Hello Leveling, My Old Friend

Motivation. I don't have it.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that I downloaded the World of Warcraft-client today. I have yet to resub, but the client is installed and ready to be played. For some reason, the cold weather we are having in Sweden makes me want to play again – that, and this post at Spinksville reminded me about how much fun raiding can actually be.

The tipping point came when I logged in to Star Wars Galaxies this morning. My Jedi is currently stationed in Anchorhead, where she does terminal missions for the rebels. That way I don’t have to bother with the Legacy quests and can ding about one level a day, if I do 8 – 10 missions. They are easy, fast and not terribly boring.

But then it hit me – I am so sick and tired of leveling.

My other running sub right now is Lord of the Rings Online. I got a 30-day key for the American servers from Stargrace, which I am really grateful for, and I am enjoying my rune-keeper (“Mister Smirky”, as I like to call him – his facial expression is one of constant arrogance). But I can’t stand leveling him.

In a way, I guess it’s World of Warcraft that ruined the whole thing for me. It’s not that level cap in any way has to be where the game actually starts, but the freedom of being maximum level is undervalued. All around me are people who keep saying that they enjoy the journey to cap, that they don’t rush, that leveling is fun in itself. But at some point, having had my gnome rogue at cap with brief moments of XP-gathering when a new expansion hit, I got spoiled.

In many ways, a MMO starts at level cap because you are suddenly free to do whatever you wish. I can raid, I can do instances, I can PvP, I can gather gear, theorycraft, focus on crafting, poke my nose, gaze at my navel. That goes for most games that use a leveling system, which – let’s face it – is more or less every MMO on the market.

I’ve reached level 47 in SWG, I have 43 levels to go. In guild chat, everyone is busy discussing heroics, PvP, crafting. They have the whole game in front of them, they can do whatever they feel like. Me? I can poke around my house or level. It’s driving me nuts.

People like to compare MMOs to single player games (there was a lot of talk when Dragon Age was released, for example), so let’s compare a MMO to a game like Modern Warfare 2. If you play it in multiplayer, there are levels. You unlock new ranks, new weapons, perks, attachments. The more you play, the more variety you get. But as a new player, coming in at level 1, you are still playing together with the people 50 levels above you.

I am not saying that a system that uses levels in the way most MMOs do is inherently broken. It’s a tried and tested system that’s been around for decades in various forms and shapes. To me, it doesn’t really matter – right now, I can’t stand the sight of a new XP-bar. Especially not in games where the community is already set, where level cap is the norm. Yet another reason why I have yet to use my retail code on my EverQuest 2 account. I can’t be bothered to level my assassin to enjoy the game the same way the rest of the people in my (lovely) guild do.

I want to explore new worlds, I want to explore new games. It’s not that. I love discovering a new MMO, I love learning a new system of crafting or combat.

I miss my gnome.

I will keep giving LotRO a chance, I owe it to the game (and the kindness of certain people). I am very much looking forward to seeing Star Trek Online launch, a brand new game with a pretty cool level system and fun space combat. I am still cautiously keeping my eye on Allods Online and I don’t plan to drop my SWG-sub. What I have to evaluate, though, is where the fun stops and the grind – even if the grind is only in my head – starts.

I guess I will join the choir of people who vowed to not keep playing when something starts to bore them. Leveling, for the time being, you have to go. I want the freedom to explore in a way I see fit, not being forced to either grind mobs or quests to reach a point where that freedom is available.

That’s what I mean when I say that most MMOs really start at level cap. Not raids, not gear. Freedom.

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23 comments

  1. Scopique says:

    I shall not attempt to convince you otherwise, although I think the issue is the ramifications of grouping/guilding/playing with others in a level based system.

    Level systems came from DnD (and other PnP RPGs) where the people you were playing with were naturally all at the same level…it was only a handful of friends and a DM who was in charge of making sure his or her players were roughly equal in level. With early CRPGs, your party of 6 leveled in step because it was just YOU who controlled them all in the same situations, earning the same XP.

    The idea of levels in MMOs might have come over from the legacy systems, and might have been intended to stratify the community, but as time wears on, it’s become a real obstacle for many people (myself included). They say that “time is nature’s way of preventing everything from happening at once”, as levels are MMOs way of preventing users from just experiencing everything the game has to offer within a week (powergamers have naturally shattered that ceiling).

