
Fortnite - Pinatas
The pinatas in Fortnite are excellent loot boxes, but not necessarily for what they deliver. I’ve written about how Fortnite’s abundance of loot is one of its biggest hang-ups. Even so, the pinatas are a visual, aural sensation. They’re cartoons I don’t want to hurt (but really do). Before you smash them open with whatever random tool you’re assigned—axes, baseball bats, spades, and the like—they’ll say something innocent, voiced by the most indistinct ‘Oh, yeah, Bill from work, he’s a nice guy’ actor Epic Games could find.
And there’s a chance that when you try to slice open the Bill pinata, your weapon will bounce off and the pinata will spin around, taking on a new silver skin. Sometimes they’ll even go gold, but no matter the outer mineral layer, all pinatas are the same on the inside. Candy spills out and the camera pans down to force the viewer bear witness to the carnage. It feels great, even if it means nothing.
World of Warships - Shipping Containers
There's a lot to unpack with this one and I’d really like to let the clip speak for itself. Just know that it might be the best loot box ever.
Why were you in there, are you OK, and where are you off to, you jolly man?
On the next page, we take a look at the worst loot boxes of the bunch.