Think about the last MMORPG that you really enjoyed. What was it that made you enjoy it so much? I’ve played, or tried at least, almost every MMORPG out there, but I’ve only truly enjoyed a handful. The ones that I truly enjoyed I ended up sticking with for years. This got me thinking about the MMORPGs I stick with for a few months, or less, and I’ve identified the pattern: They’re missing the heart and soul of what I enjoy most.
So what do I enjoy most? Leveling up.
I enjoy leveling up more than anything else in MMORPGs. It’s my favorite part. I thought about whether I liked PvE more than PvP, and couldn’t quite narrow it down from there. I thought about getting gear, dungeon crawling, raiding, and all the things we find ourselves doing in these virtual worlds and I realized that it kept coming back to leveling up. I enjoy watching my character develop. I like starting out as a newbie and becoming something greater by putting in time, effort, and going through the motions of the process.
Leveling up brings with it lots of little things. I like going through different pieces of armor and constantly upgrading. I like collecting things and wondering if they’ll be useful down the road. While leveling up I like how my character can go to different places, see different things, and have most all of them matter. When you’re done leveling there are usually far fewer places to go and if you don’t go to them then you often feel like what you’ve done in-game is a waste of time. I never get that feeling while I’m leveling up because it seems like almost everything contributes to the process in some way.
Dungeon crawls are fun and I’ve often spoken about why I am fond of them. I even thought that perhaps exploring and killing monsters in dungeons was my favorite thing to do until I realized that this was one of the things that fell under leveling up for me. I stopped and thought about why I liked dungeon crawls and realized it was all about progression. Leveling up in a dungeon is far more satisfying to me than doing one at max level.
I spent years leveling up characters in EverQuest. I was completely ignorant of this “end-game” idea back then. I put every second of my thought into exactly what my character was doing at that very moment and never once thought about the future. I didn’t think about specs or whether or not I would have a guild to do raids. I didn’t think about gear beyond whether or not what I had was good enough to kill these hard monsters I found in a camp that gave good exp. There was a certain purity to the gameplay in those days, and it wasn’t even my first “MMORPG” (I started further back in the first graphical MUDS, before the term MMORPG existed). Although I know that some of this has to do with that “first time syndrome”, I know that a game with a meaningful journey can still duplicate those emotions for me – it’s just few and far between that I see one.
If I ever had the chance to influence a game’s design, I would want to figure out how the “end-game” can take on and exemplify the parts of the leveling experience that I like the most.
What is your favorite thing about MMORPGs?