    I’ve never stuck with a game long enough to reach a level cap, although it seems that a lot of people who get to the cap are playing a more strict, regimented game by requiring certain avatar specs, certain gear, certain play-styles. For me, I don’t play to adhere to someone else’s idea of how I should play. I enjoy the lower level journey, and seeing new zones for the first time. After time, however, the leveling DOES tend to get in the way when all you do is play to level. More EXPERIENCE — of the game, not the points — would help a lot during those mid-life periods.

    • Petter says:

      After time, however, the leveling DOES tend to get in the way when all you do is play to level. More EXPERIENCE — of the game, not the points — would help a lot during those mid-life periods.

      That was a very, very nice sound bite, sir. And sums up a lot of my problems, I suppose.

  2. Blue Kae says:

    I’m about the exact opposite. Once I hit max level, I tend to lose interest in the game, since there’s no more carrot to chase after. That may be because I was a 99% solo player though. I’m interested to see how I do at max level now that I’m kinned.

    • Petter says:

      He he, welcome to a whole new game, then! Hope you like it. I play a lot solo as well, but there is something special about high-end group content…

  3. Blue Kae says:

    Oh forgot…

    There are a lot of conventions in MMOs right now (like levels/classes) that are dominant because they are easy to program as much as they are commonly accepted by players. For example, when you go skill-based instead of level-based it becomes much more difficult for players to judge the difficulty of a fight and for developers to balance difficulty across a widely varying array of character builds. This is something Cryptic is struggling with right now with Champions’ open power frameworks.

  4. Stargrace says:

    As long as you’re happy, it doesn’t matter what you play, or how you play it. Again, I love how different everyone is in their gaming choices and personalities. There’s no wrong or right way to do any single thing, though we may all argue it until we’re blue in the face.

    I wander to and from WoW depending on my moods, have only ever managed ‘end game’ in EQ2, and even change how I play on a game by game basis.

    Reading about how everyone else does it, is exciting.

    • Petter says:

      Absolutely! I would never judge another person for liking the whole leveling game, I really envy the people who can get so much into it. I do at times, and will try to do it in LotRO still. After all, I want to reach Rivendell and Moria – I try to see the road there as an adventure in itself.

      • Blue Kae says:

        If you want a shortcut, I’m happy to fast travel you to Rivendell, Forochel, and other areas for a little sight seeing. Moria may not work since it is gated by the Intro to Volume 2 quest, I’ve not tried that before, and Mirkwood may not work for the same reason.

        That’s assuming we can coordinate a time when we’re both on. :)

      • Petter says:

        That’s very much appreciated, but it kinda defeats the point. I want to reach it as a part of my own adventure. Kinda silly, but I got that idea last time I gave LotRO a shot – this time I hope to finish it. :)

      • Blue Kae says:

        Completely agree actually, but thought I would offer anyway.

        Keep in mind, you can make a run to Rivendell pretty early (say level 20 or so) but you won’t be able to do much questing there. So you can visit at least one landmark without a major investment of time.

      • Petter says:

        I’ll think about that, but it would also ruin a bit of the fun of the whole experience. It could be an idea though – I am pushing towards 20 right now. Thanks for the tips and the great offer!

  5. Scott says:

    I am not saying that a system that uses levels in the way most MMOs do is inherently broken.

    You should be saying exactly that, because that is exactly the problem with MMORPG’s.

    They use the old Diku style of levels, which — sorry — is primarily single-player based. Diku levels work just fine for one player. But when you plunk it into a game with so many people on the server, it’s broken until everyone is at level cap. But EQ did it, and WoW did it, so everyone else is scared to actually try something that DOES work. And no, EVE’s skills-only system isn’t the ONLY alternative.

    • Petter says:

      Then again, we see more and more games focusing on the single player aspect until level cap. A lesson learned, perhaps? I don’t know, not sure where I stand on it.

      And no, EVE has its own problems, that’s for sure.

    • Blue Kae says:

      I don’t think levels have to be completely scrapped. Allowing players to adjust their level to match friends’ levels, which EQ2, CoH, and Champions all allow for, eliminates a lot of the separation.

      • Scott says:

        /necro

        Blue Kae: I don’t think levels have to be completely scrapped. Allowing players to adjust their level to match friends’ levels, which EQ2, CoH, and Champions all allow for, eliminates a lot of the separation.

        Correct — “levels” are fine and a necessary component of modern gaming. However, the Diku form of levels — in a multiplayer environment — are totally broken and need to be eliminated. Your example of mentoring or sidekicking is nothing more than developers realizing it’s a broken system and putting a band-aid on it. It’s a lose-lose compromise in the bigger scheme of things for the sake of being able to have two disparate characters able to group.

