Level Ups – Some I like, Some I hate

Captain Codfish on Twitter was lamenting how he’s not getting too far in the fun department in Wildstar, for a few reasons. During that conversation, the issue of levels came up again, with this in particular:

I feel you, brother… I’m getting very sick of games that make you do a drawn out levelling process, especially if it just ends at some point and becomes meaningless. But, not all levelling systems bother me. Let’s look at the ones I like and why, first.

Dungeons & Dragons – Each Level Matters

At a certain level, I can bring a pet Dire Bear to the fight on my side. What have you got, puny fighter?

I love D&D, and I both play and Dungeon Master. The levels in D&D? No problem. The big thing is that each level matters. They take a while to get. There is a very real chance in the campaigns I play of dying while trying to get them (and death is a much bigger deal, especially at low level where it can mean a new character entirely). There isn’t that many of them. They bring often dramatic changes in your character.

Most importantly? They don’t practically stop. Oh sure, they do stop (except in revisions where they don’t, epic levels, and so on). But the vast majority of D&D campaigns don’t get to the level cap, which means for practical purposes you don’t run out of levels. You never reach a point where levels cease being a mechanic that matters to the game, so they work just fine.

Disgaea – Absurdity In Levelling

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Disgaea and it’s sequels.

Read those stats. Be prepared to do a lot of levelling if you intend on challenging the Tyrant Overlord.

In Disgaea, levelling is so common that individual levels don’t matter. It’s not a big deal when you advance from 10 to 11 like it is in D&D. But that doesn’t make levelling itself unimportant. Disgaea is just about excess in levelling. You can level up to 9999. You can then reincarnate back to level 1, but keep some of the stats you had before, so that the next time you get to 9999, you’re stronger.

You can then go into your items, and level those up to (and beyond) 100. Inside the second best in slot item in the game, on floor 100 of that item, is an Item God, who carries the best in slot item in the game for you to try and steal. You better have one very good Thief around to pull that off!

You can also level up your characters in some of them in the Character World, build loyalty between characters, boost affinities, level up the item shops to have better stuff… well, you see where this is going.

The key similarity is that like D&D, levels never stop mattering. You are always leveling something. You never reach a point where the mechanic goes away. Which brings me to…

Your Average Themepark MMO – Stop It!

The Captain was talking about Wildstar, but this applies to a ton of MMORPGs. They follow a pattern that I’ve complained about before:

  1. The leveling part, in which you are doing quests to gain levels, learn skills, get talent points, and so on. Often there’s a story component to those quests. These days, they’re usually done mostly or entirely solo, and in some games they will even enforce that on certain quests.
  2. The endgame part, where you no longer have levels to gain. The game at this point often becomes about raiding or other group content, and since everything is the same level (which never changes), the entire mechanic of leveling now serves absolutely no purpose to the functioning of the game.

This is the worst kind of leveling. It’s main purpose is to act as a gatekeeper between people who want to raid, and the raiding part of the game. What is the point of that? League of Legends doesn’t make you play a solo questing game for 300 hours before you’re allowed to play the real game, right? It’s MMOs alone that do this, and it seems at this point like it’s mostly because people expect it more than because it still makes any kind of sense. You wind up with people like Liore, who want to raid in FFXIV but just don’t have the time to catch up through all the levels (and story in FFXIV) to get to that part.

Diablo 3 has the same problem, where the 1-70 part of the game has absolutely  no meaning anymore for veteran players. Guides exist entirely devoted to how to get it over with as fast as possible in a new season, and people are doing it in a handful of hours. Why? Nobody cares anymore. It’s trivially easy, it’s been done before, and it’s just a barrier between players and the real season game… which is the gear hunt and Greater Rift progression at 70. I hate the start of a new season precisely because I have to waste time getting back to 70 so that I can do the stuff that’s actually relevant.

In both the MMOs and Diablo 3, a serious player will spend the overwhelming majority of their time at the level cap. Like, 75% and up majority. In WoW, I was level capped for approaching 90% of my play time, and it wasn’t 99% only because I had a lot of alts. If you spend almost the entirety of the game where the mechanic does absolutely nothing, it’s not meaningful to the game design anymore.

This system isn’t adding anything, at this point. It’s number progression for the sake of number progression… only Disgaea does that a thousand times better.

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