Thursday, May 21, 2009

On the level

Are experience levels a necessary part of the RPG formula? This is a question that came out of a post I made about wanting a Tier 4-only version of WAR. It was said that without levels it would just be a FPS. I agree that is the case if there are no levels (levels can also be skill points) at all, but what about the traditional experience levels we have grown to love and hate?

The purpose of experience levels is to give a feeling of progression and in many cases to help tune difficulty. They come from a time before MMO's but have lived on in many of today's games. However, I now see them as more of a barrier than anything else.

Imagine a pen and paper DnD group. Would they exclude people from playing with them because their character was too low of a level? Would the GM tell him (or her) to go grind out a few levels and then they could participate? I've never played in a DnD group, so I'm not sure. It doesn't seem likely though. That could be the case with larger more official groups, but a group of friends?

There are many kinds of levels, not just the tyrant experience level. WAR has a renown level system, EQ2 has AA points, LoTRO has Legendary Items and so on. There are a myriad of ways to advance your character without separating them across levels.

In games like Eve Online and Darkfall you can play the heart of the game a few minutes after creating your character. You may not be very effective, but you can at least participate in some fashion. Even 0.0 space holding alliances need tacklers (which new players can do) in Eve.

That is what I'd like to see in WAR and other up and coming games. Let people play together and let them enjoy the meat of the game from the start. Use levels to allow progression and character customization but not to act as an artificial barrier between your players.


I think you may say the level buff is the equivalent in WAR. Of course, like near everything else it did not go the full mile.

@Rad: yep, you're right. Bolster was a step in the right direction. Now if they would just Bolster from rank 1 to rank 32... :)

Touching on the DnD PnP aspect, when I have new players join the game, they always start out several levels lower than the rest of the group. This usually means they have to be very careful about what they do, avoid aggro, or just be a little more creative to survive.

Granted, I kill people frequently compared to other PnP games I've played, so usually it ends up as one or two higher level players leading a handful of lower level players. Letting new players start at the same level would be cheating those who had been a part of the campaign the entire time.

@Grim: But they can still play with the others though. Some difference in ability is fine, but at least they can still play the game.

The recruit a friend does let you bolster your buddy up to 37 I believe so they can experience the end game. I haven't actually used it, but I think it is only temporary.

I know some people basically can powerlevel a toon with a BW, and healer in Caledor. I don't know exactly how long, but I have seen guys have new toons, and be 40 at the end of the week so I don't know exactly how many hours a day they did it.

I think going through the levels will help you be a better player myself initially. You would already know your strengths solo, in a group, or in a warband. I think your reputation could sour quick if you are 40, and you don't know how to use pick lock, etc. I just think the experience of grinding up, playing in lower level scenarios, and RvR lakes will make you a stronger player even if you already have a main.

Levels may help the new guy from the guy who has palyed for 6 months. Starting a game to be stomped into the ground is daunting.

There's a learning curve that comes with slowly acquiring your abilities over time that cannot simply be ignored for the new player. An experienced player may not need it, but someone fresh to the game can be extremely confused by "all the shiny buttons".

Star Wars Galaxies, the original version not the NGE, had no visible levels, just skill paths you could choose from. It still remains to this day one of my favorite examples of an MMO done right in the aspect of allowing freedom of choice.

>>It was said that without levels it would just be a FPS.

I swear "FPS" just gets thrown around so much that I don't even think the kiddies know what it means anymore.

That being said, I stand by my statement during WAR's first month or so when everyone was Scenario grinding, that I think EA could (should?) have also made a Source Engine game (third person) using Mythic's character models but with a team better experienced at making multiplayer maps than Mythic is. The two games could even trade back and forth -- every time the Steam game made new maps, WAR gets new Scenarios as a result.

Many shooters (FPS or 3PS, whatever) these days have RPG elements anyway. You can "level up" or "rank up" for new achievements and rewards, more powerful guns or better (less shaky) sniping, and so forth.

I don't have a problem, per se, with levels. Or more to the point, some type of leveling mechanic, because after all the majority of MMOGs are RPGs. It's the particular type of levels that MMORPGs (and their progenitors, DikuMUDs) have utilized that have created the problems of segregated players rather than bringing them together.

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