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 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.