Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”
Don’t miss out on Ironweakness’ take on the subject.
This time, Ironweakness’ and i chose to tackle another subject- the ideal levelling process. For me, this is a difficult topic since i never really finished levelling in most of the MMORPGs i play- so voting for a longer levelling experience seems to be quite the opposite of what i’d want- but since i am someone who likes MMORPGs to be “virtual worlds” with a heap of different activities and a somewhat robust economy, a longer levelling experience makes sense. So here are my thoughts on how levelling should be- in my opinion, of course.
I do like the arbitrary level number next to my character’s portrait. It’s an easy way to gauge overall progress of that character in the game. I don’t think that journey ever ends, though, so the concept of a “max level” doesn’t appeal to me. Just take a look at the achievement list in your favourite MMO – the developers agree! But they put another arbitrary number on achievements instead of making use of the existing one, character level. I could, of course, use that arbitrary number to see where i stand in regards of overall progression within the game, but i don’t really see the point in adding another value instead of using the one that has always been there to do exactly that.
Let it take forever, because there would need to be a soft cap applied. I’d prefer the soft-cap-max-level to be high, though, to allow for tangible progress early on. Let’s say your maxlevel is 255; just let it take 3 months of ingame time to go from 254 to 255, i don’t care. It shouldn’t be reached, anyway.
Of course, the problem is skill/class progression, which is often tied to the levelling process, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, i’ll make it short and simply state that i prefer skill progression over class progression because it allows for horizontal character progression- see EVE or The Secret World, for instance.
Uses all activities
If we take another look at achievements, the funny thing is that there are achievements for almost everything- yet, in most games, the only things that grant you “experience” to raise your level are killing mobs and completing quests. In my opinion, everything an MMO offers should contribute to your characters’ progress in levels. Good examples are Guild Wars 2, where pretty much everything you can do rewards experience, but also Final Fantasy XIV by use of gathering/crafting classes and SWTOR, where, as far as i know, most things you do give some progress to your characters, although it won’t always be towards levelling them but provide the player with alternate currencies.
Is heavy on story
But please don’t let me be the chosen one. I want to see an MMO-story that actually makes use of all the other players out there and it doesn’t make sense that we’re all superheroes, demi-gods or immortals- if we were, we were the ‘normal’ ones in the setting and the world dynamics would change.
Story-heavy MMORPGs are often criticized for being too solo-centric, but i feel that, while this might be true for the MMORPGs that are released, it doesn’t need to be this way. There are great, story-heavy movies/books out there that don’t just focus on one character. The key is that those characters have different opinions, different goals and different motivations behind their choices. In my opinion, we could do this in MMOs.
I think Star Wars: the old republic actually gives us a glance at this possibility- when you are in flashpoints, dialogue opens up. As in normal quests, the player characters will be prompted to answer. Every player of the group may choose an option to his or her liking, but what is actually said- story-wise, is decided by dice roll. This allows for situations where something happens, story-wise, that wouldn’t have been your personal choice and is still very interesting to observe.
So i don’t think it’s impossible to do. Of course, creating story takes some time, so how much story there is for players to experience should differ from game to game (and budget to budget), but if you’re a themepark MMO, story is part of the package.
Gives weight to activities
This ties in with the previous point- not everything there is to do in an MMORPG is totally epic stuff- there’s going to be the basement full of rats, the odd delivery quest, the filler content. And also, baking bread, smelting iron and so on. A game that wants to provide a good levelling experience gives weigth to activities- for instance by not throwing tens of quests at us when we enter a “quest hub”.
The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 do great in this regard- TSW only allows the player to have one story mission, one main mission and up to three item missions active at the same time, making each mission seem more important and easier to follow. Missions in The Secret World are often multi-tiered, as well. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have quests, at all, and makes heavy use of location instead. Be in place A and there’s this thing to do, in place B it’s another one (often even providing multiple ways to finish these quests- by collecting items, killing mobs and so on), dynamic events are location-based, as well. Only your personal story and daily/monthly achievements are similar to what you’d call quests in other games.
Doesn’t change at endgame
The ideal levelling process doesn’t suddenly change the game surrounding it when it’s finished- “endgame” and “levelling” should basically be the same game. I see no reason why raids should be a max-level-activity. Sure, if the levelling process is short and players enter and leave the corresponding level-brackets very quickly, it doesn’t really make sense to create complicated content before max level. If, on the other hand, the bracket in question takes time to traverse, there could be dungeons/raids or whatever for earlier levels. If you take a look at EQ2, for example, it does a great job at providing content for all group sizes at almost all levels- this should be the norm.
I think if we’re talking about a linear quest-driven-progression, there should be multiple ways to level through the content. World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 are great examples – you could level multiple characters without entering the same zones (or minimizing this) on more than one of them, because for every level bracket, there are more than one or two options in playing. But even if we’re looking outside of zones, crafting, exploring, gathering, these are all activities that should be rewarded by raising that arbitrary number of character level.