  6. Fuzzy says:

    I’ve been trying to play LoTRO, but Turbine is really getting in the way. I tried getting everything set up last night, which was the night when most of their servers went down (due to out-of-date SSL certificates, it seems).

    I’ve also been trying to get a free trial key for my existing Turbine account (from DDO) since mid-December (since the free trial automatically creates a new Turbine account), but I haven’t gotten any word back from Account Support. This doesn’t surprise me, since they banned my DDO account for 3 days due to “inappropriate language” and refused to say anything more despite my inquiries as to what it was that I said.

    I’ve sent another ticket for a free trial key, but at this point I’ll probably just call them when I get back and hope for the best.

    I get the feeling that LoTRO will feel like WoW, but I’m okay with that after my experiment with Ryzom.

    • Petter says:

      That’s really annoying, hope everything works out!

      So you did try Ryzom? Impressions? The only thing I can derive from your comment doesn’t seem very positive… :)

      • Fuzzy says:

        Ryzom wasn’t for me. There were many things I liked about it (the community, the mainland, the bits of lore), but here are some of the drawbacks I found.

        In terms of what your character can DO, it’s pretty much the same, just with larger numbers over time.

        A customizable skill system using stanzas is a bit pointless when all you need are two to three versions of the same skill – one using mana/stamina, one using life, and possibly one using both. And who uses cast time stanzas? :P

        A huge, living environment gets in the way when you can’t get to a festival halfway across the world or find any level-appropriate mobs (even with a group) to hone your skills on without dragging higher/lower level mobs into the mix.

        A complex crafting system doesn’t really come into play when you burn through whatever resources you have just trying to grind those crafting levels. Even worse when you just sell your creations to the NPC – I never really noticed a big difference between great gear and sub-par gear, so I assumed that there wasn’t really a market for the stuff I created (with the exception of ammo, perhaps, since that’s always in short supply).

        Things might have been different with a guild, but at that point I was a bit too disillusioned to take a bet on that.

      • Petter says:

        I do see your points, some are absolutely valid. I got stuck in Dyron, digging away, and couldn’t get myself to do anything else – which was sad, since I love Atys. Ryzom suffers from the same problem as I mentioned above, it’s all about the end-game (which is kinda non-existant) now. It gets very obvious during live events, which usually includes some form of gigantic mob that players have to group up to beat.

        I do love the living environment though. The wild in Ryzom is wild and definetely dangerous. Usually you can get a group to trek you, if you want to get to a festival – sometimes even the CSMs can help teleport you, if there is an actual event goin gon.

        The stanzas do get better, I’ve noticed, especially for crafting and digging. There is a *huge* difference in gear, and you out-level your stuff quite fast if you keep at it, which creates a need for crafted gear even for lower levels. I’ve changed my focus gear for digging quite a few times by now. :)

        But yes, as I said – you have good points and I won’t try to convince you. Ryzom is hardly for everyone and I am still on a rather lengthy break from it, until I figure out what I should do with my character. Just curious though, how far did you make it on the mainland? What race? Did you ever get to pick a faction?

  7. Fuzzy says:

    I went Tryker (yay for carefree freedom fighters! boo to swimming!) and was thinking of going Karavan, but I never actually picked a faction. The last time I tried Ryzom, I never got off Silan, and I’m glad I did this time around.

    I did have some fun messing around with prospecting/extraction stanzas, since there was a bit more variation there. But as mentioned earlier, it’s all rather pointless when I’m just trying to maximize my findings so I have resources to grind crafting with.

    Regarding gear, I did get twinked out with a full set of +HP jewelry, which was around 250 HP total… or an extra hit that I could take before dying :P All the other stats didn’t seem to make that big of a difference early on for me.

    The environment is one thing that I will miss dearly. I think the only other MMO I’ve played that had varying weather conditions with minor in-game effects was Mabinogi.

    On the plus side, I finally got a referral key for LoTRO within 10 minutes after calling account support :)

  8. Longasc says:

    The thing is, especially Breeland – hey, play Breeland, can’t vouch for the Ered Luin – lets you level everywhere. It is a huge area, you can spend your first 20 levels everywhere, except the Old Forest, which is annoying and very dangerous.

    The endgame of LOTRO is far away for you, and I think the current endgame of SoM is not nearly as good as the many more and diverse instances of Mines of Moria. So hey, enjoy the ride to the level cap. There are lots of beautiful areas to explore.

    The Journey is the Destination, not the chore before the show starts. :)

  9. [...] 16, 2010 by Bane Don’t Fear the Mutant posted a dissection of levelling vs endgame, where he came to a surprising conclusion: max level = [...]

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